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John and Roy returned to the station in total exhaustion. The rest of the crew had already left so the two ‘paramedics’ who now officially had the right to call themselves that headed for home and some much needed rest.
Roy walked in the front door and was only mildly surprised to find both of his in laws. His eyes flicked worriedly toward Joanne. “Arlene, Ron…What brings you here on a weekday?” Roy asked softly knowing Ron had to work.
“I think you already know the answer to that,” Ron said, sounding irritated. “Joanne says you still don’t want us to tell Johnny who we are.”
“I’m not going to go along with that Roy. I want you to take me over there so I can sit down with my son.”
Roy shook his head. “I won’t do that.”
“Now look here…,” he began angrily.
Roy shot a glance at Joanne knowing she was probably about to become very angry with him but right now his concern for Johnny’s emotional and mental state had to come first.
“NO…You look here…,” he interrupted firmly. “I know that Johnny’s your son but he’s also my friend and I’m gonna try and make you understand the best I can. I know him and from the little bit that I’ve been able to get him to tell me it’s clear that he barely remembers you. He has only the most basic memory of his life before these people took him back. What he remembers is that you didn’t want him.”
“That’s not true,” Arlene wept.
“Of course it isn’t,” Ron snapped.
Roy shook his head. “It doesn’t matter…True or untrue…It’s what he was told…What he was FORCED to think and that’s what he remembers. You go barging in there announcing that you’re his long lost adopted parents that he thinks threw him back into the hands of his abusers…?” Roy let the idea hang, hoping they’d understand.
“Then we’ll explain it to him,” Ron argued.
Joanne threw Roy a pleading look. She wanted to tell him too. “Please Roy…Can’t we try.”
Roy rubbed his face tiredly and sat down at the table. “Please…All of you listen to what I’m saying. What I’ve found out so far is that Johnny was beaten with a belt and though he didn’t say it out loud I have to assume from the amount of scarring that it was frequent and vicious. He’s been badly abused.” Arlene began to cry and even Ron wiped at his eyes at the idea that his son had been terrorized and hurt. “He’s been told that he’d never amount to anything. That he was worthless.”
“Roy,” Ron began. The younger man held up his hand.
“I told him he was wrong…That he’s accomplished so much already and that the man was a liar…I planted that seed. I tried to jog his memory about you and all I got was fear…”
“Why? Why would he be afraid?” Ron pleaded.
“Because all he remembers now is what he was told…What was beaten in…That you didn’t want him… It’s gonna take more than you just marching in there and saying it wasn’t true…He doesn’t know you and he won’t believe it.”
“Why would we lie?” Arlene argued angrily.
“Why did they?” Roy countered.
“I don’t know…”
“And neither will he… So who will he believe…? You or the one who beat it into him every day of his life…?” They slumped in defeat. “Please…I understand your pain…You want your child back…I would too if it was Chris but I won’t let you upset him…I can’t. He’s been hurt enough…Just let me handle it cuz the last thing I want is to frighten him or traumatize him even worse than he has been. I don’t want to lose my partner and my friend okay?”
“But how long do we wait…?” Ron asked plaintively.
“Until I get him to trust me enough to believe that what I tell him is the truth and enough to believe in himself. He’s so confused about who he is and his abilities and it just seems that every time he tries to see himself doing something well that that’s when he becomes the most afraid and remembers what that monster said or did. Please…Please, just a little more time…He’s so close to talking to me.”
“Maybe he needs professional help,” Ron suggested but Roy shook his head.
“John wouldn’t talk to a doctor. He made it very clear that he asked for help and no one would believe him. That he was punished for telling and he isn't allowed to tell anyone else or he’d be beaten again.”
“Oh God…My poor baby,” Arlene wept and they finally nodded in resignation, knowing Roy was right whether they liked it or not.
John hit his bed feeling like a half dead zombie. He was exhausted but at the same time his head was whirling. The paramedic bill had passed. He and Roy and only sixteen other men held that designation. He grinned, feeling a little proud of himself.
‘YOU WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING.’ That voice whispered once again, wiping the smile from John’s face.
“No…You’re a liar…Roy says you’re a liar…”
“I don’t believe you…I can do anything, Roy believes in me…He said so…,” Johnny trusted his friend and pushed the thoughts away.
‘No one will ever want you…’ The voice in his memory came again but much softer this time…
“Roy does…He’s my friend,” John grinned once more as the voice faded from his mind. His eyes closed and he let sleep claim him.
The housekeeper answered the door at Rosemary’s home in Santa Barbara. She looked warily at the casually dressed man standing on the doorstep. “Can I help you?” She asked uncertainly, keeping the door cracked open only a fraction.
The eyes of her visitor were almost black and seemed very cold. The deeply tanned skin and shoulder length black hair reminded her of the cowboy and Indian western’s she’d seen as a girl. The man appeared to be Native American, possibly in his forties. His face never cracked a smile. “I’m here to see John Gage,” he answered curtly.
“I’m sorry…Johnny doesn’t live here anymore.”
“So she threw him out too,” he stated almost showing a smug smile.
The housekeeper gasped indignantly. “She most certainly did not. Johnny lives in LA now…He’s a fire fighter.
“What is his address?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know it…It’s somewhere in Carson.”
The man nodded and started to turn away but turned back suddenly… “What station does he work from?”
She vaguely remembered Rosemary talking to someone about it and the number finally came to her…“Station 51 now please go away,” she replied as she closed the door. She watched him through the window as he left the porch and wondered if she should have told him where to find John. She hoped her employer’s young nephew would be okay…He was such a sweet boy.
John and Roy both spent the next day relaxing and worrying about the next day but for entirely different reasons.
Roy was worrying about how to reach his very young and insecure partner…To get him to trust him enough to tell him everything. Roy was torn…He understood his In laws and his wife’s desperate desire to regain their son and younger brother but at the same time knew he needed to be patient. To take his time until he was sure John would listen to what he had to say.
Johnny was worrying over their first shift as paramedic’s without a nurse accompanying them…To tell them what to do if the situation got a little sticky and these wouldn’t be dummies in class that never felt their mistakes. They were real people and they could be hurt by what they did…He had to trust himself and that didn’t come easily for Johnny, thankfully Roy would be there and as much as John sometimes doubted himself, he was coming to trust the older man wholeheartedly and he knew Roy was good for him.
While both of them pondered the next day’s shift as Los Angeles County’s first paramedics...Three new, young fire fighters were also looking forward to the day that they would also begin their careers at Station 51.
Johnny pulled into the parking lot behind the station. He climbed out as another vehicle pulled in beside him. A guy climbed out perhaps five or six years older than himself. He was several inches shorter and had dark, curly hair. The blue uniform shirt and navy slacks he held over his arm told Johnny that he was obviously a fireman but what was he doing here?
The other man’s blue eyes raked over the tall slender young man who’d just gotten out of the camper. He almost chuckled at the kid. He looked to be about nineteen or twenty at the most and hoped it wasn’t the other new lineman that was being assigned with him. Just what he needed…A raw recruit…?
He decided to give him a little push to test the water. “Hey kid…You’re supposed to go to headquarters if you want to sign up to be a real fireman,” the man said as he chuckled at his own jest.
John stopped in his tracks to stare at the man incredulously. “I am a real fireman,” he shot back indignantly. He opened his mouth to continue but two other cars pulled into the lot.
Just great… the curly haired man shook his head in disgust. They’d given him a boot on his first day at a new station…The kid didn’t even have sense enough to bring his uniforms in with him to change into. Well he’d just have to explain the ropes to the kid. He headed inside to find his new Captain.
John shot him a glare as he turned to see the newcomers. Roy climbed from his Porsche as another new man stepped out of his Pickup truck. John threw Roy a curious glance as he headed over to join him. “Morning Roy…What’s goin on?” He asked as he nodded his head toward the newcomer and the retreating back of his antagonizer.
“Morning Junior,” Roy replied with a shrug as another car pulled in behind them. A young Latino man climbed from that car and headed toward them just as the other tall slender, dark haired man approached them.
“Good morning…I’m Engineer Mike Stoker…I’m uh looking for Captain Hammer.”
“Nice to meet you Stoker,” Roy replied…Both he and Johnny wondering where Henderson was. “I’m Roy DeSoto and this is John Gage.” Stoker nodded. “Um his office is the all the way down by the bay doors, past the squad.”
“Thanks.” Stoker turned and walked away. The Hispanic man gave them a cheerful smile.
“Marco Lopez,” he said introducing himself.
“Roy DeSoto and John Gage,” Roy said again as he indicated Johnny with a tilt of his head.
“Gage…DeSoto,” he acknowledged shaking Roy’s hand and then the younger mans. His eyes swept over Johnny with almost the same reaction that the curly haired man had had. The kid looked young and he hoped he wasn’t a recruit…Not that Marco minded training young fire fighters but he’d at least like to get to know the station and it’s routine himself a bit before trying to explain it to a kid but then he doubted that he was new…He and the blonde fireman seemed to know each other pretty well. Marco shrugged, figuring he’d find out soon enough. He headed inside to find his Captain while Johnny and Roy headed for the locker room.
“Where are the guys Roy?” Johnny asked in concern.
“I don’t know any more than you do Junior,” he said as they changed clothes. One new man might just be a sick day but what were the chances all three would be out at once?
“Did you hear that other guy Roy?”
“What other guy?”
“The smart aleck that told me I needed to go sign up at headquarters if I wanted to be a real fireman,” John repeated indignantly, drawing a chuckle from his partner.
“Relax junior…He was probably just teasing you…You do look kinda young to be a fireman.” John bristled at the comment but Roy laughed and gave his hair a gentle scruff. “Let’s go get some coffee. Cap will explain it all in good time.”
“I guess,” Johnny mumbled, smoothing his hair.
Roy glanced at his watch for the third time wondering what was going on. Captain Hammer was late calling roll and that wasn’t like him. Roy and Johnny had already run the radio check and EKG calibration. They’d charged the batteries on the Biophone and checked the drug box.
John was beginning to pace nervously. “You don’t suppose one of them is replacing one of us or anything?”
“No I don’t…Relax junior…If they were replacing us, we’d have received new orders by now and the other guys would be here.” Besides…He very seriously doubted Sorenson would break them up as a team but he didn’t tell John that.
“Maybe they sent them on some kind of special assignment.”
“Maybe…We’ll just have to wait and see.”
The three men finally filed from the locker room followed by Captain Hammer…All three were now dressed for duty. Dick nodded at Johnny and Roy as they assumed their place in line next to the squad.
“Gentlemen…Now that the paramedics are officially able to function alone in the field, headquarters has done some rearranging. They’ve taken some of the men who have been working with the nine trained teams and distributed them to the stations that will be receiving paramedic trainees’ as they graduate. I’m told that Rampart General and Harbor General have both stepped up the training classes.”
Marco, Mike, and the other man nodded and glanced at each other…They all had heard of the new program but none of them had actually worked with any of them…Just rescue men and they were wondering which of them were the paramedics?
“Henderson took over for you Stoker, Fulton replaced you Lopez and Travers went to take over for you Kelly.” Again the three men nodded. Hammer looked to Johnny and Roy. “Sorenson’s already splitting some teams to work with the trainees coming out of Rampart and Harbor in an effort to have at least one experienced paramedic with each new graduate.” Roy and John exchanged a worried glance. Were they about to be split up?
Hammer smiled when he saw the look and confirmed Roy’s original suspicion. “Guys…You two are staying together…Sorenson prefers you as a team and thinks you’ll probably be the best two trainer’s he’ll have to teach the level of teamwork you’ve already achieved. You’ll be the first to receive new Trainee’s just as soon as they’re certified…So make me proud guys huh?”
The two paramedics were both worried and grateful that they would be allowed to stay together but they barely knew what they were doing themselves, how were they supposed to train someone else? “Thanks…Glad to hear that Cap,” Roy said in relief. He hadn’t wanted to lose Johnny.
The others also exchanged a look but theirs was disbelief. The young man they’d all assumed was a recruit was a fully fledged fire fighter and not just a fire fighter…The kid had already made paramedic. He’d either started right out of high school and was an overachiever at least in Kelly’s snide point of view or he was older than he looked.
Mike and Marco grinned…If the kid was as young as he looked and had made paramedic already than he had to be pretty good or he’d still be on the lines. HQ would never have allowed him to move up that quickly otherwise…They assumed he was older than he appeared.
“That said,” Dick continued. “Let me introduce you all to each other.” He pointed to their new Engineer… “Engineer Mike Stoker… Marco Lopez and Chet Kelly…Our two new lineman” John shot an irritated glare a Kelly but nodded to Marco. Hammer turned to the last two. “Our two fire fighter paramedics…Roy DeSoto and John Gage.” They all shook hands. “Let’s get started gentlemen.
Dick handed out chores but then invited them all into the rec room for coffee to give the men a chance to talk and get to know one another a bit before they got called out. He planned a few drills later to see where they all stood.
Chet Kelly approached John almost immediately and held out his hand. “Sorry about that crack in the parking lot man…You must be older than you look,” he teased good naturedly.
John threw him a small crooked grin. “It’s okay I guess but thanks.”
“Sure…Maybe you could grow a mustache so you wouldn’t look like you were twenty,” Chet said with a laugh. John looked at him warily but didn’t say anything while Roy chuckled in amusement. “What’s so funny DeSoto?” The other man asked.
Marco and Mike moved over to join them. “Nothing…I just don’t think it’ll help, will it Junior?” Roy teased his friend. These guys were going to find out eventually so Roy figured it might as well be now so they could get it out of their system and move on. John might be young but he was also one of the best fire fighters Roy had ever worked with.
“Uh Roy…Maybe you shouldn’t…”John began.
“Why wouldn’t it help?”
Roy grinned in delight. “Johnny just turned twenty one a few day ago didn’t ya junior?”
John’s face flamed in embarrassment as the other three looked at him in shock. “And you’re a paramedic?” Mike asked.
Johnny nodded faintly, waiting for the remarks to start as Fulton and Henderson had done but the other man grinned. “Then you must be pretty good at what you do John.” He turned and walked away whistling.
Marco looked him over…”I guess if HQ thinks you two are the best out there I should give you the benefit of the doubt huh?” He said giving the young fireman a pat on the back.
Chet stood there with his hands on his hips… “Yeah…Well my guess is they couldn’t get enough MEN interested in the paramedic program so they started pulling recruits right Gage.”
John’s mouth tightened angrily and Roy sat up looking equally annoyed. That last thing he needed was this guy coming in here and shaking Johnny’s vulnerable self confidence, especially not their first day out on their own. “No that’s not it Kelly…,” Johnny snapped. “I’ve been a fireman for over two and a half years…Rescue for eight months of that …I…”
“Johnny,” Roy called softly.
John looked at his partner with a slightly hurt expression. “You don’t have to recite your credentials to him and you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone. I’d say you’ve already done that or Sorenson would’ve been separating us the same way he did the others.”
John shot another glance at the curly haired Irishman and nodded his head. “I’m gonna go work on the dorm,” he mumbled self consciously as he turned and left.
Kelly smirked at the reaction and knew he had a perfect pigeon for his slightly sadistic sense of humor. He started to turn away but Roy’s hand thwacked the table in annoyance. He turned back to face the angry blonde paramedic. Roy’s finger pointed at him… “Let me tell you something Kelly… That kid out there saved the life of three of his crewmates his first day at this station, including mine… John’s an natural fireman do you know what that means?” Mike and Marco nodded but Kelly shrugged. “That means he knows what a fire is going to do before it happens…He listens…He watches without even meaning to…He senses things so don’t put him down for his age…It would be a mistake. He’s damn good at what he does.”
“What did Hammer mean about Sorenson preferring you two to stay together?” Mike asked curiously.
“Well that’s because he recognized John’s potential right when he first started as a boot…He’s been watching him.”
“So he helped him through,” Chet said smugly. “What is he family or something?”
“No…No he didn’t…That’s what I thought, when he first talked to me too but I was wrong and that’s what makes Sorenson so interested. Johnny’s gotten where he is on his own by working his tail off and let me tell you I was real happy when he suggested I take Gage as my partner.”
Chet crowed with laughter. “I was gonna ask you how you got stuck with the kid.”
“Dios Kelly…Weren’t you listening?”
“That’s right Kelly…I didn’t get stuck with him.”
“Like you would have refused the chief’s order?” Kelly questioned, glancing at the others smugly.
“He didn’t order me…He suggested it and I had the right to say no…He made that clear but it didn’t matter cuz I’d been trying to figure out how to get him to move Gage to wherever he was sending me anyway.”
“Why?” Mike asked.
“Because we trained together and I knew he was THAT good,” Roy said adamantly. “I wanted him as my partner and I wasn’t wrong so before you go upsetting him…You better see him in action.”
Roy stalked past the Irishman to go handle the apparatus bay. Mike and Marco looked at each other, sensing the blonde man’s over protective streak but not doubting what he’d had to say about Gage for a minute. DeSoto didn’t seem the type to praise someone who hadn’t earned it.
Kelly chuckled. “Gage is gonna be a perfect target for the phantom,” he said with a grin as he rubbed his hands together eagerly.
“The phantom…?” Marco asked.
Chet grinned. “My somewhat less than sympathetic alter ego,” he smirked.
Mike shook his head. “I don’t think Gage is gonna appreciate your humor…He seems a little touchy.”
“Good…All the better. I guess I better get to work.” Chet headed for the locker room.
Marco and Mike grimaced and hoped John had a better sense of humor than they thought.
The station control unit toned them out a short time after. They arrived at the accident scene ten minutes later. Roy and John climbed from the squad and started pulling their gear. Roy glanced at Johnny as they approached the two cars. “Well junior…Here goes nothin,” he teased.
“Better be better than nothing or we’re both in trouble,” Johnny shot back. Roy grinned at his partner as he moved to the first car.
Hammer was directing Chet to pull the lines and hose down the leaking fuel from one of the gas tanks while John got busy working on freeing his seventeen year old victim’s leg from under the dash of his suped up hot rod. The boy was slumped over and unconscious but breathing. Marco stood ready with a backboard.
John pulled the kid’s leg free and placed the C collar around the boy’s neck, strapping it in place and pumping it up. Johnny began to lean him forward enough to slide the backboard behind him. Marco watched the younger man and he had to agree with Roy. The kid knew what he was doing but then John suddenly froze.
“What is it Johnny?”
