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“…He is in jail. I promised I would call you.” Hank had trouble getting the words out he was so angry.
“Ok. I’m gonna call Cisco or maybe Gil…” She hung up, quickly dialing the number for Gil’s office.
“Assistant Chief’s Gilmore’s office,” the secretary said.
Nina, its Lee Gage. Is Gil available? It’s really urgent.”
What can I do for you?” Gil asked. “Nina said it was urgent.”
“Find out why Johnny was arrested and how soon can we get him out.”
“Where did this happen?”
“I have no idea. Hank called me…I hung up from him and called you. If this is because of the mess, Mike Morton started… And don’t you dare tell me to calm down.”
“I know better than that. You at home?”
“Cap there is people in there.” Roy said as he and John finished getting their gear on.
“Chet, give them some support…make it quick. I want you to grab them and get out fast.” The other engines that had been called began arriving. Cap soon had them positioned, as he needed them.
The inside of the building was dark and the smoke had an oily feel. Burning rubber had given a fine coat of black soot to everything. Going towards the back quickly as possible seemed to be taking a long time but they had no choice. The ceiling had come down in several places and they had to make a zigzagged trek to avoid the small burning piles.
The office was small and it did not take them long to find the couple huddled in a corner. The man had taken off his uniform shirt, then wetting it from the water cooler, placed it over his wife’s mouth and nose.
Roy was nearest to the man and swiftly maneuvered him over his shoulders to carry him out. As Johnny reached the wife he noticed she was pregnant and having trouble breathing. He took his mask off and placed it on her before lifting her. He had just reached the outside door when something behind him exploded. The shock wave sent him stumbling.
Chet saw him coming out; he quickly went over to help the swaying paramedic. They moved farther from the building and laid the woman down. Chet went back to help with the hoses. Johnny took off his tank, kneeling over to begin his examination after putting his mask on her and adjusting the oxygen flow. He took the vitals that were all good.
The oxygen was doing its job she was stabilized. The sensation of swaying made it hard to focus on the victim. The ringing in his ears was drowning out all the other sounds as the lights made his stomach very queasy. Knowing he was going to be sick all he could think to do was move away from the woman before he threw up. Stumbling away from the parking lot to the small grassy side yard Johnny had no idea any one was watching him closely.
“”Excuse me, Officer.” Troy Braxton said as he went up to one of the police officers assigned to crowd control. He had been pleased and somewhat surprised to see this particular officer on the scene. “I just saw one of the firemen going around the corner of the building. It looked like he was drunk or high.” Braxton knew Chambers had served a suspension for his treatment of a drunk.
Since a drunk driver had killed his nephew, he had difficulty dealing with any one even suspected of being drunk. Johnny was leaning against a sign that advertised the business now on fire. He was dizzy and it hurt to move. He was trying very hard to keep his stomach under control but knew it was a losing battle. The ringing in his ears made it hard to hear and the pounding of his head made it hard to focus.
Chambers saw the drunken firefighter. Any drunk was bad news but someone the public depended on for his or her safety made him see red, the bile rose to his throat. “Hey you…Come here.” He yelled at the drunk. When he got no response, it just enraged him more. Coming up behind Johnny, he grabbed him and spun him around. “Don’t ignore me, you damn drunk.”
That was the last insult to Johnny is already churning stomach. There was no way to stop from throwing up on the already angry man yelling at him. As he emptied his stomach on Chamber’s shoes and pants’ leg Johnny struggled to remain conscious. He saw the punch coming but could do nothing to prevent it. The last thing he remembered was feeling a fist connecting with his nose.
Chambers told his sergeant he needed to go clean up because someone in the crowd had thrown up on him.
Roy looked around for his partner concerned he did not see him. The shop owner was conscious his vitals were good. Roy had assured him that his wife was being well taken care of. Roy stood up and looked around again searching for Johnny. It was not like his partner to disappear while with a patient. He checked over by the squad but did not see anyone.
“Marco, stay with this guy. He is ready to go; the ambulance should be heard any minute. He went over to the woman who was laying there with a mask on looking dazed and confused.
“Do you know where the paramedic who was helping you went?” Roy asked the woman as he rechecked her vitals.
“No, he said he would be back.” Roy finished the recheck on her and stayed with her until they got her in the ambulance. Before getting in Roy talked to cap. “Have you seen Johnny?”
Cap turned the corner of the building just in time to see an angry police officer jerk a limp Gage to his feet pushing him forward. As Johnny stumbled, the police officer grabbed him by the shirt collar shaking him roughly before dragging the gasping paramedic towards the squad car.
“Stop that, he’s hurt.” Cap yelled seeing Johnny has bloodied face.
“Not my fault the drunken idiot fell.” Chambers snarled at Cap. “You need to keep a better eye on your men, Captain. This drunk could have hurt someone.” Chambers half drugged, half-pushed Johnny as he made his way over to the patrol car. Shoving him harder than needed he forced Johnny into the patrol car, slamming the door.
“This man isn’t drunk, he’s hurt. He needs to see a doctor.” Cap yelled standing in front of Chambers.
“Tell it to the judge. He’s going to jail for public drunkenness and resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.” Chambers stopped and glared at Hank. “Now, do you want to go with him? I can write you up for obstructing an officer in the line of duty.”
“C…cc…app, don’t…C…al..lll…Leee” Johnny slurred the words but Cap understood. He watched as Chambers drove off.
Cap radioed headquarters “LA this is Engine 51.”.
“Go ahead engine 51,” the calm voice of the dispatcher said.
“Advise Chief McConnikee, Squad 51 is out of service, one of our paramedics was arrested. I am not sure what happen except an officer arrested John Gage for being drunk. There is some indication that Gage was injured.”
Chambers shoved the drowsy paramedic to the desk. The rookie on the desk looked at the bloody face of the prisoner and at the ugly snarl on Chamber’s face, cringing inwardly at the force, Chambers pushed the man against the counter. The prisoner‘s only response was a low moan. Chambers saw the way the young police officer was looking at the bloodied face of the drunk.
“Too drunk to watch where he was going. Walked into the corner of a building. Damn drunk puked all over my shoes and pants’ leg…Put him in the tank and I’ll do the paper work after I get cleaned up.”
“The Sarge said no one gets put in here without the proper paper work.”
“You back talking me? Doubting me? I need to get this crap cleaned off before it dries any more than it already has.”
Ok, just do not take too long. The Sarge will be back soon.”
“Not a problem.” Chambers strolled out of the area smiling. He went into the locker room, cleaned his shoes and changed his pants. Then whistling contently went back on patrol. See how this drunk likes being left alone and hurting…Just like the drunk that hit his nephew left him laying in a ditch to die.
Troy Braxton was on the phone to Mia Cross. He filled her in on what had just happen saying she would have the pictures soon. Torres had snapped the pictures then left for the TV studio. This added to the already circulating rumors should put a nice dent in Station 51’s reputation.
Roy DeSoto looked around the ER waiting room, over at the desk and down the hallway that lead to the restrooms. This was crazy. Johnny was never irresponsible when it came to patient care. Something had happened to him. He jumped when Dixie came behind him.
“Any word on Johnny?” They said almost at the exact time. Roy answered with a shake of his head, “Damn it, Dixie, he wouldn’t just walk away. None of this makes any sense.” Thinking of how Lee was left stranded for hours, if John was hurt, it could be even worst.
Cap came into the room looking for Roy. The grim look on Hank’s face told Roy the news was not good. Roy looked at Dixie then went over to Hank.
“Did you find him?” Roy said before Hank could say anything. “Is he hurt?” Roy questioned as they were walking out the door.
“Yes and I think so. Some hard nosed police officer dragged him off to jail. Literally dragged him…He said John was falling down drunk but I think the guy broke John’s nose. I called Lee.”
The two men who Johnny thought were asleep were watching him closely. They waited till they were sure he was sleep then went over to the paramedic. They saw he still had his watch on which was very unusual. They were even more surprised to find his wallet. They didn’t bother with the credit cards but happily took the hundred-dollar bill hidden behind a picture and several tens and twenties. They slipped the wallet back in his pocket. Neither one seemed to think it strange the sleeping man never moved or reacted other than a painful groan or moan, not that they cared.
Sgt. MacDonald had listened to Assistant Chief Gilmore then went down to the holding area. Officer Jerry Woods was on the desk while waiting to return to patrol following a leg injury.
“It was until I got a call from Gilmore. Wilson Chambers, did he bring someone in?”
“No. Unless he was here while I was on dinner break.” Jerry answered. “If he had brought someone in I would have seen the paper work.”
“Who was on the desk while you were gone?”
“The new kid, Beason. He was his first time on the desk buy himself. Sgt. Meadows and I both made it clear to him no one is sent to the tank with out proper papers. He was nervous when I got back. I figured it was ’cause it was his first time working the desk alone.” Woods looked uneasy. Chambers had a reputation for bullying the rookies. His idea of making them tough and street smart.
"Call for a squad and ambulance.” Mac ordered when they saw Gage slumped over in a corner of the cell.
The paramedics who answered the call were shocked to see a bloody, pale John Gage lying on the floor struggling to breathe. They got 6 liters O2 started. As one did the initial exam the other set up the biophone
Joe Early ,getting ready to leave for the day, stopped by the nurses’ desk to see if there had been any word on Johnny.
“Rampart this is squad 36, how do you read?”
“Loud and clear 36. Go ahead.” Dixie answered.
“Rampart we have a Code I. He is unconscious, his pupils are unequal and sluggish. His nose appears broken….We have him on 6 liters O2. Be advised the Code I is John Gage.” He gave the vitals and other information.
“Start an IV D5W and transport as soon as possible.” Joe directed. “Dix get treatment 3 ready.”
MacDonald made the call to Gilmore himself. Listening to the sergeant’s report Gilmore then made the phone call, he had been dreading.
Lee answered the phone on the first ring. “Where is he? Do I need to get a bail bondsman?”
The Alvarez family was at the football field. Trey and Mike were playing on the same junior league team this year , both having a good game. Cisco muttered under his breath when he saw a squad car pull up. Linda watched as Pete Malloy and Jim Reed started over to them.
“I knew there was a good reason to bring two cars…” Linda said with a resigned sigh. “There goes family pizza night.”
“Sorry, Babe. Tell the boys I’m proud of them and got to see most of the game.” Cisco knew if they had tracked him down at his kids’ game, it was serious. They walked away from Linda and Cammie.
“Gilmore wants you to go get Lee and take her to Rampart. He figures you are the only one who can handle her right now. She is threatening to sue the city, the police department and pressing criminal charges against Wilson Chambers. Chambers put Johnny in the drunk tank. She is pretty upset. Its gonna get worst when she sees him.” Pete said shaking his head. “Chambers broke Johnny’s nose…but that’s not the worst of it.”
Lee changed clothes and pulled her hair back into a ponytail then pinned it up. That with the black turtleneck sweater gave her an older look. Maybe, it was the anger and fear in her eyes that made her look older and harder. Dialing the station number, she wasn’t sure what to tell them…
“LA County Fire Department, Station 51, Capt. Stanley speaking.” Lee could hear the tension in his voice.
“Hank, he’s on his way to Rampart . I’ll call when I know anything definite. Gotta go.”
Cap turned to the men watching him as they listened to his side of the conversation. “John is on his way to Rampart…so is she.”
“How bad? Where was he? Do they have the person who took him? What took them so long to find him? Questions were thrown at Hank all at once.
“She didn’t say. What I told you is all she said.”
“How did she sound?” Roy asked, worried about her.
“I’m going to push Johnny to press charges against whoever did this. If he won’t I will”
“That’s between you and John. Gil said you were going to sue everyone in sight.” His tone matched here’s. “Can’t say I agree but can’t say I blame you, either.”
“Did they tell you anything about why? Why would this police officer do something like this to anyone? Let alone a paramedic.”
Neither said another word until they pulled into her parking space.
“Can I see him?” Lee asked as she wheeled herself towards the approaching doctor. “How is he?”
“You can see him in a few minutes. He has a mild concussion and a broken nose. There is some bad bruising on his back and chest. There is evidence that the explosion caused some of the injuries. The broken nose and cracked cheek bone were from a fist. The pain meds are working and he is resting comfortably.”
She raised her eyebrow knowing there was more from his expression.
“He is showing signs of aspirating--- blood from his broken nose.”
“Does that mean he has pneumonia again?” She asked curtly.
“It means his lungs are showing some signs of irritation and we are hoping to keep it from going any farther. He is on a vent to give his lungs some rest and support. They are getting a room ready up in the pulmonary wing.”
“I want him one of the VIP rooms. Kevin Richards illegally used WBSF money to create these show places I think we should use them.”
“Lee, I don’t know if there is one available.’” Joe started. They were usually booked in advance by the plastic surgeons or doctors involved in rehab cases involving well to do or famous clients also used them often.
“Dr. Early, do I need to make a call to Paddy? This is going to get ugly fast and believe me this is for your and the hospital’s protection as much as for Johnny’s.” She took a deep breath. “I am tired of people making our life miserable and hurting my family and friends. If they want a war they have it.” She wheeled away from the stunned doctor. “I’ll be in my office, call me if he is in his room before I get back down here.”
“She is out for blood and she’ll have it.” Cisco told Joe as she wheeled away. “She’s been pushed way past her limit.”
Roy came into the ER area and spotted Cisco. He talked briefly with his temporary partner and went over to Cisco.
“How is he?”
“They are waiting to get a VIP room ready. Doc Early wanted him to be down in the pulmonary wing.” He looked to make sure Lee was not back down yet. “That hellcat is out for blood. She flat out told Early it was going to get ugly. Threatened to call the CEO if she didn’t get her way.”
Roy, shaking his head said, “His adopted granddaughter and a wee angel on earth is what he calls her.”
Lee came off the elevator. She saw Roy and Cisco talking and knew they were talking about her. She went over to them and gave them a long serious look. “So, did Cisco fill you in on me being a total bitch?”
Roy hadn’t expected that at all. He couldn’t remember ever hearing her use profanity except an occasional damn or hell when really angry or scared. “He would never call you that.”
