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Did you ever wonder why Roy put up with John's sometimes odd and quirky behavior...I did...and then I had to wonder...maybe he knew more about Johnny than we did...
Warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of child abuse and is dedicated to these children who have come into my life over the years. It was written with the hope of touching hearts and raising the awareness of it's lasting and life changing repercussions.
Your friends will know you better in the first minute they meet you than your acquaintances will know you in a thousand years...Richard Bach
CHAPTER 1 ...
The rising Montana sun cast a soft glow on the heads of a group of children trudging up the dusty reservation road. It was the first day of a new school year and they had a two mile walk to meet the school bus that would carry them into Lame Deer.
The youngest of these children, six year old John Gage skipped along beside the older children taking in everything as he went. No plant was left unexamined, no scrounging squirrel left unwatched.
He was completely oblivious to the dour mood of his companions, but then the boy was frequently unable to sense the emotions of those around him. His Aunt Lacee called him in…in…sensi...tive.
John didn’t know what that meant, but from the tone it probably wasn’t good... but then Aunt Lacee seldom had something good to say about her nephew. His half white, half Indian heritage was a particular embarrassment to her.
Johnny had no idea why it should be a problem for anyone, but it was the source of every major fight between his Mother and her Family… fights that left him confused and frightened. Worse they left him shaking in the corner of his room, frequently unable to remember what had happened, sometimes he even lost whole days.
He didn’t want to think about that right now… he was too excited. This would be his first time in a real school and he was looking forward to learning all the things his Dad had promised they could teach him.
He was unaware of the friction that existed between the children of Lame Deer and the children who lived on the Reservation… so even had he been able to read their sour mood, he wouldn’t have understood it.
In his excitement to see everything along the way, he lagged far behind the other children including his older cousin Thomas. Thomas was the eldest son of his Aunt Lacee and Uncle Joseph White Bear.
“John…, nenáasêstse,” (Come here), He snapped. The younger boy ran to catch up. “Névese vovόtsevévám” (Stay with me) he ordered as Thomas grabbed the smaller child’s hand, giving him a hard jerk to keep John close to him as he walked.
John bit his lip to keep from crying out in pain as he was dragged along behind Thomas. He knew if he did the others would just laugh at him anyway.
“You will not be so anxious tomorrow Néséso háahketa,” (My little Cousin), Thomas said looking down into the pain filled brown eyes gazing back questioningly.
Why would tomorrow be different, John wondered? He said nothing, but then John seldom spoke unless his Dad was home, so Thomas wasn’t surprised at the silent confused look.
The older boy sighed, slowing down a little and letting the smaller child walk beside him. He rested his hand on John’s small shoulder. He knew his little Cousin would be a target at school, more so even than the others.
John was an Ó’xevé’ho’e (Half Breed). Except for his Mom, his family on the Reservation would offer him no sympathy. They would expect him to take whatever was handed to him without complaint.
The people of the town wouldn’t accept him either. The child would be the perfect whipping post for both sides. He’d try and protect him as best he could, but he couldn’t watch him every minute. There was no help for it… John would simply have to tough it out.
Thomas shook his head, he didn’t envy John at all. He glanced down at the little face peering up at him. Long black lashes, the envy of Thomas’s sisters framed huge brown eyes that were alternately expressive or when he was scared, stressed or frustrated went frighteningly blank.
At those times John stuttered horribly. Sometimes he retreated somewhere into his own mind, unable to speak at all and unwilling to allow anyone to touch him. Even his Mom Kate could only hold him by force.
Right now however his eyes were clear and bright as he gazed up at his older cousin with a questioning look through the shaggy, sable brown hair hanging in his eyes. Thomas reached out and brushed the hair from the Childs face, something he’d seen John’s Parents do on a regular basis…It always seemed to soothe the little boy.
His cousin smiled up at him. He was adorable. Thomas never understood himself why his family was so hateful. It wasn’t John’s fault that his Father was white or that his Mother had gone against her family to marry him. Thomas shook his head. No wonder John always looked so confused. If he himself at thirteen couldn’t understand their attitude, how could a six year old?
The orange morning sun climbed higher lightening the road. The early hour didn’t seem to bother the children. Most had been up before the sun to do chores around the house anyway. They would return after school to do homework and then most would go to the Reservation ranch to help work it. John, even as small as he was could ride and was already roping sheep with amazing accuracy.
This was Kimberly Ford’s first year as a Teacher in Lame Deer. She stood gazing out over the Children, noticing one in particular. He was slightly smaller than the others. She saw an older boy, a brother perhaps giving him instructions. The boys were obviously from the Reservation just outside of Lame Deer. The little one looked awfully frightened and her heart went out to him...he looked so lost. She headed in his direction.
John stood silently watching his older cousin walk away…his heart pounded fearfully…He’d never been alone anywhere…ever. A gentle hand touched his shoulder and he looked up into a pair of soft blue eyes and the prettiest face he’d ever seen…well next to his Mom of course. The woman was young…maybe even younger than his Mother who was twenty six.
She smiled down in to the frightened brown eyes as she squatted next to him, “What’s your name?” She asked gently.
“J…John, he stammered.
“Oh! I thought you were with the Reservation children.”
He nodded hard, his hair bouncing into his eyes with the motion… “I am,” He said enthusiastically, forgetting to be nervous.
“Oh…So where did you get the last name of Gage?”
“From my Dad…”
She smiled in amusement…half Indian she surmised correctly. “Well Mr. John Gage, how about you and I go inside with the others and get the class started?”
“Kay…,” He agreed as he threw her a charming crooked grin. She took his hand and led him inside.
“Is it okay if I call you Johnny?” The little boy nodded with a grin.
Thomas turned to check on John in time to see him disappear inside holding the hand of the pretty blonde Teacher. Leave it to his little cousin to charm the lady…he definitely had a way with women.
John entered the classroom. His eyes widened in wonder at the many pictures and posters decorating the walls. John had seen movies with his Mom and Dad. Listened to the popular music of the day on the radio as his parents danced in the living room but everything in this room was aimed at someone his age with vivid colors and pictures designed to catch a child’s eye.
The other children watched him curiously. Their walls at home were the same… bright and colorful, covered in rock and roll posters and pictures of popular cartoon characters, so they couldn’t understand this child’s fascination with the room.
For most of these children…this was their first up close encounter with someone from the Reservation. Several giggled drawing his attention away from the room and towards them, his brow furrowed in a frown. He didn’t know what he’d done but he seemed to know the snickering was aimed at him.
“Hey Tonto…?” One boy called out... “Ain’t ya ever seen pictures before?” The others laughed.
John didn’t know who Tonto was but the boy seemed to be talking to him. “My names John, not Tonto,” he said shyly. The others laughed again at John’s naïve response.
The Teacher turned to the others, “That’ll be enough of that.” The tone was stern and brooked no argument. The children grew quite under her no nonsense look. She once again took John’s hand and led him to a seat. “Here you are Johnny,” She said as she smiled at the little boy...He smiled uncertainly back at her.
John was growing up in a home where fighting and arguments between his Mom and her family were normal except when his Dad was home and they stayed away. He was adept at sensing the hostile undercurrents that flowed around him even though he didn’t understand them. He felt it from the other children and he wondered what he’d done wrong.
John’s morning progressed from bad to worse. While Miss Ford was greatly impressed by the fact that John could already read not only in his Native language but in English as well. Something his Father had been working with him on whenever he was home and his Mom reinforced it in his absence. The others resented her beaming praise as he counted in both languages as well.
“Well your Mommy and Daddy certainly have worked hard with you,” she said pleased at the obvious intelligence of this child. This boy might just change the preconceived bigotry she’d been bombarded with in this town since she’d arrived in early summer.
The people of Lame Deer wrote the Indians off as being ignorant. She’d seen nothing ignorant about them. They were an intelligent, hard working and honest group of people. They simply held to different customs and had a different set of priorities and prefered to be left alone by the whites.
John soaked up her words like a sponge…his intelligent dark eyes taking in everything. She beamed at his ability to completely submerge himself in whatever she was discussing, pleasing Miss Ford, but leaving several of the other children fuming in annoyance.
Jimmy Wheeler, the Boy who’d taunted him earlier narrowed his eyes in anger as John once again was the first to catch on to something new. His Father would be furious if he let himself be outdone by an Indian...a puny little runt of one as well. He’d fix the little redskin later.
Miss Ford asked at one point what they’d wanted to be when they grew up. There were several who wanted to be Doctors, Nurses or Teachers, even a couple who wanted to be Astronaughts.
“I’m gonna be Fireman...a tiller man.” John told them with certainty. The others laughed at him, who’d ever heard of an Indian Fireman?
Miss Ford seemed pleased, “That’s a wonderful thing to want to be. Don’t give up that dream Johnny,” She encouraged.
Lunch time finally rolled around and Miss Ford led her class to the lunchroom and then released them into the care of the other first grade teacher, Mr. Hayden.
She didn’t much care for the man as he was one of those who had made it very clear he had little tolerance for the children of the Reservation. He also believed in Corporal Punishment and he carried a heavy ruler that he applied liberally for any and every infraction.
John seemed at a loss among the other children. He didn’t know any of the games they were playing and they didn’t seem inclined to take the time to teach him. John’s Dad had taught him baseball and football, but that wasn’t what they were playing so he found a quiet spot and sat down alone to watch.
Jimmy Wheeler saw John alone and he headed in that direction... “Hey Tonto…?” The larger boy taunted.
“It’s John… not Tonto,” The smaller child answered in quiet tones. Why could this boy not remember his name? Maybe there was something wrong with him?
“Don’tcha even know who Tonto is?” The bigger boy sneered… “Ya stupid or somethin…?”
John looked at the boy in hurt confusion. His Parents had taught him not to say cruel things and John had no idea why this boy was being so mean. “I’m not stupid,” He said softly... I just don’t know who Tonto is.”
“Well your Indian ain’t ya?”
“I’m half Indian… My Dad’s not Indian,” The smaller boy clarified standing up.
“Whatever Tonto,” The other boy said giving John a hard shove. John staggered back in surprise at the unprovoked attack.
“Stop it,” John said angrily. He pushed the other boy back... It was all the excuse Jimmy needed. His fist lashed out to connect with the smaller boy’s cheek. John fell backwards, but climbed to his feet and charged back into the fray. He tackled the bigger boy and they both sprawled in the dust.
The other children began to run in their direction. They were soon gathered to watch the two combatants, their shouts drawing the attention of Mr. Hayden who raced across the playground. He grabbed both boys by the scruff of the neck, pulling them apart.
“What’s going on here?” He demanded angrily.
“He started it Mr. Hayden,” Jimmy lied.
“I…he…hit… I…d…didn’t…” John stammered as he always did when he was stressed or frustrated… terrified of the man who was practically holding him off the ground by his shirt collar.
“You little savages come here off the Reservation and cause problems every year. You have no manners… No discipline…” He snarled in the child’s face, “You’re always causing problems. I don’t know why they don’t just keep you at home… You’ll never amount to anything anyway.”
He set the boy on his feet… “Now hold out your hands.”
John held out shaking hands... Mr. Hayden’s ruler slapped across the little boys palms. His mouth trembled, tears of pain welled in his eyes but didn’t fall…he blinked them away.
His refusal to cry out infuriated the Teacher. He slapped his palms again and again. John’s eyes began to take on a vacant look but the tears still wouldn’t fall... he’d long since learned from his upbringing that he was expected to bear whatever came his way stoically.
Miss Ford heard the yelling of the children. She came out of the school in time to see Mr. Hayden’s ruler slashing across Johnny’s palms.
“No...” She gasped in horror as she began to run towards the group.
Mr. Hayden dropped his ruler. He snatched the terrified child off his feet, shaking him like a rag doll. John’s head rocked from the rough handling he was receiving… His eyes widened in fear.
Mr. Hayden’s face loomed closer and Johnny pulled back fearfully. To the child’s frightened eyes, Hayden looked like a monster about to eat him alive. He cried out in terror.
Eighteen year old John Gage sat bolt upright in his bed. His cry of fear cut off abruptly as he realized it was just a nightmare. He gasped for air as he shakily wiped the sweat from his brow. The dreams only came when he was stressed and John Gage was feeling very stressed.
He’d graduated from high school in June. He’d turned eighteen just two weeks ago and tomorrow John would start training with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
He was never surer of anything in his whole life. He’d wanted to be a Fireman since he was five but he was still nervous. He lay back on the bed and the dream came back to him. He had vague memories of that day and the ones that had followed.
His Cousin Thomas had been horrified at the bruise on his cheek and the swollen and bruised palms. He’d delivered him to his Mom, Kate that afternoon…shrugging away her demand for an explanation… He’d been unable to get John to tell him what had happened…he’d refused to speak. His Mother had held him, rocking the still silent, frightened child in her arms.
His Grandfather had been angry at the abuse but had offered little sympathy, “You did well John not to cry out…we are men of strength.”
His Mother Kate had argued... “If he was a man I would agree Father, but he’s a baby... This was wrong,” She cried holding out her son’s bruised hands. His Grandfather had merely shrugged.
Kate knew she would have to wait for her Husband to fight John’s case. She had no way into town and even if she did her protests would fall on deaf ears with the school officials and anything she said here would merely cause another round of fights with her family for coddling the boy.
His cousin Thomas had been right. He hadn’t wanted to go to school the next day. He vaguely remembered that Miss Ford had snatched him from Mr. Hayden’s hands but he couldn’t remember everything that had happened after that. He remembered the sting of his palms...the red, swollen skin.
He’d zoned out after that…something he’d done frequently as a child. He never knew why. His Parents had taken him to a Doctor but they could find no physical cause and they couldn’t afford to take him to the type of Doctor who could help him. His family had called him crazy...he’d believed them for a long time. His Mother had been forever protecting him from their cruel barbs, at least until she’d died when he was eleven. His Father had died three years earlier when he was eight.
After that he’d been passed from family member to family member…from one abusive situation to another for the next two and a half years until His Father’s sister Rosemary had taken him in at fourteen.
John lay in the dark as he continued to relive the nightmare. School had been horrible for John that first year. The other children had taunted him relentlessly and once Jimmy Wheeler’s Father had explained to his son what John was, the term Half Breed was hurled with startling regularity.
Mr. Hayden and his ever present ruler became the bane of John’s existence those first months. He seemed to look for an excuse to apply punishment to the child and the terrorized boy had shaken in fear in the man’s presence. It seemed to be his mission to make the little boy cry but he’d never succeeded.
Miss Ford was his one bright spot. She tried to protect him as much as possible, but his small hands were frequently bearing a swollen and bruised appearance.
John smiled to himself when he remembered the day that the punishments had ended. His Father had come home two months after school had begun. He worked as an Engineer and trouble shooter on the offshore oil rigs and he was on the road frequently, coming home as often as possible to spend time with his wife and son.
John had come home from school that day… his downcast eyes and swollen hands had sent his Father into a rage. He’d held his small son in his arms as the boy finally broke down and wept…something he couldn’t do with his Mother’s family. They wouldn’t understand his tears and they would only accuse her of babying him which would lead to more fighting… John hated it when they fought… It made his Mother cry and he always seemed to wake up unable to remember what had happened.
