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End of the Road
A brother is not always a friend but a friend is always a brother.
Roy heard the lock click and quickly pushed the door open, stepping into the room. He let the door swing half closed behind him. John was slowly sinking to the floor…The look of anguished shock still on his face. He leaned against the bed, drawing his knees up to his chin. A slow rock began and tears glittered in his eyes.
John swiped at them angrily and then covered his eyes with his hand as if to hold them back by force. Roy dropped to his knees next to his friend. “Johnny?” He questioned softly as he reached out to smooth the sable hair back from his face. “Look at me junior,” he demanded quietly.
John’s dark eyes turned toward him. “I…I’m so sorry,” he whispered, looking thoroughly ashamed. “I…I can’t b…believe they did that to you and Jo. Why didn’t you tell me…? Man…You must wish you’d never met me,” he whispered in anguish.
“That’s not true John…You know better than that,” Roy corrected him. ‘We’re your friends.”
“G…God, what those people must be thinkin…,” he gasped through embarrassed tears. “You shoulda just left me there with Gayle.I wish she'd of just...” John hesitated and gentle motion of Roy’s hand froze as his partner finished. “Just killed me,” he whispered.
Roy gripped John’s shoulders, giving his friend a hard shake. “Look at me John…Right now,” he said angrily but John’s eyes remained fixed on his knees, his mind whirling through how humiliated Roy and Joanne had to have been because of him. Roy gripped his chin, knowing the emotional stress his friend was under and that John had to be very close to retreating right now. He jerked the bowed head up, forcing the dark eyes to meet his. John’s widened as he saw the anger reflected in Roy’s.
Outside the door, Joanne and Kel’s eyes met as well. Tears flooded Jo’s at the hurt her young friend was feeling. “God…What have they driven him too,” she whispered. She’d never heard Johnny sound so despondent. Even wishing himself dead.
“Let’s give Roy a little time to talk to him,” Kel suggested as he took her arm and drew the anguished woman away as the blonde paramedic forced John’s head up.
“Don’t you ever say that again,” Roy snapped…His blue eyes icy with anger as they blazed into sorrowful brown.
"Why...? M…Maybe it woulda been better for everyone if she’d just finished it," he whispered in obvious distress at this new turn of events.
"Stop it John...That's not true and you know it," theolder man barked.
John looked away, unable to meet Roy's angry blue eyes. Sure that the rage in them was directed at him. He was right but for the wrong reasons. “How can you even stand to look at me? Look what I’ve done to you…That’s what being around me has done to you. People th…thinking that about you and J…Jo,” he gasped…Struggling to speak through the turmoil he was feeling…“Because of me…Because you tried to help me.” John furiously scrubbed at the tears that had begun to trickle down his cheeks…Angry with himself for letting that weakness show again. He'd never cried before he'd met the DeSoto family...He'd had no reason too. He'd lost his ability to feel anything, but they'd given that back...the only problem with that was that in teaching him to love...They'd also given him back the ability to be hurt and right now his heart was breaking at the idea that his friends would be hurt because of him. He tried to struggle free of Roy’s grip on his chin…Pushing at his hand. “Please Roy just go…Just go home. I’ve already done enough damage to you and Jo,” he stammered breathlessly. “God, you must hate me.”
“Johnny, stop it…,” Roy barked. His hands held John’s face firmly. “Stop it…,” He said a bit softer as the dark eyes finally lifted to meet his. “I don’t hate you and neither does Jo. We love you …You know that. You’re my best friend and you know that too and if some narrow minded jerk or even a roomful of them want to read something more into it than that then that’s their problem not mine…Not ours.”
John shook his head. “I don’t want people to think badly about you or Jo and what about the kids. I never meant to repay your family this way.”
“I don’t want you to repay me at all…We’ve talked about this before. You don’t owe us anything Junior, understand? None of this was your fault…None of it. ”
John shook his head miserably unable to see anything but the embarrassment he’d brought on this family just as he’d always been to his other family. He tried to push Roy’s hand aside as he struggled to get away but the older man had had enough. He pulled John against him. “Stop Johnny,” he murmured quietly, his chin resting atop the sable hair. “I don’t care what anyone else thinks, do you understand? I love you and so does Jo. I told them that on the stand under oath and I meant it.” He set John away from him to look into his face. “I’m not ashamed of what you are to me…Are you?” He demanded.
John shook his head. “No but…I know it’s not…You know…what they think,” he stuttered, flushing in embarrassment. “And they don’t.”
“They don’t think anything…Just one man but if they do…Then that’s their problem…but Johnny, I saw their faces in that courtroom today. They looked at that man like he was the jerk. They understood how I felt about you and they knew he was just trying some desperate ploy to destroy my credibility and that’s all it was…They were disgusted by him not me…Not Jo and not you.”
“But that woman on the news said…,” John began.
“I don’t care what she said…Hell I don’t even know who she was talkin about for sure and neither do you.” Roy scrubbed the tears from John’s face with his shirt sleeve, drawing a rueful crooked grin from his partner.
“Thanks pally,” he sighed forlornly. “I don’t know why you put up with me.”
“I love you…You’re the only brother I’ve got,” Roy said, throwing him a grin. “Besides, it’s not as tough as you seem to think it is,” he added as he climbed to his feet and held his hand out to John. “C’mon,” he invited. “Come back out with the rest of your family. Jeff still needs to go over your testimony.”
Johnny reached out and took the offered hand, letting Roy tug him to his feet but he pulled back a bit. “Roy? I’m scared. What if I…Well…You know.”
“Then I’ll be there to pull you back partner,” Roy assured him with a slap on the back. John nodded.
“Johnny?” Roy hesitated. ‘It was better to get this over all at once,’ he told himself before plunging ahead. “Jeff wants to show the jury a brief demonstration of touch therapy on the stand.”
John looked at him in confusion for a moment before understanding what he was asking. “No,” he gasped in shock. “They already think the worst.”
“I think it might be a good idea just for a few minutes. Just to let them see that there’s nothing strange or weird about it."
Johnny bit his lip in indecision. “But it makes me tired,” he reminded his friend.
“We’re not gonna talk about anything. He just wants the jury to see what it looks like but it’s your choice.”
John knew what Roy wanted him to do but he was still uncertain…he also knew Roy wouldn’t push him. The decision was his alone.” He chewed his lip in indecision.
“Okay,” he relented.
“Good. C’mon Junior, they’re waitin.”
Johnny nodded and followed him out.
The others looked up as Jo and Kel returned from Johnny’s room. “What’s wrong Joanne?” Martha asked in concern, seeing the younger woman’s tears.
“Johnny just told Roy that he should have left him with Gayle…That it would have been better for us if she’d just killed him.”
“Oh good Heavens,” Cap muttered.
“Dammit Johnny, get your head on straight,” Mike added aloud, shaking his head.
“He didn’t mean it,” Marco said encouragingly.
“He’s so afraid we’ll be ashamed or humiliated by what happened today that we’ll hate him for what that…That PERSON is saying,” Joanne explained.
Martha and Chet’s fist smacked the table simultaneously in irritation. “I certainly hope Roy can reach him,” Martha said looking at Kel. “But if not I’ll want to start therapy sessions with John as soon as possible. I don’t want his thoughts headed in suicidal directions Kel. I am not going to lose this boy over someone like Gayle Markson or her lawyer. I’ve grown quite fond of him,” she admitted.
“Join the club,” Dixie murmured ironically.
Brackett grinned at the two women. “Settle down all of you…I don’t think it will go that far…Roy will reach him, don’t worry,” he replied softly.
The two paramedics entered the room a few minutes later and Roy felt eight sets of hopeful eyes turn toward him as he led his silent, embarrassed partner to the table. Roy nodded slightly and they relaxed knowing he’d done it again. John looked okay as Roy stepped up behind him, his hands rested casually on John’s shoulders.
Jeff went over the questions that would be asked. He finally looked up at him with a rueful smile. “Johnny I can’t be sure that damn fool won’t ask those same embarrassing questions, but if he does just try to stay calm. Answer him as honestly as you can and don’t let him rattle you okay?”
The younger man nodded. “I’ll try.”
Jeff looked to Roy. “Did you ask him?”
Roy nodded. “He’s agreed to do it,” Roy assured the man as his hands moved over John’s shoulders.
“Do what?” Cap asked curiously.
“A demonstration of touch therapy…To show them exactly what it is.” John’s eyes were on his folded hands and color stained the high cheekbones as he chewed his lip nervously. “It’ll be okay, I promise,” Roy assured him as he rubbed his back.
John nodded and blew out an uneasy breath. They finally wrapped it up and began returning to their rooms for the night. John cast a final glance at Roy and went to bed. Kel looked at the blonde paramedic. “Should I sedate him?” He asked.
Roy shook his head. “No…It’ll make him groggy and sick. If he doesn’t go to sleep soon I’ll go talk to him.”
Kel set a syringe on the table. “Okay…But if you need it,” he said nodding at the drug. “Lorazepam...”
John lay awake in his bed…His thoughts whirling round and round, playing havoc with his self confidence. He heard the door creak and a quick glance at the clock showed it to be around one in the morning. Roy peeked in. “Johnny…? You still awake?” He asked softly.
Roy padded over to the bed and sat beside him. He reached out to sweep the dark hair from John’s forehead, knowing it was something that generally relaxed his friend rather quickly. “Close your eyes junior,” the older man suggested. John grinned at him but let his eyes drift shut. Roy continued to stroke his brow until Johnny’s gentle breathing told him he was asleep.
Across town in the Fresno jail, Gayle also was finding it difficult to sleep. Today…Today she would finally see Johnny. She knew that it was Roy and Joanne who were keeping them apart. Today John would tell them the truth and they’d have to let her go so they could be together. She smiled in satisfaction. One way or the other she would have him.
The courtroom was packed. Roy and Joanne sat in the front row with the rest of their group spread out behind or beside them in a show of support for their young friend and crew mate.
Gayle was led inside. The people closest to her cast wary glances in her direction after the outburst yesterday but the blonde seemed serene and calm. The jury was let in and Judge Sheldon arrived. The bailiff called the court to order.
“Counselors, Mr. DeSoto may I see you for a moment,” Sheldon asked. Roy cast a curious glance at the others as he stood up and followed Jeff and Harrell to the bench. “Is Mr. Gage ready to testify Mr. Waters?” He asked.
“Yes he is. He had a minor setback last night after a newscast but his partner brought him around.”
“Yes…I saw it.” Sheldon looked at Harrell. “She didn’t like you very much Mr. Harrell,” the gray haired judge quipped. He hoped Harrell would have sense enough to stay away from that line of questioning after the disgusted reactions of the jury and the people in the courtroom but he highly doubted it. He hoped the young fireman would get through it alright if he was foolish enough to go there. “Will he be alright?” He asked Roy.
“I don’t know. He was on the edge last night.”
“Oh really your honor…I can’t believe that it caused that much damage to his ‘poor delicate emotions,’ Harrell cooed snidely.
Roy’s blue eyes flashed angrily. “You have no idea how much damage you and your innuendos have already caused or how far back you’ve set him in therapy,” Roy growled back at Harrell. “He’s emotionally fragile and it could take me weeks to regain the ground we’ve lost because of you.”
The Judge nodded his agreement. “Mr. DeSoto…You’ll be seated to his left behind him. If you see any sign of withdrawal you signal and we’ll stop the proceedings. Mr. Harrell…I caution you not to take his condition lightly. I’ve read up on it and it’s a serious disorder and not some gimmick he’s using to avoid testifying. Are we clear?”
“Yes your honor,” he replied sullenly in disbelief. “But for the record…I object to this special handling of this witness as it could influence the jury.”
“And I will remind you that it’s far less influential than watching this young man slide into withdrawal,” Sheldon warned him.
They moved to their seats. Roy watched them place a chair slightly behind the witness stand, drawing the eyes of everyone in the courtroom to it curiously. The judge banged his gavel. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury…You’ve listened to several witnesses testify to John Gage’s having a condition called Aspergers Syndrome Disorder. Because of that we are exercising the right cited by California Penal code 868.8 to rearrange the courtroom to make it more comfortable for a person with a disability. That said…His partner will be sitting close by. Should Mr. Gage become overly distressed we will stop the testimony until he’s able to continue.” He turned to Roy. “Mr. DeSoto…Please do not interfere with the testimony unless he appears to be in serious jeopardy of withdrawal.”
“Mr. Waters…Call your witness.”
“The State calls John Gage.”
The doors opened at the back of the room and the officer waved John in. The handsome, dark haired man hesitated briefly as he stepped inside, blowing out a nervous breath at the dozens of sets of eyes peering at him curiously.
He walked down the aisle. Motion to his left caught his eye as Gayle sat up straighter in her seat. “Johnny,” she whispered. The dark eyes flicked briefly toward her and then away until she stood up. “Johnny…Sweetheart,” she called to him. John froze uncertainly, his brown eyes turned worriedly toward the woman.
“Miss Markson…Sit down and stay quiet or you’ll be removed from the courtroom.” Gayle shot the judge an angry glare but sat as instructed. She wouldn’t let them take her away…Not while her John was near her.
John let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and continued on. Waters was waiting with a smile. The Bailiff swore him in. “Mr. DeSoto,” Jeff called indicating the other chair. John watched as his friend moved toward him. The dark eyes met and held the reassuring blue gaze of his partner. John threw him a crooked smile.
In the gallery, Dixie smothered a grin at the sudden interest of several young women in the room. Well it just proved the testimony’s of the others true. John drew female attention without even trying. The rest of the people just waited. They’d heard so much about this young man, they felt as if they knew him.
“State your name please,” Jeff asked.
“John Roderick Gage.”
“How old are you?”
“Twenty seven …”
“What do you do John?”
“I’m a fireman paramedic for Los Angeles County.”
“How long have you been a fireman John?”
“seven years…Five as a paramedic.”
Waters nodded. “John you have a condition called Aspergers Syndrome Disorder, is that correct?”
“Yes,” he replied softly, his head down.
“You have to speak up John okay?”
He raised his head. “Yes,” he repeated a little louder.
“And you’ve recently started a therapy program with your partner and his wife.”
“What’s it called?”
“Traumatic touch therapy…”
John swallowed nervously. “It uses massage techniques along with a series of light touches on my face and body. It’s designed to relax a patient and help them to become more aware of feelings that may have been repressed or lost. It requires a close bond with the therapist so that the patient can be comfortable and open.”
“Thank you. Were you all for this therapy?”
“No…No I…I didn’t want to…It ah…Scared me.”
“People with my condition often don’t like to be touched…Intimately…Sometimes not at all,” John said looking uncomfortable.
“I see. John does talking about your disorder make you uncomfortable?”
“To zone out...To have no control of it sometimes...To lose hours, sometimes days…,” John said looking down at his hands. Roy sat up a bit straighter, watching John closely. Waters glanced at Roy who reached out to lay his hand on John’s shoulder. The younger man threw a glance back at his friend and swallowed hard. He turned back to Waters, his head rose and he looked the man in the eyes. “It frightens me sometimes.”
“Has the therapy with Roy been helping you?”