“He has done it before and I am sure he will do it again. Who do you think I learned all the best cuss words from? Him and grandda Michael. Just because I don’t use them doesn’t mean I haven’t heard them. I grew up in the real world, remember?”
A student nurse came over to tell them they could go into treatment room 3.
Lee let Cisco push her as Roy walked ahead of them. He held the door open so she went in first. Kel was talking to Joe but they stopped as she entered.
“Kel went over the skull X-rays at my request. We aren’t ruling out the possibility of a hairline fracture. We will be comparing these to some of the old pictures…”
“When will you be moving him into his room?” Lee asked not responding to this latest news.
“They should be coming down for him any time now.”
“I think you need to calm down.” Kel said with a frown at her tone of voice. “
“Someone in this hospital has been giving out information about Johnny. Someone in the waiting room told the press what Morton said. There has been leaked information, that should have been confidential used on phony applications …Enough is enough. It has to stop before someone dies. It was only by the grace of God Roy or Johnny weren’t killed at the over pass or on the fake calls. The guys at the station are caught in the crossfire. Cisco and the other law enforcement people are doing their best …but they have a whole county to watch out for.
Johnhny didn’t have any one to watch out for him before.. Now he has family and friends who do watch out for him. Anyone involved with this harassment is fair game. Doctors, nurses, orderlies, techs, firemen, paramedics or law enforcement, the media or the fire department HQ. I am not as forgiving as Johnny is. Criminal or civil charges will be filed if there is proof they were part of this mess. They wrecked my car, stole from me, shot up our home, left me stranded …and have hurt Johnny and Roy and made life miserable for the guys at the station…So don’t you dare tell me to calm down.”
Without another word, she turned her chair around away from the stunned men. She went over to the bed. She looked at the swollen black eyes and the bruises on his check. Gently she touched his hand. “Boyo, I’m here.” They left her alone with him. She whispered knowing he wasn’t able to hear her. Maybe because she had grown up around law enforcement officers it made her sick to her stomach when they betrayed the trust given them by the public. Every good and caring officer suffered when something like this happen. The good guys were taken for granted way too often while the bad ones got all the publicity. All shared in the ill feelings. She sat there watching him sleep, knowing it was drugged induced, since they didn’t want him fighting the vent.
“How is he?” Roy asked when he came back several hours later.
“They gave him something to make him sleep. Dr. Vanace said two or three days in here if all goes well. I need to find out who is doing this…I’ve been thinking some of this started after Mia Cross wrote the article about Craig Brice. He was very critical when he was talking about me. He said some of my comments and opinions were off base and totally wrong in most cases…He quoted something I supposedly said. He implied it was a stupid, uninformed and totally false statement of the situation . He was the one who was wrong. It was a direct quote from a chief at HQ. He got a verbal reprimand from HQ. I want this to stop before someone else gets hurt really bad. You and Johnny have been targets of some dangerous and nasty pranks, so have all the guys at the station.”
“A civilian came over and told me there was a drunken fireman staggering away from the fire. He had wandered away from his assigned post, too drunk to stand up, he was leaning against a sign. He wouldn’t answer any of my questions. He couldn’t put an understandable sentence together. He was puking his guts out all over my shoes and pants legs and trying to pull away from me.”
“How did his nose get broken?” Crockett changed the line of questioning. Chamber’s description fitted the behaviors Dr. Brackett said the head injury would produce.
“He staggered around the corner of the building ---fell face forward.” Chamber’s attitude was one of righteous indignation. He had done his job and was being treated like the criminal.
“What about the way you acted when Gage’s captain tried to tell you he wasn’t drunk but injured?” Crockett stood before the officer, his arms folded, glaring down at him.
“That guy was just covering his own sloppy work. He should have known he had a drunk working for him.
“Why didn’t you follow department procedure when you brought him in? The department policy is clear that no prisoner is sent to the holding tank without proper documentation. You didn’t even leave his name with the desk officer.”
Standing on the other side of the glass Gilmore and Cisco watched and listened. Cisco shook his head totally disgusted with what he was hearing.
“Johnny told me the only time he ever got drunk it made him sicker than a dog and he swore to himself he’d never do it again. Don’t know how much Jeff told you but Johnny’s uncles were mean drunks. John was their favorite target, drunk or sober. One in particular beat him almost to death more than once. He has more broken bones listed in his medical file than I do.”
“No wonder Lee is on a rampage. She has already filed a formal complaint with the department. And is talking civil law suite against Chambers and the department.”
The television was on but Lee really was not paying attention to it. The 11:00 news promo came on. “Reports of an L.A. County paramedic arrested for being drunk at a fire were not confirmed by the department earlier this evening. Pictures taken by a bystander were sent to this station today. The paramedic in question was recently investigated for negligence that resulted in serious injury to a victim of a home fall, leaving him in life threatening coma.”
Lee sat there watching the series of pictures. She had to watch even as she was having trouble breathing. Someone was going to pay for this.
Roy and Rob Jones were at a call for a sick child. A two year old was running a high temperature and having troubled breathing. They had contacted Rampart, followed the doctor’s directions and were waiting on the ambulance.
“Have you used any new detergents or cleaning products?” Roy asked as he noticed the rash on the child’s arms and legs.
“No…we are very careful about that…we only use products approved by Jody’s doctor. They have a list they give out …We were at my mother’s home earlier…Her neighbor was spraying his yard so we went inside when the smell got too bad. He had a bath as soon as we got home and he seemed fine. He had his snack and went to bed with no problem.” The mother said as she watched her baby’s breathing ease.
“Well once we gave him his favorite stuffed toy…He always sleeps with Waggles.” The father added.
“I didn’t want him to have Waggles until he was washed. I wasn’t sure if any of that spray had gotten on it when it was on the lawn chair.” The mother said frowning at her husband. “Couldn’t you smell that awful chemical smell?” The young father shook his head no.
The father went up to the baby’s room to get the toy. “I ‘m so glad you aren’t like that paramedic we saw on the news…I was almost afraid to call you after seeing that.” The mother watched anxiously as they strapped the baby to the gurney.
“What paramedic was that?” Roy asked with a sinking feeling.
“The one who was drunk and walked away from an injured woman.”
“He wasn’t drunk, he was seriously injured…He got hurt bringing the woman out of the building.” Roy said softly. “That’s my partner and best friend. He is one of the best paramedics around.”
“Oh…but they said he had done this before, not paid attention to a victim…Now that guy is in a coma.”
“Nothing Johnny did caused the coma.” Trying not to get overly defensive. “Sometimes these reporters don’t check out all their facts….”
Before anything else was said, the father came back with the toy dog bagged up. The mother rode in the front of the ambulance while her husband followed in the car. Rob followed in the squad. Roy went up to the VIP floor.
Roy watched from the doorway as Lee pulled herself up and leaned over to whisper something in Johnny’s ear. He waited until she had eased herself back into the chair before going into the room.
“How you doing?” Roy asked as he went towards the bed.
“He has a concussion and a possible skull fracture, a broken nose and two bruised ribs. He aspirated blood and mucus …”
“I didn’t ask how he was I asked about you.” Roy placed a hand on her shoulder.
“How do you think I am? I’m mad as hell, I am scared and I am not leaving here tonight. That sums it up nicely.”
Lee was asleep in the recliner when the alarms started going off. She watched silently as the doctors and nurses came in. She knew the best thing she could do was to stay quiet and let them concentrate on their jobs. In what seemed a lifetime but were only minutes the young doctor let out a long slow breath. “His pressure is stabilized…” The resident looked and sounded as frustrated as she felt. She had the feeling the young resident hadn’t even noticed her sitting there. “If he was someone important, I think I would call Dr. Early… but he is just a fireman.” He muttered something else Lee couldn’t hear. “This is supposed to be the easy shift up here…” Talking to the nurse who had came in with him.
“He is someone important…He is a human being.” Lee said. “You get trapped in a burning building or in a smashed up car ready to burst into flames… you would be very happy to see just a fireman, especially this one and his partner since they are highly skilled rescue men and paramedics. But even if he was a dishwasher in a dive, he is someone important…like I said he is a human being... a person, not a disease or syndrome or a diagnosis. An easy shift for him and his crewmates is when they get to finish at least one meal without getting a call and no one on the crew gets hurts and no victims die. I have Kel and Joe’s home numbers if you have any qualms about calling them, since I have none..”
“Visiting hours were over an eight. You can’t be in here.”
“If you had looked at the chart since you got here you would see there will be someone here with him at all times….Of course again, I have no problem calling Kel or Joe or even my dear friend Paddy O’Donnell…” She narrowed her eyes as she watched the expression on his face. “Think what you want, its probably nothing that hadn’t been thought or said before. The only thing that matters is that Johnny gets the best care possible.”
“I don’t see any problem. You said there was an investigation going on…you didn’t say who was being investigated or why. The original accusation was made in a public place. Alleged is such a useful word at times. "So has anyone at the hospital given you any more updates on Liu?” Troy sipped his whiskey sour as he waited for her response. If she wasn’t his cousin he would have considered moving their meeting to his place. “Too bad he was such a screw up. He did come in useful, at times.”
“He is in a coma they don’t expect him to ever wake up and if he does he will be severely brain damaged. If nothing happens in the next week or two they will transfer him to a nursing home. The nurse’s aid I talked to said no one had visited him since the first couple of days. She told me Dr. Brackett and Dr. Early had both stopped coming in, one of the staff doctors had taken over the case. She did say that Dr. Morton had written a letter to the Gages concerning his unprofessional comments.” Mia looked at her cousin and again wondered if this plan of his was worth the risk. “So what about the other guy you hired? He still around?”
“He went to visit relatives…needed some time away to clear his head. It was just by chance I was able to get those pictures today. We were close by when the call went out over the radio. Today was a lucky day, not only were we near by but Chambers was the perfect patsy. He jumped at the chance to beat on a drunk. My buddy at the station said most of the other cops hadn’t expected him back to work after his breakdown. Guess Chambers added some interesting complications to Gage’s injuries. Lee Gage is screaming for blood. Let her see how it feels to have someone you care about be unjustly accused of not doing their duty and having everything you think is important torn away by rumors and lies.” He took another drink. “There is no way to make her feel the financial lost but everyone says she is more concerned about her husband’s reputation than her bank account. Let’s see what else we can find to make John Gage and Station 51 look bad in the eyes of the public.”
“You’re a good man Chet Kelly and a good friend to John Roderick and me.” She smiled at the surprised look on his face. “I guess with all that was going on Johnny didn’t tell you. Or maybe he was waiting for me to tell you. Sit down if you have some time. I’ll share my breakfast with you along with a story and a dream.” Once Chet was settled, she told him about her dream and a little more about Bobby and the things, he had done to her.
“You thought I acted like that jerk? Man, I never meant to be mean to you. I was really out of line at the station so I guess I can understand why you would think that. The things I said were pretty thoughtless. I really am glad John found someone who loves him so much. Maybe some day Suzi and I will be at that point.”
“With Suzi or someone else, I hope you find that point.”
“I’m glad we got to talk just sorry it was this way…” Chet got up and cleared up some of the breakfast clutter.
“There have been other times we talked and I thought it was ok between us…This time I know it is.”
Chet helped her into her wheelchair and said he would stay until she returned from her errands. She wanted to run up to her office to talk with Nell after going to the restroom.
“I forgot you were coming today…I am so sorry.”
“Not a worry. When we got no answer at your home, we called your office. A very pleasant and worried young lady told us you were here.” Maggie said before bending down and kissing Lee on the forehead. “Child, you look exhausted.” John Paul had brought two chairs over closer to the bed. “No one could stay with you?”
“I didn’t want any one else here, I am fine. For once, no one argued with me about staying the night. Not sure if that was a good sign or not. She reached over and stroked Johnny’s too still hand. “They upped his meds after the second time the alarms went off. They couldn’t find a reason for his blood pressure to start climbing then drop too low. I told the doctor I thought he was having nightmares…so he increased the meds. Roy and Cap were here earlier and Marco and Mike will be here later. Roy is spending the night here…I sent them all home to get some sleep. Chet came the first thing this morning and brought me a milk shake and some pecan rolls. The shake was made with yogurt and fresh fruits…so don’t fuss at me Miss Maggie.” She was trying to stay strong but knew it was a losing battle. “Why would they want to hurt him like this? He is such a good person…He cares so much about helping others.”
“There is evil in this world that fights the hardest against one such as your Johnny…But we will fight for him…Now tell us all about the troubles.”
As they listened to her story they saw the hurt and anger she felt towards those who were hurting her friends and family. “He has worked so hard to prove them wrong…I won’t let anyone take all he has worked for away from him.”
Before Lee could say, more Joe Early and Dr. Vanace came into the room. Lee introduced the doctors.
“Mr. Broussard, why don’t you take Lee up to her office for something to eat while we examine John and do some tests? Lee, I promise I will call you the minute we are done. I will stay here until you get back so we can talk.”
The Broussard’s were impressed with the way Lee had her office set up. Nell was inputting information to a program Lee had written.
“I write programs when Johnny is working, gives me something to do in the evenings. Keeps me out of trouble when I’m busy.” She had gone over to the fridge “Anything I can fix for you?” She got a sandwich and soda.
“No… You said your Johnny had worked hard to prove them wrong. Who were talking about Cherie?” Maggie asked.
“His mother’s family and the majority of his father’s family. The bigots who he had deal with. When we were fighting over the grants in honor of his parents…I was so mad I almost slapped his face. His aunts were always slapping him and telling him he was worthless. He grabbed my wrist and held it midair. Never said a word about it until later when he saw the bruise on my wrist. He was so upset he hurt me. He looked at my wrist, told me he should have let me hit him…rather than doing that to me.” She didn’t add there were tears in his eyes as he said it.
“What did you tell him?” John Paul questioned her.
“That it was better to have a bruise that would fade from my wrist than a bruise in my heart that would have never faded if I hit him. When I thought I was going to die alone in that cab, I had conversation with him in my head. I told him I wasn’t afraid to die but was afraid of leaving him. He has been so hurt by people leaving him. The doctors should be done by now.” They went down stairs.