The next morning John had gone off to school as usual and as usual at recess Mr. Hayden had found an excuse to punish the six year old. John tensed as the ruler came cracking across his palms causing the child to flinch in pain and he once again began to retreat into his own mind.
Mr. Hayden raised the ruler to strike again but someone grabbed his wrist. The man felt himself spun around to look up into the blazing green eyes of Roderick Gage. He plucked the ruler from the Teachers fingers, snapping it in half like a twig. Hayden felt strong hands grasp the lapels of his coat.
He was raised on tiptoe to meet the six foot three inch gaze of John’s angry Father. John and the children who’d been watching Mr. Hayden’s assault on the boy stood in wide eyed wonder at the huge man who was shaking the other like a dog with a toy, much the same way as the Teacher shook John at every opportunity.
“I don’t know who you are mister,” Rod snarled in the man’s face… but that’s my son you’re abusing and I’m warning you right now…If my boy comes home again with one mark on him that I can attribute to you, you’ll wish you’d never been born. Do you and I understand each other?” He growled, giving him yet another shake.
The terrified older man nodded fearfully as the huge man dropped him. He fell to his knees as his shaky legs buckled under him. Roderick scooped his small son into his arms as Miss Ford who had just arrived to rescue the boy herself stood smiling in satisfaction at Hayden’s comeuppance. John wrapped his arms around his Dad’s neck laying his head on his shoulder.
“I…I…d… didn’t c…cry,” He stuttered in a whisper.
“It’s okay if you had my little one,” He soothed gently, brushing the shaggy sable hair from his son’s face. He carried him into the school and into the principal’s office. Their discussion was short and to the point. Roderick Gage would not tolerate his son being abused. If it happened again there would be hell to pay. Rod loaded his son in the car and took him home.
Lying in his bed twelve years later, John smiled. Mr. Hayden had avoided him for the rest of the school year. Eighteen months after that, John’s father had moved them to Duarte… a small town in California just north of Los Angeles.
Roderick Gage was killed in a fire a year later, when John was eight. It had been a traumatic time and he had huge gaps in his memories where he’d lost whole days...he didn’t remember much of that spring. He and his Mother returned to Montana six months after that, but by then Mr. Hayden had moved on.
At least John only had to deal with the other children and they were bad enough but almost two years in Duarte hanging out with a group of older boys had taught him how to talk his way out of a multitude of fights and even how to win a few.
The one thing that John gained permanently that first year was Miss Ford’s nickname: Johnny.
The next morning, John began training. The next few months were a whirlwind of classroom instruction and firefighting drills. Johnny began the physical training as well…pulling eighty to a hundred pounds of hose in full turnout gear in the hot California sun…dragging them up four and five flights of stairs… battling fires that were deliberately set under the worst circumstances. He was exhausted at the end of every day but he loved every minute of it.
Just before he graduated from the academy, his paternal grandparents were killed in a car accident. He’d only met them a few times… They’d disowned his Father when he’d married an Indian woman and they’d had little to do with their half breed Grandson so they weren’t close, but it was still another in a long line of losses in the young man’s life. His Father, then his mother and then both of his Mothers Parents within months of each other...His Aunt Rosemary's Husband just months after he'd arrived...Other Friends made and lost.
Johnny sometimes wondered if his Uncle George had been right...that he was bad luck and that the people he cared about left him one way or another...As a result, John had trouble forming and keeping relationships and over the years he’d learned to hold people at a distance. He never let anyone close to him... It hurt less when they went away. His poor Aunt Rosemary despaired of ever seeing an emotional outburst and she’d never heard the words ‘I love you’ from her Nephew, he just didn’t seem to know what they meant.
After the long, exhausting months of training, his Aunt Rosemary and two friends from high school... Drew and Pam were on hand to watch him graduate and then afterwards they swung by his new station. His first assignment... station 8.
“Nervous?” Drew asked. Drew had graduated eighteen months ago and had enrolled in the Police Academy. He had been a cop for almost a year... he and Pam were trying for their first child.
“More than nervous, I think I’m scared,” He laughed.
“Johnny you’re gonna be fine. You’re a good Fireman and you graduated near the top of your class… You’ll be great.”
“Thanks,” John chewed is lip...something he did when he was very nervous or frustrated.
The next morning John Gage began his career as a Los Angeles County Fireman. He walked into the Station, finding his new Captain. “Fireman John Gage reporting for duty sir,” he said snapping to attention.
The Captain grinned and held out his hand, “I’m Captain Dennis Webster son... Cap will do.”
“Let me introduce you to your new Crew mates,” he said leading John out to the engine bay. He pointed to the other four men already standing loosely at attention.
“Engineer specialist William Terry... “John nodded in his direction.
“Lineman Jim Wright…”
“Jim,” John acknowledged.
“And our two Rescue men…Jerry Randall and Paul McFarland.” John’s interest was piqued immediately even as he greeted the two men.
“Rescue Men…?” He questioned.
“They’re called out when there’s someone trapped or injured as well as during a Fire.”
“This is Lineman John Gage. This is his first assignment…. Jim stay with him. Keep him outta trouble okay?”
“You got it Cap… C’mon boot,” Jim said pointing to the spot next to him with a grin.
John was slightly indignant but he threw him a shy, crooked smile and moved over next to the older man as Cap began roll call. As the Rookie, John was assigned latrine duty for the first time in his career… It unfortunately wouldn’t be his last.
He found himself harassed and teased unmercifully throughout the course of the morning. Though he tended to have a short fuse, he’d already been warned that this was standard procedure for the ‘new guy’ until he proved himself and did his best to take it all without exploding. The Station control unit began to sound just before lunch time.
Station 8 Structure Fire...” 2718 Highcross… 2-7-1-8 Highcross, cross street 27th… Time out 11:42”.
Cap responded, “Station 8, KMG-358.”
“C’mon Kid...” Jim hollered, running for the engine. John followed shrugging into his turnout. His adrenaline began to rush as he ran for the engine for the first time as an actual Fireman.
Over the next several months the older Lineman tried to take the quiet, reserved teenager under his wing... Even taking him out to celebrate his nineteenth birthday with his first beer, but the younger man seemed to shy away from getting too close and while he seemed friendly enough he kept the older man at arm’s length...keeping his personal life and background to himself. He never shared his former life with anyone…even his Aunt and his friends Drew and Pam knew little about his past.
The month passed and over that time, the younger man established himself as a hard working, capable young Fireman.
“Hey Jim…?” Johnny asked one afternoon.
“What does it involve to become a rescue man?”
“About six weeks additional training,” he replied.
“Training for what?”
“Extra work in rappelling, mountain climbing, basic first aid…stuff like that. Why… you thinkin about changing fields?”
“Well I’d miss ya kid, but you need to follow whatever direction you're called to. If you’ve got the talent for rescue work, go for it.”
“Thanks...what do I need to do to start?”
“Start by talkin to Captain Webster.”
The SCU Tones sounded... “Station 8…explosion and fire in a factory... 2318 E. Billingsley... 2-3-1-8 East Billingsley cross street Mel… time out 16:27.
“Station 8, KMG-358,” Cap replied handing Jerry and Paul the slip of paper, then ran for the Engine. Jim, John and Will were already in their seats.
They arrived at the scene ten minutes later...the Factory was fully engulfed. Cap was bellowing orders as John and Jim began pulling hoses from the bay.
They worked together, John in front and the older man as backup. Jim braced against the younger man’s shoulder as they worked their way into the smoke filled hallways.
They’d worked their way about fifty feet inside when another explosion rocked the building. Johnny and Jim were blown backwards off their feet. John’s helmet flew off landing a few feet away and the teenagers head struck the floor hard. A dazed John vaguely heard the ominous creaking of the ceiling as it buckled under the heat. His vision blurred.
He looked up only to find his vision blocked by Jim as he threw himself across the nineteen year old. John grunted as the wind was knocked out of him by Jim’s weight. He heard the sound of crashing ceiling beams. He felt a crushing weight… Johnny couldn’t catch his breath and blackness fell around him as his consciousness faded.
When John finally opened his eyes, he was laying next to the rescue squad coughing. An oxygen mask was pressed firmly over his face. His chest hurt and his body felt bruised from one end to the other.
He raised his hands in a panic batting the mask away as awareness finally came... He struggled to sit up, fighting against the hands that tried to restrain him. “J…Jim…” He stammered out, “Where’s Jim?”
Captain Webster leaned down, laying his hand against the young man’s chest and pressing him back, “John, let’s just worry about you right now Okay?” He said gently.
Dark eyes rose to meet his Captain’s… He saw the sorrow in Webster’s face. John’s mouth trembled, his eyes filled with tears but he blinked them away. “No…,” He gasped before his vision faded once again and the young man passed out.
When he woke again he was at Rampart Emergency. He felt a cool wet towel being drawn over his face and neck. A pretty blonde nurse was leaning over him. She was probably in her early forties and she moved about him with no wasted effort. An oxygen mask still covered the lower half of his face.
She noticed that the young man’s eyes were cracked open… “Hi there handsome,” She said softly as she continued to gently bath John’s face…“the Doctor will be here in just a minute okay?”
“I don’t need a Doctor,” he rasped. John hated Doctor’s and he despised needles or anything else that reminded him of hospitals. He’d seen few of them in Montana, but his Aunt had run him through a gamut of them after she had taken him in.
They’d poked and prodded and drawn countless blood samples trying to find out what was wrong with John. He’d seen Medical Doctor’s, Therapists and psychologists until he was sick of them. He told his Aunt they were a pack of Vampires… She’d laughed.
He’d spent long months in speech therapy to overcome his stutter. Something he only did now when he was very frustrated or stressed. His Aunt had been the most patient person he’d ever met and he knew he’d given her a rough time. He’d fought her every step of the way for over a year but she’d persisted until she’d got him through the worst of it.
At least he hadn’t had a blackout in four years. If she ever found out what was wrong with him, she’d never told him. Lying here in this hospital room brought it all back. He was scared, though he’d never admit it. He tried to sit up pushing the mask off his face.
The door opened to admit a gray haired older Doctor. He hurried to the younger man’s side, grasping his shoulders and pressing him down. “You need to lay back and rest... Dix, what’s his name?”
She picked up the chart... “John Gage, he’s a Fireman... He’s nineteen... Possible concussion…Smoke inhalation… Some bruising…ceiling fell on him.”
“Who’s Jim?” Dix shook her head…another Fireman...he didn’t make it,” she said quietly.
Joe Early nodded, “John, I want you to listen to me…you’ve got a pretty nasty bump on the head, smoke inhalation and some pretty severe bruising. Now I’m going to admit you for observation for tonight… You need to rest.”
“J...Jim,” he gasped again.
“John…I’m not going to lie to you okay…Your friend didn’t make it.”
“H…he s...saved my l…life,” He stammered in anguish.
“Alright then, he obviously felt you were worth saving…so let’s not throw away the sacrifice, okay?”
John blew out a hitched breath as he struggled not to scream out his rage. It had happened again… He’d let someone into his life and now he was gone. He silently swore to himself he’d never make that mistake again... It hurt too much.
He felt the sharp sting of a needle in the crook of his elbow, “No…” He murmured as he felt himself begin to drift away. “Oh God…his wife…” He whispered as his eyes closed.
He was released from the Hospital the next day. A dark haired, no nonsense Doctor and the pretty blonde nurse had come in first thing that morning. She was as compassionate as he was hardnosed.
“Good Morning John,” She said gently, her heart going out to the young distraught man in the bed.
He turned his face so she wouldn’t see the distress in his eyes… “Mornin Ma’am,” He mumbled.
“John this is Dr. Brackett,” She told him. “He just wants to check you out real quick before he lets you go home okay?”
He gave a quick glance at the Doctor… “Guess so, if it’ll get me outta here.”
She smiled at the tough bravado this kid was displaying but she saw right through him. She resisted the urge to brush the hair from this boy’s face… She was afraid if she did he’d crumble and destroy the illusion that he was in control.
Dr. Brackett gave him a quick examination. “You don’t appear to have any lasting effects from yesterday young man... I don’t see any reason to keep you here. I’m not releasing you for duty however for another couple of days. You come back then and see either me or Dr. Early and we’ll talk about it then alright?”
“Yes sir,” John said quietly.
The Doctor nodded curtly, he turned to leave... “Dix, you wanna get a nurse to get the hose jockeys’ release papers?” He said as he left the room.
“Sure Kel,” She agreed.
Dixie opened the small closet door and pulled out his uniform. It reeked of smoke, but it was all he had to wear. “Is there someone I can call for you? Someone who can pick you up…?”
His first thought was Jim…he lowered his eyes in despair, “No ma’am…there’s no one...,” He murmured softly.
Don’t get involved her mind said but her heart was aching for this young man who sat there so forlornly… He looked so alone.
“Can I give you a ride?” She asked.
“Oh no m…ma’am,” He said quickly. “I…I’ll get a c...cab…” He stuttered in embarrassment.
“Okay John, I’ll call one for you alright?”
He nodded, “Kay.”
The next few days had been awful... Jim’s wife had blamed him.
“If he hadn’t been trying to protect you he’d still be alive,” She’d screamed at him hysterically.
John had barely held it together. “I…I’m s...so s...sorry,” He whispered.
“Sorry…” she snarled, “I’m sure that’ll keep me warm for the rest of my life…,” She’d stormed away.
Cap and the guys had tried to help. They didn’t blame him for Jim’s death, but John blamed himself. He stewed about it for days.
He’d attended the Funeral walking behind the Engine in full dress uniform with a hundred and sixty other Firemen. He’d fought back the tears he hadn’t shed since his Mother had died.
He approached Captain Webster the next day about Rescue training. Captain Webster had understood his request and his need to do this. In the last eight months John had displayed a passion for rescue work, assisting Jerry and Paul at every opportunity. He seemed driven to save every person trapped in a fire. Captain Webster had had to order him out of more than one situation where it was a hopeless case. Jim had literally dragged him from a couple as well. Now with Jim gone, there was nothing to hold the younger man here.
Cap made the arrangements and five weeks later John began training to be a Rescue man. He worked his tail off for the next six weeks and when he was done he was permanently assigned to Station 10.
He reported for duty that first morning with a sense of Déjà vu as he snapped to attention in front of his new Captain... “Fireman John Gage reporting for duty,” he said crisply.
“At ease Gage… Let me show you around and introduce you to the guys,” he said shaking Johnny’s hand. “I’m Captain Jeffrey Hayes.” John nodded in greeting. Hayes led him around the Station. It was much larger than 8’s had been.
“This is the Rescue Squad,” he said, patting the gleaming red Dodge... John nodded. Captain Hayes led him into the rec room. “Let me introduce you to the crew.” There were at least two dozen men gathered in the large room, including Chief Conrad.
Cap made the introductions. John knew it would take awhile to learn them all. Cap waved over a young blonde man...slightly older than Johnny but about the same height and a stockier build.
“John Gage this is your new Partner…Tony Freeman.”