John looked thoughtful for a moment…“Mr. Waters…Before I met Roy I felt numb. I’d closed myself off from feeling anything. Aspergers plus my upbringing on a reservation didn’t help," he exlained, reaffirming what Roy had told them the day before. "I was told not to show pain, grief, fear or sorrow…That they were signs of weakness, so I buried those feelings. My family didn’t understand my condition and they were afraid of it and I embarrassed them, so after my parents died I had no one to teach me the softer emotions that you all just deal with ya know? You know how to handle them and I didn’t...I was afraid of them," he admitted. "I’d just stopped caring about anything or anyone and it was easy to have complete control over my emotions because I didn’t have any. I’ve had to relearn all of that…To reach deep inside and find those things I’d lost…To feel again and it’s all still pretty new and scary but it was because of Roy that I’ve been able to do that. He wouldn’t let me stay the way I was. He pulled down the walls I had around me and forced me back to living…Feeling...and this therapy is helping me find all those feelings my family made me bury. I’ve learned to trust and to love and to understand that people care about me and for the first time to have people I care about.”
Jeff cleared his throat, touched by the emotion in John’s voice. “What have you learned about your friends,” he asked pointing toward the crew.
“That they care about me...That they’re always there for me.” His eyes scanned the faces of his friends. “I’ve learned to trust them and to know they’ve got my back.” There were several smiles from his friends and a wink from Dixie. “I put my life in their hands everyday…They never let me down.”
“What about Roy and Joanne DeSoto? How do you feel about them?”
“Wow…You’re really putting me on the spot,” he said with a sheepish laugh. There was laughter around the courtroom. “But I um…,” he shrugged. “I love Roy and Joanne.” Martha and Joanne squeezed each other’s hand. They both knew that a short time ago Johnny would never have said that in private much less in a packed courthouse. “They took me in…Made me one of their family. They’ve taken care of me when I was sick and injured…Given me advice.” His eyebrow climbed in rueful embarrassment. “They’ve even threatened to kick my butt a few times when I’m bein stupid.” There were a lot of chuckles around the room at that comment. “They’ve become my family, my home. My refuge and there’s no strings attached.”
“What does that mean?”
"They don’t ask me to pay them back for anything. Their love is unconditional,” John chewed his lip for a minute. “I’ve never understood that…Do you?” John asked looking a bit perplexed.
“Yeah Johnny I do,” Jeff answered. John didn’t see Roy wipe his eyes as he realized John finally understood what family was all about. Water’s eyes swept the room…He knew this young man’s quiet demeanor was easily winning the hearts of the jury. Let Harrell try his ridiculous accusations now.
“John let’s talk about Gayle Markson?”
“What do you feel for Miss Markson?”
“Feel… think,” Water’s added with a shrug.
“I thought she was beautiful. She was a talented paramedic.” Gayle beamed at the praise from the man she loved…waiting for him to tell them how much he loved her. She knew he would but the smile fell away as John continued. “A little weird maybe…”
“Why weird?” Jeff prodded.
“She was hitting on me and my partner…Who’s married. That’s a little off even for me and I’ve dated some strange girls,” Johnny said sincerely amid the laughter.
Jeff grinned. “What did you feel for Gayle?”
He shrugged. “I didn’t know her that well…She confused me… Made me uncomfortable but I didn’t feel anything.”
“You’re lying,” the blonde shrieked. She bolted from her chair and tried to run toward John. “You don’t mean that. They’re making you say that.”
Sheldon was banging his gavel as the bailiff finally caught up with the woman and grabbed her arm and began to drag her back toward her seat. John was wide eyed at the outburst. He’d pressed back in his seat as she’d run at him, knowing she’d have attacked him if she could have reached him. “Counselor,” Sheldon growled. “Control your client. Miss Markson. You leave your seat again and I’ll have you handcuffed to it.”
Gayle glared at John. “You’ll pay for that,” she muttered.
“I already have,” John replied. Her eyes narrowed dangerously. John glanced up into his partner's face as he hovered protectively at his side. The younger man hadn’t even seen him move. “Thanks partner,” Johnny whispered. Roy patted his shoulder and returned to his seat.
Waters returned to the stand. “Johnny… a lot of fuss has been made about you having an affair with Joanne DeSoto. Is that true? Were you or are you having an affair with her?”
“No…No I would never do that to Roy,” he said adamantly.
“Miss Markson will claim she saw you two together.”
“She did…But it wasn’t what she thought.”
"What was it?"
"She was just rubbing liniment on my shoulder...Then she started a therapy session. It was nothing."
“Could it be possibly misconstrued?”
John shrugged…“I suppose it could.”
“Your honor…With your permission we’d like to give a brief demonstration of how it’s done.”
“Do you have a film?”
“No your honor, John has agreed to let Roy show the court the technique involved.”
“Can he do that right here?”
“Yes your honor.”
“Any objections Mr. Harrell…?”
Harrell hesitated, afraid that it would turn out to be some harmless demonstration but from the description he didn’t see how anyone couldn’t see the sensual aspect of it. “No your honor,” he said smugly, hoping the jury would see the intimacy involved and prove his own point.
“Roy…Please,” Waters invited, stepping back out of the way.
"Mr. DeSoto...Please explain to the court what you're doing and remember that you are still under oath," Sheldon reminded him.
"Yes sir." Johnny turned anxious brown eyes on his partner as he stepped up behind him.Roy smiled down at him and gently turned his head. “Close your eyes Junior,” he said softly. John threw one more nervous look around the room and then let his eyes drift closed.
The blonde paramedic’s fingers were well practiced. They lightly moved over John’s forehead and down his face, over his cheeks to his neck and then his shoulders as he explained. “It’s a series of massage techniques…Sometimes it’s a firm press on a tense area…” His hands strongly kneaded the area around John’s shoulders and then moved on. “And barely touching in others…” His hands ran down the upper arms to his back. John was tense and nervous. “It's a little tough with his jacket on because I have to be able to feel where he needs to relax the most, but sometimes he can direct me.” He could feel the resistance in his friend but after a moment the dark head dropped back against him as Roy’s hands moved over him, coming to rest lightly on his shoulders. “Sometimes there’s no motion…Just the touch of my hand on him is all he needs.” His fingers moved lightly over John’s face once more. Roy glanced up at Jeff. “Is that enough?”
“That’s fine, thank you Roy."
The blonde man gave John a light shake. “C’mon junior, we’re done.”John’s eyes blinked open and he glanced around him. Roy gave his shoulder a gentle pat. “You okay?” John nodded and Roy returned to his seat. Harrell smirked…Roy had kept it light and clinical but the underlying intimacy was still obvious.
“This was just a short demonstration of a therapy procedure that normally lasts over an hour. Here his therapist never dropped below John’s shoulders but under normal circumstances this therapy can travel over more of the body. Once John is relaxed, he feels comfortable enough to talk about things that he normally keeps bottled up inside. As you can see,” he said turning to the jury. “This is an extremely intimate process and could easily be misunderstood by an observer who was unaware of what they were watching,” he pointed out with a satisfied smile. “John…The day Gayle Markson observed you and Joanne DeSoto on the deck…Was that what she was doing?”
“Yes…Just before Roy came back,” he replied with a nod.
“Is that all?”
“She rubbed the liniment on my shoulder.”
He nodded turning back to the younger man…“Alright John…Let’s talk about the day you first met Gayle.”
“Um…I was on sick leave.”
“What did you have?”
“You’d been very ill hadn’t you?”
“I guess. I don’t really remember.”
“You don’t remember?”
“I was running a 105° temperature. I don’t remember anything but feeling hot and hearing Roy and Joanne’s voice.”
“You remember them being there?”
“Just their voices talking to me and…” His eyes found Joanne’s. “Strawberry lip balm…” Joanne giggled.
Waters smiled …”Strawberry lip balm?”
“My mouth was really dry from runnin such a high fever so Jo used strawberry lip balm to fix it.” Roy shot a grin at his wife and she smiled back.
“I see…Go on.”
“Um…Dr. Brackett kicked me outta Rampart as soon as he could and I went to stay with Roy to recuperate,” he explained above the snickers and chuckles.
“Why didn’t you go home?”
“I was still pretty weak…I couldn’t be alone. Anyway…After I’d been there a while I was kinda getting under Jo’s feet and I was getting on her nerves ya know? So she made dinner for the crew and sent me to deliver it.”
“Under her feet…? Like one of her kids?”
“Well yeah sorta, except she can’t send me to my room, so she sent me to the station instead.” Laughter again reverberated around the room and Jo shook her head with a grin. “Anyway I met Gayle that night. I had dinner at the station. I talked to Roy for a while and I went home.”
“To your apartment…?” Jeff asked.
John shook his head sheepishly. “No…Um…I meant to Roy and Jo’s.”
“Do you consider that to be your home?” Waters asked pointedly.
“What happened the first day that you went back to work?”
“I had coffee with Roy and Gayle. We were talking in the rec room before roll call. Gayle was acting pretty forward…Brushing up against me.”
“Her hand…Her arm?”
“No…Her uh…,” John cleared his throat, blushing furiously. “Her um…Chest.”
“Oh…I see. Go on.”
“Roy kinda teased me a bit cuz he knew I was interested.” The long suffering expression on Roy’s face behind John said it all. ‘When isn’t he?’ It read but he said nothing. “Anyway a minute later we were headed for roll call and she deliberately walked right in front of me. I tried to stop but I knocked her into Roy. He caught her but then she was rubbing up against him and I thought wow…What’s up with this ya know? She was obviously makin a play for my married partner.”
“Were you jealous?”
“Heck no…I barely knew her…I just thought she was…weird. Then a while later she came up behind me… Brushed up against me, ya know? Startled me so bad I almost knocked myself out.”
“I was cleaning the oven and I was like half inside it. I uh…Jumped when she touched me and banged my head into the top of the oven,” he explained rubbing the top of his head.
“What did she touch?”
John flushed in embarrassment. “Uh…My behind…” Gayle smirked at him from the defense table.
“She offered to take a look at it.”
“At what…?” Jeff asked in shock. The courtroom dissolved into laughter and Water’s felt his face grow warm.
John grinned impishly. “My head,” he replied. Despite the embarrassment of the moment Jeff was delighted. Johnny was so natural that he’d have the jury eating out of his hand before this was done. Harrell scowled angrily, thinking much the same thing as Dixie’s words came back to him. ‘Johnny is Johnny…He is who he is without pretentions.’ Well he finally understood the comment.
“Go on…,” Jeff prompted.
“She um…Kissed me. It was only a quick kiss…I…We were on duty so…I pulled back,” he shrugged. “Then she um…Started tellin me that Roy told her that he wanted to make a change in partners because he was tired of breaking in new ones when I got hurt and she asked if I was planning to leave…Things like that.”
“Were you worried?”
“Hell yes I was worried. I thought I was about to lose my partner and my best friend.”
“Why’d you think that John…?”
“I have a lot of emotional issues…I was afraid I’d become a burden on him ya know?” He said looking down at his hands. He heard Roy’s sigh behind him. John chewed his lip nervously afraid he’d made Roy angry but he continued on taking them through the rest of the first day including the kiss by the squad…“She asked me if I wanted to go to the locker room with her.”
“For what purpose…?” Waters asked.
“Um…To have sex…I reminded her that we were on duty and she laughed and said she’d only been kidding and then she asked me if I’d go out with her.”
“Did you agree to that?”
“What happened then?”
Johnny explained the many insinuations that she would be taking his place soon… “I was upset and I canceled my therapy session with Roy that day.”
“How did he handle that?”
“He was upset with me for canceling but he didn’t push it…He told me it was my choice”
“What happened then?”
“I went out with Gayle that night. She came on pretty strong…Kinda threw herself at me.”
“She met me at the door in her bathrobe. Suggested that we order in…Um she took my jacket off. I asked how her visit with Roy went and she insinuated that he’d asked her to stay and that she planned to do that. She unbuttoned my shirt and pulled it off.”
“She took it off you?”
“What did you do?”
“I told her we needed to slow down.”
“You put the brakes on?”
“Yes… I was upset about what she’d told me. I…I told her I didn’t believe that Roy would do that to me. She was angry that I’d put her off and she took her robe off. She um…wasn’t wearing much under it. The first thing I know she’s in my lap… telling me we could turn the tables on him and become partners instead.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her no and I told her I planned to talk to Roy about it and I got out of there.”
“The answers pretty obvious John but do you believe that she was trying to entice you into having sex with her?”
“What happened the next day?”
“I was still pretty upset when I got there the next morning and I snapped at Roy. I went to the rec room and one of my shift mates asked how my date went and wanted to know if I’d mind if he asked Gayle out.”
“No…I told him to go ahead…That everyone seemed to want her around more than me,” he admitted sheepishly.
“Were you jealous?”
“I was afraid Mr. Waters,” he said softly. “Afraid of losing my partner and my place with my friends.”
Jeff smiled at him understandingly. “Then what happened?”
John explained the injury to his shoulder and admitted that he’d once again hidden it from Roy and his Captain out of fear that his partner would be even more frustrated with him. He explained the rescue and then what he’d seen happen in the rec room. “It looked pretty bad. I was pretty mad at him for betraying Jo but then he told me it wasn’t what I thought. That she’d kissed him. He asked if I’d really talked about replacing him with her and I tried to explain what happened but he got mad at me and left. Then she told me that Roy was right and I was insecure. I was shocked and I asked what she meant and she told me Roy had told her about my disorder and that it made me insecure.”
“How did you feel about that?”
“I felt…Hurt…Betrayed ya know. I couldn’t believe he’d tell her about it but she knew and I didn’t know what to think but later…Captain Stanley made me sit down with Roy and talk it out…He explained what happened in the rec room and he swore that he hadn’t told her about me.”
“Did you believe him?”
“Yes…Roy wouldn’t lie to me,” he replied with certainty.
“What happened then?”
“I spent the rest of the night at Roy’s house because of the shoulder injury. The next morning he came home and we had a therapy session because he wanted to get me back on track as soon as possible.”
“Is that the session Miss Markson witnessed?”
“Yes. Jo…Uh…Joanne was with me on the deck. Roy had gone to drop off the kids with a neighbor up the street.”
“How long was he gone?”
“About five minutes…Anyway my arm was in a sling from the shoulder injury and it was still a little stiff so Joanne got the liniment out and rubbed it on my shoulder,” he said with a shrug. “She began the session without Roy since I was already sitting there and she knew he’d be back any minute.”
“Were you surprised that she started without him?”
“No…Not really… I mean she’s always there anyway. After the session was over um…We talked a little about why Gayle was doing all this and Roy said he planned to try and find out…” His dark eyes tracked hesitantly toward Gayle and she smiled seductively at him. He looked away.”
Waters caught the evasive look…“John, does Miss Markson make you uncomfortable?”
“Yeah…A bit,” Johnny said wryly.
“Why?” He asked incredulously. “She almost killed me. She damn near beat me to death, shot me…hit me with a gun…TWICE. Tried to ruin my career and my friendship with my partner and his family…Accused me of rape and she’s watchin me like a hawk and I’m the prey so yeah…I’m a little uncomfortable,” he finished breathlessly. Gayle smiled smugly and Roy almost laughed at the expression on some of the faces as the people in the courtroom experienced a Gage rant for the first time. Jeff smothered a grin and steered the conversation on.
