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March 18th 4 pm
The mid March sun shone down brightly upon the city of San Francisco as Captain Hank Stanley looked around his hotel suite one final time. He gave one more quick cursory glance in the closets and the bathroom just to make sure nothing had been left behind. His wife of fifteen years, Emily, was next door in the adjoining suite making sure their two daughters, thirteen year old Allison and eleven year old Julia, had packed all of their belongings as well.
It had been a great spring break vacation for Los Angeles County, Station 51’s “A” shift. It was also the first time they had all gone on vacation together with all of their families.
They were just finishing up a week long trip to San Francisco, and were now preparing to go down to the lobby and get on the shuttle bus back to the airport to board their flight back to L.A.
The happy group of travelers consisted of Hank and his family, as well as his engineer Mike Stoker, his wife Heather, and their five year old son Michael Jr. Also included in this group were Hank’s two linesmen, Chet Kelly and Marco Lopez, as well as his Senior Paramedic Roy DeSoto, Joanne, Roy’s wife of 10 years, and their two children, nine year old Christopher and six year old Jennifer. And last but certainly not least, was the youngest member of his crew, Junior Paramedic Johnny Gage.
They had all spent time, both individually and collectively touring the city, riding around on the cable cars, visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, The Golden Gate Bridge, the Botanical Gardens and the amusement park. They also spent a good deal of time lounging around the poolside at their hotel.
The married couples traded off on babysitting duties, thus allowing each pair a couple of romantic evenings out on the town, sampling the fine cuisine and taking in some of the shows and other nightlife, sans their children. The single young men on the other hand, spent their evenings out in the local bars and nightclubs, dancing and flirting with all the local beauties.
During the daytime however they found themselves all traveling as a group.
The one exception was the one day when Johnny had gotten up before the rest of them and had been conspicuous by his absence all day long. He gave no explanation for his absence, other than to say he had just felt like having a day alone to wander around the city.
It wasn’t until the next afternoon that Hank over heard Roy telling Joanne that Johnny had spent the day touring Alcatraz, where AIM had set up their occupation a few years earlier. What John had done there, Hank had no idea, and he knew that although John had obviously confided in Roy, that there was no way in hell that Roy would ever break a confidence told to him by John. This was hardly surprising, as John and Roy were deeply loyal friends and fiercely protective of each other.
Ever since one of Chet’s “Indian” pranks had gone too far over the line, John’s Native American heritage had been a subject that was off limits, by order of Hank himself, unless of course, John brought it up on his own.
But that was something Hank suspected Johnny only did with Roy, and only when they were alone.
It had been a nice break and good to get away from L.A., but the best part of the whole deal, was that the trip was an all expenses paid reward for the entire crew and their families, courtesy of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. It was a reward they had won in recognition of all of their hard work, skill and efficiency in their service to the citizens of Los Angeles County.
True, none of them did the job for the glory and it certainly wasn’t for the pay. They did it because they wanted to make a difference. They wanted to help others. Although each man, if he was honest, would have to admit that they did feel the buzz of the adrenaline rush each time they “beat back the beast” one more time. But getting this trip for their achievements was still a nice bit of icing on the cake.
Hank remembered back to the day he found out that his crew had been awarded this trip.
It had all started 2 months ago, with the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s evaluation, assessment and updating/training exercises.
Each station and shift over the course of a two week period was required to show up to the L.A.C.F.D.’S training center. During the two day long course each shift was put through their paces while being observed by the officials, so that any problems could be quickly spotted and corrected. The drills were aimed specifically at each member of the team’s area of expertise.
From gauging the Captains ability to assess, control and manage a scene, to how the Engineer and linesmen handled themselves in various different types of disasters and fires. It evaluated how they functioned both individually and as a unit; looking for ways (if any) that they could improve on their jobs, both in efficiency and safety. There were also special scenarios which were specifically designed for the paramedics, involving water/diving rescues, rappelling rescues and rescues from high up on top of towers and cliffs. The drills were not actually graded, just observed and evaluated as to how efficient and skillfully each team and team member handled themselves. It was also during these exercises that any new equipment was introduced to the men allowing them to familiarize and experiment with them under controlled situations before they had to actually use them in a real rescue situation.
For the paramedics it meant not only performing in front of their chief, but also in front of Dr. Kelly Brackett, the man in charge of the paramedics and the medical end of things. The paramedics had not one, but two bosses, one with the fire department and one with the paramedic program. These exercises also helped the doctors get a better grip on just how difficult and harrowing some of these rescue calls were for the paramedics. They got a real up close look at what went on and what could be happening on the other end of the Biophone during a rescue. It gave them a better understanding of just what it took sometimes for the boys to bring in a nice and neatly wrapped victim into Rampart’s E.R.
This year, however, after the exercises were all over with, the department announced it would be awarding an all expenses paid, week long trip to San Francisco, to not only the shift that had been evaluated as the highest in the exercises, but for their immediate families as well. It had not been announced until after the exercises were over, because the department wanted a true idea of what the men could do, without them getting careless and rushing through in an effort to “win” the trip.
Hank Stanley was both pleased and proud, but not at all surprised, to find out his crew had finished in first place with the highest rating in skill, efficiency and job performance, both as individuals and as a team. Yes, Hank was mighty proud of his boys-they were an amazing group of young men. He also knew that in the department, station 51’s A shift was the envy of all the other stations. Many times he had been asked what their secret was. But Hank knew that there was no secret.
His men were just a naturally tight knit group of men, who had formed their own little family beyond and separate to the fire department. They often socialized outside of the workplace, and even though they often teased, and pulled pranks on each other from time to time, they cared about each other and respected each other on every level. And the second those klaxons sounded, his men turned into this wonderfully well oiled machine, functioning like a finely tuned race car. They had total and complete trust in each other, safe in the knowledge that no matter what happened they had each other’s backs, and would walk through hell and back for each other. They knew their job and they did it to perfection.
But as close as his crew was, absolutely nothing came near to matching the close bond shared by his two paramedics.
John Roderick Gage and Roy William DeSoto, now those two were like conjoined twins, joined at the mind, heart and soul. They just melded together effortlessly. It was a closeness that could not be defined. In fact neither Johnny nor Roy could have told you exactly how or when it had happened…it just was.
Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto were the best paramedic team in the nation.
Oh they often joked about being the best… but hell… every paramedic team and station crew did that. But with these two it wasn’t just a boast, they were the real deal.
The department knew it, the chief knew it. Hank knew it, the rest of the A shift knew it. The staff at Rampart knew it, as did all the other paramedic teams….everyone knew it. In fact it seemed the only ones who truly didn’t seem to know it, were Johnny and Roy themselves. They just went on day in and day out doing their jobs, giving it their all and then some.
But to anyone who had a chance to witness them in action, interacting together is it on the job during a rescue, just hanging around working on their old engine together, working around Roy’s house or just camping and fishing together, they were always like watching poetry in motion. But this was especially apparent when they were working on the job.
If you looked up the word synchronicity in the dictionary, their pictures would be there. They were two different souls functioning as a single entity. Each one was an extension of the other. Sometimes it was hard to determine just exactly where one stopped and the other began.
Other paramedic teams had tried to emulate the Gage/DeSoto team…trying to capture the dynamic, the skill, and the closeness they shared. The fact was that Roy and John seemed to be almost telepathic when it came to each other. They just knew what the other one was thinking- they were even able to carry on entire conversations with each other without having to speak a single word. They could communicate with a single look, a glance…simple eye contact was all that was needed and the other knew what was going on in his partners’ mind.
But none of the other teams had ever been able to even come close to what Roy and Johnny had, and. no one could figure out why not.
But Hank knew; he understood the reason why they couldn’t do it. Why they just couldn’t seem to capture that magic. He knew it was because of the fact that they did have to TRY to emulate it.
Hank knew that the entity that was Gage and DeSoto was literally “lightning in a bottle.”
There was no effort involved, no conscious decision to be who and what they had become. Neither one of them had ever had to try…it just simply was. It was second nature. Hank had long ago accepted that this was just a fact of life. That it was all just part of the natural order of the universe. It existed simply because Roy and John existed.
The one true enigma of their friendship was the fact that as far as personalities went, the two of them were polar opposites. Roy was quiet, well ordered, reserved and steady, a calm settled family man who had been married for 10 years and had 2 children. He was also 5 years older than Johnny.
Johnny, on the other hand, was energy personified. He was outgoing, frenetic, hyperactive, gregarious and always in motion. He was emotional and a total free spirit who not only loved the girls, he also enjoyed “the chase.” His boundless energy would have him bouncing off the walls, if he did not have something to occupy his time with 24/7. Even after they all came back exhausted from a long and tiring shift, it was John who needed the least amount of time to recharge his batteries, before he was off and running again.
If Roy DeSoto was the calm before the storm… then Johnny Gage was the storm itself.
Perhaps that is why they clicked… two halves of a whole. Their personalities encompassed every hue of the rainbow. Roy was the soft muted colors… Johnny was the bold energetic ones, and when you put them all together, the complete color spectrum was an amazing and magnificent sight to behold.
Hank Stanley was brought back from his thoughts by a knock on the door.
“It’s open,” he called out.
The door swung open and a head full of dark hair poked into the room. “Hey Cap, it’s just me.”
Hank grinned as his junior paramedic stepped the rest of the way inside the room. “Hey John, what’s up pal?”
“Oh, I just came to let you know that the concierge says that our shuttle bus is here to take us to the airport whenever we’re ready to get going. You and Roy are the only two that are left…the rest of us have already had the porter take our bags down to the shuttle and load them up.”
Johnny looked over towards the other door as he realized that Emily had now entered the room with the girls, and had all of their luggage in tow.
“Thank-you John,” she smiled. “I’ll call down for a porter now.” and she walked over to the telephone to make the call.
“Well Cap,” John glanced around the room one more time. “If you guys are all set, then I think I’ll nip across the hall and see if Roy needs a hand with his crew. The two kids can be a bit of a handful when they’re wired up.”
Cap, smiled, “ Go ahead, John, we’re good to go here.”
“Good deal.” Johnny replied. And with one last smile at Emily and the girls, he was back out the door and headed across the hallway to the DeSoto’s suite.
Hank had to grin...John had become such a big part of the DeSoto household, that he was now a permanent fixture.
Hank thought back to the first time he realized that fact. It was when the DeSoto’s had held their very first barbeque for the station crew and their families. They had been together about 11 months and had not really gotten to know each other outside of the station. Everybody but Johnny had arrived at Roy’s house on the day of that first barbeque and everyone was still at that awkward “overly polite” stage when it came to talking with each other’s spouses and children. They were all sitting stiffly on the couch in Roy’s living room while Joanne worked on getting the final touches of the meal ready. The kids were all hanging around out in the backyard being shy, and to top it all off, Joanne’s sister Elaine was visiting the DeSoto home that day as well.
Then suddenly, without any warning, the door swung open wide and in breezed Johnny Gage like a breath of fresh air. He wore a big grin on his face as he looked over and said, “Hey guys…looks like I’m fashionably late again huh?” And without missing a beat he yelled out, “Hey honey, I’m home.” He giggled as he stepped over the threshold into the room and walked over and kissed Elaine on the cheek. “Hey Elaine, I didn’t know you were coming today, how’s David doing? Is he here too?”
“No, Johnny.” Elaine answered. “He got called in to work at the last minute.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, I was hoping to show him my latest photographs from the camping trip Roy and I were on last weekend.”
By this time Joanne had entered the room with Roy. She walked over and kissed John on the cheek. “Hey Sweetie, I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,”
“No way,” Roy laughed, “Junior here never misses out on free food.”
“Oh HA HA Roy,” John jokingly glared back.
Just then the two DeSoto kids came running in from the back yard screaming, “Uncle Johnny’s here,” and they then proceeded to launch themselves into the young man’s arms.
Roy’s voice took on a stern, no nonsense tone. “What have I told you two about jumping on your Uncle Johnny?”
“Sorry Daddy. Sorry Uncle Johnny,” they said solemnly…but the entire time Johnny was grinning and his eyes were dancing with merriment.
“Need any help guys?” John asked as he stood up and smiled at Joanne.
“Yes.” Joanne nodded. “Can you take these two rug rats up and make sure they wash up good for lunch please?” she asked.
Johnny just nodded and he reached forward to collect Chris and Jenny.
“Oh, and Johnny," Joanne giggled, “that includes you too, young man.” She teased as she gave him a playful swat on the back of his head.
“Yes, Mom,” John laughed.
And with that he proceeded to grab a child under each arm and carry them squealing up the stairs and out of sight.
At the time Hank and the rest of the crew were a bit taken aback by how much at home John was here in Roy’s house.
It was obvious to the rest of the A shift, just by the sheer fact that Johnny was obviously not expected to knock before entering the home, and that he clearly knew his way around this house; not to mention that he seemed to know the entire extended family on a very friendly and intimate level. There was no doubt that John was a regular and again an obviously well loved and welcome visitor in the DeSoto home.
The terms of endearment they used when greeting each other made it clear to everyone in the room; John Gage was now a DeSoto in everything but name.
It was the first time Hank had realized how close his two paramedics were.
That had been over 3 years ago now.
Just then the porter arrived at the door and Hank put his arms around his lovely wife as he and his family followed their luggage down to the lobby, and the waiting shuttle bus.
Meanwhile, Johnny had stepped across the hall to room 512.
He could hear the sound of the kids fighting as well as the sound of Joanne’s frustrated voice coming through the door.
“Christopher DeSoto, I will not tell you again to put your shoes on NOW!!!!…Roy have you found Jenny’s other sneaker yet?”
Johnny gave a brisk knock as he opened the door, stuck his head in and called out, “It sounds like someone could use a bit of help in here…I’ve got two hands--- no waiting.” He looked over at Joanne who was trying to get an extremely over stuffed suitcase closed, while Roy was on his hands and knees looking under the bed for Jennifer’s shoe.
Joanne looked up with a desperate look on her face….”YES PLEASE!” she pleaded.
John strode across the room. He stooped and picked up Chris’s sneakers in one hand, as he scooped up the child in the other. He then proceeded to walk over and sit down on top of the over full suitcase forcing its lid to shut tight. “Okay, latch it quick,” he grinned as he turned to flip Christopher top-side down over the edge of the bed, while he slipped the boys shoes on to his feet and tied them up. Then in one swift move, he quickly flipped him back upright while the child laughed out loud.
“Do that to me Uncle Johnny,” Jenny squealed as she wriggled out of Roy’s grasp and came running over waving the missing shoe that Roy had obviously found.
Before either Roy or Joanne could say another word, Johnny grabbed the girl and proceeded to flip their 6-year old daughter upside down and secured her shoe on to her foot, while she screamed with laughter. After flipping their youngest offspring into the upright position on the floor once more, John then looked over with a grin…”So what’s next? Have you called for the porter yet? Everyone else is waiting down at the shuttle bus.”
Jo snickered at his antics, while Roy just rolled his eyes.
“Yes Junior, there is one on his way up here now,” he stated as he let out a longsuffering sigh. “I just want to go over the rooms and make sure we didn’t forget anything. Could you go with Jo and help her keep the kids in line for me?” Roy snickered under his breath. Asking Johnny to keep the kids in line, was a lot like the blind leading the blind, or at the very least, the one eyed man in the kingdom of the blind. But his kids loved their Uncle Johnny and would do anything to please him.
“Sure thing Roy,” Johnny then turned to look at Joanne. “So, which one do you want to take with you Jo, Thing one or Thing Two?” he said teasingly, referring to the kid’s favorite Dr. Seuss book, The Cat in the Hat.
“Uncle Johnny,” Jennifer said indignantly….”I’m not a thing, I’m a girl.”
“Oh you are, are you?” John winked over at Joanne. “Because you kind of looked like a wild thing squirming around while your dad was trying to put your shoes on you back there,” he teased back at her.
Jenny smiled as she looked up towards Johnny and asked, “Can I sit beside you on the way home Uncle Johnny?”
“No fair I wanted to.” Christopher instantly wailed.
“Too late, I asked first, so I get to sit beside him. Right Uncle Johnny?” the little girl proclaimed defiantly.
“Sorry,” Johnny shrugged. “That’s not my call…this definitely falls under the mommy and daddy jurisdiction, he said.
“Thanks a lot Junior,” Roy called out as he slowly made his way out of the room, following the porter who now had their bags on a trolley cart.
“Hey, I’m just the uncle; it’s the parent’s domain to call the tough ones. I don’t have to play the heavy unless I’m babysitting.”
Chris ran over to his father and looked up at him, “So who gets to sit beside Uncle Johnny, Dad?”
“Well,” Roy said thoughtfully, “I don’t know. Your mom and I will have to discuss it.” he said.
“Besides maybe Uncle Johnny wants to fly home in peace and quiet without a couple of kids bothering him.” Roy knew Johnny adored his children and had a hard time saying no to them.
“Awww, Uncle Johnny doesn’t mind, do you Uncle Johnny?” the boy coaxed.
“Naw, it’s okay with me.” John said. Which immediately set the two kids arguing again about who got to sit with him. John sensed the situation was getting out of hand, and was about to end up with two angry parents and two tearful children- and John hated to see any of the DeSoto’s upset. He quickly stepped forward and raised his voice above the din. “Hey you two, now just settle down or I WILL sit alone.” he stated firmly.
Both children immediately silenced and Roy and Jo heaved dual sighs of relief and shot Johnny a grateful look.