“Gage...” Tony greeted, shaking John’s hand in greeting.
“John,” He corrected.
“John it is,” Tony said with a smile… “Want some coffee?”
“Sure…” Tony led the younger man to the coffee pot.
“So where you from John…?”
“Around … most recently from right here,” he said evasively
“How long you been a Fireman?”
“Almost two years," he hedged.
“So where was your first assignment?”
“Station 8,” John said shortly…“Hey can you show me the squad?” He asked changing the subject.
Tony took the hint…John didn't want to talk. “Yeah…uh…sure John…let’s go.”
Over the several months John and Tony established a good working rapport, but Johnny took great pains to be sure it never went beyond a working relationship. He’d made the mistake of getting close to Jim...he’d never open himself up to that kind of pain again.
He’d forgotten for a short time that he was a loner and why he preferred it that way. Most of his family was dead or treated him as if he was…the few friends he had made as a child had moved away or he had. He even saw Drew and Pam less often after Jim had been killed. His Aunt hadn’t seen him for months…he’d shut himself off from everyone.
He’d reverted back to his childhood patterns…staying to himself, talking little. When he was willing to join a conversation, he’d discuss anything except himself, his life, his past but he still displayed the same tenacity during rescues as he had before.
Due to their location, most of their victims were transported to Harbor General. He did on rare occasions take a victim to Rampart, but he usually just dropped them at the treatment room door, refusing to allow himself to get involved. It was easier that way. He only saw the pretty nurse and the crusty Doctor on rare occasions.
Five months after his twenty first birthday, Chief Conrad approached him, “Gage, can I see you a minute?”
Johnny’s mind did a brief guilty gallop over everything he could possibly have done wrong in the last twenty four hours, but couldn’t come up with a thing.
“Ah…sure Chief,” He said uncertainly as he followed the older man into his office.
“Have a seat John…” The younger man sat down hesitantly as Conrad picked up a piece of paper off his desk. “Headquarters has sent out a request…they want us to tell our people about a new program they're working on.”
“Oh…? What’s that?”
“It’s called the Paramedics…you’d be getting a crash course in Medical Procedures. You’d be trained to stabilize a victim at the scene before transporting them to the Hospital. It’s not a promotion or anything…you’d stay the same rank but it does sound pretty interesting. Frankly Gage, I think it’s something right up your alley.”
John stood, “thank you sir and I will think about it…,” He said as he left the office. He shook his head as his partner approached him.
“Everything ok…?” Tony asked.
“Yeah...the Chief was just telling me about a new program the county’s starting.”
“Oh yeah…he mentioned it to me too.”
“You gonna go for it?” John asked.
“I don’t know... I said I’d think about it, but it sounds like a lot of extra work for nothing. Not even more money.”
“You gonna try it?”
“Sounds like an ambulance attendant. That’s not what I wanna be, ya know?”
The SCU tones sounded and they ran for the squad.
John had put the conversation with the Chief from his mind as soon as his shift ended. He spent his two days off camping in the San Gabriel Mountains. John liked the solitude and the peace and he escaped there often. When he returned for his next shift he’d pretty well decided against the Para…whatever’s.
John and Tony had a fairly quiet shift. The most excitement came from an early morning warehouse fire. They had only one minor casualty that they treated for smoke inhalation at the scene and transported to Harbor General.
Twenty one exhausted Fireman returned to the station just as dawn was breaking. They went to change from their turnout gear to regular uniforms before their shift ended at 8:00.
John had one foot propped on the bumper of the Engine tying his shoe as Chief Conrad approached him.
“Remember that special training we were talking about a couple of days ago?”
“Yes sir…the Para…something or other.”
“Paramedics... The first class just finished last week.”
“I’m supposed to encourage all our young rescue personnel to volunteer for the next class.
“I know its work… No raise in pay, but it just might be worthwhile.”
“Yes Sir it might be if I wanted to be an ambulance attendant, but I don’t. Chief…I’m a rescue man, I trained to be a rescue man and I like being a rescue man…why should I die from improvements?”
“I give up, why should you?” The Chief asked. John grinned at him.
The Station Control Unit sounded... John and the Chief both looked up, listening intently... “Squad 10, Truck 127, possible high voltage electrocution. 13270 flower. 1-3-2-7-0 Flower... Cross Street 3rd... Time Out 07:51”
John looked slightly frustrated, knowing there’d be no rest before he headed for home. He glanced at the Chief with tired eyes.
The Chief looked back at the exhausted young Fireman... “You like being a rescue man,” the Chief reminded him. John shot him a wry grin as he ran for the squad.
Tony and John arrived at the accident scene. A man lay draped over the top of the telephone pole. The lines were still live... John looked back at his Partner, “Call for an Ambulance …tell em to push it.”
John ran for the snorkel truck as 127 set up for the rescue. John climbed in and it began to lift. He waited for them to signal that the power was cut, giving them a wave in return. He and the crew of 127 pulled the man from the lines.
Once they had him on the ground he and Tony began to administer oxygen. John checked for a pulse... It was weak but definitely there. They waited for the ambulance and John rode in with the victim. Due to their location they headed for Rampart.
John delivered the victim to the treatment room door and then turned and walked away, heading out to the emergency room door to wait for Tony. The squad turned into the parking lot…Tony climbed out.
“You ready John?”
“Yeah in a minute, I want to check on that guy we brought in.”
“I’ll be right behind you… I just wanna lock up the squad.”
John turned and went back inside, heading for treatment room 3. John pushed the door open and walked into the room. The pretty blonde Nurse…uh…Dixie, he thought that was her name and the stern Doctor were both there along with another young black Doctor.
“Doc…how…?” He stopped in mid sentence realizing he was too late...The victim hadn’t made it. A look of shock crossed his features.
“I’m sorry,” Kel said shortly. John got the feeling he’d interrupted something, but he glanced at them in dismay.
“But…I was sure we got him here alive.”
“Oh and what caused you to think that?" Brackett asked snidely… "Spontaneous respirations, pupil’s reaction to light… How much alive…?”
“I just felt…,” John began hesitantly.
“Amateurs Dix,” Brackett turned and walked out in a huff.
John watched him go, wondering what he’d said that upset the older man…he turned back to the nurse. “He was alive.”
“Maybe so but the best Doctor I know just walked of out of here and he couldn’t keep your man alive...," She said gently, looking at the frustrated young man with sympathy.
“Yeah…," He said sadly. “I thought Doctor’s weren’t supposed to take these things so hard.”
“Doctor Brackett is a sore loser,” Dixie said.
John nodded and left the room. He hesitated briefly as he spotted the Lineman’s wife and daughter weeping in the hall. He turned and headed for the door where Tony was waiting a few feet away. The blonde man nodded back at the two crying women.
“The lineman’s wife and Daughter… He didn’t make it.”
John nodded curtly and stalked toward the exit… Tony followed. ‘Well the high and mighty Dr. Brackett might be a sore loser but dammit so was he.’ John stormed out the Emergency room door... His hand slapped the hood of the red squad bringing Tony to an abrupt stop as he looked at his angry Partner.
John glanced down at the emblem written there. The Words ‘Rescue Squad’ suddenly seemed to mock him. “Rescue hell…all we did was rescue a corpse,” He growled out.
Man there had to be a better way. Maybe there was something to this Para…medic whatever. He decided to check into it in the morning.
Kelly Brackett was angry. He and Dixie had been arguing for weeks and he was afraid it was going to ruin a beautiful friendship as well as their long standing romance.
This Paramedic training program was coming between them. Kel was dead set against sending
She’d been on him again yesterday when they’d lost that electrocution victim. Worse she’d brought the argument to their dinner date…and she’d volunteered him as well as Rampart to train the next Paramedic class knowing full well how he felt.
On top of their other duties he and Dixie as well as another part time emergency room doctor…Joe Early, would be spending hours of their day with these men for the next twelve weeks. Six men with their hearts in the right place but still just firemen.
The next morning John sat sipping his coffee in his small kitchen wondering where this new direction in his career might lead him.
He went out and climbed into his old VW camper and headed down to headquarters. As he entered the front doors he spotted a sign on a door to his left. 'Paramedic Questions answered here Last Day R. Desoto F/M.' John pushed the door open and went inside.
A stocky blue eyed, blonde man maybe a few years older than John sat at the table. He looked up as John entered and then stood up to his full six foot one inch height… standing eye to eye with the younger man.
John held out his hand… “John Gage,” he said shortly. Roy knew who he was…He remembered him from a rescue almost two years ago…He’d matured some since then but they’d never met in person.
“Roy…Roy Desoto,” the other man responded softly, recognizing the younger man from the year before … “Have a seat.”
“Thanks,” John sat. He handed the older man his application.
Roy looked it over... “This application isn’t signed.”
John gave a slight nod, “I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Sure…whatta ya wanna know.”
“You went through that first class of special medical training right?”
“If you rolled on a rescue call now…today,” He said tapping the table top…"could you use that training to treat a victim on the scene?”
“Then why should I or anybody else spend twelve weeks or twelve minutes learning to do what we can’t do?”
“Because you said today… There’s a bill before the State Legislature right now…assembly bill PM11307 which will permit qualified Fire Department personnel to administer medical assistance in the field.”
“If it’s passed...”
“You asked a few questions before you came in here...,” Roy said, impressed by this young man.
“I want to find out if it’s a job or just a title.”
“Oh it’s a job alright…it’s gonna be the most important advance in emergency medicine in the last fifty years.”
“Going to be…? Well maybe you just better hang on to that application until it is.”
“That’ll be too late…we’re already late. Gage, there are over six and a half million people in Los Angeles County right now and not nearly enough Doctors to handle them even under normal conditions.
When you get into emergency situations…freeway accidents, drownings, heart attacks, a thousand others, People are dying at the scene. People who could stay alive if there was somebody on the spot who knew what to do.”
“But they won’t let you function,” John argued.
“They will…they’ll have too. Look if that bill passes legislature today, do you know how many people we’d have ready for the job?”
John shook his head… Roy stood and returned to his seat, “Just me and five other guys who took the course. Six men for six and a half million people… No… we can’t wait for the go ahead and then train our people. If there’s one chance in a million that bill will pass, we have to be ready.”
Roy was convincing. There was something about his passion for this job… It was a mirror of John’s. They both felt the same way about saving lives…the younger man was convinced.
“Use your pen?” He asked seriously.
Roy grinned as he'd watched the thoughts play across his features while he considered the older man’s words. He was bright, intense just as he remembered... Roy liked him…but there was something else too…vulnerability in the eyes. A loneliness that tugged at his heart… Roy felt drawn to him as he had even back when he’d first seen this kid and he didn't know why.
“Hey, you wanna get a cup of coffee?” Roy asked putting John’s application into a folder.
“Ah…what about..?” He trailed off gesturing toward the door.
Roy pulled out a piece of white paper. He wrote ‘Back in Fifteen minutes’. “That’ll do it… It’s just up the hall,” He added taping the sign to the door.
John held back for just a moment, “Okay…yeah…sure.”
They headed out to the coffee room. Roy only gave a brief thought to John’s obvious hesitancy...maybe the kid already had plans or something. He put it from his mind.
“So how long have you been a fireman Gage?”
“Three years,” he replied.
Roy looked him over, “Right outta High school...?” He guessed accurately.
“Yeah pretty much…”
“So you’re about…?” He let the question hang.
“Twenty one…and a half,” he said quietly, adding the half in the hopes that it made him at least sound a little bit older.
John shook his head.
“No...,” He replied, sounding uncomfortable.
Roy sensed the younger man’s hesitancy to talk about himself. He turned the conversation toward his own life. “I am...married I mean. Her name’s Joanne... I’ve got a four year old son and another due in a couple of months.”
John nodded. Roy glanced at the quiet young man walking next to him… John avoided looking back at him. They stopped at the break room and Roy grabbed a couple of Styrofoam cups and poured.
“How do you take it?”
“Black is good, thanks.”
What station you out of?" He asked.
"10," he replied. Roy frowned. That's not what he remembered.
Your whole career?"
"No," he responded.
Roy was really working hard to get this kid to communicate.
“I saw you out in the field a while back...You were outta Station ahhh...?” Roy snapped his fingers, trying to remember.
“Yeah...That's right...apartment fire. You were pretty gutsy going in there like that." John shrugged and Roy continued. “They’re both good stations, good crews... good place to learn the trade.” John nodded but didn’t say anything. “You always talk so much?” Roy quipped watching the younger man.
John blushed... “Sorry,” he mumbled.
“Don’t be Junior, I was just teasing.”
John glanced at him with a frown at the appellation ‘Junior,’ but Roy didn’t notice. Roy cast a sidelong look at the young man standing next to him. The kid’s communication skills were definitely lacking. He didn’t seem to be able tell what was serious and what was good natured teasing.
“Oh…,” He replied nodding and then he finally asked a question of his own. “Where’d you come from?” he questioned hesitantly.
“I’ll be in on the training class with you.”
“How come…?” John asked, at least trying to keep up his end of the conversation.
“Harbor General did a good job and I graduated at the top of my class there but…I want to be sure I know what I’m doin…ya know? I mean it can’t hurt to hear it again and from a different set of Teachers right? He may not be the most personable but Kelly Brackett’s the best ER man out there. I’d like to learn from the best.”
John nodded, not at all sure he agreed with this man’s opinion of Dr. Kelly Brackett being the best. Roy looked at his watch.
“Well break over,” he said with a sigh. They headed back…as they approached the room they saw two men hovering uncertainly at the door... Roy gave John a friendly slap on the shoulder.
“See you at Rampart in three days… C’mon in guys… I’m Roy Desoto,” He said waving them inside.
Roy watched the young man walk away. Something tugged at him…there was something about this kid. Roy didn’t know for sure what, but he sensed he was special. The older man was suddenly very interested in working with him during training. He smiled to himself as he turned and followed the other two men into the room.
John turned and walked away...He glanced back as Roy disappeared inside the room...There was something about his man that John seemed drawn to but he didn't know why. He shook off the feeling...He wouldn't allow himself to get close to anyone...He couldn't...
Roy Desoto entered his home feeling more lighthearted and hopeful than he had in days and he wasn’t quite sure why.
“You’re awfully happy today Honey?” His wife Joanne said as she kissed him in greeting. He patted her belly gently.
“Yeah,” He agreed with a smile.
“Something special happen today?”
“No not especially but I did get enough men to fill out the second Paramedic class though.”
“That’s wonderful… I know you were concerned.”
“Yeah… I’ll tell ya Jo, I’m really excited about all this but…there was one man today, He was…different.”
“It’s hard to put a finger on exactly. He was sharp…seemed real smart ya know? He did a lot of checking before he showed up. Asked some tough questions…I just…There was somethin about him… I just liked him. But he was also…I don’t know…different somehow...I can’t explain it…” Roy trailed off.
He looked up to see his wife’s eyes on him...he could tell she didn’t understand, so he tried again... “He was real quiet…but we seemed to click…he was so serious but he…he seemed…I don’t know…a little vulnerable….I guess that’s as close as I can explain it.” Jo frowned slightly but Roy smiled reassuringly, “Don’t worry…he’s gonna be a good choice for this program…I just…know it.”
