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And let your best be for your friend. If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also. For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill? Seek him always with hours to live...Kahlil Gibran
Johnny spent a quiet day with Joanne and the children. He snuck in a few small chores and a bit of lawn work but Jo made sure most of his day was spent either floating in the pool with the children, watching a few boring game shows or sleeping which was preferable in John’s opinion at least, to the game shows.
Joanne woke him early the next morning. “Johnny…?” She called as she knocked lightly.
He lifted his arm from over his face, squinting at the bright light shining through the window. “Yeah,” he replied.
She opened the door and peeked in. “I’m going to run Chris and Jen by the Coopers okay? I shouldn’t be long. Roy will be home in an hour and I’ll make breakfast for us before your therapy session.”
“Okay Jo,” he answered as he sat up, swinging his long legs over the side of the bed. “Okay if I start a pot of coffee?”
He padded barefoot to the kitchen, stopping long enough to give Jen a hug and Chris a quick hair tousle as they headed out to the car to join their mother. He heard the car pull out.
John poured a cup of coffee a few minutes later and headed toward the living room when he heard the sliding door in the dining room open. He was a bit surprised that Jo had gone all the way around the house to come inside. “Forget your key?” He teased, turning around. He froze in shock.
Gayle Markson stood just inside the door, her eyes roamed appreciatively over John’s half naked body. “Waiting for your lover?” She taunted snidely.
“She’s not my lover Gayle, she’s a good friend. What do you want?”
“I want you of course,” she stated matter of fact. “You’ve been very bad Johnny…You and your friend.”
“What do you mean?”
“They suspended me and their launching an investigation. I can’t have that.”
“They know all about you Gayle. They know you lied about the others just like you lied about me trying to rape you. You can’t stop them.”
“Sure I can…All I have to do is prove that I was right.”
“You and Joanne…When poor Roy comes home and finds out that you’ve been sleeping with his wife…” She shook her head in sympathy.
“He won’t believe that.”
“He doesn’t have to…He’ll be dead and by your hand.” John’s face paled as she continued. “But the others will believe me then. He found you two together…You fought…You killed him and ran off with his wife…It won’t be the first time I’ve done it. Of course I’ll be available to say I told you so and they’ll be so busy dealing with that public embarrassment that they won’t be thinking about me…but that doesn’t really matter anymore…What I really want is you.”
John licked his suddenly very dry lips. “Me…? What for…?”
She smiled wickedly. “Do you know that you’re the very first man to turn me down? That was bad of you Johnny and you have to be punished,” she said frowning slightly in confusion. “But then after that you’ll learn to behave and how to make me happy,” she purred sweetly.
John swallowed heavily at the crazed glitter of the violet eyes. “I won’t let you hurt Roy or Jo,” he said taking a step toward her.
She pulled a gun from her pocket and pointed at him, stopping him in his tracks. She moved slowly closer. “Oh Joanne will be alright, for now at least. I’ll have to kill her to but not here. They can’t find her body right away or they won’t believe my story. The three of us are gonna wait right here for Roy to come home.”
“She won’t be back for a while…She went shopping.”
Gayle’s hand lashed out to land a wringing slap to John’s face…His head reeled to the side. “Don’t lie to me,” she hissed viciously. “I hate it when people lie to me. You’ll learn that.”
“I will?” He asked cautiously as he rubbed his numb cheek.
“Of course baby… I’ll have plenty of time to teach you…I’ve decided to keep you,” she teased, running her hand down his bare stomach. John’s skin crawled at her touch. Gayle mistook the shudder of his body as excitement and she leaned closer. The dark haired paramedic never took his eyes off the gun in her hand. Gayle reached up to kiss his mouth but Johnny back peddled out of reach. The gun swung once more to point at his chest. “Don’t do that again Johnny.” The front door opened and Joanne walked in.
Johnny lurched forward grabbing for the gun as he yelled over his shoulder. “Run Jo…”
Gayle backed quickly away as Joanne turned toward the door but she only managed a couple of steps before the gun barked. A bullet exploded into the wood next to Joanne’s face, peppering the woman with tiny shards and sharp splinters. “The next one’s in your lover,” Gayle warned.
Joanne stopped in her tracks. “No Jo,” Johnny groaned in disappointment.
Gayle took two quick steps toward Johnny. “Don’t you ever do that again,” she hissed, swinging the gun against the side of the young paramedic’s head with a sickening crack.
Johnny reeled, stumbling over the coffee table to land half on the couch. Joanne’s hands flew to cover her mouth in horror. “Johnny,” she finally gasped out as blood trickled from his temple. Blackness closed around the edges of his vision as he tried to struggle to his feet…Blinking the encroaching darkness and the dizziness away. Joanne ran to his side.
“You shoulda kept goin,” he slurred softly as she helped him stand.
“I couldn’t leave you alone with her.”
“Get your hands off of him,” Gayle snarled, closing the distance. She pulled Jo away. “He has to learn to obey.”
John swallowed hard, fighting the nausea that was threatening to erupt. He swayed slightly as he tried to placate the woman. “Okay Gayle…Anything you want okay. I’m a quick learner,” he assured her.
Gayle was pacing nervously…Her eyes never left the pair. She put a shaking hand to her head as the thoughts tumbled in confusion. They’d ruined everything…That gunshot was sure to have been heard and now she didn’t dare stay and wait for Roy…What if someone called the police. Maybe they’d think it was a backfire? She looked at Johnny once more. He was really all she wanted. Maybe as long as she had him she wouldn’t need to play her game…Maybe if she killed Joanne, Roy would still think it was a lover’s quarrel, besides Johnny would forget his whore faster if she were dead. She was still mulling it over when John stepped toward her.
“WE have to get out of here. We can take my truck okay?” He offered fighting down nausea. Joanne glanced at him in surprise as he sauntered toward Gayle…His eyes locked with hers…Seductive and hooded. Jo had never seen that look before…Dear God Johnny, don’t ever turn those eyes on me like that. She almost giggled at the unbidden thought. “We don’t need HER along though do we?” He asked in a husky voice, a slow crooked grin curled his lips as he nodded toward Joanne. “We could just go away…Just the two of us.”
“You want me to shoot her?”
“NO,” he almost shouted. He regained his composure as dizziness washed through him. “No baby…We can just tie her up. Roy won’t be home for another hour. We’ll be long gone by then. I’ll go with you.”
“Oh Johnny no,” Jo whispered fearfully, knowing exactly what he was doing.
Gayle was mesmerized by the dark eyes. She felt as though she were drowning. “But she has to come or Roy won’t believe me,” she mewled, still caught up in her obsession.
“Who cares about Roy,” Johnny whispered as he closed the distance. “It’s just me and you right?”
“You’re trying to confuse me,” she breathed out as he stepped in close.
“No Gayle…,” John lowered his head and his lips met hers. He closed his eyes briefly to hide the look of revulsion. The woman’s gun hand dropped slightly as he deepened the kiss…Johnny felt it. He knew he had her. He just needed to get her out of the house. He broke the kiss and stepped back. “Let’s go,” he whispered.
The blonde took a step toward him. Johnny’s eyes flicked toward Joanne briefly…Thankful that he’d at least spared her the coming ordeal but Gayle saw it. She shook herself back to the moment and raised the gun, realizing that he was trying to trick her.
“You’re a bad boy Johnny and you’re gonna pay for that little trick.” She turned to Joanne, her violet eyes filled with maniacal realization. “You’re coming with us. He’ll behave himself as long as I have you. He’ll do anything to save you. You’re my ticket to his total obedience.”