“We’re getting to the hard part Johnny so we’ll try to get through this as quickly as possible okay?”
“What happened the morning you went back to work?
John blew out a ragged breath. “I was in the locker room getting dressed. I felt someone touch my neck.”
“Um…You know…Like run their fingers over my neck. It startled me and I kinda jumped up and turned around pretty quick.”
“Who was it?”
“Gayle. I asked what she wanted.”
“What exactly did she say?”
John hesitated. “She said…I want you Johnny.”
“What did you tell her?”
“I told her I didn’t know what game she was playin but I wasn’t interested.”
“Did she leave?”
“No…She came around the bench. She ah…Leaned up against me. I backed away from her but she followed me. I finally had nowhere to go and I told her to leave. She put her arms around my neck and she told me she knew I wanted her and then she started to undo my belt.” John flushed in embarrassment. “She said she wanted me to make love to her right there in the locker room.”
Waters nodded understandingly. “What happened then?”
“I told her she was crazy and man…she went off. She said she’d show me crazy. She ripped her own shirt and kinda threw herself toward me. She grabbed the front of my shirt and jerked me forward and then pushed real hard. My head hit the brick wall behind me…Man I didn't know a woman could be that strong. I was kinda dizzy for a minute. She was angry and she said. ‘You’d rather have your best friend’s wife.’ I was in shock but I told her no but she kept on. She claimed she saw us together.”
“What were you thinking then?”
“That she was crazy…That she was gonna use this as another lie to separate me and Roy. Anyway…She slapped me and then tried to kiss me. I…I’d had enough ya know? I mean I don’t like hurting anybody but she wouldn’t give up so I tried to push her away. She bit me on the lip and then wham…she scratches her nails over my face. I grabbed her wrists to try and hold her off…But then she started screaming for help. Cap and the guys came in and…,” he hesitated.
“Go on John,” Water’s gently urged.
“They looked pretty shocked. She told them I tried to rape her. She was crying and I…I didn’t know what was goin on and the guys were looking at me like I grew another head ya know? All except Roy…,” he added softly. Waters realized how important it was to the young man that his friend hadn’t believed the accusation. The crew shifted uncomfortably in their seats…feeling guilty. “Captain Stanley ordered me to let her go and go to his office.”
“Yes.” John repeated the whole conversation with his captain ending with. “He suspended me.
“Were you angry John?”
“Yes…I hadn’t done anything wrong. All I did was defend myself and I got suspended. I thought my career was over.”
“Why, if you were innocent…?”
“Mr. Waters, there are always gonna be people who won’t believe it. I would have been all over the news. What woman would let a paramedic accused of rape treat her or her kids? Would you let me touch your wife? Your child…Your mom…? I thought I was through.” People were nodding around the room sympathetically.
“I went back to the locker room and told Roy what happened.”
“Were the others there?”
" Did they believe you?”
“I think so…Roy told me later that they had to let their mind catch up with what their hearts already knew.” Roy grinned at Waters from behind John. “Roy told me that Gayle had accused me of having an affair with Jo and I just…I thought…Man, I don’t know what I thought at that point. I was so confused. I guess I thought he was accusing me of cheating with Jo and I got angry. I asked him if he was gonna accuse me of…,” John hesitated looking down at his hands. “Screwing his wife,” he whispered, refusing to meet Joanne’s eyes.
“Speak up please John.”
John looked embarrassed but he raised his head. “I asked him if was gonna accuse me of screwing his wife.” John’s eyes refused to meet Joanne’s.
“Roy was pretty mad. He punched me…I…fell backwards but the guys caught me and I thought...," John glanced away for a moment in distress before continuing. "I thought I'd just lost my best friend too, so I grabbed my keys and I split.”
Jeff nodded in understanding. “What then?” He questioned sympathetically.
“I don’t remember everything…I think I was slipping. I remember Roy grabbing me…I…I tried to get away and I told him I didn’t sleep with Jo and he said he already knew that. I apologized for what I’d said,” he told him, flicking a glance at Joanne. He expected to see anger but she threw him a wink and a smile. “Roy told me to go home and that he and Captain Stanley were going to San Francisco the next morning to find out more about Gayle. I went home…I was still pretty stressed so I grabbed my stuff and headed off into the mountains for a couple of days. I needed time to think.”
“What happened then?” John blew out a ragged breath…his body began a subtle rocking motion. Roy sat up alertly, leaning slightly forward to see John’s face.
“Roy called me when I got back and told me to meet him at his house so I went over there. I knocked on the door and Joanne answered. She looked uncomfortable and she told me Roy wasn’t home.”
“Is that normal for her to respond to you that way?
“No…No she normally would have kissed me on the cheek…Invited me in for coffee. I wasn’t really looking at her then because I was watching a car up the street. It looked familiar. Anyway I asked her if I could wait and I looked at her and…and…I,” Johnny faltered, staring down at the clenched hands in his lap. The rock grew a bit faster.
“Go on John.”
“She was lookin at me like…like…She…was ah…” His mouth tightened and his breathing became labored.
“Hold on baby,” Jo whispered in the gallery. Gayle heard it and turned to shoot a glare at the woman.
Roy signaled Waters who immediately backed up and let the blonde man kneel beside John. “Look at me Johnny,” he commanded as he turned the younger man’s head to face him. “Breathe,” he ordered softly as he drew a deep breath of his own as if demonstrating. He waited for Johnny to obey the directive and the brown eyes rose to meet his, becoming more focused.
John nodded. “Y…Yes.”
“Good boy,” he said softly for John’s ears alone. He patted his shoulder reassuringly and moved back to his chair.
Waters moved back to John. “Can you go on?”
“I’m sorry…Uh yes…Um…She looked like she was afraid of me…I thought…Man…Gayle got to her…I just knew it…”
“How John…How did you know?”
“I saw her driving away.”
“You saw her?”
“Her car, yes… I thought this was it…She’d finally taken everything. My job, my reputation my friends and now my family… I thought I had nothing left. I remember trying to get to my car but then I don’t remember much else. I uh…I woke up in bed at Roy’s house the next morning and I could only remember pieces.”
“Voices around me… Faces…Hands touching me…Holding me down.” John frowned as he struggled to remember but finally shook his head. “I don’t usually remember much but anyway Roy had to go to work and he told me he wanted me to stay in bed that day and rest.”
“Okay…What happened the next morning?”
“Roy hadn’t come home yet and Joanne went to drop the kids with some friends. They were going to the zoo. I made coffee and I went into the living room to wait for them. I heard the sliders in the dining room open and I thought Joanne had forgotten her keys or something but when I turned around to kinda tease her a bit it wasn’t Jo…It was Gayle. I asked her what she wanted.”
“What did she say?”
“That she wanted to prove to Roy that she’d been right. That Jo and I were having an affair. That he was gonna come home to find that Jo and I had run off together. I told her he’d never believe that but she said she'd convince him and that we were gonna wait for Jo and then I told her Joanne would be gone for a while.”
“Why did you tell her that?”
“So she’d leave…I hoped if she thought Jo was gonna be gone for a while that she’d give it up or at least just take me.”
“Yes…I didn’t want her to hurt Jo?”
Waters nodded understandingly. “So you lied to protect Joanne?"
“She hit me. Told me she hated it when people lied to her and then Joanne walked in.”
“What happened then?” Waters asked as he strolled in front of the jury.
John explained his attempt to get the gun from Gayle…That she’d shot at Joanne and how she’d hit him in the head with the gun. Waters once again showed the photo’s of John’s head injury. “I tried to make her believe that I wanted to go with her…You know...alone. That we could leave Joanne and just go together but she accused me of trying to confuse her.”
Gayle stared at him incredulously, shaking her head in denial. “I saw the way you looked at me,” she cried out. “You love me…You know you do…You kissed me…Said you loved me,” She wept.
Harrell was frantically trying to calm his client as Sheldon rapped his gavel to restore order in his court. Harrell got her to quiet down and Waters turned back to John.
“Did she believe you?”
The dark eyes flicked toward Gayle, remembering her words from a moment before. “Yes…She started to leave with me but…I made a mistake and looked at Joanne. She caught it and realized what I was up to.”
“What did she say?”
“She told me I was a bad boy and that Joanne was coming along because I’d behave as long as she had her.”
“John…Was she correct?”
The dark eyes met Jeff’s…“Yes.”
“What happened then?”
“I pushed Gayle and yelled at Jo to run. I tried to follow but I was still dizzy from when she’d hit me and I knew I wouldn’t make it so I tried to at least give Jo a chance and I…,” he hesitated.
Water’s already knew what the younger man had done. “John…You put yourself between Joanne and that gun deliberately didn’t you?”
“I…Yes…I was hoping that maybe she wouldn’t fire it if she wanted me alive ya know?”
“John…Would you have done it even if that hadn’t been the case?”
John chewed his lip uncomfortably. “To protect Joanne... Yes,” he admitted.
“I felt a burning pain in my side and I fell…I saw Joanne turn back. I…uh…I don’t remember much after that. I was drifting in and out. I know they put me in my rover but I don’t remember much until they were trying to get me out later.”
“I was hurting pretty bad. I think I’d lost a lot of blood and I was dizzy and weak. I felt nauseous. They pulled me out of the truck and I lost it. Joanne was just holding my head while I got sick and then she was wiping my face and I think she told me she loved me and I think I said it back. Next thing I know…Gayle was hitting me and screaming at me and kicking me. I think I passed out.”
“John I know this is embarrassing but can you tell us what happened next?”
John nodded hesitantly. His face flushing as he recounted the rather humiliating moments he’d suffered through while handcuffed and helpless. “She kissed me…She was running her hands over me.” His hands were clenched in his lap.
“Were you still handcuffed?”
“Bleeding…Helpless,” Water’s shrugged. “Defenseless…?” He asked as he looked at the jury in disbelief.
He blew out a breath nervously…His face coloring once more. “Sh…She was…Running her hands all over me…I…I couldn’t stop her.”
Waters hated doing this but he needed to be sure the jury heard this and understood that an assault of this nature could be as humiliating for a man as it was for a woman...It was all about control and the loss of a right to choice. “John…I know this is difficult but you need to speak up?” Jeff instructed gently.
John frowned, refusing to look up at the faces watching him. His breaths coming in shuddered gasps. Roy reached out to touch his shoulder. “Are you okay Johnny?” He asked. The younger man didn’t answer. Roy waved Waters off and squatted next to his friend, reaching up to turn his face toward him.
“Stay with me Junior.”
John nodded. “Okay…I’m okay,” he said shakily.
“Say the word and we’re outta here?” Roy assured him.
He relaxed a bit, knowing he could leave if he had to. “Go…On…”
“You want to go on?”
“Have to,” he whispered.
Roy patted his shoulder and returned to his seat, nodding reluctantly at Waters but unhappy at the toll this was taking on his friend. Everyone could see the fear and worry etched into the blonde man’s face as he watched his partner.
Waters smiled reassuringly. “Let’s move on John…What happened then?”
“She kissed me…I pulled away…Man…She went crazy…She hit me on the face and my head…Over and over. Joanne was shouting at her to stop. She screamed at me…Told me not to fight her or she’d kill Joanne.”
“What did you say?”
“I told her I wouldn’t. She handcuffed my left wrist to the bedpost…I was drifting in and out…I don’t remember…I think Joanne was trying to clean me up…Stop the bleeding. I don’t know how long I was out of it but I remember waking up and finding Gayle leaning over me. She kissed me…She was touching me,” he murmured, shifting uncomfortabl at the memory.
Gayle sat at the table to John’s right. Her violet eyes watched him voraciously as she relived what she’d done to him through his words. John felt the devouring gaze but studiously avoided looking at the woman as he continued.
“She kissed me…Called me her love…I felt so sick but I didn’t dare turn away. I was afraid she’d kill Jo if I did and I thought… 'God…There was no stopping her this time,” he explained, blushing painfully. “Then she demanded that I tell her I loved her.”
“Not at first but then…She threatened to kill Joanne…Then I did. She started to um…,” he hesitated and he looked uncomfortable…Unbutton…Um…my pants,” he said softly. “Then Joanne asked her if she thought I might be a little too sick for this and she backed off,” he said, sounding obviously relieved.
“What happened then?”
“She left…She said she was gonna get us something to eat so…As soon as she left I decided to get Joanne outta there.”
“How…? You were still handcuffed.”
“I um…Dragged the bed over to the window.”
“Now you injured yourself doing that didn’t you?”
“Um yeah…I dislocated my wrist and cut my hand smashing the window out. I told Jo she needed to get away…Go for help but she didn’t want to leave me. I finally told her that as long as Gayle had her I couldn’t even fight back so she went. I think I passed out. When I woke up Gayle was just getting back and she was real mad that Jo was gone…She uh…Hit me in the head with the gun…Next thing I remember was waking up and finding Roy standing over me.”
“Your honor…I’d like to enter these photographs of the scene?”
Harrell looked them over before handing them to Water’s to give to Sheldon. He looked them over and nodded. “Entered as 6 D and 7 D,” he agreed.
Water’s handed the photos to the jury. John’s cut hand, the second head wound and the bed where he’d been lying, saturated in blood…The handcuff still hung from the bedpost. Several of them looked sick. “What happened then John?”
“Roy was trying to get me outta there when Gayle came back. I told him to get out if he could but he wouldn’t go. She told him she had to k…kill him,” he stuttered…remembering how scared he’d been at the time.”
“She said he wouldn’t let her keep me…That he’d hunt her down. I told her not to hurt him. That I’d go with her if she’d let him go.”
“You were willing to sacrifice yourself for your friend?”
John looked perplexed by the question. "He's my best friend. He’d have done it for me.”
“She said she had to kill him and she pointed the gun at him…Man…When I heard that gunshot…I thought she’d killed him but then…Gayle fell and Detective Campbell came in. I don’t remember much after that until I woke up in the hospital.”
“How long were you incapacitated John?”
“Three days in the hospital and then a week at Roy and Jo’s and another week at home before they let me go back to work.”
“Thank You John…Your witness.”
Sheldon stepped in looking at his watch. “Why don’t we break for lunch and resume at one thirty.” At everyone’s nod of approval he stood up. “Dismissed,” he said with a rap of the gavel.
John stepped down, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Roy stood waiting…He gave John a slap on the back. “You’re doin great Junior.”
“GREAT? I fell apart twice. Aaargh,” he growled at himself in frustration. “I was so embarrassed. I felt so weak and stupid and she was staring at me. I felt like the mouse to her cat.”
“Don’t let them intimidate you Junior…That’s what they want…Just hang on,” Roy said quietly.
Water’s gave John a reassuring pat on the back. “Johnny I want you to understand this. The jury is very sympathetic to what you’ve been through but they’re not all full of teary eyed pity. They’re more in awe of someone who was hurt that bad and still managed to not only survive but get Joanne to safety. They’re amazed at your willingness to sacrifice yourself first for Joanne and then for Roy. They’re not seeing weak or stupid John…They’re trying to figure out what planet you come from. Your sense of honor, forgiveness and self sacrifice is pretty rare. They’re seeing strength not weakness.”