“Now, how about this,” he looked down at Chris and Jenny. “If and ONLY if it’s okay with your mom and dad, I’ll switch seats with one of them and sit in the middle and that way you can both sit beside me.”
Roy knew John preferred the aisle seats, as he got restless sitting still for too long and usually got up to wander around and stretch his legs during a flight.
But then again this was not a long flight.
Still being stuck in the middle seat between two kids, with no chance of being able to get up and move around was not something his vibrant young partner was good at. Roy knew it was a sacrifice his friend was making for the sake of Roy and Joanne’s sanity. “Johnny, we can’t let you do that,” he told his young partner. All the while thinking how nice it would be to be able to enjoy his flight back home without being encumbered with two small restless and tired children on either side of him and Jo.
Chris and Jenny looked over at Johnny, but kept quiet. They seemed to sense that everything hinged on whatever Johnny said next.
“Naw guys, It’s okay,” Johnny assured them. “It’s only a couple of hours, it’s not like it’s a trans-Atlantic flight or anything. Besides the kids will be REAL good, and if they’re not…I can always switch seats back with you.” He said looking pointedly at the two children.
The kids got the message loud and clear and spoke up. “We’ll be good, we promise.” they said in unison.
Roy looked over at Joanne, who just shrugged her shoulders. “It’s okay with me.”
Roy smiled at Johnny, “Okay Junior, It’s your funeral. BUT,” he added sternly as he looked at his children, “If there is ANY acting up, then there will be more consequences to pay than just your Uncle Johnny and me switching seats back, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”
“Yes sir,” the pair said solemnly.
“Okay then,” John said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s get this show on the road before the others leave without us.” He reached down and grabbed a DeSoto child’s hand in each of his, and the three of them bounded off towards the elevators, leaving Roy, Jo and the porter standing in the hall watching them.
Jo looked over at Roy and giggled. “Gee Dad, can we keep him?”
“I don’t know.” Roy joked back. “He’s awfully expensive to feed, and I don’t think he’s fully house broken yet.”
The couple laughed as they walked hand in hand toward the elevators where they could hear the animated voices of their “three” children arguing over which book was better, The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham.
Sitting together in the shuttle bus, the happy group of travelers laughed and chattered away amongst themselves, as the vehicle made its way through the city streets towards the airport.
Chet had overheard Chris and Jenny telling Allison and Julia that they had managed to snag a place on either side of Johnny for the flight home. This of course had been all the incentive Chet had needed to start in relentlessly on Johnny, calling him a putz and a sucker for letting Roy ‘pawn’ the kids off onto him. He also took great pleasure in telling him what a lousy trip home he was going to have, and that he’d better hope the DeSoto children didn’t get airsick. “Hey Gage.” Chet chuckled, starting in on round two…. “So how much is Roy paying you to play Father Goose huh?”
John just rolled his eyes and went back to looking out the window. He wanted to get one last look at the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. He tried to ignore Chet’s jibes. Not that he really cared.
He loved Roy and Jo and he also loved Chris and Jenny. He actually enjoyed spending time with them. They were the family he hadn’t had, not until he met Roy and joined the paramedics…in fact he hadn’t had a family at all, at least not since he was a young boy. The DeSoto family had filled a huge hole in his world, and he wouldn’t let Chet’s petty teasing take any of it away from him….still, Chet’s relentless teasing was getting really annoying.
Chet opened his mouth once again, getting ready to start in once more, when he suddenly felt a hand grab his shoulder and squeeze tight.
He looked back to see Roy lean forward and say very quietly in his ear. “Chet, if you want to live with anything approaching peace with me while we’re on duty, you had better shut up and leave Johnny alone…and before you even ask, yes, that’s a threat… and a promise.”
Hank leaned forward on the other side of Chet, and spoke quietly into his other ear, “actually you should probably just consider that an order Pal.”
Chet was smart enough to know when he was dancing close to the line. Johnny might not seek revenge, but when Roy got protective of his younger partner, Chet knew he was treading on dangerous ground. And when Cap spoke…well suffice it to say, there was only one sheriff at Station 51 and that was Captain Stanley, and his word was the law. Chet had made that mistake once before when it came to Johnny, and he had almost faced a suspension because of it. He remembered it like it was yesterday. It was the one prank he felt shame and regret for.
Chet had been having a lot of fun teasing Johnny about his Native heritage, after he had accidentally found out, (well he actually had been eavesdropping in on a private conversation between Gage and DeSoto) that Johnny had been raised on an Indian Reservation.
Chet loved to tease Johnny, largely in part because Chet could always get the best reactions from him, and Johnny always fell for his pranks. He would always seem to just walk blindly into them.
Truth be told, Chet knew that the reason he fell for his pranks so easily, was because Johnny Gage was totally incapable of such meanness period. So he tended not to look for any guile in others. In fact he could be unswervingly kind hearted, and ready to help anyone no matter what. And when it came to helping Roy…Johnny would move heaven and earth for him or his family. One of the things John had was a very strong sense of loyalty, especially when it came to Roy, or anyone whose last name was DeSoto.
But Chet came from a background where teasing and pranks were the norm. Finding someone else’s weakness and pouncing on it was expected. It was praised and cheered on in his family, and that was where he had learned to sharpen his skills in the art of pulling pranks. But the one thing he had never seemed to learn was when enough was enough, or when his pranks were no longer funny…just mean. So the minute he had learned that Johnny was raised on the Indian Reservation, rather than consider why Johnny had felt the need to keep his past private and why he never had, in all the time Chet had known him, even once discussed his family, it never crossed Chet’s mind.
Hell… no one at the station even knew who or where his parents were or if he had siblings, (well maybe DeSoto knew.) He did remember once back when they all first started at 51’s, an aunt had called the station looking for him.
But rather than consider why John wouldn’t discuss it, Chet only considered it fodder for his jokes. And the fact that John was reticent about talking about his past, and the possible reasons why, never once crossed into Chet’s line of thinking. He just immediately started in on the Native American themed pranks.
At first they had been fairly harmless, and more annoying than anything else, and for a while everyone laughed along with him. But as time went by, a couple his pranks got a bit mean spirited and had really hurt John’s feelings. It was then that Cap had suggested to him that he thought it was maybe time to put the subject to bed once and for all. Pranks were one thing but when they bordered on persecution, well, that was too much.
The thing was, Chet really did like Johnny and considered him a friend. He just had a hard time when it came to telling the difference between what was harmless fun and when he was going too far, or when his pranks went from teasing someone to hurting someone’s feelings.
And so it happened that on this day, he had walked in on Johnny as he was getting changed out of his civvies and into his ‘blues.’ He saw Johnny slip something from around his neck and hang it in the back of his locker before he got into his uniform. He had seen John do this before; in fact it was a daily ritual with the young paramedic.
Chet’s curiosity was insatiable, and so as soon as roll call was over and everyone was going about, doing their appointed chores, Chet slipped back into the locker room and opened the door to John’s locker and reached into the back to see what it was he had put there. Chet found a hook at the back of Gage’s locker, and to his delight he discovered that the object in question was none other than a necklace. It was obviously hand made, on a long strand of thin soft leather. It contained a small kind of leather and bone pendant with different symbols intricately embroidered into the leather portions with finely colored strings and beads.
Chet was in heaven…first; he could nail John for wearing a necklace (something HE considered to be for women only.) Second, it was clearly Native American in design, so it was good for some more joking on that angle. He knew Cap had suggested he lay off, but it hadn’t actually been an order, so he figured he could slip in one more prank, before Cap actually did make it an order.
Chet bided his time before he put his plan in motion.
The next shift he came in all prepared to pull off his latest prank.
He waited patiently for the squad to be toned out, and then while no one else was looking, Chet went and got the stations’ dummy that they used when they did CPR demonstrations at the local schools. He carefully dressed the dummy in the ‘Indian’ outfit he had found at the local toy store and covered it with the feather headdress that came with the rest of the costume. He then went over to Gage’s locker and got the necklace and put it on the dummy. He took the dummy and hid it in the broom closet in the kitchen.
As soon as he heard the squad back in, he grabbed the dummy and set it on the couch. He waited for John and Roy to come in and casually stuck his head out the door and yelled, “Hey Gage, your sister’s here.”
John and Roy and the rest of the crew walked through the door to see what on earth Chet was talking about. They took about four steps into the room before they saw Chet’s homemade Indian woman
sitting on the couch. Chet had expected Johnny’s usual rant, but instead he stopped short as Johnny froze in his tracks and let out a horrified gasp.
The entire crew looked over and seen the momentary flash of stunned agony cross Johnny’s features. The brief betrayal on his face of hurt and pain was overwhelming…it was as if Chet had physically slapped him across the face.
It was just then that Johnny saw the necklace hanging around the neck of the dummy. The color drained out of his face as he started to tremble.
Before he realized what he was even doing, Johnny rushed over and snatched the necklace off of the dummy and turned to face Chet. He could not hide the tears in his eyes or the quivering edge to his voice. “DON’T YOU EVER TOUCH THIS AGAIN!” he practically screamed at him…suddenly he stopped and looked around as he realized that everyone was staring at him.
There he was, standing there panting with tears in his eyes. The sudden silence in the room cut through the station like a dagger, his emotions raw and his body trembling, all of his private anguish now openly exposed for all the guys to see. Raising his hand to cover his mouth, he ran out of the room.
Chet would never forget the utter look of rage on Roy’s face at that moment.
He turned to face Chet and snarled, “You son of a bitch. For two cents I’d knock you flat on your ass. Do you have any idea what you just did?” And with that he quickly ran after his partner.
Needless to say, the dressing down he got from Cap was one for the history books.
Even the other guys gave him dirty looks for the rest of the day.
And though he did not get suspended for going into someone else’s locker and taking their personal possessions without their permission, he did get 3 months latrine duty. He also had strict orders to stay out of anyone else’s locker but his own, and to respect other people’s personal property, from here on in.
Chet had never ever really meant to hurt John- it was all supposed to be just a harmless joke.
He did feel bad and tried to apologize to Johnny, because for the first time he realized that he had really gone over the line. It was a good two weeks before the tension between Roy and John and Chet went away. The Phantom’s Native American pranks went away too, never to be seen or heard from again. Chet never did find out the reason why Johnny had reacted so strongly to that particular prank. Nor did he ever discover what the significance of the necklace was.
That was a secret Johnny had never shared, not even with Cap
The only one who clearly knew and understood its meaning, judging by his reaction, was Roy.
It was also around that time that Roy really started to step up his ‘big brother’ protective role in full force. He no longer even tried to disguise it from the other guys at the station, and Chet knew when Roy got that ‘look’, it was time to back off, OR ELSE.
Chet had just gotten that look now. He sat back in his seat on the shuttle bus and decided maybe it might be a good idea if he just looked out the window as well.
Soon the shuttle pulled up to the terminal, and the whole gang stepped out and started grabbing for their luggage. The traffic had been heavier than anticipated and they had now realized they were kind of cutting it a bit close as far as time went. They all picked up the pace and hurried into the terminal.
John grabbed his luggage and then reached over to help Roy with Chris and Jenny’s duffle bags.
“Thanks Junior,” he smiled.
“No” John said quietly, “Thank-you. I heard what you and Cap said to Chet.” John gave his shoulder a small squeeze and walked on into the terminal behind the rest of the guys.
Chet looked back and seen Johnny loaded down with his bags as well as some of the DeSoto’s luggage. Once again he couldn’t resist taking a shot at Gage. “Hey Roy, nice pack horse ya got there. When did they start letting farm animals on commercial flights?”
Before Roy could warn Chet again, John shouted back over his shoulder. “Well Chester B, once they let you on, they figured now that they had set the precedent by letting a jackass on, they might as well let pack horses on too.”
Chet’s face reddened as the rest of the guys and several other passengers, who had overheard the exchange, broke out into laughter.
Roy looked over at Johnny and grinning, he threw him a wink and a thumbs up sign.
They had only gotten part way through the baggage check when a middle-aged man dressed in an airlines uniform approached them. “Excuse me, folks,” the man addressed them.
Cap turned to face the man, “Yes, how can we help you? “
The gentleman looked at Hank and said, “My name is Mr. Fisher, and I’m with the airline.”
“And?” asked Johnny. “Is there a problem?”
“I’m afraid so,” Mr. Fisher replied. “You see it seems we have had a slight miscalculation and we have overbooked this flight by one seat.”
“Well, what are we supposed to do?’ Chet groused. “Shove someone in the baggage compartment? Sorry, Gage you’re the skinniest, I guess it’s you.”
Mike reached over and swatted the back of Chet’s head.
Mr. Fisher took a deep breath and continued on. “Seeing as you folks are the last ones to check in, I am afraid that one of you is going to have to wait behind for the next available flight. We are very sorry about this and of course the airline will cover any financial expenses that the one staying behind incurs because of this. We will also be giving a full refund for that person’s ticket, both ways, of course. Again, we are extremely sorry for this inconvenience.” He quickly made his exit from the group of men.
“Great,” muttered Chet, “we get a full refund on a free ticket.”
“Shut up you twit,” hissed Hank. “We have a much bigger issue here, like who has to stay behind.”
“Well,” Johnny mused. “I don’t think it’s right to ask any of the women to wait behind and of course the kids can’t.”
“Hey what about women’s lib and all that ‘we chicks want to be treated as equals’ crap,” complained Chet.
“SHUT UP CHET,” said five voices in unison.
“John’s right,” declared Cap. “Look I’ve got a deck of cards in my carry on. We’ll just get it out and cut the cards. The six men will draw cards, and the low card stays behind.” He then proceeded to get out the deck and shuffle the cards and splayed them face down across the counter. “Okay gentlemen, aces are high and I draw first,” he announced.
Chet started to open his mouth, but Cap held up his hand and silenced him…”I go first Chet, because I’m the Captain and they’re my cards.” And as he was saying that he reached over and grabbed a card and flipped it over. “Eight of Clubs” he frowned, not entirely happy with his card.
Chet reached over quickly and grabbed his card. He grinned as he turned it over. “Jack of Diamonds…Chet’s going home tonight.” He gloated.
Johnny went next and flipped his card over onto to the counter. “YES!” he shouted. “King of Hearts”
Mike reached over next and grabbed his card and slowly turned it over onto the counter “Four of Spades” he groaned. Cap sighed in relief as he was no longer low card.
Marco reached over and grabbed a card. “Ten of Diamonds he said with a smile.”
Mike slowly began to grab his luggage back off the counter as Roy reached over and snagged a card from the pile. He turned it over and his face fell. “Three of Clubs” he sighed.
Slowly he reached over and sorted through the pile of DeSoto luggage, looking for his bag.
“Sorry, pal,” Cap patted him on the shoulder. “That’s too bad.”
Roy leaned over to kiss Jo good-bye, and he turned to Johnny, “You’ll watch out for Jo and the kids won’t you Junior?”
Johnny sighed; he knew what he had to do. He didn’t like the idea of sitting all night in an airport terminal, but he knew it was the right thing to do. “Wait Roy,” he grabbed his partner by the arm to stop him rummaging through the pile of luggage. “You shouldn’t have to leave Jo and the kids. You should stay as a family. I’ll wait behind; you go with Jo and the kids”
“Johnny, you’re family too, and you won fair and square. You got the highest card of all of us.” Roy protested.
“Roy, would ya quit arguing, now I’m stayin’ and that’s that. The flight’s almost ready to leave, so ya gotta hurry and check those bags.” Johnny reached over and grabbed his suitcase and duffle bag off the counter. “I’m staying Roy, it’s my choice. Now ya better hurry,” he instructed, shoving him towards the counter.
“Thanks Junior, I really owe ya one.” Roy shot him a grateful look and gave him a brief bear hug.
Jo reached up and gave him a peck on the cheek.
“You’re a good man Charlie Brown, dinner’s at our house when you get home, you pick the menu. Roy pays and I’ll cook it.”
“Isn’t that what usually happens?” he laughed. “Seriously Jo, it’s okay, you don’t have to do that. Besides I didn’t really do you a favor, because now you and Roy have to sit beside the kids without me there as your buffer,” he giggled.
Cap walked over and clapped him on the back of the shoulder. “Helluva a nice thing to do John, I see a month of ‘get out of latrine duty free’ passes in your future.”
John grinned, “Thanks Cap, I accept. I’ll take you up on that one,” he said, while smirking over in Chet’s direction.
Cap handed John the deck of cards. “Here I gotta feeling you might want these before the night’s over.”
“Thanks Cap,” John stuck the deck of cards in his duffle bag. “I’ll be okay; maybe I’ll get my money’s worth out of the airline. After all they did say they would cover my expenses….I see an expensive dinner on the town in my immediate future. And after that, oh, I’ll find something to amuse myself with all night long.”
Roy looked suddenly worried. “Be careful Johnny.” He warned his young friend.
“My dear Roy,” Johnny was now grinning broadly, “there’s nothing I’m more careful of than my valuable hide.”
Roy rolled his eyes, “I’m not so sure,” he murmured. “Still promise me you won’t go wandering around a strange city all by yourself all night. Okay?”
“No," Cap interjected, “make that an order, Pal.”
“But Cap- I’m not on duty. Technically, I’m a free agent.” Johnny laughed playfully.
Now it was Hank’s turn to laugh. “Johnny my boy, as long as I’m your Captain, you’ll consider your ‘valuable hide’ mine to order around as I see fit, on or off duty.”