“Cars gonna go…,” he said urgently. “Get a line on it.” Marco looked at the hood…There was no sign of smoke or flame and he looked back at the young paramedic. He remembered what Roy had said earlier but he still hesitated. “Help me…We gotta move,” John said worriedly. Marco didn’t stop to argue. He quickly helped pull their victim onto the board and began to carry him from the scene. The dark eyes looked toward his partner. Roy was kneeling on the ground…His own patient lying beside him. “Roy…You need to move,” John shouted to his partner.
Roy glanced around but he saw the look of concern in his partners brown eyes…He took his own advice about trusting Johnny’s instincts…He grabbed the victim and dragged her away from the car.
Hammer turned to see what John was shouting about…He saw nothing but after several weeks of working with John, he’d also learned to pay attention to his warnings. No harm done if nothing happened…He waved toward Kelly. “Get the line on that other car…Move it.”
Chet looked at his Captain as if he’d lost his mind but started in that direction. Let the kid make a fool of himself and Roy would stop bragging over him. He’d taken about three steps when the hood suddenly exploded off the car, shooting eight feet into the air…Spinning crazily and throwing shrapnel and broken glass everywhere as the engine burst into flame, Kelly’s jaw fell slack for a moment in disbelief as he staggered backward from the concussion…The kid had been right.
Marco glanced at Johnny in shock, realizing that if he hadn’t gotten them out of there when he did…All three of them would have been killed. He looked back to where the hood of the vehicle had come crashing back to earth. Roy and his victim might very well have been killed or seriously injured as well. How had he known? Roy said a natural…He’d been right.
“I need the Biophone and the drug box Marco…”
“I’ll get it for you.” Marco shook his head…He’d never doubt the kid again.
Roy glanced up as Marco approached him. “Gage needs the drug box and Biophone.”
“Take it…All I’ve got here is a broken leg…I can splint that without it.” Roy smiled at the Mexican lineman and nodded toward Johnny. “Kids pretty good huh?”
Marco threw him a grin. “He’s no kid Roy…That’s a fireman.”
Chet shook his head as they wrapped up the scene. Recoiling the hoses and putting the forcible entry tool away. Captain Hammer stood holding what was left of the exploded nitrous oxide canister in wonder. Kelly watched as Gage and Roy lifted the boy onto a gurney. He was never gonna hear the end of this. Marco was already making a big deal out of the fact the Gage had saved his life the first day in and he’d seen DeSoto’s smug smirk in his direction as well. The kid hadn’t said a word…He’d been all business from the time they arrived. He had to admit to himself at least that he was impressed, though he’d never admit it to the two paramedics.
He watched Johnny climb into the ambulance and his partner closed it behind him, giving the door two hard slaps to let the driver know they were clear. Roy climbed into the squad and pulled out behind the ambulance. Chet grinned...He was gonna like station 51…He liked Marco and Mike a lot…DeSoto wasn’t bad. Just over protective of his young partner and Gage…Well the kid would be the perfect target to liven things up with. Young and way too oversensitive about it…Chet Kelly was gonna have a ball.
They responded to several other calls over the course of the morning and early afternoon…The crew seeming to quickly fall into a routine, showing good teamwork and great chemistry. Hammer smiled, grateful that he’d gained what appeared to be right up front… a top notch crew. He noted that John kept his distance from Chet and wondered vaguely what he’d missed. He’d keep an eye on that situation…He, like Sorenson recognized the bond between the two paramedics and he wouldn’t risk losing it.
They were toned out just before dinnertime. John’s fist rapped the table in disgust, drawing a grin from Marco and Mike who’d already noted that the slender youth seemed to be a bottomless pit when it came to food. Roy gave his partner’s back an amused slap as he half pulled him from the chair and propelled him toward the squad.
They arrived at an apartment building fire a few minutes later. Hammer and the Captain from station 36, Jack Sullivan began directing the engine crews. At the moment there were no apparent injuries so Johnny and Roy joined the hose crew.
They climbed to the second floor, dragging the lines behind them. Above the roar of the flames, Johnny thought he heard the sound of a scream for help but he couldn’t be sure. He cocked his head to listen. He heard it again. He slapped Chet Kelly on the back and pointed toward a door… “I think there’s someone still inside…I’m gonna check,” he shouted.
Kelly nodded and waited until Johnny kicked the door in…The smoke was black and dense but there were only a few flames. Chet quickly knocked them down as Gage moved inside the apartment. Kelly quickly lost sight of the young fireman as he moved down the hall, though he could hear him coughing from the thick smoke. He emerged a moment later with a baby. John coughed heavily, his eyes tearing and leaving clean trails down his now soot streaked face.
“Get him out of here,” he yelled handing the baby to Chet…”I’m gonna get the mother.”
“You need help?”
John waved him off and coughed again. “No time…Get the baby out.” He ran back inside.
John’s chest felt tight…The smoke was getting worse…The smoldering couch and carpet emitting toxic fumes that were gathering around him…John wiped a hand over his sweating forehead and wished he’d brought the SCBA.
He retraced his steps back to the bedroom where he’d first found the baby. He was coughing harshly by the time he reached the mother. She was unconscious but was beginning to stir. “Ma’am,” John coughed. Her eyes flickered open and the young fireman sighed in relief…Afraid he didn’t have the lung capacity left to carry her… John pulled her to her feet. “Let’s get outta here.” He put his arm around her and they staggered toward the entrance. Both of them were coughing raggedly.
Chet ran to the squad where Roy and the two paramedics from station 36 were working. Bob Belliveau had trained with him out of Harbor General and his partner Jay Cameron was fresh from the class that had run simultaneously with Johnny’s.
Roy was helping a fireman with several scorch marks on his face…He’d fallen against a set of red hot metal stairs. He was irrigating the gauze taped over the burns with saline. Belliveau and Cameron were working on a man who’d fallen down those same stairs trying to escape the flames. He glanced up as Chet approached him with the baby in his arms.
“Where’d you get him from?” Roy asked taking the squalling infant and laying him on the blanket.
“Second floor apartment…Gage brought him out.”
Roy glanced around… “Where’s Johnny…?”
“He went back in after the mother.”
Roy’s eyes swept the second floor walkway even as he placed the oxygen mask over the baby’s face. There was no sign of his partner. “He didn’t come out?”
Chet turned to look…His heart skipped a beat… “I didn’t wait…He told me to get the baby out…I…”
Belliveau looked at Roy. “Go check it out DeSoto…I got the baby.”
Roy nodded and ran for the squad. He grabbed the SCBA and shrugged it on as he ran for the stairs…Kelly was right behind him. Roy glanced up as a woman staggered from the apartment. She was alone.
Johnny half carried the woman as she staggered along beside him. It was getting harder to breath but he could see the light from the open doorway through the thick haze and knew they were almost there. He took a step and the floor seemed to buckle under him. He felt himself start to fall as the floor boards gave way beneath him. John shoved the woman clear and managed to catch himself before he went completely through to the ten foot drop to the floor below him.
He hung precariously with all of his weight supported by his forearms. He coughed harshly. The image of the woman wavered before him through the tears in his eyes. “Get out,” he rasped out.
She hesitated between the need to help the poor fireman now trapped in her floor or to save herself. She felt heartless but she was scared. She ran for the door, stumbling into the open air outside.
She wobbled forward barely able to stand. She felt arms wrap around her. “Chet…Get her down to Belliveau and Cameron.”
“What about John…”
“I’ll get Johnny.”
“Trapped...,” The woman gasped.”Fell through the floor.”
“Oh God…,” Roy muttered as he ran inside. He didn’t get far before he saw the figure of his partner through the smoke and heavy fumes. He saw John’s head tilt forward and knew the younger man was about to pass out. If he did… he’d slip all the way through the hole and fall. Roy made a dive… his hand catching hold of John’s turnout. “Wake up Johnny…,” he panted as he struggled to hang on to John’s dead weight.
Another fireman was suddenly at his side. Marco grabbed hold of the other side of Gage’s coat and the two of them managed to lift him clear. They each slung an arm around their necks and carried the younger man toward the door.
They laid Johnny down on the blanket next to the woman he’d saved earlier. Cameron handed Roy the oxygen mask which he laid gently over John’s nose and mouth.
The younger man coughed gratingly as his head turned from side to side trying to regain consciousness. The dark eyes opened briefly before fluttering closed once more. The dark lashes disappearing against the soot covered cheeks. “Open your eyes Junior,” Roy commanded.
The voice penetrated the fog and the eyes cracked open once more. “R…Roy?” He coughed and pulled his knees up close to his chest as it constricted painfully.
“Shhh…I’m here Junior. Just relax. Are you hurt anywhere?”
The dark eyes tried to focus on Roy’s face but they were watering too badly. “D…Don’t think s…so,” his voice sounding muffled behind the mask.
“Hand me the saline…I want to irrigate his eyes.”
“Sure Roy…I got Rampart on the line,” Bob told him as he continued working on the woman.
“Let me get his vitals real quick.”
“Is he gonna be okay?” The woman asked worriedly as she lifted a mask from her own face. She was still feeling guilty that she’d fled and hadn’t tried to help the man…Boy was more like it from the looks of him.
“Yes Ma’am,” Roy assured her. “He just breathed in a lot of smoke…Just like you, so keep that mask on okay?””
She nodded but her eyes stayed on John.
“Bob…I got his vitals, you ready…?”
“Hold on…Rampart base this squad 36…”
“Go ahead 36…,” Kelly Brackett’s voice came back.
“Rampart…I have a code I…He’s a twenty one year old male…Suffering from smoke inhalation. His vitals are?” He let the question hang as he looked to Roy.
“BP is 110/70 respirations are 10, pulse is 90.”
Belliveau repeated them to Rampart. “We also have him on O2 and we’ve irrigated his eyes.”
“Any burns on him or debris in his eyes?”
“Negative Rampart…Just a lot of smoke.”
“10-4…Keep him on the O2 and transport…I’ll take a look at him here.”
They lifted John to a gurney a few minutes later. His eyes were open and he seemed fairly alert and Roy’s heart settled to a more normal pace as he climbed into the ambulance with his partner and the burned fireman from 36’s. Belliveau took the woman and the baby in the other ambulance. Marco was following with their squad.
John reached up to push the mask away. “R…Roy,” his call for his partner was punctuated by a cough.
Roy turned from the other man back to his friend. “Yeah Johnny…?”
“I feel much better…Can I sit up?”
Roy plonked the mask back on the younger man. “You just lay there and breathe for me and I’ll feel much better too okay?”
John nodded in defeat. “Kay,” he muttered around the mask.
“Did the woman…Get out,” he rasped as he lifted the mask again, stifling another cough that tried to slip free.
“She got out okay?”
“Did Kelly get the baby to you?”
Roy sighed and pushed the mask back on his friend. “Shhh and yes…He got the baby out.”
John nodded as his head turned toward the other fireman. “How’s he doin?” He asked as the mask rose again.
Roy rolled his eyes. “Johnny…Would you please keep that on,” he said in exasperation.
“S…Sorry,” he murmured as he gave him a contrite look.
Roy knew he was in trouble. Those dark eyes tore at his heart and his mind flashed back to a five year old boy…The eyes alight with excitement as Roy talked about becoming a fire fighter or filling with tears and his lower lip quivering as his mother Arlene told him firmly that he most certainly would not be a fireman. Roy’s heart had broken at the disappointment reflected in those eyes back then and those same eyes were looking soulfully at him now. Roy reached out and plopped the mask back down once more but then his hand rose to sweep the dark bangs from John’s forehead. “Just relax. We’re almost there.”
The ambulance slowed and made the sweeping turn into Ramparts Emergency bay. Roy felt them reverse and back in. The doors were opened and the other Fireman’s stretcher was pulled from the back. Joe Early lifted the bandage long enough to determine that they wouldn’t need the burn ward to treat them before ordering the attendants to treatment room 3.
Kel was next as John’s gurney was pulled from the back of the ambulance. John looked up at him with a rueful grin and Brackett shook his head. “Where was you’re air tank John?”
“We thought everyone was …,” He coughed harshly before he finished. “Out and we wouldn’t need em…”
Brackett nodded, knowing the hose jockey’s didn’t always use the tanks… “Okay…Let’s get him into 2.” Johnny was whisked inside. Mike Morton rushed past them as the other ambulance backed in next to the first. Dixie came from behind the base station as they came in and she followed along behind.
They moved him onto the exam table. Brackett checked his eyes which were still a bit watery and red but no longer pouring tears, while the pretty blonde nurse unbuttoned his shirt.
“Can you sit up for me John?” He directed.
The younger man struggled to sit up and Roy moved quickly to his side to help him. “Thanks,” John said gratefully as Roy pulled him upright. Dix pulled the shirt clear and stood back waiting on Kel to finish. He laid the stethoscope on John’s chest and listened to his lungs. He moved to his back to repeat the procedure. John coughed several times and Kel frowned but finally stepped back.
“There are a few rales there John…I’d like to keep you overnight...Run a few more tests…”
John winced. He hated hospitals and he’d been in too many of them growing up to suit him…Worse the doctors in them had seen the scars as well as the fresh weal marks on him and not one of them had ever tried to help him or had reported the abuse to the police. “I’m okay doc,” he protested with a rasp to his voice. “It’s not the first case of smoke inhalation I’ve ever had ya know.”
Brackett didn’t know John well yet but he was about to learn the hard way never to take the younger man’s word for anything when it came to his own health. He pursed his lips and looked to Roy before heaving a sigh. “Alright Johnny…I’ll release you for duty but I want you to rest tomorrow.”
“Roy…If he has any problems breathing or that cough gets any worse…You get him back in here.”
“I will doc…Maybe I’ll take him back to my house in the morning and let Jo feed him. He can sleep there for a while so I can keep an eye on him.”
John opened his mouth to protest but a cough slipped out and Brackett beat him to it. “That’s a good idea Roy.”
“But…But I…I,” John sputtered.
“It’s that or stay here,” Brackett threatened.
“Okay,” he said plaintively.
Kel shot a grin at Roy before he turned and left. Dixie handed Johnny his shirt. “Take care of yourself tiger.” Johnny grinned and hopped off the table.
“C’mon Roy,” he rasped.
Roy didn’t like the way John sounded at all and would much rather have had Johnny tucked safely in a hospital bed but as Brackett liked to remind them…He was the doctor and knew better than Roy did whether or not John was okay to work. Unfortunately he didn’t know Johnny’s aversion to hospitals and doctors any better than Kel did or that John would do about anything to avoid them.
Roy backed the squad into the bay. He glanced at Johnny who was still coughing intermittently as his head rested against the window. “Hey junior…We’re home,” Roy called softly.
John jerked awake, his head snapped up and bleary dark eyes looked around. “Man…My head hurts.”
“Why don’t you go take a hot shower Johnny? I’ll get us some coffee and then you can take a couple of aspirin and go to bed.”
John nodded tiredly and climbed from the cab and headed for the locker room. Captain Hammer stepped from his office. “How is he DeSoto?”
“I think he feels worse than he’s saying but the doctor released him. He told me to keep an eye on him. Said if his breathing or his cough got any worse to bring him back in…”
Hammer nodded. “The guys kept your dinner warm…Where’s Gage?”
“Taking a shower…”
“Let me know if he needs to be relieved.”
Roy headed for the rec room and the promised coffee for his partner. He’d wait to see if Johnny felt like eating when he was done with his shower.
Mike, Marco and Chet Kelly were sitting at the table when he came in. They glanced up…Their eyes taking in the absence of Roy’s young partner. “So where’s Gage Roy?” Chet asked, trying to sound casual. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, he found himself admiring the kid. He had guts and he’d never hesitated in that apartment. He’d run in there and got the job done but Kelly would never tell them that.
“He’s taking a shower…The doc released him.”
“So he’s okay?” Marco asked in relief.
Roy grinned at the concern in the man’s voice. “He will be…He’s still coughing some and he’s a bit hoarse.”
“See this is exactly my problem with having kids in the fire department,” Kelly said flippantly, trying to regain his devil may care pose. “You have to babysit em all the time.”
“Knock it off Kelly…he’s not a kid…John’s a good fireman,” Roy argued.
“Look Roy…I know Sorenson stuck you with him so you feel like you have to at least pretend it was your idea…”
“What’s that supposed to mean,” a raspy voice asked from the doorway.
Roy spun around to where John was standing, looking at him in shock. “Nothing Johnny…He’s just being a jerk.”
Kelly loved to get things going and he had no idea that Johnny was that insecure…“What do you mean…? You told me yourself that it was Sorenson’s idea,” Chet threw back at the younger man.
The dark eyes widened in hurt surprise as they looked to Roy. “John that’s not true.”
“You told me Sorenson noticed me…”
“He did…And he did SUGGEST that we become partners…”
John had heard enough…He flushed in embarrassment as he spun on his heel and left the room.
Roy shot a look of pure venom at his trouble making new crewmate...“What the hell’s the matter with you? What did you tell him that for?” Roy snarled angrily before he took off after his friend.
Mike shot a glare at lineman as well. “I can’t believe you did that.”
“What? DeSoto did tell me that. You both heard him,” Kelly protested.
“But he also told you that he was planning on asking him to be his partner anyway.”
“Boy… Johnny looked really hurt,” Marco said.
“And Roy looked really mad,” Mike added.
Chet snickered. “C’mon…All I did was heat things up a bit. He’s just a little over protective of the kid that’s all. Gage’ll be fine and DeSoto will get over it…”
“Yeah…Well I’m feeling a little over protective of the kid myself, especially since he saved my life today,” Marco said sounding more than a little angry. “Maybe I should just cool things off.” Chet glanced up in time to see Marco’s glass of water cascading down onto his head. He slammed the glass down on the table and stalked out…Mike followed.
Roy ran out of the rec room…A quick glance told him Johnny was nowhere in sight. The back doors were closed and he knew Johnny wouldn’t bother Cap. He headed for the locker room but there was no sign of him. He pushed through the door to the dorm and walked between the beds to the small area he shared with his partner. John sat on his bunk. He stared at the floor and the look on his face was one of hurt and shame…He coughed raggedly as the words he’d tried to shove from his head came back. ‘NO ONE WILL EVER WANT YOU.’
Johnny saw a pair of booted feet stop before him and knew it was Roy…He shoved the voice away… “I’m really sorry Sorenson forced you to take me as your partner. I wish you woulda told me…Maybe I could have got reassigned,” he rasped out softly, still not looking up.