Joanne smiled tolerantly... She’d never heard her husband make such a personal comment about someone he’d just met or take such an interest in someone, and certainly not another man. Roy held himself pretty aloof from most people so this person had to have left quite an impression for Roy to even notice him much less comment on such a personal trait.
“Better than your Partner…?”
“Ex Partner if you’re talkin about Will Poston…,”he said irritated.
“Yes I was, but I thought you liked Will?”
“I do, but c’mon Jo…Will was so close minded. He wouldn’t even consider the Paramedics...called it a passing fad. He said I’d be back to 41’s in six months… Besides…Will never took anything seriously. This guy’s not like that at all.”
“So he’s more mature than Will?”
Roy grinned, his mind traveled back to the young dark haired man sitting in front of him. He was very young, barely more than a kid but his eyes had a look…older…more mature, more responsible than Wills’ who’d been on the job for eight years. John had the most serious attitude he’d ever seen in a kid his age.
“Yeah, a lot more... So, what’s for dinner?” Fate has a sense of humor.
John’s head tossed restlessly. His body shifted beneath the covers and sweat beaded his brow.
The boy lay sleeping...he felt the gentle stroke of a hand against his forehead as his hair was brushed back. His eyes fluttered open and his Fathers face came into focus.
“Hi Dad,” The boy whispered sleepily.
“I just wanted to say goodbye... I’ll only be gone a couple of days this time,” he said quietly. “Then I’ll take you to that Dodgers game I promised you,” he said still gently brushing his son’s brow with the backs of his fingers. The boys’ eyes flicked toward his Mom as she stood smiling at them from the doorway.
It always touched her heart to see the love her husband displayed toward their troubled son and the bond between them.
Rod had taken up her habit of smoothing the hair from the boy’s face...stroking his forehead. It was something she’d found soothed the child from the time he was an infant and even more so when he was pulling into himself. Thankfully that had almost stopped after they left the Reservation and her bitter, angry family behind.
“Maybe we’ll even get a chance to go visit that fire station you wanted to see. The child grinned sleepily… “Go back to sleep John... I love you,” he said leaning down to kiss his son’s forehead.
“Love you too,” He murmured as his eyes closed. Neither noticed his Father’s lucky green pen lying next to John in the semi darkened room.
Suddenly there was a group of children racing down the sidewalk toward home…Their good natured ribbing and lighthearted pushing and arm punching bringing laughter and arguments in equal measure.
Even the youngest of the boys…8 year old John Gage grinned at the antics of his older friends, though the quiet, shy, dark haired boy didn’t always understand what they teased him about. They included him in their group, that’s all he cared about. He felt accepted as he never had in Montana.
They had skipped school again and were on their way home, intending to arrive about the same time as the school bus. John knew if his Dad found out about him skipping class he’d be in big trouble.
He’d put up with a lot of his boy’s antics since moving them to California, but the one thing he was adamant about was his son getting a good education. John wanted to be a Fireman and his Father was all for it but he wanted to be sure his son would be smart enough to accomplish that dream.
John hated being deceptive so he rarely skipped school when the others did, but this had been a beautiful morning and a day spent at the river fishing was too enticing to pass up. He hoped he could sneak past his Mom before she noticed the dirty, wet clothes. Otherwise he’d spend the rest of the week preparing to have his butt blistered when his Dad got home this weekend and he could kiss the game and the trip to the Fire station goodbye.
Not that his Father would ever truly hurt him, but he’d make sure John thought twice before doing it again.
Johnny waved goodbye to his friends as they ran on and headed up the walkway. He gave a curious glance at the strange black car parked in his driveway. He carefully opened the front door knowing his Mom would normally be in the kitchen cooking dinner at this time of day.
If he could get to his room and change before she spotted him she’d be none the wiser. He crept into the hall. The soft murmur of voices coming from the living room caught his attention. He peeked inside the door. Two men were seated on the couch, speaking soft consoling words to his Mom.
Katie was slowly sinking to her knees on the floor and tears were coursing down her cheeks…her face was a frozen mask of sorrow. John would never forget the keening wail of agony that escaped her lips.
He didn’t know what had happened or who these men were but he knew it was bad. He ran to the weeping woman on the floor.
“M…mom…what’s wr…wrong?” He cried throwing his arms protectively about his mothers’ shoulders. He shot a glare at the two men, knowing they were somehow responsible for his Mother’s pain.
She threw her arms about her son, pulling him against her…knowing what her child’s reaction would be. John would slip away as he always did when he was frightened or emotionally stressed, but there was no way to spare him this pain.
“J…John…these men worked with your Daddy…oh John…”She wept pulling him into her lap and holding him tightly.
John felt fear rising up…his heart thumped wildly.
“Mé’oo’o” (Sweetheart)… She was rocking him slowly…”Háahketa (My little one)…,” she stammered through her tears, “your D…Daddy’s g…gone John…H…He’s dead.”
John blinked in shock…he heard a roaring in his ears and then sound faded. His breath coming in short sharp gasps as his mind began to close in on itself. He began a slow steady rock and his world turned gray.
John sat bolt upright…the scream of anguish that he’d never uttered as a child tore from his lips. The nightmares were back…he rocked slowly. A thumping on the wall brought him back and reminded him that his neighbors weren’t happy with his nightmares either. He wiped the sweat from his brow and tried to still the shaking of his body…he lay back afraid to go to sleep.
He must be more nervous than he thought. He hadn’t had those nightmares since he was eighteen and starting at the Academy. He hated the dreams… they always left him shaking and apprehensive. He’d been almost afraid to sleep on duty for fear he’d wake, crying out in terror and be totally humiliated.
Tomorrow he’d begin Paramedic training, after that…well he had no idea where he’d end up but it probably wouldn’t be back at 10’s. He’d packed up his locker yesterday and said a few short goodbyes to the crew and Tony…he’d walked away without a backward glance.
John had formed no attachments…he wasn’t sure he knew how to. He rarely held on to the past...he’d never had a reason to. There was nothing there he cared to remember…well at least not after he was eleven.
John entered Rampart early and made his way to the classroom where they’d been assigned to begin their training. Roy Desoto was standing at the door. “Hello again,” Roy said holding out his hand to John.
“You all ready to get started?”
“I think so. I…I’m a little nervous,” Johnny admitted.
“So was I the first day…you’ll get over it,” he grinned giving John a light slap on the shoulder.
The younger man pulled away subtly. Roy glanced at him curiously but didn’t comment as several other men approached the door drawing his attention away from John.
“Hey Roy!” the tall, handsome black man said as he approached.
“Hi Doug,” Roy replied… “Ah… this is John…John Gage.”
“Doug Stone...” the man said extending his hand to John. The younger man shook it… “And this is Brad Kimmerlin,” he said to the man standing apart from Stone as if afraid to get to close.
“Brad…” John acknowledged the other man while offering his hand. The tall, older man narrowed his eyes in dislike at John but held out his hand in return.
John saw the expression on the man’s face...he’d seen the same one many times in his life. He tensed as he shook the man’s hand. Kimmerlin wiped his on his pant leg as soon as John let go. The younger man's jaw clenched as he turned away, not missing the action. His eyes were slightly downcast at the humiliating gesture..He had no idea that Brad Kimmerlin not only was a bigot, but harbored a deep resentment that he'd held several academy time records for drills until Gage had come along and broke everyone of them. It was bad enough that he'd been beaten out by this scrawny kid, but to have found out through Jerry Randall from John's first assignment at Station 8 that the boy was half Indian...That had really set him off.
Roy caught the annoyed look…he reached out to stop the younger man but John jerked away as if he’d been burned. His eyes refused to meet Roy’s.
The rest of the men making up the class came around the corner, pulling Roy’s attention away from John momentarily. Introductions were made, Miguel Santos, Fred Lee and Keith Barron. Barron seemed to know Kimmerlin and they moved into the classroom talking animatedly and avoiding introductions to the other two newcomers. John's eyes narrowed but he seemed to be the only one that noticed. He clamped his jaw tight and looked away. Roy shot a concerned look at John as he waved his hand towards the door.
“Go ahead in and pick up one of each book...hang onto them…you’ll need to memorize every one of them. Then we’ll head over to the Lab we’ll be using for today… Dr. Brackett’s gonna meet us there.”
The men filed through taking one of each book as instructed and then they followed Roy to the next room. Roy’s eyes continued to track towards John periodically. He’d have to wait to talk to the younger man and find out what was wrong.
He glanced at Brad Kimmerlin...he saw the ugly smirk being thrown in John’s direction and it suddenly became clear… He’d have to watch this situation… It was the last thing the program needed.
The next few weeks were exhausting. Despite Brackett’s misgivings about the program he didn’t stint on their training. He was clipped and professional, occasionally bordering on rudeness. He and Johnny had butted heads on a few issues and it was obvious John hadn’t forgotten their first meeting.
John’s head was swimming with the amount of information being crammed into it. Despite that, he was impressing Roy, as well as the aloof Doctor Brackett with how fast he picked up on what was being taught.
This particular morning he’d stood listening carefully as Brackett explained the skeletal structure and fractures. Then Dixie had spent several hours instructing them on IV’s and injections. She wanted this program to succeed and she pulled no punches.
John’s first attempt didn’t go so well and resulted in Roy’s being instructed to demonstrate the proper technique. John had yet to conquer his fears about injections and cringed at the idea of being jabbed with the needle. Roy had gently teased his new friend…
“Relax the arm Pal... It’s sterile water not heroin.” John gulped but allowed the older man to continue. Despite his reservations he had picked it up quickly disregarding his phobia. The next time he tried it, it was perfect and Dixie had beamed.
Later Brackett led them through the use of the Cardiac defibrillator and monitors. John and Roy were selected to help with the demonstration.
Kimmerlin had watched it all with narrowed eyes. His distaste for the younger man had remained evident over the last couple of weeks. Kimmerlin had disliked John since the kid had joned the academy, and the skinny little runt had beat his time in almost every category right from the start, making him the laughing stock of his friends; jealousy vied with bigotry for dominance in the older man. He’d make the kid squirm and if he handled it right they’d have to wash the redskin out. Kimmerlin passed him on the way out of class for lunch, he began to whistle; ‘One little; two little; three little Indians’... John went rigid and his mouth tightened… Kimmerlin began to laugh.
He stopped abruptly as he met Roy DeSoto’s angry eyes. He’d have to watch out for him…DeSoto obviously liked the kid and hovered around him like a watch dog.
Roy watched him walk away...He hadn't understood the humming of the song but it had obviously upset John. He may have to do something about Kimmerlin.
Roy and John stood in the hall sipping coffee. Roy waited to see if John would mention the latest run in with Kimmerlin but as usual his young friend refused to complain about it. He asked instead about Brackett and Dixie.
“McCall and Brackett the good but taciturn Doctor… Give me a reading.”
“Dixie spent some time in Korea. Field hospital, in the thick of it… I understand she bought the unit citation, quite a girl...,” He finished, taking a sip of coffee.
“Which accounts for her understanding attitude, she’s rubbed shoulders with corpsmen…medics…,” John said trailing off.
“That’s how it would seem. Doctor Kelly Brackett, Johns Hopkins…Residency at Mayo… Medical jack of all trades…, Master of all.”
“Including gloom,” John said sourly. “Learnin anything the second time around?”
“That I’m not a moron. The first time I didn’t even understand the words.”
“I’ll drink to that,” John agreed with a smile.
“Listen... I’m lucky, if that bill had passed I’d be doing this to nice people instead of to you guys,” Roy joked. John half smiled at him.
“Let’s go Junior,” John once again looked slightly affronted at the term but then realized the older man was teasing him…he grinned slightly and put his cup down and followed Roy back inside.
Doctor Early finished the day with a lecture about muscles and nerves and how they were all connected. Brackett dismissed them all for the weekend. Brad Kimmerlin gave him a snide grin as the class disbanded in the hallway to go their separate ways.
Roy had never experienced the bigotry Johnny had been exposed to. He wondered how the younger man tolerated it so casually. He went home to his family more determined than ever to be a friend to this kid.
John returned to the solitude and silence of his apartment and tried to put Brad Kimmerlin from his mind, at least for the next two days.
John didn’t hear the door open. The first he knew that he was no longer alone was when he felt a sharp rap on his back between the shoulder blades...he lurched forward almost plowing the model over.He managed to catch hold of it, setting it back on its stand. John spun around to find Brad Kimmerlin smirking at him.
“Hey Gage, relative of yours…He’s scrawny enough,” the man quipped, chuckling at his own joke.
John tensed… despite the other man’s smile he was well aware that the big man wasn’t being friendly.
“Actually I thought he might be related to you…He’s got the same I.Q.,” John shot back.
The snide grin disappeared from the other man, replaced by a look of rage… ”look you little red runt…” He snarled poking John in the chest.
“Is there a problem here?” A feminine voice came from behind them. John spun around to face the newcomers. Dixie and Roy stood there…both were glaring at Kimmerlin.
“No ma’am,” John said guiltily, looking at the floor...his face flamed in embarrassment.
“No,” Kimmerlin growled as he moved past Gage. He brushed hard against him... “Damn Redskin,” he hissed in John’s ear as he passed.
John gritted his teeth in anger at the insult but refused to give in to the urge to rap the man in the mouth.
Kimmerlin brushed past Dixie and Roy and took off down the corridor.
“You okay John?” She asked as she and Roy moved to the younger man’s side.
“Yes Ma’am,” He said softly, his eyes downcast.
She reached to pat his arm but John stepped away as he turned to Roy, “I’m gonna get some coffee...you want some?”
“Sure Junior... C’mon,” Roy’s eyes briefly met Dixie’s as they left the room. She saw the anger mixed with disgust reflected there.
Dixie watched them leave... her eyes narrowed. John Gage was an enigma. She was seeing personality quirks that raised serious red flags for her. They tugged at her emotions as well. She’d seen enough young men like John as a nurse in the army to understand him. If she didn’t know better she’d swear he was post traumatic, but he’d never been in the military. Still, she suspected this young man had been through enough traumas in his past to last him a lifetime and wondered idly exactly what they were.
She moved to the door, her eyes following the young men as they disappeared around the corner. There was something more… something else… wrong. She just couldn’t put a finger on it.
Despite his touch me not attitude, John was definitely working his way into her heart, a fact that would mortify the young fire fighter no end. She’d be keeping a close eye on the situation between him and Kimmerlin.
“You wanna tell me what that was all about?”
“No,” John said as he continued walking.
“John, we saw him hit you.”
“He didn’t….I mean It wasn’t…he didn’t hit me…,” He stammered.
“He slapped me on the back… Lots of people do that, including you.”
“That wasn’t a friendly pat John,” Roy said angrily. "Talk to me...Why does this guy have it in for you?"
"I'm American Indian," he said with a shrug.
"So what?" Roy replied, earning him a grateful glance of surprise from his new friend. John figured it wouldn't last when he found out the embarrasing fact of his half Indian, half white status. "That's a stupid reason not to like someone," Roy added, looking disgusted.