Johnny laughed out loud, “Aye aye Cap, order received and acknowledged- no wandering alone at night in a strange city. I wasn’t going to anyway. I was thinking more along the lines of having them order me in a steak dinner while I settle down in the waiting area and read my novel. I was hoping to finish it before our next shift, because I promised to return it to Dixie by then anyway.”
“Smart man,” grinned Cap, and he playfully gave him another slap on the shoulder.
Just then the P.A, system called ‘last call’ for their flight.
Jo and Roy gave John one last quick hug, and then ‘Uncle Johnny’ bent over to hug Chris and Jenny goodbye.
He slowly rose and stepped back while he watched the rest of the group go through the doors and board the plane… leaving Johnny standing alone in the terminal. He quietly walked over to the observation window. Johnny sighed as he watched the plane with his shift mates taxi down the runway and then slowly take flight on its way home to Los Angeles without him on board.
He glanced down at his watch- another sigh. 5:30 pm. Unless a standby spot opened up on the 1 a.m. red- eye flight, which was booked to the hilt too, Johnny had a 26- hour wait until the next flight to L.A. from San Francisco would be available with a seat reserved for him on it. He wished now he was still back in his hotel room. At least he could have waited in comfort, and hung out at the pool and flirted with some of the pretty girls. He supposed he could insist the airline put him up in a room for the night, but then he’d miss his chance for a standby on the red-eye.
He was sitting there bemoaning his fate, when his head jerked up, and a smile crossed his face.
He had suddenly thought of a possible way that he could still be home in time for breakfast if he was lucky. He walked over to the clerk at the desk and cleared his throat.
The clerk looked up and smiled. “Yes, can I help you?” She recognized this gentleman as the one Mr. Fisher had instructed her to accommodate if he had asked for any assistance.
“Yes,” replied Johnny. “I need to speak with Mr. Fisher please.”
Johnny picked up his suitcase and duffle bag and stepped away from the taxi as it slowly pulled out from the curb and drove down the street. He glanced up at the building in front of him and looked at the large clock that was situated over the main entrance. He took note of the time and grinned 6:15 pm; he had arrived with 45 minutes to spare.
Heaving a sigh, he shifted the straps of his duffle bag onto his shoulder and used his free hand to open the door to the bus station. As he walked inside, he was surprised to notice that it was fairly empty with only a handful of people milling about.
Outside a large viewing window located across the entire length of the back wall he could see five buses parked in a row. One was just getting ready to depart, while three others were obviously in the final process of being loaded with passengers. The belly of the beasts stood open, like a row of giant mouths, each one being fed luggage belonging to the passengers who were now getting on board. The fifth bus remained silent and empty, but Johnny could clearly read the sign that ran across the front of the bus…Bus 87-San Francisco to Los Angeles. ‘Ah my chariot awaits,’ he thought to himself.
Johnny made his way over to the ticket agent and leaned close to the wicket. “Excuse me, sir?”
The man in his early 40’s glanced up at him and set down the sheet of paper he had been reading. “Yes, how may I be of assistance?”
Johnny paused and set his suitcase down on the floor next to his feet. “My name is John Gage, and I was told by the airlines that there would be a ticket waiting her for me on the 7 pm bus from San Francisco to Los Angeles.”
“Oh yes Mr. Gage, we were told to expect you. Everything is in order. The airline has made all the arrangements to pay for your ticket. Your bus won’t be loading until 6:45, so you have half an hour if you’d like to get something to eat. This bus is non-stop, so there won’t be any opportunity for you to get anything to eat until you arrive in L.A. at 5 am tomorrow morning.” The ticket agent then opened a drawer and pulled out a ticket and handed it to Johnny.
“Thank you.” Johnny reached over and took the ticket from the agent. “Is there somewhere close by to get something to eat?”
The ticket agent pointed in the direction of the front door and across the road. “There is a small café just across the street. It’s got decent food at reasonable prices. I think you’ll find it satisfactory.”
Johnny nodded and picked up his suitcase. As he turned to walk back out the door he heard the agent call over to him.
“Mr. Gage, would you like me to tag and store your suitcase for you? The next 3 buses will be pulling out at 6:30, and Pete’s been known to get a head start on loading the bus. If you leave it here, I’ll see that it gets on the bus. That way you don’t have to lug it around with you while you eat.”
Johnny turned and made his way back to the counter. “Good deal, but maybe I’ll just get my jacket out before I check it in.”
Although Johnny had been raised in Montana for the first 16 years of his life, he still had trouble with the cold. He had always been thin, and he found that he felt the cold far easier than the other guys did. Whenever they had a water rescue it always took Johnny a long time to warm up afterwards, even with a hot shower.
Chet would always tease him about being so skinny, but Johnny usually just laughed it off. Sometimes he would tease back, “Chet haven’t you learned, it’s all about quality and not quantity, and what you see here is one hundred percent certified, Grade A prime cut, my little Irish friend.” Usually he would add on some quip about Chet having far too much ‘insulation’ and that if he ever passed out from taking too much smoke at a fire, it would take both him and Roy to carry him to safety.
And even though it was March, and the springtime air was warm during the day, Johnny still found the nights to be chilly sometimes. He hated being cold. It was one of the reasons he chose Los Angeles when he had run away from Montana all those years ago. Sure he missed the snow at Christmas time…or at least he missed the Christmases when his parents were still alive. Since his parent’s tragic death when he was only 10, he hadn’t celebrated Christmas, not until he had met Roy.
Roy was the one who had pulled him back into the land of the living again.
Shaking off his reverie, he set his suitcase on an unoccupied chair, opened it, and rifled through its contents until he found a sweatshirt and his jacket. He only had a light short-sleeved shirt on now, so he slipped on the sweatshirt, and grabbed his jacket before he closed the lid and zipped up the case; might as well be comfortable while traveling. Sometimes the air conditioning would be turned on in these buses and he didn’t want to shiver all the way back to L.A. He paused briefly as he tried the lock on his suitcase one more time just to satisfy himself that it was closed securely. Striding back to the ticket agent, he handed the suitcase over the counter and filled out the tag so it could be attached to the handle.
Glancing over, he saw a display rack with some travel brochures and postcards sitting beside him on the counter. One postcard in particular caught his eye. It was an advertisement for New Orleans. It had a wonderful picture of the city of New Orleans at night on the front of it, but it was the caption written in bright red lettering that made him smile. It said simply: FOR THE BEST JAZZ YOU’LL EVER HEAR…COME VISIT DIXIE! As soon as he read it, Johnny knew he HAD to have that postcard. Next month would be
Dixie’s birthday, and he wanted to find the perfect card. This was it!!!
Johnny had discovered very early on when he joined the department, that Dixie McCall had an amazing voice and could sing jazz like no one else he had ever heard.
He had still been a rescue man for Station 10 back then and he had been injured at a fire and found himself once more a guest at Rampart. It was late one night during that stay, and he had, as usual, been having a hard time with vomiting due to a reaction to one of the meds he was on. To help distract him from his misery, Dixie had come to keep him company while she was on her break. At one point as she sat on the edge of his bed, she began to sing out softly, “Cry Me a River”. Johnny had been amazed by her voice.
It was during that night that Johnny had shared some of his past with Dixie. He confided to her that he had been an only child, and that his parents had been killed when he was only a small boy of 10. In his medicated haze, he had become more open with his thoughts and feelings; and in a moment of sentimental weakness, he had told her about how his mother used to sing while she worked around the house.
He also confided to Dixie that some of his happiest memories were of when his mother would stand at the kitchen sink and sing “Till Their Was You” to Johnny’s father, while he sat in front of the big woodstove in their kitchen and polished his saddle every evening as she did the supper dishes. She had told young Johnny that it was ‘their special song.’
Johnny then found himself sharing with Dixie that better still were the nights back he was very young when he would crawl into his mother’s lap, and she would rock him in the rocking chair. She would gently stroke his hair back from his forehead and sing “I’ve Got a Crush on You” to him until he fell asleep. Later on that same night, as Johnny lay miserable and fighting a fever and nausea, Dixie sat beside his bed and sang “Till There Was You” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You” as she brushed the hair off Johnny’s forehead, until he finally succumbed to the medication, and fell asleep.
Dixie had always been someone special to him, like a big sister. But after that night, she completely owned the deed to a big chunk of real estate inside his heart. Just looking at this postcard, made him tear up, while it carried him back in time to that special night he and Dixie had shared.
He reached over and bought two from the ticket agent, deciding he would keep one for himself and frame it for his nightstand. Just as a reminder of that night 6 years ago, when he was just a young fresh faced 20-year-old kid, and how Dixie had, just for one night, brought his mother back to life for him in some small way. Maybe he’d frame Dixie’s as well. The thought made him smile.
He paid for them both and looked up at the agent, “I don’t suppose you have an envelope hanging around back there that I could have do you? I’d like to put these inside something to protect them from getting smudged or bent up.”
The ticket agent rummaged around under the counter and came up with a brown manila envelope. “I’m sorry sir, this is the smallest I could offer you,” and he pushed it towards Johnny.
Johnny grinned and picked up the large envelope up from off the counter. “No, this is great… thanks, I just need it to hold these until I can get them home.” He quickly slid the postcards into the envelope and slid the whole packet into the large front pocket of his duffle bag.
Johnny stepped outside and looked up again at the clock…6:25 pm. ‘Better get a move on,’ he thought. He didn’t want to miss the bus while he was eating. After all he couldn’t exactly go back to the airport now. Not since he had already made them pay for his taxi and his bus ticket home. He had been pleased with himself for thinking of this idea. To his way of thinking, he was going to have to sit around in San Francisco waiting for a way to get home no matter what, and sitting around for 10 or 12 hours on a bus was a hell of a lot better than sitting round for 26 hours in an airport terminal. Besides it was basically a choice of sleeping in the airport lounge or on the seat of a bus. If he was going to have to sleep without the benefit of a bed, he might just as well be doing it and traveling home at the same time. Anyway, he thought, this way he would be able to have a hot shower, some breakfast and if he was lucky, and 4 or 5 hours of sleep before noon tomorrow. If he waited around in San Francisco, by noon tomorrow he would still be facing a 12hour wait on top of the previous 12 hours he had waited. No…he patted himself on the back. This was the way to go. “Johnny you’re a genius,” the said to himself.
Johnny made his way across the street and walked into the café. Glancing up at the sandwich board, he decided the prudent thing to do would be to just order a couple of sandwiches and a cup of coffee to go; carry them back across the street to the bus station and eat them there, which is exactly what he did.
He had just gathered up the garbage from his meal and deposited it into the trashcan, when he heard the loudspeaker call out for the passengers for bus 87 to Los Angeles to head outside and board the bus.
Johnny slowly stood up and grabbed his duffle bag, and started to make his way toward the rear entrance of the bus station that lead out to where the bus stood. As he passed by a bank of vending machines he decided maybe he should take along something to snack on. He reached into his jeans pocket, pulled out a large handful of change and quickly started shoving quarters into the machine, as he made his selections. In the end he ended up with 3 chocolate bars and 2 bags of peanuts. As an afterthought he walked over to the neighboring machine and bought a can of Pepsi. He opened his duffle bag, stuffed the pop inside and shoved the peanuts and chocolate bars inside the pockets of his jacket.
As he approached the bottom step of the bus, he held out his ticket to the driver who was a heavyset man who looked to be in his mid fifties. He took John’s ticket and smiled. “Good evening sir, my name is Pete and I’ll be your driver tonight.”
John looked up into the bus and noticed that it was nearly empty. “Not many on board are there? Is it usually this quiet?”
Pete just shrugged his shoulders. “Most folks don’t like doing the overnight. They usually prefer to take the 7 am bus.”
“That makes sense,” John replied and he stepped the rest of the way inside to the interior of the bus. He paused for a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the change in lighting. Looking around he saw a man of about 30 years of age who had 2 small children with him: a boy who looked to be about 4 or 5 years old and a girl who appeared to be about 7 or 8. They were sitting in the very front seats.
Mid way back there sat an elderly couple who appeared to be in their 70’s. He wondered at them taking an overnight bus ride. He would have thought the trip too difficult to manage at their age. He smiled at them politely as he passed by them.
The children were laughing and chattering away noisily with each other up at the front of the bus. Johnny had decided that maybe he would sit at the back, where it would afford him the most privacy and the best chance at being able to sleep undisturbed. He sat down in the very back seat and glanced around. No one else seemed to be boarding.
He sat and watched the father try to manage his two young charges, smiling at how much they reminded him of Chris and Jenny. He smiled as he thought about just how much he had grown to love the whole DeSoto family.
It wasn’t long before the two youngsters started arguing over who got the window seat. Finally the man, who Johnny assumed must be the father, stood up and raised his voice slightly. He grabbed his daughter by the hand and sat her across the aisle in the seat behind the driver. “Natalie, you sit beside the window on this side,” he ordered. He then picked up the small boy and sat him in the seat directly behind the door. “Lucas, you can sit by the window here beside me.” And with that the bickering stopped.
Johnny absently wondered where their mother was, and why this father was traveling on an overnight bus trip with two small children. He couldn’t imagine ever doing that. He hoped he was not in for a long night of listening to a couple of crabby, overtired children.
Johnny glanced down at his watch … 6:59 pm.
Just then Pete came on board, sat in his seat, and closed the doors. “Okay folks,” he shouted back over his shoulder. “We’re on our way, sit back and enjoy the ride” And with that the bus slowly pulled out of the station and headed south towards the 101; thus sealing the fate for the small group of travelers that both chance and circumstance had brought together on board bus number 87 on that cool March evening.
Thirty one year old Martin Albright sat smoking his cigarette as he waited on the edge of the unkempt, badly overgrown verge. He listened idly, while his two companions argued back and forth, while he himself appeared to be lost deep in thought. He sat staring through the undergrowth, looking towards the rest stop that was situated across the parking lot. Their car had run out of gas half an hour ago and was now currently the lone occupant in the dimly lit parking area.
His two companions, 39 year old, Angus Rankin and Angus’ cousin, 36-year-old Duncan MacNeil, had been exchanging angry words for the last 20 minutes. Angus was a short, stocky red headed man, who also had the traditional fiery temper that people usually associated with those who were born with that particular hair coloring. His cousin Duncan was also short in stature, and was slightly more heavyset than his cousin. He too had a temper, but one could not use the stereotypical ‘ginger’ excuse on him, as his hair was naturally ash blonde.
It was now almost 9:30 pm; the temperature had grown considerably cooler, and Martin was getting tired of listening to the two men go at each other.
“This is all your fault Duncan, how could you not have known the gas gauge wasn’t working properly…you’ve had the car for over a week now,” Angus hissed.
“Look, it’s not my fault,” Duncan growled back. “I had to pay cash and take the car as is… It’s not like I could have had the thing certified since it wasn’t exactly a ‘legal’ purchase. I couldn’t really use my real name now could I? You said you didn’t want anyone to be able to trace it back to us.”
“Fine, fine, but just what the hell are we going to do now?” Angus groused.
Martin Albright and Angus Rankin had met each other 11 months previous at the California Men’s Colony.
Martin had just been sentenced to 15 years for bank robbery. Angus was 5 years into a 25-year prison term for murder. The two had struck up a casual friendship, and had learned a lot about each other in those 6 months.
Martin was definitely the smarter of the two men, and had realized early on that Angus had a reputation around the prison as being a man you didn’t wanted to cross.
Martin himself was not a big man. He was tall with a slight build and a full head of dark brown hair; he certainly was not well versed in the art of self-defense. His sole interest in being a friend to the red headed firebrand was for the protection that being Angus’ friend had garnered him.
It had been about a month earlier when Martin had received word that his only brother James had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Martin had plead with the state corrections board to allow him to go and visit his younger brother before he was too ill to recognize him any longer…they had of course, denied his request.
It was shortly after that, that Martin had told Angus of his plan to escape, knowing full well that Angus would jump at the chance to be rid of his prison walls too. Martin had realized that he would need help from the outside if his plan was going to work. He also knew all about Angus’ cousin Duncan, thanks in part to Angus’ propensity to brag about his and Duncan’s exploits during their misspent youth.
Duncan himself had had his own fair share of scrapes with the law over the years, and Martin knew it would take very little to convince Angus to talk Duncan into helping execute his plan.
What Martin did not realize however, was that both Angus and Duncan, were raging sociopaths.
And so it was that in the wee hours of that very morning that Martin Albright and Angus Rankin had made good on their plan of escaping the California Men’s Colony.
With Duncan waiting just a few miles up the road with their escape vehicle, it had gone off like clockwork. They had laid low for most of the daylight hours, and hit the road at sunset. The plan was to head north.
Martin was on his way to Montana to find some way to sneak in a visit with his dying brother, while the cousins had decided to keep on going until they had crossed over into Canada, hoping to disappear somewhere in the Northern Rockies.
Everything was going along fine, until they had unexpectedly run out of gas in a rest area on route 101, somewhere between San Luis Obispo and San Francisco.
“Look.” Martin interrupted the two cousins. “All we have to do is wait for the next vehicle that comes in to the rest area and ‘commandeer’ it for our own personal use. We’ll just hog tie the driver and stash him in the trunk of our car. We’ll push our car over to the far end of the parking lot out of the way. That way it could be a couple of days before anyone thinks to check it out.”
“Yeah, what if the next vehicle,” said Angus snidely, “is an 18 wheeler, huh?”