“He didn’t force me Johnny…Like I said…He suggested it,” Roy said sitting down next to him.
John shrugged and tried a small grin as he glanced over at his partner before looking down once more. “Guess you can’t refuse a Chief huh?” John mumbled, chewing his lower lip.
“Yeah…Yeah I could have. He made that really clear that it was my option but he thought we’d make a good team…besides I didn’t want to refuse.”
“Why?” John asked, coughing again.
“He didn’t say but he seemed really impressed by you…” Johnny gave him a skeptical look. “The first day you came in, Sorenson told me he was watching you…He was impressed that you’d made rescue so young. What were you nineteen?” Roy asked.
John nodded. “I was almost twenty,” he whispered around his sore throat, remembering that Sorenson had made a point of showing up that day.
Roy continued. “That’s a tough thing for a teenager Johnny…Sometimes men who’ve been on the job for years can’t handle the stress of it much less a kid.”
“So when did he…” John coughed roughly. “When did he tell you he wanted us together?”
“A few days before graduation… I went down there to sign up some more men for the next class. I was sitting there trying to figure out how to ask him to assign you to wherever they were gonna send me.”
John looked over at him doubtfully. “You were?”
Roy grinned and reached out to curl his hand around the back of John’s neck. “Yeah I was…That’s the part Chet Kelly left out.”
“Why? I mean, why were you gonna ask for me?”
“Are you kidding?” John shook his head. “Johnny first of all I think we’re pretty good friends, how about you?”
“Well…Yeah,” he admitted shyly.
“I’d also been in that class with you…I was well aware of your capabilities and I admit…I was a bit selfish.” At John’s sideways glance, he continued. “I know my own capabilities too… I knew you’d be good and we’d make a great team and I wanted you with me. You can ask Stoker and Lopez…They were there too.”
“I don’t need to do that…I trust you Roy but …Well what did you tell him for anyway?” Johnny asked, still a little uncertain.
“I was trying to point out that you were a good enough fireman that even the Chief recognized it.” John blushed a bit and grinned at his friend. “So he’d leave you alone ya know?”
John grinned at the idea that Roy thought he needed to protect him…He guessed in a way he did and he’d just proved it by letting Kelly upset him but the idea that Roy hadn’t really wanted to be his friend and partner had hurt…It hurt a lot. “Thanks Roy…,” He grimaced as his chest tightened up once more.
Roy saw it and the big brother in him reared his head. “I think you need to get some sleep unless you’re hungry?”
“Not really…” John coughed. “I’m just really tired and I have a headache.”
“You get to bed then and I’ll get you some aspirin and a glass of water okay?”
John nodded and began to set out his boots and bunker gear for the night as Roy stood up. Neither of them saw Marco and Mike slip out the door.
The two men exchanged a grin and headed for the rec room. They both knew they’d witnessed a special friendship and seriously hoped Chet Kelly wouldn’t screw it up.
Chet shot them both an annoyed look as they came back in. They ignored him and turned on the television. Roy came in a minute later for a glass of water for his young partner, shooting an angry glare at Chet. The Irishman had the good graces to look a little bit contrite. “Is he okay DeSoto?”
“Yeah Kelly he’s fine. It’ll take more than you to screw up our friendship but do me a favor…? Keep your mouth shut next time,” Roy snapped as he filled a glass. He passed Kelly on his way out and wondered idly why his hair was wet.
He handed the aspirin and the glass to John and waited while he downed the pills. Johnny slid beneath the covers. “Good night Johnny,” Roy said quietly.
“Mmmm night,” John murmured back he began to drift off.
The others were awakened several times throughout the night by John’s ragged coughing and Roy had seriously considered taking him back to Rampart but John shook his head at the suggestion. “I’ll be fine Roy,” he wheezed out. “I just need to sleep.”
Roy chewed his lip thoughtfully. “Okay Junior,” he replied, trusting the younger man to tell him if he needed help but he still stayed awake watching his partner for a long while.
John was still coughing when the wake up tones sounded at seven AM… “Johnny…I really think I should run you by Rampart.”
“I’m okay Roy…My chest is just still a little tight. I’ll go straight to bed after breakfast.”
“Maybe DeSoto can tuck ya in huh?” Chet taunted as he pulled his suspenders in place…John’s face flushed with color.
“Shut up Kelly,” Roy barked, knowing John would be embarrassed and never admit he needed help if Kelly was picking on him about Roy’s concern for him.
The Irishman looked at the pale features of the younger man…He had to admit Gage didn’t look to good and Roy had reason to worry.“Sorry man…I was just joking…You know ya really don’t look too good.”
“I was about…,” John coughed. “To tell you the same thing,” He said snidely.
Kelly bristled in annoyance but turned and left, drawing a chuckle from Roy.
“Why don’t we get some coffee? B shift will be here shortly and I can get you back to my place and you can sleep some more.” Roy figured he’d call Brackett from home and let him make the decision to bring John in or not. Gage might be annoyed but he’d have no option if Brackett refused to release him for duty without seeing him.
“Okay,” the younger man agreed quietly.
The doors were open when they left the dorm and the two paramedics stopped to look out. A chill breeze swept through the apparatus bay and the gray clouds were rolling in. “Wow,” Roy murmured. “Looks like winter is showing up a bit early…We don’t usually see this until October.”
“Where I come from…,” John stopped to cough. “This is nice weather,” he choked out.
Roy looked at him and bit his lip…Hoping to get a little more information… “Where you come from? I thought you grew up here in California?”
John hesitated…The dark eyes grew evasive for a moment before casting a sideways glance at Roy. “No…I was born here. But I grew up in Montana on a Reservation with my real mom’s family.”
Johnny often wondered what would have happened if his parents had lived. Would they have loved him or abused him as her sister and her husband had. Rejected him the way his fathers had? Tossed him aside when they grew tired of him? He guessed he’d never know. “I came back here when I was fifteen.”
Roy nodded…He’d gotten the piece they’d been missing but he still didn’t know how John had ended up here. They continued on to the rec room. Roy poured them both a cup of coffee as Johnny slumped tiredly into a chair.
Hammer looked at him in concern. “You okay Gage?”
“I’ll be fine Cap but I think I’ll spend the next two days in bed.”
“Alone?” Hammer asked him, knowing John’s propensity for picking up girls.
The others snickered as John’s face grew warm. Chet was about to make a snide comment but grunted as Mike Stokers foot connected warningly with his shin. John was certainly not up for his kind of humor this morning.
Roy ruffled his partner’s dark hair teasingly. “He better be…He’s gonna be at my house and the only woman there is my wife…That would be hazardous to his health,” Roy warned jokingly.
John grinned at his partner and gave a small snort of laughter. “Yeah it would,” he agreed, having no intention of ever finding out besides… Jo treated him like she was his sister.
The smile faded slightly… ‘Do it again Jolee.’ The memory of the little red headed girls fingers tickling his ribs until he was sick from laughter flickered through his mind. Sister…The girl in his memories…She was his sister…John frowned…They seemed to be having a good time.
The others grinned at the byplay until they noticed the odd look on Gages face. Roy realized immediately what was happening but didn’t want the others to figure it out especially Captain Hammer and Chet Kelly.
‘YOU WILL FORGET THOSE PEOPLE… THEY DON’T WANT YOU.’ John flinched at the voice and the memory of the leather belt cracking against his bare flesh…The force of it sometimes breaking skin and raising ugly red welts.
“Gage...Are you okay?” Hammer asked worriedly.
“He’s fine Cap,” Roy jumped in. “He’s just still got an awful headache from last night and he didn’t sleep well,” he explained quickly as he moved to his partner’s side putting himself between his captain and his partner. He put his hand on John’s shoulder feeling him jump beneath it. “C’mon Junior…Let’s get you some aspirin,” Roy suggested. John finally looked up as Roy pulled him to his feet and there was a look of awareness in the dark eyes.
“R…Roy…,” he gasped.
“Is he okay?” Hammer asked standing up.
“Yeah Cap…Just needs some more sleep,” Roy said as he hauled John towards the door.
“Hold it,” Hammer ordered as he came toward Johnny. He stepped in front of his youngest crew member and looked at him carefully.
Johnny raised tired dark eyes to his Captain… “Sorry Cap,” he mumbled. “I didn’t sleep very well.”
Dick’s eyes narrowed a bit but he nodded his head…The kid seemed to be alright at the moment. “Go on home as soon as B shift gets here.”
Roy nodded and hustled John out. The others watched in concern. Roy spun John to face him once they were in the apparatus bay. “Are you alright?”
“I’m sorry Roy…I just…It happened again.”
Several members of B-shifts crew entered the bay. Roy and Johnny waited for them to disappear into the locker room, giving them a nod of greeting as they passed.
“What happened?” Roy asked when they were gone.
“Memories…They just pop into my head sometimes and I don’t know if they’re dreams or something that really happened and then when I try…Other memories come…They scare me…”
Chet, Mike and Marco left the rec room and headed for the locker room to change. Captain Hammer headed for his office but stopped as he heard Roy’s voice.
“What were you remembering?” Roy asked when they were out of ear shot. He hoped he’d give him something that might open the door to telling him the whole truth.
John shook his head… “Can't tell you...I’m not allowed to remember them,” he whispered.
“It’s okay…You can tell me...Who was it?”
John shook his head fearfully. “Roy,” Dick Hammer called his senior paramedic.
“Can I see you in my office?”
“Sure Cap. Johnny, go change…But we’re not done here. I think it’s time we had a talk okay?”
“It’ll be okay…I’ll be right in,” he said reassuringly.
Roy headed for the office while John went to change. His crewmates threw him a concerned glance as he came in but he managed a wan smile. B shifts crew, along with his own shift mates finished up as John slumped tiredly on the bench in front of his locker.
He couldn’t tell Roy…His Uncle would be so angry…He’d get a beating for sure if he found out. John shook his head. Roy would think he was crazy…Being afraid of a man who was eight hundred miles away and who John hadn’t even seen in six years anyway but he couldn’t help it. Besides what could he tell him…? That every time a memory of his past tried to surface that the others came crashing in to shove them away? The little girl in his mind…, she always brought a smile to his face only to have it replaced by terror. And Jo…Her parents…Why did they trigger the memories too? John coughed raggedly snapping him back to the moment.
The rest of B shift made their appearance and John began to change slowly. “You okay Gage?” One of them asked.
“A little smoke inhalation last night, that’s all.”
“Man…I know how that feels.”
“Like you’ve been smoking inner tubes,” one of the others lamented.
They finished up and headed out. John heard the Station Control unit begin to tone. The Engine cranked over and he heard the grumble of engines as the rigs rolled out the door.
He was almost finished when Chet Kelly stuck his head in the door. “Hey Gage? There’s some guy out here wants to see ya.”
“Who…?” John asked warily.
“I don’t know…Looks like ya might wanna hang onto your scalp though,” Chet chuckled at his own jest not realizing that Johnny was half Indian himself.
Johnny frowned in annoyance, thinking that Kelly was poking fun at his heritage. He coughed again and pointed at the Irishman warningly. “My ancestors probably haven’t scalped anyone in eighty years Kelly,” He said rasping painfully. “But I’m sure I could make the exception for you.”
Chet’s eyes widened as he realized his unintentional slur against the younger man. He grimaced… “Oops, sorry Gage…I didn’t know you were Indian.” He ducked out. Chet grinned unrepentantly…He could have some fun with this somewhere down the road he was sure but he didn’t know the kid well enough for that yet and he’d already done enough damage for one day.
John frowned after him. If Kelly wasn’t picking on him just what the heck had he meant? John tucked his shirt in and climbed unsteadily to his feet. He really didn’t feel well and hoped Roy would get there soon. He wanted to go home and sleep.
He walked out to the deserted parking lot just as Kelly drove away. John glanced around, trying to find his visitor. He spotted a motion from the side of the building as a man stepped into view and John gasped… His blood seemed to go cold as his heart thudded wildly in his chest. The young man’s face paled alarmingly as he backed away.
“Ná-tonóom’mo John…” (I’ve been waiting for you.)
“Yeah Cap?” Roy asked worriedly as he stepped into the office.
“Now that the others aren’t around…I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me what happened to John in there?”
Roy looked away. He didn’t want to betray John but this was their Captain and if he didn’t understand the situation then it could become a worse problem… He could wash John out if he found out but at the same time if he understood…He might be a little more understanding.
“Um Cap…I’m gonna tell you and I hope you’ll keep it to yourself.”
“What is it Roy.”
“Look…I don’t know all the details myself yet but what I do know is that John was an abused child.”
Hammer’s eyes grew wide in shock. “Oh good lord…The poor kid…”
Roy nodded… “Well it gets even more complicated and my wife and I just found out ourselves but John is my wife Joanne’s adopted brother.”
“Excuse me?” Hammer questioned in disbelief. “How could she just find out then?”
“That’s what I meant about complicated…” Roy explained the whole situation. “So basically Cap…He doesn’t remember much about his first five years because his Aunt and Uncle…I guess… frightened him into forgetting it,” Roy finished.
Dick shook his head in disgust at the idea that anyone could abuse a defenseless child so cruelly. “So he has flashes of memory sometimes but not enough to hold onto?”
“Right and then the other memories come along and scare him into pushing what little he can grasp away.”
Dick pursed his lips thoughtfully. Gage was a good paramedic and he’d hate to lose him but he really should report the condition to Sorenson. Johnny could be washed out if HQ thought he was a danger to himself or to a victim because of it. He decided he’d better let the Chief know but he’d go down and do it in person…Hopefully the old man would listen and give the kid a chance…After all, John Gage had more than proved himself despite the problem.
“Thanks for your honesty Roy.”
“What’re ya gonna do Cap?”
“You know I have to report this.”
Roy looked miserable. “It’ll go on his record. They could fire him…He’s too good to lose Cap,” Roy protested unhappily.
“I’ll do everything I can to see that that doesn’t happen Roy, okay?”
“Sure Cap,” Roy mumbled, wishing now that he hadn’t confided in his Captain.
Hammer saw the look and sighed regretfully, wishing he hadn’t asked. After all…What he didn’t know wouldn’t have hurt Johnny.
“By the way Cap? Johnny doesn’t know about Joanne yet.”
“Then he won’t hear it from me.”
Roy nodded and left the office. He crossed the empty apparatus bay to go get John. He wanted to talk to him…Try and get him to confide in him and maybe finally be able to tell him the truth about his family. Roy kicked at the floor despondently, snorting in disgust…Why should Johnny trust him? He’d just betrayed him.
Roy glanced at the cold, gray sky outside and then his eyes dropped to the parking lot. The blue eyes widened in horror as he saw his young partner backed against his camper…The man standing in front of him was shaking something before his face and John shook his head fearfully. The man shoved the papers in his jacket pocket and reached for his belt buckle. John cringed away from him in terror. Roy started to run…
“Hešeho,” (Uncle) John breathed out in horror.
“I see you haven’t forgotten me,” he taunted snidely.
John shook his head. “What are you doing here?” He asked tremulously.
“You are not glad to see me ná-he-tsénotahe?” (My nephew) The man stepped toward him and John backed away
The man laughed unpleasantly, dispensing with any pretense of civility…“What do you know of this?” The older man demanded shoving an envelope toward John.
The dark eyes dropped to the letter in the man’s hand. An Insurance company’s name was emblazoned across the corner and it had John’s name on it. It had been opened. John looked up at his Uncle and shook his head. “You obviously opened it…You tell me,” he said a little flippantly despite his fear.
The man stepped toward him and John backed away once more, trying to stay out of reach. “It is a letter from an insurance company…The one your father used. They are telling you that your father left you more money.”
John shook his head in confusion. “More money…More…? I…I don’t understand…He didn’t leave me anything.”
His Uncle almost bit his own tongue at the slip but didn’t explain. “It is money that is owed to us for taking care of you…But they made a mistake. It was put in your name,” he said angrily as he shook the papers in John’s face. John stepped back once more but found himself pressed against the back of his camper as the man moved closer.
“You will sign the papers in here that will turn that money over to us as it should have been.”
John looked totally confused. “I…I don’t know what you’re talking about,” John tried to explain.
“Just sign the papers.”
“Can I see them?” His uncle’s hand lashed out, backhanding Johnny viciously across the face. The younger man staggered from the blow but the other man’s hand reached out to grab his shirt and slam him backward against the camper, knocking the wind out him. John coughed harshly, gasping for breath as his hand flew to his cheek. His eyes widened fearfully as he wiped the blood from his mouth.
“You do not question what I tell you to do…Sign them,” He barked.
John shook his head. “I don’t understand…I’m not signing anything…”
“You worthless, ungrateful whelp…Ó’xevé’ho’e, (Half breed)”He sneered. “You refuse to pay back what you owe us after we took you in when the others no longer wanted you,” the older man snarled. He reached for his belt buckle and John’s eyes widened in terror.
“No,” he whispered as the belt cleared the loops on his uncle’s jeans. “I..I didn’t r…refuse…I…Please don’t,” John gasped out pleadingly as he cringed away in terror of what he knew was coming.
The older man’s hand drew back but his wrist was suddenly grabbed from behind. He was whirled around to face another man. He was tall, blonde and his blue eyes blazed in outrage. “You bastard,” he growled angrily as he snatched the belt from the man’s hand and flung it across the parking lot. His fist lashed out, clipping the man in the chin and sending him spinning away from Johnny. “Mister…You better get in your car and drive away…Don’t ever come back,” he warned as he continued to stand between John and his attacker.
The older man rubbed his jaw and glared at Roy. “You will regret this.”
“I doubt that and stay away from Johnny or there’ll be more of the same.” The black eyes stared malevolently past him to his frightened nephew and Roy seethed in rage. This man was the one who’d so brutally abused his partner as a child. The black eyes turned back to Roy in defeat…Momentarily at least.
Roy knew the coward would never come after him, like most abusers they preyed on the innocent…Beating a frightened little boy with no one to help him… Who couldn’t get past those horrifying memories even now...years later. Roy wanted to beat him senseless. “It’s not so easy when it’s not a scared kid is it?” He taunted.
Joseph White Bear cast one more glare at John before he stalked away toward his car. Roy turned to his shaking partner. “C’mon Junior…come inside. Let me take a look at you.”
The dark eyes looked into Roy’s and he desperately fought to regain control. “I’m s…sorry,” he murmured.