“It doesn’t matter,” John said softly… “I’m used to people like him… I’ve dealt with his kind my whole life.”
“What did he say to you when he left?”
“Nothin I haven’t heard before.”
That’s not an answer.”
“It’s the only one you’re gonna get.”
“John, I wanna help you.”
“So who asked ya to?”
Roy stopped, shooting him a wounded look.
John continued walking until he suddenly realized he was alone. He stopped to turn and look at the older man and sighed at the hurt look in the other man’s blue eyes…Johnny had rarely been accused of being sensitive to others.
“Look…I’m sorry Roy…I… I shouldn’t have snapped at you, but I’ve…,” He hesitated, and then began again. “My people have been putting up with the bigotry of the white man for so long it’s almost…expected.”
“Well it shouldn’t be…not in this day and age”
John looked at the floor… his face was carefully blank… Well...He was about to lose Roy as a friend, but he'd find out eventually anyway. Might as well be now. “Well it’s even worse for me,” he mumbled.
“Why’s that John?” He asked gently.
John glanced away, knowing that what he was about to say could drive Roy away as it had others in his life, but he figured he may as well get it over with before Roy tried to get too friendly. It would hurt less if he left now than later.
“I’m Ó’xevé’ho’e…a half breed,” He clarified at the confused look on Roy’s face. “I’m only half Indian… That means I don’t belong on either side.” John spun on his heel and continued on, but not before Roy caught the look of shame in the younger man’s eyes and the fear that it would make Roy think less of him.
He found the younger man in the break room. John had fully expected the older man to be angry with him, to walk away and never look back. He seemed almost surprised when Roy smiled at him and joined him for a cup of coffee.
Roy glanced sideways at him. “So John how’d you like to have dinner with me and my family tonight?”
John’s mouth dropped open in shock…He didn’t know what to say. “Uh…I don’t know," he began...Uncertain how to deal with Roy's invitation. He seldom got involved with the people he worked with...It hurt when they went away but he didn't want to offend the man either, especially not after he'd so easily been willing to accept him even after he'd told him his shameful status. He looked at Roy, the man's blue eyes watched him expectantly, waiting for an answer. "I…sure…I guess so.”
“Good…" He pulled a pen from his pocket and jotted down his address on a piece of napkin…He handed it to the younger man… “I’ll expect you at six,” Roy set his cup down and walked away leaving John frowning in confusion.
“John’ll be here any minute, How’s dinner comin Jo?”
“It’ll be ready, don’t worry.” Joanne sighed, she was a little annoyed... all she’d heard for the last few weeks, was John said this and John did that and frankly she was a little bit jealous.
“What’s wrong Honey?” Roy asked coming up behind his wife and kissing her neck… she smiled up at him.
“Oh I was just thinking that we seem to talk about John Gage more often than any other subject lately.”
Roy frowned. “I’m sorry Jo, I didn’t realize I was doin that.”
Joanne realized she was being a little selfish. She hadn’t ever seen Roy enjoy having a friend so much and she knew that she, Chris and soon this new baby were the most important people in his life and felt guilty for begrudging him a friend to talk to who understood him and his work in a way she never could.
“I’ll try to mention him a little less.”
Joanne relented... “No Honey…if it’s something or someone that interests you or is important to you…than I need to be a little less…jealous of your time… and your friend.”
“Jealous? Of John…?” He chuckled.
She grinned, a little embarrassed.
“Well I admit I like the guy,” He said teasingly, “but he doesn’t mean nearly as much to me as you do.” He slid his arms around his wife’s waist resting his hand on his wife’s belly. He could feel the baby kicking beneath his palm, “besides… you’re much cuter,” he whispered against her neck.
She giggled, reaching up to kiss her husband. He’d changed since meeting this...John. He tended to tease more... he was more talkative and even more expressive than he used to be. She’d never seen him take such an interest in someone…maybe this man was good for him.
“So what exactly is so special about John anyway?” She asked.
Roy pulled her against him as he gazed off, lost in thought. “I don’t know how to explain it Jo…we have nothing in common except our work. I mean we’re complete opposites…day and night, but…I’m drawn to him. I mean…did you ever feel like you knew someone…really knew them…from the moment you met them?”
He grinned... “It’s like that Jo, but the weird thing is I don’t really know him at all. He’s so closed mouthed, but at the same time we just seem to know what the other’s thinking and it’s like being linked…but then he’s so private and…silent sometimes …and at the same time something about him is screaming out for someone to care about him...all the while he’s pushing them away. It’s really confusing.” Roy bit his lip… “He can be damn prickly about some things too.”
“He doesn’t seem to want to discuss his past…Like where he lived or went to school…just says he went to high school here in California and he came from Montana.”
“That’s it? Is he hiding something maybe?”
Roy sighed… “Yes…no…I don’t know. I don’t think so…I mean nothing criminal or anything…,”he shook his head in confusion.
“I know he started at 8’s as a lineman and then went to station 10 as a rescue man. He won’t discuss his family or where exactly in Montana he came from. How long he’s been here…nothing. It’s like he dropped here from nowhere… like he didn’t exist before he became a Fireman. He even seems to get uncomfortable if someone brings up their own family… It makes him edgy.”
"That's a little odd..."
Joanne looked equally irritated that someone… anyone should be harassed because of their heritage but she was still baffled by her husband’s concern for this man.
“I think he’s really…lonely… Just wait’ll you meet him Jo…you’ll see.”Roy dropped a kiss on his wife’s nose… “I’ll set the table.”
He was just finishing laying out the silverware when there was a knock on the door. “He’s here...,” Roy called to Joanne as he headed for the door.
John drove towards Roy’s home... “Man, how’d you get yourself into this?” he asked himself, shaking his head. John didn’t get involved in peoples’ lives. He kept casual acquaintances, not friends.
Even the women in his life came and went as if he had a revolving door on his apartment. They all wanted more than he was willing to give. He’d managed to keep himself safely at arm’s length from other people ever since his Mom had died.
There had been those few people he’d kind of been friends with. Drew and Pam Burke…. Jim Wright. But he’d learned from those relationships. Don’t let anyone get too close and he wouldn’t be hurt when he lost them and losing them seemed to be a given for John…when Jim had died, he’d backed away from Drew…it had been a long time since he’d seen them.
“You’re makin a mistake Gage,” He told himself… “Maybe you should just turn around and go home… tell them you forgot or something.”
He chewed his lip nervously, “C’mon Gage…” He whispered to himself…”It’s just dinner. He’s gonna be outta your life in a few weeks when trainings over…what’s the harm…He’s just someone to talk to?” John shook his head with a grin, maybe he had been alone to long...he was beginning to argue with himself and even worse…he wasn’t sure who was winning.
He turned down Washington Street. Roy’s house should be a couple of blocks up on the right. He slowed the camper, scanning the mailboxes to find the correct address and finally pulled into the driveway.
He sat for a few minutes in indecision. He finally blew out a breath and climbed out of the cab. He headed up the walk and knocked on the door to the house that would become his second home for the rest of his life.
“Hey John...,” Roy greeted him as he opened the door. “C’mon in,” Roy stepped back letting John inside. Joanne was coming out of the kitchen wiping her hand on a dish towel. “John, this is my wife Joanne… Jo, this is John Gage.”
John smiled shyly at the obviously pregnant and very beautiful auburn haired woman standing in front of him.
She stared at John in surprise… Dear God he was a child. Why would Roy take such an interest in such a youngster? He’d led Jo to believe he was a mature, responsible fireman. This boy looked like he was barely out of high school.
She recovered from her shock and extended her hand...she’d deal with Roy later. “It’s a pleasure to meet you John… Roy’s told me a lot about you,” She said ironically, shooting a warning glare at her husband. He gave her an innocent look in return.
“Yes ma’am… Uh…it’s nice to meet you too,” he said softly as he shook her hand.
“My Mother is ma’am, I’m Joanne okay?” She gently corrected.
John nodded shyly, jamming his hands in his pockets…his eyes not quite meeting hers.
“Have a seat John, dinner will be ready shortly. I’m going to go get Chris. Roy, why don’t you get John something to drink?”
“Sure Honey,” He said turning toward John… “What’re you havin?” He asked the younger man as Jo headed up the stairs.
“Um…whatever you’re havin is fine.”
“Uh…sure,” Johnny agreed sitting down on the couch. He took a look around, seeing the home of a happily married, settled couple. It reminded him of his own life when he and his Mom and Dad had lived in Duarte before his Dad had…well…just before.
“Nice home you have,” He called out.
“Thanks... I got a real deal on it…it needed some work,” John nodded.
“Roy?” Joanne called down from upstairs.
“I left Chris’s sneakers out by the sandbox…can you get them for me?”
“Sure,” he said handing John a beer. He set his on the table… “I’ll be right back…,” he said to the younger man as he headed outside.
John glanced around uncomfortably. A small noise from the stairs brought his head around. A small boy of about four stood peeking around the banister…his blonde hair and serious blue eyes left no doubt who this child belonged to.
“Hi...,” John said softly, “you must be Chris.”
The boy nodded hesitantly.
“It’s okay, you can come over… I won’t hurt you.”
John’s reassuring tone and the fact that his Father had invited this man here eased Chris’s uncertainty and he came slowly into the living room. John held out his hand… “I’m Johnny,” he said, using the more youthful nickname... “Johnny Gage.” Chris grinned and shook his hand.
“I see you’ve met my son…Johnny.”
John glanced up at Roy suspiciously. The older man grinned at him, but there was no taunting in his look, just good humored teasing. John threw him a crooked grin.
“Better than Junior I guess.”
“Does that really bother you?”
John shrugged and shook his head… “Not really, not anymore. Maybe the first time… a little,” he admitted honestly.
“Well just say so and I won’t use it anymore… but now Johnny…that suits you. Is that okay?”
“Sure, I guess.”
Joanne came down the stairs, “I see you and Chris are getting acquainted?”
“Yes ma’am…uh Joanne,” He corrected himself.
“Is Roy taking good care of you…?” She asked squatting down to put Chris’s shoes on.
”Dinner should be ready, why don’t you go sit down.”
“C’mon Johnny,” Chris said taking the startled young man’s hand and trying to pull him to his feet.
“Chris,” Joanne admonished… “It’s Mr. Gage.”
“He said I could call him Johnny,” Chris pouted.
Joanne looked to John… He nodded, “it’s okay.”
Jo hesitated to allow Chris to treat an adult, even a young one disrespectfully.
Roy resolved it… “Ah…how about Uncle Johnny…?”He asked with a smile.
“Well…is that okay with you John?” She asked hesitantly, throwing an uncomfortable look at Roy...after all she hardly knew this man.
His eyes flicked shyly to Roy... “Um…sure…I…yeah…I guess,” he stammered standing up and letting Chris pull him toward the dining room.
Roy noted that John tended to stutter whenever he was nervous or frustrated…he found it an amusing trait. He might not have found it so humorous if he understood why John did it...but then John himself didn’t know why he did it either…just that he always had. Roy took Joanne’s hand and followed. They sat down to Joanne’s stuffed pork chops, baked potatoes and corn.
Chris pulled his chair close to John’s. Roy kept the conversation flowing, but it was Chris who seemed to draw the soft spoken, quiet young man out of his shell.
Roy and Joanne exchanged a grin as John helped Chris with the can of whipped cream for his pie. Both ‘boys’ giggled with delight as John’s purposeful bad aim ended with a dab of cream on the child’s nose that dripped to his chin. “Oops...,” He said as they both laughed.
Jo got up to make coffee a few minutes later, while John wiped the cream off Chris’s face.
“Well Chris it’s bed time,” Roy reminded his son.
“But Da...ad,” he whined.
“No buts... Say good night to Johnny.”
“Can Uncle Johnny tuck me in?” Chris asked.
Roy looked at John…panic flared in the young man’s eyes, “I’ve never …I mean …you probably want to…you know…,”John stuttered nervously.
“It’s okay…you can if you want to,” Roy offered.
“Please Uncle Johnny,” Chris implored with pleading blue eyes.
John hesitated… ‘Don’t get involved with this family’ trailed through his mind… he shoved the wayward thought from his head and stood up, “Sure…if…I mean…if it’s really okay with you?”
Chris pulled the young man toward the stairs. Roy glanced at Joanne with a grin as they disappeared from view.
“Wow, Chris really took to him.”
“Like Father, Like Son…,”she said with a laugh.
“But Chris is normally so shy with strangers…heck so is Johnny, but they got along great with each other.”
“Why not…?” Jo quipped, “They’re almost the same age.”
“Oh c’mon Roy, why didn’t you tell me he was so young? He’s practically still a child.”
“He’s twenty one Jo and he’s been a fireman for three years. A pretty darn good one to I’m told and I’m only four years older than him.”
“I know but you’re very mature for your age with a lot of responsibility.”
“I don’t know Joanne… he seems pretty responsible to me…unless you give him a can of whipped cream around a four year old,” they both laughed.
“You know him better than I do I guess and besides… you’re just friends... It’s not like you’re Partners and putting your life in his hands or anything,” she said smiling.
Roy sat quietly, but the wheels were turning…Partners. He glanced up the stairs… Joanne noticed.
“What is it?”
“Oh nothing…” Roy said softly, “just thinking.”
“Eight weeks from now.” She looked at him in confusion as he continued. “When he passes the training class…”
“If he passes…”
They heard footsteps on the stairs, “I’m not sure…yet.”
They stood up to clear the table… later Roy and Joanne walked John to the door.
“It was nice to meet you John,” Jo said looking up into his dark eyes. John threw her a crooked smile that melted her heart… “I’m glad you came tonight and I’m sure I’ll be seeing more of you,” She said gently patting his hand as she shook it.
“It was nice to meet you too... thanks for inviting me,” he replied softly. For a moment Jo saw what Roy did...a vulnerable, lonely look to the eyes and then it was gone, replaced by the cool, tough fireman that could take on anything.
She squeezed her husband’s waist and turned to go check on Chris, leaving Roy to say goodnight to his friend.
“I’ll see you tomorrow Johnny. “
The younger man nodded, “Thanks again for inviting me…you’ve got a really nice family…I…uh… I had a good time.”
John turned to leave... “Tell Joanne she’s a great cook.”
“I’ll do that,” Roy said with a grin.
Johnny gave him a small wave and left. Roy stood there for a few moments after he drove away. “Partner...” he said softly… Well why not? The kid needed someone to look out for him…to be a friend… Jo wouldn’t like it, but she’d come around…he smiled to himself and went back inside.
John fought with himself all the way home… Steer clear…don’t get close ran through his mind. This family is too easy to get attached to and then what? Hurt…disappointment, another loss to bear. He didn’t think he could handle that. John once again began to try to build the wall that had started to crack, but this time he was having trouble patching the holes.
It had become a habit for Roy and John to meet for coffee before classes started and today was no different... John was waiting with two cups in hand as Roy came around the corner.
“Mornin Johnny…” John grinned at the name.
“Mornin Roy,” He said handing him the cup.
Two of the other Paramedic trainees sauntered in, Keith Barron and Brad Kimmerlin.