“Even better,” Martin grinned. “I drove a rig for 3 years, and who would suspect a couple of fugitive’s would be escaping in a big rig. If it’s on a cross-country run, it could be a couple days before anyone realizes it’s missing. Now, come on, get the guns out of the trunk and push that scrap heap out of the way. Then we can come back over here into the long grass and wait. It’s a perfect place to sit unnoticed.” Martin stood up and tossed the butt of his cigarette into the gravel and walked off in the direction of the car.
“See Duncan, I told ya Marty boy here had a lot of brains.” Angus gave his cousin a playful pat on the back of his shoulder as he pushed himself up off the grass and followed Martin across the parking lot where he was now in the process of opening the trunk of their car.
Thirty minutes later, the three men looked up as a set of headlights drove onto the off ramp that led up to the rest area.
“Look sharp,” Martin ordered. “Looks like our ride has just arrived.”
The three men reached over and grabbed their guns, and slowly made their way to the outer edge of the parking lot.
Back on board bus 87, John Gage glanced down at his watch…9:24 pm.
When the sun had gone down earlier on in the evening, the interior lights of the bus had been switched on. Allowing those on board a chance to read and be able to see each other enough to talk. He had just finished his first bag of peanuts and was in the process of washing down his salty snack with the last of his can of Pepsi that he had stashed in his carry on. He chided himself for only buying one drink. ‘Smooth move Gage,’ he thought to himself. ‘Buy a couple of bags of sodium and only one drink. Great forward planning on your part,’ he grimaced. He made a mental note to himself not to eat the other bag, until he was at home and had access to some kind of fluid to quench the thirst that invariably followed after one had consumed such a salty treat. Well he did have the chocolate bars, but the thought of the sugar rush that would follow, made him think better of it. He’d never be able to sleep on the way home if he did that.
Johnny reached into the outer pocket of his duffle bag in order to grab the novel he had brought with him. He figured maybe if he read for a while it would make him drowsy enough to fall asleep. As he slipped his hand inside the pocket of the bag, his hand brushed up against the large manila envelope. He pulled it out and reached in and grabbed hold of one of the postcards he had purchased earlier. He sat and stared at the lettering sprawled across the front of the card for a long while, lost in the memory of that night 6 years earlier. He felt a lump form in his throat as he recalled how Dixie had offered such wonderful comfort to a very sick young rescue man who was all alone in the world.
He unzipped the bag on the seat beside him and rummaged around in the bottom of it until he found a pen. Briefly looking one more time at the message written across the front of the postcard, he carefully turned it over, he sat deep in thought for a few moments; and then using the novel for support, he slowly began to write across the back…
Happy Birthday Dixie,
I’ll always remember that night 6 years ago, when you took a very lonely and sick young rescue man and carried him back in time, and for one precious night, brought back to life some very special memories when he so desperately needed it. For as long as I live, whenever I think of you, I will smile. You are the big sister I always wished I had been born with. So HAPPY BIRTHDAY dear one, No one deserves one more than you.
Love always, Johnny xoxo
He read over what he had written on the back of the card once more, and then gently slipped it back into the envelope and slid it back into the pocket of his duffle.
Johnny looked up towards the front of the bus as he over heard the little girl Natalie lean across the aisle and say to her father, “Daddy, I really gotta go bad, I can’t hold it.”
The girl’s father looked frustrated as he explained once more to his young daughter that the washroom on the bus was not working, something that had been discovered over an hour earlier when Johnny himself had tried to use it.
Johnny glanced down at his watch once more … 9:57 pm.
Up front the older couple was quietly chatting to each other, while the little boy, Lucas had fallen asleep leaning up against his father. His older sister Natalie had moved away from the window and closer to her father as soon as the sun had gone down.
Johnny had noticed earlier on that they too had ‘snuck’ on a snack. It was probably the juice she had consumed an hour ago, that was the reason for the condition she now found herself in.
Pete had obviously overheard the child’s plea as well, because he looked back into the overhead mirror and yelled out, “Look folks, we’re not really supposed to do this, but since there are only 6 of you, if the rest of you have no objections, there is a rest stop up ahead, and I can pull in and let the little one here use the facilities.”
The father turned around in his seat to face John and the elderly couple. His countenance was one of sheer desperation; he was clearly beseeching his fellow passengers to agree to the unscheduled stop.
Johnny almost laughed out loud, as he recalled that he had seen that same look on Roy’s face whenever Joanne was out of town and he found himself in over his head with Chris and Jenny. “It’s fine by me,” Johnny yelled up to the driver.
“Well actually,” said the old woman, “I wouldn’t mind a visit to the little girl’s room myself. I would be happy to take her in with me if you like,” she looked over at the young father, who nodded in obvious relief.
“Well then,” said Pete. “It sounds like it’s all settled. Luckily the next rest area is only about a mile up the road. Maybe we should all get off and go, since we gotta stop anyway, and we still have a 7 hour drive ahead of us.”
Johnny decided that sounded like a good idea… besides maybe they had a vending machine and he could get himself another drink, that way he could always eat his other bag of peanuts should he get hungry later on. He reached into his pockets to make sure he still had enough change left, and then he put his novel back inside the duffle bag, as the bus made the turn onto the off ramp that lead into the rest stop.
The three fugitives had pushed their car around to the rear of the building. It now sat behind the rest area and deep enough into the shadows that it could not be seen unless someone went purposely behind the building looking for it.
So when Pete pulled the bus into the rest area, as far as he could tell, they were the only ones there.
It was now 10 pm and the main building that housed the information center was closed for the night, but there was still access to the outside bathrooms. There was also an outdoor vending machine, and a payphone that were both secured to the brick wall just outside the main entrance.
Pete stopped the bus close to the brick building instead of pulling into a parking spot. He decided since there were no other vehicles at the rest area, it shouldn’t cause any problems to pull the bus sideways right up beside the entrance. Although it meant that the passengers did not have to walk across the parking lot to get to the facilities, it also gave Angus, Martin and Duncan an opportunity to walk right up behind the bus without having to worry about being seen. The bus had completely obstructed the passenger’s view of the verge across the parking lot.
Pete turned to the small group and said, “Okay folks, we’ll take a ten minute break so everyone can use the bathrooms and stretch their legs a bit. I’m just going to use the ‘gents’ myself and then use that payphone to make a quick phone call if no one has any objections.”
Nodding their agreement, the small group, slowly got out of the bus.
The older woman walked up to little Natalie’s father and said, “Hello sir, my name is Helen Clarke and this is my husband Thomas, we’re just on our way to L.A. from Oregon to visit our grandson. He and his lovely wife just gave us our very first great grandchild, a little boy named after my husband. We missed our connection earlier and so we had to take this one or wait another day. Anyway, as I said before, I would be more than happy to escort your little girl to the ladies room.”
The girls’ father smiled and shook the older couple’s hands… “Thank you so much, I appreciate that. My name is Paul Mills and these are my children, Natalie is 7 and Lucas is 5. I lost my wife last year in a boating accident and I am hoping I can move to L.A. to be closer to my family. I got a phone call early this morning telling me that if I could be in L.A. by noon tomorrow that I could get a job interview with this new communications company. The pay and benefits are much better, and the hours are a lot more flexible, so I had to get to L.A. on short notice. This all night travel is hard on the little ones. But I had no one in San Francisco to watch them for me. If I get this job, it means I’ll be back close to my folks again.”
The small group turned to look at Johnny. He smiled and shook everybody’s hands in turn. “My name is John Gage, and I am a fireman-paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, and to make a long story short, due to a booking error, I missed my flight home and ended up here on this bus.”
“Well,” said the driver, “I guess I should introduce myself as well, I’m Peter Monahan, I too live in Los Angeles and I’m SUPPOSED to be on this bus” he laughed.
With that the small group dispersed, the men into the little boys room, while Natalie and Helen went into the little girls room.
Across the parking lot Martin, Angus and Duncan had watched the bus come up the off ramp.
“Shit,” said Duncan. “We can’t hide a whole bus full of people.”
Martin said nothing as he kept his eyes focused on the bus as it went passed. With the interior lights on, he could clearly see that the bus was almost empty. ”Hang on boys,” he said. “From what I can tell, there are only a couple of people on this bus. The very fact that it has stopped here, tells me that it is a non-stop trip. Otherwise they would have just waited until the next station to take a break. Let’s just hang tight and see how many people we are dealing with here.”
Angus bounced with nervous energy. “Why would a bus be stopping here, they got a bathroom right?”
“I’m guessing,” Martin replied. “That with such a small group, maybe they are stopping for a short break to let the people get out and take a breather, or maybe there is a problem with the bathroom; again, I’m just guessing that since there are only a handful of people on board, they are letting the rules slide. Just be thankful, because this is our lucky day fellas.”
“What do you mean?” Angus asked.
“Look it is obvious that this is a non-stop bus, and if you had bothered to pay attention you might have noticed that this one is bound for L.A., which means no one will be expecting it for another 6 or 7 hours. We can add on another 45 minutes to an hour before anyone starts to really worry about it, when it doesn’t show up. The first things they will think of are, that it’s either been in an accident or it has had a mechanical failure. One thing is for sure, when they do look for it, they will be searching along the 101 between San Francisco and Los Angeles…and we won’t be any of those places by then. Do you know how far north we can be in 7 or 8 hours going non-stop? Unlike the bus company, we can drive faster than 40 or 50 miles per hour. Think of it, no cop is going to be looking for us in a bus. We just make sure we change the destination sign on the front to say ‘out of service’. As soon as we are out of state and away from the heat, we can find a private place and ditch this thing and get ourselves another vehicle. In the meantime this is a perfect cover. The only thing we have to worry about is how many passengers we are dealing with, and how hard is it going to be to control them.”
Angus got a sinister smile on his face and caressed his gun. “Oh we can control them easy enough,” he sneered, as Duncan grinned and nodded in agreement.
“Look let’s not take any stupid chances that someone will notice anything. We do this as quickly as possible and with as little fuss as possible. Let me go check out the situation, just hang tight for a minute.” And with that Martin quietly crept across the parking lot and peeked around the back of the bus.
He got there just in time to see the bus driver grab the payphone and lift the receiver; his back was turned to the bus. Beside him, also with his back turned to the bus, was a young slim man who was obviously in his 20’s with dark hair. He was busy feeding change into the vending machine. Over further by the entrance to the bathrooms stood and elderly man and another young man who looked to be in his late 20’s or early 30’s, he held a small boy by the hand. The two men were talking and looking at the door of the woman’s bathroom; just then the door opened and an elderly woman with a small girl came out to join them.
“Well I guess that’s all of us, we’ve all had a chance to use the facilities.” said the older man.”
Martin smiled as heard that comment…7 people in total, and 4 of them virtually helpless he grinned to himself.
He quickly made his way over to his two companions. “Not too bad guys, it looks like besides the bus driver, the only thing we have to worry about is 2 young guys…the other passengers consist of 2 old people and two small kids.”
Angus and Duncan grabbed their guns. “Let’s go get our bus then.” And they started to move toward the bus.
“WAIT!” Martin whispered, “Not yet.”
“Why not?” Angus glared back.
“Because the driver is on the phone, we don’t want to alert anyone else. We wait until he hangs up and is getting back on board. For now we just quietly sneak up and hide behind the bus. Once it’s loaded we storm it and take charge. Just follow my lead.” And that being said, the 3 men quietly slipped up to hide behind the bus.
Johnny looked over at Pete and shrugged sheepishly as he bought another can of Pepsi and a pre wrapped packet of cookies…”I’m just a growing boy,” he laughed.
Pete smiled and put his hand over the receiver. “Mr. Gage would mind getting everyone else on board, I just want to say goodnight to my wife and then I’ll be right there.”
John gave him a pat on the arm, “No problem, take your time man, we owe ya that much, we’d have all been crossing our legs by morning if you hadn’t stopped for us.”
Pete just grinned and motioned to Johnny to go ahead and load everyone else up.
Johnny strolled over to the door of the bus and called out, “Okay guys, Pete says it’s time to get back on the bus, he’ll be pulling out as soon as he hangs up.”
Martin looked back and gave the thumbs up to Duncan and Angus, as he stole a quick peek around the edge of the bus, just in time to see the young dark headed man, help the elderly woman climb the steps of the bus, and then follow her inside. He slowly pulled his gun out of his waistband and signaled the other two to follow suit… "as soon as the driver hangs up and starts up the steps we make our move,” whispered Martin.
Back on board the, Johnny made his way back to his seat at the back of the bus, while Helen and Thomas settled in the seats on opposite sides of the aisle, so they could have more room to stretch out and try to get a bit of sleep. Paul Mills rolled up his jacket to use as a pillow for Natalie and wedged it up under the window against the wall, so she could rest her head against it. He then took his seat across the aisle with Lucas, putting the boy on the inside against the window, and he then slid close enough, so the child could lean against his father and try to fall asleep again.
Johnny took off his jacket and folded it up to use as a pillow for himself He propped it up against the side of the window, hoping he could lean against it and try to sleep. As he was positioning himself as comfortably as he could, he noticed Pete hanging up the phone. “Here comes Pete,” he shouted out,” Looks like we’re on our way again.” And he settled himself down, prepared to sleep the rest of the way home if he could.
He glanced at his watch, 10:18 pm.
It happened with such astonishing speed that all the passengers could do, for that first split second, was stop and gape in utter disbelief at the surreal scene unfolding before their eyes.
The silence of the night had been replaced by the sound of a gun blast and the noise of Pete’s body hitting the top step of the bus. It momentarily made them all freeze; then that part of the brain that is programmed into every human being’s basic instinct for survival, caused Johnny to duck down behind his seat.
As he hit the floor of the bus, Johnny remembered the elderly couple and the two small children. He raised himself up and looked toward the front of the bus. He saw two men with guns drawn, now standing there, their eyes menacing, hard and sharp as flint. One was a stocky red head while the other was tall and thin with brown hair.
“Everyone just stand still and raise your hands.” The thin man ordered.
“You…” he gestured to Johnny. “Move up with grandma and grandpa here, nice and slow and keep both hands where I can see them.”
Thomas and Helen stood frozen; their eyes fixed toward the front of the bus, as Johnny did exactly what he had been directed to do. He was still in a state of shock himself, his mind still reeling from all it had just witnessed in the last 60 seconds.
He slowly glanced over to where Pete’s body lay sprawled from the top step of the bus to the bottom. The man was beyond saving; it had been a headshot through the back of his skull…execution style. He never knew what hit him.
The thin gunman then yelled out the door, without taking his eyes, or his gun off of the passengers.
“Duncan, shove this guy in the luggage compartment, and make sure he doesn’t bleed on the ground. I don’t want any blood stains or trace evidence that this bus or the three of us were ever here left behind for anyone to find. Angus, change that sign to say ‘out of service,’ then fish the keys for this thing out of the driver’s pockets and help Duncan get rid of this guy.”
The red headed man, who was obviously named Angus, turned and started to flip the sign on the bus.
The tall thin man, just stood, his gaze unwavering on the remaining passengers, his gun poised and ready to fire.
Natalie stood sobbing and shaking while Lucas clutched his father’s hand wide eyed and pale. Paul Mills looked over and saw his daughter across the aisle and reached over to bring her closer to his side. He had not moved more than a foot, when another shot rang out and he slumped to the floor while the children screamed.
“I SAID NO ONE MOVE, AND I MEANT IT!” shouted the thin man.
Johnny froze, and then his heart dropped into his stomach, another headshot, nothing could save Paul Mills’ life now, even if these men would have allowed Johnny to try…and he knew there was no chance that was going to happen. He didn’t have any equipment with him anyway.
“Grandma, come up here and get these brats before they join their old man.” The gunmen spat out acidly.
Helen quickly inched forward and pulled Natalie into the aisle behind her, and gently reached over to Lucas and took the shell shocked boy by his hand… Lucas allowed himself to be pulled back to where his sister, and the other two men stood, both with their hands still raised, not daring to move.
Angus turned and looked over at Martin. “Hey, Martin, let’s go through their wallets. We can use any extra cash we can get…in fact, let’s get any cash any of these guys have on them.”
“Okay,” gestured Martin to the three remaining adults, “hand your wallets… and your purse,” he looked toward Helen, “to Angus, nice and slow…you first,” he gestured to Johnny.
Johnny slowly and carefully withdrew his wallet and handed it to the gunman called Angus. When Angus grunted toward Thomas, the old man followed suit. Finally Angus grabbed Helen’s purse and walked back toward the front of the bus and set the pile on the front seat. He reached down and rifled through the pockets of the two dead men on the floor; he tossed their wallets onto the front seat with the rest.
“Okay now help Duncan stash these two in the luggage compartment…if you need more room, bring the luggage on board. No evidence remains behind.”
Another man appeared. He was also short and stocky, and had blond hair. He came on board and the two men began to carefully ‘relocate’ the bodies of Paul Mills and Peter Monahan into the belly of the bus.
Ten minutes later, they returned. ”We had lots of room,” said the man named Angus with a maniacal grin on his face. “Plenty of room for more if we need it,” he laughed sadistically.
The tall man, whom Angus had called Martin looked at the small group of hostages and said, “Okay Grandma and Grandpa sit here,” and he gestured to the second seat back on the driver’s side. Thomas and Helen meekly did as they were told.
He then turned to Johnny, “You,” he carefully scrutinized Johnny from top to bottom, “You some kind of injun’ boy?”
Johnny quietly looked up at the man named Martin. “I’m half Native American.”