“For what Johnny…?” The eyes turned toward the Uncle’s car as it screeched away and Roy understood his embarrassment. “It’s okay…I know what he did to you…I understand why you’re afraid of him okay? Now let’s get out of the cold wind and go inside…I’m gonna clean you up and we’re gonna talk. Then I’ll take you back to my house and you can get some sleep.”
John was too scared and tired to argue. He let Roy lead him back inside the station. Captain Hammer stepped from his office. His eyes widened in surprise at the sight of the blood trickling from his youngest crew member’s mouth.
“John got attacked in the parking lot,” Roy said simply.
“Is he alright…Should I call the police…?”
“NO…NO…,” Johnny pleaded fearfully. Hammer’s eyes turned to Roy. He’d seen John in action many times now and he’d never seen this kid scared before now. What the hell was going on?
“Shhh, Its okay…,” Roy soothed. “Go in the locker room and wash the blood off. I’m gonna get some ice okay?” John looked to his Captain worriedly. “We won’t call the police,” Roy assured him.
Dick looked to Roy in confusion but nodded his head…“I won’t call anyone…At least not yet…”
John chewed his lower lip worriedly and headed for the locker room.
Hammer looked at Roy. “Well?”
“Remember I told you he was abused?”
“Yeah…?” Cap answered warily.
“Well the guy who did it was just here.”
“Oh good lord…Is Johnny alright Roy?”
“He will be…I’m gonna try and get him to talk to me. Tell me what was going on.”
Hammer looked thoughtful. This kid had been hurt and betrayed by his own family. He’d lost the only family who had cared about him and if Dick told anyone he could potentially lose the only person he had who cared about him now and the only family he had left. He wouldn’t take Roy and the paramedics from him too and that could easily happen if he told HQ about John’s past history. The blonde fireman started past him but Hammer reached out and grabbed his arm. “I’ve changed my mind Roy. I’m not gonna tell Headquarters about John’s problem…Not unless I see it affect his work.”
Roy smiled in relief. “Thanks Cap…That means a lot…”
“Go take care of him but I wanna be kept informed DeSoto?”
Roy nodded and headed for the rec room for ice.
Roy pushed the locker room door open and stepped inside. Johnny glanced up from the bench in front of his locker. The blood was gone but his cheek was already darkening into an ugly bruise. The younger man coughed harshly and then glanced away nervously.
“Let me take a look at that bruise Junior.”
“It’s okay Roy…Can we just go?”
Roy shook his head at the obvious attempt to duck the conversation John knew he wanted to have. The older man straddled the bench next to his partner. “Who was that man John?” He asked softly as he turned John’s face toward him and laid the ice pack on the bruise.
John winced and shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about him Roy, please.”
“What did he want?”
John looked confused. “I don’t know…He wanted me to sign a paper to give some insurance money to him…I don’t have any money Roy…I don’t know what he’s talking about.” John rasped.
“Why would he think you owed him the money if you did have it?” Roy asked casually.
John bit his lip…The dark eyes looked at Roy pleadingly. “I don’t want to talk about it Roy.”
The older man reached out and touched John’s face. “Please Johnny…Can’t you trust me? You’re my best friend…I care about you…I wanna help you?”
John looked away in embarrassment…His face was twisting in an effort to compose himself. “Why…? Why do you wanna know…? Just leave it alone Roy…It doesn’t matter anymore,” he threw the ice pack down in frustration.
Roy looked at him disbelief…“That doesn’t matter…?” He demanded pointing at the parking lot. “Damn it Johnny, I can’t even believe you’d say that…Whatever that animal did to you wasn’t your fault but you’re the one paying for it and that matters.”
John looked back at him. “It was my fault,” he whispered looking ashamed. “I was a bad kid and wouldn’t do what he told me…I told them he hurt me…I ran away.”
“And why shouldn’t you have run away…Told someone? John…He was abusing you. You were a scared child. Hell you still are.”
John’s head snapped up and he looked almost ready to cry but he knew he couldn’t argue the point at the moment. Roy had already witnessed the entire humiliating scene outside. “I…You don’t understand,” he stammered.
“Then explain it to me so I can,” he pleaded as he gently cupped the young man’s uninjured cheek.
“I was ungrateful I guess…I mean they took me in…I had nowhere to go…My parents were dead and my adoptive parents didn’t want me anymore,” John gasped in distress. He coughed harshly.
“I don’t believe that…That’s your uncle talking…Convincing a child that he was responsible…You can’t believe that either.”
“You don’t know that…They threw me away…,” he cried. “Maybe that was my fault too…,” he whispered despairingly. “He said it was…He said I was bad…That’s w…why they didn’t w…want me anymore.” John was struggling to catch his breath.
“Okay…Okay, breathe Johnny…Take a breath okay.” John gasped in distress as Roy pulled him against him. He wasn’t ready to listen about his adopted parents yet…Roy changed direction…“Who is he John...?” Roy pressed. He was pretty sure he already knew but he wanted John to confirm it.
“My Uncle,” he whispered as he rested his forehead against Roy’s shoulder. It was much easier to talk if he wasn’t looking into those compassionate blue eyes.
“You ran away from them?”
“The police brought me back…My uncle told them I was a liar…That the marks were from the accident that killed my parents…That I was always in trouble and that was why my new parents didn’t want me anymore. They told that to everyone…no one would believe me and I had nowhere to go…,” he said with a crack in his voice.
“And you were punished for telling them.”
John nodded in embarrassment and wiped at his face. “It was so humiliating…,” he gasped.
Roy stroked the dark hair gently. “Can you tell me?”
John squeezed his eyes shut as he remembered. “He always made me take my pants down,” he whispered. “He said it was to make s…S…ure I felt every s…stroke…So I would…wouldn’t f…forget again,” he gasped with hitched breaths. John shuddered at the memory. “He told me I was ungrateful for what they gave me…They fed me, clothed me and I didn’t appreciate it…So he’d starve me for days sometimes…They threw me out when I was fifteen.”
Roy closed his eyes in rage, wishing now that he’d done far more than punch the guy once in the face. “I’m so sorry Johnny…I’m so sorry.” He whispered as his fingers stroked the sable hair comfortingly. “He told you you’re adoptive parents didn’t want you? That they sent you back?” Roy prompted.
“Did you think maybe he was lying to you?”
“No…No…If they wanted me why did they let him take me away…They let him hurt me?”
“Maybe they had no choice…Maybe you were taken from them…”
‘YOU WILL FORGET THOSE PEOPLE…THEY NO LONGER WANT YOU.’ He had a vague memory of someone talking to his father and then taking him from his Mother’s arms…She handed him over and turned to her own two daughters…Her children…And she turned her back on him as they took him away. She didn’t even look back. The memory haunted his dreams.
John shook his head… “I wanted to believe they loved me but they didn’t want me…They never even tried to see me or write to me and my uncle told me I wasn’t to call for them anymore...”
“He was lying,” Roy said adamantly, trying to make him understand…To open the door to tell him the truth. “The court wouldn’t have let them write to you…They usually don’t…”
“No…I…I remember…She just gave me to them…She didn’t even look at me,” he cried bitterly…He began to choke.
“Shhh…Okay…,” Roy soothed. He remembered Arlene telling him that she couldn’t even watch when they took him away…Roy understood the pain she was feeling but how had that appeared to an impressionable, frightened five year old. He wasn’t sure how to convince him otherwise. His chin came to rest on the sable head as John finally caught his breath. “Okay…Let’s talk about today okay? You don’t know what he wanted today?” John shook his head.
“No…He…He said my father left me more money…My father never left me anything…I don’t know what he was talking about.”
Neither did Roy…They’d already got their hands on the insurance money his father had left him according to Rosemary so what more could they possibly have wanted? Maybe another policy? Arlene and Ron had never mentioned any kind of insurance payoff so he was pretty sure they wouldn’t know about it either. Roy’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully… The only other people who would, would be Rosemary and his family in Montana. He decided to ask her about it but right now he knew John had had enough.
He needed to take him home and get him into bed. He was distraught, exhausted and still obviously not over the smoke inhalation from the previous night. “Okay Junior…I guess it doesn’t matter. He’s gone now okay? Let’s get you into a nice warm bed and let you get some sleep.”
John nodded as he sat back. Tears still clouded his eyes as he gave an embarrassed glance at his partner. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be…I’m glad you told me Johnny…You can always talk to me okay? I won’t ever think you’re responsible for anything that happened to you…You were a victim.”
“Thanks Roy,” he murmured.
The older man sighed, wondering how to break through the lies John had been told. He’d never accept Joanne and her family back into his life until he could make him understand that what he remembered wasn’t the way it had really been. Dixie said he needed to confront the memories before he could let them go…But how when the memories were based on lies? How would John react if he found out Roy knew the truth and didn’t tell him…? The whole situation was a mess.
Joanne DeSoto sighed, grateful that she’d sent the children to their Grandma Harriet’s house for the night. She had been arguing with her parents since last night and the last thing she wanted was for Chris’ little radar ears to overhear this discussion. Her parents were still unsure about keeping the truth from John…Neither one of them trusting their son in law that well. The argument began once again over breakfast.
“He’s not a psychologist Joanne,” Arlene reminded her.
“No and neither are you mom…But Roy is Johnny’s friend and his partner…He knows him better than we do.”
“We’re his parents…I think we can say we know him too.”
“Parents he hasn’t seen in fifteen years and thinks abandoned him.”
“That’s a lie…We have to make him understand,” Ron said adamantly.
“And we can’t do that if Roy keeps refusing to let us talk to him,” Arlene pointed out.
“I trust my husband’s judgment mom…He’ll know when it’s time to tell John and he won’t rest until he gets through to him…Please try and trust him with this?”
Joanne heard the front door open and shot her parents a warning glance not to start in on Roy. He’d be tired and in no mood for this conversation this early in the morning.
Roy pulled into the driveway followed by John’s old white camper. He parked at the curb and tiredly trudged across the lawn to meet his partner at the door. Roy’s eyes were on the other vehicle parked behind Jo’s station wagon and sighed. His In-laws were still here…He prayed they’d heed his advice and keep their mouths shut.
John glanced over and spotted the car. “You have company,” he said wearily…His voice sounding even worse than before from the tears. “Maybe I should go home,” he rasped out.
“It’s okay junior. Let’s just get something to eat and then you can rest okay?”
John coughed lightly and nodded...He was dog tired and just wanted to sleep. He shivered lightly in the cool morning air. The sky was still overcast…It would be great sleeping weather. “You sure Jo won’t mind me staying here for the night?”
“She won’t mind Junior.”
Roy opened the door and let John precede him inside. “Honey…?” He called.
“We’re in the kitchen,” she called back.
“Johnny’s with me honey…Our young friend here is starving and tired…You think you could make us breakfast?” He warned as they crossed the living room toward the kitchen.
Arlene and Ron smiled at Joanne. “At least we’ll get to see him for a little while,” her mother whispered.
John and Roy stepped into the brightly lit room and the reaction was instant. They saw the tired eyes, the paleness of John’s skin and the ugly bruise that marred his cheek.
“WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?” Arlene gasped as she stood up and came toward Johnny. John back peddled as she reached for his face…His dark eyes shooting an uncomfortable look at his partner.
“Are you alright?” Ron asked trying to stay a little more composed.
“I’m f…fine,” Johnny stammered, looking confused by their reaction. He might have expected it from Joanne but not from two virtual strangers.
Roy stepped protectively in front of Johnny shooting a warning look at his mother in law. “He’s fine…He’s just tired and he needs to rest…I’ll take care of him.”
“Mom…?” Joanne called worriedly but her warning tone didn’t stop Arlene.
“He’s my son Roy…I’ll take care of him thank you,” she snapped angrily.
John’s eyes widened in shock and quickly shot to Roy in bewilderment. His blonde partner stood staring at his mother In law in almost despair. “I can’t believe you just said that,” Roy muttered.
“What did she mean?” John gasped in confusion.
“MOM…!” Joanne tried again.
“I’m sorry Joanne but I won’t keep this from him anymore.”
“SHUT UP Arlene,” Roy growled warningly. The older woman looked at him in surprise at the disrespectful words.
“What is she talking about?” John’s eyes were traveling between them all in puzzlement.
“We’re your parents J.R. Don’t you remember us sweetheart?”John’s face paled even more.
“Dammit,” Roy muttered, seeing the dawning look of understanding. “Johnny…Johnny look at me,” he commanded as the younger man started backing away from them as if they’d sprouted horns.
Memories began to assail his mind, flooding his brain into overload. The red headed girl…His eyes flew to Joanne. “Jolee,” he mumbled. Elly…Mama, Daddy… J.R…THEY DON’T WANT YOU…YOU ARE NOTHING TO THEM ANYMORE… His hand flew to his head as confusion reigned in his mind…THEY THREW YOU AWAY…He staggered back under the onslaught…Gasping for breath and feeling like the room was reeling around him. Someone was reaching for him and his Mother handed him over to them…Cold black eyes stared at him from across the room. She turned to her own daughters and turned her back on him.
“Sweetheart I’m your mom.”
“NO…NO,” he gasped. “You didn’t want me…You gave me back.” His face crumbled in grief and hurt.
“No sweetheart…They took you away.”
“NO…I…I remember.” His eyes flew to Roy and the older man’s heart was shredded by the look of betrayal. “You knew,” he wept. “You knew all this time and you didn’t tell me…”
“Johnny please…,” Roy tried to explain.
“I TRUSTED YOU,” He yelled. “You knew what they did to me.”
“I knew what you thought happened…I didn’t think you were ready to hear the truth…”
“They threw me away like GARBAGE…”
“We didn’t…We’re your parents …We loved you sweetheart.”
“MY PARENTS ARE DEAD…,” He shouted in anguish. He looked to Roy…“You were my friend…How could you not…” The words stopped as the tears flowed. “Oh God…” He turned and ran for the door.
“Johnny…,” Roy called as he ran after him. He grabbed John’s arm and spun him back toward him. “Johnny…Please listen…,” Roy pleaded as John struggled to free himself.
“NO…I WON’T LISTEN…LET GO OF ME,” he shouted. “YOU LIED TO ME…,” John was gasping for air and his wounded dark eyes looked up at Roy… “You said you cared…You said I could trust you but you lied to me,” he whispered. The plaintive sound was followed by a ragged cough.
“I didn’t lie to you…I do care…I just couldn’t tell you about this…You weren’t ready to hear the truth…”
John jerked his arm free and backed away. “No…,” John’s breaths were hitched and broken. “No more lies…I know the truth…I was there,” he cried jabbing his finger into his own chest. He turned and bolted out the door.
“Johnny,” Roy called after him but the door slammed behind him. Roy hung his head and his fist suddenly flashed and slammed into the wall in frustration. “DAMMIT Arlene…Why did you do that…?” He snarled. “I told…No I begged you not to tell him…To let me handle it,” he yelled at the now weeping woman as he heard John’s camper speed away.
“Roy…!” Jo warned in as Ron embraced his sobbing wife. “I know she shouldn’t have done that but she’s still my mother.”
Roy ran his hand through his blonde hair in frustration. “Shouldn’t have done that Jo…?” He questioned in disbelief. “She just destroyed him…”
“I know…I know and I’m so sorry,” Jo was crying now as well.
“I just needed my son back…,” Arlene sniffed against her husband.
“You just needed…You needed?”He stressed snidely. “His Aunt and Uncle needed to have him back just so they could steal his inheritance and abuse him…The court needed to do the right thing…You needed to screw his head up so you could have what you wanted. Apparently everybody in that kid’s life needed something from him…Well maybe it’s time SOMEONE in that boy’s life puts what he needs first.”
They all looked at him regretfully. “You do…,” Joanne whispered poignantly.
Roy sagged as despair finally won. He looked at Arlene and Ron. “I tried to but you wanted your son back…You just had to tell him before he was ready to hear it…You couldn’t do it my way just once…Well are you happy now… cuz you just lost him…? He just ran out that door and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get him back.”
“We’re sorry Roy…It was a mistake. She’s his mother…We both love him…Please can you take us to him…?” Ron asked softly. “He’ll talk to you and we want to try…”
Roy laughed bitterly. “Take you to him…Talk to him? He may never talk to me again. I may have lost my best friend and my partner.”
“Honey, please try and calm down…I know you’re upset and you have every right to be but we can’t give up…”
“I was so close Jo…He was just learning to trust me…He told me everything this morning and now,” Roy gestured frustratedly toward the door.
“Why doesn’t he remember us…? Why does he think we didn’t want him?” Ron asked plaintively.
“Because he was told to forget you…He wasn’t allowed to remember you…Call for you and if he tried he was punished.”
“Punished how?” His father asked fearfully. “Beaten? That’s what you mean…You said scars and…”
“Oh my God,” Jo whispered tearfully. Ron was stunned at what they’d done to his child.
“But he should remember the truth…We loved him. We held him…Rocked him…Took care of him,” Arlene cried.
“And you turned away when they took him from you and never looked back.”
“I COULDN’T…IT HURT TOO MUCH,” She wailed.
Roy slapped his hand down on the table…“But that’s what he remembers…That and what he was told by his Aunt and Uncle…What was beaten into his head. That you didn’t want him and now that’s the only memory he may ever have. I was working on helping him remember this morning…That’s why we’re late,” Roy said slumping into a chair despondently.
“What happened to his face?” Jo asked.
“His Uncle was at the station…He hit him before I could stop him…Johnny was terrified. I sat down with him and got him to talk to me.”
“Why was he here? What did he want?”
Roy shook his head. “I don’t know…Johnny didn’t understand either…Said something about another Insurance policy his father had…Wanted John to sign over the money. John says he doesn’t have any money.” From the blank look on their faces it was obvious they had no idea there had been any insurance money on John’s father at all.
Jo put her arms around his neck. “So what do we do now?”
Roy shook his head and brushed at the sudden moisture that was gathering in his eyes. “God Jo…That kid is so special ya know…What he’s been through and he just keeps going. He’s so tough…He never quits…I don’t wanna lose him…I feel like I’ve lost my little brother too ya know?”
“I know honey…Believe me I know…Go talk to him Roy…He’ll listen to you.”
He shook his head forlornly. “Not anymore…,” he said shooting a final disgusted glare at his In laws. “He thinks I lied to him…Betrayed him.” Roy sighed and stood up. “But I can’t lose him without a fight…I have to go try.”
“I want to go with you,” Ron asked.