“We were just getting ready to call you. His lungs sound better so we are going to start weaning him off the sedatives. The skull series they took last night doesn’t show any bleeding. There hasn’t been as much decrease in the swelling as we would have liked to see by now. The break in his nose doesn’t seem to be causing any problem, swelling there is down; the sinus cavity shows no additional problems.”
“Doctor, can we have a police photographer come in to document the injuries? Mrs. Gage will be investigating her options regarding criminal and civil charges against those responsible for this incident.” She looked at Lee “I am not sure if at this point in time we will be including Dr. Morton. In my opinion he needs a refresher course in medical ethics.” Seeing Joe’s raised eyebrow. “Our son, the surgeon, deals quickly and firmly with anyone on his staffs who does not respect others in the office or the patients… At the least, Dr. Morton is guilty of poor judgment. And, that Cherie is my professional opinion which would cost you a $225 an hour in my office.”
“I will see that Dr. Morton gets your message. Lee, I think you were right, the alarms were probably the result of his dreaming. Who is staying here tonight?”
“Roy. Joe, did you all let me stay last night because you were afraid …That he was going to ….” She couldn’t say it but it had been lurking at the back of her mind. If she said it, it might be true.
“No, we let you stay because you needed to be here. If we had any concerns about him dying, we would have told you. Kathy and the DeSoto’s, Cisco would have been in here with you. If we had sent you home you would haven’t gotten any rest and what you were imagining would have been worst for you then you here in that recliner. Honey, we care about you too. Johnny and you are more than just people we work with.” He left. John Paul and Maggie stayed awhile longer then Lee gave those keys to the house.
“So did you get everything you wanted done?” Roy asked when Jo came out to sit with him. The meeting didn’t go well?” He could see in her face she was upset about something.
“Yes and no. The official part was good and we have the plans ready for the Christmas bazaar. It should be good…we will have a booth that sells raffle tickets and we will rent space out to crafters and venders. One of the ladies asked if we would be getting donations from my friend like we did last year…the basket she donated was one of the biggest money makers. I told them no I wasn’t going to ask her to help with anything.”
“Why not? Lee had fun making up that basket. You said the mystery envelope auction was fun. Wasn’t that her idea too?”
“So the problem is?” Roy had a feeling he knew what she was going to say.
“Narrow minded gossipy old …hens.” Jo said giving some thought to the last word. “Several people asked me if I knew the drunken paramedic. When I tried to explain it was all a mistake it was like they thought I was lying to protect him. I won’t ask her to deal with that.”
“I don’t think she could. The mood she is in now. She is writing everyone off who she doesn’t feel is supporting John. She called Ben Oliver up and told him to shut down all advertising accounts with the TV and radio station that Mia Cross works for. She has enough votes to force the issue if the board would try to fight it. Kel said some people at Rampart are afraid she’s going to pull the money she gives to the hospital…Think she might make an exception for what go directly to the children’s ward.”
“Did Maggie and John Paul get in ok?” Jo questioned.
“Yeah. They stayed with her about 2 hours then went out to the house. Cap is gonna go visit about 6. I’ll go about 8. Cap’s taking her home.”
“I’m glad she won’t be out there by herself. When you called the hospital did they tell you anything?”
“That they were decreasing the meds so he may wake up within the next few hours, that his lungs were sounding better and he had maintained an acceptable blood pressure after two incidents when it elevated for no apparent reason then dropped dangerously low..” Lee and Johnny had made the decision to leave Roy on Johnny’s paperwork as next of kin, adding her name after they were married.
“Maybe once he is awake she will be able to handle this better. She has gotten so ….” She was stumped for a word.
“Nasty mean? This has gone on too long. There is something I am missing…Someone or something that will fit this all together. I want you to tape the news tonight…I need to watch the footage at the last fire not Cross’ report but the footage they were taking of the fire its self.”
The alarm beeping startled every one. Johnny’s eyes were opened.
“Shush Boyo.” Lee took a tight hold of his hand. “You’re safe…We’re right here. Let the vent breath for you.” Lee’s voice and touch calmed him and the nurse soon had the machine reset. “I missed seeing those eyes…you’re gonna be fine. Dr. Vanace just wanted to give your lungs some help, so they could rest.” He raised his other hand to the vent.
“Joe is on his way up. I know he’ll take it out as soon as he can. Cap and Mike are here…I need to go for a few minutes. You behave for them.”
He blinked his eyes once, their standard signal for yes. It made her sad they had gotten to the place where they had a system for communicating when he was on a vent. “Love you, you don’t forget, ok?”
Lee really did need to go to the restroom but she also needed a place to go cry without an audience. She especially didn’t want Johnny to see her crying. She took care of everything she needed to do and went back down to the room. Mike had left but Cap was waiting for her.
“Sorry if it took so long for me to get back. Is Emily waiting dinner on you?”
“Emily and the girls are having a mother daughter evening. My son in law had to go out of town so they had this planned. Besides, Em figures you need some support right now.”
“All of you on A shift and at the station, you have been so understanding and supportive. This needs to be over.”
John Paul and Maggie were in the kitchen cooking when Cap brought her home. “You, Cherie, need to go take a long hot shower. Get into a comfy gown. We will talk over dinner.
Lee started towards the bedroom. “Hank please stay.” Maggie handed Hank the wooden spoon she was holding and followed Lee.
“Maggie loves Lee as much as she loves our children. After the first time I met Lee I understood my Maggie’s feelings. Later when Merce went to school and was having so much trouble with the math classes we asked Lee to help her…It was a turning point in our son’s life…as well as Merce’s …she is now our daughter also.…no one is going to hurt her or her Johnny if we can help it.” John Paul stated simply.
“Junior, its ok, you’re ok.” Roy’s calm voice made it through the haze of fear and panic. The light but comforting pressure on his shoulder and the strokes of Roy’s fingers on his forehead helped to calm Johnny’s fear.
“Roy, I’m glad you’re here. Think that will help our friend here to relax. John, you know the drill. The more relaxed you are the easier this will be…”
Johnny blinked once and Joe looked to Roy, “I take it that means yes?”
“Correct…” Roy moved to where Johnny could keep him in view.
Lee dressed with extra care. She did her make up perfectly and hoped that no one would notice how puffy it was around her eyes. She braided her hair like Johnny liked, picked one of his favorite blouses to wear. She couldn’t help but smile as she put on the denim skirt he had bought her. It went perfect with the knee-high boots he had gotten her when they went to Lame Deer. She loved the boots so much it hadn’t even bothered her when Chet had teased them both, asking if they had been playing cowgirl and Indian. She stopped her daydreaming and went out to the kitchen. John Paul was at the stove.
“You sit down and eat. Maggie talked to your friend Roy; everything is going good for Johnny this morning. They are going to take him off the vent first thing when Dr. Joe gets in. I am fixing breakfast. Maggie is dressed and on the phone…soon as we eat we will go. “
“I can drive on over and you two can come when you are ready.’’ She said as Maggie came into the room.
“Cherie, do I look like I just got off the turnip truck? You will eat a good breakfast then John Paul will take us all. Your Johnny is doing just fine. e wWill be even better when he sees you happy and well fed. Not all that make up hides those tired eyes. You know that man of your’s can read your eyes…”
“I haven’t won an argument with her in 40 years…and been married to her 35 of them.” John Paul said as he put a plate before Lee. Then one before Maggie. “She still has the sweetest kisses and the sharpest tongue.”
“We can’t keep this up much longer. My boss got a lot of grief from the station owner. It seems the owner is a good friend of Ben Oliver’s. Oliver is threatening to pull his advertising from the station after he saw the story that alleged John Gage was a drunk. Did you see the retraction they aired and published in the papers? I am going to lose my job if this doesn’t stop.”
“Are you even listening to me?” Troy demanded with a nasty tone. “It is time we finished this…but we will do it my way. I just need to find a way that will hurt them the most…take everything away from them…just like they did our family.”
“You didn’t leave me…You still love me?” He questioned her with some trepidation. Part of him knew the dreams were false but still that last bit of fear lingered. He needed to hear her say it.
“Boyo, I love you.” She wheeled herself over to his bed. “With every breath forever and a day.” She looked deep into his eyes. “You don’t ever forget that or doubt it again, hear me?”
“I was just checking…The dreams were pretty real…All the old demons were dancing in my head. But they didn’t get in my heart…You take up all the room in there…you and our family. I didn’t go away.”
Pulling herself up she leaned over and kissed him. His free hand cupped around her neck pulling her closer. As she pulled away from him, she leaned over and whispered in his ear. The smile on his face grew even bigger.
“Cherie, just what did you promise him?” Maggie came over to the other side of the bed. “It is good to see you awake and smiling.”
“It is good to see you…sorry it’s because of my being trouble.”
“You are not trouble…you are being victimized. We will be putting a stop to it.” John Paul said. “Now that we know you are doing well, Miss Maggie and I have some work to do… Lee did you sign the papers we gave you last night”
“Yes they are in the envelope on the back seat of your car.” She had transferred over into the recliner that had been moved closer to the bed. Maggie gave Johnny a kiss on the forehead. Roy walked them to their car then went on home.
“Your lunch and dinner will be sent in by O’Sheas’, they are waiting for me to call and let them know what we want.”
“You look tired…did you get any sleep at all?” His throat was raspy and he hated to admit how tired he was. But she knew.
“Yes. Now you lay back, get some sleep while I read the reports Nell is going to bring down. I’ll call Mick and order lunch so when you wake up it’ll be here.”
“You’re staying?” He looked like a frighten little boy just for a minute.
“Of course. Boyo, they made me leave…I was here until they made me go home. I stayed all night …and all day….” She was trying her best not to cry. I wanted to stay until you woke up but they made me go.”
“Glad they did…not good for your back.’’ His eyes closed and soon he was sleeping peacefully.
“What are you doing here? You aren’t Johnny’s doctor.” Lee challenged him.
“No, but regardless of what you think, I am John’s friend. My actions were not professional that day in the treatment room or the waiting room. If my actions added to the problems you were having I am sorry.”
“Nice speech. Who helped you write it? Joe or Dixie? Not Kel’s style.” Lee said with a shrug. “Forgive me if I find your apology too little to late, Dr. Morton. Your speech has been noted by me and my lawyers.”
“Baby girl, that’s enough. It isn’t the problem in the ER you’re upset about. You’re using that day to hold onto old anger. No lawyers here just friends. “No law suits or malpractice suits.” Johnny said before going into a coughing fit
“Now, are you happy? Your malpractice insurance won’t be going up.” Lee said as John Paul gave Johnny a glass of water. “I won’t go against my husband’s wishes. This time.”
Just as Morton was leaving, Kel and Joe were coming in. The two doctors could feel the tension in the room. Mike nodded in greeting as he left.
“Is there a problem I need to know about?” Kelly Brackett asked looking at Lee. “Peace and quiet is important when recovering from a concussion. The more rest you get the better it will be for you.”
“Can we go to Hawaii?” Lee asked. “He could rest there and be away from all this.”
“No, I am not running away. No more chief Running Scared.” The soft raspy voice was firm but gentle. “Baby girl, let it go. Let the hate and anger go…if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for me.” Johnny leaned back on his pillows. “I want to go home with you.”
“Yes. Take it easy and let your body heal. No lifting for awhile and a lot of rest. I want to see you for a check up in a week.” Joe said watching the expression on Lee’s face. “Any trouble with excessive headaches, blurry vision, and upset stomach…get him back in here. You’ll let Lee be the judge if you need a squad, understood. You will be honest with her about how you feel. Right?” They all knew he would agree to pretty much anything to go home. Johnny nodded yes. “Ok, I am going to get a set of vitals then a nurse will be in t help you dress.”
“We are going to my office but we'll be back in about 10 minutes…”
“Give him 15.” Joe said giving her a wink. A quick kiss and they went to her office. In the elevator, Maggie watched the emotions play over Lee’s face. She noticed the ridged way she was sitting.
“Do we need to take you back to the ER and have a doctor check you out?” Seeing the look of pain on her face.
“NO. I just twisted wrong and it’s a little tight… He is right…I do need to let go of the anger and distrust…It only makes it harder for him.”
“And you. I saw that look on your face. I wanted to ask but not in front of your Johnny…Who is Chief Running Scared?” Maggie said gently putting a hand on Lee’s shoulder. She could feel the knotted muscles and the slight tremor.
“Johnny was abused not only in his so called home but by a group of bullies in town. His only safe place was the fire station. There was a gang of bullies that called him Chief Running Scared. They would yell things at him or worse. If he could not out run them they would hurt him. If he was late, getting home from school his family would hurt him. We went back to Lame Deer and it started over…They tried to hurt him…us…but this time he wasn’t alone. He stood up to them. He protected me from his aunts and with some help from Cisco and Roy stood up to the others. He wasn’t the friendless, lonely boy any more. He had friends …good friends and family to help him. Cisco kicked some major butt.”
“Johnny had lot of love and encouragement from you Cherie.” Maggie added. “Never forget the power of love.”
Once Johnny was home and settled in the recliner, Lee changed into sweat pants and one of Johnny’s tee shirts. She stayed in the bedroom alone for a few minutes. She was still trying to sort out her feelings when Maggie knocked on the door. “Come in.”
“Your Boyo is worried about you, he asked me to come see if you needed anything.” Maggie said as she came into the room.
“Tell him I’ll be out in a minute.” She asked as she brushed her hair into a pony tail. “I just needed some me time. He understands. Is it time for his meds?”
After lunch, Maggie and John Paul went over to the Carson police station. Maggie went up to the desk.
“Would you please inform Assistant Chief Gilmore that Judge and Mrs. John Paul Broussard are here?”
Yes ma’am…They have a conference room setup. I’ll have an officer show you the way.”
Two minutes latter the concerned friends were hashing over the problems that the Gages had faced since Lee’s tires had been shot out.
“So what do you know about these incidents…besides that it is most likely down by the same two men under someone else’s orders.?” John Paul asked.