John’s head was throbbing and dizziness washed over him in waves. He knew he’d never outrun the woman but prayed Joanne would at least get away. Johnny suddenly gave Gayle a hard shove as he turned and bolted toward Joanne. “Go…Go,” he shouted, as he put himself between Jo and the gun. She turned and ran.
The gun exploded once more and Joanne turned in time to see Johnny stumble slightly. She saw the look of shock and then pain cross his features as he slipped to his knees. “Oh God,” he moaned as he fell, he knew he’d failed.
“JOHNNY,” Joanne cried as she ran back to catch him before he hit the floor. She sank down cradling him in her arms.
“Now look what you made me do,” Gayle screamed hysterically. Joanne shot her a look of pure venom as John’s blood covered her hands. “Is he alive?”
“YES,” Jo snapped back. She could hear John’s painful breaths and she was terrified.
“Now what…Now what…?” Gayle muttered to herself as she paced frantically. Everything was coming undone. She should just go but she couldn’t leave Johnny. One shot might have been mistaken as a backfire, two wouldn’t be. She pulled a set of handcuffs from her jacket pocket and tossed them to Joanne. “Put these on him. Behind his back,” she directed.
Jo was whispering soothing sounds as she held John in her arms but at the woman’s words, her head snapped up in shock. “HE’S HURT,” she yelled. “He’s bleeding badly and he needs a hospital.”
“NO…NO,” Gayle disagreed agitatedly. “He’s not hurt that bad. It just grazed his ribs…I can see that. He’ll be okay…He has to learn to do what I say,” she muttered.
“You’re insane,” Jo breathed in horror.
“I’M NOT,” she screamed at Jo. “You made me shoot him…Both of you. He’ll live…He’ll be okay. Now put them on him,” she snapped again as she pointed the gun at Joanne.
“I’m sorry baby,” she whispered in his ear as she snapped the cuffs in place.
“Now lay him on the floor.” Joanne did as she was told. “I was gonna have you leave a note but you’ve ruined everything...” She pointed the gun at Jo as she pulled a length of rope from her other pocket. She’d come prepared. “Hold your hands out and don’t try anything…I need you alive but I’ll manage without you if I have to.” Jo held out her hands and let the woman tie her wrists in front of her. She yanked her to her feet. “Now we’re gonna back his truck into the garage and you’re gonna help me get him inside. You so much as twitch and I’ll kill you…Got it?” Jo nodded. “Where are his keys?”
“On the counter,” Jo whispered.
Gayle led Joanne into the utility room, dropping the gun in her pocket. She pushed the helpless woman into the garage. “Kneel down.” Jo complied. “Wait there. You make one sound…One move,” she reminded her as she patted her pocket.
Jo watched her climb into the rover and start it up. She mentally gauged the distance to the door and knew she couldn’t make it inside before Gayle could shoot her and someone needed to take care of Johnny. She waited as the woman backed the truck inside. Gayle climbed out and came around, shoving Joanne behind the vehicle and pressing the gun to her head as a police car cruised past the open garage door. Jo almost wept.
“Let’s go,” she snapped after they’d gone. She pushed the auburn haired woman back inside.
Johnny was semi conscious as they entered the house. His eyes were glassy with pain and shock as he fought against the restraints around his wrists. Blood ran down his stomach and back from the deep groove along his side.
“Johnny,” Jo whispered, kneeling beside him.
“Help me get him up,” Gayle demanded.
Joanne shot her an ugly glare but she rolled her young friend onto his back with her bound hands. “C’mon sweetheart, let me help you,” she said as she eased him to a sitting position.
John gasped in pain and his head swam sickeningly as he leaned heavily against Joanne. Burning, searing pain trailed across his rib cage. The two women managed to pull the wounded fireman to his feet. Johnny staggered drunkenly as they moved through the utility room.
“Wait,” Jo said, stopping Gayle momentarily. She grabbed a bed sheet from the laundry basket. “Okay,” she said. Gayle glared at the presumptuous act but then moved on.
The two women managed to ease John into the back of the vehicle. “Get in,” Gayle directed. Jo breathed a sigh of relief. She was at least going to let her take care of Johnny. She climbed in. Gayle slammed the back closed and ran to the driver’s door. “Lay down,” she snapped. Jo did as she was told. Gayle pulled out. Halfway up the road she passed the same police car. She flashed a stunning smile at the young officer as she went by. He grinned back at the gorgeous blonde.
Joanne lay next to Johnny in the back of the Land Rover. Sweat was beading his brow as he fought against the nausea threatening to erupt and the dizziness that was coming in waves. Head injury and blood loss were taking its toll. Johnny was half conscious and pulled in frustration at his bound hands. Joanne swept the dark, damp hair from the young man’s brow.
“How bad…?” He whispered.
“I don’t know. You’re bleeding a lot sweetheart.”
“Kay…Need…S…stop bl…bleeding,” he gasped.
She nodded as she began to rip the sheet into strips. She folded a section into a long pad. “This is gonna hurt baby.” He nodded but still hissed out a cry of pain as she pressed the folded pad over the wound. “Can you roll toward me sweetheart?” She urged softly. John hitched his body over enough for Jo to pass the strips of sheet around him and tie it securely. “Okay baby, you can relax now,” she soothed.
Johnny was panting softly from the exertion as he laid back and closed his eyes. Joanne parted the dark hair. The cut caused by the gun striking his head was fairly deep but had at least stopped bleeding. She tore another piece from the sheet and wrapped it around his head. “Rest now, okay sweetheart?” Her slender fingers trailed through the sable hair until Johnny drifted into sleep. She kissed his forehead tenderly.
Gayle seethed in rage in the front seat, jealousy chewing her up. Her eyes returned to the rearview again and again, watching Joanne DeSoto’s fingers trail over John’s forehead and through his dark hair as she murmured softly to the younger man. “Rest now, okay sweetheart?”
“You can stop fondling him now,” Gayle snarled angrily. “And don’t call him that.”
“I wasn’t FONDLING him,” Jo shot back. “It’s called comforting…Oh that’s right, you wouldn’t know what that is would you?” the older woman snapped. “You only know how to hurt.”
“YOU SHUT UP,” Gayle shrieked, looking daggers at Jo in the rearview. “You don’t know anything about me or what they did to me.” Johnny stirred restlessly at the outcry but Joanne’s fingers returned to once again sooth the young man back to sleep.
“Shhh baby it’s okay,” she soothed softly until John slipped back into slumber. “You’re right,” she said softly, trying not to wake her injured friend. “But what I do know is that whatever happened to you wasn’t his fault. Johnny never hurt you.”
“Which is why he gets to live and why I’ll never let him go,” she giggled.
Joanne felt sick as Gayle drove on.
The A shift crew was having their first cup of coffee while they waited for C shift to make their appearance so they could head for home. The phone rang and Roy went to answer it. “Fireman DeSoto,” Roy answered. The others listened to the one sided dialogue, casting concerned looks as the conversation progressed. “Hi Donna, What’s up?” Roy frowned. “No one…? Not even my partner? Johnny was there, do you see his Land Rover? Okay Donna, I’ll be right home, can you go back and wait for me? Great…Thanks for calling.” Roy hung up, chewing his lip nervously.
“What’s wrong Roy?” Cap asked as several members of C shift made their appearance in the rec room.
“That was a friend of ours. She was taking the kids to the zoo but Jen forgot something and they went by the house to get it but there was no one home.”
“Maybe they went to the store or something,” Cap suggested.
“She said the garage was open…Joanne wouldn’t go off and leave the house open like that and Johnny wasn’t there either. He was supposed to wait for me.” He didn’t add that they were supposed to have a therapy session as all six members of C shift were now present.