The others nodded at John’s doubtful look. Roy shook his head. “I’ve been trying to tell him that for a long time…Maybe he’ll listen to you.”
John shot his friend a crooked grin. “Let’s eat… I’m starved,” he said feeling a little better.
“Gee…What a surprise,” Chet said snidely.
“Shut up Chet,” came hurling at him from nine voices, including Jeffrey and Martha.
Everyone returned to the courtroom well before one thirty. Judge Sheldon called the attorney’s to the side bar. “Mr. Harrell, Mr. Gage is now your witness but I’ll remind you that the rules are still in effect. If Mr. DeSoto signals…You stop immediately are we clear?”
“We are but I still protest this.”
“Protest all you like Mr. Harrell but his partners already averted two possible situations,” he reminded the man as he pointed his finger at him. “Do not willfully bring on another.”
“Yes your honor.”
The jury was brought in and John was waved back inside. Gayle’s violet eyes swept over him longingly but this time the dark eyes held hers. He refused to be intimidated by the woman and Roy gave him a reassuring wink as he passed behind him to take his chair.
Sheldon looked down at John. “Mr. Gage…I remind you that you are still under oath.”
“Yes sir,” John replied.
“Mr. Harrell…Your witness…”
“Good afternoon Mr. Gage.”
“Afternoon,” he replied shortly.
“Mr. Gage, your friends consider you to be a bit of a lady’s man is that true?”
“They tease me about it sometimes,” he replied with a shrug.
“You chase a lot of women?”
John shrugged again. “Look around you Mr. Harrell…California is a goldmine of beautiful women…Why waste it?” He asked honestly as laughter broke out around them.
“So you like women a lot?”
“Yeah…,” John replied warily.
“You have a lot of girlfriends then?”
“I do alright thanks,” Johnny said as he sat back in his chair with a satisfied smile. The courtroom echoed with stifled laughter.
“So despite the fact that all these other people have testified to your dislike of being touched, you manage to overcome that with women?”
John rolled his eyes in exasperation …“Mr. Harrell…You don’t understand…Being touched used to be a huge problem for me," John didn't elaborate, not wanting to open the door to why it bothered him as much as it would for a normal person or even one with as mild case of AS as his was. He'd rather let them believe that his condition was the cause, which was partially the truth, than to admit to the abuse his Aunt and Uncles had heaped on him, especially being molested by Uncle George. "I learned to over come that as I got older and it isn’t a problem most of the time…That’s just a brief physical encounter and I've learned to deal with it as a part of my job." He shrugged. “I’ve also held the hands of women in labor… Little old ladies scared outta their wits and little children…I’ve carried men from burning buildings and I could go on but the point is I’m not emotionally attached to any of them. I’m sorry when I lose a victim but it’s not a devastating emotional loss, it’s a mental one. In my job, we’re trained NOT to get involved…”
“Why is that?”
“Because it would be too overwhelming…We see too much loss…Too many injuries and death.”
"And the women you date? Are they just a brief physical contact as well?"
John blushed a bit at the phrasing, doubting the women he'd dated would appreciate his response, but he nodded. "Yes," he admitted softly.
"So you can get past that as well I suppose...? That type of contact doesn't bother you?"
"No...no it doesn't....I…uh date a lot,” he explained delicately, drawing several chuckles from the men in the room and a few scowls from a couple of the women. Joanne and Dixie just shrugged, they understood why John kept his relationships at arms length.
"So you toy with a woman's feelings," Harrell said triumphantly.
"No...I never make promises I won't keep and I'm honest with them and hey...if it happens anyway...it happens," he said with a a shrug.
Harrell tried to look affronted to win points with the jurors, but unlike him...They seemed to understand the young man's limitations and the reasons he behind what he did. “Then exactly what kind of touch do you pull away from?” He continued to press.
“The emotional kind… The ones that want more from me than that physical contact,” John said, worrying his lower lip with his teeth for a moment before continuing on. “Like I said...I never used to let people close to me at all. I’d stay clear of anyone who tried to get around the defenses I’d built around myself and touching was the first step to letting them into the safe little world I’d created for myself and gave them the ability to hurt me,” he explained honestly. "But I'm getting better," he admitted.
“And you let your partner into that world that no one else could get to?”
“After a long time…Yes.”
“Why if you never let anyone else in…?”
“He kinda wouldn't take no for an answer. He pulled the walls down…Pushed me until I let down my guard…I didn’t realize he’d done it until it was too late.” Roy grinned smugly behind him.
“I see…So this therapy has apparently cured you?”
“No…That all happened before the therapy ...But... it has helped since then. I mean I will always have Aspergers and that causes a lot of emotional upheaval. I still have a long road and I’m never gonna be completely okay but I’ve made a lot of progress.”
“So it obviously cured you enough to lead Gayle Markson on…Let her believe she had a chance before you broke her heart and dumped her?”
“I didn’t lead her on. I only went out with her once.”
“You admitted that you found her beautiful…That you were interested?”
“I find a lot of women beautiful and interesting it doesn’t mean I’m in love with them.”
“But you admitted you were very interested in Gayle.”
“I was until…”
Harrell cut him off. “You found her beautiful, you were interested but when this beautiful woman starts throwing herself at you …You want us to believe you didn’t take advantage of it?”
John leaned forward. “She was also throwing herself at my best friend…My married best friend.”
“Yes or no Mr. Gage…?”
“NO…,” he said in irritation.
“She accused you of rape…”
“I didn’t rape her.”
“But you tried.”
“You ever strike out with some of those ladies you date?”
“Does it bother you?”
“Really…That’s usually a blow to a man’s ego…Someone with your insecurities and lack of self esteem might not handle that so well…?”
John blinked in surprise and his mouth dropped open in speechless shock.
“Objection your honor,” Water’s barked shooting from his seat. “Foundation…Mr. Gage’s self esteem or lack of has never been discussed.”
“Sustained,” Sheldon said.
John was looking at his hands as the red hue of embarrassment crept along across his features. “I’m sorry Mr. Gage did that embarrass you?”
Harrell smiled smugly. “I’m sorry but let’s go on…So it doesn’t bother you to get blown off?”
“No…I get over it and move on…There’re a lot of other girls out there,” he said with a shrug.
“You stated that Gayle brushed her chest against you that first day?”
“Did you think that it was accidental?”
“I did at the time.”
“Yes or No Mr. Gage…”
“You said she walked into your path deliberately?”
“How do you know it was deliberate?”
“She had to walk forward and then left into my path.”
“No possibility that it was an accident?”
“It’s possible I guess,” he conceded.
“You said in the rec room that she brushed her hand across your,” he consulted his notes…“Your behind…?”
“I don’t think so.”
“It’s a big area sir…She had twelve feet to walk around me…besides…She kissed me a minute later.”
Harrell ignored the last part of the comment. “Where is the refrigerator in relation to the oven?”
“They’re next to each other.”
“Did she have anything in her hand?”
“Yes…She uh…Had a drink.”
“Still no chance that it was an accident?”
“It didn’t seem likely…,”
“Yes or no Mr. Gage...”
“Yes it’s possible,” Johnny admitted in frustrated resignation.
“Mr. Gage…You told us that Gayle hinted that your friend might be looking to find a new partner?”
“Your very close best friend…?”
“Did that make you angry?”
“NO?” Harrell asked incredulously. “Well what did it make you feel?”
“But you’re so close Mr. Gage,” he all but taunted. “Best friends…Brothers how could you possibly feel insecure?”
“I have Aspergers Mr. Harrell…Insecurity with emotional relationships comes with it.”
“So apparently does a faulty memory.”
“Oh…When it’s convenient?”
John rolled his eyes in frustration, gritting his teeth…“No…Only when I’ve withdrawn for some reason. I don’t remember what happens then.”
“You said you have flashes.”
“It’s not the same…Its vague impressions of voices or being held but I don’t remember what they say.”
“You remember what you want to,” Harrell accused.
“NO,” John snapped back. “If that were the case…,” John hesitated, gasping back hurt breaths. Roy’s hand reached out to steady his friend.
“If what Mr. Gage?” Harrell growled.
“Don’t you think there are things I want to remember…? My parent’s funerals…What those people did to…,” Johnny stopped abruptly, realizing what he’d almost blurted out. He froze for a moment.
Roy moved to his side. “Johnny…,” He said softly from beside him. “Take a breath.”
John nodded, breathing deeply. “O…Okay.”
Roy returned to his seat and Harrell stepped forward, frustrated that Roy had interfered just when he thought he’d rattled the young man enough to trip him up. “Those people what?”
“Objection…Relevance?” Water’s stated rising quickly to his feet.
“Side bar…,” Sheldon said. Both attorneys moved to the bench. Sheldon covered the microphone in front of them and leaned toward them. “What people was he about to mention Mr. Waters?”
“I believe it was his family in Montana…But he’s had no contact with them for ten years your honor. He already explained that they were embarrassed by his disorder and basically wanted nothing to do with him.”
Sheldon nodded looking at the young man in the witness chair who was chewing his lip nervously. “Your honor,” Harrell started to argue not wanting to lose the chance to further discompose the shaken paramedic.
“Mr. Harrell…I’ve already allowed you to put this young man on trial because this disorder was her defense which I might add…I haven’t seen the evidence of. I will not let you humiliate him by having to explain a family situation that has absolutely no bearing on this case…Are we clear?”
“Yes sir.” They both returned to their places.
“Objection sustained…Move on Mr. Harrell.”
“The day at the station…Is it possible you wouldn’t remember attacking Gayle in the locker room.”
“No…I remembered it.”
“That you did attack her.”
“No…I mean I… I remember everything that happened that day…”
“That’s convenient... that all that emotional upheaval didn’t send you into this…withdrawal.”
“I wasn’t that emotional at that point…I was upset and confused by what she was doin but…”
Harrell cut him off. “But your own friends believed her didn’t they?”
“For a minute but that…”
“They thought you were guilty too…?” He barked, cutting him off again.
“I…I don’t know…I…Yes I…For a minute,” he stammered, looking a bit flustered.
“You said you were worried about your best friend wanting to get rid of you…Maybe you thought you’d get even with her for that and things got out of hand.”
“No…I didn’t touch her.”
“Didn’t touch her?” Harrell snatched a picture off the table and shoved it in John’s face. The younger man flinched at the rapid motion before catching himself. Harrell’s eyes narrowed a bit at the unguarded reaction but continued on. “Explain the bruises around the girl’s wrists then…The ripped shirt…”
“I was holding her off that’s all…”
“So you did touch her then?”
“Well…Y…Yes but not the way y…you mean,” he stuttered out with a gasp.
Martha Hightower leaned toward Kel. “He’s deliberately trying to provoke John,” she whispered. “He’s a fool. If he drives him into withdrawal…God only knows the damage he could do.” Kel nodded his agreement as his concerned eyes met Roy’s angry ones.
Harrell moved on ready to pounce. “Let’s talk about this supposed therapy session.”
“Yes…As it was just you and Joanne DeSoto, we only have your word that that’s what was going on,” he said dropping his voice theatrically and throwing John a wink.
The younger man bristled angrily. “It was a therapy session.”
“Of course,” Harrell said condescendingly. “After the massage of course…”
“Sh…She only…It was just my shoulder,” he stuttered.
“Mr. Gage, would you look at Mrs. DeSoto?” John’s eyes found Joanne in the audience and she threw him a reassuring smile. John tossed a small, crooked grin back. “She’s quite beautiful isn’t she?”
“Yes she is,” John agreed warily.
“She was running her hands over your body…?”
“Just my shoulder,” he insisted defensively.
“Yes or no…,” he snapped.
“Yes…,” John said blowing out a frustrated breath.
“That doesn’t turn you on Mr. Gage?”
“N…No…,” he said appalled by the insinuation. “She’s my…”
“We’ve already established that you find her beautiful?”
“Well yeah but she’s my best friend’s wife and my friend…It wasn’t…”
“You were half naked…Alone with a beautiful woman who was all over you,” he yelled.
“She wasn’t all over me,” John shouted back. “And we were only alone for five minutes.”
Harrell was a slow learner. “That’s plenty of time Mr. Gage,” he said snidely.
A slow smug smile spread over Johnny’s features as he snorted indignantly. “Maybe for you man but I’m a fireman…I have loads of stamina. I can last a helluva a lot longer than that.”
It took Sheldon a full minute to get the howls of laughter in the courtroom quieted. The judge had to wipe tears of mirth from his own eyes as well, while a red faced Harrell mopped the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief…Resigned to having to start again.
“None the less Mr. Gage,” Harrell started again. “You were half undressed.”
“I was also half dressed…She’s seen me like that before.”
“I don’t know…I’m there a lot…I swim in the pool…Help in the yard.”
“If there’s nothing going on between you, doesn’t it embarrass you to have the wife of your best friend touch you so intimately.”
“Did…? What changed?”
“Uh…She reminded me that while I was sick in the hospital, she’d pretty much seen it all. There wasn’t much left to hide,” Johnny said looking uncomfortable and flushing crimson as laughter once again swept through the room.
Harrell knew John was winning over the entire room…He had to rattle him enough to break his composure. “The day of the attempted rape…” he began.
“Objection…There are NO rape charges pending against John Gage.”
“The day Gayle Markson claims you assaulted her…You said someone touched your neck?”
“Why did you react so quickly…Jump up so fast? Did she hurt you?”
“No…I just didn’t know who it was… It startled me.”
“Did you wonder if it might be your partner?” He asked snidely. John looked shocked but before he could answer Harrell plunged on. “I mean he runs his hands over you like that.” John flushed in speechless embarrassment.
“Oooh,” Martha growled angrily in the gallery. “Here it comes. He could undo months of progress by making him feel as if he’s done something wrong…That he’ll embarrass Roy because of it.”
“I know,” Kel muttered helplessly.
Roy was staring balefully at Harrell but couldn’t interfere unless John was in danger of withdrawal. He clenched his teeth in rage. The people in the courtroom mumbled in disgust. Harrell mistook the direction it was aimed at and pushed on. “Answer the question Mr. Gage.”
“No…N…Not like that he doesn’t.”
“Well that’s odd…,” He said lifting his notes as pretended to read in bafflement. “Your partner told us that after he hit you he chased you out of the station…Is that right?”
“I was upset and he wanted to apologize…To be sure I was okay that’s all.”
Harrell consulted his notes. “Didn’t he touch your face?” He asked as he flung his hand toward John, coming within inches of his cheek. His suspicions were rewarded as the younger man flung his hands up defensively to protect his face.
“NO DON’T,” he gasped, visibly shaken.
“OBJECTION…,” Waters bellowed, almost flipping his chair over as he shot out of it angrily.
“I had no intention of actually touching him your honor.”
“Sustained and don’t do that again Mr. Harrell.”
John dropped his hands into his lap, forcing himself to breath normally. Sheldon cast a suspicious glance at the young fireman.
“Sorry your honor…Mr. Gage…Let’s get back to the question… “Did he touch your face?” He asked knowingly, having pressed Gayle for the details the night before.
“Brush your hair back?” Harrell questioned huskily trying to turn it into something beyond a comforting gesture between close friends.
John chewed his lip nervously. “Yes,” he mumbled softly, looking at his folded hands.
“Speak up Mr. Gage,” Harrell barked.