“Gui Liu was one of the muggers and the taxi driver who kidnapped Lee. The kidnapping was not for ransom but to scare the hell out of Johnny and everyone else who cares about her. If they hadn’t figured out the clue, it could have been a lot more serious for her. The incidents with the station personnel was never life threatening but harassment. Tires cut, the station trashed, electric lines cut…Someone poured sugar into Hank Stanley’s gas tank, others had gas taken from their cars and trucks, or wires disconnected.” Gil told them. “They called a firefighter, his mom and brother telling each that one of the others was seriously ill or injured.”
“Don’t forget the problems at the skill challenge…the fake paramedics threatening her and beating up on Johnny. Some one tried to break into the office to get the registration and judging notes books…trying to start rumors Lee was doing the tabulations for the judges…Lee said she would get this feeling she was being watched at different times…” Cisco continued. “She was more concerned with the safety of the station and my mijo than her own safety. Of course, Johnny worries about everyone else.”
“Do we have an id on Liu’s partner?” John Paul had been sitting back listening since this technically was his wife’s case. “Is there any connection between Liu and this officer of your’s…Wilson Chambers?”
“None that can be found.” Cisco said. “Wilson Chambers is bully and a reformed drunk who needs to be retired for the good of the community. He lost a nephew to a hit and run driver about 8 months ago and has had serious behavior problems since. Several of the people we have talked to have said Liu hung out with Nick Torres, a small time hood.”
“Get pictures of him so we can have Lee look at them. If she can id him ask for a warrant. We are going to be working closely with Ken Malansky since I need to get back to Sacramento. Maggie will be the lead attorney on any lawsuits.”
“So Lee’s still considering a civil suit against Chambers?” Gil said frowning. “That can get nasty.”
“Chief, if that hellcat makes up her mind you aren’t gonna change it. You’ve known her almost as long as I have. I gave her a gun a few months ago… She shot out the tires of a truck then sat there laughing at the driver when he pi…ahum…wet himself.” Cisco laughed. “He was lucky she chose to shoot the tires not him. She did a good job putting a bunch of rich bigots in their place. From what I heard she ignored them giving her a hard time but tore them into shreds when they attacked him.”
“That doesn’t surprise me in the least.” Gil said laughing.
“Is John Gage available?” A voice Lee did not recognize.
“No, may I take a message?” She assumed it was a sales call.
“Tell him he needs to stop harassing Wilson Chambers. Chamber’s got friends you don’t want to cross.”
“You can tell Mr. Chambers and his friend that the law suit is not going to be stopped.” She hung up the phone and decided not to mention it or the others like it to Johnny.
Troy Braxton looked at the phone gloating. He’d have his revenge by the end of the week… The false trail he had setup was in place and winding its way nicely to its conclusion.
Roy and Jo had gone down to the police station after they dropped the kids off at school. Cisco had called and wanted them to come look at some footage from the day Johnny had got hurt. Two of the television stations had supplied film from the fire within hours of the request. The third had given the police and Ken Malansky a hard time…citing their freedom of speech rights and yelling police harassment; they had stalled finally releasing the film. Cisco figured Maggie Broussard had finally talked to the station owner. Jo was going down to the station with Roy so afterwards they could do some early Christmas shopping.
“I wanted Johnny and Lee here to watch this but they aren’t answering their phone,” Cisco complained. “I had a clerk call her several times but no response. They have not came into to see the mug shots either.”
“Johnny may have taken her off on a day trip to the mountains. She’s pretty stressed. She finally had to tell Johnny about the phone calls after he answered one.” Roy explained about the phone calls from Chamber’s friends.
“Nobody thought I might need to know about that?” Glaring at Roy, Cisco went over to the phone. He dialed the number but got no answer.
“They didn’t want to tell you since it was from police who support Chambers. They're trying to get her to stop the lawsuit. The fact that Johnny’s watch that my kids gave him for Christmas last year and $100 was stolen from him hasn’t done much to change her mind. John would like the watch back, doesn’t care so much about the money.” Roy shook his head. “Strange what two years can do, isn’t it? There was a time not so long ago, Johnny wouldn’t have had an extra $100 let alone not be worried about losing it.”
They sat down to watch the footage. Roy again got the feeling he should know something about someone or something he was seeing. It was nagging at him like a dull tooth ache.
“See that man in the green jacket? Talking to the guy in the black sweatshirt with the motorcycle on it? That looks a lot like that guy who was trying to flirt with Lee. He was trying to make it sound like he and Lee had been on a recent date. Lee called him a creep.”
Suddenly like a cartoon lightening bolt Roy knew what he had been trying to remember.
“The guy in the sweatshirt…He’s one of those fake paramedics that hit Johnny the day of challenge. I think I saw him that day and some other times...”
“Keep trying to get a hold of those two while I get some photos for you to look at.” He stopped on the way out the door. “You don’t happen to have a name to go with creep face?”
“Sorry didn’t pay a lot of attention…but Lee can tell you.” Jo answered.
Lee woke up and just laid there trying to relax her back and hip. She wondered why Johnny hadn’t woke her up when he got up. Their early mornings had settled into a nice routine. On days he was home, they would talk while he helped her with her exercises, making plans if needed. She had just began to do the first of the exercises when he came bouncing into the room. When he was excited about something John Gage didn’t just walk into a room. There was a joyful bounce to his movements. Some said he was hyper but Lee didn’t agree.
There was an anticipation of something good happening with adventures to be shared and enjoyed. She saw a thankfulness that he could move about freely, he never forgot the times he had worked so hard to move without drawing attention to him or when his movement had been limited by illness or injury. What others saw as his being hyper or unfocused she saw as his spirit’s celebration of feeling the freedom of movement. Now, even with her mobility limited she could feel that joy again. It was radiating from him letting her spirit soar with his. She had thought she would never feel that freedom again.
“Good morning, Baby girl. Let’s get these exercises over so we can get started on the day I have planned. I laid out what I want you to wear, ok?”
“Ok, but do I get a hint of what we are doing?” Laughing as he gave her, a fake frown and shook his head no.
“You’re tight this morning…why didn’t you ask for a pain pill last night?” He massaged the back of her leg as she held it up off the bed. “Ok, other leg.” She did the leg lift as he massaged her leg. “Turn on your stomach.”
“I am going to be so spoiled.” She giggled. “Well, even more spoiled. Sure, you don’t want to retire?
“Nope, maybe in twenty years…Ok, ready? This is gonna hurt…” He straddled her and began the deep muscle massage on her shoulders, working his way down her back. He cringed at her painful yelps but knew it was going to help in the long run. She relaxed as he moved down her back. “You go to sleep on me?”
“Yes, no, maybe so,” she said with a giggle. “That was one of Stacy’s favorite songs when she was in preschool.” She laid there quietly until Johnny smacked her bottom. “Ouch.” But laughing as she said it.
“All done. Wait here.”
“As if I had an option.” She turned over pulling herself to sitting. “John Roderick, why are you doing this?”
“Doing what?” He came back into the room with a warm wash cloth and towel. She washed then handed them back to him.
“All this…What are you up to?” She pulled her foot back when he tickled it on the bottom. Testing to see if I have lost more feeling?”
“No tickling it because I wanted to. Don’t be so suspicious. Today I am officially in charge of everything.” He helped her get dressed, including putting on heavy socks and warm boots. He lifted her into the chair then pushed her outside after she finished getting ready.
“Where are we going?” Lee asked surprised as they went over to the Rover.
“You’ll see.” He drove to the small grove that was at the back of their land. A brook ran though it and into the state park land behind them. There was a small fire pit he had built even before they started on the house. Lee was surprised to see one of the wide wooden lounge chairs from the apartment sitting there as well as a small table and a cooler.
I woke up about 5:30. Decided we needed a day just for us…Now you just sit there and relax while I fix a great camp breakfast.” Before he helped her into the wooden lounger, he spread out an open sleeping bag to give her some warmth and padding.
“Why do pancakes and sausages taste better out here?” She took another bite and a sip of orange juice. “Now what is that?” He had taken a large sketch pad out of the Rover after they finished eating.
“This is what I want to do out here…Me, not WBS or Hector and Eddie…me and maybe some friends. Part of our home I built for us.”
Together they planned what the picnic area would be like. The lounger was wide enough for both of them to sit in. Lee was leaning her head on his shoulder, his arm around her protectively. It was a perfect morning. She let out a sigh before she asked the question she had been pondering for several days. “Do you think we are doing the right thing? What if all the adoptions agencies are right? That I can’t be effective hands on parent? Especially to a newborn or toddler? You seem unsure lately…Are you are having second thoughts? I know you’d be a great dad…”
“You’re right I have had second thoughts and thirds and fourth…each time I see you getting hurt by the rejections and their comments. If there are problems we can hire someone to help.”
“A child deserves a mother who can take care of them.” Lee said softly. “Not to be taken care of by a nanny.” The words from one of the rejection letters etched in her mind. A nanny should not provide emotional stability. That is the parent’s job and obligation.
“Ok, let me ask you a question. Is that how you felt about Maria? She was just a nanny?”
“Of course not…But that was different…I guess the real truth is I’m scared.”
“Baby girl. Whatever happens we’ll face it together…the adoption…the law suit…life…as long as we are together it’s gonna be ok.” He kissed her long and deeply. They stayed there talking and planning for over an hour.
They decided to go to a large farmer’s market that was about an hour’s drive from them to get the fresh vegetables she wanted for Thanksgiving dinner. Besides, it was nice just being the two of them and not worrying about anything. .
“So does this mean I have KP duty?” Johnny asked as he carried the first load of produce inside.
“Only if you want to help. Especially with peeling the potatoes and apples.”
“You go to be in the kitchen with me?”
“Then KP it is.” He kissed her and started putting things away before she began making pies and doing other prep work.
“I will come in the day after Thanksgiving. The only call I got from your office said you had the footage from the two television stations. I don’t remember any message to call you or anything about mug shots.”
“Ok, early on Friday. You and my mijo staying out of trouble?” He asked. He could hear how relaxed and happy she was. It wasn’t something he had heard in her voice for awhile.
“He’s helping me cook. We went to the farmers market and got some stuff. I drove since it was a little farther than I thought he needed to drive. He’s bored but pretends he isn’t. Wish you all were coming to dinner but give Linda’s family our love.”
“I will and you be careful…Wilson Chambers doesn’t have that much support but enough that it could get rough if they wanted to get mean. Don’t you think you should have let me known you were getting threatening phone calls?”
“No, then Johnny would have known and I didn’t want him to worry.” I could do that well enough for both of us. Love ya take care and stay safe. Bye.”
“Love you too and take your own advice.”
“It looks like something from one of the magazines you see at the checkout lane at Keelson’s.” Johnny said as he took a photo of it. He had been snapping pictures all morning.
“Will you just sit down and relax. This place looks perfect. These are our family and friends. No one s going to find fault with anything. And if they do they can keep it to themselves.” He went over and kissed her. “Thank you for all you do. Now get out of that chair and relax.”
“I hope I’m not too early.” She handed him a bottle of wine. “I wanted some time to visit and see the house before the others came.”
“Of course not. Lee just went into change clothes.” Rosemary was surprised that Johnny gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. They had moved into the living room. (The designer had called it a great room, Johnny thought of it as the living room.) He put the wine on the counter between the dining area and the kitchen. “Why don’t I show you the porch while Lee is finishing up?”
“This place is amazing…” Rosemary said as they went back inside. “You two have wonderful taste.”
“Lee do I just agree with what she wants.” Johnny said with a huge smile.
“Don’t believe a word of that bull.” Lee said as she came down the hallway. “He had wonderful ideas. I think we both worked on making this our home that reflects both our taste… He has some wonderful ideas on what we are going to do with some of the other land. So glad you came and took our advice on dressing casual.”
“John was never very fond of dressing up.” Rosemary said. “Or wine as I remember.” She was looking a little uneasy. “My son on the other hand on occasion drinks too much. Especially when he doesn’t get his way.”
Lee and Johnny gave her the tour of the rest of the house. She loved Lee’s sunroom. They told her of the plans for the pool/guest house and the other garage and storage building. Once they were settled back in the front room they talked of Rosemary’s trip to Europe and the business she had taken over when her husband had died. Lee excused herself and went out to the kitchen to baste the turkey and check on her schedule for getting the other dishes into the oven or on the stove.
“The house is everything I would have expected it to be except…” Rosemary said softly not sure, if it was the right thing to say.
“Except what?” Johnny asked in a no nonsense voice. Before she could answer, Lee called him to come help her. Rosemary had the feeling she had almost ruined the day.
By 2:15, everyone was there. Lee with the help of her 2 best friends was setting all the food out. She had Johnny carve the turkey in the kitchen after he showed it off and took pictures. They had finished the main meal. Everyone had complimented Lee on her cooking and how beautiful the table had looked.
“I think the ladies deserve a rest so while the guys clear the table and put the leftovers away…”
“Not that there is a whole lot left…man I don’t think I’ll eat for a week.” Sam said. “Ashke is even moving a little slow.” Ashke was Sam’s K-9 partner. The others agreed except Johnny.
Grinning widely he turned to Lee. “Guess that means those pies you spent all day yesterday making is all mine if everyone else is too full.”
“You can have the apple and the pumpkin, the mincemeat is mine.” Lee answered with a laugh. “I even added a little of Jeff’s good brandy to the mix. Seriously, before we have pie and coffee….Johnny has something special planned. That is why we said wear something casual and brings a jacket…In 10 minutes we’re going on a hayride then have pie out in the grove.”
“Here I was set to sit back, loosen my belt and o.d. On football.” Roy commented.
While Roy, Jim and Sam under Lee’s watchful eye, and with some help from Kathy and Jo put the food away and cleared the table, Johnny and the kids went outside. Rosemary watched, smiling. She was seeing a whole new side of John. Johnny pulled up on a tractor, pulling a wagon loaded with bales of hay, as well as some spread the floor, covered by blankets. One bale was covered with a blanket and had a cushion placed in front of it. There was a cooler and picnic baskets loaded on the wagon also. (The tractor and wagon belonged to Hector.)