“Well then Crazy Horse, you just take the kids and sit here in the front seat where I can keep a close eye on you. One false move and one of these kids will be the next to go.” He said coldly.
No one had to tell Johnny that these men had killed before. The ease with which they were able to take a human life and the sheer thrill they seem to derive from the act screamed out recidivism.
They clearly belonged to that group of truly frightening personalities that nature throws into the mix sometimes- devoid of any empathy, lacking any emotion other than a sociopathic sense of joy over inflicting pain and suffering on another human being.
It was violence for the sake of violence, done for the sole purpose of getting what they wanted and the sense of power over others that it gave to them. They existed like a growing malignancy on society. He didn’t know quite how to form the words for that kind of evil-there was no repentance. They were incapable of remorse.
Men lived… both good and evil. God gave life; but he also gave man the freedom to choose how they would live, and some chose evil. Unfortunately, being part of a society that enjoyed freewill also meant that no one was immune from these depraved creatures.
Johnny gently took the hands of the two children and walked to the seat in front of Helen and Thomas. He sat Natalie on the seat next to the window. He then lifted Lucas onto his lap holding him close to his chest with one arm, as he wrapped his other around the small girl and drew her in close, protectively beside him.
Once everyone was seated, Duncan joined Martin in pointing his gun in a threatening manner at the remaining passengers. Johnny could clearly see that both Angus and Duncan had two weapons each, while Martin had one.
Duncan tossed the keys from Pete’s pocket to Martin, “I hope you weren’t kidding when you said you could drive one of these things.”
Angus had already started to go through the wallets, pulling out the cash and setting it on the seat beside him. When he got to Johnny’s he pulled out the bills and dropped them onto the seat. Johnny’s change (what was left of it) still remained in his jeans pocket. Angus then started shuffling through the rest of Johnny’s wallet. He stopped when he found the departmental I.D. card that Johnny always carried with him. Angus’ face broke into a huge grin.
“Well, well, well boys, whadda ya know. Crazy Horse here is one of them firemen-paramedics…it looks like we got ourselves a real live genuine medicine man.” He sneered in contempt. He turned to Martin, “there’s 276 bucks here and some loose change.” He scooped it up and handed it to Martin who shoved it into one of the dead men’s wallets and put it into his pocket.
Martin then started the bus’ engines, closed the doors and pulled out of the rest area.
He drove the bus onto the off ramp, heading north on the 101.
Johnny took note of the fact, that they were now heading away from L.A., away from his home, his friends, the only family he had known since he was a small child.
He found himself in a situation he had never imagined he would ever find himself in not even in his wildest dreams, or more appropriately, his worst nightmares…but this was no dream; no, it was a living, waking nightmare. He was now at the mercy of these three madmen.
His eyes shot little glances around the bus, trying to see if he could find anything he might use to his advantage in helping him get out of this mess alive. He sighed in resignation at the futility of such a thought as the gravity of the situation came crashing down upon him full force.
It was one thing to strategize and gamble with his own life, but he had four other lives to consider now. All of them would be left virtually helpless, even if he did manage get away, and Johnny would not even consider that. What little chance any of them had, now fell upon his shoulders. His need to escape was strong, but his need to stay and help the others, to try and keep them safe, was even stronger.
He would, until his last breath, try to think of a way to save all five of them. No…he wasn’t about to throw in the towel and give up, but he couldn’t lie to himself either. He held out very little hope that any of them would get out of this alive.
None of his friends even knew where he was. They thought he was sitting in an airport terminal. It would be hours before anyone even knew the bus was missing, it would be even longer before any of his friends figured out he was missing. Would they even have any idea of where to start looking for him? He didn’t even know that himself.
The bus continued on its journey northward, headed out of the state of California, carrying three killers and five innocent hostages.
Johnny looked down at his watch for what seemed like the hundredth time in the last 12 hours…10:44 pm.
March 19th 5:30 am…somewhere in Nevada south of the Idaho border…
Johnny sighed, he could not believe it...exactly twelve hours ago was the first time he had glanced down at his watch as he had watched his friends plane fly off towards Los Angeles.
So much had happened in those 12 hours.
Not that he wasn’t aware of just how much could happen in such a small span of time…Hell...in his line of work he knew that fact better than most. He dealt with the fall out of life’s tragedies every shift. He knew how someone’s whole world could change in just the blink of an eye…although anyone would have to admit, that what he was living through now was definitely taking the idea of the whole ‘expect the unexpected and be prepared’ motto to the extreme.
Johnny shifted in his seat slightly as he repositioned the sleeping child in his arms, trying to keep the circulation going in his cramped limbs. He was careful with his movements, as he did not want to disturb the other child snuggled up against him. She had finally cried herself into an exhausted sleep over 4 hours ago.
He also didn’t want to spook the trigger-happy criminals who even now sat with their guns loaded and ready to fire.
It was almost dawn, and he had not slept. Even if he could have forgotten about the three men with guns who were holding him and the four others hostage, he doubted he would have slept; the children made it impossible to get comfortable.
He ventured a look back at Helen and Thomas. He could tell they were still wide-awake; they were both very pale and fidgeting nervously while they clung tightly to each other’s hands. Martin had shut the interior lights off as soon as they pulled out of the rest area almost 7 hours earlier, so it was hard to see their faces clearly.
He felt Natalie shiver slightly, so he very slowly and with deliberate moves, grabbed the jacket that the girl’s father had bunched up earlier, and he gently opened it up and pulled it over the child, all the while making sure that Angus and Duncan could see what he was doing.
Duncan was actually dozing slightly and did not seem to even notice Johnny moving. Angus looked at him closely, but seemed content to let Johnny cover the sleeping child up without any protest.
Johnny once again looked out the bus window at the horizon. The night had lost its inky black color, taking on a pale gray hue at the very edge of the eastern horizon. The sky was clear and the stars were still visible in the pre-dawn sky. It looked like it would be a sunny day today.
They should have arrived at the bus station in L.A. half an hour ago…someone should be realizing that they were missing soon. Even though he knew that no one would have any idea where to look for them, it was still a small comfort to know, that someone would at least be trying to find them.
The same thoughts were running through Martin Albright’s mind too…he would have to get off the interstate and on to some quieter roads. He would also have to start looking for a place to ditch this bus, and soon.
He knew he had to be rid of this thing by 7 am at the latest…he had pushed the speed limit as much as he had dared, no point in getting stopped for speeding…But by pushing it he had made fantastic time and they were just about an hour from crossing into Idaho.
He had been able to put a lot of ground between where they would start to look for the missing bus, and where it was now; that fact alone had bought him some time. He also had the advantage of the fact that it would take a couple hours for word of the missing bus to reach the news, not to mention he was hitting the shift change of most police stations just at the right time. One shift would be ending while another was beginning. They tended to be in a hurry to get home and slow at getting started. He figured he safely had until 8 am before he had to really worry, but he wanted this bus ditched hopefully by 7 anyway. Just to be safe.
He kept his eyes, peeled as he turned the bus off the interstate and on to a secondary road. His mind was working overtime…he had not figured five hostages into his original plans. He had been thinking about this all night.
He went through the list in his mind again; grandma and grandpa…they were a liability. They couldn’t keep up, and they would slow them down should things get a bit tough. No when they dumped the bus, the old folks would have to be left behind.
But he had decided that on the outside chance the police discovered them, a couple of hostages might come in handy. Cops are loath to shoot and give chase when innocent lives were at stake...they would never risk causing the death of a hostage if they could help it.
A hostage wasn’t a bad idea at all, especially one with medical knowledge. The fact that one of the passengers had some medical training was a stroke of good luck.
His plan was to visit his ill brother; in fact that was the whole point of all of this in the first place.
Once they got to Montana, Duncan and Angus were on their own…sooner if he had his way.
He would keep the medicine man with him. Should he be able to sneak his brother away to a hideout for a visit for a few days, someone with medical training would be needed if his brother required medication or special care…yes, he had made up his mind about that one…he wanted to keep the medicine man alive.
Unfortunately, that created another problem. Medicine man was obviously a “hero type”…he ran into burning buildings and climbed into dangerous situations to save people he didn’t even know for a living. He routinely put other’s lives ahead of his own. This could be a problem; if he took him alone, the man would fight to get away; he would challenge Martin, and one on one, Martin knew his odds were not good. He was not a fighter, he was not in good physical shape, and a dead medicine man was of no use to his brother.
Talking Angus and Duncan into coming with him to help control him, was pointless…they were too bloodthirsty and stupid. It was Angus who had jumped the gun and killed the bus driver, it was Angus who had panicked and shot the kids father when he had turned around and saw the father reaching over to get his little girl.
Martin had originally planned to just tie them all up in the bus, and leave them to be found later on. He had never actually killed anyone before. Now Angus had changed everything. If they were caught now, it was a quick trip to death row in San Quentin for murder.
Angus and Duncan were not smart, they were just insane, and the sooner he was shut of them, the better.
But it still left him with the problem of how to control the medicine man.
There was only one way he could think of to do that. He would have to take one or both of the kids. They were the key to controlling him.
Being the hero type that he was, he would do whatever he was told in order to keep them alive. It would also make it impossible for him to easily get away, as the kids could not move quickly. It was why he had put the kids with him in the first place…to help bond them. If he took both kids it would be even harder for the medicine man to plan an escape. One kid he might grab and run, but he couldn’t do that with two …no, he decided, he would take both kids with him too.
Besides he didn’t like to think what Angus and Duncan would do to that little girl given half a chance. Even he hated baby rapists and killers. They did not even qualify as human.
What he needed now was a vehicle that would hold him and 3 hostages.
If he could arrange it, he would try and ditch Duncan and Angus. If not, he would have to take them along too, for now. He was done with them…he had the cash, he had his plan. Now he just had to find the means to execute it.
He looked down at his watch…6am, he had one hour to find a place to ditch this bus, and hopefully ditch most of his ‘baggage’.
He had only driven on about 7 more miles when his answer appeared before his eyes. Martin broke into a grin.
He couldn’t believe his luck. There was a small farm set back from the road. The house portion of the farm had been converted into a roadside market. The sign out front read…CLOSED. We’re on vacation until March 23rd. please call again.
Martin grinned, today was the 19th. The bus wouldn’t be found for 4 days.
There was also a delivery van parked at the side of the building…it was more than big enough for 3 hostages, and with no windows in back, no one would be able to see in from the outside.
It was still only 6:15 am and dawn was just breaking; the road was deserted and there were no other houses in sight. Martin pulled the bus into the lane and drove it up to the bottom of the gangway that led into the barn and stopped.
Johnny had noticed that they had now left the interstate. He had also figured out why. He knew the one named Martin was clearly the brains, and the leader of this group. He did the thinking. He had obviously come to the same conclusion that Johnny had…it wouldn’t be safe to be on this bus much longer, not once word got out that a bus was missing. It would be impossible to remain inconspicuous in something so huge.
What would they do then? They certainly would not be able to take the hostages far. It would hinder them too much, especially 2 senior citizens and 2 small children.
Was this just a power trip to control innocent people? If that was the case this could get a whole lot worse before the end.
What frightened Johnny most was how long were they going to keep this up and how far would they go in their sick game, and just as terrifying-what if they had grown tired and bored with them?
He hoped his end would be quick like it was for Paul Mills and Peter Monahan. He figured the odds were pretty good that he and Thomas would be execution style, but what about the small boy…and what about the elderly woman and the girl. How depraved were these men?
He suddenly felt like he was going to throw up.
It all came down to one question: why did they hijack this bus?
Were the old folks rich? Was it ransom?
Was it the kids, was this a kidnapping and the rest of them were just collateral damage?
But none of them were originally supposed to have even been on this bus. They were all here because of some kind of fluke…so how could these 3 criminals have known that they were even on this bus?
Had they been following them and were just waiting for the right moment to present itself?
Maybe they were fleeing from something and needed a quick way out, maybe they were just random victims.
Johnny had no idea, and he really didn’t think it was going to matter as far as his outcome was concerned.
If it had something to do with the kids or the seniors, they might have some time. But he knew that he was the biggest threat to them, and probably number one on their ‘hit’ list.
Suddenly the bus braked and turned into a small farm.
Johnny wondered, had they reached their hideout, or was this the end of the road for him?
He suddenly wished he could talk to Roy, just one last time, before he died.
By now everyone was awake except the two children, even Duncan and Angus seemed to be caught off guard by the stop.
Hmm, Johnny thought, it’s not their hideout then.
“Okay” Martin said. “I want everyone to listen up. We are going to be switching vehicles now. Everyone is going to do exactly what they are told, or pay the price.” He turned to Angus and Duncan. “The sign out front said this place is closed for another 4 days, while the owners are on vacation. Angus, I want you to go and open up those barn doors that lead to the threshing floor of the barn and make sure it’s empty. Then open both doors wide so I can drive the bus up inside and out of sight; then I want you to hotwire that delivery van and get it going, and this time let’s make sure it has gas in it.”
Duncan glared over at Martin when he mentioned the gas.
Angus grinned and quickly stepped out of the bus and headed up toward the barn.
Martin turned to Duncan, “Keep an eye on Grandma and Grandpa here for a minute. He then turned to Johnny. “Alright medicine man, I don’t trust you near the front doors. I want you to go wait at the back of the bus; the kids stay with me up here. Any fast tricks and they die. Now get back there where I can watch you. Grandma and Grandpa, you get back there with him.”
Slowly and reluctantly Johnny set Lucas on the seat beside his sister and walked to the back of the bus and sat in his original seat.
“Duncan, go see if Angus needs a hand, and see if you can find some rope while you’re at it” Martin barked out. Martin then pulled the frightened boy into the passenger side front seat next to the door, and sat him on his lap. The message was clear, one wrong move from the others and Lucas would die.
Johnny felt something hit his hand as he shifted in his seat. He looked over and saw that it was his duffle bag and jacket. It had been over looked and even he had forgotten that he had carried it on board with him in all the confusion.
Finally, HE could do something at least.
He slowly reached into the front pocket and felt around inside; he was relieved as he felt his hands hit the novel, the pen and the manila envelope. He glanced to the front of the bus and noticed that Martin was distracted with watching Angus and Duncan. He had to be quick. He reached in and pulled out all 3 items from the front pocket of his bag. He quietly opened up the flap of the book and was pleased to find the back of the index page blank. He picked up the pen and quickly wrote across the blank page…
TO WHO EVER FINDS THIS BAG Please inform the police…we were taken from a rest area in CA just before 11pm on March 18th, at gunpoint by 3 men…first names Angus, Duncan and Martin, they have 5 guns in total…there are 2 dead men in the baggage compartment...driver Pete Monahan, and Paul Mills.
5 hostages are left, including 2 children Lucas and Natalie Mills, also Thomas and Helen Clarke and John Gage.
Their plans are to keep heading north in the stolen delivery van from this farm.
6:30 am March 19th
He then slid the book, the page open facing out, back into his duffle bags pocket.
Now came the hard part…John carefully picked up the envelope and held it upside down over his lap. He let the postcards slide out of the envelope and into his lap. He picked up Dixie’s postcard and felt the lump in his throat return. He carefully slid it into the pocket of the duffle bag with the novel.
He then slowly turned the blank post card over and sighed quietly, he couldn’t hide the tears that were forming in his eyes…
Come on Johnny, he chided himself. You’re not trying to write the Iliad here…just a goodbye note.
But when it came to saying goodbye to someone who meant more than life itself to you, who was literally a part of you, how did one begin, and how could you do that in just a few seconds?
He glanced up to make sure Martin was still distracted. He could here Angus and Duncan arguing about something outside, thankfully it was enough to keep Martin’s attention diverted.
He picked up the pen and turned over the card.
There is so much I wish I could say to you. So much I want you to know about how much you have meant to me, but there is just not enough time…Roy, my friend, my brother, my family…I leave to you the most precious thing I own. It represents everything I wish I could say to you, but don’t have time to say myself.
I love you brother
Johnny then leaned down and began to quietly maneuver himself until he was able to retrieve the item he was looking for without being noticed by Martin, he then slid the object and the postcard into the envelope and closed it.
Across the front of the manila envelope he wrote in capital letters,
TO ROY DESOTO…LOS ANGELES COUNTY, FIRE STATION 51.
He then slid the envelope back inside the front pocket of his duffle bag and surreptitiously let it slide to the floor of the bus; then with his foot he slid it back underneath the seat and out of sight. He wiped at the tears that were rolling down his face.
He looked over at Helen who gave him a wan smile and reached across to give his hand a comforting squeeze.
For reasons he could not even explain, he reached over and put his jacket on…might as well look my best when I die he thought ruefully.
At least he had a chance to tell Roy goodbye, to let him know that he had been thinking about him at the end.
He began to make his peace with God, forgiving all men (except these three) and sat back quietly to see how the next few moments would play out. The one comfort he had was maybe very soon, he would be reunited with his parents again.
Angus came back on board and tossed a small coil of rope in Martins lap, “Okay, drive her in Marty, we’ve gotten rid of anything that was in the way. I tried out that van too, it’s a cinch to start and the tank says ¾ full. All we have to do is retouch the wires and we’re home free.”
Martin then carefully drove the bus up the gangway and onto the large threshing floor of the barn.
Duncan closed the big doors behind it, thus hiding the bus from the world outside.
Duncan came back on board and looked at Martin. “Are we taking these guys with us?” he pointed at the passengers questioningly.