“Look Roy. It’s probably nothing more than a quick trip to the grocery store but,” he hesitated not wanting to scare the younger man. “Just to be on the safe side, why don’t we call the police and have them meet us there?”
The others looked at each other worriedly but none of them wanted to bring up the threat they’d all heard Gayle make. ‘You’ll be sorry Roy…’ She’d said. Now she’d been suspended and was under investigation and Joanne and Johnny were missing.
“Roy?” Mike asked quietly. “I’d like to go with you if it’s okay?”
“Me too,” Chet added.
Marco nodded. “I’d like to come too.”
Cap looked to Roy. He nodded his agreement, knowing the guys were all worried about Johnny and Joanne.
“Let’s go,” he said, grateful to have such good friends.
Cap picked up the phone and called the police. “This is Captain Stanley, station 51…We have two possible missing persons at 285 Washington St. in Carson. One of my men…” There was a short pause before Cap responded. “Thank you.” He looked to Roy. “They’re on their way.”
They ran to their vehicles and followed Roy home. Donna stood next to her car with the four children. She looked worried.
“Still no sign of them?” Roy asked. She shook her head. The garage door was open and Cap and Roy went inside. There were several smears of blood. “Cap,” he said pointing. Hank nodded and both men pushed the door open to the utility room and followed the trail of drops.
Roy’s heart was in his throat as they entered the living room. He stopped, frozen in place…Fear made his heart race. A pool of congealing blood stained his living room carpet. There was blood on his sofa as well but whose? His eyes rose to meet Hank’s and saw the alarm in his eyes as well. “Oh my God,” he whispered. Roy ran for the stairs but all the rooms were empty.
Hank was standing at the door to Johnny’s room. He shook his head negatively as Roy came down the stairs. “Empty,” he said quietly. They heard the sirens draw closer as the police began to arrive. Roy stepped out on the deck, hoping they’d maybe made it to the woods behind the house. “JOANNE…JOHNNY,” he yelled…But there was no response.
He felt a hand descend on his shoulder. “C’mon Roy, let’s go talk to the police,” Cap said quietly as he steered the younger man back through the house.
Chet, Marco and Mike were waiting anxiously. “Anything…?” Chet asked as the police approached the group.
“A lot more blood,” Roy said softly, his voice quivered in fear for both his wife and his best friend.
Their faces paled. “But no bod…,” Chet trailed off.
Roy looked at him sharply. “No…No bodies.”
“Dios,” Marco murmured, punching Chet’s arm.
“Sorry man,” Chet said contritely.
Captain Stanley called McConnikee and then his wife Emily. She came to take the children to their home as the police roped off the house and began to ask a hundred questions.
Names, descriptions, ages… “Would your partner have any reason to hurt your wife Mr. DeSoto?”
“No of course not… They’re close.”
“Like brother and sister.”
“Any chance there was something going on between them and it got ugly?”
“No…,” Roy said in exasperation.
“Maybe they ran off together?”
“NO,” he growled angrily.
“Either one of them have any enemy’s?”
“Yes…Several,” Roy said quietly. “But I think it was this girl named Gayle Markson.”
“He has more than one enemy?” The cop asked sarcastically.
“Yes,” Roy snapped. “Scott Jackson and Frank Benjamin but they’re both still in prison.”
“Anyone else…?” The cop asked flippantly.
“Brad Kimmerlin…But last I heard he was still in a coma.”
The cop threw him a dubious look…“Alright we’ll check that all out, now what about this Gayle Markson?”
“She threatened to make me sorry and she’s already a suspect in the murder of several other firemen.”
The officer looked up sharply. “Any idea of where she lives or where she would have taken them…?”
“No,” Roy said quietly.
“Headquarters will have that information,” Captain Stanley interjected.
Roy was watching the investigators come and go from his home, fear for both his wife and friend reflected in his face. An officer came up the walk to speak to them twenty minutes later. “We checked out Miss Marksons’ apartment sir…It’s empty.”
Roy looked about to cry. “She’s got them Cap…It’s gotta be her,” he said forlornly.
“I’m afraid you’re right,” Hank agreed. He saw the despairing look on the younger man’s face. “Hang on pal, we’ll get them back,” Cap said reassuringly.
The police finally seemed satisfied that they’d gotten every piece of information. “Please stay out of the house Mr. DeSoto…It’s still a crime scene.” Detective Ashcroft told him. Roy nodded. Another officer approached the detective and called him away. A moment later Ashcroft waved Captain Stanley over as Roy went to rejoin his crewmates.
Cap listened to the man for a few minutes before his head dropped in despair. He walked slowly back to his men.
“What’s wrong Cap?” Mike asked worriedly.
The Detective just heard from their lab. There’s nothing conclusive mind you but the blood is consistent with Johnny’s blood type.”
“Oh man,” Chet whispered.
“Dios,” Marco mumbled softly.
Mike closed his eyes in distress. Roy’s face was pale…He didn’t know whether to be relieved that it wasn’t Joanne’s or despairing that it was his best friends. If Gayle followed her pattern, Roy was her most likely target but she had killed the other partner before. What didn’t fit was Joanne. She’d never bothered the wife of any of the other victim’s. It didn’t fit her M.O.
After several hours of driving, Gayle finally backed into the driveway of an old two story house. The gray paint was peeling in spots and the lawn was overgrown with weeds. Johnny had been silent and still for almost three hours now and Joanne was worried. His paleness frightened her. She rested her numb hands on John’s dark hair. Her fingers lightly stroked his brow.
Joanne raised her head to see where Gayle had gone. She caught sight of the woman opening the garage door. She returned a moment later and backed the Rover into the garage. She got out once more and closed the door plunging them into darkness. Joanne felt as if she’d fallen into hell.
Gayle opened the back. “Get out,” she snarled as she grabbed Jo’s feet and pulled hard. Joanne pushed herself backwards the rest of the way before Gayle could drag her again. “Help me get him out.”
Jo reached to try and gently wake John but Gayle grabbed his ankles and jerked him toward the back. Johnny cried out in pain as the wounds pulled painfully at the sudden motion. His head twisted from side to side and he writhed in the back of the rover gasping for breath. Gayle ignored his distress and pulled again until his legs dangled from the back.
“Just STOP,” Joanne snapped angrily. “You’re hurting him.”
“I’ve got to get him out.”
“Just give me a minute,” Jo growled back. Her hands had very little feeling left but she reached inside the vehicle anyway. “Johnny…Sweetheart. I know it hurts but you’ve got to help us here baby okay?”
“Jo,” he whispered, barely audible.
“I’m here sweetheart,” she soothed as she helped him to sit up. His head swam dizzily and blood was seeping through the makeshift bandage over his ribs. He leaned against the older woman…his head lay on her shoulder.
“I think I’m gonna be sick,” he gasped pitifully.
Joanne leaned him over and Gayle stepped back out of the way as Johnny began to retch helplessly. “All done…?” Joanne asked soothingly after a few minutes as she leaned him back against her. Joanne’s cheek rested against the dark hair. “Better now sweetheart…?” She asked as she wiped his mouth with a remnant of the sheet.
John gave a brief nod. “Thanks Jo.”
“It’s okay baby…I love you,” she whispered softly, kissing the top of his head.
“Love you too,” he answered automatically. It was the wrong thing to say.
Gayle had been watching as John lost the contents of his stomach and then the whole tender scene afterwards with increasing annoyance and with the softly spoken words she snapped. Jealous rage bubbled up. “LOVE HER?” She shrieked angrily.