“Everyone get on and sit still. Girls, sorry you have to sit on the blanket on the wagon floor. Boys, if you want to sit on a hay bale hold tight. That goes for the adults too.” He had gotten off the tractor and was standing next to the wagon. Johnny went over to Lee. He lifted her easily handing her over to Roy who was leaning down to take her. As soon as everyone was seated, Johnny got back on the tractor and started off across the yard. It was a bumpy but fun ride exploring their property. They ended up at the grove. There was a picnic table and some chairs near the fire ring as well as Lee’s wooden lounger. Johnny fixed the sleeping bag then had Roy hand her down to him.
“Ok, there is everything you need to make coffee in the small box. And there is milk in the cooler for hot chocolate, apple cider and some cool whip. I’ll start the fire.” He soon had it blazing nicely.
“Uncle Johnny, you remembered!” The squeals of delight from the two little girls filled the air when they saw the tire swing Johnny had put up. The boys were surprised to see a target for throwing a football and soccer net also set up near another tree. There was a box with balls in it by the net. The boys, Roy, Jim and Sam went over to the target and were soon taking turns throwing the football.
“That was a lovely gesture for the children.” Rosemary said as Johnny was being pulled away by two very excited young ladies.”
“Uncle Johnny and Aunt Lee both do anything they can for the kids and all their friends.” Jo said. “I think we need to go rescue your husband.” Johnny had the girls on the tire and was pushing them. She and Kathy left Rosemary and Lee sitting by the fire ring watching the activities. Ashke had laid down next to Lee, who was petting her.
“He is so happy…I don’t think I could ever have imagined him like this. Laughing and so at ease with everyone and everything around him. Today at dinner, the way you all spoke so freely from your hearts made me miss that with my children.” She looked sad and Lee felt a pang of sorrow for her. “Are you planning on having a family any time soon?”
“We have a family.” Lee said trying to keep her voice pleasant. However, Rosemary knew she had hit a nerve and dropped the subject. “John Roderick don’t you dare!” The boys and the men had paired off and were kicking the soccer ball. Johnny and the girls had joined them.
“Don’t know about anyone else but I could use some pie…” He said after giving her a kiss.
“Well, then why don’t you make coffee and see if the kids want hot chocolate or apple cider? Maybe if you ask them nice enough Kathy and Jo will dish up the pie. I ‘m gonna sit here like a bump on a log… that swing sure looked like it was fun.” She said with a sigh.
“You want to swing? Why didn’t you say so? Come on. Trust me?”
“Always Boyo.” Before anyone else realized what he was doing, he had her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.
“Someone hold that swing steady, will ya?” He called as he started over to the tire. With Jim, Roy and Sam holding it steady he seated Lee. Now hold tight.” The others backed away and left them to play. Jo fixed the coffee and called the others over to get pie and a drink.
“Will they be ok over there?” Rosemary asked watching as the swing went in a circle. “Shouldn’t someone be over there in case he needs help? That is too dangerous for her… should she be doing that?”
“They are fine. He would never have let her on it if he had any doubts a bout her safety. Told me he tested the knots by standing on it swinging yesterday. He figured by using the two ropes he could make it safe for her. He’ll call for help when she is ready to get off.” Roy told the worried woman.
“Uncle Johnny said not to worry about what Aunt Lee can’t do but be happy for what she can do. What she can do best is love us.” Jen said.
“That makes everyone happy, especially your Uncle Johnny.” Rosemary told the little girl. She was gaining a completely new appreciation of the life her nephew had made for himself.
“No. Is there any danger to Lee if they find out she came in here? They seem to know an awful lot of our business.” Cisco considered the question.
“They are already a danger to her and you. Getting names to go with the suspects will make it safe for you two.” Cisco reassured his friend.
It didn’t take long for Lee to identify Nick Torres as the other man in the park, and the fake paramedic from a still of the fire coverage.
“That’s Troy Braxton with him. I met him at the reception the night before the skill challenge. Introduced himself as former arson investigator …I forget if it was with a police or fire …now he worked for several big insurance companies. Think he knew Jeff from his reputation and was surprised to find out he was my uncle. Very sure of himself, greasy and pushy. I saw him at the challenge…He said someone…I think the name was Raymond .. Or…Reynolds…yeah Reynolds….had friends too.”
“I think he was one of the fake paramedics…”
The threats supposedly made by Chambers and his friends had been ignored. The only bright spot was at least Liu wasn’t going to cause any more problems. He had been transferred to a nursing home where he was for all practical purposes a dead man. Just like John Gage was going to be after he watched him take his revenge on his stuck up wife. To make matters, worst Torres was late. He had been told to be at the bar at 5. It was now 6 and he still hadn’t shown up. Braxton took a swig of the whiskey he had ordered instead of his usual mixed drink. He put the glass down as Torres walked up to the table.
“You’re late.” Braxton snapped at the unkempt Torres.
“Just a taste of your own medicine.” Torres said as he signals the waitress. “Cee Cee said the doctors at the home said Liu only has a few days. The drugs ruined his kidneys. They’re shutting down and so is his liver.”
“A savings to the tax payers since he is in a charity ward. Too bad Mrs. Gage didn’t foot his bill like she did for that fancy room her husband had. Just another example of the rich screwing the poor.” Braxton remarked as he signaled for another drink.
“You’re drunk.” Torres was surprised he had never seen Braxton like this.
“No just honest. I’m tired of messing with them. Meet me out at their place in two days. We’re going to end this once and for all. The Gages are going to show the world their perfect marriage isn’t so perfect. He cheated on her and she found out. In a fit of rage, he beats her to death.In despair he kills himself. Or he is threatening to leave her so she kills him.”
“Look, I never signed on for murder.” Torres said backing up.
“Fine, then just leave. I can handle this by myself.”
Johnny was back at work. Lee knew he was glad to be going back and tried not to be too afraid for him. She was trying to fix a huge mistake made in another office. As she reentered all the information she realized she had missed working even as much as she had enjoyed the holiday.(Once Johnny was feeling better she had enjoyed the time with him, of course.) Maybe this was a wake up call. Maybe they needed to let the idea of adopting go. She called the other office and talked with the girl who worked there then called Tom Clark. After she talked with Tom, she got the discs she had just programmed ready to mail. One set went to the Bay area office, the other to Sacramento. Nell had finished what she needed to do and left for the day. She took out the folder with WBSF applications and realized she was way behind on requests that needed to be done so people could do their Christmas projects. Dialing the phone, she called Jo.
“Hello.” Jo answered sounding out of breath.
“Hi, sounds like I caught you at a busy time.” Lee said. “Sorry.”
“No actually you caught me at the perfect time. I finished cleaning the front room and haven’t started in the kitchen yet. I promised Jen we would start getting out the Christmas decorations this week. Not the big stuff…yet.”
“Any chance you can meet me for a working lunch at O’Sheas’?”
“Why don’t you come over here for lunch? That way we can work as long as we want without worrying about the kids… It’s Pat’s week to drive.”
“Ok, as long as you let me bring lunch. What sounds good?” They decided on Chinese. Jo called the order in knowing it would get there about the same time Lee did. Lee gathered her stuff and went down to the ER. Dixie and Joe were at the nurses’ desk.
“Leaving early? Must be nice to have banker’s hours.” Joe teased.
“That’s what happens when you’re the boss. Actually, I am all caught up for a change. Nell does the every day stuff I usually just trouble shoot any more. I’m going over to Jo’s.
“Roy is in with a patient in 3...The squad should be here any minute if you want to wait.” Dixie said with a grin. “I hear there is going to be big doings at your place Sunday.”
“You probably know more about it than I do. I know Mick is doing the food and I am not to do anything except sit and look pretty and tell John Roderick he is amazing. Which he is, of course. I’m glad you three are going to be able to come.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Johnny said…” She stopped. “That this is going to be the best party ever.” She didn’t want to spoil any of the surprises Johnny was planning
“He won’t tell me a thing except we are going to get the tree Friday evening. …”
“Hey, two of my favorite people…” Johnny bent down and kissed Lee. At one point in time he wouldn't have done that but now he didn’t care what anyone thought. “Roy still in with the patient? Dix, here is a list of what we need. It’s been a busy morning…nothing major, thank goodness. Even the guy we brought in isn’t hurt too bad. He has a dislocated shoulder. He fell off a ladder putting Santa and Rudolph on his garage roof.” Thinking of the fall from the roof brought a frown to Johnny’s face. “Where you off to Baby girl? Home or shopping?’
“Neither…Jo and I are having lunch then working on grants. I should be on my way. Any special requests for breakfast?”
“Blueberry pancakes and sausage?” Another kiss and she was gone. As soon as Johnny was sure she was out of hearing, he turned to the others, “I wasn’t sure if she knew, it was on the news this morning. Liu died from kidney failure.”
“Yeah I need to talk to Cisco Alvarez, about Lee and Johnny Gage.”
Cisco sat there staring at Torres. Torres squirmed and looked away before finally starting to talk. “Braxton had a beef with the Gages so he paid us to mess with all the A shift there at 51. Look, the thing with her getting her hand broke, that was an accident. We just wanted the rings. Braxton said anything we took from her was ours…on top of the money he paid us.”
“That girl would have fought you tooth and nail for those rings. Why did Braxton want you to wreck her car?”
“To scare her. When Liu left her out by that retaining pond, it was just suppose to be a few hours then call some one. He got drunk and forgot to call when he was supposing to. He was so ate up with the drugs and scared of you and the Mexican dude…If we had known the girl was connected to you we would have never messed with her. Then that crazy Mexican godfather started asking questions. Made it real uncomfortable for us. Liu went up to San Francisco for awhile but then came back when he ran out of money.”
“Did Braxton tell why he was harassing them?”
“That reporter…Mia Cross? Her dad was a fireman, a captain down in San Diego. From what I heard, he was a drunk and a bigot. Just kept his job because his in-laws had money and influence. His paramedics got hurt because they didn’t get the back up they needed. His was a good ole boy station. The brass sent two outsiders in that never fit in.” Torres stopped for a long slow drink of water. “The brass were doing a good job of covering it up until the state started asking questions when someone went to the papers about a cover up. The newspaper picked up on it…asking if it was a hate crime. Then the state had Lee Gage get involved. The captain was given the option of retiring…He killed himself … driving drunk…Braxton blames Station 51 and Lee Gage’s reports.
“OK, why all of the sudden are you coming in here?” Cisco growled.
“Because Braxton is crazy…I don’t want nothing’ to do with any murder…you wouldn’t think twice about killing someone if you thought they hurt her. You’d chalk it up to resisting arrest or self defense.”
“Murder?” Cisco stood up and moved towards the frighten man. “You’re telling me he is planning on having her killed?”
“No, he’s gonna do it himself. Said he was tired of screw ups like me and Liu.” Cisco walked to the door. He stopped and turned around.
“You’re right if you had hurt her I’d kill you… to keep my dad from doing it. You got any idea where I can find this Braxton or when he is gonna try?”
“He was talking about making it look like the guy beat her to death…or maybe like he asked her for a divorce and she killed him. Said this had been going on too long.”
He looked at the two way mirror. “Dan, get Mia Cross in here now. Then call over to Rampart, tell Lee to stay with her friends until someone she knows comes for her. I don’t want her in that office by herself.”
Johnny had traded days with one of the guys from 45. He needed the day off since his wife was having dental surgery and they had a small child. It suited Johnny fine as it gave him an extra day for getting everything ready for the party.
“Hey, you up for a road trip?” Johnny asked as Lee was finishing folding laundry. He had just gotten off the phone.
“Always…where are we going?”
“Remember that craft place up by the lake house? Roy wanted to know if we would go up there and get that table and Baker’s rack that Jo liked so much. She has looked at some others but never saw any she liked as well.”
“Sounds like a great way to spend the day. We might see some other things we could get for Christmas gifts. Could we stop by the Sweethart Shop so I can give them an order? I’m sending boxes to New York and D.C. Next week hopefully.”
“We can do whatever you want. You about ready to go?” He didn’t want to her to know a crew from WBS would be coming soon to set up part of her birthday surprise. (They both should have been at work by now.)
They talked about Christmas plans and New Year’s Eve and anything that popped into their heads. They drove to the craft place. Lee knew exactly what Jo had picked out but then decided to wait to see if they could find it closer and cheaper to home. They got that and several black iron pieces for their house and some to give for Christmas. By the time they were finished the back of the Rover was fairly full.
“Want to stop at that little place we ate at a few times this summer? They might have trout today.”
“Didn’t they say that apple pie was their specialty during the fall? From their own apples? I think they make cider too, it would be good to get a couple gallons…”
They pulled into the restaurant and Lee noticed they would be closing in 5 minutes. “Johnny, go in and ask if we can get some thing to go and some cider. I’ll wait out here.”
“This is Lt. Alvarez. I need to get a message to Roy DeSoto at Station 51. It is urgent he call my office as soon as possible. Ten minutes later Cisco received a call from Roy.
“Any idea where they might be?”
“He was going to take Lee up to Muller’s Ironwork and Gift shop…out by the house they rented this summer. Up by Lake Granger…”
“Great, we’ll have cars looking for them. If you hear from them have them call me right away. We have to find them before Braxton does.”
“They said they would stay open for us to come in but I got it to go. We can stop at the little roadside park by the lake. Their country ham and biscuits, coleslaw, chips. They added a few extra biscuits for later. Said to split them and butter them and grill them not to microwave them. Got slices of mincemeat, apple walnut and cherry…some for now and later.”
“So you couldn’t make up your mind.” She giggled at the face he made.
They didn’t think anything of it until Troy Braxton said with a snarl, “What a lovely little domestic scene. It almost seems a shame to taint this spot with a murder suicide.” Johnny stood up and moved closer to Lee when he saw the gun. “Now, I just have to decide how this is going to play out. You, the devoted crippled wife never suspected your darlin’ Boyo of being two timing louse. The hours you have spent by his bedside as he battled illness and injuries repaid by him fathering a child who he then ignores. After putting you through the pain of all the rejections from the adoption agencies. The desperate mother contacts him for money; you find out and threaten to divorce him. Let me guess you were too much in love and too idealistic to get a prenup so he is going to get a million dollars in the settlement. You fight and she accidentally hits her head, you panic and leave her body out here. You go home, filled with remorse, you kill yourself. But it would be easier if you just did it here. Easier for me at least.” Talking as if it were a scene in a movie or play or a story he was writing.