“We’re taking the kids and medicine man with us, I’m not finished with them yet…hostages are a good thing to have in case we run into the law. They make good insurance and bargaining chips should we need them. Grandma and Grandpa stay behind, we don’t have room for them and we don’t need them…they’ll slow us down even more. Now go tie up medicine man’s hands and wrists. I don’t want him getting any funny ideas while we make the move.”
The stark reality of what that meant bombarded Johnny’s mind…what did Martin mean by, ‘not through with them yet?’ What about Helen and Thomas? He got an icy feeling in the pit of his stomach…things had just gotten a whole lot worse. He couldn’t even try and save Helen and Thomas without endangering the kid’s lives…his frustration and fear turned to rage...all three emotions battled for supremacy in his mind.
Martin stood up and grabbed Natalie and pointed the gun at her head. “Alright medicine man, come here and put your hands out in front of you while Angus ties you up.”
Johnny walked forward, while Angus sneered in his face. He grabbed Johnny roughly by the wrists and jerked him forward and began to bind his hands and wrists together tightly.
Johnny wanted nothing more than to beat the man senseless for what he was doing to them, but with the nose of Martin’s gun pressing against Natalie’s skull there was nothing Johnny could do.
If a look could truly kill, then those three gunmen would have fallen down stone dead where they presently stood, Johnny’s fury ran that deep.
He had thus far borne up well with all that was happening around him, but right at his moment, he could have wept with the frustration of it all. The strands of rope Angus had bound around his wrists cut viciously into his flesh and he knew at once, that this was not the first time Angus had bound up a captive. Johnny found himself being pushed forcefully into the front seat with Lucas.
Suddenly, from behind him, two deafening gun blasts roared through the interior of the bus. Johnny looked back in time to see the bodies of Helen and Thomas Clarke hit the floor.
“Shit Angus, what did you do that for? I meant for you to just tie them up good and tight and leave them here in the bus. You didn’t have to kill them, they weren’t any threat to us anymore!” yelled Martin
Angus grinned, “What difference does it make Marty? We were done with them, and now we don’t have to worry about them talking to the cops.”
Martin bit his tongue…that boy was an idiot and psychopathic idiot to boot, both the cousins were. They didn’t think before they acted, they were loose cannons, with no sense of restraint. ‘We’re escaped convicts Angus, the cops are already hunting for us, they weren’t going tell them anything they didn’t already know, and we would have been long gone before anyone found them.’ Those were the words that Martin thought to himself privately. He knew he would be wasting his breath to voice those thoughts out loud…besides he had just made a decision.
Martin knew at that moment, that this was where they would part company.
For the first time in his criminal career, Martin Albright was about to become a murderer.
His one solace was that in his case, he would be doing society a favor. He needed to pull off one hell of an acting job here, in order to make this work. He turned and grinned back at Angus, “Yeah your right, no loose ends I guess.”
He turned to Duncan and pointed to the kids. “Take the two kids and the medicine man here and wait outside by the van and watch them carefully. I want them ALIVE for now, they are our insurance policy, so don’t hurt them, unless medicine man here tries to get fancy.”
As soon as Duncan left with the 3 captives, Martin turned to Angus. “Those two old folks are wearing expensive watches. Go over and take them off and bring them along. We can always pawn them for cash later on”
The minute Angus had turned to bend over the bodies of Thomas and Helen Clarke; Martin raised his gun up high and brought it down forcefully, striking the back of Angus’ head, knocking him senseless. He then tied his hands together and took the guns away from him and tucked them in his waistband under his shirt.
He made his way out to the van, where Duncan was waiting with Johnny, Natalie and Lucas.
He had Johnny sitting on ground, while he held the gun on the two children. Martin threw some rope at Duncan and said, “Tie up the kid’s hands and feet and put them in the back of the van. Angus is in the barn taking any jewelry worth pawning off of the bodies.”
He then turned to look at Johnny. “Okay medicine man on your feet.” Johnny tried to get to his feet without the use of his hands for balance.
Martin made sure that Duncan had the children tied securely and in the back of the van. He then grabbed Johnny, who was still awkwardly trying to make it to a standing position, pulled him roughly to his feet and started shoving him toward the open back door of the van.
Johnny felt himself being forced into the back of the delivery van. As soon as he felt his feet hit the floor, he caught a glimpse of Martin’s hand rising upward. Suddenly he felt the butt end of the gun strike his head above his right ear with a sickening thud. He felt a blinding pain as his world did a crazy spin, and he fell senseless onto the floor of the van.
Martin shoved Johnny’s body further into the back of the van. “Now tie up his feet Duncan and then go get Angus and tell him we’re leaving now.”
The stocky blond gunman tied up the feet of the unconscious man on the floor of the van and then made his way back up to the bus to get his cousin.
Duncan walked into the barn calling out Angus’s name. He hadn’t even noticed Martin quietly walking up behind him, as he slowly started to climb the stairs.
Martin quietly pulled back the hammer on the pistol, raised it up and pointed it at the back of Duncan’s head in the exact same manner as Angus had done with the bus driver the night before. He took one deep breath and pulled the trigger. Duncan dropped dead before him in a heap.
Martin then calmly stepped over the body and walked back to where Angus lay insensate on the floor of the bus. Using Angus’ own weapon he put the gun to the red headed mans skull and repeated the process, thus giving both his companions a one-way ticket to Hell.
He calmly gathered up all the weapons, got off the bus, and made sure he had securely closed the barn doors.
He made his way back out to the van. He opened the door and got in. He reached under the steering column; he found the wires that Angus had pulled loose and stripped. He touched them together and the van roared to life.
Martin grinned in satisfaction. He turned to look back at the floor of the van…everyone was tied and secure. The medicine man was down for the count and should remain that way for some time to come.
He put the van in drive and looked to make sure no one was around.
He calmly drove out the lane and turned onto the road heading north.
Finally things were getting back on track, he felt in control of the situation once more. He reached over and turned the radio on leaving the volume on low.
He looked at the clock on the dash of the car…7:03 am. Everything was going as scheduled.
March 20th 7:49 am
Roy DeSoto was standing at his locker pinning his badge onto his blue uniform shirt, when he heard someone come tearing through the kitchen on the dead run toward the locker room. He grinned to himself.
“Thought you were going to be late this morning Junior,” he yelled out. His face fell when Chet Kelly came bursting through the door a second later.
“Sorry to disappoint you Roy, but it’s me…Gage isn’t here yet? Well, looks like ole’ Chester B. escapes latrine duty today,” he gloated.
He hadn’t noticed Cap standing on the other side of the locker room, washing his hands at the sink.
“Sorry Kelly, no deal. I already decided that if John was late today, I was going to cut him some slack. Besides I did promise him a month of ‘get out of latrine duty free’ passes for being so generous and volunteering to wait in that airport terminal for 26 hours, while the rest of us came home and got a good night sleep, plus a day off to rest up before we had come back to work. He’s probably tired and a bit cranky, so we are all going to put up with his bitching this morning, because if it was any one of us, we’d be doing the same thing…and before you ask, he gets the dorms.”
Roy smiled gratefully at Cap. “Thanks Cap, if he knows you are doing that, it will cut down a lot on the crankiness; he’ll be too busy gloating to Chet about not having to do the latrines for a month. I tried to call him last night, but I didn’t get any answer. I called LAX and they said the flight from San Francisco was running an hour behind because of a bad storm up there, so he probably didn’t get home until 10. I figure he probably took the phone off the hook and went right to bed. I was kind of hoping maybe he would try and get someone to cover for him today, but if he got in late he wouldn’t have had the chance.”
Cap came over and patted Roy on the back, “Well that’s why they made me the Captain Roy. I already talked to Dwyer and explained things to him. He’s going to wait around and work the first two or three hours of John’s shift, so John can sit and have some coffee and grab a quick nap if he needs it. I’ll let him ease into the day slowly…which is why he won’t actually be late even if he doesn’t show up in the next,” Cap glanced down at his watch… 7:55, “five minutes…Five minutes till roll call gentlemen,” he called out through the station.
“Oh and Chet, the phantom is not to show up at all during this shift, or he’ll be the one doing all of Gage’s chores after he has finished the latrines on our next shift, got it?”
“Yes, Cap.” Chet sullenly replied.
Roy walked to the door and looked out to the parking lot… “Well Junior, looks like you dodged the bullet today.” He was grateful for Caps thoughtfulness on Johnny’s behalf.
It had been a very generous deed on Johnny’s part to stay behind at the airport in Roy’s place He would have felt horrible if because of the kindness he had shown to Roy and Jo, he ended up being late, over tired, and stuck with the latrines and the phantom. He would make a point of pulling Cap aside later and thanking him.
He grinned to himself once again; he knew that if Johnny had pulled latrine duty today, Roy would have done it for him. So in a way he had dodged a bullet too.
He walked back into the kitchen on his way to the bay for roll call. He could hear Mike and Marco talking at the table.
“Have they caught them yet Mike?”
“Not as far as I know Marco, they still have no idea where they are.”
“Caught who?” Roy asked as he neared the two firemen who were now beginning to make their way to the bay for roll call too.
“Oh a couple of inmates up at the California Men’s Colony escaped a couple days ago, and the police still don’t have any leads on where they are holed up. There is also a bus missing. Apparently there was a bus due into L.A. yesterday morning that never showed up, it’s like it’s just disappeared; now the police are wondering if the two are connected. It was all over the news yesterday.”
“Joanne and I had a quiet day. We took the kids to the beach for a picnic and then just sat out on the back deck until bed time. We never had the radio or TV on once.”
Cap cleared his throat as the men all lined up in front of the vehicles. “Do you think we can get on with roll call gentlemen? I think since Dwyer here is doing both Gage and I a favor, he gets the dorms. Kelly you got the latrines. Marco you do kitchen and cooking duties and Roy you and Mike can hang the hoses today. Roy tell Johnny to stop by my office when he gets here… and no Kelly he isn’t in trouble. I just want to make sure he’s not too tired to work today.”
For the third time in 45 minutes Roy frowned as he hung up the phone. Cap came up behind him, and sighed… “Still no answer?”
“No, Cap, and I’m kind of concerned...something isn’t right here.”
Just then the phone rang, “Fire Station 51, Fireman Roy DeSoto speaking…Oh Bob hi, are you calling for Johnny…is he on his way in?” Roy spoke into the receiver hopefully.
“What do you mean he hasn’t come home yet? He should have been home last night. …No, none of us have heard from him either,” Roy let out a frustrated sigh. “Yeah, we will, and listen if he comes home make sure he calls us right away, or if you do hear from him or anything about him, give us a call will ya… what? Yes, of course…if we hear anything someone will be in touch with you too. Thanks a lot Bob. Bye.”
Roy slowly hung up the phone and turned to Cap. “I don’t like this Cap, something is really wrong. That was Bob, Johnny’s neighbor who was looking after his horses for him while he was away; he says that Johnny hasn’t come home yet. I think I am going to call the airport in San Francisco and try and see if that Mr. Fisher knows if he got on the flight okay.”
Ten minutes later a very upset Roy Desoto came into the kitchen after having been on the phone in Cap’s office with the airport in San Francisco.
“What is it Roy?” Cap did not like the ashen pallor on Roy’s face or the distraught look in his eyes.
Roy slowly sank into the chair in the kitchen and ran his shaking hand through his hair. “According to Mr. Fisher, Johnny decided to take the bus from San Francisco to L.A. because it would get him home about 14 hours sooner than if he waited for the next available flight. Mr. Fisher says the last time he saw John he was on his way to the bus station in a taxi…that was at 6 pm the day before yesterday.”
It was just at that point that Chief McConnike along with Vince Howard showed up at the door with two men in business suits…Roy suddenly felt sick.
“Men, these gentlemen would like to speak with you, especially you DeSoto.” declared the Chief.
Roy looked over at their policeman friend, “Vince…it’s Johnny isn’t it?”
“I’m afraid so, these are agents, Matt Anderson and Edward Knox from the FBI.”
Agent Anderson cleared his throat and started to speak, “I don’t know if you are aware of the bus that has been missing for over 24 hours, but John Gage was one of the known passengers listed as being on it. The entire route has been checked over twice in case the bus had been in an accident or had any mechanical difficulties. There has been no evidence that either one was the case.”
‘WHAT?” Hank exclaimed… “Do you have any leads at all?”
Agent Knox spoke up, “Well DeSoto, since you are listed as Mr. Gage’s next of kin, we can tell you some of what we know or suspect. But it’s up to you whether or not we do this in private or here in front of these men.”
All eyes looked up in shock. None of them had known that Roy was listed as John’s next of kin, but then it was confidential information that was only listed on his official records at the departmental headquarters.
“No, it’s fine if we speak here in front of everyone, we’re all friends of Johnny’s”
Agent Knox continued on, “The only thing we know at this point is that the driver of the bus, Peter Monahan telephoned his wife around 10:15 pm on the night of the 18th from a rest area somewhere between Salinas and King City on the 101. After that it’s like they disappeared into thin air. We checked out every rest stop, and the only thing we have discovered is that in one of the rest stops in that area authorities did find an abandoned car behind the information building; it appears that it had run out of gas. So far they haven’t had any luck tracing the vehicle, as the VIN had been removed, and the plates were reported stolen over 9 months ago, and don’t match the vehicle. But someone made sure that it was wiped clean of any fingerprints, which does raise suspicions. I think we should tell you that the vehicle also fits the description of a car seen parked on the side of the road in the San Luis Obispo area, not far from the California Men’s Colony, where those 2 inmates escaped sometime during the night of March 17th and 18th…so for now, we are treating this as a possible hijacking-kidnapping situation.”
Chet fidgeted nervously, “What were the escaped inmates in prison for?”
Agent Anderson looked around at the group of men, “One of the escapees is one Angus Rankin, in for murder and the other man was a Martin Albright, he was in for bank robbery…any further information is classified at this time. All we want from you gentlemen is to make sure you inform us, if any of you happen to hear from Mr. Gage at anytime…we’ll leave one of our cards with each of you. Rest assured we are using every resource available to find these criminals and apprehend them, as well as the missing passengers on the bus, and see that they are all returned home safely.”
Agent Knox looked over at Roy and shook his hand, “Since you are Mr. Gage’s next of kin, we’ll be keeping touch with you Mr. DeSoto, and Chief McConnike has given us your home phone number as well as the one here at the station. We’ll return your friend safe and sound if we have anything to say about it.” And with that Vince and the two FBI men left the station.
Chief McConnike came over and put his hand on Roy’s shoulder, “DeSoto, I’ve placed you on an emergency compassionate leave until this is all over. I really don’t expect your mind to be on the job right now. As Gage’s next of kin you qualify for the paid leave. The entire department is standing behind not only you and Gage, but also the entire A shift. Hank, the station is stood down for the rest of this shift in order to give you and your men some time to deal with the shock of this. I’ll be in touch.” And with those final words, the Chief took his leave, leaving the rest of the A shift standing in shock.
For a good 25 minutes no one had said a word, they just sat around the table in the station’s kitchen in stunned silence, each man lost in his own world…Dwyer had quietly slipped out shortly after the Chief had left, wanting to give the A shift some privacy to absorb the devastating news.
Finally Chet got up and quietly said, “I wonder if there is anything about it on the news?” and he went over and switched on the television set.
It didn’t take much more than 15 minutes before the screen went blank and the words BREAKING NEWS flashed across the screen. The announcer came on and repeated almost word for word the same information that the FBI had told them not 40 minutes earlier.
Soon the announcer came on with a split screen as he cleared his throat and said…
The names of the 7 people on board of bus 87 that went missing while on its way from San Francisco to Los Angeles yesterday, that the police now suspect has been hijacked by the fugitives who escaped from the California Men’s Colony over 2 days ago, have now been released and their next of kin notified. The police have identified the missing as, 55-year-old Peter Monahan, the driver of the bus, who is a native of Los Angeles…78-year-old Thomas Clarke and his 76-year-old wife Helen, from Oregon who were on their way to L.A. to visit their newborn great grandson for the first time…31-year old single father, Paul Mills and his two children, 7- year old Natalie and 5- year old Lucas, from San Francisco, he was traveling to L.A. for a job interview. And finally 26- year old John Gage a firefighter-paramedic with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Mr. Gage was returning to L.A. from a vacation in San Francisco…
As each name was mentioned a picture of each person was flashed on the split screen. They had used John’s official departmental picture, obviously the Chief had provided it to the police for the release.
Almost immediately the stations phone began to ring…
March 20th 3pm
Roy sat at the table mindlessly spinning his cup around in circles; the coffee inside had been ignored and had long since grown cold. He had thought about going home, but just couldn’t seem to find the motivation to actually get up and leave the station. He had no idea how he was going to break this to his children; secretly he hoped Joanne would handle that, as he didn’t think he would be able to talk about it without breaking down. He had talked to Jo of course, but thus far had left all the other talking to Cap. The rest of the guys were having their own ‘group’ therapy session, but Roy had opted out, deciding that it was sounding too much like a memorial service for his liking
The phone at the station had been ringing almost non-stop since the news broadcast 6 hours ago that had announced to the world that John Gage was one of the missing passengers from bus 87.
Of course all the usual suspects had called: Brackett, Early, Dixie, and a gaggle of nurses from Rampart. The other Captains and some of the other paramedics and firemen from other shifts, as well as all the guys from Station 10 whom Johnny had worked with before he became a paramedic and came to 51’s. But what had surprised them most was some of the other folks who had called or dropped in.