“Morning guys,” Keith greeted them.
“Morning…,” They said in almost perfect unison.
“Cripe…it’s like bein in a stereo with you two,” Kimmerlin snarled.
Roy and John glanced at each other with a shrug at the man’s already foul mood and resumed their conversation.
“I wanted to thank you again for dinner last night…that was the best meal I’ve had in long time.”
“You can tell,” Roy said looking pointedly at John’s slender build.
“Oh so that’s it,” Said Kimmerlin, “you’re gettin a little extra help on the side from your pal here. That’s why you pick up everything so quick?”“No… that’s not it,” Johnny said defensively…. “We never talked about class last night. I just pay attention and listen.”
“It’s what you should be doin...besides what if he had…? It’s not against the rules,” Roy added in annoyance at the unprovoked attack on his young friend.
“Look pal… why don’t you let Tonto here fight his own battles,” Brad snarled.
Roy saw John visibly stiffen at the name. He understood completely…he had as well.
Keith looked between them with concern...“Hey Brad, there was no call for that,” he snapped defending John… “Gage didn’t do anything to you.”
“Mind your own business Keith, let the little redskin here take care of himself.”
John took a single step forward at the slur, and then hesitated... He realized it was exactly what Kimmerlin wanted. If he took a swing, he’d be washed out of the program.
“What’s the matter Geronimo…scared?” Brad taunted.
Roy stepped between them, “I think you should take your coffee and go Kimmerlin.”
“Butt out DeSoto...let your little pal here take a poke at me…he wants to, don’t ya?” He goaded looking at Johnny.
“But he won’t... He’s too smart for that,” Roy said… “He knows it’s what you want.”
John looked at the older man in surprise. How had Roy known what he was thinking? It wasn’t the first time it had happened either, they did it a lot and it was a little unnerving.
“Besides…,” a feminine voice came from the doorway. “John’s ultimate revenge will be to graduate at the top of this class. With the way he picks up on things, It’s almost a sure bet he will,” Dixie said confidently as she patted John’s arm.
The young man gave her a grateful smile that she returned with a wink.
“Well, I see you’ve won the lady over too, huh Gage?” Kimmerlin growled slamming his coffee cup on the counter... “But we’ll see who graduates at the top, even with the extra help of pally here,” he snapped hooking his thumb at Roy. He turned and stalked out.
“Man, what’s his problem?” Keith asked stunned.
“Doesn’t like Indians I guess...His great grandfather probably got scalped a hundred years ago…,” John said quietly, still stinging from the attack but trying to make light of it but the humor was lost on the other three angry people.
“More like jealousy is my guess,” Dixie said. “Typical bigot, who can’t stand anyone not like them being better than they are at something,” she added thoughtfully. She needed to be sure Kel knew about this man’s prejudiced attitude… It could very well be dangerous to a patient in the field.
She could only guess that he'd singled Johnny out because he was young, sensitive and vulnerable.
Roy rested his hand on John’s shoulder. He looked surprised as the younger man flinched at his touch. John stepped away to refill his cup without looking in his direction but the rejection was plain… his body language clear. Don’t touch…Don’t let someone get too close… Roy sighed and shook his head, he wondered who’d hurt him so badly, maybe people like Kimmerlin for starters.
Roy suddenly realized that other than an occasional slap on the back or a casual handshake, he’d never seen someone as reluctant to be touched as John Gage…physically or emotionally...Something or someone had killed this young man’s spirit.
He had two options…Give up on the kid and move on or be stubborn enough to drag John Gage kicking and screaming back to the living… Roy chose the latter.
“C’mon Junior, Let’s get to class…,” he said moving to his friend’s side.
John threw a quick glance at Roy...seeing only understanding in his blue eyes. He gave him a sheepish grin, “Sure thing… Pally…” They laughed as they left the room. Dixie shook her head as she and Keith followed.
Over the next few weeks, John continued to excel. Always the first to pick up on everything Brackett, Joe Early and Dixie had to teach. Roy continued to stay firmly at the younger man’s side... offering his help and encouragement. The final eight weeks flew by.
The graduation party was in full swing. Assemblyman Mike Wolski had even attended. He was the man who was pushing the Paramedic bill to the floor. He’d given a very brief congratulatory speech and had moved on to talk to several of the Doctor’s in the room.
Roy had been given his new assignment early that morning, Station 51, brand new. He’d been told by the Chief that his reward for all the extra work he’d put into the recruiting and training was the right to choose his Partner.
He’d been wondering how he could broach the subject and the Chief had handed it to him. If Roy had been the type he’d have thought it was fate. There had been no hesitation… no second thoughts.
“Chief…I want John Gage.”
“Good choice… A little young maybe but really bright… I’ve no doubt you’ll bring him along,” he said with a nod.
“Well I do need to ask him first.”
“I can’t imagine him saying no but…let me know his decision.”
“I will Chief and thanks…,” Roy said, knowing that if Johnny was still trying to keep those walls he’d built around himself in place, he might be a hard sell. Roy could only hope he’d chipped enough away to get a toe hold.
Now five hours later Roy was holding a cup of fruit punch, watching John and his fellow classmates congratulate each other. He noted the sour look on Brad Kimmerlin’s face as Johnny showed his certificate to Fred Lee and Keith Barron.
John had come in at the top of the class just as Roy and Dixie had predicted…his final grade a mere one point below his own.
Roy’s eyes flicked toward her...she saw him. The pretty blonde nurse made her way over to where he was standing.
“Pretty proud of him aren’t you?”
Roy looked at her in surprise that she’d picked up on it... surprised at himself as well that he felt that way. “Yeah…yeah I am,” He agreed looking back toward the younger man.
John seemed to sense his look... He glanced toward his friend and headed in their direction. Roy and Dixie noticed Mike Wolski approach Kelly Brackett, but turned their attention back to Johnny as he approached them throwing a grin at Roy.
“You gonna be with us for the next class Roy?” Dixie asked.
“No... Chief said I was getting over trained… Says I need a little field duty,” He glanced toward Johnny hoping he’d take the bait…He did
“Out of where…?”
“51’s… Brand new station,” Roy had been waiting for the opportunity. He hoped Johnny wouldn’t reject it... He threw it out, “You play your cards right, I’ll let you team up with me.”
John was stunned but quickly covered it with a smile... “He needs me,” he quipped to Dixie. She grinned back knowing John was right…these two needed each other.
They continued to talk, even as John’s mind began to whirl… Did he want this? He wasn’t sure… he knew he worked well with Roy but he was terrified at the possibilities.
Dixie was waylaid a moment later by an unhappy Brad Kimmerlin and another new Paramedic, Miguel Santos. She moved off with them throwing a wink back at John and Roy.
“Were you serious?” Johnny asked quietly.
“About what…?” Roy asked curiously.
“About being your Partner.”
“Yeah Junior, I was serious.”
John stared at the floor for a minute… “You sure you wanna do that?” He asked softly.
John’s eyes rose to meet Roy’s… he chewed his lip in indecision. It was a risk…he liked Roy but could he keep this man at arm’s length as he did the others? Did he want to? His eyes widened in shock at the thought. What if something happened? He was already becoming involved in the older man’s life.
Roy watched the play of expressions cross the younger man’s face. He sensed the battle that was taking place inside John and he gave a gentle prod… “How about it Johnny…?” He asked.
He didn’t know why but this was somehow what he had to do… It was the right thing, “Yeah…yeah…I’d like that.”
“Good, I’ll let the Chief know...,” Roy said with a relieved sigh. He let out the breath he hadn’t even known he was holding and gave John a quick slap on the back as he headed for the Chief.
John watched him go, the ‘what if’s’ playing havoc with his brain. He’d just have to be sure nothing happened to Roy… not like it had to Jim. John looked down at the floor, a frown of worry creased his brow … he couldn’t face the loss of another friend…or face another angry wife blaming him for her Husband’s death.
He glanced over at Roy as he stood talking with the Chief, saw the older man look at him with concern. John threw him a reassuring smile, but the blonde Paramedic didn’t look like he was buying it.
John had always had the ability to hide his thoughts...to bury his emotions...to not let the pain show…Physical or emotional. He’d learned it very young, but not with Roy. This man seemed to have the uncanny ability to read his moods and to know when John was troubled by something. He seemed to read through the mask Johnny presented to the world..
Roy headed in his direction, “Everything okay?”
“Yeah, I was just thinkin.”
“Yeah…? Well don’t think too hard, we wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself before we even start.”
John rolled his eyes... “Very funny,” but he grinned anyway at the good natured banter that entered their relationship recently.
“Hey Junior, why don’t you come home with me for dinner… We’ll celebrate with a couple of beers.”
“If you think Joanne wouldn’t mind.”
“She won’t... Come on,” he said nodding at the door.
Kel Brackett frowned as he watched them leave. He’d heard Roy’s request for Johnny to be his partner... He shook his head in dismay... If this bill passed, Roy DeSoto had the potential to be the best Paramedic out there. Why would he saddle himself with someone as young and impulsive as John Gage? Oh sure the kid was bright…even talented, but he was erratic…moody…troubled. Roy would have to watch the younger man every minute. It was really none of his business but if the opportunity presented itself, he’d mention his concerns to Roy.
John followed Roy back to his house… pulling the camper in behind Roy’s Porsche and climbed out. Roy waited for him to make his way up the drive.
“You sure Joanne won’t be mad, I mean… not warning her I was comin and all?” He asked as he approached the older man.
“She’ll be fine…,” Roy said, resting his hand on John’s shoulder… Johnny side stepped away. Roy could tell it was an automatic response for him. The younger man hadn’t even thought about it. Roy looked at him troubled… Who had hurt him so badly and so deeply that he couldn’t accept a simple friendly gesture?
How had John handled being a rescue man… how would he handle being a Paramedic? Having to touch and be touched by the general public on a regular basis.
Roy opened his front door and went in… John followed.
Joanne came out of the kitchen curiously… her belly cleared the doorway first. She smiled when she saw her husband… “Hi honey,” She greeted…her eyes traveled toward Johnny as he followed Roy in… “Hello John.”
“Hi Joanne,” John said a bit uncomfortably.
“How did the graduation go?” She asked rubbing her stomach absently.
“Well it wasn’t a big deal or anything... I just pinned a name plate on John’s chest…,” he said tapping the tag that read J. Gage FF/Paramedic…, “and I shook his hand, that’s all.” She nodded.
“I invited him home for dinner and a beer.” John looked a bit nervous.
“Not a problem,” Joanne said smiling. “Why don’t you grab a beer and go sit on the patio…dinner will be ready in about an hour.”
Roy grabbed two cans and he and John headed outside. They flopped down in the lawn chairs.
“So tell me about Station 51.”
“It’s small, not like what your used too. It’s on 223rd street in Carson.
Johnny nodded, “I know where that is.”
“I haven’t met the crew myself yet but I know the Captain. He was with 27’s for awhile. Good guy, Good Captain.”
“What’s his name?”
“Richard Hammer… I think you’ll like him… he’s got a lot of experience.”
“I guess their waiting for the transfer orders to come through on the others, but at least we’re sure of the Paramedic team,” Roy said with a grin, raising his beer can to toast John.
John smiled back raising his own and tapping the can against Roy’s.
“How long until our transfers go through...?”
“Mine’s already done because I was on temporary assignment to headquarters instead of a station. The Chief said to give yours about a week since you were only temporarily reassigned for training and you’re still considered to belong to station 10.”
John nodded… glancing around, “This is nice here…pretty yard.”
“Thanks, someday I want a deck right here.”
“What’s stopping you?”
“I can’t build it alone and I can’t afford to pay someone.”
John sat quietly for a long moment…he chewed his lower lip nervously, hesitant to make the offer and get even more involved. It would mean long hours with Roy, both at home and now at work as well. He liked this family, especially Roy. Did he want to risk getting too close?
Roy watched him curiously but said nothing, aware that Johnny was worrying something over in his head but not understanding exactly what?
“I’m pretty good at…you know…building stuff. If you’d like…, I…I mean…You may not want me to…but maybe I could help you build it?” He stammered hestitantly.
“I’d hate to impose…”
“You’re not…You didn’t ask, I offered,” Johnny said flatly.
Roy looked at him…knowing John’s penchant for being alone and what it took for him to make the offer. Roy was hoping that this meant he was making a dent in the walls Johnny had placed around himself. He smiled at his friend… “Thank you then, I’ll take you up on that.”
“Take him up on what Honey?” Jo asked stepping out on the patio to join them… Chris followed behind her.
“Uncle Johnny!” Chris greeted excitedly, launching himself at John. Roy plucked the beer can from his startled friends hand so he could grab the little boy before he knocked him out of the chair.
“Hey Buddy!” He greeted cheerfully, wrapping the little boy in a tight hug for a moment before setting him down.
“Chris… “Joanne admonished, “Don’t attack the poor man.” She winked at John… he smiled back, giving Chris a scruff on the head. Roy noted that John had no problem with not only being touched, but being mauled by Chris.
Joanne pulled up a chair and joined them while Chris went to greet his Father... “Well I’m glad you finally remembered your poor old Dad there Pal…” Roy teased, giving his son a hug and a kiss. Chris grinned and ran to play in the sand box.
“Take you up on what?” Joanne asked again, now that the greetings were done.
“Johnny offered to help me build the deck we wanted.”
Joanne looked at the younger man, “That’s very nice of you… Thank you John.”
Johnny ducked his head shyly, then shrugged and looked away towards Chris.
Joanne had to admit she was beginning to see the little boy quality that seemed to enthrall her husband. She glanced at Roy in amusement at the younger man’s shyness… Roy grinned back.
Chris ran back a moment later... “I’m gonna get my cars,” He announced.
Joanne glanced at her watch, “After dinner okay?”
Chris kicked at the grass in disappointment… “Okay.”
Jo went back inside to check on dinner, taking Chris with her to clean up.
“So what part of Montana are you from anyway?” Roy asked casually.
“Why do ya wanna know?” He asked warily.
Roy looked at his friend…no he wasn’t imagining it… John had definitely stiffened up.... “Just curious...”
“Oh…” John relaxed a little, “Um…It’s a little town… You’ve probably never heard of it...,“ He hesitated. Man he hated talking about his past…, always afraid of slipping too much into it…making people ask questions he couldn’t …wouldn’t answer...“Um…It’s called Lame Deer.”
Roy nodded, “Your family still there?”
“Um…Roy you suppose I could go wash up for dinner?”
Roy got the message… The subject was closed. He backed off temporarily but he was unprepared to give up the fight, just willing to break the ice in smaller increments as John learned to trust him…they’d have plenty of time for that.
Jo stuck her head out the door... “Dinners ready,” She announced.
They went inside. Jo served a wonderful dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy and carrots. Johnny enjoyed every bite, even forgetting himself enough to eat like he’d been starved. Roy and Joanne exchanged amused glances.
“Johnny would you like some coffee?” Jo asked.
“That’d be great,” he agreed standing up to help clear the dishes.
“What are you doing?” Joanne questioned.
“Helping you clear the table.”
“Don’t be ridiculous... you’re a guest… Sit,” She commanded softening the order with a smile.