“Why are you doing this? Lee never did anything to hurt you. Look, if you have a problem with me…don’t take it out in her.”
“Mia Cross Reynolds is my cousin. Her father was Steve Reynolds. You destroyed his career.”
“The captain in San Diego? The one who left his paramedics without support.” Lee said. “He was given the option to retire.”
“Those paramedics screwed up and they blamed him. They shouldn’t have blamed him. Uncle Steve told them what to do and they refused. It would have been fine, but some busybody called the newspaper complaining…The state needed a scapegoat…They took away his reason for living…You and your family destroyed mine. Mia likes that geek--- Craig Brice…Then because of you, he dumped her. Even after she tried to fix his mistakes.”
Braxton was rambling as he waved a gun in their faces. Johnny kept between Braxton and Lee the best he could. Lee flashed back to when George South had stalked her and Johnny. However, this time Jeff and Cisco were not going to rush in and save them.
“If it’s me you’re mad at leave Johnny alone…He didn’t do anything to you or your cousin.”
“He annoys me just being…We kept hearing about how the A shift paramedics at 51 were the best…How well they did everything…Brice would get all bent out of shape and make Mia feel like dirt…He would spend more time talking about his work and you and DeSoto than her. Her dad always made her feel that way; he was disappointed in her because she was not a son. That is why he took me in after your uncle sent my father to prison. Not that that was any great loss…in fact it was almost like Spencer did me a favor by getting him out of my life…” As he, rambled, Braxton moved closer to the couple. “But you destroyed him…He lost everything when he lost his station…nothing mattered to him any more…not even his family. I think the police knew it was a suicide but they sad he fell asleep at the wheel…” He stopped and looked at the two…Maybe you should die in a car crash…Drunk again Gage? Won’t be able to lie your way out this time. Not that it matters…your precious reputation will be mud.” Without warning and with unexpected speed, Braxton back handed Lee. “You beat her, then in remorse drove your car into the lake. Yeah I like that.” He grabbed the handles of the wheelchair and jerked it towards him. Lee bit her lip to keep from crying out. Johnny moved towards her not really sure what he could do, but having no other option. Maybe if he could distract Braxton… He jerked the wheelchair hard, causing it to tip over. She screamed, the pain was like a lightening bolt across her back and down her hip. He pointed the gun at Johnny. “You have two choices…pick her up and put her in your car…or watch her die a long slow death as she bleeds out. Or maybe I’ll make her watch you suffocate …a few well placed blows to the stomach and ribs…”
Cisco was driving while Dan Kessler watched for any sign of the Rover. They had left the police station minutes after talking with Roy. Once they entered onto the two lane highway, they slowed down. There was no way for the Rover to pass them heading home without being seen.
“How long would they spend at the gift shop?” Dan asked. He had met Lee and Johnny before but didn’t know them very well.
“Depends on her mood. If she is Christmas shopping, she can spend hours in a store. Unless she’s on a mission then it’s in and out. I took her and my mom shopping once and they spent 3 hours in a book store looking for the perfect cookbook for a bridal shower.” He shuddered at the thought of calling his folks if anything happen to her and Johnny.
They turned off the main road and headed towards Muller’s. Johnny’s going to go along with whatever she wants. He might mention he’s hungry after an hour or two.” After being in Lame Deer Cisco had wondered if Johnny always being hungry wasn’t as much emotional as a physical feeling of hunger. “I know there is a place up here near the lake that had pies he really liked when they came up here in the summer.” Like all of their friends and family Cisco, Linda and the kids had spent time at the lake house. He checked his watch. “I think we should check there first. It’s a little before Mullers and off on the left…” He drove a few more miles then made a left turn. The small restaurant looked deserted but Cisco saw a car parked at the side. He went up and pounded on the door. The owner ignored the pounding but when he heard the word police, he opened up.
“You don’t look like any policeman from around here,” The owner said. “But you do look familiar.”
“I came in a couple of times this summer with my friends, John and Lee…You might remember them? Lee is in a wheelchair.”
“Yeah, nice folks. They were here about a half hour ago…Offered to stay open so they could eat here…but he said they’d go down to the park. The Mrs. and me closed early so we could do some extra cleaning and decorating…The local lodge has their Christmas party here next week. Kind of a tradition around here…Have that party then close for the winter. The ski lodge has us bake pies for them when they are open…They especially like…”
“Hate to be rude but we need to find our friends, its kind of an emergency…” Cisco interrupted. “Thanks for your help.” As he got into the car, “Call and have any unit in the vicinity meet us at the park at Lake Granger down from Hogan’s Café.… Call it into both the Highway Patrol and the County Sherriff.” He pulled out of the parking lot spraying gravel as his tires spun.
“Put her in the seat …bels her in… then get in…any funny moves and I’ll shoot.” The pacing and talking to him had stopped and now he was cold and demanding. Johnny had no doubt they were going to die.
Johnny did as he was told. He had to think of a way to save Lee…if he could not, he did not care if he survived. Maybe, just maybe, he could talk him out of killing her.
“You know killing her isn’t really going to accomplish what you want. You said she took your family away from you. You have to live with that loss …Why kill her? Killing her would be an easy out for her.”
“Or what if I killed her and let you live with the guilt?” Braxton countered.
“Wouldn’t do any good…I’d just go away…deep into my own world where nothing hurts because I don’t feel anything.” Johnny knew Braxton had gotten copies of his medical records…so he knew about the Asperger’s. Even as he said it , Johnny couldn’t believe he was actually using it as a bargaining chip for Lee’s life. Any thing to stall, to give him time to think of some way to help her. “ Just think, that wouldn’t only make her live with the loss, but my best friend and his family and even the guys at the Station would miss me.” He gave a weak attempt at his crooked grin, “ Except for you, most people find me a pretty likable guy.”
Braxton sat there for a few seconds thinking over what had been said. “Nice try…but I think I’ll stick to my original plan. Now drive like I told you.”
As Johnny put the Rover in gear and without Lee’s wheelchair to help stabilize it the load in the back shifted. Johnny looked at Lee and made up his mind.
“Move it and remember no tricks.” Braxton said the gun pointed at Lee. Johnny put the Rover in gear and stepped on the gas then the brake quickly. The jerking caused Braxton to be thrown around the back seat and the load again shifted but not enough to do any good. “Now that wasn’t very smart, this gun could have gone off…” Braxton put the gun closer to Johnny’s head. “Now just do as I say and I might let her go…the more I think about it the more I like the idea of letting her live, knowing you have the choice, your life or hers. “ Braxton was playing with John he had no intentions of either of them living. Johnny drove slowly towards the lake. “The kind thing would be to kill you both, not make one live without the other. Everyone says you are such the perfect devoted couple.”
Lee could hear them talking but she kept her eyes closed, praying for a miracle. She knew if she said anything it would just make it worse for Johnny. She could feel the car going down hill…She heard the soft ‘whom’ as Braxton shoved Johnny forward so his head hit the steering wheel. Braxton got out just before the car reached the edge of the lake.
Cisco pulled into the park is parking area. They saw the birds picking at the uneaten food on the table, the over turned wheelchair and the tire marks in the grassy incline leading down to the lake.
Johnny felt the cold as he slowly became more aware of his predicament. He had to get Lee out of the cold. Struggling he managed to get his door open and swam around to her side of the car. He couldn’t get it open and he knew he had to surface and get some air if he was going to have any chance of saving her. A quick gulp and down he went again. Pulling with strength he didn’t know he had, he got the door open. The seat belt was twisted and he couldn’t get it undone at first. Fighting the rising panic, he finally freed her.
Cisco surfaced and handed the limp body to the waiting paramedics. He took in several deep breaths then looked back expecting to see Johnny’s head popping up out of the water. With a muttered expletive, he dove back under to look for his friend. He quickly found him and brought him to the surface. They were immediately helped out of the water by the Highway patrol officers. Officer Cindy Cahill gave him a blanket before they headed over to where the unconscious couple was lying. Patrolman Barry (Bear) Baricza was setting up the biophone.
“You need to let them check you out,” Cindy said as Cisco started to move off towards the trees.
“Nawh, I’m ok…there is someone or something moving over in those trees…Saw a flash of light…See if they need any help with Little One or my mijo..” Looking out at the cars Cisco moved towards the parking lot and the picnic table. Anyone watching him would have no idea he was looking and listening for sounds or movement in the trees. Dan was over by the car talking to a sheriff’s deputy and just barely acknowledged Cisco’s movement. But he had seen the look on his partner’s face and was ready to act if needed. Cisco went to his car and popped open the trunk. Leaning in he opened the tire well and took out a small revolver. Putting on a windbreaker, he looked around as if casually trying to decide what to do next.
Braxton had lost interest in the cold wet police lieutenant. His concentration was centered on the paramedics and the two still figures on the ground. The CHP officer was calling Rampart.
“Please identify yourself…” Dixie did not recognize the voice coming over the biophone.
“CHP officer Baricza…both paramedics are needed in direct care…They have two victims…Its John and Lee Gage…stand by for vital signs…”
“What type of injuries are we dealing with?” Dixie asked as she motioned Kel to the call station.
“The Rover went into Granger Lake. They are ready with vitals…” He relayed the information given him. He knew it wasn’t proper radio protocol but at this point, he wasn’t worried about it.
“Ask what their body temps are, especially her’s…watch for any sign she is going into muscle spasms…”
Baricza relayed the message to the paramedics and then their answer. Lee’s temperature was lower than John’s, both below normal.
“Get them in here as soon as possible, monitor their heart rates closely. Place her on a backboard with a C-collar…”
Kel looked at Dixie, his eyes betraying his thoughts. “Do you want to call over to 51 or would you rather I do it? We’re going to need Roy to sign papers. He is listed as next of kin for them both.”
“I’ll call. Kel, they’re alive and they are both fighters…”
“L.A. County fire Station 51. Captain Stanley speaking.”
“Hank, I need to speak to Roy, its urgent.” Dixie said.
“Of course.” She heard him calling to Roy, who quickly picked up.
“Is there a problem, Dix?” He asked thinking it was something to do with one of the day’s run.
“There’s been an accident…we need you to come over to sign medical releases for Johnny and Lee.” The silence on the other end of the line was deafening. “They’re on their way in.’’
‘Bad?” He had trouble getting the word out.
“Yeah, bad. …We need you over here as quick as you can.”
Cap had been watching Roy’s face and seen the color drain from it. He saw how Roy’s hands were shaking.
“Are JoAnne and the kids ok?” Cap questioned.
“I need to get to Rampart…Johnny and Lee are on their way there…They need me to sign papers. Dixie said it was bad. Nothing else, just that it was bad.” He ran his hand through his hair. “If it does that bad…can you call and see if there is anyone who can finish the shift? I’ll call you soon as I know anything.”
“Do you want me to call Jo?” Hank put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You be careful…you’ll have to stay available until I can get the squad stood down.” Hank knew Roy was the complete professional and would not ask to be stood down unless he felt he could not do the job with total confidence in his focus and ability.
“Braxton.” Cisco moved from out behind the trees. “You’re under arrest for attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery.” He gave him his Miranda rights.
“I suppose you have proof of these charges?” He was sure that they had been underwater too long to survive.
“Nick Torres gave us a list of jobs you hired him and Liu to do.”
“You’d trust the word of a common crook? Somehow I think a good defense lawyer could poke enough holes in your case to sink a boat.” Braxton smiled at his own little private joke.
“I don’t think there is a lawyer around who is good enough to save your ass when Lee tells the jury about being stranded out at the pumping station. He walked over towards Braxton. “Or having her hand broke when your thugs tried to steal her engagement and wedding rings after they shot her tires…If she hadn’t been a good driver they could have killed her. That is my little sister and it would almost be worth my badge to beat the life out of you…Except she’d tell me you aren’t worth the trouble I’d get into.”
Braxton was enraged by the look of contempt Cisco gave him. In his mind, nothing he had done was wrong. He was avenging the insult done to his family. Upholding the family honor against a bunch of nobodies wasn’t a crime, it was a duty. “You think you could beat me? I have studied with the best ….”
“Prove how good you are at something besides running your mouth and terrorizing girls in wheelchairs. I think you are a coward and a bully with nothing to back up that mouth …”
Braxton charged Cisco who readily side stepped and laughed at the enraged man. Granted, Braxton had some good basic skills and moves, but nothing that stood up to Cisco’s level. Cisco sparred with him just to get rid of some of the pent up anger. .Braxton connected very with few of the punches and kicks he threw but all of Cisco’s were on target. After a punch to Braxton’s nose that resulted in a crunching sound and a gush of blood Cisco had had enough. He wanted to get to Rampart to check on Lee and Johnny’s condition. If Braxton had been even half as good as he had bragged it would have been a fair fight. With a jump and two spins, Cisco planted his cowboy boots in the middle of Braxton’s chest. You could hear the air rushing out of his lungs as he crumpled to the ground. Grabbing him roughly by the collar, he dragged him back to the parking lot. Dan and Baricza were there waiting for him.
“Bear, take him in and book him on attempted murder, kidnapping and robbery…I’m gonna go to Rampart.” He stopped and looked at the grim faced CHP officer. “It’s still attempted murder, right?” His heart was stuck in his throat as he said that.
“Yeah, but that could all change real easily… Lee wasn’t doing real well. They had to shock her, twice before they left here. Johnny was holding his own.”
Roy went up to the nurses’ desk. Carol was at the base station and nodded to him. He waited for her to come out. She handed him the papers he needed to sign.
“Dr. Morton is in with Johnny, Dr .Brackett and Dr. Early are with Lee. They only got here about 2 minutes ago.”
He wanted to ask her more questions but knew she couldn’t give out the information he wanted unless the doctors Okayed it. He had been there about 15 minutes when Cisco came in. Roy’s partner for the day had gone down to the cafeteria.
“How are they?” Cisco said before Roy could say anything.