“Y…Yes,” he answered, flushing once again and shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
“I almost wish he’d go into withdrawal,” Dixie whispered angrily. “It would serve that jerk right if Roy had to bring him out.”
“Didn’t he hug you?” Roy’s arms folded over his chest, refusing to be embarrassed by this vile mans innuendos. The jury had already heard this but Johnny didn’t know that. His face was crimson in humiliation. Fear that Roy wouldn’t want anything more to do with him after this rode his mind like a demon. Insecurities began to flare. “Did he embrace you?” Harrell yelled at John’s silent form.
John frowned in agitation…“Y…Yes,” he stuttered, looking anywhere but at the jury or the audience.
Roy pressed himself forcefully back into the chair to keep from grabbing the obnoxious lawyer by the shirt and clobbering him for this humiliating assault he was launching on his young friend.
“He told me to go home and put some ice on my cheek…I...I left.” John whispered, dropping his eyes to stare at his hands.
“No goodbye kiss?” He asked snidely.
John’s head snapped up and his mouth dropped open in shocked surprise.
“Withdrawn,” Harrell said smugly. “Mr. Gage…,” the heavyset lawyer scratched his nose feigning embarrassment… "Um…Has your partner ever kissed you?”
John’s face paled before flushing in embarrassment. The crew glanced at each other indignantly…How could he ask such a question? John’s answer surprised them as well…“Not the way you mean.”
“Then he has?” He asked triumphantly.
“I…No…Yes…I mean I was told he did but…” The crew threw another incredulous look at one another. They hadn’t heard about this themselves.
“You don’t know?”
“I was unconscious…He thought I…”
“Yes or no Mr. Gage…”
“Yes…” Johnny replied in frustration. “He thought I was dead and…,” he blurted out desperately wanting to clarify. Their friends suddenly understood. Roy had thought John was dead and the reaction most likely had been one of relief when he’d discovered his friend was alive. They were correct in their assumption…Roy had planted a joyful kiss on the younger man’s forehead. They smiled in anticipation of the teasing they’d be sure to give the two paramedics in the days to come.
“Where did he kiss you?” Harrell asked snidely cutting his explanation off again.
“I was in the hospital,” Johnny answered…looking confused by the question.
“I meant on you…Where did he kiss you?” The gallery snickered at the exasperated tone of Harrell’s voice.
“Oh…My forehead,” he said with an innocent shrug, tossing an apologetic look over his shoulder at Roy. His partner threw him a wink. John smiled in relief that Roy wasn’t upset.
“Mr. Gage…Do you love Joanne DeSoto?” Harrell snapped throwing the young man off balance with the rapid change of direction.
John hesitated at the abrupt change of subject. “Romantically…?” He asked warily.
“Well…yes…But we weren’t having an affair if that’s what you’re gettin at.”
“That’s exactly what I’m getting at Mr. Gage…”
“Well I’m telling you no…I love Jo like a sister.”
“You love your partner too don’t you?”
“Yes…,” Johnny said quietly. “Like a broth…”
“Yes will do.”
“But it’s not…”
“That will do.”
John looked past Harrell to his friends in frustration. Joanne threw him an encouraging smile.
“He told us he’s held you in his arms…”
“Because I was in withdrawal,” John said defensively.
“Stroked your hair…”
“I was sick…Injured,” he gasped breathlessly, the agitation was obvious once again.
“You’ve said he kissed you at least once.”
“On the f…forehead,” John sputtered indignantly. “He’s my friend…He was just relieved…You’re making it sound…”
“Sound like what Mr. Gage?”
“Like it was wrong…Roy’s my best friend…My brother…A mentor…A father figure…It wasn’t like your makin it sound,” he snapped.
Johnny felt a hand rest gently on his shoulder. “Easy Johnny,” he murmured.
John forced himself to calm down…“It wasn’t like that,” he whispered again. His friends in the gallery shot angry glares at the heavyset lawyer while the jury shifted in outrage.
Martha was steaming mad as she leaned over to Kel. “Let’s hope what he’s learned really has sunk in or this could set him back to square one.”
“We should never have let Johnny do this,” Kel whispered back worriedly. He could tell the young man was on the edge.
“Maybe that’s the reason you’re not interested in the lovely Mrs. DeSoto.”
“You are interested?”
“No…That’s not what I meant... you’re twist…”
“You weren’t interested in the beautiful blonde right under your nose.”
“Yes I was but…she was comin on to my partner.”
“So you were jealous…?”
“No…It just wasn’t right.”
“Okay…So let’s go back to the locker room shall we?”
“Fine…” John said sounding confused once more at the rapid switch of subject.
“You said she kissed you?”
“Reached for your belt?”
“Yes,” he said looking at his hands. He’d been on the stand for almost six hours now and exhaustion and frustration were setting in.
“She was trying to undo it?”
“Most men would have taken her up on that Mr. Gage.”
“We were on duty Mr. Harrell.”
“We’re all glad you’re so conscientious…,” he said snidely. “Would you have taken her up on it if you hadn’t been...? I mean you’d already walked out on her once before at her apartment?”
“Sh…She was trying to ruin my partnership…My friendship with Roy…I didn’t want to lose my friend…”
“So you tried to get away from her?”
“I…Yes…I think so…Yes.”
“You don’t know?” He barked…The questions coming rapid fire.
“I just had my head slammed into a brick wall…I was a little dazed.”
“But you can remember her hands on your belt?”
“That was pretty close to home Mr. Harrell,” he said as he rubbed his forehead tiredly.
Brackett shifted anxiously in his seat. “We need to get him off that stand,” he growled. “He’s getting tired and frustrated. He’s a time bomb.” The others looked at him worriedly before turning back to watch John.
“You said you don’t hurt women?” Harrell said changing his line of questioning yet again in an effort to keep the young man off balance.
“No I…I mean…I was agreeing with you… No…I don’t.”
“You grabbed Gayle hard enough to bruise her,” Harrell barked, trying to force an explosion of angry violence.
“I was defending myself…She attacked me.”
“You ripped her shirt…”
“Oh…That’s right…She did it to herself,” he said snidely in disbelief.
“You expect us to believe that?”
“Yes…It’s the truth…The others told you…”
“Ah yes…The brotherhood of firemen.”
“What…? I…I don’t…”
“Stick together through thick and thin.”
The crew bristled in outrage at the innuendo. “I don’t even know those others and my friends don’t lie…Not even for me.”
“They say you don’t lie…”
“I try not to.”
“But you will if it suits you?”
“That’s not what…”
Harrell cut him off yet again. “As a matter of fact…I think you’ve lied about everything.”
“I think they’ll say anything to protect their friend…”
“Isn’t it true you told Miss Markson you loved her?”
“That you led this poor girl on…”
“Used your so called disorder to dump her when you were through…”
“No…That’s not what…” John said shaking his head adamantly.
“You told her you loved her…Was that a lie?” He interrupted.
“Your friends say you don’t lie…”
“I d…didn’t have…”
“Yes or no…”
“You just said you did…,” Harrell yelled close to the younger man’s face.
John flinched. “I didn’t have a choice,” John shouted back, becoming visibly agitated.
“Johnny…,” Roy began but Harrell cut him off, not wanting to give the man a chance to let John regain his composure and continued to throw questions rapid fire at the exhausted and unsettled young man in front of him.
“Are you having an affair with Joanne DeSoto?”
“NO…,” John said in frustration.
“You told her you loved her…”
“I do but not…”
“So now you’re saying you don’t?”
“Yes…No…Stop it…You’re twisting it…I…I didn’t…”
“She wanted you to give up Joanne?”
“Yes…NO…I mean I wasn’t…”
“When she told you that you were through you attacked her…”
“Tried to rape her?”
Johnny’s breathing was becoming labored and he threw an anxious glance at his partner…A slow rock began… “No…," John shook his head in confusion. " No...I didn't do anything wrong...Why are y…you doin this to me?” He gasped.
Waters shot from his chair… "Objection…He’s badgering the witness…He needs Roy...He needs a break.”
Sheldon banged his gavel as the people in the gallery as well as the jury stirred restlessly at what was happening. “That’s enough Mr. Harrell.”
Roy tried to get to Johnny but Harrell deliberately stepped into his path blocking the blonde paramedic as Chet, Marco and Mike exchanged a glance. “Damn it he’s goin,” Chet said aloud.
Joanne and Dixie squeezed each other’s hand, desperately wanting to go to the distressed young man. “Hold on baby,” Jo whispered as tears pooled in her eyes.
Gayle shot to her feet as Harrell continued to verbally pound John. The bailiff grabbed her arm to hold her in place.
Harrell barged on in true TV lawyer fashion. “Isn’t it true that she SAW you engaged in a romantic tryst with Joanne DeSoto?” Harrell yelled in his face as his hands slammed down on the rail in front of Johnny. The sable haired paramedic flinched back.
“It was therapy..I...I didn’t do anything...I…it was,,, ” Johnny’s stammering whisper trailed off as the dark eyes lost focus.
Roy finally managed to shove the heavier man out of his way, dropping to his knees in front of John but one look told him it was too late…The damage had been done. “You son of a bitch,” Roy snarled at Harrell as he reached for John. The younger mans hands rose defensively…Trying to ward his off but Roy grabbed his wrists. “Johnny…Look at me,” he commanded as he pushed the hands aside and took his young friends face between his hands. “Don’t go away…Stay with me.”
The juror’s eyes traveled from the drama unfolding before them to glare furiously at the profusely sweating defense attorney and then to John’s friends who were on their feet and watching anxiously as Roy battled to keep the younger man from slipping away before looking back. John was shaking as his hands pulled frantically at Roy’s wrists in an effort to break the contact. “C’mon Junior…Look at me,” he urged as he forced John’s head up. The room was silent except for Roy’s pleading voice. “Stay with me Johnny,” he said softly, using one hand to sweep the hair from John’s face.
Harrell’s plan to cause an angry explosion had backfired and blown up in his face. The audience watched with compassionate eyes as Roy gently tried to pull his friend back. “Doc…Can you get me some water?”
“Sure,” Kel said slipping past the rail to grab the glass from the prosecutors table.
“Can’t you use one of those ammonia capsules or something” The Judge suggested helpfully.
Roy shook his head. “He wouldn’t understand…He’d just think he was being punished and slip deeper.”
“Punished…,” Sheldon mumbled to himself with a frown…Suspicion rose up again.
“Johnny…Can you take a sip for me?” Roy urged, holding the glass to John’s mouth. The trembling, younger man resisted, trying to turn his face away. Water ran down his chin but Roy persisted, holding his head steady. “C’mon Junior…Try.” John shook his head but finally yielded when Roy pried his mouth open and poured a small amount in. He coughed, almost choking on the liquid being forced into his mouth. John tried to struggle but he finally heard Roy's voice and obediently took a sip and swallowed. “Good boy…Another one…," he commanded. John complied. "Good boy...Now look at me.” Tired but focused brown eyes lifted to meet Roy’s, blinking in confusion at what was happening. “That’s my boy,” Roy said giving the dark hair a final brush with his fingers.
“I’m here…Its okay.”
“H…He’s twisting ev…everything. W…won’t let me f…finish. I D…Didn’t do anything wrong…”
“I know Junior…Its okay.”
“I d…didn’t sleep with J…Jo. I d...didn't. Pl...please don’t be m…mad.”
“I’m not mad…I am never mad at you,” he assured him as he pulled him into his arms. “It’s okay,” he said resting his chin on top of John's head and stroking the sable hair for a long moment before leaning him back in the seat. The gasping breaths eased and the eyes were exhausted but alert.
“Mr. DeSoto, can he go on?” Sheldon asked doubtfully.
“I don't know...I think you’ve had enough,” Roy said worriedly.
“No…Have t…to finish.”
“Y…Yes.” Roy frowned but nodded reluctantly at the Judge.
“He says he can.”
Sheldon nodded and turned angry eyes on the contrite and wide eyed defense attorney. “Mr. Harrell…Do not pull a stunt like that again or I’ll hold you in contempt.” Harrell nodded quickly having no intention of pushing the young man again anyway. He’d seen the sympathy in the eyes of the jury and the revolted looks aimed at him. “Counselors…Mr. DeSoto…Side bar.” Roy reluctantly left Johnny and they approached the Judge as he once again covered the microphone. “What’s wrong with his speech?”
“It’s normal for him to stutter a bit when he comes out of withdrawal…He’ll get it under control in a while,” Roy assured him.
“Mr. DeSoto…You said he’d think he was being punished? You and Dr. Hightower have both alluded to something more here than just Aspergers.” His gray eyes locked with Roy’s. “Did his family in Montana hurt him?" Roy stared at him in mute surprise. Sheldon gave him his best no nonsense glare. "Was John Gage an abused child?” He asked point blank, putting two and two together and looking at the young man who sat quietly in the witness chair. Roy hesitated until Sheldon cocked a brow at him. “You’re still under oath Mr. DeSoto.”
Roy sighed, tossing a defeated glance at Jeff. “Yes sir,” he finally admitted.
Sheldon looked to Harrel and the sympathy in his eyes was clear. “You handle him with kid gloves from here on out Mr. Harrell…There will not be a repeat of what just happened…Do you understand?” He asked sternly.
“Do not interfere with his partner’s accessibility again,” he ordered with a scowl.
Sheldon nodded and moved his hand from the microphone as he turned to the young, dark haired paramedic. “John…Are you ready to go on?” He asked gently.
“Yes S…Sir…I…I’m sorry,” he said looking embarrassed.
“Don’t be,” Sheldon reassured him before turning to the jury. “Ladies and Gentlemen…I’m told that the impairment to Mr. Gage’s speech is normal after a withdrawal and will return to normal as he goes along so please…bear with him.”
From the look on the Juror’s faces, they’d forgive the young man anything at this point.
John’s friends resumed their seats but their worried eyes never left their young friend.
Harrell approached Johnny slowly. “Mr. Gage…Let’s move on shall we?” John nodded hesitantly. “You spend an inordinate amount of time alone with Mrs. DeSoto don’t you?”
John sighed wearily. “I s…spend time w…with the whole f…family,” he replied softly.
“Yes but the children are in school and your partner is at work and you’re alone with his wife.”
John rubbed a hand over his face…The gesture wasn’t lost on those who knew him. Johnny was tired and frustrated. “L…look if I’m th…there it’s usually because I’m s…sick or injured. I’m n…not on v…vac…cation,” he stuttered.
“So there’s nothing going on between you?”
“Objection your honor…Asked and answered…Repeatedly,” Waters said in aggravation.
“Sustained…Move on Mr. Harrell.”
The defense attorney gritted his teeth that he couldn’t sway that testimony. “When you first encountered Gayle at the DeSoto house did she have the gun in her hand?”
“Well when did you first see it?”
“When I started toward her...”
“What was your intent when you approached her?
“To g…get her out of the h…house…”
“Is it possible that she pulled the gun because she was afraid of you?”
“N…no…She’s just nuts.” Several snorts of stifled laughter whispered through the room.
“You attacked her once before…You don’t think it’s a strong possibility that she was fearful?”
“I didn’t a…attack her and if sh…she was scared of m…me, she sh…shouldn’t have c…come there.”