There had been people from the local mission where apparently Johnny had volunteered sometimes. Old age home care workers, meals on wheels, a local boys softball team that Johnny helped coach when their own coach wasn’t available, the Grace Foundation of Northern California, The RDA which was an organization that arranged horseback riding lessons for disabled children, as well as a couple who had been victims of a house fire. It turned out Johnny had pitched in and helped them out when they were rebuilding their home. Even two homeless men had shown up when word had hit the street.
It was amazing at just exactly how many people knew Johnny.
Everybody liked Johnny, and justifiably so; John Gage was easy to like.
Roy smiled sadly as he thought about his friend. Johnny could alternately be Roy’s biggest supporter or his biggest distraction. There were times when Roy was certain that John Gage would try the patience of a Saint.
The day Johnny Gage had walked into that office to inquire about the paramedic program had been a life changing moment for both men. Johnny had waltzed into Roy’s world and his well ordered life had never been the same ---Thank God.
To say that Johnny was an exuberant optimist would be an understatement. Roy knew from personal experience that once Johnny grabbed on to an idea, it was better to go into it with the attitude that you had better just tighten your seatbelt and hang on, because it could be a wild and bumpy ride. But Roy also knew and understood that at the heart of each adventure was a truly genuine desire to make things better.
Roy often wondered how he stayed so optimistic and carefree. There were times it seemed like life’s day to day hardships never seemed to have the slightest effect on his happy go lucky partner. Life never seemed to dampen his spirit...his lust for life.
Roy had decided long ago that the angels were somehow looking out for Johnny. No matter how many close calls with serious injuries, snakebites or illnesses he had, Johnny always seemed to wind up back on his feet.
In fact Roy was convinced that angels loved souls like Johnny’s, who although he would bend and sway as he struggled with the harsh winds of life that had often battered him, he would somehow spring back it seemed almost effortlessly with a smile…always looking at life with a blithe optimism.
But truth be told, it was all just a part of the dichotomy that made up the many facets of John Roderick Gage. He was in fact a man of many layers, some so deeply hidden that only a very privileged few got to see, those that had earned his trust on a deep level. Roy counted himself blessed to be one of the few.
John Gage was both quick to anger and yet just as quick to forgive and forget. He could be tight as bark to a tree when it came to parting with his cash and yet at the same time he could display a generosity that knew no bounds. He would show childlike glee and excitement when he was planning a surprise for someone, be it a birthday party for Dixie or something special for Roy and Joanne’s anniversary or birthdays, or gifts for Chris and Jenny at birthdays or Christmas time.
He had been known to surprise both Dixie and Joanne by having flowers sent to them…in Joanne’s case as a thank-you for looking after him while he was convalescing at the DeSoto home, or for letting Roy come on one of their fishing trips. In Dixie’s case it might just be because she was having a bad day, or in thanks for sitting with him on one of the many times he had ended up as a patient in Rampart. Sometimes Roy suspected it was for those times, when both women had been there for him, when he had just needed a ‘big sister’ to listen or give advice. Something he considered both women to be.
Having lost his mother at such a young age, it was a toss up sometimes between whether or not he thought of the two women big sisters or surrogate mothers. It was something either woman would have been furious about if anyone else had even hinted that they thought of them as their mother.
But both women made up the rest of the small group of people John had trusted enough to confide in. They both knew of John’s tragic past, and it just brought out that protective big sister/ mothering instinct in them both. In John’s case both felt honored and privileged to be held in such a place of trust and high esteem.
It had been the three of them that got to see the really introspective side of John Gage…the insecure little boy who had had to hide his hurts and scars that had cut him so deeply and caused him such pain and sorrow. They had seen his hidden wounds exposed; that vulnerability bleed and seep through his bravado and tough, happy go lucky exterior.
There was a lot more to John Gage than met the eye. Most people only saw the boisterous, fun loving, goofy and sometimes naïve Johnny, but Roy along with Jo and Dixie had seen the introspective John, the deep thinker, with the tender heart and caring soul. The man who could sit alone for days on end in the mountains, living off the land…just being. He could pick up a camera and find the one truly beautiful moment in time that others overlooked and capture it on film. Roy knew that Johnny understood and appreciated the simple beauty and peace that existed in this world better than 99% of the rest of society.
There were other thoughts that were running rampant in Roy’s mind as well.
IF only Johnny hadn’t decided to take that bus.
IF only he had just waited.
IF only the airlines hadn’t over booked.
But the one big IF that ate at Roy like a cancer was, IF ONLY HE HADN’T TAKEN MY PLACE.
It should have been him that had to stay behind. Johnny had drawn the high card. He should have been on the plane that night instead of Roy.
The pit of Roy’s stomach was churning with raw emotions. He couldn’t shake the overwhelming idea that he was in large part to blame for what had happened to Johnny.
Damn it, he thought angrily…2 days!!! Johnny had been missing for almost 2 days and no one had even known anything about it.
What was he going through?
Had he been injured?
Was he even alive?
It sickened him to realize that while they had all been sleeping soundly in their beds; enjoying their day off yesterday…hell, while Roy had been at the beach enjoying the sunshine, stuffing his face with fried chicken and potato salad, murderers and thieves had taken Johnny, and were doing God knows what to him.
Roy threw his coffee cup against the wall shattering it into a hundred pieces, sending coffee spilling down the wall and onto the floor.
He walked across the room, and looked out the open backdoor into the parking lot.
“Johnny, Where are you?” he whispered.
March 22 4pm
“FOUR DAYS JOANNE!!!! It will soon be 4 days since Johnny was taken, why haven’t we heard anything? Why haven’t they found him yet?” Roy was wildly pacing the floor of his living room.
He and Joanne had been very careful not to lose control when Chris and Jenny were home, trying to keep up a positive atmosphere for the sake of the kids. But now that they had been sent to Joanne’s sister Elaine’s for a few days, Roy’s tenuous grip on his emotions was quickly disintegrating.
Joanne walked over and put her arms around her husband, “I know Roy. I’m really frightened for Johnny, the things that are running through my mind, each scenario gets worse.” She walked over and stood looking out their front window and sighed. “If you don’t have any objections, I think I’m going to go out and get some groceries. It will at least give me something else to do for a while.” She gave Roy a kiss and squeezed his arm comfortingly and then walked out to the garage and got into her car.
Roy walked over and sat on the couch and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. He picked up the daily newspaper. There on the front page, smiling up at him with that crooked grin was Johnny.
The names and photos of the missing bus passengers and the stories and speculations of what had happened to them had been running wild all week long. He glanced down once more at the grinning face of his partner and read the foreboding headlines …Vanished without a trace… The glaring reminder of the whole situation tore at his heart.
It finally got to the point where Roy picked up the paper and tossed it into the magazine rack where he could no longer see the front page.
The longer Johnny was missing without any trace of his whereabouts, the harder it had been for Roy to convince himself that John was still alive.
The rest of the A shift had returned to duty after being stood down that first day, but Roy was still on leave. It was just as well. There was no way he could possibly concentrate on work with this hanging over his head.
He had spent some time out at Johnny’s ranch yesterday, just checking in with Bob and making sure that everything was fine inside Johnny’s house. He also had gone out, because it helped him to feel closer to Johnny…or it had at first. The longer he walked around Johnny’s house, the more the sense of loss grew in his heart. Finally it became too oppressive and he had to come back home.
But now he felt the need to get out again…Joanne had said she was going to be going out to get groceries and Roy really didn’t want to be alone with nothing to do and no one there to distract his thoughts. Finally he went to the closet and grabbed his jacket.
Roy drove around for about half an hour not really sure of where he was going. Before long he looked up and realized he was almost at the station. He drove up until he was directly in front of the building. He turned on his signal light and pulled into his usual spot. He noticed that no one had had the heart to park in Johnny’s parking place. He sighed and turned off the ignition. He just sat staring at Johnny’s vacant parking spot for about 10 minutes.
Suddenly he heard Caps voice beside him quietly say, “Hey pal, why don’t you come in for a while, it’s been a really quiet day so far.”
Roy got out of his car and followed Cap into the station. As soon as He walked in, he noted the somber atmosphere that was hanging like a pall in the air.
Dwyer and Bellingham were working the squad today. He wasn’t sure how the department was working the rotation with both he and Johnny not on duty, and frankly at this moment he didn’t care. He had already decided that if the worst case scenario happened, he would leave the paramedic program…John Gage’s last day as a paramedic would also be his, but so far only Joanne knew that fact.
He would work dispatch until he could retry for Engineer if he had too, but more than likely he would just go back to pulling hose somewhere until he got on as an Engineer at another station. He knew he could never be happy as a paramedic if he lost Johnny. He knew that somehow the shine, that wonderful spark that made him love his job so much, would be forever extinguished without Johnny there at his side
Roy walked around until he found himself in the locker room. He reached over and opened up John’s locker only to be greeted by Smokey the bear and a row of pictures of Johnny with Roy, Jo and the kids. His eyes started to burn and he quickly shut the door again.
Roy continued to walk around lost in his thoughts…before he even realized what he had done, he found himself sitting in the squad. As Roy sat alone in the driver’s seat, a horrible loneliness fell upon him. He longed to see Johnny come bounding into the station, flashing that crooked grin, his eyes full of mischief.
At that moment all the love, support and kindness Johnny had shown him over the last 5 years filtered through Roy’s mind. He thought of all the constant help Johnny had given him around his house, with building projects or repair jobs, or even with his children. All of the things he had done for his whole family…how good to them he was, how much he loved them and was loved back in return. Roy thought of all the times when he had bolstered his spirits when he was down or unsure of himself; like when he was trying to decide if he should take the engineer’s job, or the time that Doctor had accused him of causing a patient’s death…it had been Johnny who was his chief supporter, his main cheering section.
He loved Johnny like a brother-in fact he loved him more than a brother. It was as if Johnny was actually a part of him…the spirited, fun loving part. It felt like a part of him was missing, like he was trying to function with only half of his limbs.
He needed Johnny to keep him from becoming too serious. He was at his level best, his most efficient when he and Johnny were together. He found that he was most at ease when he and Johnny were just talking and enjoying each other’s company. No one could possibly understand that…except maybe for Johnny. The one person who truly understood …and he was the one person he couldn’t talk to right now.
How he missed his spirited little brother.
He thought back to all the times he had wished Johnny would stop ranting on and just give him a moment’s peace and quiet.
That once coveted silence that was now inside the cab was so prevalent that it seemed to close in around Roy, suffocating him to the point where he felt he had to roll down the window just to catch his breath.
All he could think about now was all the great times he had shared with Johnny over the years.
“Johnny where ARE you?” he said aloud for the millionth time in the last 4 days. His voice bounced off the interior walls of the squad, which only served to emphasize how empty the cab seemed without Johnny’s presence to fill it up.
If Johnny were here now he would gladly just sit and bask in the sound of his voice as he ranted on in one of his tirades, or listened to one of his hair-brained ideas…Having silence no longer mattered to him; only finding Johnny safe and sound mattered anymore.
There was so much that wanted to burst from him.
There was a long list of things he wanted to say before it was too late. Things he should have told him long ago, but his ego had never let him say it for fear of being embarrassed in front of the other guys. He wanted to thank him for being his best friend, for being the brother he’d always wanted, but had never had until he met Johnny. He needed him to know how glad he was that he’d become a part of his family. How much he was loved not only by him, but also by Joanne, Chris and Jenny.
Roy felt a few stray tears slide down his face and he sobbed out loud; his voice echoing into the cool evening air; “Oh God Johnny, I should have said thank you for all the good things you’ve brought into my life… best of all Junior, you brought you into my life. I feel so lost and alone without you here beside me in this cab…and damn it Junior, you just have to be okay. “Oh please God please,” he prayed. “Just let him come home to where he belongs, safe and happy and in one piece… Oh Junior…where are you little brother?” Roy sobbed out as he sat in half empty squad.
Roy didn’t notice that the others had been standing in the bay by the back of the squad and had overheard his entire anguished conversation. They silently slipped back into the kitchen leaving Roy alone with his grief.
It was another half an hour, before the klaxons sounded for the squad and Roy made his way into the kitchen.
He walked over dejectedly and sat down at the table. Chet came over and set a cup of coffee down in front of him. He was just about to speak when the door opened and in walked Dixie and Kelly Brackett.
“Hi Roy, we were just on our way home and we thought we would stop by your place. Joanne was there and she said she figured you would probably be here. We just thought we would see if there was any news yet.”
Roy sighed, “Agents Knox and Anderson said they did have a couple of leads to check out, but they wouldn’t elaborate. They said they didn’t want to take a chance that word would somehow leak out to the press. But that was yesterday morning and I haven’t heard a peep from anyone since.”
No sooner had the words left Roy’s mouth when, both of the FBI agents walked into the station along with a very shaken and pale Joanne. The color drained from Roy’s face as he rose unsteadily to his feet.
“Something’s happened hasn’t it? Have you found Johnny?”
Ed Knox stepped forward, “Mr. DeSoto, perhaps we should do this in private, maybe we could use your Captains office?”
“No,” Roy said quickly… “Everyone here is a friend of Johnny’s. They have right to know too.”
Agent Knox looked over to where Dr. Brackett and Dixie were standing, “them too?” he asked.
“Oh,” said Roy. “Agent Ed Knox and Matt Anderson, this is Dr. Kelly Brackett head of Emergency Medicine at Rampart General and the man in charge of the paramedic program and Dixie McCall, head nurse in the Emergency department at Rampart. Both are dear friends of Johnny’s.”
Agent Anderson raised his eyebrows…”You’re Dixie McCall?” he said to the woman in front of him.
“Yes, Why?” Dixie asked.
“Well it’s worked out well that you are here, we need to speak to you as well.”
Dixie looked over at Roy with a confused look on her face.
“We wanted to let the families know before we released the news to the press…The missing bus has been found in a barn in Nevada. It’s located about an hour south of the Idaho border. It was discovered late yesterday by a couple that had returned home from vacation to find one of their vehicles had been stolen. When they went checking around to see if anything else was missing, they discovered the bus hidden in their barn.” Before anyone could speak, Agent Knox raised his hands. “Before I go any further let me say to you that there is no sign of Mr. Gage or the two children. But we do have reason to believe they are still alive.”
“You said there was no sign of Johnny or the children, but what about the others?” Joanne asked
Anderson paused and looked over at his partner, “Unfortunately the bodies of the other passengers were on the bus when it was found. It appears they were killed at the time of, or within the first 12 hours of their abduction.”
“Thankfully, Mr. Gage was able to leave us a message before he and the children were removed from the bus.”
“Message! What kind of message?” asked Roy?
“We found Mr. Gage’s carry-on bag hidden underneath the back seat of the bus, it seems at some point he was able to leave us a note written in the back page of a novel he had on his possession at the time of the hijacking. I believe the novel belongs to you Ms McCall, as it has your name written inside the front cover…unfortunately the novel and the bag are being held as evidence as part of our investigation. We do not want the contents of the note to be made public at this time.
He has helped us along by providing us with some important information. He also was able to confirm for us that the bus was indeed taken by our escaped fugitives. It is also why we believe that both he and the children are still alive.” Agent Anderson paused for a long moment before he continued on. “There is one more thing,” he walked over to the table and began to open his brief case. He pulled out a large manila envelope and a smaller white envelope and set them on top of his briefcase. “We found a couple other items in Mr. Gage’s bag that we have looked over and have decided to release them to you now. It seems he had written something for both Mr. DeSoto and Ms. McCall as well.”
After saying that, he handed the white envelope to Dixie and the larger envelope to Roy.
Dixie walked over to the far corner of the room and opened her envelope. She pulled out the postcard, and carefully read the front… as soon as she saw what it said, she felt the tears forming in her eyes, and with a shaking hand she turned the card over slowly and read Johnny’s heartfelt message written on the back.
She quickly slid the card back into the envelope without showing it anyone else, as the tears began to flow freely down her face. Kelly Brackett immediately walked over to her and put his arms around her for support as her shoulders began to shake, and she broke down sobbing uncontrollably in his arms.
Roy picked up his envelope with trembling hands. They all instantly recognized Johnny’s handwriting sprawled across the front of the envelope…
TO ROY DESOTO… LOS ANGELES COUNTY, FIRE STATION 51.
Roy could feel by the weight of the envelope that there was something more than just a note inside.
He slowly opened it up and reached in. He felt the postcard and pulled it out, and just like Dixie had a moment before he read the front of it…he immediately knew what Dixie’s postcard looked like…it was so like Johnny to buy something like that for Dixie.
He turned it over and read the heart-wrenching message Johnny had hurriedly written to him. He felt the tears begin to form in his eyes and the ache in his throat as he tried to suppress a sob. Like Dixie he carefully slid his card back inside the envelope, showing it to no one. He then slowly turned the envelope upside down, making sure the postcard remained inside. He let the other object slide out on to the table in front of everyone.
Roy sank down into the chair beside the table, and gently picked it up in his hands.
Everyone in the station except for Dr. Brackett and the 2 FBI agents instantly recognized the article as the necklace Johnny always carried with him, except for when he was on duty, when it sat safely on a hook in the back of his locker…the same one that had gotten Chet into trouble when he had taken it out of Johnny’s locker and put it on the dummy as a prank, so long ago.
Roy sat down in stunned silence…the discovery of the bus full of dead bodies hit him like a lead weight. This whole thing had just taken on a fresh new sinister angle.