She pushed Jo away. Taken by surprise, the older woman staggered backwards as Gayle landed a wringing backhanded slap to Johnny’s face. His balance...already compromised by the concussion and blood loss was lost…he fell from the Rovers tailgate, landing heavily on the concrete floor of the garage. Gayle kicked him hard, catching him in the stomach and driving what little air he had left from his lungs. Johnny wheezed painfully as he struggled to breath.
“STOP IT,” Joanne screamed as she ran toward the pair. John rolled on the floor in agony. “He didn’t mean it that way,” she yelled as she threw herself over John, shielding his already abused body with her own. “Please,” she looked up at Gayle. “He didn’t mean it that way. I promise you there’s nothing sexual between Johnny and I,” She assured the blonde. “He’s like my brother…I swear,” she pleaded.
Gayle leaned down and grabbed Jo by her bound hands and dragged her away from John. Johnny’s face was scraped and bleeding. The bandage around his ribs grew darker as the blood soaked through and the one around his head was now stained as well. She slapped his cheek roughly. “C’mon Gage, get up,” she snapped. Jo watched in disbelief as she tried to pull the wounded man to his feet.
John’s eyes fluttered open. “Oh God,” he moaned softly as he looked up into the crazed violet eyes.
She grabbed the back of John’s neck and yanked him to a sitting position. “Don’t you ever say that to her again,” she snarled threateningly. “You can only say that to me…Do you understand?” John stared defiantly back. She raised her hand menacingly and John flinched but refused to yield. She gritted her teeth at the stubborn man before her and reached into her coat pocket to pull the gun free. She pointed it at Joanne. “Do you understand?” She asked again.
“Yes,” John whispered, giving in at the threat to his friend.
“See,” she mewled softly as she tenderly stroked his bruised and bleeding cheek. “I told you you’d learn.”
The two women managed to get him on his feet. They led him through the house and into a room that obviously belonged to a teenage girl. Pictures of rock and roll singers decorated the pink walls. High school banners hung from the door and a set of cheerleader pom pom’s were hanging from a tall standing mirror. A heavy canopy bed sat against the wall and rotting, pink curtains hung from the rods. Everything was coated with a thick layer of dust.
Joanne’s eyes took it all in. This was Gayle’s room, she was certain of it.
She and the blonde woman lowered John onto the bed and Joanne carefully leaned him back against the pillow. Gayle waved her away. “Sit over there,” she said indicating the desk and chair. Jo went and sat but her blue eyes never left Johnny.
Gayle approached the young man and knelt beside him. His eyes narrowed as he watched her warily. “I know I’ve been hard on you my darling,” she murmured softly. “But you have to learn.” She stroked his cheek tenderly and John strained away, turning his face from her. She giggled like a little girl. “Playing hard to get baby?” She whispered as she turned his face back toward her. She kissed him softly and then more deeply.
Joanne turned away in helpless disgust, knowing it would only humiliate John worse if she watched this but her eyes were drawn back as Gayle’s hand traveled over his chest and down to his belly. Joanne felt sick. She knew where this was headed. This woman was indeed crazy. With Johnny this badly injured, what exactly did she think he was going to do?
Gayle’s fingers fumbled with the button on John’s shorts but John hitched himself away from her, a gasp of pain and outrage escaped as he tore his mouth free from hers. “Don’t touch me,” he growled.
The blonde once again became furious. She lashed out at him again and again, raining angry blows to Johnny’s face and head.
Joanne began to weep. “STOP IT,” she screamed.
After a few moments Gayle regained control. John was barely conscious. “Don’t ever resist me again,” she said flatly as she grabbed a handful of the sable hair and turned his face toward her. Vivid handprints marked his cheeks, already beginning to change from fiery red to deep purple. Blood trickled from his nose and mouth and tears of pain seeped from his clenched eyes. “Fight me again and Joanne dies…Got it?”
“Yes,” he whispered in defeat.
She let him go infuriated that he’d resisted her touch when Joanne DeSoto’s freely roamed over his body without protest. “You’ll learn to obey me Johnny or she’ll pay the price.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a key. Gayle roughly rolled John onto his side drawing a scream of pain from her captive. She un-cuffed his right hand…drawing the left up and over his head. John groaned in misery as muscles that had been held in one place for almost four hours locked in protest. The dark eyes were filled with pain as he glared up at Gayle. She snapped the cuff around the heavy bed post.
She pointed at Joanne. “Come with me.”
“He needs help,” Jo protested, unwilling to leave John in that condition.
“I’ll let you take care of him in a minute…I just need to be sure you stick around.” Gayle led Jo to the cellar. Finding a hammer and nails, she turned back and retraced their steps. The blonde found a bowl and allowed Jo to fill it with water. She retrieved a sheet from the linen closet and led Jo back to the bedroom. She thrust the sheet at Joanne. “Do what you can for him with this,” she snapped.
Joanne sat next to Johnny. He lay silent, humiliated and in pain. He wouldn’t meet Jo’s eyes. She tried to turn his face toward her but he resisted. “Don’t fight me sweetheart. I need to clean you up okay?” She forced his head around and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead.
They heard the banging of a hammer as Gayle nailed the window shut. “You know Joanne,” she said casually. “It’s a good thing I found out what an asset you are to have around. I mean you being here to keep Johnny behaving himself saved your life.” Joanne shot her a hate filled look. Gayle grinned wickedly. “Once I decided I wanted him, you were in the way. You know…?” She said shooting another smirk in the auburn haired woman’s direction. “You’d already be dead if I hadn’t figured out that he’d do anything to keep you alive.”
Jo looked at the anguished dark eyes looking back at her and knew the blonde woman was right. Johnny would do ANYTHING Gayle asked to save her.
Joanne rebandaged John’s wounds and cleaned the fresh abrasions. She stroked his forehead gently until he slipped into an exhausted sleep. Gayle ground her teeth as she watched the tender display and John’s unresisting acceptance of Joanne’s touch.
“I’ll go get some food in a little while,” she growled. “There’s nothing to eat here. I’ll get some candles too,” she said glancing around the gloomy room. “Since there’s no power either,” she finished. “Just bang on the door if you need the bathroom.” Gayle stomped out and slammed the door. Jo heard the lock click.
The crew gathered in Captain Stanley’s living room. His teenage daughters had taken Roy’s two frightened children upstairs while Hank’s wife Emily kept the coffee flowing. The blonde paramedic stared morosely into his coffee cup. Unanswered questions whirled through his head. Why had she taken them? Where did she take them? What was she doing with them and why?
So far the blonde hadn’t followed her M.O. and Roy was at least grateful for that or it would have been John’s body they found and not just his blood. John was hurt and from the amount of blood, Roy guessed it was pretty bad but he felt he was alive. Roy was even more concerned for his wife. Why had Gayle taken her?
The others watched him in silence as they mulled over their own fears for Johnny and Joanne. Roy glanced up at them and they tried to look reassuring but it wasn’t helping. Maybe she hadn’t been after Joanne at all and she’d walked in and caught her there but if she’d just wanted to kidnap John, why take Joanne too? More than likely she was being used to control Johnny which meant she wanted them both alive at least for now. It was a good possibility that John had been wounded trying to protect Joanne.
Roy slammed his hand on the table in frustration. The other’s jumped startled. “Damn it…Where are they?” He railed angrily. “Where would she take them Cap? Where can you take two people and hold them hostage without being noticed?”
They all exchanged looks and shrugged unable to answer his questions. Roy suddenly shot from his chair. “FRESNO,” he said excitedly. “Her parents house Cap.”