Roy shook his head… “I might get him to talk to me but not if you’re there.”
“Please Roy…Get him back…I want my son.”
“I know you do...I’ll do my best Ron,” Roy said tiredly.
John wiped the tears from his eyes as he drove out of the city. How could Roy have done this to him? How long had he known who he was and didn’t tell him? And was that what this morning was about? All that stuff about caring about him…Wanting to help him and lying to him the whole time…God…Was Roy really his friend or was he just playing games with his head…Hurting him like the others had?
And what about Sorenson…Had Chet told him the truth after all…Was Roy forced to take John as his partner…? John sniffed and struggled to hold back a ragged cough. He’d lied to him…How could he ever trust him again? The questions were coming faster than John could process them and there weren’t any answers to them.
The old camper bumped along the old fire roads…John needed to go somewhere to think. He finally found a quiet spot and pulled off the road. He climbed into the back of the VW and grabbed his sleeping bag. He stepped out, barely noticing the cold air and the dark sky…All he could think about was Roy…Jo…Her parents. He set off down the trail.
Roy pulled into the parking area of John’s apartment complex. He glanced around but didn’t see the Camper anywhere. Where else would the kid go if he hadn’t come home? Roy was more than a little worried. John was coughing pretty badly all night and this morning. He was distraught and confused. Where would he go…He didn’t know of any other friends in the area? If he did have…Did he trust them enough to go to them? Would he ever trust anyone again? The bitter thought brought a wave of sorrow to the older man.
He stepped from his car and headed up the stairs. He’d knock on the door just to be sure John hadn’t parked somewhere else. “Johnny?” He called through the door. His fist pounded on the wood. “C’mon junior open the door …Please Johnny…”
There was no answer and Roy hadn’t heard anything through the door to indicate the younger man was inside and just being obstinate. He had no option but to head for home. He’d try calling him later but he hoped wherever he was, he’d at least be able to get some sleep.
Roy returned home to three anxiously waiting people… “He’s not home,” he said softly. “I don’t know where he went. Maybe to his Aunts…”
“What Aunt?” Arlene asked.
“His fathers’ sister…Rosemary Hughes… She lives in Santa Barbara. She took him in when he was fifteen. She said he just showed up on her doorstep…Hungry and penniless…John said they threw him out. He told her he was her brother’s son…She took him in.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” Ron said. “They fought us so hard to get him…Why? Why if they didn’t want him…?”
Roy shook his head... “It was all about the Insurance Money Ron. …That's all they wanted.” He muttered in disgust.
“But then why throw him out at fifteen if they didn’t have it yet?” The older man asked.
“I don’t know…”
Johnny walked for almost an hour but his steps were faltering now. He was exhausted and his chest hurt trying to draw a breath. He finally found a spot near a small stream. John was well used to roughing it. He’d run away so many times he’d had to learn how to survive the land…Well at least until the police found him and dragged him back but this time it was different.
He was physically and emotionally drained. His mind couldn’t seem to focus and all he wanted to do was sleep. He crawled into his sleeping bag and curled up inside it…He’d try and figure out what to do later. Right now he didn’t feel very well and just needed to rest.
John tossed restlessly in the sleeping bag…Sweat beaded his forehead as the dreams that haunted his sleep returned. He was five and a red headed girl held him in her lap…he turned to look up into her frightened face.
Frightened? What was she scared of?
His mother reached out to take him from her and she was crying as the man in the black dress behind the desk began to speak.…
John shifted in his damp cocoon…He never remembered his mother crying before.
“That the adoption of the minor child John Roderick Hutchins is hereby dissolved and he shall be restored to the custody of his natural family, Joseph and Lacee White Bear.”
Behind him his mother began to weep…
No…That wasn’t right…He didn’t remember her crying before…John turned his head to look up at her in confusion.
His father was clinging to them both…Was that right?
His sisters were crying hysterically and even though he didn’t understand it he knew something was terribly wrong. Tears welled in his dark eyes and the small face crumbled. “Mama…?”
A man in a uniform came toward them. His father stood pleading with the man not to take him…
Pleading? It used to be smiling. What was happening…?
‘THEY NO LONGER WANT YOU…That voice screamed in his mind…
No wait… now he was smiling…. This was the way it usually went.
“He lied to you Johnny…,” Another voice whispered. “Don’t let him win…Trust me.”
The dream began to shift once more. The man gave his father a sad smile of understanding but gently brushed him out of the way as he reached down. His mother turned her body, holding him out of reach protectively but the man was relentless.
‘THAT’S NOT THE WAY IT HAPPENED…A voice screamed into his head. ‘THEY DIDN’T WANT YOU. THEY GAVE YOU BACK’ John flinched in terror.
But the other whispered back… ‘Trust me.” He felt strong arms hold him and a gentle stroke of someone’s hand…That had never happened before. ‘I care about you…I wanna help you.’
“Roy…,” he murmured in his sleep.
The man’s mouth moved but he couldn’t hear him…He felt himself being pulled from his mother’s arms.
Pulled? No she’d handed him to the man hadn’t she?
‘THEY DIDN’T want…’ But his Uncle’s voice was silenced by another one speaking softly.
‘Maybe they took you and your parents had no choice.’ Roy’s voice told him gently.
She finally turned and handed him to the man but tears streamed from her eyes. His two sisters were now screaming and trying to hold onto him. Their mother turned and wrapped her arms about her two devastated daughters.
John was screaming pitifully. “MAMA…DAD…DY…NOOO.” The small hands reached for them and he kicked and twisted wildly in the man’s arms as they carried him away from his family to hand him into the arms of the two strangers.
His father was sobbing now…His mothers shoulders shook with her tears of grief? No…No that wasn’t right was it?
John tossed restlessly, He was so hot but he could feel the cold breeze against his damp skin. Chills suddenly seemed to rack his body and a deep and ragged cough snapped him awake. John sat up abruptly…His breaths coming in short, sharp, painful gasps. He shivered even as he blinked drops of sweat from his eyes.
He drew his knees up to his chin. He was cold, his chest felt tight and it hurt to breath. He laid his head down, resting his hot forehead against his knees.
He remembered the dream but this one had been different…This time his mother had held him away from the man in the uniform…Trying to stop him from taking him. She’d been weeping inconsolably.
He remembered hearing Roy’s voice. ‘Trust me,’ he’d whispered. ‘You’re my friend…I care about you. I wanna help you.’ Did he mean it? He’d lied to him hadn’t he…? How could he trust him? John shivered in the cold air.
‘I didn’t lie…I just didn’t think you were ready to hear the truth.’ Was that true…? Had Roy only been trying to protect him? And what was the truth. ‘Maybe they took you away…Maybe they had no choice.’
John frowned in confusion. He remembered his sister’s gentle hand on his face, sweeping the hair from his forehead as Roy did sometimes when John was upset. His giggles as she tickled him on the floor. Elly as she spun him round and round by his hands until he felt dizzy. His mother’s smiles as she tucked him in at night and the soft sound of her singing to him. His father as he tossed him high above his head when he came home at night. Tears welled in his eyes at the memories…They’d loved him, he’d been sure of it…
John flinched as that horrible CRACK of leather on bare skin intruded but the terrifying voice didn’t come this time… It was over shadowed by another. ‘He was lying to you…They had no choice.’ He told him gently.
Johnny coughed and wiped the sweat from his face…Man his chest hurt…He gasped in a breath and laid his head down once more. Which dream was the right one? Who was lying?
He remembered Roy’s arms around him in the locker room and the sight of him knocking Joseph to the ground, defending Johnny from the man’s assault…The stroke of the older man’s hand on his head as he’d cried…Compassionate blue eyes that looked into his. ‘You weren’t ready to hear the truth junior.’ He’d said softly. ‘I care about you.’ John needed to talk to his friend.
A light rain suddenly began to fall. John raised his head and squinted toward the sky. The gray clouds that had been gathering earlier this morning were now ominous looking. The cool air had turned much colder.
John climbed from his damp cocoon, staggering weakly. Man what was wrong with him? There was no sun and it was starting to get dark. How long had he been asleep? He must have been exhausted. He needed to get home…He desperately needed to talk to Roy…He wanted to know the truth and he had no one else he could trust.
He wrapped the damp sleeping bag around his shoulders and started back to his camper.
Roy hung up the phone and glanced at Joanne and her parents. He shook his head forlornly. “No answer…He’s still not home.”
“Where could he have gone?” Jo asked worriedly.
“I don’t know…His Aunts maybe…I hope,” he added, very concerned about John’s health. He’d sounded so bad that the older man had been ready to take him by Rampart this morning. Was he safe somewhere? Roy paced by the phone nervously…Not knowing what to do.
He glanced out the sliders in concern. The sky was growing dark and a light rain had begun to fall an hour ago but had turned into a deluge shortly after. The temperature had dropped markedly. God where was Johnny? He’d been gone for eight hours now.
Roy heard a small thump at the front door.
“What was that?” Ron asked, obviously having heard it as well.
“I’ll go check.” Roy headed for the door, praying silently. ‘Please, let it be Johnny.’ He opened the door and his heart climbed into his throat.
John had been walking for quite a while when the sky suddenly seemed to open up. The rain came in driving sheets soaking the sleeping bag and weighing it down. His head hurt terribly and his chest was growing tighter… he could hardly breathe. His steps began to drag. He stumbled forward…He had to get to the camper…He needed help…Roy would help him…He had to get to Roy. The heavy sleeping bag slipped from his cold fingers and fell to the ground…He didn’t notice.
The rain quickly soaked his clothing and John shivered as the cold wind seemed to go right through him. Water ran in rivulets down his face, cooling the hot and feverish skin and leaving the sable hair plastered to his face.
John was slogging now…The water and the mud soaking his canvas sneakers as he pushed himself on. It couldn’t be that much further. John wrapped his arms around his shaking body…He was so cold.
His perseverance finally paid off when he spotted the old VW bus up ahead. John managed the final few steps, almost falling onto it. He fumbled with his keys…His numb and trembling fingers finally managed to unlock the door and he climbed inside.
He laid his head back against the seat for a long while but the shivering wouldn’t stop. He finally managed to sit up. It took both hands but he managed to get the key in the ignition and start the camper. His hands gripped the wheel tightly. He had to get to Roy…He had no one else to go to… He drove slowly toward home.
Johnny wasn’t sure how he got there but he found himself driving slowly up Washington St. He was exhausted and his head was beginning to droop. He was hot and freezing at the same time…How could that be? The vehicle came to a jarring halt as the front tire rolled up on the curb. John barely remembered to throw it in park. Fever was now racking his body as he climbed out and weakly staggered toward the house with its warm, beckoning lights.
The rain was still falling and John was quickly soaked once more. He finally reached the house and raised his hand to knock but dizziness washed through him and he fell against the door.
“Johnny,” Roy gasped at the sight of his dripping wet and shaking friend.
John suddenly fell into his arms. Roy caught him against him. “R…R…Roy…C…Cold.” He coughed raggedly. “Th…think I’m sick,” the younger man stammered as his friend swung him up into his arms. John’s body was shaking uncontrollably and his head dropped backward in exhaustion.
“Yeah…I think you are too.”
Ron, Arlene and Joanne were running toward them as he carried him into the house. “What the hell happened to him?” Ron asked trying to help his son in law.
“Musta got caught out in this mess somewhere…God Junior…I’ve been so worried about you,” Roy said softly in the young man’s ear as he laid the shivering form on the couch. The others gathered close. Arlene’s hands were pressed over her mouth in horror at the results of her selfish revelation.
“Oh my baby,” she whispered. Roy shot her a look but turned his attention back to Johnny as he struggled to talk.
“I’m S…Sor…ry… No…where else to g…go T…trust…you,” he rasped out.
Roy yanked the throw from the back of the sofa and laid it over Johnny. “This is the only place you needed to go Junior.” Roy said softly as he smoothed the sopping mass of hair from John’s forehead. He turned to his wife. “Jo…Throw some towels in the dryer to warm up…Ron…I’m gonna need your help.”
“What do you need me to do?”
“Go start the shower…Warm not hot okay…Arlene… Go find me a couple of blankets in the hall closet...Throw them in the dryer too. I need to warm him up right now.”
Jo returned after starting the dryer. Her eyes were watching her little brother with fear…He looked horrible…The bruise on his cheek showing starkly against the pale complexion. The boy was shaking violently and gasping in short, shallow breaths. She leaned over the couch to gently brush his cheek. “It’s okay baby,” she whispered.
Roy smiled at her reassuringly. “Get my sleeping bag out of my closet Jo okay. Put it in the back seat of the station wagon…I’m gonna need to keep him warm and I need to take him to Rampart.” She nodded and ran to do what he said. She looked back as Roy gently lifted his young partner into his arms. John’s head dropped to lie trustingly against Roy’s shoulder.
He carried him into the bathroom. Ron followed him. “What do you need me to do?”
“Help me get these wet clothes off him. I need to get his body temperature up right now.”
John whimpered fearfully as they stripped the sopping shirt and jeans from his body. His head lolled against Roy’s shoulder. “C…Cold R…Roy…Hurs…Breath…Help me,” he whispered.
“Shhh….I’m here Johnny…Its okay…I’m gonna take care of you.” Roy lifted his young friend once more.
“What are you gonna do?” Ron asked.
“Just help me…Grab his legs…Steady him until we’re in…”
Ron watched dumbfounded as his son in law stepped into the shower with Johnny, clothes and all…Letting the warm water cascade over both of them as he eased them both down to the floor of the tub. John gasped as the warm water hit him…His body jerking back against Roy…His teeth chattered uncontrollably “R…R…Roy…”
The older man held him tighter. “Shhh…I’ve got you…You’re gonna be okay.” The older man swept the hair from John’s face as the dark eyes fluttered open looking up at Roy in confusion. Were they out in the rain? No…No it was warm…The bleary eyes flicked from side to side…The shower…But why would they be in the shower?
“Hurs ta breathe,” he mumbled.
“I know junior…Just hold on.” John’s body shuddered in Roy’s arms…He was so cold and tired…He wanted to sleep and the warm water felt good…His chest hurt horribly… John coughed and then laid his head back against his friend. “Turn down the cold a little Ron,” he vaguely registered Roy’s voice. Roy had him…He’d take care of him…He was safe. His eyes drifted closed.
The water suddenly turned warmer and the shivering eased some as John’s body temperature began to slowly climb. A ragged and painful cough erupted from John’s lips that left him gasping for air…Roy held him tighter until he caught his breath once more.
Ron bit his lip at the gentle display wishing desperately that he and his wife had trusted his son in law more and none of this would have happened. He obviously cared a great deal for their son.
Roy glanced up and nodded and Ron reached to turn the cold water down once more. After a few moments the shivering eased a bit more and John relaxed back against his friend again…His breaths coming in wheezy rasps. “I think that’s good,” Roy said finally. Ron cut the water off. “Get me those blankets and towels and help me get him out of here.” Ron cracked the door open and took the warmed towels and blankets from his worried daughter.
Roy dried John off…Draping another towel over his head… he nodded to his father in law. The two of them lifted the limp form from the tub. Ron’s mouth tightened in grief and his eyes met Roy’s as he saw the scars that marred his son’s lower body. Roy smiled at him sadly as he began toweling John’s hair.
“Ch…Chest hurs Roy,” he slurred.
“Hand me the blankets…I’m gonna lay him on the couch while I change. Then I’m gonna take him to Rampart.” Roy wrapped the young man warmly and lifted his half conscious partner once more. John’s breathing was getting more ragged all the time.
They opened the door to find Joanne and her mother both waiting anxiously. “How is he Ron?” Arlene asked worriedly.
“Roy seems to have got his body temperature back up. He’s coughing pretty hard and he’s having trouble breathing. Roy wants to take him to the hospital,” he explained as Roy brushed past her with John in his arms.
“You’re soaking wet?” She declared in surprise.
“Uh huh,” Roy grunted in agreement as he continued on. Joanne followed.
Ron shook his head. “He climbed right in the bathtub with him honey…Stayed with him the whole time…,” he said softly as he trailed the others to the living room. Arlene’s eyes watched her son in law for a moment before she finally followed.
Roy laid his semi conscious partner on the sofa. Ron handed him the other blanket. Roy covered him, snugging it up close to John’s chin. He swept the dark hair back gently. “I’m gonna change real quick junior and then I’m gonna take you to Rampart.”
John’s hand closed around Roy’s as he started to leave. “R…Roy,” he said sounding panicked.
Roy turned back. “Shhh I’m only gonna be gone a minute junior.” He glanced at his in laws. “Jo’s gonna stay with you okay?” He reassured him as he squeezed his hand. Roy waved his wife over. “Stay with him. Don’t upset him,” he warned. She nodded as Roy laid John’s hand down and ran upstairs.
John tossed restlessly. “R…Roy,” he whimpered…He coughed harshly…His body jerking as his lungs constricted painfully.
“Shhh baby,” Jo soothed as she took his hand. The dark eyes opened and he gazed into worried blue eyes…
“Jo…lee,” he murmured.
“Yes baby it’s Jolee,” she whispered as she kissed his hot forehead.
His eyes flicked toward Arlene and Ron… "mom…,” his mouth moved though no sound came out…
Jo shot a look at her mother as tears sprang to both their eyes. “That’s right sweetheart…It’s your mom,” Jo said softly as she stroked his cheek. Roy came down the stairs two at a time…
“Let’s get you outta here junior,” he said gently. He scooped John up once more. “Ron can you drive…? I wanna stay with him.”
“Sure Roy.” The two men managed to get John into the backseat as Joanne slid in on the other side laying John’s head in her lap. Roy pulled the sleeping bag around him snugly as he perched on the edge of the seat next to his partner. Arlene slid in up front next to her husband.
John’s breaths were hitched and rasping. “Hang on Johnny,” Roy soothed as Ron backed out of the driveway and sped toward Rampart.
Dixie was clearing the base station of her paperwork, preparing to head for home. Kel would walk her to her car as soon as he was done. There was a sudden ruckus down by the emergency receiving doors and she stepped away from the base station to look. She gasped in surprise when she recognized Roy Desoto. He was pushing a gurney with someone wrapped in blankets on it. Whoever it was, was coughing harshly. Three others trailed behind him.
Roy spotted her almost immediately. “Dix…It’s Johnny…He’s sick…Real sick. I need a doctor.”
“Take him in room three…Get him on O2 and get me a set of vitals…I’ll get Kel,” she directed as she turned and grabbed the phone.