“She’s in love with you…She wanted to see you…Talk to you even though she was still understandably fearful of the man who attacked her…”
“No…B…Because I didn’t attack h…her.”
“She says you did…”
“You expect us to believe you?”
“Because I’m tellin the t…truth…”
“How do we know that?”
“I’m not the one with a k…kidnapping and a…attempted m…murder charge am I?” Johnny pointed out with a raised eyebrow.
Harrell scowled…“After Mrs. DeSoto came home, things changed quickly didn’t they?”
“You attacked Gayle.”
John’s dark eyes widened in disbelief…“I…I Attacked…? She w…was holding a g…gun on me…I w…was defending m…myself and J…Jo.”
“She shot at Mrs. DeSoto?”
“Was it possible that the gun discharged accidently because you frightened her?”
“I don’t th…think so.”
“But you DON’T know for sure do you?”
“No,” John admitted in defeat.
“You grabbed for her wrist…Just like in the locker room...”
“For the s…same reason…”
“You told your partner she wouldn’t shoot you.”
“I…I didn’t know th…that then.”
“After she hit you with the gun your whole demeanor changed…Mrs. DeSoto testified that you ‘turned those eyes on’ and that you’re apparently pretty hard to resist when you do that,” Harrell said in snide disbelief.
John’s eyes swiveled to meet Joanne’s. “Sh…She said that? Thanks J…Jo,” he said with a pleased smile.
John heard the muffled chuckle behind him as the room erupted with laughter. The gavel slammed and Sheldon grinned at the young man seated next to him. “Please keep your comments directed to the counselor Mr. Gage.”
“Um…S…sorry your honor,” Johnny mumbled contritely as Harrell harrumphed in annoyance.
“You suddenly became very interested in Miss Markson?”
“No…But I…I had to m…make her think I w…was.”
“So she’d l…leave Joanne behind and she’d be s…safe.”
“Maybe you get off on violence…You’ve had an abusive past…That does affect you…”
John’s mouth dropped open in stunned surprise. His face paled as his hands began to shake. “OBJECTION,” Water’s shouted as he shot from his chair.
“Counselors…Sidebar. Mr. DeSoto…See to your partner.”
Roy moved to John’s side. “You okay?”
He nodded slowly. “How’d he know about th…that?”
“I’m sorry Johnny…The judge asked me outright a while ago.”
“Oh,” he whispered, feeling the dozens of curious eyes on him.
In the gallery John’s friends were furious. “Why does he have to try and humiliate him?” Mike asked in an angry whisper.
Martha shook her head. “If the judge lets that in…,” she trailed off.
Joanne leaned around Dixie to look at the therapist. “Roy will yank him off the stand before he lets him do that…Don’t worry,” she reassured the doctor.
Sheldon pointed a finger at Harrell in a rage. “Counselor…That was uncalled for and I’m warning you…I will not tolerate any more of these broadsides against Mr. Gage. His past history is not to be brought up, do I make myself clear?”
“But your honor…It could be relevant…”
“Mr. Harrell…John Gage is not on trial. He’s the victim here…I will not let you make him one again. I will not have you force this testimony to humiliate him and resolve nothing. You’ve seen firsthand as has everyone else in this courtroom that he is not violent while in withdrawal or when coming out…This line of questioning isn’t going to change that.”
“He was only out for a minute or two…That could have been an act.”
“Oh really your Honor,” Water's growled in aggravation.
Sheldon held up his hand to halt the Prosecutor. “Mr. Harrell you’re either blind, desperate or a fool. Unless this young fireman is an academy award winning actor I would conclude that what I’ve seen is very real. MOVE ON Counselor.”
Johnny and Roy exchanged anxious looks. The younger man chewed his lip nervously. “What do ya think they’re talkin about?” Johnny asked worriedly.
“Whether or not he’s gonna let Harrell bring that in.”
“I…I don’t want…I ccc...can't... ”
Roy touched John’s shoulder comfortingly, stopping the protest before it could start. “Don’t worry…You won’t. I’ll pull you off the stand first.”
“No…She’ll g…get away…”
“I’m not gonna let that jack ass do that to you John…Drop it.”
John nodded in reluctant agreement. “Okay.”
The lawyers returned to their places as the judge turned to the jury. “Ladies and Gentlemen you’re being instructed to disregard that last comment. John Gage’s childhood is not open for discussion as it has no bearing on this case… Proceed Mr. Harrell and I caution you…You’re on thin ice.”
There was a collective sigh of relief from the gallery as Roy threw a wink at his partner and returned to his seat.
Wary dark eyes regarded Harrell as he once again approached John. “I’m sorry for bringing that up?”
“I’ll bet,” John mumbled.
“You don’t like me much do you Mr. Gage?” Harrell asked. Johnny regarded him silently. “It’s alright…You can answer honestly?”
“Hitting to close to home?” He asked sarcastically.
“No,” John responded flatly as he leaned forward. “It’s because so f…far this morning you’ve a…accus…ed me of attempted r…rape…Having an a…adulterous affair with my best f…friends wife and an affair with my partner. N…Now I’m not sure how I…I have time to do all th…three and I e…either like w…women or I don’t but I wish y…you’d pick one and s…stick to it cuz I’m getting c…confused.”
Snickers and guffaws rippled around the room as the majority of the people present experienced a John Gage rant for the first time…stutter and all. Harrell flushed in rage at being outwitted by the younger man and began questioning him once again. “Is it possible that Miss Markson just wanted to talk some sense into you?”
“With a gun in her h…hand?”
“She was afraid of you.”
“I wasn’t the one w…with the gun.”
“You do know she’s in love with you.”
“She’s g…got some kinda twisted obsession…I wouldn’t c…call it love.”
Gayle was nodding furiously. “Yes I do Johnny…You know I love you…Please believe that,” she sobbed.
“Miss Markson…Please stay silent,” Sheldon ordered. She sat back but continued to weep quietly. Harrell shook his head. Gayle was making this more and more difficult all the time. The court psychologist had said she was competent to stand trial but the heavy blonde attorney was beginning to wonder if she hadn’t truly snapped.
“She wanted to talk you out of your relationship with Joanne DeSoto.”
John hung his head…Sighing in frustration. “I don’t have a relationship with Joanne…We’re just friends,” he said tiredly.
“You told Miss Markson you’d go with her willingly…Did you mean it?”
“Absolutely…If it w…woulda got her outta the house and a…away from Jo.”
“But you didn’t intend to stay with her?”
“You were toying with her?”
“I wasn’t…,” John began angrily. He stopped to take a calming breath and collect his thoughts. “This w…wasn’t some game I was p…playing Mr. Harrell. I was tryin to s…save the life of my friend and t…talk this crazy woman with a g…gun into letting her go…If that’s toying with her than yes…Okay…Yes I was,” he said as he threw his hands up in an ‘I surrender’ gesture.
“You lied to her?”
“Your damn r…right I did…I didn’t have a choice.”
“You attacked her again a few minutes later?”
“I pushed her to give Jo time to get away.”
“Do you believe she was trying to shoot YOU when she fired that gun?”
“You put yourself in the line of fire?”
“So being shot was your own fault?”
John stared at the man in shock. “I…I was trying to keep Jo…”
Harrell cut him off. “In fact you wouldn’t have been hurt at all if YOU hadn’t grabbed for her…Shoved her…”
“Are you suggesting I shoulda just let her…”
“YES OR NO Mr. Gage…”
John rolled his eyes…“But that’s just…”
“You’re as crazy as she is,” John ground out.
“Your Honor,” Harrell whined.
“Mr. Gage…I’m sure Mr. Water’s will touch on that on the redirect…Just answer please.”
“No…I wouldn’t have,” he said tiredly.
“You said later at the house she hit you for telling Joanne DeSoto that you loved her?”
“You told us you didn’t love her.”
“Joanne and I are friends…”
“Yes or No…”
John sighed in frustration. “Yes.”
“In fact she had to threaten her to get that promise from you…That’s a pretty strong kind of love.”
John shrugged…“That…and a really s…strong stubborn streak.”
There were snorts of contained laughter from the front two rows but the loudest came from behind him.
“Later you told Gayle you loved her.”
“Yes or no…”
“To her fragile mind…In those moments of temporary insanity…Do you think she believed you?”
“I don’t know what she believed…Whatever it was… it was wrong.”
“Yes or no…”
“YES,” John said through clenched teeth.
“Mr. Gage please understand that I’m trying to make it clear how this young woman…Immersed in this love affair and seeing the object of her affections being taken away from her could easily snap. You do understand that?”
“There was no affair,” Johnny said stubbornly, refusing to give in.
“After you told her you loved her…She kissed you?”
“Quite gently I believe and you let her?”
“Yes or No…”
John once again rubbed his face tiredly before blowing out a frustrated breath. “Yes.”
“She caressed your body and would have gone further if Joanne DeSoto hadn’t stepped in?”
John’s face flamed in embarrassment. “It appeared so…Yes.”
“You didn’t fight that time either?”
“NO,” Johnny said in a weary voice. Roy’s blue eyes were anxious as he watched his tired, young friend. He desperately wanted to get John off that stand.
“You said you were badly wounded?”
“How do you explain dragging a two hundred pound canopy bed across the floor?”
John shrugged…“Adrenaline…D…determination. I…I had to get Joanne out to go for help…”
“So you could be alone with Gayle perhaps?”
Harrell’s eyes widened in delight…The young man had finally slipped. “You admit that you wanted to be alone with Gayle?”
“Yes…With Jo safely outta harm’s way, I could at least fight back.”
Harrell glared at the suddenly smug paramedic while his friends smiled appreciatively.
“When your partner got there you told him to get away if he could?”
“Because you were safe with her…You knew she wouldn’t hurt you.”
“I thought she wouldn’t kill me…She’d already hurt me Mr. Harrell.”
“She told your partner she had to kill him because he wouldn’t let her keep you…Sounds like someone who might be temporarily insane yes?”
“You think that’s normal?”
“No…You said temporarily…I think she’s been crazy for a long time,” John clarified.
Harrell scowled angrily... "You promised to go with her if she wouldn’t harm your friend?”
“Did you mean it?”
“Would you have stayed with her?”
“So you lied to her yet again?”
No…I promised her I’d go…I never said anything about stayin with her.”
“You must have had some interest…You did attack her in the locker room.”
“No,” Johnny said with a sigh. He’d hoped they were coming to the end but now this man was going back to the beginning. John didn’t think he could take much more. “I didn’t.”
“We saw the marks.”
“She did it to herself,” he said in frustration. “Man…We’ve been over this.”
“You expect us to believe that that delicate young woman attacked you…That she scratched you? Bit You…Tore her own clothes and slammed a grown man into a wall?”
John finally snapped. He leaned forward to point at Gayle. “That delicate young woman is a fully trained fire fighter. She caught me off guard and she could sling you over her shoulder in full gear and carry you from a burning building Mr. Harrell,” he said angrily. “Yes I expect it to be believed because it’s what happened and you can ask me the same question ten times in ten different ways and the answer will still be the same because the truth won’t change.” John sat back folding his arms over his chest in a huff... stutter gone and not even breathing hard.
The second John Gage rant left the courtroom stunned. Roy covered his mouth and turned his face away to stifle the chuckle while around the room there were several other titters of laughter and stunned awe. “Nothing further your honor,” Harrell said as he retreated…His face flushed.
“No there probably shouldn’t be,” Sheldon said with a grin. “Redirect Mr. Waters…?”
“John…Mr. Harrell asked you several times about your feeling for Joanne DeSoto…”
“So let’s clear this up okay…? Explain your relationship with Joanne.”
John’s eyes traveled to the woman sitting in the front row. “Joanne’s a friend…A big sister sometimes…,” he hesitated for a moment before shrugging. “Sometimes she’s kinda like my mom used to be.”
Tears pooled in Jo’s eyes at the quiet words as she smiled at the younger man gently.
“If she weren’t married to Roy…Would you consider dating her?”
“I don’t love her that way…It would be like…hittin on my sister.”
“He asked a very rude question about whether that intimate touch in the locker room might have been your partner…Does Roy touch you intimately?”
“Yes…During therapy…but not like that.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Hers was a caress…Like between lovers…Roy touches during therapy to relax me or sometimes if I’m sick or upset or even bordering on withdrawal…He touches my body…my face but it's not the same.”
“It’s meant to soothe or calm you?”
“John…Do you lie?”
“I try not to but sometimes I have to…”
“When a patient is in distress we try not to tell them anything that will frighten them…I may tell them something’s routine when we suspect a heart attack…”
“For their own good…?”
“You have lied about your own health as well haven’t you?”
John gave him a guilty nod. “Yes.”
He chewed his lip…”So I wouldn’t be a problem for Roy and Jo.”
“You lied several times to Gayle didn’t you?”
“To protect Joanne…?”
“John...Would you have allowed that sexual assault Miss Markson was conducting against you to continue to protect Joanne?”
John flushed and closed his eyes briefly with a shuddering breath. “Yes…”
“If Joanne hadn’t been there…?”
“She recognized that didn’t she…? She told you that she’d found a reason to keep Joanne alive…To control you?”
“So she knew you didn’t want her?”
“Nooo,” Gayle moaned from the defense table. “No…You love me Johnny…Stop lying. Their making you lie…”
“Mr. Harrell, this is my final warning… Keep her under control or I’ll have her removed from this court. Miss Markson calm yourself…You’ll have your turn shortly.”
Harrell leaned over. “If you don’t stop they’ll take you out and you won’t see John anymore understand?” Gayle nodded forlornly but her violet eyes watched Johnny hungrily.
Waters turned back to John. “So in all honesty…You were the one in danger of being sexually assaulted?”
“Um…Yeah,” he answered, blushing painfully.
“When you put yourself between Joanne DeSoto and that gun, did you think she might shoot you?”
“I was hoping she wouldn’t.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Gayle said plaintively.
“No…You aiming at Jo,” John shot back for the first time as he looked at the blonde.
“Mr. Gage, please direct your comments to Mr. Waters,” Sheldon instructed.
“Sorry your Honor…”
“You were hoping she wouldn’t…? But you didn’t know did you?”
“But you did it anyway?”
“You’d have given your life for her wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” he replied without hesitation.
“She demanded that you tell her that you loved her?”
“She held Joanne at gunpoint to force you to say those words.”
“Would you have told her that if she hadn’t threatened Joanne?”
“What would you have done to protect Joanne?”
John’s brown eyes rose to meet Jeff’s. “Anything Gayle told me to.”
Water’s smiled…“You’re very close to this family aren’t you?”
“In fact…They’ve made you a part of their family haven’t they?”
“Yes.” John said looking at Joanne once more with a small grin.
“Have you ever regretted the decision to let them be a part of your life?”
“Yes.” Roy and Joanne looked shocked and then confused as the courtroom grew silent. His friends exchanged surprised glances.
“Why John…?” Water’s asked, looking confused himself.
“I’ve put them in danger from people who wanted to hurt me. Their good name and their reputations have been dr…dragged through the mud in this courtroom and in the papers and…and on TV b…because they tried to help me. I’ve b…been in their way so many times…Messed up their lives with m…my problems. I think…there are a lot of times when they’d have been better off if they’d never met me,” he finished sadly as he looked down at his clenched hands.