The older man looked thoughtful as Roy ran for the phone. He called the number for the Fresno police. “I need Detective Campbell,” he said urgently to the officer who answered. “It’s about the murder of Jeffrey Markson.” There was a long pause. “When will he be back? Tonight…? Well can’t you reach him? This is an emergency,” Roy ground out in frustration. “Alright look…Gayle Markson may be back at her house there in Fresno. Can you send someone there to check it out? No I don’t have the address…He just said it was a gray house. I know there are a lot of gray houses…Don’t you have files with that information?” He almost shouted at the man. “Well make the time, they could be dying…My partner is injured.” He ran his hands through his blonde hair in frustration. “Fine…Look…If he comes in you tell him I’m on my way there and that she may be holding my wife and my partner hostage.” He slammed the phone down in a fury.
“What is it Roy?” Cap said.
“Campbell’s out of the office and won’t be back until tonight and that damn fool won’t even go check it out cuz I don’t have an address for him.” He stared at the ground for a moment and finally looked up at Hank. “Cap can you call McConnikee and tell him I need some help? I need to get to Fresno. I’m going to the airport, see if he can grease the wheels?” Roy asked. “I’ll pay for it myself if I have too.”
“Roy…,” Cap began.
“Cap, can you keep an eye on my kids for me?” Roy asked as he grabbed his keys.
“Sure we will Roy,” Emily answered for her husband, knowing they’d never talk him out of it. Two of the people he loved the most in his life were in danger and he had to try something.
Hank looked at his wife and back at Roy in surprise but he knew she was right…Roy had to go. “Get moving,” he said as he picked up the phone.
Forty minutes later, Roy was in the air. Chief McConnikee had come through, getting him on the next flight.
Gayle stepped into the darkening room. “It should be dark enough to go out without too many nosey neighbors spotting me,” she said to Joanne as she came inside. She looked at Johnny who appeared to be asleep. “How is he?”
“He’s running a fever, he’s dehydrated and in shock,” Joanne snapped angrily as she smoothed the damp towel over John’s warm, bruised skin, wiping away the sweat that beaded his upper lip and forehead.
“Move away,” Gayle demanded.
Joanne stepped away from the bed and Gayle sat next to Johnny. She stroked her hand down his hot cheek. “It’s okay my love,” she whispered.
John’s eyes fluttered open. His gaze fixed on Gayle momentarily and then flicked to Joanne who stood watching the scene in disgust. John wasn’t sure who it was aimed at but as much as he desperately wanted to pull away…Scream at her to stop touching him. The blonde woman’s warning kept him firmly rooted in place. He wouldn’t resist as long as Joanne would have to pay the price for it.
“I’ll bring you something special,” she cooed at him.
Johnny thought he was gonna be sick but didn’t move as Gayle lowered her head and kissed him. He closed his eyes in humiliation as her hand roamed freely over his belly. John fought to stay still as his muscles tightened and he shivered in disgust but again, Joanne’s face swam before him holding him in place. His eyes flew open as the blonde whispered in his ear, wanting to hear the words he so easily seemed to use with Joanne earlier.
“Tell me you love me.” John’s eyes looked past her to Jo who was watching with utter revulsion in her face. John clenched his eyes shut, unable to meet his friend’s eyes. He felt the gun press against his temple. “Tell me,” she demanded, the threat implicit. Those words didn’t come easily for the young man even with those he loved with all his heart…John remained stubbornly silent. The gun shifted toward Joanne…“Say it or she dies…”
John clenched his teeth briefly. They were just words, he reminded himself. They didn’t mean anything without his heart being involved and she couldn’t force him to do that…“I…I…Uh…love you,” he mumbled quickly. Joanne almost wept at the defeated look on John’s face. She knew how much it took for him to say those words and to know he was doing it for her tore at her heart.
“Open your eyes,” she growled. “Say it like you mean it. Say my name,” she demanded. John’s eyes opened slowly. He looked ready to cry…This wasn’t a physical rape but a mental one certainly. His eyes flicked in Jo’s direction as if hoping she’d somehow gotten away in the last few seconds and he wouldn’t have to do this.
“I love you Gayle,” he breathed softly.
“There that wasn’t so hard was it?” The woman had no idea just how hard it had been.
She kissed him again as her hands caressed his torso. She moved to kiss his neck and John bit his lip to keep from telling her to stop, afraid of just how far this woman was going to go. It was Joanne who finally put a stop to the torment. “Don’t you think he’s a little too weak for this?” She bit out snidely. “Not to mention that he needs food and fluids…Lots of them.”
“You’re right,” Gayle sighed in resignation. Johnny couldn’t very well make love to her if he was sick and weak, besides she had to get rid of Joanne first. She didn’t care if the woman watched but John might be a little shy about that idea. “We have plenty of time my love when I get back… I’ll be back soon sweetheart,” she said, deliberately using Joanne’s pet name for him. She left, locking the door behind her.
Johnny flinched as Joanne once again began to bathe the sweat from his face. His cheeks were flushed in embarrassment and he refused to look at her. “John Gage, you look at me right now,” Jo demanded as she turned his face toward her, realizing he was ashamed of what had happened. “I love you sweetheart and this is not your fault,” she soothed her young friend. John nodded but he still avoided her eyes. “Look at me baby.” His gaze finally met hers, seeing only love reflected in the blue eyes.
“I have to get you out of here,” he whispered, knowing he was helpless as long as she had Jo. They heard the engine of his Land Rover start up. “Is she gone?”
Joanne ran to the window, straining to see. She saw the headlights disappear up the street. “She’s gone.”
Johnny struggled to sit up. “Help me Jo,” he gasped.
“Sweetheart…Lie down, you can’t be up,” she admonished as she tried to hold him down.
John shook his head and pushed her away with his free hand. He climbed to his feet. “I have to get you out of here.”
“Just how do you plan to do that?”
“We have to break this window. Then you can go for help.”
“I’m not leaving you,” she gasped in disbelief.
“Jo listen to me,” he gasped. “As long as she has you I’m helpless. I can’t even fight back…Understand? I have to let that crazy bi…Ahhh woman,” he corrected himself. “Crawl all over me and I can’t do that.” She nodded. “So you have to go.”
“There’s nothing to break the window with sweetheart. She took everything out while you were sleeping.”
John stretched as far as he could towards the window but came up about a two feet short. He panted for breath for a moment before he grasped the bedpost with his right hand. His left was already attached with a handcuff. John pulled the heavy bed, gasping in agony as the wound began to tear open once again. He kept pulling…The bed moved a half an inch. The heavy canopy frame making it difficult. Jo ran to grab the other post, pulling for all she was worth. The bed slid again.
“What are you going to do?” She asked breathlessly as they continued to drag the bed across the heavy carpeting.
“Break the window.”
She looked at him in the gray gloom. “With what…?”
John strained against the weight of the bed. He cried out as his left wrist dislocated from the strain with an audible pop. John’s eyes clenched shut. He was panting for air and blood was trickling from beneath the bandage. His head pounded relentlessly but he couldn’t give up. This might well be his only chance to get Jo out of here alive. He gave one final pull, staggering as the bed slid the final few inches. He’d made it.
Johnny shook the pillow out of the case, wrapping the linen around his hand. “Move back,” he gasped.
Jo backed up and John turned his face away from the window as he slammed his wrapped right hand into the glass. It cracked but didn’t break. He hit it again, this time knocking a small hole in it. The third finally brought shards raining down. Pieces of the shattered glass pierced the thin pillow case, slicing into John’s flesh. Blood welled, soaking quickly through the material. John ignored it as he cleared the remaining glass from the frame.
Joanne gasped. “Johnny you’ve cut your hand,” she said unwrapping the bloody cloth.