“I haven’t heard anything. All I know is they said I needed to be here to sign papers ASAP.”
“They almost drowned.” Cisco shook his head, “She learned to swim before she could walk…Jeff said her dad was a champion swimmer in high school….God, I have to call him and my folks…and Matt.” Roy had never seen the tall police officer look so beat. “When I handed her to the paramedics…she was blue around the mouth…Johnny got her out of the car, he was bringing her to the surface. I took her to the shore then went back for him.”
“You did what you had to do. He made us both promise if there was ever a choice we’d take care of her first.” Roy reminded him. While they were talking, Baricza was coming in with a handcuffed Braxton.
“What is he doing here?”
“He was claiming you broke his nose and that he thinks he has some broken ribs.”
“Poetic justice.” Cisco said and walked away. Roy followed afraid what he would do if stayed near Braxton.
“Did you break his nose?” Roy asked as they stood between the treatment room doors.
“Yes, but he threw the first punch. Just wasn’t as good as he thought.” A slight smile showed for a minute as Cisco remembered the crunch and whosss sound as Braxton went down.
Kelly Brackett finished his exam and frowned as he rechecked her blood pressure. “I think we need to call Sarah Westmore and get her opinion. I don’t want to put them through this if there is any way…”
“Kel, it isn’t going to matter…she knew she would never have a child. They both did.”
“So we get the x-rays, have Sarah check our findings then have Roy sign the consent to surgery forms. Damn it, can’t these two ever do anything the easy way?”
“Doesn’t seem like it. You want me to talk to Roy while you call Dr. Westmore?”
“No, I’ll talk to Roy. Cisco or Roy’ll have to call Jeff if they haven’t already done so.” Malcolm came in and the doctors left after giving him their instructions.
Kel wasn’t surprised to find the two hanging out right outside the door.
“Anything you think is best…”
“Is that why they had to shock her out at the lake?” Cisco asked. This was the first Roy had heard of that. He ran his hand through his hair and let out a sigh.
“I’m gonna go call Jeff and Jo. Any word on Johnny?”
“He was unconscious but stable. They could hear the rales in his lungs but he was breathing on his own. Mike is with him.”
“Tell him to be sure and check John’s ears. Lee is scared to death about him getting another ear infection.” Cisco said then blanched at the words he used.
“We will…soon as Malcolm gets done with her I’ll have him get Johnny’s x-rays. Her condition is serious but if we can get the bleeding stopped, it will improve quickly. At least now we don’t have to worry about her blood being too thin.”
Mike Morton looked up as Kel came into the treatment room. He had just finished looking in Johnny’s ears, “I‘m going to put him on antibiotic. The one ear is looking a little red. The rales in his lungs are a concern also. He opened his eyes briefly but has not responded to voice commands. The pupils are equal and reactive. His body temperature is 98.2. That’s a degree higher than when he got here.”
Kathy and Jo were waiting for some word on Lee. Dr. Westmore had agreed that the surgery was the best option. Roy had stayed until they had been called out. Cisco had left a message for Jeff and had talked to his mother. Emily Stanley came into the waiting room.
“Any word yet?” She asked as she sat down. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here earlier.”
“They took her into surgery about an hour ago. It shouldn’t be very much longer.” Kathy said. “Jo, why don’t you go up and check on Johnny. Em and I will be fine here.”
“Thanks.” She had wanted to go up but hadn’t wanted to leave Kathy waiting alone.
She entered the room quietly not sure, if anyone else would be in there. She went over to the bed and gently touched the still hand. “Sweetheart”
The dark lashes against the pale skin moved for just an instance. “Johnny, can you open your eyes for me? More movement. “If that’s too hard, can you squeeze my hand?” She was sure she felt a slight pressure. “That’s good…You need to rest…Roy will be here as soon as he can…Cap was trying to find a replacement for him. The girls send their love to you both…Kathy and Em are here. We know Lee wouldn’t want you alone so we are gonna do our best…You just need to rest and get better. She is going to need your support…more than ever.”
The voice was soft and strained. “Hu…t bad?”
“I’ll call the nurse for pain meds.”
“No…o…Ll ee” The dark, pain filled eyes held her’s.
“She is in surgery…but the doctors are saying she will be fine. You need to rest and be there supporting her.” She stayed until she knew he was asleep. She brushed his shaggy bangs back from his forehead and kissed him softly. “From Lee.”
She went back down to the waiting room. Kathy and Em were still waiting. Dr. Westmore and Dr. Brackett came out with Dr. Shipper, the surgeon. Kel and Shipper looked exhausted but not alarmed. “We would have been doing this in a few months. The circumstances would have been better but it was going to be necessary.” Dr. Shipper said. “We will be sending tissue samples for biopsies. She should be in her room in about 40 minutes. She does have other problems…but Dr. Brackett can fill you in on them.
“Kel, Johnny was awake for a few minutes. How much do we tell him and how soon. He was already asking about her.”
“That is a good question. Hopefully he will sleep a few hours and we will have more concrete information for him. Right now she is stable…We are keeping a close eye on her heart rate and blood pressure. We will be doing another EEG in a few hours. We are keeping a close eye for any sign of pneumonia like Johnny, she took in a significant amount of water.”
Cisco went into to see Roy Gilmore. He had just gotten off the phone with Kelly Brackett.
“She’s out of surgery and in recovery. Johnny has been awake but is sleeping now with a mild sedative. We won’t be able to question him until tomorrow. Braxton is in his cell complaining and protesting.”
“So did you break his nose?”
“Yeah but not his ribs, they’re just bruised. Of course he’s complaining that it was an intern who saw him and not Dr. Brackett or Early. The man is an egomaniac…It is all about how important he and his family is.”
“”So have you questioned Ms. Cross yet?” Gil asked.
“On my way there now. Dan sent a car to her apartment but she wasn’t there. The patrol unit picked her up at the television studio. She had the station manager call the station’s lawyer. You’re gonna love this…the station lawyer is one Richard Hutton, son-in-law to Milton Blackaby.”
“That’s all I need…any idea when Jeff will be in?” Gil was not looking forward to this reunion with his old friend.
“No, all his office would say was he was out of the country and they would contact him as soon as possible. Matt is in the middle of a major trial. My folks were calling to get the first flight available. Dad said if there wasn’t one available he was going to call Jess and see if they could get a ride on one of his planes.”
Cisco entered the interrogation room. Mia Cross was sitting at the table writing. Rich Hutton was thumbing thru a legal journal looking bored.
“Ms. Cross, do you know why you are down here?” Cisco said as he sat down across from her.
“I can only assume it has something to do with you thinking I had something to do with what you call the harassment of John Gage and his wife.”
“Actually, it is to see if we have enough evidence to charge you with the attempted murder of Mr. and Mrs. Gage. According to Nick Torres you knew everything your cousin Troy Braxton did.”
“I don’t know any Nick Torres.” She answered calmly.
“Then Mr. Torres didn’t give you the pictures you showed of a supposedly drunken John Gage on your news cast?”
“Can you prove that Mr. Gage was not drunk?” Rich Hutten asked with a sneer.
“Actually, yes we can. The medical records from Rampart where he was treated following his false arrest showed no alcohol. Before you ask, if he had been as drunk as was alleged, there would still have been alcohol in his system.”
“The pictures were dropped off at the studio in an envelope with nothing except my name on it. I am not sure if we still have that envelope as your department took the pictures.”
“I don’t see where that has any bearing on the ridiculous charge of attempted murder.” Hutton shot back at Cisco.
“Well now,” Cisco said letting his Texas drawl be more apparent. “Seems like there is this law about being an accessory to murder that just might be in play.”
“Troy might rant and rave but he would never harm anyone.” Mia said becoming concerned.
“Seems to me that forcing a couple at gun point to drive into Lake Granger would be considered hurting someone. When I pulled them out of the lake they sure looked hurt to me. Their friends who responded to the call had to shock her twice to start her heart beating again... they thought she looked hurt…Johnny floating face down underwater, he looked hurt.”
“There is nothing to prove Ms. Cross knew of any plans for her cousin to be violent.” Hutten added not sounding as cocky.
“Braxton is a bully and a coward…He was making all kinds of statements coming back to the city in the back of a police car.”
“”He has bullied me all my life. He did it because he was jealous of me and the relationship I had with my family. He was just a nobody my dad let stay at our house because he felt sorry for him. His dad was a drunk and a thief and an arsonist. His mother was one of my aunt’s friends who got drunk one night and had a one night stand with the wrong person.”
“It’s gonna be interesting to listen to these two blame each other. I was almost feeling sorry for you when I came in here. The way he told it you were the unloved daughter, who disappointed her father simply because she was a girl.”
“My father wasn’t much better than his brother but at least he played the game and gave my mother and me the outward appearance of a good respectable family.Troy was right my father did kill himself but not from being forced to retire but because he was a drunk. He was so falling down drunk that night it was a wonder he could even find his car let alone drive it.” Cisco was surprised at her tone. It was cold and nasty.“I always thought Troy was my father’s child. I know my father used to cheat on my mother and it was one of his cast offs that claimed his brother fathered her child.”
Rich Hutton sat their listening to his client and thinking this was a case for his father in law, more than him. His father in law was a criminal trial attorney while he was more of a corporate trial type. Besides, he wasn’t sure he wanted to come up against Lee Gage and her lawyers or up against certain D.A.’s in L.A. County.
“Push me…I want to fly.” She laughed as he helped her get seated. “Push me so high I can touch the clouds.” She teased as he pushed her higher and higher. Then the swing became a swing for two and he was sitting next to her as they swung out over the lake. The wind was blowing and pushing them faster and higher, it was like flying. She looked at him and smiled. “Always boyo.” As she said it he felt a cold chill deep inside of him.
“You had to say it and ruin everything. You always ruin everything! I could only stay as long as you didn’t remember I was dead…You had to ruin it, didn’t you? You killed your mother now you killed me.” He could only sit there frozen as she let go of the swing and fell into the icy lake beneath them. He jumped from the swing and searched for her but she was gone.
“How’s he doing?” Cap asked as Roy sipped the coffee he had brought him along with a sandwich.
“He was restless last night so they gave him something to help him sleep. They were afraid he was going to pull the IV out. His lungs are clearing up and they are keeping a close watch on his ears. He called for Lee a few times.”
“What about Lee? Em said they were going to do another EEG.” Hank was watching as Johnny began to stir. “I don’t understand why these two seem to get into so much trouble just being them. They don’t deserve it and they certainly don’t go looking for it.”
“I think sometimes it is because they get involved in the lives of other people…sometimes it is just being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Then it might be just plain bad luck…Karma? Who knows? Only thing I know for sure all our lives would be poorer if they weren’t in them.”
“That’s true. Did John ever tell you Lee wrote a check in memory of Tim Duntley to the scholarship fund? Said it was a thank you for Johnny’s life…she never even knew Tim…or Johnny back then except names on reports. She used her money not WBSF funds.”
“She wants us to build a house out by them. Said she could get us a good price with the builder…and an even better one on the land.” Roy frowned. “I need to call and cancel the food for her party.”
“Lee.” The voice was soft and pained racked. “In lake.”
“No, she is here at Rampart. I talked to her nurse; they are giving her meds to keep her from having muscle spasms. The medicine is helping her sleep.”
“I killed her…couldn’t get her out…died because I was clumsy, useless.”
“She is alive...I wouldn’t lie to you…neither would Cap.” he replied, becoming alarmed at the rising heart rate he was seeing on the monitor. “You got the seat belt undone and you got her out. Cisco helped you get her to the paramedics.” That seemed to reassure him and he went back to sleep.
Johnny was sitting up drinking some juice when Kel came in later. Roy had gone up to her office and gotten it for him. It was apple with extra minerals that Lee kept a supply of for everyone but especially him. He hadn’t eaten any of the lunch they brought him.
“I want to see Lee.” Johnny said as soon as he walked in the door.
“You can go down after your breathing treatment and a nap. I want you to get some rest before you get to moving around.”
“I can’t rest until I see her. How bad is she hurt? The nurses won’t tell me anything.” He began coughing and Roy helped him sit up straighter… “HOW BAD! Is she dying? Why won’t you look me in the eye?” Becoming very upset and trying to get up. The room began to spin and his stomach churning made him take in a sharp deep breath.
“No, calm down and listen.” Kel’s voice was gruff, demanding. “Dr. Shipper had to do a partial hysterectomy. She was bleeding internally, so badly we didn’t have a choice.”
“She has a head injury but we are seeing improvement…the swelling is down, pupils are more responsive. Like I said, we are keeping her sedated to lessen the chance of muscle spasms. You both had low body temperatures and you know it’s harder on her.”
Johnny lay back with his eyes closed as he processed all the information they had given him. Roy worried they had given him too much since he was also injured. “I can’t get Braxton’s voice out of my head…telling me he was going to kill her if I didn’t drive into the lake. He held a gun to her head. I thought maybe if I drove in slowly I could get her out and to safety. He smacked my head against the steering wheel. Then I couldn’t get my hands to work to undo the seat belt…He said he did it because his uncle killed himself because they made him retire. But there was something in his voice… it sounded like he enjoyed it…causing pain. I begged him to let her go, just do with me what he wanted.” He gave a weak smile. "Of course she was taking all the blame trying to protect me.”
“I’ll let you go see her now, then after your breathing treatment I want you to rest. Amazingly enough you’re X-rays didn’t show any farther swelling. A few more breathing treatments and you can go visit Roy and Jo for a few days. No arguments” Johnny started to protest. If Lee thinks you aren’t taking care of yourself she’ll worry about you instead of resting. I want her off the pain meds as soon as possible.”
“Johnny.” The whispered word was ragged and hard to hear. She was focused on him.
“Right here baby girl.” She smiled at the sound of his voice. He reached over and took her hand. “Right here.” He gave her hand a squeeze
“Water …ple ASE.” Her tongue traced over her dry lips.
“How about some ice chips instead? He stood up and gave her a small spoonful of the melting ice. “I was beginning to think you were going to sleep through your birthday.” He kissed her gentlely. “I’m supposed to be giving you a birthday gift, not you giving me one today.”