“Uncle Johnny, do you wanna see my cars?” Chris asked.
John looked questioningly at Roy with a grin, the older man nodded.
“Well sure buddy…,” Johnny said following the boy up the stairs. Roy watched him go and then went to help Joanne clear the dishes.
“The poor thing eats like he’s starving,” Jo said.
Roy grinned… “His table manners are deplorable.” Jo giggled as Roy continued, “Let’s hope Chris doesn’t pick those up from Uncle Johnny.”
“Well now that his training is over you probably won’t see as much of him as you have these past weeks. The chances of you being on the same schedule are slim.”
“Don’t count on that,” Roy said cryptically.
Joanne looked at him curiously, “Why is that?”
“I got my transfer orders today.”
“Where…?” She asked.
“Station 51… it’s brand new. The…uh….the Chief asked me if I had a preference in Partners.”
She looked at Roy with a sinking feeling … “And do you?” she asked suspiciously.
“Jo…I asked Johnny to come with me.”
“Joanne…, he’s gonna be one of the best Paramedics we’ll have. We already have a good rapport and we work well together.”
“But Roy, he’s so young. He’s practically still a child,” She protested.
“Look Jo, I know he’s young but he’s only four years younger than me.”
“Thirty to thirty four isn’t that much of a difference… Twenty one to twenty five is.”
“This is the right choice… I like the kid.”
“Good… so do I, we’ll adopt him…”
“Jo…,” Roy began.
“Look we’re talking about you putting your life in this young man’s hands.”
“I’m willing to risk it. Don’t ask me why or how I know…but there’s no one I’d trust more with my life... I’m right Joanne… I know it.”
She sighed in defeat, “Alright, but let’s hope I never have the need to say I told you so.”
Neither of them saw Johnny turn around and head back up the stairs.
Man this was gonna be a problem. He had no idea Joanne would be against this Partnership. He didn’t want to cause a problem for Roy. John was slightly indignant that she thought of him as a child. She hadn’t even given him a chance but then, he was used to that...still he felt a knot in his throat and had to swallow back the hurt.
He couldn’t let them see his bruised feelings…at least not without admitting he’d been eavesdropping even if it had been unintentional. The mask he’d allowed to slip around Roy dropped back into place. At least Roy had faith in him…that’s all that really mattered. He decided to give it some time… If it didn’t work out, he’d request a transfer.
He headed back down the stairs. “Hey, you’ve got a great kid there…,” John said with a forced grin.
“Well thank you John…,” Joanne replied feeling slightly guilty at having been talking about him in such a negative way. He was a nice kid. A little quiet and withdrawn maybe… Perhaps she’d been too quick to judge him. Roy knew him better than she did and was willing to trust him with his life…maybe she needed to give him a chance.
She smiled at him… He gave her a half hearted smile in return and then looked away.
“Um…no, It’s getting late…I think I should just go.”
Roy looked at his friend. He saw an odd look in the dark eyes and realized what it was…hurt.
“I guess I’ll see you in a few days…good luck at 51’s tomorrow.”
“Thanks... I WILL see you there in a week right?” Roy asked stressing the will.
John’s brown eyes flicked to Joanne briefly, “Yeah…I guess so... Thanks again for dinner.”
“I’m glad you came John,” Jo said with a troubled frown, finally picking up on the younger mans discomfort.
He gave them a small wave and headed for the door... Roy followed.
“Yeah…?” He answered quietly.
“I’m sorry if you heard…”
“It’s okay Roy,” he said cutting the older man off… “She’s your wife… She’s supposed to worry about you…,” he said quietly, trying to sound casual… but he refused to meet the older man’s eyes... “We’ll give it a shot,” he said with a shrug.
Roy nodded knowing his friend was hurt.
“Everything okay…?” Joanne asked as Roy came back into the kitchen.
“He heard us Jo. I think his feelings are pretty hurt.”
“Oh no…, Roy I’m sorry.”
“He said he’s still comin to 51’s. We’ll get through this and he’ll prove himself, you wait and see. “
Jo nodded, “I have to trust your judgment… I just hope you’re right.”
A week later John lay in his bed in his apartment, he was still tired. Today he’d report for his first shift at Station 51 and he hadn’t slept well at all… he’d laid awake half the night. He’d been nervous and that usually brought on the nightmares from his childhood.
He’d been afraid to sleep but he’d finally dozed off around 3:00 A.M. He was grateful that the dreams hadn’t come, but curious why they hadn’t as well. Maybe it was because Roy would be there. That there would be at least a familiar, comfortable presence but he still wished he’d gotten a little more sleep.
He heaved a sigh… there was no help for it now… he didn’t want to be late for his first shift. He showered, shaved and got dressed and then headed for the Station.
John pulled into the parking lot for the first time unknowing how many more would follow. Taking a deep breath he climbed out and headed inside to report to his new Captain for the third time in his short career.
He found the office and knocked softly. A man of about thirty six looked up at him…he smiled waving John inside. John came in, snapping to attention… “Fireman Paramedic John Gage reporting for duty Sir.”
“At ease Gage,” The man said, coming to his feet with a smile. His eyes traveled over the youthful man standing in front of him. He’d been warned that he was young, but he’d also been told not to let that influence him…he was a good Firefighter.
“I’m Captain Dick Hammer, you can call me Cap,” he held out his hand… John shook it. “I’m glad to have you on board. “I’ve talked to Roy about you as well as your last two Captains and they’ve all had good things to say about you. I’ve read your file as well…you’ve got a good record."
“Thank you, sir,” John said with a small smile.
“Cap,” Hammer corrected… “Let’s show you around and see if Roy’s here. So far we’re the only three of the permanent crew... the other three should be here by our next shift.”
John nodded as he followed the older man from the office. Cap showed him around the station... pointing out the day room, dorm and finally the locker room where they found Roy and three others getting dressed for the day.
John nodded politely, “John, this is Bobby Fulton and Hal Travers, our two linemen for this shift and this is Engineer specialist Tom Henderson. “
“Nice to meet cha…”
“Johnny, that locker there’s empty if you wanna stow your gear,” Roy said pointing to one that was two over from his own.
“Thanks,” John replied pulling it open and stowing his bag. He’d retrieve his extra uniform shirts from the camper later.
“Let me show you the rig.”
“There it is…Same squad but with a difference,” Roy said directing John’s attention to the red Dodge parked in the apparatus bay.
“That being the right front compartment... It’s locked,” John stated with certainty.
“Good Boy..., here’s yours,” Roy said handing the key to a frowning John… “Try your key.”
John unlocked the compartment with a small sigh, resigned to being the junior member of the team and having to deal with Roy’s big brother attitude.
He couldn’t decide if it really bothered him or not. It was kind of nice to have someone lookin out for him but at the same time he’d been taking care of himself for a long time now…he didn’t need anyone.
John pulled the compartment doors open. An intimidating array of boxes and instruments greeted him.
“Impressive…,” He murmured. “Data scope, electrocardiograph unit…I didn’t know they made them this portable.”
“A thousand dollars worth of portability...”
“Does it have a lead selector?”
Once again Roy was pleased by John’s astuteness. “We can look at and send a full twelve lead EKG. Here’s the nerve center…This orange box. Two way UHF radio links us up with the Doctors at the Hospital with voice and EKG Telemetry. This unit, like all our hardware is battery powered. You and I are to charge it at the start of shift. It gives us two hours of talking time. “
“This blue box is the Cardiac Defibrillator similar to the one the good Doctor demonstrated with your capable assistance. “
John came out of his awed daze with a grin, “I remember… it’s no aspirin.”
Roy returned his smile. “Good boy.”
John didn’t know why Roy’s approval seemed to please him so much. John had pretty much given up caring whether someone liked him or not and rarely even noticed one way or the other unless it was a Brad Kimmerlin… insulting, rude and hateful. He was unconcerned about pleasing anyone and generally seemed insensitive to the opinions of others.
“Kinda makes this wagon a prime target for addicts doesn’t it?” He said worriedly.
“Not so… We only carry a small amount of pain killing drugs... not worth anyone’s time. We pick up the refills from the hospital after each run… we have to account for each milligram. “
“And this small one here…?”
“For the biggest job… bringing in a new life, the O.B. Kit…”
“Very fine, now all we have to do is get a license to use all this gear. Meanwhile we’re just a rolling arsenal against death,” Johnny said with a smirk. Roy grinned at him.
The Station Control Unit sounded and they both looked up... “Squad 51, traffic accident with injuries…”
John began slamming compartment doors as Roy ran for the control unit podium.
“…6th and Kinmore...” Sam Lanier’s voice continued… “Time out 11:25...”
“Squad 51…10-4” Roy responded. He jumped into the cab and began to roll out.
“6th and Kinmore… That’s over near 10’s… Hang a left…I know a short cut.”
“I know a shorter one...” John looked questioningly at Roy... “We swing right to Rampart emergency.”
“Get a nurse on board…you forget we’re the impotent wonders.”
A few moments later they picked up Dixie and headed to accident scene.
Roy and John were frustrated. Their very first run and they’d been treated like traffic cops. It had been insulting. They had glanced at each other in silent understanding. They hoped this bill passed quickly. They weren’t sure how much of that they could handle.
Dixie had been as irritated as they were at the officer but hadn’t said anything. She’d seen the look pass between them as well, the unspoken communication, speaking without words. She had been surprised at how well these two already seemed to know each other…she smiled to herself. It was something she’d see often over the next few years.
Roy was exactly what the quiet young Paramedic needed. Grounded, mature, responsible and John would be good for Roy as well. The older man was very professional and Dixie admired that, but he was very detached…Too impersonal. Johnny gave him something to care about… someone he couldn’t stay unemotional about. Subconsciously he practically demanded Roy’s attention…she’d already seen it.
Dixie had briefly mentioned what had happened to Kel and even though he didn’t believe in the whole Paramedic thing he could understand how they felt. They’d worked very hard at this. It had to be especially hard on Roy. He’d spearheaded this whole campaign alongside Mike Wolski.
John Gage…well…it was hard to get a handle on how he felt about anything. The only sure emotion Kel had seen from him was anger or stubbornness. They’d had their moments during training and Kel still thought Roy was making a serious mistake taking on the obstinate young man. He still intended to talk to Roy about it.
Still… he felt bad about what had happened. John had worked just as hard as anyone and at least deserved the respect of the officers at the scene.
The two Fire Fighters finished the day depressed. John began to wonder if this whole Paramedic thing was worth it.
Two days later John and Roy wandered into the locker room together.
“Where is everybody?” Johnny asked.
“Don’t know. It’s not like the guys to be late.”
“Guess we wait,” Johnny said with a shrug as they headed for the day room to get a cup of coffee and headed for the apparatus bay.
A while later Dick Hammer came out of his office… Roy and John were leaning against the squad sipping coffee…They glanced up to see their Captain and three strangers standing behind him.
“John, Roy, I want you to meet the three permanent members of our engine crew. “
The two Paramedics straightened up giving each other a curious glance as Cap continued.
“Engineering Specialist Michael Stoker…”
“Mike,” The young man corrected, holding out his hand first to Roy then to John.
“Mike...” Roy Acknowledged shaking hands… John followed suit.
“Mike is out of 27’s” Cap informed them and then continued on… Lineman Marco Lopez…”
“Marco...” Johnny greeted, Roy nodded at the young Hispanic man.
“Marco’s out of 18’s…and Lineman Chester Kelly. “
The curly haired man standing next to Cap extended his hand… “Chet,” he told them shaking each of their hands.
“Nice to meet you Chet,” Roy said as he and John shook the man’s hand.
“Chet’s out of Station 38,” Cap told them.
“Gentlemen…” He said addressing the three newcomers, “Our two Paramedics; Our Senior Paramedic…Roy DeSoto…” Roy nodded, “and his Partner John Gage…” John gave them a brief, shy smile.
“Roy is out of 41’s and John’s outta 10… Now that we all know who we are, let’s get started shall we?” Cap suggested.
They lined up for the first time as the permanent crew of station 51.
After roll call, the men gravitated toward the Day room for coffee. Stilted conversations broke out as the men began to try and get to know one another. Chet and Marco seemed to hit it off very well. Mike and the Captain appeared to know one another.
Roy put it together, “they came from the same Station,” He whispered to Johnny. “Must have requested him when he came here…,” John nodded.
Chet turned to the two Paramedics… He’d already assessed Gage as the naïve, gullible type. Quiet and reserved, the younger man would be the perfect target for his rather off beat sense of humor. He saw Roy as the straight laced, in control personality. He’d have to feel him out a little more.
“So…Roy isn’t it?” Chet asked. Roy nodded, “How long have you been a Fireman?”
“Four and a half years…right out of the army.”
“Yeah…? What’d you do in the army?”
Chet nodded, “Married?”
“Yeah…got a four year old son and another due in a few weeks… You…?”
Johnny began to look uncomfortable… “You want some more coffee?” He asked his Partner as he stood up.
“Sure, thanks Junior.”
“Junior…?” Chet asked curiously.
Hearing the flippant tone in Kelly’s voice and knowing Johnny’s sensitive nature Roy gave the simplest answer, hoping to forestall any teasing remarks …“His initials are J.R. and he’s the Stations Junior Paramedic.
“Oh...,” Kelly sensed there was more but let it drop, “So how old are you?”
“Twenty five,” Roy answered.
John returned, setting the cup in front of his Partner. He hovered uncertainly, not wanting to be rude but not wanting to be pulled into the conversation either. He finally sat down and as he feared the curly haired fireman turned his sights on him as the rest of the crew joined them.
“So Junior…,” Chet said jokingly.
“It’s John…,” The younger man corrected rather tersely.
“So what are ya?”
“Well you look…I dunno…Italian.”
John stiffened slightly... “Indian,” He replied.
“Like from India or someplace?”
John sighed, “American Indian…half.”
“Really…? Like Geronimo or something?”
“Or something…,” he replied curtly, waiting for the jokes and snide remarks to start.
“Far out… I’ve never met a real Indian,” Chet said.
“Well now you have,” John said tightly.
Roy lightly touched his arm but said nothing. John glanced at his Partner… Roy had a smile on his face but never looked in his direction. John understood the calming gesture without needing the words. To the others it appeared to be nothing more than an accidental contact.
“So how long have you been with the Fire Department?”
“Three years,” He murmured.
“That all…?” Chet asked suspiciously eyeing the young man, figuring he couldn’t be as young as he appeared. John shrugged non committal.
He wasn’t very communicative. He’d have to try harder to weasel more information out of the quiet young man later. “Hey Marco, how about you…?”
“Since I was nineteen…eight years…”
Chet turned to Mike questioningly, “Seven and a half years. I was nineteen too…Just married and I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I Met Captain Hammer at a party at a mutual friends house and he suggested being a Fire Fighter. I thought it sounded pretty interesting so I gave it a shot. “
Marco chuckled. “My Mother wasn’t too happy about my career choice, but she was happy I had a job and got out of the house.”
“So how about you Chet... How long have you been doin this?” Roy asked sensing Johnny’s discomfort and trying to steer the conversation away from the younger man.