“Don’t worry about that now Jo,’ he whispered weakly. He picked up a large shard of glass and began to saw through the ropes binding her wrists…“You have to go…You have to get help. Can you do that sweetheart?” He asked, using her own endearment as the rope parted abruptly.
Joanne smiled at him as she rubbed her wrists. “I’ll get help. I’ll get you out of here,” she promised. She cupped his face gently with her numb fingers and kissed his mouth, surprising the younger man. “Just to take away the foul taste,” she said softly.
John grinned at her weakly, disregarding the pain that seemed to be throbbing everywhere. He threw the pillow over the window frame. “C’mon beautiful,” he said teasingly. She gave him one more, long look and caressed his cheek, before stepping into his hand. John boosted her up and over the sill. She slid out, twisting her slender body to land feet first. “Go on…Hurry Jo,” he urged. She took off running. John finally gave in to the pain and weakness washing over him. He sank down onto the floor unconscious.
Jo ran…She made it to the curb, stopping in indecision. The old neighborhood had homes ranging up and down both sides of the street. Jo picked a direction and ran for the nearest house.
Roy drove the rental car from the airport and found his way to the police station. He stepped inside the brightly lit reception area. “I’d like to see Detective Campbell,” he said to the female officer at the front desk.
“The Detective isn’t in yet,” she replied politely. “If you’d like to wait,” she suggested waving to a bench against the wall across the room. “He’ll be here shortly.”
Roy snapped a piece of paper off a notepad on the officer’s desk despite her rather indignant protest. “My name is Roy DeSoto,” he informed her as he wrote a note to the detective. “I’m a fireman from LA County. My wife and my partner may be being held by a woman named Gayle Markson who lived somewhere near here. Detective Campbell knows me. I was here a couple of days ago. I’m gonna try and find that house. You give this to him when he gets here,” he said slapping the note down in front of her.
“Sir,” the officer began. “I really think you should wait.” She wasn’t sure if she believed this guy or not and she wanted more information. She turned around to see if there were any other officers nearby who could maybe help her out but there were none. She turned back to speak to the blonde man but he was gone.
Joanne reached the first house. She pounded heavily on the door but no one answered. She banged again. “Oh damn,” she mumbled as she ran down the stairs and headed for the next house…Looking for one with the lights on. She ran up the next set of stairs and rang the doorbell.
An old woman opened the door. She took in Jo’s disheveled and blood stained appearance and quickly slammed the door. “Get off my porch,” she yelled through the door. “Go somewhere else.”
“Please I need help,” Jo shouted back in frustration. She began to cry. “Please my friend is hurt and I need help.”
“Go away,” the woman yelled again.
Jo ran down the stairs just as headlights rounded the corner, she ducked back behind a tree as the car passed. She recognized Johnny’s Land Rover. “Oh God,” she whispered. Knowing Johnny would bear the brunt of Gayle’s wrath when she found her gone. She turned in frustrated circles not sure what to do.
She knew Gayle would come looking for her and she needed distance. She began to run once more. Jo stopped a few minutes later, winded and sweating. She felt as if she’d run for miles. She leaned against a tree to catch her breath. A car passed her but she didn’t see it in time to flag the driver. She stood up straight as she regained her breath. The illuminated police station sign a half a mile away was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen…She began to run.
Gayle backed the rover into the garage and quickly closed the door. She fumbled in the dark to retrieve the bags of groceries and the two lanterns she’d purchased. She was eager to get back to her Johnny. She’d decided to lock Joanne in the cellar so she could have the handsome young paramedic to herself. She grinned in anticipation.
The sooner he learned who was in control the happier he’d make her. She laughed triumphantly as she thought of him helplessly chained to her bed. She lit the lantern and headed for her room.
Pain flared into Johnny’s awareness as he regained consciousness. He struggled to get to his feet. He moaned in pain as his side and his swollen and discolored wrist made their presence felt. The cuff was ominously tight from the swelling. His hand still oozed blood from the jagged cuts made by the broken window. At least the pounding in his head had subsided to a dull throb.
“Where is she?” Gayle hissed from behind him.
John turned slowly to face the enraged blonde. Swaying dizzily he still threw her a victorious grin. “Gone,” he said flatly.
He watched Gayle warily as she approached him. “Damn you…,” she suddenly shrieked.
The triumphant smile never wavered even as she raised the gun and brought it cracking down against his head. He fell to the floor mercifully unconscious.
Gayle whirled, racing through the house and out into the night. “She can’t have gotten far,” she told herself. Gayle knew if she couldn’t find her, she’d have to move Johnny and fast…She wouldn’t let them take him from her.
Roy cruised slowly up the street scanning the houses on either side. He briefly saw a person leaning against a tree in the waning light and thought about stopping them to ask for directions but the person suddenly began to run and Roy drove on.
Several blocks from the police station he spotted an old gray house in disrepair…The lawn was knee deep in weeds. It fit the description Campbell had given him. It certainly looked unlived in. he parked in front. He grabbed his penlight from his jacket pocket and made his way up the walk and then moving along the edge of the house. It was dark. The curtains hung in the windows, limp and dry rotted.
He moved cautiously around to the back of the building but stopped quickly at the loud crunching sound from under his feet. He glanced down, shining the light around. It reflected off shards of broken glass. Roy glanced up at the smashed window…It was broken out not in. Someone had wanted out of this house very badly. Roy carefully peeked in the window. A lantern sat on a table shining its light weakly through the murky room. He gasped in shock as he glanced down and saw the unconscious form of his partner.
Jo ran inside the police station gasping for air. The young female officer looked at her in surprise. The pretty auburn haired woman was a mess. Blood stained, disheveled and sweating…she struggled to breathe and talk at the same time. “Need help,” she gasped. “K...kid…napped. Johnny…Oh God,” she panted.
“Ma’am…You just need to relax and take a deep breath.” The officer soothed. “What’s your name?” She asked gently as the door behind her opened.
The man who’d just come in stopped and looked her over… “Any relation to Roy DeSoto…?” He asked.
Joanne whirled toward him. “My husband,” she gasped, finally starting to breath normally.
“He was here earlier looking for you,” the female officer said. “He left you this.” She handed him the note. “He said he was looking for his wife and partner and that he thought they’d been kidnapped.”
“Roy was here?” Jo asked stunned.
Campbell looked at Joanne. “Yes…And from the look of it, I’d say he guessed right?”
“She’s holding Johnny at her house…It’s right up the street. We have to hurry…Johnny’s hurt bad and God only knows what she’ll do to him when she finds me gone.”
“Let’s go.” Campbell gestured to three or four uniformed officers and grabbed his partner, Richard Brandt who’d just come through the door, spinning the man around and pushing him toward the exit.
“I thought we were gonna have coffee,” he said in confusion as he was hustled out the door.
“Not now Dick…I think we just got our break on the Markson case.”
Roy pulled himself up and over the window sill, trying to stay as quiet as possible. He knelt next to his partner. Blood ran down Johnny’s bruised face. Roy felt his stomach sink. “Johnny?” He whispered. His friends head rolled listlessly from side to side as he tried to wake. “Look at me Junior…Can you hear me?” Roy demanded as he took his face between his hands. “Johnny, open your eyes.”
The dark eyes fluttered open weakly. “Roy,” he murmured vaguely.
“Yeah Junior it’s me. I’m here. Johnny…? Where’s Joanne? Johnny,” he repeated urgently as the younger mans eyes closed once more. “Where is Joanne?” He asked again… almost afraid of the answer.
“Got away,” Johnny murmured smugly.
Roy breathed a sigh of relief. He gently brushed his partner’s dark hair back, knowing from the self satisfied expression that his young friend was probably responsible for her escape.