Roy was shaking his head adamantly behind him…Rubbing his hand over his face in frustration and knowing he had some work to do with John. Tears welled in Joanne’s eyes. “That’s not true sweetheart,” she mouthed silently.
“Do THEY make you feel that way?” Jeff asked in surprise.
John’s head snapped up. “No…God no never…It’s just…The way I feel.”
“This is exactly what I was afraid of,” Martha whispered angrily at Kel.
“Do you love them?”
“Do you think they love you?”
“I don’t know why sometimes but yeah…I think they do.”
“So you telling Joanne DeSoto that you loved her wouldn’t be that unusual would it?”
“What about Roy?”
John flushed a bit. “No.”
“Do they tell you that as well?”
“Yes…All the time.”
“She said she’d have to kill Roy because he wouldn’t let her keep you…Do you believe that to be true?”
Johnny grinned impishly. “He has the tenacity of a bulldog,” he said drawing chuckles from around the room.
“Does Roy call you his kid brother?”
John smiled crookedly. “Yeah…”
“One last time John…Did you attempt to rape Gayle Markson?”
“Do you now or did you at any time think you were in love with Gayle Markson?”
A low moan of pain slipped from the blonde woman’s mouth and a soft mumble began. Beside her, Harrell could barely make out the words. “We’ll be together Johnny…No one will keep you from me…,” she whispered and then repeated it. Harrell shuddered, feeling sorry for the young dark haired man on the stand.
“John, are you now or have you ever had an affair with Joanne DeSoto?”
And one last question… “Do you now or have you in the past harbored anything but platonic feelings for your partner?”
“Thank you Johnny,” Waters said with a nod as he walked away.
“You can step down Mr. Gage.” Johnny nodded and stood up. Sheldon leaned toward him. “Our thanks and apologies for what we’ve put you through,” he said softly for the younger mans ears alone. John nodded as his friends breathed a sigh of relief that it was finally over.
Roy stood and moved to wait for his young friend as he stepped off the stand. Their eyes met briefly. Roy’s were full of pride in his partner and John’s were tired and full of uncertainty. John shot a hesitant smile at his friend.
“Good job Junior,” Roy said quietly as Johnny joined him. “And we’ve got a lot to talk about,” he warned.
John’s smile wavered worriedly, knowing Roy was upset with him. They went to sit with the others. Joanne cupped the younger mans cheek as he sat down next to her. The look she gave him promised a long lecture about what he’d said but then she smiled, knowing now wasn’t the time for it. She kissed his cheek.
A shriek of outrage from behind them caused all heads to turn. “Don’t touch him,” Gayle snarled as she shot from her chair. “No,” she screamed as the bailiff tried to grab her. “No…He’s mine…You can’t have him,” she screamed hysterically. Officer Burns managed to grab one arm just as her hand closed over his gun. He struggled with the woman, taken off guard by her unexpected strength. She pulled the gun free of its holster and fired.
The bailiff grabbed his shoulder and fell to the floor. She turned the gun towards the rear door as two other officers ran into the room. “Stop…,” she commanded. They quickly complied as the gun was leveled in their direction. “Drop the guns,” she ordered. They slowly removed the weapons and slid them away from them. Her eyes tracked toward Johnny as he cautiously moved to the wounded man’s side… His dark eyes watching the blonde carefully…She backed toward the Judge’s chambers to be sure no one could get in behind her.
The violet eyes turned back to John as he tore the officer’s shirt to get a look at the wound. He threw Gayle a glance as he ripped a section of uniform away. He folded it several times to create a pad before pressing it over the wound.
Kel and Roy moved slowly to help him, never taking their eyes from the woman holding the entire courtroom at bay. She waved the judge from his bench with a smirk. “Consider yourself removed…,” she sneered smugly at the man as he moved to join the others. “Johnny,” she snapped. “Come to me…Right now.”
“He’s wounded,” he protested as he pressed the makeshift bandage against the wound.
“He won’t be the only one if you don’t do what I say…He may not be anyway,” she threatened looking around the room.
“Okay…You don’t need to hurt anyone,” he said as his eyes met Roy’s. He started to get up but Roy reached out to grab his wrist.
“Johnny No…,” he said adamantly.
“I have to…,” he whispered back as he shook Roy’s hand free.
He stood up and turned to face Gayle. The gun was pointed at the older paramedic. John stepped between it and his partner as he moved slowly toward the insane blonde woman. She scowled and swung the weapon toward where Joanne stood in the gallery with the others. John once again sidestepped to put himself in front of the gun.
“Stop doing that Johnny,” she snapped.
“I won’t let you hurt anyone Gayle. You don’t have to hurt anyone.” Johnny’s voice became husky and soft as it had at the DeSoto house. “I’ll go with you.”
She swung the gun toward her lawyer. “He hurt you baby…Do you want me to kill him for you?” She asked in a little girl voice.
“NO…No…I don’t,” John said quickly as he once again moved into the line of fire.
“Stop it John…I mean it,” she snarled angrily, once again sounding in control. The gun swung back to point threateningly at the jurors and again John sidestepped.
The room was hushed and sweat broke out on foreheads as the gun wavered from person to person in a macabre game of Russian roulette. Judge Sheldon…Roy…The Jury…Joanne and each time John stepped in front of the gun as he slowly made his way toward the blonde.
“Johnny don’t do this,” Roy whispered desperately. “Come back here.”
“Shut up Roy,” Gayle snapped as the gun swung back toward him yet again.
John interposed his body between them once more. “How could I ever love you if you hurt my friend?”
“You already said you don’t.”
“I had too…I couldn’t tell my best friend that his wife got kidnapped because of me could I? If you just leave them alone then we can be together now. We’ll just walk out of here…Just you and me okay?”
He was only a foot away now. The violet eyes locked with his. “Tell me what I want to hear,” she demanded.
“I…uh…,” he stumbled momentarily but he was determined not to lose the hold he had on her this time. “I love you Gayle…I have for weeks now.”
She smiled joyfully. “I told them you did…They didn’t believe me. They’ll have to believe me,” she mewled. He nodded in relief but it was short lived as she looked at Harrell. “You…,” she snapped.
“M…m…me,” he stammered fearfully.
“Get the bailiff’s handcuffs and bring them here.”
John’s face paled. “What do ya need those for?”
“To be sure you don’t change your mind and leave me.”
“I won’t…I…I promise I…Please don’t,” John said tersely as Harrell handed her the cuffs.
“I know they frighten you baby but its only til I get you somewhere safe.”
John swallowed hard but stood frozen in place as she snapped the cuffs in place.
“No Johnny,” Roy whispered.
“Now we’re leaving…Just you and me my love.”
John nodded and turned, his dark eyes casting one final regretful look at his friends as he preceded the woman to the gate that separated the gallery from the attorneys and Roy. John’s friends watched helplessly. Roy stood up as John drew close.
“Don’t interfere Roy,” she warned. “I’m letting you live because he’ll go quietly if I do…If you try and take him from me I’ll kill you.”
Roy’s blue eyes locked with his best friends. “John I can’t let her…”
“It’s okay Roy…I’ll be okay,” Johnny assured his friend…His eyes pleading with his friend not to interfere. He couldn’t live with himself if something happened to Roy because of him.
Johnny pushed the gate open with his bound hands…Gayle followed. She stopped briefly glaring triumphantly at Joanne. “I told you he was mine…You’ll never take him from me.”
“Don’t count on it,” Joanne shot back, her blue eyes watching Johnny worriedly.
People shrank back fearfully as they passed. They’d almost made it to the door when one of the officers suddenly lunged for Gayle. She stepped back quickly and the gun lifted. “NO…” John yelled as his cuffed hands swung desperately, knocking the deputy out of the way. The gun fired.
John’s body jerked backward as a look of shock and then pain spread across his features…His shirt front blossomed a bright red…He gasped and began to fold slowly to the floor.
“JOHNNY,” Roy yelled as the two deputies finally grabbed Gayle and wrestled the gun from the distraught woman. “Oh God Johnny…,” Roy shouted as he ran toward his partner who was sinking to his knees. Several spectators grabbed him as Roy finally reached his side. The blonde paramedic held him in his arms and lowered him carefully the rest of the way to the floor. “Hang on Junior…Hang on…We’re gonna get you to a hospital.” Pain filled eyes gazed up at him.
“NO…NOT YOU…,” Gayle shrieked as the deputies pulled her to her feet. “It wasn’t supposed to be you,” she sobbed hysterically.
“Get her out of here,” Sheldon yelled at the officers. “Get some help in here.”
“JOHNNY…,” she screamed as they dragged her from the room.
“Paramedics are on their way,” another newly arrived officer assured him.
Sheldon moved to Roy’s side as he ripped John’s shirt open to check the wound.
“Dixie, take over,” Kel said as he left the bailiff’s side to join the blonde paramedic. “How bad…?” He asked as he knelt next to Roy and grasped John’s wrist to get a pulse. Joanne and the crew pushed their way through the crowd gathering around their fallen friend.
Worried blue eyes met Kel’s. “Real bad,” he whispered as he pressed his hand over the wound in John’s chest.
John’s eyes were half open and glassy. “Doc…?” he gasped out...His breaths rasping.
“Yeah John,” he answered gently as he rested his hand gently on John’s stomach to get a respiration.
“M I gonna die?”
“You most certainly are not. I don’t allow that remember?”
John mustered a crooked half smile…“S…sorry. Mus…Musta slip..ped my m…mind,” he whispered painfully.
“Don’t let it happen again…”
“Kay,” he panted. John coughed suddenly and Roy’s heart climbed into his throat as a bloody froth pooled on his lips and trickled down his cheek. Roy’s eyes shot to Brackett with a look of terror.
“His respirations are weak and shallow. BP is 90 by palpation…Pulse his thready. He’s bleeding internally,” he whispered. Roy nodded his understanding as the officers squatted next to them to remove the handcuffs.
John’s hand clutched at Roy’s sleeve…The blonde paramedic took it in his own. “What were you thinkin Junior? Why’d you do that huh?”
“C…couldn’t l…let anyone else g…get hurt cuz of m…me,” he wheezed.
“Not you…Her...Because of her,” Roy told him stroking back the sable hair gently and squeezing his hand. John coughed and then tensed and his face contorted in pain. “Easy Junior,” he soothed softly.
“Sh…she mighta f…finish…ed it this t…time,” he gasped.
“Don’t you say that,” Joanne said from the other side. “You better not leave us John Gage do you hear me?” She ordered.
“Yes… Ma’am.” John’s eyes closed and then fluttered…struggling to reopen. The brown eyes reappeared briefly.
“Fight Johnny…Don’t do this to me,” Roy pleaded.
“O…kay,” he wheezed.
“P…pro…mise,” he whispered as he lost consciousness.
Paramedics ran into the courtroom. “What have we got?”
“Two victims…Gunshot wound to the shoulder,” Brackett said nodding at the bailiff. He grabbed the paramedic’s drug box. “Gunshot wound to the chest…Internal bleeding. I’m Dr. Brackett out of Rampart General…Los Angeles. These are two of my paramedics,” he explained as he handed Roy a BP cuff. “Hand me a pressure bandage.” One paramedic complied as the other moved over to the bailiff. “You out of Fresno…?” Kel asked as he fitted an oxygen mask over John’s nose and mouth.
“Can you get Halloran on the line?” He asked handing Roy an IV kit and a bag of Ringers.
“Yes sir,” he said hooking up the Biophone. “Fresno base this rescue 17.”
“Go ahead rescue 17.”
“Dr. Halloran…I’ve got a Dr. Brackett here…He’d like to talk to you.”
“Put him on.”
“Dan…This is Kel…I’ve got John Gage here…He’s been shot in the chest and he’s bleeding internally. Can you have an O.R. and a team standing by when we get there?”
“Will do Kel…”
Brackett quickly injected MS into Johnny’s IV line. “Let’s get him outta here,” Kel said waving the attendants over.
They moved the stretcher alongside the wounded man. “Roy…,” Sheldon said softly. The blonde paramedic looked at the Judge…Fear reflected in his face. “Pass on our thanks to your partner for the lives he may have saved today.”
“Kel,” Cap said as they lifted Johnny to the gurney.
“I want my boy back?”
“Believe me…I want to give him back. I’ll do my best Hank.” Cap nodded as they strapped John in and covered him with a blanket. “Dix…Go with the bailiff okay. “Roy…Come with me.”
Chet, Marco and Mike patted John’s shoulder as Joanne leaned down to kiss his forehead. “I love you sweetheart,” she whispered. “I’ll follow you in,” she told Roy as they began to wheel John’s stretcher from the room. Several people along the way patted Roy’s back reassuringly as they passed, offering silent support.
Johnny moaned softly as they loaded him into the ambulance. His eyes fluttered as he regained consciousness. Roy leaned over him… “We’re gonna get you to a hospital…Hold on Junior." he said softly as his fingers stroked over John’s forehead soothingly…The dark eyes drifted closed.
They arrived at the hospital but Roy had only a moment to squeeze John’s hand. “I’ll be waiting for you partner.”
“R…R…Roy,” John wheezed…His breaths coming in short gasps.
“I’m here Johnny.”
His eyes closed once more as they wheeled him into surgery with Kel and Halloran following. They wheeled the bailiff into a treatment room and Dixie joined him a moment later. They headed for the waiting room…Joanne, Martha, Hank and the crew joined him soon after and the wait began.
Three hours later Kel and Dr. Halloran came into the waiting room. Joanne and Roy sat side by side, hands clasped while Cap and Mike stared silently at the floor. Marco mumbled a quiet prayer while Martha and Dixie sat quietly exchanging occasional worried glances at the couple and each other knowing if John didn’t make it, Roy and Joanne would be devastated…Heck, they knew there would be a lot of devastated people in the room including themselves.
Roy suddenly looked up as if sensing their presence. He bolted to his feet as he spotted the two sweat stained surgeons. “How is he Doc?” He asked worriedly.
“He gave us a quite a run for our money in there and a few hairy moments. That bullet bounced around a bit. It caused a small tear in his lung before bouncing off a rib and nicking the inferior vena cava. We’ve repaired the damage and re-inflated his lung. it’s mostly up to him now. He’s strong and we all know how stubborn he is.” Roy nodded but there was still fear in his blue eyes. Kel patted the younger mans shoulder. “He lost a lot of blood and we’re giving him another transfusion now but we think he’s gonna be alright…”
There was a collective outpouring of held breaths. “Can I see him?” Roy asked.
Kel and Halloran both smiled at the relieved looks on the faces staring back at them. “He’s in recovery but we’ll be moving him to a room soon and you can see him then.”
“Thank you…Both of you,” Roy said as he hugged Joanne amid the back slapping of their friends.
Roy sat beside John’s bed holding the younger man’s hand in his own. “C’mon Junior open your eyes for me,” Roy said softly as he stroked the sable hair from John’s brow. “You’ve been sleeping long enough…C’mon partner I need you to wake up.”
The younger man stirred restlessly beneath his fingers. His dark eyes fluttered open and a look of distress crossed his features. A low moan slipped from his lips and his eyes clenched shut riding out the wave of pain that washed through him before reopening to focus blearily on his friend. “R…Roy,” he whispered softly.