“Six years… Perfect job to attract the chicks... I was twenty one… Right out of the Army. I really freaked my Mom out when I joined the Fire Department... “His eyes fell on the silent young man across from him. “You always this talkative…?” He asked.
“Sometimes I’m worse,” John shot back. Roy chuckled.
Not one to be put off easily Chet plunged ahead… “So how old are ya Gage?”
“Old enough,” He said evasively.
“For high school maybe…?” Chet scoffed, “Seriously…how old?”
"I’m almost twenty two,” John mumbled.
“Almost twenty two…? You’re only twenty one!” Chet crowed… “You really are just a kid.”
“I’m not a kid,” He ground out.
“Well I’d say Junior sure fits ya. You’re the youngest one here right?” The older man asked glancing around. “Twenty one… You’re still a baby Junior,” Chet teased.
Roy saw his young Partners jaws clench. “Look Chet…he’s not real fond of being called Junior so…,” He trailed off.”
“Oh sure…sure no problem… So how come you call him that?”
“It’s become a habit,” Roy replied glancing at his annoyed friend.
Chet nodded… He didn’t seem to know when to quit, “So what’d your family think of you becoming a Fireman Gage?”
John rose abruptly to his feet... “Man you’re just full of nosey questions aren’t ya?” The younger man snapped.
Roy stood up quickly. He laid his hand on his Partners back. “Johnny, why don’t we go do the morning supply run?” The older Paramedic suggested. “
“Fine,” Johnny growled pulling away.
“Cap, we’re heading over to Rampart,” Roy said reaching out to give his Partner a gentle push toward the door.
All eyes turned to Chet as the two Paramedics left. The Irishman grinned at them. He had Gages number. “He certainly is easy to rile,” He said rubbing his hands together.
Captain Hammer frowned at Chet… “He’s also young and a bit over sensitive, so take it easy on him okay?”
“Ahhh c’mon Cap…It’ll be good for him…Make him open up some.”
“Or sock you in the mouth…,” Marco piped up.
Chet smirked at him. Mike and Marco looked at each other… The wicked glint in Kelly’s eyes boded ill for their new, young crew mate. They were both hoping John would develop a thick skin… If not, this could be a very uncomfortable place to work.
“Maybe, but it’ll sure liven things up. “
“I’m tellin you Kelly…John’s sense of humor is nonexistent and I don’t think you’ll get much on a personal level either. The only person he really talks to is Roy and even that’s guarded. “
“What do you suppose he’s tryin to hide?”
“Maybe he just likes to be left alone," Mike suggested.
“And keep his personal life personal...," Marco added… Cap nodded.
“No one likes to be alone,” Chet scoffed, rubbing his hands together. “I may need to invite the Phantom to this station.”
“The Phantom…?” Marco questioned.
“Yeah…I’ll let him know he’s got a perfect pigeon.”
Johnny sat silently in the cab. His clenched jaw matched the tightly closed fists resting in his lap.
“Relax Johnny...,” Roy said gently...“He was just trying to get to know you.”
“He was prying.”
“They were normal questions…at least until he realized he could rattle you.”
“Well he succeeded.”
“Yes I know…I saw, and so did everyone else… Johnny the best thing you can do with a guy like Chet Kelly is ignore him.”
John shot a glance at his Partner... “Ignore him?” He half laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound… “I’m gonna have to work with him twenty four hours a day, how do I ignore him?”
“I mean just don’t let him get to you… If he asks something you don’t want to answer just walk away… Change the subject.”
John glanced out the window chewing his lip nervously... “Thanks Roy,” He finally said.
“For what junior…?”
“Just...," he shrugged. "You know just for helpin me through this mornin… I’m just so… uncomfortable around people ya know.”
“I know Partner and you’re welcome…That’s what friends are for."
“Aren’t we?” Roy asked.
Friends…someone close…someone to talk to…it was a risk that John was afraid to take …After Jim he’d sworn to himself never again…every time he let someone close he lost them. ‘Back away,’ that little voice whispered in his head.
Roy watched the struggle going on John’s face and wondered once again what John had gone through to make him like this.
John’s eyes closed for a moment as he made his decision. He liked Roy; he was learning to trust the older man, at least a little. His heart told him Roy wouldn’t betray that trust…not willingly and though the fear of losing him was still there he shoved the voice from his mind and looked at his Partner… “Yeah...,” He said finally… “I guess we are.”
Roy grinned, “Good...,” He said as they pulled into Rampart. He hoped he could break through his young friend’s defenses… This was a good first step.
John and Roy were on their third run of the day. They’d picked up Nurse Carol Williams on their way out on the run. Joe Early was waiting at the Emergency room entrance when they returned… Johnny followed the gurney in. Joe glanced at the young man.
“Johnny, would you like to watch the intubation?” Joe asked.
“Yeah…sure,” the dark haired paramedic replied enthusiastically. He followed the Doctor into the treatment room 3 with Dixie following behind.
Kel was at the base station when they entered. He shook his head at Joe’s obvious fondness for the young man. He just didn’t get it… Gage could be so…abrasive.
A moment later he saw Roy coming down the corridor in search of his Partner. “Doc...,” He greeted with a smile.
“Hi Roy, how are you?”
“Doin great Doc…, you seen my wayward Partner around here anywhere…?"
“He’s in treatment 3 with Joe and Dixie.”
“Thanks,” He turned to head off in that direction.
“Got a minute? I’d like to talk to you.”
“Let’s get some coffee.”
Roy looked at the nurse standing at the base station... “Betty if Johnny’s lookin for me, I’ll be in the Doctor’s lounge.”
The two men headed off together arriving at the lounge a moment later. Kel grabbed a couple of mugs. “How do you take it Roy?”
“Black, two sugars, please.”
Kel nodded and poured the coffee. “Roy…” He began tentatively as he set the cups down on the table. “I know this is really none of my concern but I wanted to ask you something.”
“What’s that Doc?”
“Your decision to team up with Gage…”
Roy’s eyes narrowed slightly, “You have a problem with that?”
“Not a problem…a concern.”
“Roy, I’ve watched you in class and I’ve talked to Dixie and Betty. You’ve probably got the potential to be one of the best Paramedics we’ll send out there if that bill passes.”
“Does that mean you’ve changed your mind?”
“No…, no it doesn’t…just that I can recognize your ability.”
“But Roy, my concern is Gage…”
John left the treatment room. Joe had quickly and efficiently intubated their victim, allowing John to assist. Gage had seen it done in class and had practiced it on a dummy as well, but it was always better to see it done several times. When he actually had to perform it on a live person, he wanted to be sure he had it right.
He walked with a bounce, whistling as he went. He stopped at the base station, drumming out a brief rhythm on it…“Hey Betty, you seen my Partner around anywhere?” He asked the older nurse.
“Hi Johnny…he’s in the Doctors lounge with Dr. Brackett.”
“Thanks,” He said throwing her a crooked grin as he sauntered away.
Betty watched him go with a sigh… “Boy if I was just thirty years younger John,” She muttered appreciatively...she shook her head and went back to work.
As John approached the door he heard the low murmur of voices. Not wanting to interrupt their conversation he hesitated. He was about to move away when he heard his name...he froze.
“But Roy, my concern is Gage...”
Roy looked at him in confusion… “Johnny? Why would he worry you?”
“Because he’s… unpredictable, volatile, impulsive and undisciplined… Quite frankly Roy…as sharp as he is…it makes him…unreliable.”
Out in the hall, John’s mouth tightened in anger but he remained silent, listening.
“I don’t see that at all Doc. He’s young sure…but unreliable…no way Doc. You’re wrong… he’s as good as I am, just different. He’s bright…intuitive…” He shrugged... “As a fire fighter he’s as dependable and stable as I am or I wouldn’t be willing to trust him with my life... and Doc… I am willing to put my life in his hands and I do… every day,” Roy said annoyed.
“Frankly, I don’t understand your attitude toward him or my wife’s for that matter. Maybe you should get to know him before you decide he’s unreliable. I think you’d find out you were wrong. He’s determined and responsible, but regardless of what you think…he’s my Partner and my friend. I don’t plan to change that anytime in the near future,” He said standing up…” Thanks for the coffee.”
“Roy look…I didn’t mean to upset you…I was just concerned,” Kel said trying to calm the younger man.
“Yeah…well like you said…it’s none of your concern, but I’ll tell you one thing...”
“John’ll prove you wrong,” He pulled the lounge door open… Johnny was leaning against the opposite wall, arms folded tightly across his chest. His clenched jaw, downcast eyes and rigid posture told both men he’d heard their conversation. He slowly raised his eyes to look at them. The angry look he directed at Brackett told the older man there would be no cessation of hostilities in the near future.
Roy reached out to gently touch John’s arm… Johnny flinched away. Roy sighed and turned in the direction of the exit... “C’mon Partner, Let’s get outta here...,” he said shooting an angry look at Brackett. Kel sighed and followed them out.
Dixie was at the base station as they went by. She saw the anger in Roy’s face as he passed. John’s expression was carefully blank but his eyes reflected a deep hurt…neither one looked at her.
She glanced at Kel... “What happened?”
“I had some misgivings about DeSoto and Gages partnership Dix. I just wanted to talk to Roy about them… I had no idea Gage was eavesdropping.”
“Kel, how could you? What did you say?”
“Among other things, that Gage was unreliable and impulsive.”
“Oh Kel no…no, you’re wrong.”
“Am I…? I don’t think so.”
“You know what Kel?” Dixie asked, her temper starting to rise.
“You are an arrogant, judgmental…snob,” She snapped. Kel went rigid, looking affronted as Dix continued.
“Johnny may not be some...great… all knowing Doctor, but before you decide he’s unreliable and impulsive…maybe you should work with him in the field. You’d see him the way I do…The way Roy does. He may be a little immature and naïve, and yes even a bit impulsive at times but he’s young…He’ll settle down in time and Roy’s just the one to help him but he’s bright Kel…He’s good at what he does. That’s what matters. He knows what he has to do and he does it…extremely well.”
Kel sighed. “Okay Dix…maybe you’re right…maybe I do need to give him a chance to prove himself. We just seem to have a problem seeing eye to eye.”
“That’s because you’re too much alike.”
“We are not,” Kel said indignantly.”
She grinned, “Yes you are… You’re both stubborn…you both hate to give in. You hate being proved wrong and John Gage doesn’t hesitate to tell you that you are.”
Kel grinned ruefully, “You’re right about that.”
“Of course I am,” She smirked.
“Alright Dix…I’ll back off a bit…for now. I guess who Roy chooses to team up with is his business, not mine… I’ll butt out. “
“Good…but seriously Kel, get to know Johnny, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
“He may never speak to me again after today.”
“You’re wrong about that too.”
“Am I?” He asked amused.
“You are, because if you offer the olive branch to Johnny…I’ll bet he’ll take it.”
Johnny and Roy climbed into the cab of the squad. Roy glanced at his Partner, “Johnny…,” he began.
“Forget it Roy…,” He answered softly, not looking at the older man.
“I didn’t agree with him.”
“I know…I heard you.”
“I’m sorry… we shouldn’t have been talkin about you.”
“No…, no it’s not okay.”
“Roy?” John said softly.
“What if he’s right?”
“He’s not,” Roy said flatly.
“He’s not Johnny.”
“I don’t want to do anything to put you or your career in jeopardy.”
“Good…I’m glad to hear that Junior, but you haven’t given me any reason to worry or to doubt your abilities. He’s judging you by your age and a couple of disagreements in a classroom. He’ll figure out the truth... Just hang in there okay?”
“Kay,” John agreed. Roy glanced at his Partner but John still wouldn’t meet his eyes.
He’d been at station 51 for three weeks and Johnny was getting angry. He had never been the target of a prankster as a child… hateful jokes and cruel innuendoes had been routine through his early years and he didn’t know how to tell the difference between good humored teasing and cruelty.
His other crews had simply chosen to leave him to his solitary ways but now he found himself on the receiving end of someone’s sense of humor. Roy was pretty sure he knew who the culprit was but hesitated to handle John’s problem for him. It might just make it worse to be too over protective.
John and Roy were wakened at 2:00 AM. They rolled out of bed slamming their feet into their turnout pants and boots. John’s groan of disgust as his feet encountered something thick and sticky brought a giggle from the one of the men...unfortunately… in the darkness he couldn’t tell which of them it was.
John hadn’t been amused and Roy had to listen to his furious tirade all the way to the accident scene. After they got back he spent twenty minutes cleaning the maple syrup out of his boots and off his feet. Roy shook his head.
The next morning several of the crew were getting ready to leave... they were standing at the sink in the locker room when Chet came in and spotted John... seeing the razor in the younger man’s hand, a sparkle entered the Irishman’s eyes.
“Geez Gage, are you even old enough to shave?”
John’s jaw clenched, his face flamed in embarrassment…
“Wait… let me take a look…Chet said leaning close to Johnny. “Ooh yeah…there it is…,”He quipped reaching out and pretending to pluck a whisker from John’s face.
Johnny slapped his hand away angrily, “Oh…just…just…shut up Chet…,”he snapped.
“Man Roy, What was headquarters thinkin to stick you with a kid?”
“I…I’m not a kid,” John growled.
“And they didn’t stick me with him... I asked him to be my Partner.”
“You must really love children huh?” Chet’s eyes gleamed wickedly... he could see he was getting to the younger man and he loved every minute of it.
John’s eyes met Roy’s in the mirror, Roy grinned reassuringly at him… John took a deep breath and tamped down on his anger.
“I do like kids Kelly...but I don’t enjoy babysitting, that’s why I asked John to come along... I needed a Partner.”
John smiled slowly at his friend.
“You comin Johnny…?” Roy asked giving the tense younger man a slap on the back and an excuse to escape.
“Yeah I’m comin,” He said wiping the last of the shaving cream from his face...he shot a glare at Chet as he followed his partner out.
Roy was irritated by Kelly’s antics but he had to admit that he felt Chet might be doing John a favor. At least he was forcing him to feel something even if it was only anger. Not long ago his friend would have clammed up and retreated into silence. John might be annoyed but at least he was interacting with the others and not sulking in solitude somewhere.
Roy had surprised even himself at his over protective attitude toward John. He decided that at least in this area he needed to resist the urge to coddle his young partner…to step back and let him fend for himself. Even anger was a vast improvement over the withdrawn, silent, emotionless personality he usually displayed.
Two days later on their first run of the day they climbed into the squad and they both reached for their helmets as Cap took down the address. John set his helmet in place.
“Oh man,” he ground out yanking the helmet from his head as the squad rolled out through the bay doors. Roy glanced at him curiously…he couldn’t contain the snort of laughter that burst from his lips as his friend peeled the mashed cupcake from his helmet. Pink frosting decorated the sable hair.
His mouth tightened as he contemplated his revenge…just as soon as he figured out who was responsible. John shot his traitorous Partner an ugly glare as they headed for Rampart to pick up a nurse…by the time they reached the hospital… Roy’s ears were burning from the angry rant that had followed.
END CHAPTER 1 Posted to site 09/14/09
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