Roy gently lifted his partner onto the bed. “Let’s get a look at you okay?” He stuck the penlight between his teeth as his hands began to search for the source of the blood on his partner’s head. The bruises covering his face looked painful but not bloody. Roy ran his hand through the shaggy, dark locks. He saw his friend wince at the same time his fingers encountered a sticky, wet substance. He parted the hair and found a deep gash. He continued on and quickly found the matching one on the other side.
“My friend…You certainly do have a way with women,” Roy murmured softly as his hands moved over John’s torso searchingly. The bandage around John’s body was wet with blood and touching it brought a whimper from Johnny. “Okay partner…Take it easy,” he whispered as he placed his hand over Johnny’s mouth to keep him quiet. “Shhh,” he soothed as he raised the light to shine on John’s cuffed and swollen wrist. “Man…How am I gonna do this without hurting you huh?” He asked softly.
He pulled his army knife from his pocket. He gently cradled the discolored limb. “Roy?” Johnny whispered…Pain etched across his features.
“You gotta g…get out. Kill you…She’ll kill you…If she…f…finds you here,” he gasped.
“I’ll take my chances partner,” he replied as he used the screwdriver tip from his knife to spring the locking mechanism.
Johnny cried out in pain as pressure was applied and then bit his lip to keep from making any more sound.
Roy felt horrible but there was no other way. The cuff finally snapped free. Tears of pain trickled from John’s clenched lids and blood welled from his bitten lip. “Let’s get you outta here,” he said softly as he eased John into a sitting position.
“I’m afraid that’s not gonna happen,” Gayle said from behind him. “At least not with you…”
The blonde paramedic turned to face Gayle. “I need to get him to a hospital right now Gayle.”
“You’re a trained paramedic…Look at him,” Roy demanded. “He’s in shock. He’s dehydrated and he’s lost a lot of blood and he’s still bleeding. He’s got two severe head injuries.”
“He…He brought that on himself,” she whined. “He wouldn’t obey me.”
“He’s not your pet Gayle,” Roy snapped angrily. “And he’ll never be your obedient slave.”
“I won’t let you take him away from me,” she said pitifully. “I’m sorry Roy but you’ll take him away from me. I have to kill you.”
Motion from behind him made Roy turn as Johnny struggled frantically to get up. He was panting in pain and blood trickled in a narrow stream down his discolored cheek…His eyes feverish but determined. “Please,” John gasped out. “Please don’t hurt him Gayle. I…I’ll go with you, an…anywhere y…you want. I p…promise I w…won’t fight you,” Johnny pleaded. “We’ll just tie him up a…an…and go.”
Roy grasped his partner’s shoulders and pressed him back on the bed. “JOHNNY STOP! Lay back.” His dark fingers stroked the hair back soothingly. “Shhh…Just rest okay?”
“No Roy…She’ll k…kill you,” he panted.
“I’m sorry my love,” Gayle said in a little girl’s voice as she jealously watched the gentle touch of Roy’s hand on Johnny’s face. He wouldn’t let her be gentle but he’d learn…She’d teach him. “He’ll never let me keep you and I won’t give you up. He’ll hunt me until he gets you back and I can’t allow that.”
“Gayle, they’re closing in right now. They know all about you and they’ll find you,” Roy promised as he continued to hold his struggling partner on the bed. “They know you killed your father and his partner and they’re gonna prove you killed Max Tate as well and all with that gun,” he guessed.
She looked confused for a moment. “No…No you’re lying. I covered it up…They don’t know,” she whispered as she raised a shaking hand to her head.
“How else would I know about all this? This house, your past,” Roy countered. “They’ll be here any minute now,” Roy reasoned. He finally got Johnny to relax and turned to face the woman. “But they know you’re sick and they can help you,” he offered encouragingly.
“No,” she whimpered. “No…They’ll take him away from me.” She suddenly seemed to regain control at that thought. “You’ve spoiled everything…You’re not taking him away from me,” she screamed. “I’m sorry Johnny but you’ll learn to forgive me.” She raised the gun toward Roy as John renewed his effort to get to his feet. A loud gunshot rang out.
The detective pulled up in front of the old gray house followed closely by three more police cars. They parked behind a white sedan with an airport rental sticker in the window. DeSoto, Campbell guessed. He grinned at the man’s tenacity. He’d found his partner. “Take the back,” he directed a couple of officer’s. “Mrs. DeSoto…Stay in the vehicle.” She nodded as the men moved out.
Jo’s eyes traveled to the rental vehicle. Roy…It had to be Roy. She waited anxiously as the police disappeared inside the house.
The officers quickly moved into covering positions as they moved through the darkened house. Joanne had given them a rough idea of where Gage was being held and they moved quietly in that direction, giving a quick check in the living room and kitchen.
They heard the soft murmur of conversation and moved quickly to the doorway. Campbell eased the door open to get a look inside the gloomy room. A lantern gave off a soft glow but it was enough to see the gun in Gayle’s hand. He saw it rise to point at the blonde paramedic. He saw the figure on the bed struggling to get up. “NO GAYLE,” the dark haired man cried as a gunshot exploded.
Roy flinched as a gunshot reverberated through the room. “NOOO,” Johnny’s scream of anguish echoed right behind it. He finally made it to his feet. Dizziness washed through him as he reached frantically for Roy but his partner remained standing.
Outside in the back of the police car Joanne heard the crack of gunfire and her scream of terror followed on the heels of Johnny’s…Sure that her husband or her friend had been shot.
John’s hand closed weakly over Roy’s arm. They both looked at Gayle. The gun dropped from her hand as the woman staggered a step toward Johnny. A blossom of crimson appeared on the front of her shirt just above the right breast and spread rapidly. The shocked look on her face faded as her eyes rolled up and she fell unconscious to the floor. Detective Campbell stepped into the room.
Roy turned to his shaking partner as Johnny’s knees began to buckle. He caught him before he fell and lifted John into his arms and laid him back on the bed.
The detective leaned over Gayle, knocking the gun away. He felt for a pulse. “She’s alive,” he announced. Roy nodded but right at that moment he really didn’t care, Johnny was his only concern. Campbell stepped from the room and waved the others inside.
Roy turned back to his partner. “Easy Junior,” Roy soothed softly as he peeled the bloody bandage away from John’s side. The younger man writhed on the bed. The wound had reopened creating a burning pain through his side.
“I thought she shot you,” he gasped. His head was pounding, making his stomach turn. Johnny gagged. Roy eased him on his side as dry heaves racked his body. His empty stomach cramped painfully.
“You okay partner?” Roy questioned, gently holding John’s head until the spasms passed.
“Yeah,” he gasped as Roy rolled him on his back.
“You two okay?” The detective asked as he returned to the room.
“I’m fine,” Roy replied. “But my partner’s hurt bad. I think he’ll be okay though once I get him to a hospital.”
Three officers and two paramedics entered the room, followed by an anxious Joanne DeSoto. One Paramedic moved quickly to John’s side as the other knelt beside Gayle. Jo flew into her husband’s arms as he stood up to let the medic in, throwing her own around his neck and kissing him frantically. Her hands ran over his body, relieving her fears that he’d been shot.
Roy’s eyes widened at the sight of her blood stained clothing and he looked at her anxiously. “It’s Johnny’s,” she assured him…Her eyes turning to Johnny’s bruised and bleeding face. The half conscious younger man tried to smile reassuringly but pain once again claimed him. His face tightened and his body twisted as his stomach churned torturously.
“Mmmm,” John moaned pitifully and Roy quickly disentangled himself from his wife’s arms and turned back to his injured partner. The paramedic working on him recognized the signs and quickly turned John’s head to the side to keep him from aspirating as he heaved miserably.