“I’m here Junior.”
“M g…gonna be o…kay?” He asked, his breath fogging the mask over his face.
“Yeah Junior…You’re gonna be okay,” he assured him quietly as his fingers continued the soothing motion over Johns forehead.
“Th…thought she w…won th…this one.”
“Nah partner…You’re too stubborn for that.”
John’s mouth curled up in a exhausted smile. “T’red,” he whispered.
“I know you are.”
“Hur’s a lot Roy,” he slurred breathlessly.
“I’ll get you something…Hold on.”
Roy rang for the nurse. “Can you get Dr. Brackett and Dr. Halloran? He’s awake and he’s hurtin,” he told the nurse who poked her head inside.
“Right away,” she nodded.
Both doctors entered the room with Dixie close behind. “How is he Roy?” Kel asked as he moved to John’s bedside.
“So far so good…He’s not nauseas but he’s hurting pretty bad. The nurse just went to get him something.”
They nodded…They all knew Johnny didn’t handle anesthesia very well and usually woke vomiting. They’d hoped to forestall it by giving him Phenergan.
“Go see your wife and the guys…They’re worried and they want to check Johnny over anyway,” Dixie advised nodding at the two doctors.
Roy gave John’s hand a squeeze. “I’ll be right back Junior.”
“R…Roy,” John called after him, sounding slightly panicked.
He turned back. “Johnny…I’m not leaving ya…I’m gonna be right outside but the doctors wanna look at you and I need to tell the others that you’re okay. They’re worried about ya. I’ll be back as soon as I’m done I promise,” he assured his friend as he glanced at Kel and received a confirming nod.
“Kay,” the younger man reluctantly agreed.
Roy walked into the waiting room. Six expectant faces greeted him. “Well?” Hank asked impatiently.
The younger blonde man smiled reassuringly. “He’s doin good Cap. He’s in a lot of pain and he’s pretty weak but he was awake and talkin to me.”
“When isn’t he,” Chet teased, grunting as Marco’s elbow connected with his mid section.
“Shut up Chet,” Mike added, knowing Johnny would have said it himself if he’d been there. The rest grinned as the tension was broken.
“Um…Look Roy. We’re on duty to tomorrow and we’ve gotta get back to LA. Mike’s agreed to go with Joanne and pick up the kids if you want him to. I’ll clear it with headquarters for you to stay with John okay pal?”
“Kel and Dixie said they’d make arrangements to get him back to Rampart as soon as he’s stable enough,” Joanne informed him.
“Water’s came by. He said Sheldon postponed the rest of the trial until,” Mike hesitated before finishing softly. “Until they knew if there were more charges to bring against Gayle.”
Roy heard what he didn’t say. ‘Assault or murder…’
“Think we can see him before we go…To say goodbye?” Marco added.
“I’ll find out. I promised him I wouldn’t be gone long.” They nodded.
Roy peeked in…Perfect timing it appeared as Kel was pulling the sheet back over John’s chest. They looked up as he came in. “How’s he doin?”
“Chest tube looks good.”
“Still no nausea?” Roy winked at Johnny who smiled tiredly back. “We’re on shift tomorrow and the kids have to be picked up. The others would like to come in and say goodbye to Johnny,” Roy said hopefully.
Kel pursed his lips thoughtfully. It would do John more good than harm to see his friends for a moment even though the young man was weak and exhausted. “Alright…For a minute…”
The younger man’s eyes flared with dread for a moment. They were all leaving…He regained his composure and smiled weakly. He wasn’t a child…He could handle being alone…He had most of his life and he’d do it now even if he had gotten accustomed to having his family around him. Roy read the look correctly and reached out to take John’s hand. He leaned over his friend to speak quietly for John’s ears alone. “I’m staying until you’re strong enough to be moved back home.”
John looked slightly embarrassed but he smiled gratefully. “Thanks,” he whispered.
“Anytime partner,” he assured him as he flicked a strand of sable hair from John’s forehead before looking back at Kel. “I’ll go get them.”
“They better hurry,” Kel said seeing the tired droop to John’s dark eyes. “He may not last long…He’s pretty tired.”
Roy stepped into the hall and waved the others to come in. They filed into his room a moment later. John threw them a tired smile. “Hey guys,” he murmured weakly.
“Hey pal,” Hank replied as he moved to his youngest crewman’s side and taking a page from Roy’s book he reached out to sweep the dark hair back before coming to rest on top of John’s head. The dark eyes locked with Caps at the familiar gesture and the younger man flushed slightly in embarrassment. “How ya feelin…?” He asked as the others gathered around him…Grinning at their Captains fatherly handling. Hank didn’t care…They’d all come too close to losing him this time and Johnny needed to know how much he meant to this team.
“What kind of a stupid stunt was that?” Chet asked as he came to John’s side.
The others looked at him in shock. “CHET,” Cap began.
“No Cap…I mean it. He coulda been killed,” he said angrily as he turned back to the younger man. “Didja think of that Gage?”
“Y…Yes,” he replied in a hurt tone.
“I don’t know why you think everyone else’s life is more important than your own or that bullets will bounce off that big red ‘S’ you got hidden under your shirt but your wrong Gage.”
The others stood in stunned silence as Chet voiced their own care and concerns for their young friend albeit a little less eloquently than Cap was planning to.
“I don’t say things like this much so don’t expect to hear it often but man…You gotta stop doin this John. We all…Care about you...Don’t you understand that? You scare us to death every time we think we’re about to lose ya. Man…You’re makin Roy old before his time. Do you KNOW how devastated he’d be…We’d all be if you didn’t make it?”
“I…I’m s…sorry,” John stuttered out.
“Yeah…Well prove it. Stop throwing yourself in harm’s way all the time and maybe I’ll believe ya.”
John wouldn’t meet any of their eyes. Roy reached out to gently turn his face toward them. “He didn’t say that to hurt you,” he told him softly.
“He cares about you…We all do.” The others nodded.
“I know and…I don’t think I’m s…superman or somethin,” he whispered tiredly. “Just…that y…you all mean so m..much to me too and I,” he gave a weak shrug. “I didn’t wanna l…lose you either and th…this was my fault.”
“YOUR FAULT,” several voices chimed in at the same time.
“How do you figure that?” Mike asked looking dumbfounded at his young friends reasoning.
“Well…She was p…pointing a gun at you and…”
“Exactly,” Hank interrupted. “SHE was pointing a gun at us.”
“NOT YOU,” Marco pointed out.
“That goes hand in hand with you testimony on the stand,” Roy added softly. John looked confused. “About regretting letting us into your life,” he reminded him.
“I…I didn’t mean that I w…was sorry your m…my friends,” he tried to explain.
“We knew exactly what you meant baby,” Joanne said gently as she stroked his cheek. “You think we’d regret being friends with you.”
John looked away. “Yes.”
She tilted his chin to force him to look at the people gathered around him. “That’s never gonna happen…We love you.” The dark eyes flitted about the room, making eye contact with each of the people standing around him. There were a few nods of agreement but mostly it was reflected in their eyes.
John smiled hesitantly but it quickly turned into a grimace of pain. Roy saw it. “Alright…I think that’s enough. Let’s let him think about this for a while but I bet you can guess what your next therapy sessions gonna include?” Roy teased his friend. Johnny nodded with a contrite look at his partner.
“We have to go pal,” Hank said, scruffing the dark hair gently.
“We’ll see you as soon as they get you back to LA,” Mike promised.
The crew waved and headed for the door as Joanne leaned over him and kissed him gently on the mouth. “I’ll see you in a few days sweetheart,” she said as she stroked the dark hair back.
“Okay,” he said softly.
Dr. Hightower stepped to the bed as Joanne moved to say a more private goodbye to her husband. “John…I’ve enjoyed getting to know you over the last few days. I think you’ve come such a long way and you are so close to that breakthrough. Don’t give up your therapy sessions.”
“I won’t,” he promised.
“That man…That couple…," she said nodding toward Roy and Jo... "Love you more than you can possibly know…Let them,” she said softly as she leaned down to kiss his cheek.
“Come see me if you need to…Both of you. John…? You give me a lot of hope for others like you.”
John looked surprised. “R…Really?” He asked tiredly.
“Really… You’re a very special young man…Don’t throw that or what these people feel for you away cheaply or easily okay?”
Joanne kissed Roy one final time before following the others out. Kel and Dixie came around the bed. “We’re off too. We’ll be in touch with Dr. Halloran every day. As soon as he thinks you’re strong enough we’ll bring you home.”
“Kay Doc,” he said softly as Brackett patted his shoulder. “Get some rest.”
Dixie came around the bed and leaned down to kiss his forehead. “Take it easy superman,” she teased.
“Okay Lois,” he whispered back.
She brushed his cheek gently. “Go to sleep. Roy? You take care of him.”
“Always do.” They nodded and left…Silence reigned for a long moment.
“For what Johnny…?”
“For what I said…For doubting you and its j…just…I hate feelin like a burden,” he said as his eyes struggled to stay open.
“Then don’t because you never are. Look at me Junior.” The dark eyes focused on Roy. “I know we have trouble getting this to sink in but we’re a family…All of us but me especially. They love you…I love you. Now you go to sleep. We’ll talk about this later.”
“You w…won’t forget?” He asked as his eyes closed.
Roy looked at John in surprise. “I won’t forget Junior,” he promised as John drifted off.
Roy watched the news that night as John lay sleeping. The interviewer had caught several people as they left the courthouse. “Tell us what happened Ma’am,” he asked one elderly woman as she came down the stairs.
“We were all terrified,” she admitted.”If not for that wonderful young fireman any one of us might have been shot. I can’t believe she shot that poor boy and I just hope he’s okay.”
Roy grinned and glanced at his partner. John would cringe in embarrassment if he’d heard that.
The next morning, Roy sat in the chair next to Johnny’s bed reading the newspaper. It was loaded with pictures of John and the story of what had happened, including John's heroic efforts to protect the innocent bystanders in the room.. His partner’s gentle breathing kept a soft rhythm. He’d awakened a few hours ago and he’d been in pain. The nurse had given him a low dose of MS and Roy had held his hand for a few minutes until it had taken effect and he’d nodded off once more.
He was trying to decide whether to turn on the TV or head down to the cafeteria for breakfast when there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” Roy called quietly.
Jeffrey Waters, Judge Sheldon and a very embarrassed Kevin Harrell came into the room.
“Mr. DeSoto,” Sheldon greeted.
“Good morning sir…Jeff.” The blue eyes pierced the heavyset Defense Attorney. Mr. Harrell,” he said coolly as he stood up and offered his hand to each. “What can I do for you?”
“Nothing…We just came to see how he was doing?” Jeff said glancing at the sleeping paramedic.
“Hold on and you can ask him yourself. “
“No…No…Don’t wake him, he needs his rest,” Sheldon objected quickly.
“He needs to wake up soon anyway,” Roy assured them. “They’ll be bringing his breakfast in shortly.”
“Roy turned and leaned over his young friend. “Johnny?” He said softly. “Junior, can you wake up for me? You’ve got company,” Roy informed him as he brushed the sable hair back. “C’mon John,” he coaxed.
The dark eyes fluttered a moment before staying open to fix on his partner. “Roy,” he whispered tiredly.
“You’ve got guests,” he told him. John’s eyes tracked toward the three men, resting the longest on Harrell…He frowned slightly.
“Hi,” he greeted them quietly.
“John…We just came by to see how you’re doing,” Jeff told him.
“I’ll live,” he replied with a grimace.
“It’ll do,” Jeff teased.
“John…We’d also like to thank you for what you did yesterday. You took a big risk and put yourself in harm’s way to save innocent lives. It was a selfless act that took a lot of courage,” Sheldon said sincerely.
John blushed. “Thank you,” he replied glancing at Roy. “But I’m afraid I m…made my friends a little nervous.”
“Understandable…,” Sheldon answered looking at the hand held securely in Roy’s. “They’d be very upset to lose you.”
John smiled weakly. “I’m not always sure why but I know that.”
“Mr. Gage,” Harrell said quietly.
“I wanted to thank you as well. That even after I harassed you so horribly on the stand you still saw fit to save my life.”
“Just doin my job,” he shrugged.
“No John,” Sheldon corrected. “That was way above doing your job.”
“What’s gonna happen now?” Roy asked.
“Well I think after this there won’t be any doubt to her sanity. I think she’ll be declared incompetent to stand trial and be locked away for a very long time. She hasn’t stopped calling for John since it happened. She thinks she killed him and her doctor thinks it drove her over the edge. She’ll spend her life in an institution for the criminally insane.”
"Are they going to tell her the truth?"
Sheldon shook his head. "I don't think so...At least not yet."
“So Johnny won’t have to come back or anything?”
“No…We’ll keep tabs on her but for everyone's sake...we'd just as soon make sure she never finds out he’s alive. He’s free to put this behind him and go on with his life.”Sheldon promised them.
“That’s great,” Roy said in relief, squeezing John’s hand. The return pressure was weak but Roy knew he understood. It was over.
“Mr. Harrell will be issuing a public apology for the innuendo’s he aimed at you and your wife and your sleeping friend there,” Sheldon said nodding toward John.
Roy looked over to see that John had in fact gone back to sleep. “He’ll be glad to know that.”
“Mr. DeSoto, please understand,” Harrell mumbled, too embarrassed to look at Roy. “I never truly thought that about any of you but I had to find a way to discredit your testimony. It’s my job to mount a defense and she really didn’t have one…I…I had to try something.”
“Harrell…What you did to me…,” He shrugged. “I can handle. What you said about my wife and my best friend…My kid brother…That’s pretty tough to let go. The damage you may have done to my partner here remains to be seen.” Roy felt a small squeeze on his fingers and looked over in time to see John’s dark eyes slide closed once more. Roy sighed. “But I’ve just been reminded by him again…,” he said tightening his fingers around Johns before continuing. “About forgiveness and holding grudges. So you issue your apology and we’ll sort out the damage later.”
Sheldon glanced between John and Roy amazed at their ability to communicate that clearly. “Two halves of a whole Mr. DeSoto?” He asked.
Across town at the Institute for the criminally insane, a beautiful blonde sat rocking slowly. Her silky hair tangled and matted. Her fingers played over the scabbed and scarred name gouged into the delicate flesh of her thigh. “Johnny,” she whispered. “My Johnny…” The nurse shook her head at the pitiful sight and closed the window to her room.
They airlifted Johnny back to LA the next afternoon. A week later he lay on the chaise lounge on Roy’s deck. Chris and Jen sat next to their mom… wanting to be a part of his therapy…They were after all Johnny’s family too. Roy’s fingers danced lightly over the younger man’s face and throat to his shoulders until he felt his friend relax. “Let’s talk about you regretting letting us into your life John,” he reminded him gently.
“Okay,” he replied with a grin. “But I’ve already changed my mind,” He whispered as Roy’s eyes met Joanne’s above him. They both smiled.
Finally reached the end…Hope you enjoyed it. Moving on to the first sequel to return but I am reminding you that John Gage was single when he became a Captain in the series so understand that the course of his love life will never be smooth…At least not until after he’s promoted. (TEASE).
Published to Site 08/02/10
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