Roy pushed the door open to treatment three pulling John’s gurney with him. Ron, Arlene and Joanne followed. “Ron…Help me get him on the table.”
The two lifted Johnny onto the table. Roy turned to grab the oxygen mask and fit it over John’s face. He lifted his wrist to get a pulse as Kelly Brackett and Dixie shoved the door open and rushed to John’s side. The dark eyes were cracked open but they were vague and glassy with fever. The sable hair was plastered to his face and his head rolled listlessly from side to side as he tried to draw air into weakened lungs.
Kel’s dark eyes swept the people in the room as Roy grabbed the BP cuff and began to wrap it around John’s arm. “Dix, get them outta here,” he said nodding toward Joanne and her parents as he began to unwrap John from his warm cocoon while Dix ushered Jo and Roy’s protesting In- laws out of them room.
“We’ll take good care of him,” she promised as Joanne took over trying to get her parents to move to the waiting room.
“Roy…What happened.” Kel asked as he tugged the oxygen mask down and slid a thermometer under John’s tongue…Holding it in place as John tried to twist his head away. Kel examined the dark bruise left by his Uncle’s vicious blow but said nothing.
“He’s been coughing really bad since yesterday. I wanted to bring him in this morning but he said he was just tired so I took him to my house. He got upset by some uh…Personal issues and took off. He was gone for hours and he got caught out in that rainstorm. He came back about forty minutes ago…Soaked to the skin and hypothermic. I got him in a warm shower to bring his temperature back up and then we brought him here.”
Kel shook his head as he laid the stethoscope on John’s chest. John had begun to shiver the minute the blanket was pulled away and now he was shaking violently with chills once more.
He tried to curl into a ball to get warm but Roy stopped him. “I know you’re cold Junior…Just a minute more okay. Roy laid one hand on Johnny’s head and the other on John’s abdomen to get his respirations.
Kel pulled the thermometer clear and replaced the mask. “102.2° and cyanotic…,” he said, taking in the pale bluish color of John’s skin. “Help me sit him up,” Kel directed a moment later. Roy slid his arm around John’s shoulders pulling him upright. John’s head dropped to rest on Roy’s shoulder. There was a gasp of horror from the dark haired doctor as the blankets around the young man slipped to his waist and the scars across his lower back became visible. His brown eyes rose to meet Roy’s knowingly. Roy nodded but said nothing as Kel set the bell of the stethoscope on John’s back. He’d explain it later. “Increased heart rate…Rales in both lungs,” he murmured to Roy. “What are his vitals?”
“BP was 120/90…Respirations 8, pulse 100.”
“Has he been coughing up anything?”
“Not much…,” he replied as he laid John back down.
“Dix…I need a swab.” She handed one to him…Kel swabbed John’s throat and handed it back to the pretty blonde nurse. “Send that up to the lab for a culture… Draw blood...I want a Complete blood count…ABG and get X- Ray down here…I need a chest film. Start an IV…Ringers.” Dix nodded and grabbed the phone as Kel began to tap John’s chest. “During that fire Roy…What kind of structure were you in?”
“Apartment building doc…”
“Furniture…Carpets… Lots of toxic smoke and no air tank?”
Roy nodded his agreement as John rolled his head toward them…His breathing was still labored and he raised his hand to push at the mask that covered his face. “R…R…,” He tried speaking his friends name.
Roy took his hand as Dixie returned to draw the requested blood sample. “Shhh Junior…I’m here. I won’t leave you okay?” He soothed as he replaced the mask.
“S…Sor…ry…w…what I said…I trus…You…,” he gasped, his voice muffled and the words jumbled.
“It’s okay…You had every right to be upset…We should have told you.”
“N…no you...were…righ…Nah…rea…dy…,” he slurred.
“Shhh…Don’t talk now. We’ll talk later,” he assured him as he smoothed the damp hair back.
The X-Ray technician pushed the door open and pulled his machine in. “Roy…?” Kel gestured toward the door as he Dixie headed out.
The older paramedic cast a worried glance at his partner before releasing his hand. John twisted anxiously. “R…R…oy.”
“I’m gonna be just outside for a minute…I’ll be right back, I promise okay?”
“R…R…oy.” John’s hand pushed at the mask weakly as he struggled to sit up.
“Junior…You got to leave that on,” Roy coaxed gently as his worried blue eyes met Kel’s. John sank back weakly…His eyes drifted closed but he was still restless.
“Roy…Let’s give Ted here some room huh?” They stepped outside.
Jo and her parents spotted them quickly and came to meet them. “How is he?” Arlene asked worriedly as Jo moved into Roy’s embrace.
“He’s pretty weak…They’re doing X-Rays.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
Kel smiled uncertainly. He had no idea who these people were and he wasn’t sure he should be discussing John’s condition with anyone but Roy and his wife. He looked at Roy hesitantly. “It’s okay Doc…These are John’s parents.” Dixie’s eyes widened in shock…Roy had told her John’s parents were dead. Roy saw the look.”Adopted…,” He clarified. Kel had no idea what was going on and took Roy at his word.
“Alright…I can’t be certain until all the tests are back but Johnny was caught in that fire yesterday with a lot of burning fabrics and no air tank…They emit toxic smoke…” Roy nodded…He already knew that. “We already know he had smoke inhalation. I’d guess that the toxic fumes weakened his lungs …Being caught out in the cold and the rain certainly didn’t help.”
“He had pneumonia twice when he was child,” Arlene informed him helpfully.
Kel nodded… “My guess is that he has it again…Both lungs…I don’t believe this is viral or bacterial, it’s more than likely inhalation pneumonia,” he said. “If that’s the case we’ll start him on Clindamycin right away. He’s a very sick boy but he’s tough…I think he’ll be okay if there are no other complications.
“Can I be with him?” Arlene asked.
“We’ll take him up to a room as soon as I get the tests back. You can see him for a few minutes there.”
The door opened and the technician stepped out. “You might wanna get back in there doc…He’s getting agitated.”
Roy heard his name called and pushed past the man, quickly moving to John’s side…The mask was askew once again. “Hey partner…You need to settle down okay? I’m here…,” he reassured the young man gently as he replaced the mask again and took his hand.
The dark eyes tracked toward him fuzzily. “S…St…ay.”
“I’ll stay with you okay?” The brown eyes closed in exhaustion. Roy looked at Kel. “Can I stay with him?” He asked pleadingly.
“Since you seem to be able to keep him calm, I don’t see the harm in it Roy,” Kel said gently…Touched by the bond between the two younger men. “I’ll clear it for you.”
A half hour later Kel’s suspicions were confirmed. “Dix, have them set up a tent,” Kel ordered. “Let’s get him upstairs.”
Roy walked beside the gurney as they wheeled John toward the elevator. Jo and his In-Laws ran to meet them. “Where are they taking him?” Ron asked worriedly as he took John’s other hand in his own.
“Upstairs to a room…He’ll be in 303. Just give us a few minutes to get him settled okay?”
Arlene gently touched John’s cheek. “We’ll be up soon sweetheart,” she said to the sleeping young man as she dropped a kiss on his overly warm forehead. Ron squeezed his hand gently. Roy threw them a worried look and a glance of warning at his wife as they pushed John into the elevator. She nodded in understanding.
“I need to call Eileen,” Arlene said sounding concerned. “She should be here.”
They looked at her with a frown at the anxious look on her face. “What is it Jo…?”
“Look…I know Johnny came back to the house on his own but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to accept you as his parents.”
“What do you mean? He called me mom and…You Jolee and…”
“Yes he did but he was delirious and very sick…I don’t know how much he’ll even remember about tonight.”
“He knew me…,” Arlene argued.
“He didn’t come back for you mom,” Jo said gently, deciding direct honesty was the only way to get through.
“What do you mean?”
Her father looked at his daughter sadly. “You mean he came back for Roy?” He said with certainty remembering his son’s words.
“Yes…,” Jo agreed. “He didn’t want to lose Roy…He apologized for what he said to him not you…”
“Mom…I’m not saying he isn’t ready to listen or maybe even to accept the truth. I’m just telling you to be prepared if he isn’t. Please…This time, let Roy handle it his way okay…He’ll know when Johnny’s ready to talk to you.”
Her mothers eyes filled with tears and she looked at her husband in distress. “Honey…? Look what pushing him to fast has already caused. Roy’s been right all along and we need to trust him.”
They took the elevator up to the third floor and headed to John’s room.
Dixie and Roy helped guide the gurney into the room. Roy’s eyes flicked to the odd contraption he’d never seen before. The bed looked normal except for a square frame atop a pole. Hoses connected to the back of it that in turn connected to an Oxygen unit. A clear plastic curtain was attached to the frame…At the moment the front and sides were flipped over the top of the frame.
The blue gaze turned to Dixie in confusion. “What is that thing?” He asked as the three of them slid the young man onto the bed and the orderly left while Roy hooked the mask into the walls Oxygen supply.
John moaned softly and he shifted restlessly beneath the blankets. The hand rose to push the uncomfortable mask away from his face.
Dixie smiled at Roy as her hand caught John’s and pulled it away. “You leave that alone tiger,” she ordered softly as the dark eyes cracked open. “Roy…Get me a gown from that cabinet. She directed as she began to pull the plastic sheeting down from the frame like a shower curtain around Johnny’s upper body and head.
Roy eyed the contraption uncertainly as he retrieved the requested garment and returned to the bed, handing it to Dixie. He caught Johnny’s hand once more as he attempted to shove the mask from his face. “C’mon partner, gimme a break huh?” Roy said gently.
Dixie quickly snapped the gown into place and removed the blankets, returning them to Roy before pulling the bedcovers up around John, tucking the plastic curtain beneath the edge of the sheets. John’s entire upper torso was now surrounded by plastic. Dixie flipped the switch on the unit and oxygen began to flow into the clear tent.
She smiled as Roy began to understand. Dixie reached under and pulled the mask away. “You can relax now. The mask bothers a lot of patients, especially when their feverish and they get a bit restless…This will make it a lot easier on Johnny, you and his nurses to not have to fight with him over it and we’ll be sure he’s getting enough oxygen,” she explained as she raised the head of the bed.
John seemed to relax a bit as the irritating mask was removed, though his head still moved agitatedly from side to side.”R…R…oy,” he murmured softly.
Roy looked a little lost. “I uh can’t…” he gestured to his restless friend and Dixie grinned at the embarrassed expression on the blonde paramedic’s face.
“Come around to this side.” Roy came around the bed and Dixie showed him the plastic sleeves…They had elastic around to ends to keep the oxygen in and would expand around his wrist as necessary so he could still touch Johnny. He grinned at her knowing smirk and slid his arm inside the sleeve to sweep the damp hair back with his fingers. “Shhh junior…I’m here,” he comforted. John’s head turned toward his friend and the dark eyes cracked open to lock with his. “You just sleep now okay?” The tired, fever glazed eyes slid closed.
Dixie glanced up at the tall fireman. “Those people downstairs…You said they were Johnny’s adopted parents?”
“Yeah…It’s a long story Dixie but what it boils down to is that John is my wife Joanne’s adopted brother.” He continued at her look of amazement. They lost him in a custody battle to his natural family when he was five and they never saw him again until two weeks ago. It was Johnny’s uncle that beat him,” he whispered not wanting John to hear him.
She shook her head in disgust. “Did he finally tell you that?”
“Yeah…The guy showed up at the station this morning,” Roy said turning John’s head so Dixie could see the bruise.
“He hit him?” She squeaked indignantly.
“Yeah…I got out there as quick as I could but he got the one whack in.”
“Well I hope you gave him a taste of his own medicine,” she grouched in annoyance.
Roy smiled. “Not as much as I’d of liked but the guy didn’t want to fight me.”
“No of course not…People like him only beat up defenseless children they know won’t fight back,’ she said snidely.
Roy nodded. There was a light knock on the door and Joanne peeked inside. “Can we come in?”
“Yeah,” Dixie said softly. “But only for a few minutes,” she warned as she slipped past them. “He’s very sick and he needs to rest.”
Roy shot a warning glance at Jo’s parents and Ron nodded gently. “Jo’s already warned us Roy…We’ll let you handle it but please…Try very hard…We're tired of waiting and we want our son back.”
Roy nodded in relief.
John tossed restlessly…His skin felt hot and clammy and sweat trickled through his hair. He tossed beneath the covers, moaning softly. His chest hurt and a ragged cough exploded from his lips and left him gasping for breath and leaving a foul taste in his mouth. He heard voices around him but only one seemed to sift through the cobwebs in his brain.
“Easy junior…I’m here with you. I’ll take care of you…so you just rest now,” the voice said softly. A cool cloth dropped across his fevered brow and another swept the awful tasting, greenish colored fluid from his lips.
“R…oy,” he gasped as another harsh cough slipped free. Man everything hurt and he was hot and cold at the same time. His body shook uncontrollably. There was another sweep of the dampness across his mouth and he wheezed harshly trying to draw air.
Another voice intruded. “Why can’t they do something…? He’s dying.”
“He’s not dying Arlene…You need to stay positive okay,” Roy’s voice insisted.
The dark eyes cracked open and locked with blue. “H…elp me Roy. Doan w…wanna die,” he gasped out fearfully.
A hand swept the dark hair back gently. “I won’t let you die junior…You hear me? You’re gonna keep fighting. I need you back okay?” The cool cloth fell against his face once more and his eyes drifted closed. Roy was here and he’d take care of him…He wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. He knew could rest. “Arlene…Ron, you need to be more careful what you say…You’re scaring him,” he heard Roy whispering as darkness closed in around him.
“I’m sorry Roy…We’re just so afraid.”
Roy’s tone softened as he glanced at his mother In-Law. They shifted to Ron, Joanne and Eileen. All of them had been here every time they were allowed for the last twenty four hours and they were terrified. John had gotten steadily worse and even Brackett had given Roy a hopeless look when he’d been here earlier but Roy refused to give up and he wasn’t about to let Johnny give up either.
The young, blonde fire fighter was almost as exhausted as his critically ill partner but he wouldn’t leave his side. He’d been holding the long slender fingers for hours now and it seemed to give the younger man some comfort as he battled to draw each breath. The rasping wheeze often punctuated by a painful cough that forced the suffocating, fluid from John’s lungs.
“Honey…You need to go home and rest,” Joanne said gently. “We can watch Johnny.”
“She’s right Roy,” her father agreed. “We appreciate what you’re doing for our son but you need to take care of yourself too.”
Roy looked up tiredly and shook his head. “Please don’t take this wrong Ron but I’m not doing this for your son…I’m doing this for my best friend and I’ll stay as long as he needs me.”
“We can take care of him,” Arlene said adamantly.
Roy looked at her and let go of John’s hand and the younger man began to thrash anxiously. His breaths growing rapid and panicked….Roy grasped his hand once more, the other resting on the sweat soaked hair…“Shhh…I’m still here junior, it’s okay.” Johnny calmed under the gentle touch of his thumb sweeping over his temple. “I can’t leave him…He’ll only rest if I stay with him,” he pointed out. “I already called my Captain…He’s letting me stay with Johnny tomorrow too.”
“You’re no good to him if you kill yourself,” Eileen told him. “And one of us can stay with him.”
“I’m no good to him at home sleeping either and he isn’t going to rest with strangers,” he said flatly, too tired with the whole argument to be tactful.
Their eyes reflected their hurt at the brutal honesty of his words but he was right. They may be his family but he barely knew them and they’d yet to resolve the issue of whether or not he believed them as well.
Joanne shook her head at her family. “He’s right…Johnny won’t rest without him.”
Roy’s head was drooping tiredly. He’d been at John’s side for fifty two straight hours and he couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. John seemed to be resting even though his temperature was still elevated. His breathing had eased some and the coughing fits came less frequently…A blessed relief for his aching body.
He’d finally allowed his Mother In -Law to pull her chair up beside him at John’s side while he caught a couple of hours of sleep. She began speaking softly to her son, reminding him of their time together though Roy doubted Johnny could understand much of what she was saying right now. He never remembered hearing Arlene speak to anyone with such a loving, gentle tone. He smiled softly as he drifted off to sleep.
Johnny shifted restlessly beneath the covers…His fingers searching for Roy’s hand.
Johnny felt warm but it wasn’t the blistering heat he’d been suffering through for the last two days…His body ached and his chest felt like someone was sitting on it. His throat felt like sandpaper. He heard the voices around him and recognized the comforting sound of his friend…It’s what he’d been hanging on to for the last two days…It was his anchor here on this side of eternity.
Another voice sifted into his awareness and he vaguely recognized that one too…That one didn’t comfort him…It brought frightening memories and pain and Johnny tried to push them from his mind, twisting away from the terror until the voice changed subtly and a new sound came… Something he recognized that soothed him…The voice was singing softly to him as gentle fingers slipped through his hair.
Arlene watched her son as he tossed frantically beneath the covers. She was afraid for a minute that she’d have to wake Roy. She reached through the plastic sleeve and let her fingers slip through Johnny’s dark, damp hair and began to sing an old lullaby that she’d sung to him as a child.
“Go to sleep my darling, close your little eyes. Angels are above us, peeping through the skies. God is in his heaven, and he watch doth keep…”
John calmed under her fingers and his lips suddenly moved and though no sound came out the words he mouthed were clear. “Time for little children to go to sleep…”
Tears welled in Arlene’s eyes…He remembered. “That’s right my baby…Time for you to go to sleep,” she whispered gently.
“Mom…,” he murmured softly. She lifted his hand in hers and kissed his fingers gently. John’s mouth turned up in a small smile as his eyes closed. Arlene never noticed that Roy’s did too.
Roy’s eyes fluttered open several hours later as Arlene patted his shoulder. “Roy….Your Captain and your crew are here. I’m going to leave for a bit, so they can visit.” Roy looked slightly shocked that she’d been so nice about it but nodded as she left.
“Hey Roy,” Dick greeted quietly, trying not to waken Johnny. “Sorry we woke you. We just came to see how he’s doing?”
Roy smiled at the group, his eyes lingering longest on Chet Kelly. Well I’ll be…he chuckled softly…He really is an okay guy. “He’s doin a little better today Cap,” he said.
“Yeah…?” Marco questioned doubtfully as he looked at the young man in the bed. “Couldn’t tell by lookin at him…”
“He’s put up quite a fight Marco and he’s pretty weak right now but his fevers down and his breathing’s improved a lot.”