His voice was quivering and his tears started to roll freely down his face, he made no attempt to hide them. He had no need to pretend; it would have been futile to try anyway.
It wasn’t fair…Johnny didn’t deserve to have this happen to him. It just went against everything he knew about fairness, it went against everything Roy had ever been taught about being fair.
“THIS ISN’T RIGHT, IT’S JUST NOT FAIR!” he wept out bitterly.
Suddenly Johnny’s voice echoed inside of Roy’s head… “Fair is for games Roy, not life. I learned that a long time ago…”
It had been something Johnny had told Roy late one night around a campfire as he had recounted some of the horrors he had to endure as a child, trapped in a world of mixed cultures where neither side had fully accepted or understood him.
Roy sat at silently at the table. He was holding the necklace in his hands; unable to stop the tears from sliding down his cheeks.
Agents Knox and Anderson had quietly slipped away shortly after giving the envelopes to the Dixie and Roy.
Roy finally got up and took Joanne’s hand and walked her over to the couch, where he sat down beside Dixie.
He fingered the delicate beadwork and leather gently, running his fingers along the large bone pendant. “This can’t be happening Jo…Dix…Not again. How many times does he have to be put through such hell? It’s not right...it’s just not fair.”
Chet got up and walked over to where Roy was sitting. “Hey Roy those FBI guys said they believe Johnny and those kids are alive…that’s some good news isn’t it?”
“Chet it isn’t that, of course I am happy to hear that. I just pray to God that they are right, and I have a chance to put this necklace back on Johnny where it belongs…it’s just…” his voice wandered off.
Cap came over and pulled up a chair in front of Roy. “Ah… Roy? What exactly did you mean by not again? And if you don’t mind my asking, what does the necklace mean?”
Roy looked at Cap and tried to formulate his thoughts into words.
“I mean all this shit that Johnny’s going through right now. I want him alive and back here safe more than anything, but if it happens and we get him back, what kind of emotional baggage is he going to be dealing with? I keep thinking about what he and those kids must have witnessed; what they have been put through. Cap… Imagine four people brutally murdered right in front of his eyes? He has also got to be trying to protect those two small children. If they are still alive, then they must be just waiting and wondering when it will be their turn to die.”
“But Roy…you said again…and I know that this is obviously not just any necklace…I think we all know that.” He glanced over at Chet.
Chet looked guiltily down at the floor.
Roy took a deep breath and glanced over at the two women. ”Look there is so much about Johnny that you don’t know…and it’s not my place to tell you either. And if he ever decides to share with you one day, then count yourselves blessed because I know I sure as hell do.”
“But I will tell you the story behind this necklace and no more. Anything else will have to come from Johnny himself. I ‘m going to tell you this just so you will understand it’s significance and why he holds it so dear, and why it fills me with such sadness and despair that he put this in that envelope… because when he did that, he was saying to me that he holds out very little hope that he’ll be coming out of this alive.”
By now everyone in the room was listening to Roy’s words with rapt attention.
Roy shifted in his seat as he fingered the beads and leather on the necklace; he paused for a moment and then continued. “John Gage is the only child of Roderick Gage and Kate Running Wolf. He was orphaned at the age of 10.”
Several gasps could be heard throughout the room, as this was new information to everyone there with the exception of both Joanne and Dixie. They already knew this story.
Roy continued on. “Johnny’s father was Roderick Gage who had been orphaned himself at the age of 17 when his mother died. He had never known his father, and his mother had never told him who he was. His mother was an only child whose own parents were gone by the time Roderick was nine. When his mother died she left him all alone in the world. Roderick was raised on a ranch in Wyoming where his mother kept house for the owner.
Rod grew up around the horses and was a very accomplished rodeo rider by the time he was 14. He seemed to have a natural knack when it came to handling horses. It was a skill that he has definitely passed on to Johnny.
When he turned 18, he farmed himself out as a ranch hand and was working on one of the big Montana Ranches not far from where Johnny’s mother, Kate Running Wolf lived. The two of them met one day when Rod had gone into town for supplies at the same time as Kate. It was an instant attraction and it wasn’t long before Rod was sneaking off to the reservation every chance he got. Neither the white community nor the Native band was happy about it, and soon Kate’s father forbade her from seeing Rod ever again. But by then it was too late, the two were madly in love and it wasn’t long before Rod bought a ring and proposed to the then 17-year-old Kate. They knew that they had to hide their engagement until she turned 18 when they planned to run off and elope, so Kate had to conceal her engagement ring from sight.
In order to conceal their engagement, Roderick gave Kate this necklace, which he had made himself.
He had spent weeks crafting it by studying the Lakota traditions and stories.” Roy held the necklace out to show them the tiny carvings of various animals that had been delicately crafted into the face of the bone.
Roy continued on with the tale…
“You can see this large oval bone pendant has on the front of it a buffalo and a bear that Roderick has skillfully carved into it…In Lakota tradition the buffalo for the girl, is a symbol of her ritual into womanhood, and for the man the buffalo represents his responsibility to provide protection for the female. The bear is the male polarity of the two animals…buffalo being female and the bear, male…the soft thick strand of leather has blue and white beads sewn onto it...blue being a traditional color for the Lakota and white symbolizes purity. Inside the lining of the thick leather strands, Roderick had hidden the engagement ring he had bought and given to her. And in this way, Kate could still “wear” his ring at all times. She wore that necklace everyday for the rest of her life and NEVER took it off. To this day, that engagement ring is still inside these leather strands.
On her 18th birthday they did run away and get married, both of them now being of legal age, there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. Her parents were livid, and never forgave her, but Indian culture is one where you don’t abandon family no matter what. And so even though she was an outcast of sorts, she was allowed to live on the reservation with her husband.
Roderick himself put up with his share of ostracism at the ranch. But he was also the best horseman around and his skill with horses was phenomenal. The ranch owner did not want to lose him; so for the most part he was left alone as long as he was working on the ranch. But it was clear that Kate was not welcome there.
On the day Johnny’s mother found out she was pregnant, she sat down and intricately painted the small turtle you can see on the reverse side of this pendant…the turtle was a common theme for babies. On the day Johnny was born, she painted a small figure of a gray wolf beside the turtle. She told Johnny many times that she chose the gray wolf not only because of the Running Wolf surname but because the wolf was a symbol of a fleet runner that had great endurance. It was also said in their culture, that the gray wolf had a great knowledge of many things.” Roy stopped and smiled. “Funny when you consider Johnny was called the galloping Greyhound in high school because of his ability to run fast.”
Roy continued on… “Johnny says his favorite story when he was a small boy was to have his mother tell him the story of the necklace before he would go to bed at night.
One day when Johnny was ten, he and his parents had gone to a neighboring county to look at horses for the ranch where Johnny’s father worked. It was late at night and they were traveling home on a narrow stretch of road. A group of young locals and no one knows to this day if they were Native or White, had seen the Gage car and decided to “teach” the outcasts a lesson. They rammed the car from behind and caused it to spin out of control, and plunge over the embankment. Johnny and his mother were thrown out of the vehicle, but his father died instantly when the car hit the bottom of the embankment and exploded on impact. Tragically, when Johnny’s mother was thrown out of the vehicle it rolled over top of her mortally wounding her.
Johnny himself only received a broken right arm and some cuts and bruises. He made his way over to where his mother lay dying on the side of the road, and tried to help her, but he was only 10 and had no idea what to do for her. I think that is why Johnny is a paramedic now…so he will never feel that helplessness of not knowing what to do ever again. As she lay dying, Kate took off the necklace and placed it around Johnny’s neck and told him that as long as he wore it, the three of them would always be together.
So you see, this is not the first time Johnny has had a firsthand view of murder, because even though the Native police ruled the death of his parents as ‘accidental’…it was murder.”
Roy stopped his story… “Now you see why Johnny was so upset at the disrespect you showed to that necklace that day, and why I was so angry with you Chet.
You know that is just one of the tragedies that Johnny has had to overcome, and do you know why?
Do you want to know what horrible crime… what terrible sin he committed to deserve such treatment?
It was simply because he was born half Native American and half White. Because two people fell in love and out of that love they conceived my best friend and my little brother, and probably the finest man I have ever or will ever know. And it’s why I have more respect for him than anyone else I have ever met…and also why what is happening to him now just seems so unfair to me.”
As he looked around there was not a dry eye in the room.
“Johnny, I’m sorry, man…really sorry.” Chet whispered as he looked over at the necklace.
Every man there cast his mind back to the time when all the Native jokes and pranks had been happening at the station and how they had laughed, especially in the beginning.
They also remembered the pain on Johnny’s face and the tearful anguish in his voice on the day he walked in and seen that dummy wearing the necklace that held such great value to their youngest crew member. Guilt ate away at each man and it suddenly felt like they had just been caught kicking a puppy.
Just at that moment the klaxons sounded calling the station out to a dumpster fire. The rest of the A shift got up and made their way to the Engine, but no one’s mind was on the burning dumpster…it was on small 10 year old boy, sitting beside his dying mother on the side of the road, 16 years ago in Montana.
After they had gone, Roy quietly stood up, slid the necklace back into the envelope and turned to Joanne….”Jo honey, it’s been a long day, let’s just go home now.”
Dixie and Dr. Brackett slowly got to their feet and followed the pair out the door.
March 23rd 9 am
Roy DeSoto was sitting alone at his kitchen table; his breakfast largely untouched.
Joanne had left the screen door that led out onto their back deck open when she had gone out to run some errands a half hour earlier.
The sunlight poured in upon him as he listened to the sounds on his street. It was as peaceful as if nothing untoward had happened. Everyone else around him was going on with their lives, unaware of the tragedy that had turned his life upside down. He rubbed his hand over the back of his neck trying to get the kinks out of it.
He had slept poorly the night before, just as he had every night since he found out his partner was missing. But last night the nightmares had been worse…now that the bus with the dead bodies had been found, his dreams had turned violent and dark; each one ended with Roy seeing Johnny being murdered. He would wake up in a cold sweat only to fall back asleep, and repeat the dreams over again. Each time he would see his partner being killed by the fugitives, whose faces he had seen splashed all over the TV and newspapers. In each dream the mode of Johnny’s death grew progressively more gruesome than it had been in the one before.
The sound of car tires in his driveway startled him out of his reverie.
It was only a moment later when the front doorbell rang and he slowly walked over and opened it.
He was surprised to find Dixie standing there. He knew she was supposed to be on duty this morning. She had dark circles under her eyes and it was obvious she had been crying.
“Hi Roy, is it okay if I come in? Kel ordered me to go back home as soon as I showed up for work this morning, but I can’t stand just sitting in my apartment all by myself.”
“Yeah, I know the feeling,” he said. “Come on in…can I get you a coffee?”
“Sure that would be great, but let me help, I could use something to do to keep me busy.”
The two of them slowly made their way back into the kitchen.
Dixie looked over at the table and seen the untouched plate of bacon and eggs. Roy just looked over at her and shrugged sadly….
“Yeah” Dixie sighed. “I know that feeling too.”
As soon as the coffee was ready, the two distraught friends took their mugs and walked into the living room and sat down on the couch.
Roy looked over at Dixie and began to speak. “You didn’t seem shocked when I told the story behind the necklace yesterday Dix. You had already heard that story before, hadn’t you?”
Dixie slowly nodded her head yes, and smiled. Roy could tell she was remembering back to a conversation she and Johnny must have had, some time in the past. She reached over and pulled the envelope that contained her postcard out of her purse…she took it out and handed it over to Roy. Roy slowly turned the card over, and read the message Johnny had so lovingly written on the back of it.
Dixie quietly began to recount her tale. “It was on this night,” she said pointing the postcard, “that he told me some of his past. He was just a young 20 year old rescue man working out of 10’s. He had been injured and was having a rough time of it because his meds were making him sick. He looked so young… so lost and alone, that for reasons I am not sure I can even adequately explain, I went over and pulled him into a hug. I was shocked when he clung on to me for dear life for almost 5 minutes.
When he finally moved back he was crying and he looked up at me and said… “Thanks Dixie…no one has hugged me like that since my mom died a long time ago.”
She paused before she continued on. “We sat for over an hour as he told me all about the necklace and how he had lost his parents.”
She purposely omitted the part about singing to him. ‘That one will always be just between you and I Johnny,’ she thought privately.
“I think that is the day I adopted him.” She smiled sadly as she wiped at a fresh set of tears that were sliding down her cheeks.
Roy handed the postcard back to Dixie. “It sounds like he must have written this out before the kidnappers had gotten on board”…he then walked over to his desk and picked up his postcard and handed it over to Dixie.
Dixie read the note Johnny had written to Roy. She could feel the sadness and futility that must have enveloped Johnny, as he tried to pile a heart full of memories and emotions into two short sentences. But the necklace said volumes about how much Johnny loved Roy, where a few hurried words might have seemed inadequate to the young man. It broke her heart and caused fresh tears to well up in her eyes.
She carefully handed it back to Roy, who held it as if it were as fragile as a spider’s web. He carefully put it back in its envelope along with the necklace.
“So when did he first tell you about it?” she asked.
Roy smiled. “Oh I learned about it over the span of 2 weeks. It was after he had been released from Rampart from surviving that virus he got from that monkey. He was still pretty weak and living in that cramped, dark apartment at the time. Jo found out that he was really supposed to have someone with him for a while until he was steadier on his feet; so the day before he was released, she went to work on the sewing room and it became the, ‘John Gage convalescence suite.’ … It has been ‘Johnny’s room’ ever since. One night he had a terrible nightmare and he woke up screaming. Jo and I had been up watching Johnny Carson, and we ran in to see what was wrong. We had a hard time bringing him around and he was really shaking. It was then we learned about the tragedy that was John Gage’s life. Over the next couple of weeks it gradually came out as I sat on the edge of his bed while he regained his strength.”
Dixie looked at Roy, “He only told me the story of the necklace, but I always sensed there were more hardships in his life that he had not mentioned.”
Roy stopped and looked Dixie in the eye for a long time. She could tell he was trying to decide if he should tell her more, and just how much to tell her. After what seemed like an eternity, he took a deep breath and began to talk.
“He had it real bad Dix…he was always the smallest in his class and being a half breed meant a lot of black eyes, and bloody noses. Even the teachers turned a blind eye… half-breeds were high on everyone’s shit list, and unfortunately for Johnny, he was the only half-breed on the reservation. I hate it when he uses that term half-breed, but more than that, I hate his acceptance of the fact that that is how he is defined, like it’s all he deserves.” Roy ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
“He barely knew his grandparents on the reserve, they had no use for his father or for him…in their eyes he had disgraced the family…he was the dirty little secret they wanted to hide. After his mother died, they had an obligation by tribal law to care for him. But the hell they put him through was unforgivable. He slept on a pallet in their woodshed, and could not eat with them until after he had served their meals, and even then he was not allowed to eat in the house…he got what was left over, and he had to eat it on his pallet. They worked him like a dog, and treated him worse.
His grandfather started to drink after his daughter’s death, she had been their only child, and his grief quickly turned to anger and his anger to hate. All of it was focused towards Johnny.
Johnny ended up in the reservation clinic regularly with various broken bones and cuts, and split lips between the ages of 10 and 16. Sometimes it was the hospital, but racism was rampant in that neck of the woods and no one asked questions…no one really wanted to get involved in anything that had to do with the reservation period.
Finally came a night when Johnny was 16 that his grandfather nearly beat him to death with a bat.
Johnny lived, but he had made a decision. In fear for his life, he left the reserve clinic, as soon as he was strong enough and made his way back to his grandparent’s house. He snuck into the woodshed after everyone had gone to bed. Johnny gathered up his few meager possessions and a small amount of cash he had stashed away that he had earned on the sly by working on a local ranch. He had gotten into the habit of skipping school a couple times a week and working for the same rancher his father had. It seems like Roderick; Johnny was a natural with horses.
He hitch hiked across country and made his way here to Los Angeles, where he spent the first 3 months living on the streets. It wasn’t until one night the abandoned house he was flopping in caught fire and Johnny was pulled out unconscious and taken to the hospital. When it was discovered he was 16, Child and Youth services were called in and Johnny was placed in foster care with his “Aunt Marian”.
She was good to Johnny and soon had him enrolled in high school, where he excelled. It turned out he was very bright and a quick study. He made few friends, because he was just never able to trust many people. All the neglect and abuse have made him wary and gun shy. Drew Burke was his first and only best friend all through high school. But despite all that he still ended up being a track star, and editor of the paper. That was largely due to the kindness and encouragement of a couple of good teachers, his coach and his Aunt Marian as he called her. She died of a stroke not long after he started at 51’s. But in the 5 years he had known her, he had grown to love her and took her loss hard. You know Jo and I were the only 2 he told about her death…we were the only two who were with him at her funeral.” Roy ended his story there. He figured he had shared enough…like Dixie; there were some stories and revelations that were private, solely for him and Johnny.
Dixie got up and started to carry the now empty coffee cups into the kitchen.
Just then Joanne came in with the dry cleaning slung over her shoulder. “Dixie” she greeted warmly. “How are you holding up?”
“Moment by moment, she said, “ I don’t think I will be able to breathe normally again until Johnny is back here where he belongs… she sighed, “I think I am going to take a drive along the beach and try to clear my mind a bit.”
And with that she said her goodbyes and left Roy and Joanne standing alone on their front porch, arm in arm; each one saying a silent prayer that their little brother would soon be returned home to them safe and sound.
To be continued...
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