“Gift” She asked puzzled by his comment. He gave her another spoon of ice.
“Letting me see those beautiful green eyes smiling at me. That’s a pretty special gift to me.”
“Love you Boyo always.” She closed her eyes and was asleep again. This was a more natural sleep not the drugged sleep they had kept her in at the first days following the surgery. Her head still hurt and she had trouble staying focused on conversations and her eye sight was still blurred somewhat. Her stomach wasn’t as upset so they had stopped the anti nausea meds.
He had been released from the hospital yesterday morning. He had agreed to go to the DeSoto home for a few days. One reason was it was closer to the hospital the other because he wasn’t ready to face that empty house.
“How’s it going Mijo?”
“Better. She was awake and took some ice chips. She is awake more often and Dr. Shipper said everything looks good as far as her surgery.”
“Nope. His lawyer convinced him it wasn’t a good idea. He is trying to get it plea bargined down to aggravated assult. Said he never intended to make you drive into the lake, that you panicked. He was just trying to get her to admit to manipulating the facts to make Steven Reynolds the scapegoat to cover up the incompetence of others in the fire department . And to stop the harassment of his cousin because you have a vendetta against her boyfriend. Mia Cross can’t decide if she is a victim or a supporter of her cousin’s actions. I have a feeling she has been bullied and made to feel like he was better than her most of her life. She hated her father but still wanted his approval. Any way, that trial is set for late January. Braxton is out on bail.”
Two hours later Lee woke up feeling more alert and focused. She laid there watching Johnny pace and stop and look out at the window. She didn’t know why but it didn’t seem right to let him know she was awake. He was trying to work something …something important out in his head. As if he could feel her watching him he turned quickly.
“Baby girl, hi.” He went over to her and kissed her tenderly. “You need something?”
“Maybe some water?”
He gave her half a glass of water and held it for her. She finished the water and he gave her a spoonful of ice chips. “Pretend that is a slushie…I’ll get you a real one after while.”
“Lemon strawberry?” She smiled at him.
“With extra lemon.” He kissed her and brushed the tears from the corner of her eyes. “Don’t you ever doubt how much I love you?”
“I won’t. If I die, promise me something?”
“What makes you think you’re gonna die? Is the pain that bad?” Glancing up to check the monitor.
“I did in the Rover…and I heard what you said to Braxton…about going away. Promise me you would never do that because of me. I would need you to stay take care of our family. Dying doesn’t scare me, leaving you scares me.”
“You aren’t gonna die so we don’t need to talk about this now, ok?” He wiped her eyes with a tissue. He was still debating how much to tell her when Hector and Maria came in followed by Cisco.
Johnny was back at the hospital by 8:30. Dr. Brackett hadn’t allowed him to spend the night but had left orders he could come in before official visiting hours began. He had to talk to her about the surgery today because they were goingto start doing some passive physical therapy later that day. Lee had asked Kel yesterday about going home. Maria and Hector would be staying at the house at least for a few days, then Ibbie would. Johnny brought her a strawberry lemonade slushie and some blueberry muffins. Mick also sent along a box of doughnuts and muffins for the staff.
“Mick said he would be sending you some cheese straws.” Johnny said as he watched her eat.
“Good. Now, what is it you have to tell me that you don’t want to?” She had been watching him and saw the incredible sadness in his eyes. “Did you and Roy go get our things from the Rover? Was Jo’s table ruined?”
“The table and baker’s rack are fine. They cleaned up well. The glass in the lanterns needs to be replaced but that isn’t any problem. Ben is taking care of that. When you feel like it we’ll go buy a new Rover…or maybe something else. The books you had in there were ruined and a few other minor things. Have to replace the bandages and a few things from the first aid kit.”
“So, you going to tell me what is making you so sad? Has it anything to do with the fact Kelly Brackett avoided answering my question about going home? Or the ones about what exactly they did in the operating room?”
“The internal bleeding was caused by stress on the tissue from the seatbelt buckle twisting and pushing in on your organs. They had to do a partial hysterectomy. They took tissue from a new mass that hadn’t been there 5 months ago when they did your check up.”
She laid there, her eyes closed, her hands clenched tightly. She turned her head away from him. should have known better than to hope this would work out, guess your aunt was right…You didn’t marry a whole woman. If you had to do it again, knowing I couldn’t give you a child, would you have still married me?” It was less than a minute before he answered but to her it felt like a lifetime.
“I married the woman I love more than life…You never lied to me about the problems you had…I accepted that as part of who you are. Lee, look at me. I know it hurts…but you have to accept it as you accepted me with all my problems. Have you ever loved me less because of the Asperger’s? Or the fact I have gotten hurt or sick?”
“No but that’s different.” She still wouldn’t look at him.
“Did you ever stop to think maybe if we had a child, he could have Asperger’s, also? Would you have loved him any less? No you wouldn’t…so why do you think I am going to love you any less? Don’t you trust me enough to love you, not some fantasy?”
“I know I love you with all my heart and soul…and that you return that love. You prove it in so many ways…I guess I always thought maybe…But Boyo, always…I love you and trust you.” She looked at him. I just need some time to get use to the idea that the dream of us having a child will never happen.”
“It will happen and the real thing will be better than the dream. It will happen when it’s meant to.”
“Give me some time to get use to the idea, ok? Just a little time to myself, please.” She was trying to be logical and calm when she what she really wanted to do was cry and scream at how unfair all this was. “Let me have 15 minutes to feel sorry for myself and angry at the outside world? Because my real world is our life together and that is good and strong…”
He kissed her. “See you in about 15 minutes. Call me in your office if you need me before then.”
Making his way up the empty stair well he let his mind go blank concentrating on moving his feet. He flipped the sign so it read 'Do Not Enter!' when he reached her office. He sat in her desk chair just looking at their wedding picture and the picture form the Ferris wheel. They were in the double silver heart frame Joe had given them as a wedding gift. He pondered what she had asked. Would he have married her if he knew what the future would bring?
Roy came into the room surprised she was alone. He could see she had been crying even as she greeted him. She turned to the wall before saying anything else.
“He is up in my office. Go see him please.”
“Thanks I will.” She let out a single sigh. “Tell him I’m ok…its gonna be ok.”
Roy keyed in the code for the office door. “Junior?”
“Hey, Pally, I was just wishing you were here. Got time to talk?”
“All the time you need. You told her?” Roy sat in the visitor’s chair across from John.
“She asked me to make her a promise. If something happen to her I wouldn’t go away. I don’t know if I could keep that promise. I would try. Said I needed to stay here for our family. Then a few seconds later I had to tell her about the operation. She turned away from me and asked me if I would marry her again if I knew this was gonna happen.” He ran his hands through his shaggy dark hair. “I didn’t answer her right away. I think that hurt her.”
“I doubt it. She knows that you need extra time, sometimes, when it’s really important to find the right words. She sent you a message. She’s ok and it’s going to be ok.”
“Can I tell you something that has to be kept a secret even from Jo?” Johnny asked his eyes pleading for a positive answer.
“Yeah, sure.” A little concerned at how sad and worried he looked. The biopsies haven’t come back yet have they?”
“No, that is just another thing to worry about. She wanted to know if I would marry her again. I need to tell her and make her understand in a heart beat. In a way, I am almost glad they did the operation. She was still clinging to the idea of having a baby. I think with each rejection the idea became more of a possible solution for her.” they talked a bout what else was bothering him.
“I don’t understand why she doesn’t want to talk to any one about it…they are going to be thrilled for you.”
“She’s afraid…and she doesn’t want to disappoint any one…We better get down there. I need to make sure she understands…
Hey, Baby girl, what’s the matter? Do you need something for pain?” Very concerned, since she had never complained or cried since the day in the hospital.
“I need to be a human being not a lump of nothing …I need to stop feeling sorry for myself…” Se made a sniffling sound as she tried not to cry harder.
“You need to cry and let it out and then get ready for your company. We made some changes but it’s still gonna be a good party.” He very carefully sat down on the bed. Do you feel well enough to come sit in the recliner? You can wear your robe or I’ll help you get on your sweats.”
“The new sweats.”(sniff, sniff). “Sorry for being a cry baby.”
“NO one thinks you’re a cry baby. I think you are brave and wonderful and now let’s get these on you. I’m gonna roll you on your side…easy…ok lets roll the other side…Ok, you ready for me to left you?” He put her in the waiting chair. “Think we did a pretty good job. Want me to help with your hair or Maria?”
“You, please….Did you ever imagine I would be this much trouble?”
“It’s no trouble helping you, silly. Ready to go party?”
“Let me put some lipstick on…Can’t do much for these red eyes…”
“Roy, you ready to help with this.” With Cap and Mike steadying the ladder Roy handed the beautiful china doll up to Johnny who placed it ever so carefully on top of the tree.
“This is the most perfect the most beautiful tree ever.” Lee declared as Johnny got down from the ladder.
“You said that about the tree last year.” Johnny teased as he kissed her. “Bet you say it again next year too.”
Empty boxes were cleared and presents appeared. They were opened with much teasing and laughter. The guys then went out to grill the steaks and finish cooking the ribs Maria had started in the oven early that morning. Christmas music was turned on and everyone was having a wonderful time. Rosemary went over to the chair Johnny had put next to the recliner.
“Thank you for including me.” Rosemary said. “It’s a wonderful party. I love seeing how happy Johnny is. I can’t get over how great he’s with the children. I hope you are considering having a child of your own soon.”
“Yes, that’s all I have thought about lately…” Trying to carry on a conversation in a normal tone. “Could one of you get me a pain pill please?” She asked as Kathy came in from the kitchen. Kathy checked the time and gave her one.
“So, Junior, did the insurance company say anything a bout your Rover?” Roy asked as they finished their cake and ice cream.
“They totaled it out and threatened to drop us.” Johnny answered.
“Yeah two cars in less than 8 months, I could see why the insurance company drop you Lee’s car had to have all that fancy extra equipment added. They raised my rates just because of 2 minor fender benders in a year. Neither one was my fault.” Chet added.
“If it wasn’t for that extra equipment she couldn’t drive so it really isn’t fancy.” Johnny was quick to defend her.
“Johnny, I think we need to get her back to bed.” Maria said watching Lee struggling to stay awake. “I was surprised she asked for a pain pill knowing that it would make her sleepy.”
“You guys just eat more cake or whatever…This won’t take long.” He picked her up and carried her to the bedroom. The guys went outside so hector could look at Marco’s car.
“I wasn’t sure if you would bring Mikey and the baby.” Em said. “I think under the circumstances it was a good choice. She looked as if she had been crying when we first got here.”
“Dr. Westmore told them she will have some days her emotions will be totally out of control because her body is adjusting to the difference in her blood chemistry.” Maria said looking back towards the bedroom.
“Have the reports come in yet?” Melissa asked.
“I’ve been in Europe since the day after Thanksgiving. Has Lee been ill?” Rosemary asked feeling totally confused.
“We thought you knew.” They explained what had happen. Rosemary was totally shocked.
“That’s why she said that all she had been thinking about lately was having a child.”
“They didn’t tell you?” Jo looked at Kathy and Em as if to say should I tell her? Both gave her a slight nod. “Johnny knew from the first time he told her he loved her she couldn’t have children.”
“And he never loved her less for it.” Maria said. “He has held her and cried with her every time they received another rejection letter from an adoption agency over the last few months. The tears were for her pain…even though I am sure he was feeling his own.”
“I need to stay in better touch with them. I always wanted a good relationship with Johnny. There was just too much hurt and chaos when he first came to live with me…My husband’s illness and death, my children and my own grief…I failed him then. I don’t want to fail him now.”
“You gave him a safe home from the abuse…Even when your children emotionally abused him there was a part of him that knew he was safe with you. He talked about it one night when he was ill and I spent the night with him at the hospital. He had a terrible nightmare and afterwards we talked. It was part of the therapy that Dr. Hightower had suggested.” Maria looked at Johnny’s aunt closely, trying to decide if she was sincere about wanting a better relationship. The conversation ended when Johnny came into the room.
Two nights later Braxton received a phone call from Mia asking him to meet her at the small park near her apartment. They had met there before as it was usually very quiet and private in the evening.
He arrived late as usual. His way of reminding people he was the one in control, they waited on him. As he walked towards the bench under the trees three men jumped him. As they hit and kicked him they yelled obscenities at him in English and Mexican. The last thing Braxton remembered before seeing two men holding a knife on Mia was feeling the pain of his hand being stomped on by a very large man in biker boots.
Lee and Johnny were having breakfast at O’Sheas’ before going Christmas shopping. Dr. Shipper had given the ok for Lee to start being more active. They ordered and were going over the list when Cisco came in. He sat down and ordered steak and eggs.
“So why you looking like the canary that ate the cat?” Lee asked seeing the twinkle in his eyes.
“Well now,” he drawled out the words, his Texas accent showing more than usual. “It seems as if patrol got a call last night about a man laying out by a tree in Baylor Park. The same tree you hit, Little One.
“That’s horrible.” Then it dawned on her why he was looking so pleased. “Troy Braxton.”
“Yep…Ms. Cross said she was forced to call him, then the men who grabbed her and some others beat him and this giant stomped his hand. The descrition she gave sounds like a Some guy that works for the one of the tongs. Funny thing is there was news footage showing him going into a fancy private party down in Mexico about the same time this attack was happening.”
Johnny and Lee listened both thinking about the past few months. Finally Lee took a sip of her soda. Putting the glass down she looked at the two men. “Then its over? What is going to happen to Mia Cross?”
“I think she will come out of this looking like a helpless victim…If she is I’m not so sure. Like Grandda Michael always said, ‘Karma is a bitch and paybacks are hell.’
“He also said that Lady Justice works in her own way. If it hadn’t been for him forcing the car into the lake and the operation they wouldn’t have found that new mass. So some good came of it…Johnny’s new Rover will be delivered tomorrow.”
Grinning, Johnny held up his wrist. “I even got my watch back. Bear and Sam and a few others put up a reward for it. Seems someone found it in a parking lot.”
“Paybacks Mijo, paybacks for all the good deeds you do.”
Posted to site 06/21/14
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