Hammer was agreeing with his lineman and shaking his head. If the wheezing breaths that were coming from his youngest crew member were better…Just how bad had the youngster sounded before?
“He’s a pretty tough kid,” Mike said admiringly.
Chet would never admit it but he’d been pretty worried about the young man as well. John stirred, shifting anxiously beneath the covers. The crew exchanged grins as Roy quickly leaned forward to take his hand…The other arm sliding through a plastic sleeve in the odd looking contraption that surrounded Johnny. His hand rested against the younger man’s head. “Shhh…I’m here junior. You’re okay.” The dark eyes cracked open to rest blearily on Roy. “Welcome back Johnny,” he said with a smile.
Once again Johnny heard the murmur of soft voices around him as he seemed to float upward from the dark waves that had seemed to be trying to drown him. He recognized the soothing tone of his partner’s voice.“R…oy,” he mumbled as a hand suddenly came to rest on his forehead. The older man breathed a sigh of relief. It was cool.
“Fever’s broken Junior…You made it.” John smiled tiredly before letting his head drop back on the pillow. His eyes slid closed. Roy shot a grin at his crew mates. “He’s gonna be okay.”
Arlene returned as the station crew left. Joanne, Ron and Eileen joined them. “His fever’s broken,” Roy informed them with a smile. “I think he’s going to be alright but Brackett’s on his way up to check him out.”
“Mom told us she sang to him,” Jo told Roy excitedly.
“Yes I heard her,” Roy teased the older woman for the first time in their association.
She blushed and grinned at him. “But she said he remembered the song too.” Jo added.
Roy shot Arlene a look. “How do you know?”
“He tried to sing it with me…I saw him.”
He nodded. “That’s a good sign I guess but let’s not get too excited…Let’s see how he is when he wakes up. If he’s ready to accept you I’ll let you know but if not.”
Arlene opened her mouth to protest but Ron stepped in. “Then we’ll back off and wait for you to tell us when he is.” She looked at her husband in shock but then remembered what had brought them to this place to begin with. She nodded her head.
“Thank you,” Roy said gratefully.
Joseph White Bear had returned to the station house but John’s shift was not on duty. He needed to find out where John was. If the boy discovered that his father had left him not only this money but another fifty thousand as well that his family had squandered away on gambling and drinking, they could easily wind up in jail.
According to the letter written by Roderick Gage that had come with the first check, the money was supposed to have been left to his guardian Rosemary Gage to see to his care and education…. They had been killed soon after the child’s birth before he had a chance to tell his sister Rosemary that he even had a son and she’d been named his guardian.
The state of California had contacted Roderick Gage’s parents to inform them of their son’s death but they had refused to take their half Indian grandson. The State had no idea that a will had been executed and sat in a Sacramento Attorney’s office and had never contacted Rosemary. They had contacted Kate’s family in Montana and had also been told that they didn’t want the infant either and the child had been placed in state custody and put up for adoption.
It hadn’t been until five years later when Josephs wife Lacee’s father had died that she had found a letter from the insurance company in a box of papers explaining the payout if they could produce the child and proof of guardianship. They apparently hadn’t chosen to take the money or the boy.
Joseph and his wife Lacee had realized that the money would be theirs if they had the child in their custody and had hired an attorney to find him and get him back. His family hadn’t known about the third and final pay off or they would have kept the boy until he’d turned eighteen.
He had to have the boy sign the document that turned that trust account over to them. He just needed to get him alone without that interfering friend to protect him. Joseph knew from the terror he’d seen in his young nephews dark eyes, he’d laid the groundwork well… That despite the fact that John had been away from them for six years, The young man would never stand up to him…he’d be too afraid.
Several men stepped out the open back door of the station with a basketball and Joseph decided to give it a try. He climbed from his car and approached the group. “Excuse me…My name is Joseph White Bear and I’m looking for my nephew…”
“Hi…I’m Charlie Dwyer…Uh what’s his name maybe I can help you…”
John’s dark eyes cracked open to gentle fingers sliding an oxygen canula beneath his nose. He looked up into the soft blue eyes of Dixie McCall. “Well hi there handsome?” she greeted softly before turning to someone behind her. “I think someone would like to see you,” she said as she continued with her task. The tent was gone and John was once again hooked to the wall unit with the oxygen line.
Roy stepped around the pretty blonde nurse and smiled down at his friend. “Hey Junior… How ya feelin…?”
Johnny licked his dry lips and his eyes slid closed, reopening seconds later. “T’red, thir’sy,” he slurred with a raspy voice.
Roy reached over and picked up a cup of ice water. “Here ya go,” he soothed directing the straw into John’s mouth. He sipped gratefully, almost sighing in relief as it slid down his sore, parched throat. He was so tired and it was almost more than he could manage to curl his lips up in a smile at the moment.
The back of Roy’s finger’s gently stroked over his brow and John’s eyes closed. That always felt so good and reminded him of his childhood. His eyes snapped open…Childhood…His parents…His sisters…Joanne and Eileen. The memories of the last few days came flooding back. The dark eyes darted around the room but Dixie and Roy were the only two with him. Had it been a dream? Did he remember his mother singing to him?
His mind sailed back to the terrifying scene with his Uncle that had started the whole nightmare. His hand lifted to slowly touch his face. He winced slightly as his fingers touched the bruise. A Gentle hand closed around his. “Does that hurt Sweetheart?” Dixie asked. John shook his head. She flipped the hair back lightly before turning away. “I’ve got to go Roy but I’ll be back later,” she told the older man.
“Thanks Dix,” Roy replied as she left and he turned his attention back to John. “You gave me a hell of a scare junior. I Thought I’d lost ya there a couple times.”
“Don’t be sorry junior,” Roy replied, taking John’s hand once more.
“Roy…?” Johnny began with a frown.
The older man smiled down at him. “You had pneumonia in both lungs junior…”
John frowned. “R…rain…Cold,” he mumbled.
“That’s right…You got caught out in the rain and you were hypothermic. Do you remember?”
“Yeah…,” the dark eyes swiveled toward Roy… “Jo’s p…par…ents.” John licked his lips once more….The brown eyes lifting uncertainly to Roy. “Re…mem…ber.”
Roy sighed, not wanting to rehash this and upset the younger man. “What about them?”
“My…Mom and d…dad…too…?” He questioned doubtfully with a strained furrowing of his brow, hoping Roy would tell him it was nothing but a fever induced hallucination.
“Johnny, you’re very tired. Maybe we should discuss this later huh?”
Roy closed his eyes, afraid of his reaction but he wouldn’t lie to him. “Yes Johnny…They are.”
“S…ang to me…,” he whispered tiredly.
Roy smiled and flipped a lock of sable hair off John’s forehead. “Yes she did. She sang a lullaby to you yesterday. She used to sing it to you when you were little. Do you remember?”
“So…Do you want to see them?” Roy suggested hesitantly.
John thought about that for a minute. Did he want to see them? He hadn’t really had a chance to talk to Roy. To ask questions and find out what had really happened. Why they had sent him away or if they really even had. Was it possible his memory of the events had been wrong? Had his Uncle and Aunt lied to him about that? Roy said they had but everything had happened so fast that he hadn’t had a chance to process everything yet. Was he ready to just accept what they said as the truth? Roy did but then he hadn’t been there and maybe they were lying to him too… Johnny didn’t know and he was so tired. He finally shook his head. He needed more time when his head didn’t hurt so badly or the rest of him either for that matter. “No,” he whispered as his eyes closed.
Roy sighed in disappointment. “Okay junior but I want you to think about it okay? I know you don’t believe it yet but they love you very much.”
The chocolate brown eyes opened once more. “H…how do you… know…?” He whispered uncertainly. “Y…ou weren’t the…re.”
“I was there…I was only a kid myself but I remember you…I used to play with Jo and Eileen. I told you about being a fireman…That that was what I wanted to be when I grew up…Do you remember that?”
A small smile curled John’s lips. “Yeah,” he murmured. Roy was the other boy in his memory.
“I remember how devastated they were when they took you away…Jo cried for weeks. Her mother was never the same. She grieved for you all the time. They celebrated your birthday EVERY year for the last sixteen years Johnny…That tells me how much they loved you.”
John chewed his lower lip uneasily. He still wasn’t sure…His nightmare’s told a completely different story but was that memory or what his Uncle had told him to believe. Was Roy right? He’d only been a child himself…Would he really know how these people felt about him? He was too tired to think. He shook his head and his eyes closed once more. “Sleep…I n…eed to sleep.”
Joanne and her family came to the hospital later that morning. Roy glanced up and then quickly at Johnny. His young partner had been asleep for some time now and Roy was afraid he’d wake up at any moment and the last thing he wanted was for John to get upset at their being there.
He held his hand up and waved them back outside. He gave his sleeping partner a final glance and went out to join them.
What’s wrong honey?” Jo asked worriedly as he stepped out the door.
“Let’s go grab a cup of coffee and talk for a minute.” His tone brought a frown of concern from Ron and Arlene but they didn’t argue. Roy led them to the doctor’s lounge and peeked inside. There was no one there. He poured them all a cup of coffee and sat down.
They exchanged glances as Roy stared down at his clasped hands. Jo reached over to touch them gently. “Talk…” was all she said.
He nodded. “I spoke to Johnny a little while ago.” They nodded in concern. “He remembers what happened and he’s still pretty confused by it all right now.” They nodded again. “He remembered you singing to him Arlene…In the room and when he was little,” Roy said with a grin.
“That’s wonderful,” she said squeezing her husband’s hand and smiling happily but it was short lived.
“I asked him if he wanted to see you.” There were four anxious faces awaiting his reply. Roy looked away. “He said no.”
Tears welled in their eyes in despair. “I have to talk to him,” Ron protested. “I have to make him understand.”
“Ron…You can’t make him understand. He’s still trying to make sense of all of this and I’m asking you to give him a little more time to think things through on his own. To wait until he’s well enough to really understand what I’m saying to him. To trust that what I’m telling him is the truth instead of what he’s been told his whole life. Please…I made some headway today. I told him about the birthday party’s you’ve had for him every year and I reminded him that I was there when he little and I know how devastated you were when they took him away. He was seriously thinking about it so please…Just a little more time.”
They finally nodded in agreement. “Alright Roy,” Ron and Arlene agreed. Eileen nodded unhappily but she wouldn’t go against her sister’s husband.
“There’s one more thing,” Roy said, shifting uncomfortably.
“What’s that Roy?” Ron asked, noting the sudden nervousness of his son in law.
“Whatever Johnny decides…I’m asking you to respect his wishes.”
“What?” They gasped almost simultaneously.
“I’ll do my best to convince him to talk to you. To let you explain things but if he says no…Then I’m asking you to let him go...Don’t push him.”
“We can’t do that,” Arlene protested.
“We can’t lose him again,” Ron argued.
“Your son has Post traumatic stress disorder…If you push him into something he’s not able to handle you could cause him a great deal of stress do you understand? He could snap…Worse he could just run away and none of us will be able to help him. Right now I’m still someone he trusts but if you push him... then we all lose him.”
“No buts…You have to be prepared to let him walk away if that’s what HE wants and needs right now.”
They remembered what he said the other day and as much as their hearts were breaking they exchanged an understanding glance. It’s what HE needed that mattered most right now and what he needed was his friend. The one person he did trust and they didn’t want to take that from him too.
“What about me Roy?” Joanne asked.
“What about you?”
“John’s your partner…He and I are going to see each other frequently.”
“Can you treat him like you always have? Like he’s Johnny and not J.R.?”
“If that’s the only way to keep him coming around than I guess I’ll have too won’t I?” She said plaintively.
“But maybe that won’t be necessary,” a woman’s voice came from the door.
They turned around to see a tall, slender, dark haired, green eyed woman standing in the doorway.
Roy stood and hurried toward her. “Rosemary…How are you?”
“I’m fine Roy. I came to see John but I was told he was in the hospital with pneumonia again so I came here. The nurse in emergency said I might find you here.”
“Please come in. There’re some people here that you should meet anyway.”
“So I gathered,” she said as her green eyes swept the group.
“Rosemary…This is my wife Joanne and her Parents Ron and Arlene Hutchin’s and their other daughter Eileen and this is John’s Aunt…Rosemary Hughes.”
They all nodded at each other in greeting as Rose joined them at the table. “Rose…These people are John’s adoptive parents and his sisters.”
She grinned at him. “So I take it you didn’t know you really were his big brother when we met instead of just acting like it.”
Roy flushed but nodded in agreement. “We just found out on his birthday.”
“Well that’s part of why I’m here,” she said as she reached into her purse and pulled out several envelopes.” The first bore the logo of a life insurance company. The other Johnny’s name in a very masculine hand writing. “This was delivered while I was in Sacramento or I would have brought it sooner.”
“What is it?” Roy asked curiously.
“A life insurance policy my brother Roderick took on himself and his wife Kate when he found out she was pregnant with his son.” She smiled sadly. “I imagine he never dreamed they’d have to cash it in that quickly.”
“I’m so sorry,” Roy said softly. “I imagine that if he did that,” he said nodding at the envelope. “That he most likely loved John very, very much.”
She held up the other letter. “Yes he did…And this letter will tell him so. I never gave it to him because it mentioned the insurance policy and well…Since he had to wait until he was twenty one to receive it and twenty five to actually be able to use it…Well…There just didn’t seem to be a reason.”
“Insurance policy…,” Roy murmured. “I wonder if that’s the one his uncle mentioned…? But you told me that they’d already gotten that. That that was the reason for taking Johnny back.”
Rose looked up sharply. “His Uncle…? You mean that man was here?”
“Yes and I found out that it was him that abused Johnny as well.”
“You mean he told you?” Rose asked in surprise. Roy nodded. “Well, I’m not surprised but yes it probably is and that’s the reason I’m here. I got this letter from my attorney but the original was most likely mailed to Johnny at the address the company had for him in Montana since they were his guardians the last time they paid off.”
“Last time…?” Roy questioned.
“Let me explain. My brother designated me as John’s legal guardian in his Will but when he was killed so quickly after it was written…It hadn’t even been filed yet. The state had no record of it of course and so they contacted the next of kin which was my parents. They refused to take him,” she said in disgust at their bigotry. They never even saw fit to tell me my brother was dead. They just paid for a private service and had them buried in the little town they died in.”
“I’m so sorry Rose,” Roy said again.
“I would have loved him,” she said softly. She looked to the others. “As I’m sure you did.”
“Yes…,” Arlene agreed.
“Anyway…They contacted Kate’s parents in Montana and apparently they didn’t want him either so the State put him up for adoption. The insurance company had no idea at that point who had the child and sent out letters to both sets of parents. My parents didn’t need the money and simply threw the letter away. Kate’s parents obviously didn’t feel the money was worth taking the half white child in to raise and,” she shrugged. “Never answered the letter either… Of course they had no idea what had happened or who had him so they never contacted you.”
“So why did they come back five years later?” Roy asked.
“John showed up on my doorstep when he was fifteen. He said that he was my nephew and that his family had thrown him out and he had nowhere to go.”
Roy nodded…He’d heard this part before.”
“I had my attorney hire a detective to find out and from what he gathered…That’s when his aunt and uncle found out about the money. Produce the child…Get the check.”
The group gasped in outrage. “So all he was to them was money?” Arlene asked in shock? Ron and his two daughters looked equally horrified.
“They beat and terrorized a child to get their hands on his money…To steal it from him.”
She nodded. “Rod had it set up…Fifteen thousand the moment they produced proof of guardianship. He figured when the boy was fifteen, he’d start thinking of college and cars and so he set up the second payout then. Thirty five thousand more when he turned fifteen to pay for college and other things.”
Roy shook his head. “John would have been set for quite a while with that.”
“He never saw a dime of it,” Rosemary said angrily. “That pig of an uncle drank and gambled it away.”
“So why is he back now?” Roy asked.
“The final payoff I assume… You see my brother figured that if he lived, he’d have time to teach him to invest and save for that time down the road when he would get this money and if something happened to him, then John would need to be cared for and even though I could have afforded it…I’m sure Rod would have wanted John to know he was still taking care of him even though he was gone. So he parceled it out the way he figured it could best be used to raise him. The last payout is the biggest and he figured if he just dumped too much on him too soon he’d squander it like any other kid on fast cars and foolishness…So he put it in trust. John would receive the money on his twenty first birthday which was a two weeks ago but he couldn’t SPEND it until he turns twenty five…That way he’d be a little more mature and he’d have three years to THINK about what to do with it instead of just wasting it.”
“Smart man,” Roy said with a chuckle as he thought about his young partner and some of his silly ideas. “So now his uncle thinks he’s just going to waltz in here and take the rest?”
“That would be my guess,” she agreed. “That’s why I came. I wanted to warn him.”
“Why didn’t you tell him?” Ron asked.
“Because I didn’t want him to be hurt finding out that all he was to those people was a free ride. That they never cared about him at all…I didn’t know they’d abused him then either…Just that John had run away from them repetitively.”
“We loved him,” Arlene murmured. “I didn’t care about money or his heritage or any of that. I just wanted to love him and they took him from us for money. They hurt him so badly Ron,” she wept. “And now he thinks it us that didn’t want him.”
Roy smiled at his father In-Law over Arlene’s head. “Yes but now I can tell him the whole truth and maybe he can understand why those people fought so hard to take him from you.”
“Why tell him we didn’t want him?” Jo asked plaintively.
“To break him down…Keep him in line. To beat it into him that he owed THEM his life. That they were the ones taking care of him because NO ONE else wanted him and to be sure he wouldn’t want to go running home to you at the first opportunity.”
“Oh Roy,” Jo whispered. “Please make him listen.”
Joseph White Bear made his way to the information desk at Rampart Hospital. A pretty, dark haired nurse was shuffling papers behind it and glanced up at his approach. “Can I help you?” She asked the man standing in front of her. She shuddered a bit at the coldness of the black eyes looking back at her. He didn’t look friendly at all.
“I’m looking for a patient named John Gage,” He said.
Another nurse happened to be walking by at that moment…An older blonde woman. She stopped and turned back. “I’m sorry did I hear you ask for John Gage?” He nodded. She smiled at him despite the fact that the man’s cruel looking eyes gave her the chills. “Johnny’s in room 303,” she said helpfully.
“Thank you,” he said curtly as he walked away.
“Well, he was rather unpleasant,” she mumbled to the other woman.
“He certainly scared me,” she agreed as she went back to her papers.
John was lightly dozing when he heard the door to his room open. He’d awakened earlier and had been disappointed to find that Roy wasn’t there…He’d hoped to be able to talk to his friend. He’d closed his eyes and let himself drift. His mind sliding back into the memories of his past…He wished he could make sense of it all.
He remembered the dream he’d had the night he’d gotten so sick. This one had been different from the others…Always before his parents had been smiling and happy when they had handed him away. They turned to their own daughters and never even glanced back.
John frowned…That wasn’t true though…Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered something different. The sound of his mother weeping in sorrow and his father’s voice pleading with the man in uniform not take his son. The hysterical crying of his two sisters as he’d been pulled from their grasp. His mother curled around him protectively…Desperately before the man had forced her to hand him over.
YOU WILL FORGET THOSE PEOPLE…John’s eyes jerked awake and he gasped as the voice faded from his mind. He remembered the pain and the feel of the belt on skin as his Uncle had screamed at him over and over again that he was wrong…They didn’t want him…They’d given him back.
John shook his head…It hadn’t sounded right but pain and hunger and fear had driven the other thoughts…The good memories from his mind. “Do it again Jolee…” He heard his own childish laughter echo in his head as her fingers tickled his ribs. “Faster Elly…Faster,” he cried gleefully as she spun him round and round until they both fell on the ground…Dizzy and giggling madly. The sound of his mother singing softly to him at night and his father’s deep voice trying to sound like all the little animals in the book he read to him before he went to bed.
He really needed to talk to Roy…Maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe he needed to give them a chance to explain. He heard the squeak and his eyes opened. He turned to look at who had entered, hoping it was Roy. His blood ran cold at the sight of his uncle standing in the doorway and he began to shake.
“W…what are you d…oing here?” John whispered fearfully.
“We have some unfinished business,” Joseph replied coldly as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the insurance forms. “You will sign this document now,” he commanded as he pulled a paper from the envelope.
“What d…docu…ment…I don’t know w…hat you’re t…talking about,” he stammered as a rough cough escaped his lips.
“You don’t need to know…Only to do what you’re told.”
He opened the paper and handed John a pen. The young man looked at him and shook his head. “I’m not s..igning that…I w…ant to read it…I don’t…”
A vicious backhand reeled John’s head to the right and he gasped in pain…coughing harshly as he tried to get his breathing under control. He felt his uncles’ hands dig into his shoulders, practically yanking him from the bed. John’s aching body painfully protested the mishandling. His head spun dizzily as Joseph shook him violently. “You will not question what I tell you to do,” he snarled as he slammed John’s slender body back on the bed. “Sign it.”
John was panting weakly and he shook in fear but he still gave the man a negative shake of his dark head.
The older man was shocked. John had never defied him for very long as a child once he’d been properly trained to be obedient to his demands. Resistance had been dealt with quickly and painfully and the boy had usually yielded the moment his hand touched his belt buckle…Not that that had saved him from the man’s abuse…Joseph smiled hatefully. Obviously six years away had caused him to forget his place. The boy needed a reminder. He reached for the buckle on his belt and was pleased to see the dark eyes widen in terror.
John tried to scramble away but he was still weak and the sides of the bed prevented him from sliding from the mattress. The IV pulled at his arm and the nasal canula was dislodged. “R…ROY…” He cried fearfully as he curled into a tight ball, prepared to weather the painful blows he knew were about to fall.
The belt slithered free from the loops and John heard the whoosh as it swung toward him. He cried out as it cracked against the skin of his bare leg…His body jerking as tears of pain welled in his eyes. The man drew back again…John clamped his eyes shut as he waited for the next blow to fall but it didn’t. He heard the crack of leather on skin but it wasn’t his.
Roy had left the others downstairs and headed up to talk to his partner. He carried the letter from his father and a copy of the insurance papers with him. Rosemary had willingly handed them over and had given the young man her blessing to carry the information to John, hoping that with all of the story now in place he could convince him of the truth and pull this family back together. John deserved that.
He stepped out of the elevator and rounded the corner to John’s room. He heard his name called out in terror. “R…ROY…” He ran the last few steps and shoved the door open in time to see John’s uncle land a vicious blow to the young man curled on the bed. He saw John’s body jerk and a soft cry of pain slipped from his lips.
He saw the arm draw back again and he moved quickly. He interposed his body between the belt and his friend. Pain flared in his brain and fury quickly followed. The burning sensation of that heavy leather belt against his shoulder made a lasting impression with one stroke so what had his young partner had to endure? The thought made him sick.
He quickly turned and moved toward John’s attacker. Joseph backed away from the rage in the younger man’s eyes. “You got in the way…It wasn’t meant for you,” he tried to appease the angry man.
“No…It was meant for a sick, helpless kid that couldn’t protect himself from you, you son of a…,” Roy didn’t finish the sentence as his fist swung in a roundhouse that staggered the other man.
He fell backward and the papers fell from his hand. He lifted them to defend himself from Roy’s attack but the blonde man was furious and ducked under them to deliver a second blow that doubled him over. Roy grabbed him by the front of the shirt and pulled him upright, delivering a third blow that broke the man’s nose. He took hold again and shook him in much the same way the older man had just shaken Johnny. “Now…You’re gonna tell that boy what really happened,” he snarled as he dragged him toward the bed. The door swung open and they both looked toward it.
Rosemary and the others had continued to talk after Roy had left. They hoped to give him a few minutes alone with John and then they’d go up and see if Johnny would at least hear them out.
The door opened and Dixie walked into the room. She recognized Joanne and her parents and thought the other woman looked familiar was well. She finally remembered where she’d seen her before. She was Johnny’s Aunt. She smiled at them. “Well I see the whole family is here to see our boy huh?” The other’s smiled and nodded as she went to the coffee pot. “He’s very popular today,” she added as she poured.
“Oh?” Jo asked curiously, hoping that Johnny wouldn’t have other visitors that would keep Roy from being able to talk to him.
“Yes…Another man just went up to talk to him…Didn’t seem very friendly though.”
“What do you mean,” Ron asked in alarm.
“Just seemed to be very cold…Unfriendly you know?” She added as she looked at them. She set the cup down in concern at their worried looks. “What’s wrong?” She asked.
“What did he look like?” Jo asked.
Dixie shrugged a bit… “I’d say at a guess that he was Indian.”
All five of the others came to their feet. “It’s his Uncle,” Rosemary gasped. They all ran for the door. Dixie quickly followed. She grabbed another young nurse as she passed by.
“Sally…Call Dr. Brackett and Security to room 303…It’s Johnny.”
The girl nodded as Dixie ran after the others.
Johnny waited for the burning pain to come from a second blow. He flinched at the sound of leather connecting with flesh and wondered why he hadn’t felt anything. He heard the sound of his partner’s voice and almost wept in relief. He turned his head in time to see Roy’s fist slam into his uncle’s stomach doubling the man over.
He knew that his partner was talking but he couldn’t comprehend what he was saying. John was gasping for breath and he hurt. He was shivering in shock and his chest felt tight. His leg felt like it was burning. His face ached from the vicious blow and the IV had been ripped loose from his arm. Tears of pain and fear threatened to spill over and he tried to reach up and wipe them away but he couldn’t make his trembling arm move.
Roy was now holding John’s Uncle by the shirt and was rattling the man’s brain with the violent shaking he was giving him. John couldn’t seem to raise much sympathy for him.
The blonde man finally dragged him toward John’s bed just as the door opened and John’s family ran inside.
Roy shoved the Uncle toward Ron and quickly turned to his young partner. “It’s John’s Uncle,” he said angrily as he put his arms around Johnny and tried to calm him. “Shhh junior…It’s okay now. I’m here…We’re all here,” he amended turning his partner’s head so he could see his family. "Let's get you back on the bed okay?" he said resettling John's slender frame in the center of the bed.
Dixie quickly grabbed the IV line and checked to be sure the needle had been pulled clear and hadn’t been broken off. She quickly reestablished the IV. “Is he alright?” She asked Roy but her eyes were on Joseph.
“He’ll be alright…He’s mostly just scared I think though his breathing’s a bit labored.”
“I’m okay?” John whispered, but his hand was still gripping his partner tightly. Joanne moved to his side…her hands gently rubbing John’s shoulders as they watched it all unfold.
Ron on the other hand was hard pressed not to finish the job Roy had started and almost hoped the drooping older man would take a swing at him or try to get away.
Roy looked up at White Bear. “I want you to tell Johnny the truth.”
The man looked at him defiantly and John turned his dark eyes toward his partner. “What truth?”
“Tell him why you took him from his family here in LA.”
“They gave him back.”
“You liar,” Ron growled as he gripped the man’s shirt.
Joseph flinched. “Don’t hit me,” he whined fearfully.
“Tell my son what really happened,” Ron growled in his face. “Before I finish the job…”
Joseph looked scared. “They did not send you back…We found out about an insurance policy your father left for you. We wanted the money, so we went to court and took you back.” He looked at Ron. “Now let me go.”
“Not a chance. You took our child from us and stole the money that should have provided him with everything he could have needed. You're gonna pay for that.”
Security shoved their way into the room with Dr. Brackett hot on their heels. His eyes swept over the scene before taking in the man John’s father held by his shirt front. The dark eyes turned to Johnny who was being held protectively against Roy. He guessed the source of those marks he’d seen on Johnny in the ER the other day.
“Call the police,” Brackett ordered as the security team took hold of Joseph. “Is Johnny alright?” He asked as he looked the younger man over.
“He’ll be alright. He just needs a few minutes Doc okay. You can look at him then…It’s mostly a few bruises and cuts.” Roy jerked his head at the man they had in custody. “He assaulted Johnny and he stole a lot of money…He was trying to steal a lot more.”
Kel nodded. “I’ll see the police talk to you for all the little details. We’ll be back in a few. Dix…,” he invited…Holding the door open. She gave Roy a smile and a wink as she followed Kel out.
John’s mind was whirling. It had all been a lie. Roy had been right…Joseph had lied to him…Made him believe that the truth he’d known in his heart was a lie. He raised his head as his family gathered around him, watching him in concern.
His mouth trembled as he looked into the worried faces of his parent’s. “Mom…Dad,” he whispered with a hitch in his voice.
They smiled and Arlene held her arms out hopefully. Johnny leaned forward into her embrace. “My baby,” she whispered softly as Roy let him go and stepped back… Ron’s arms wrapped around his wife and son… Eileen moved in to join them as John's mother cradled her son in her arms for the first time in sixteen years, planting a gentle kiss on the top of his dark head.
Roy had tears in his eyes and he felt a pang of jealousy that he was no longer needed. Johnny had his family back. Joanne’s arms slid around her husband in a tight hug, before she also joined her parents and her sister to welcome their brother home.
Roy turned away but suddenly felt a hand grasp his. He looked into dark eyes that were pleading with him to stay and he smiled. Johnny grinned back. Ron suddenly reached out and pulled Roy into the group. “Thank you Roy…Thank you for giving our son back to us,” he said as he embraced his son In-Law for the first time.
Three weeks later Johnny was sitting on the deck talking with Roy and watching their friends and families have a great time. Captain Hammer was manning the barbecue grill while the others were engaged in several activities. The children raced about the lawn happily. His parents would both be returning to San Diego in the morning. He’d been released for duty and would be returning to work the next day and he was looking forward to it.
John’s mother had rarely let the young man from her sight over the last few weeks and now sat on the other side of him listening as Johnny spoke to his partner. “You know Roy…I don’t know if you know this but I became a fireman because of you.”
“Because of me…?” He questioned in surprise.
“Yup…All those stories you used to tell me when I was little about being a fireman. We wouldn’t even be partners if not for that.”
Arlene leaned around her son. “That’s just great Roy…Not only did you waste your life but you talked my son into wasting his as well. It’s such a dangerous job…”
Roy rolled his blue eyes in irritation bringing a giggle from his young partner. “And just what are you laughing at young man?” She asked shaking a finger at her son.
“Just remember mom…If I hadn’t become his partner I’d have never found you guys either,” he teasingly reminded her. She softened instantly. Her hand cupped his cheek as she realized the truth of that statement.
That’s true,” she said but then she turned thoughtful. “But you’re both so smart and I don’t understand why you don’t go back to school.”
Roy laughed and thumped him off the back as the dark eyes rolled in exasperation. “MOM,” he whined.
John was getting ready for bed later that night. He took out the letter his Aunt Rosemary had given him from his father. He’d read all the insurance papers and the letters his father had written explaining why he’d chosen to do it the way he had. He understood that his father had planned for his future and that his uncle had stolen the money from him. John regretted that but at the same time just having the knowledge that his parents had obviously cared enough to do this for him was all he really needed.
She’d also told him the there was a hundred and fifty thousand dollars sitting in a trust fund for him the day he turned twenty five. He’d been a little perturbed that he’d have to wait but then after considering it he thought his dad had been right. He had three years to think about what to do with that money instead of wasting it on a lot of other things he really didn’t need right now but would have bought anyway just because he could.
She’d given him one other letter…One he’d yet to read. So much had happened over the last three weeks. His Uncle’s arrest on assault charges and for using the money intended for John for himself. Child abuse…It had only been six years, which meant that the statute of limitations hadn’t run out. Finding his family again and knowing the truth…Having the nightmares gone for good. Knowing his best friend and partner had brought it all about. He didn’t know what he’d do without Roy. He loved Joanne being right there and having the children call him Uncle Johnny always made him smile.
John curled on the bed…It was time. He unfolded the paper and quickly recognized the writing he’d come to know so well.
August 28, 1951
My dearest John
“My son…Today I held you for the very first time. I couldn’t believe that something so incredibly precious could come in such a tiny, warm squirmy, little package…I feel so unbelievably proud…”
He smiled at that but soon tears rolled down John’s face as his father poured out his heart to his newborn son…Telling him of his and his mother’s love for him and for each other. The questions he’d always asked himself were answered. He would have been loved and cherished if they’d lived…He’d have never known the sorrows or the pain that he’d lived with. That’s all he’d ever questioned. He folded the paper carefully and put it away. He’d cherish it always but knew he had to look to now and the family that loved him right here in this time and place. He turned out the light and went to sleep.
Johnny and Roy were squatting on the floor in the apparatus bay. The argument they’d been engaged in since this morning was still going on. Roy had been looking into buying a new house and John had been trying to help him.
Roy had hesitated at the hassles of buying a new home and Johnny had gone to take a look at the property himself. Thinking that Roy wasn’t interested, he’d purchased the house with the money he received from his trust fund a few days ago.
Roy had finally decided to buy the house but had been furious when he’d found out someone had already bought it. His anger had only increased when he’d found out exactly who had done it. They’d been arguing about it for some time when Captain Hank Stanley stepped from his office to join them as the cleaned up from their last rescue.
He looked down at the two paramedics…Best friends, partners and brothers in law though the brothers they might well have been anyway without the tie by marriage…They were that close.
Cap leaned against the squad. “Well it bears repeating…That was nice work today.”
Roy glanced up and smiled. “Thank you…How else am I gonna get him to sell me the house.”
John grinned and glanced at his partner… “I’m not gonna sell you that house.”
“C’mon,” Roy said tapping John’s knee playfully. “What are you gonna do with all those bedrooms and all those trees?”
John sighed. “Well…I must admit, I have had second thoughts,” he said ruefully. He looked at Roy’s smirk of satisfaction. “I can’t sell you the house for what I bought it for,” he explained.
“Why not…?” Roy asked looking confused.
John started ticking off points on his fingers. “Appreciation…Wear and tear…Points.”
“Points…?” Roy mumbled in bafflement.
John shot him an irritated glance for interrupting his narrative. “Profit,” he continued.
“Profit…?” Roy said in shock as he stood up to look at his Captain in disbelief. “Profit from a friend…?” He questioned Johnny and then back to Hank… “From a friend,” he reiterated. “I save his life and this is what I get?” He said in amazement.
John stood up looking confused by Roy’s irritation with him. “Yeah…You saved my life…but last week I saved your life” He held up two fingers. “Twice…”
“Once…,” Roy corrected.
“TWICE…ONCE…” The two men corrected each other simultaneously.
Cap chuckled and headed off to his office.
Roy finally sighed, realizing Johnny wasn’t gonna yield. He’d just give him time to think about it and maybe he’d change his mind.
Johnny grinned as Roy turned away in defeat. It was so seldom that John ever won a fight with his older partner that he savored it for a long moment. He finally came up beside Roy as he leaned on the squad in frustration. John leaned over and looked up at him.
“You really mad at me?” He asked.
“No…Not really,” he said quietly as he glanced at his young brother In-law…He could never stay angry with him for very long. “I guess you got the house first.”
John smiled. “Well I really didn’t buy the house for me anyway…I mean what am I gonna do with all those rooms.”
Roy glanced at him hopefully. “So you’d be willing to sell it?”
John shook his head. “Nope, but I’m not gonna live in it either…I bought a smaller one up the street for me…Not quite so many rooms or trees but it does have a stable. Thought I might like to have a horse someday…”
Roy looked baffled. If he wasn’t going to live in it then why wouldn’t he sell it? It wasn’t like John to be selfish. “What are ya gonna do with it?”
“I know this great family that needs a bigger house. Young couple… two great kids.” Roy was looking at him in confusion. John grinned at him. “I bought the house for you Roy. Well you and Jo and the children.”
“Johnny…,” Roy stopped, looking absolutely dumbfounded. “I can’t take that…”
“Well I only put down half but I figure with what you can get for your house…You should be able to pay it off and still have some left over to put away for college for Chris and Jenny.”
“Johnny it’s too much.”
John smiled into his friends eyes… “No Roy... It’ll never be enough.” He said softly.
This story began as a kernel of an idea from a special friend. This story is dedicated to her as a thanks for the inspiration and all the encouragement she’s given me from the very start of my writing. Thank you Southernfrau for letting me take your vision of Johnny’s past and run with it. I hope it didn’t disappoint.
*The quote… “The fire department better get ready for long haired fireman…”was actually used by Randolph Mantooth when he was told he’d have to cut his hair for the role of John Gage. I hope he doesn’t mind if I use it.
Words printed in italics are from the series premier episode… ‘The Wedsworth Townsend Act… And To Buy or Not To Buy…Written by Preston Wood… Copyright… Universal Studios/Mark VII Limited Productions…
Published to Site 11/16/10
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