Roy knelt next to the bed drawing an uncertain glance from the fireman working on Johnny. “I’m a paramedic from LA County,” he informed him. “This is my partner…What can I do to help you?”
The man grinned and slid the Biophone toward him. “I’m Chris Donaldson…Get the base station for me. It’s Fresno Community Hospital,” he added. Roy nodded and set the radio up. The room behind him was a hive of activity as police swarmed the house. Campbell tried to talk to Jo but she shook him off and turned her attention back to John.
“Fresno Community Hospital,” Roy said keying the phone handset. “This is rescue…,” he let the statement hang and looked at the paramedic expectantly.
“Rescue 68…How do you read me?” He wrote down John’s vitals from Donaldson as he waited for a response
The doctor at the other end responded. “68…Who am I speaking with?”
“Fireman Paramedic Roy DeSoto, LA County. I’m currently assisting your paramedic Chris Donaldson on a rescue. His partner has a second victim.”
“10-4…This Dr. Halloran…Go ahead 68…”
“We have a twenty six year old male…His pulse is weak and shallow, respirations are 20. His BP is 90/60. Temperature is 101°, he’s diaphoretic, dehydrated and shocky from blood loss. He’s got what appears to be a deep graze from a bullet along his right side but the bullet does not appear to have penetrated the thoracic cage Fresno but the wound is still bleeding. He also has two deep lacerations on his head…”
“She hit him with the gun,” Jo supplied.
“The lacerations were caused by being struck with the butt of a gun,” Roy passed on the information. “The victim was unconscious when he was found but has regained consciousness and is coherent. He has bruising about the face and he’s vomiting. Also his left wrist appears to be dislocated and his right hand has multiple lacerations.”
“A gun butt 68? Just what exactly happened to your victim?”
“He’s a victim of a kidnapping...”
“10-4 68…You better write this down,” he said flippantly. “Start an IV 68…Ringers Lactate wide open. Splint the wrist. Apply bandages to his head, hand and ribs. Immobilize his head as a precaution.”
Roy repeated the instructions back. “Stand by for vitals on the second victim,” he warned them as he slid the Biophone to Donaldson’s partner Troy Alvarez.
“Fresno…Second victim is a female…Approximately twenty four. She has a gunshot wound to her upper right quadrant. A through and through Fresno…there is an exit wound. BP is 100/70, respirations 16, pulse is 100. I’ve applied a pressure bandage front and back and the bleeding is stopped.”
“10-4…Start an IV D5WTKO and .5 Mgs of MS and transport.”
They loaded Johnny on a backboard despite his protests. “Roy…I don’t n…need my head im…mobilized,” he grumbled breathlessly.
“No just examined,” Roy quipped back at him. Donaldson snorted in amusement as Johnny shot his partner a dirty look.
“Oh…HA HA,” You’re real f…funny,” Johnny complained.
“Roy, quite teasing him,” Joanne admonished with a soft smile. “He’s been through enough.”
“Sorry Junior…Doctors orders,” Roy informed him seriously.
“Aagh…,” he groaned miserably as Donaldson carefully placed a strap across his forehead. “I hate this part,” he murmured as he closed his eyes.
“Are you okay sweetheart?” Joanne asked as she brushed his cheek with her fingers.
“Yeah,” he moaned.
“You know he hates having to be tied down,” Roy reminded her.
“Happen often?” Chris asked.
“More often than I like,” Roy said drily.
“Yeah…Y…you ought a be on th…this end,” Johnny gasped.
Roy grinned and lightly brushed John’s cheek with his hand. “Okay Junior, let’s get you outta here.” They lifted him onto the stretcher and rolled him past where Alvarez was working on Gayle.
She lay semi conscious on another gurney, her wrist securely handcuffed to the rail. Her glazed violet eyes tracked John as he went by. “I won’t let them take you from me my love,” she muttered as a crazed smile curled her lips.
Troy Alvarez shivered at the insane glitter in her eyes. Despite the stunning beauty of the blonde woman, he didn’t envy the dark haired paramedic from LA one little bit.
Dr. Halloran met them in the treatment room. Joanne stayed with Detective Campbell but she waved Roy into the treatment room. “I’ll be okay, you go with Johnny,” she said understandingly.
Roy waited while Donaldson and the ambulance attendant transferred John to the exam table. Roy shook the paramedic’s hand. “Thanks for your help.”
“You’re welcome man and I’ll uh…Check on him later.”
“Thanks,” Johnny murmured as the other man left.
“Dr. Halloran?” Roy asked as he stepped to his friend’s side and rested his hand on Johnny’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Yes,” he answered absently as he began to work on Johnny.
“Do you have a phone I can use? I need to call his Dr. in LA. He’ll wanna know what’s happening. He’ll probably want to airlift him back to Rampart.”
“Rampart?” he questioned. “I know a couple of fine doctor’s out of Rampart. What’s his name?” He asked without stopping his examination.
He glanced at Roy. “He train you?” He asked going back to the wounds on John’s head and cutting the bandage away. Johnny moaned softly. “Take it easy son,” the doctor soothed as he turned back to his patient.
Roy nodded… “I sat in on it but I was out of the first class out of Harbor General but he and Joe Early trained my partner here.”
“Well…You two certainly hobnob with two of the finest doctor’s in Los Angeles,” he commented as he checked John’s pupillary response. “I want a full skull series,” he told his nurse. “He’s got a couple of really nasty cuts here and most likely a concussion. Type and cross match…He’s lost a lot of blood. Get a suture tray set up. I want 5-0 for his hand and 4-0 for his head.”
John had endured the entire exam without protest but cried out in pain as Halloran peeled the bandage away from his side. “Aagh,” he gasped as his eyes flared and then quickly clenched tight.
“I’m sorry Mr. Gage,” he said apologetically. “I know that hurt.”
Roy’s hands gently rubbed his partner’s shoulders. “Shhh Junior…Take it easy,” he soothed. “We’ll get you something for that real soon.”
“Kay…,” Johnny panted painfully, trying to twist away once more as the doctor probed the wound.
Roy held him down. “Johnny, you gotta lie still.” Dark, pain filled eyes locked with Roy’s.
“Hurts,” he whispered.
“I know…I know.” Roy wanted to touch him reassuringly but he couldn’t hold either of his hands and his head was still bleeding…All he could do was gently squeeze his shoulders.
“Let’s get these wounds closed up and bandaged as soon as possible so this young man can get some sleep,” the doctor suggested as the door opened to admit the portable X-Ray unit.
“Yes sir,” the nurse acknowledged, eyeing the young paramedic speculatively.
Roy shook his head as she gave John an interested smile before leaving the room. Halloran’s eyebrow arced upward in amusement. “I bet he gets that a lot,” he commented as he held the door open for the X-Ray technician.
“Tell me about it,” Roy muttered. “That’s what got him here in the first place.”
The doctor laughed as they found Joanne and the two of them followed Halloran to his office to call Kelly Brackett.
“This is Dr. Brackett,” Kel answered the phone a few moments later.
Halloran hit the speaker button. “Kel…This is Daniel Halloran, Fresno Community Hospital.”
“Hi Dan… I haven’t talked to you in a long time. What can I do for you?”
The older doctor looked at Roy, wondering if Kel Brackett would think he was crazy for calling him over an injured paramedic that happened to work out of his hospital. “I uh…I have two of your paramedics here.”
“Oh…Which two…?” Kel asked sounding amused.
“DeSoto and Gage…”
“Roy and Johnny…?” Halloran noted the sudden intensity of Brackett’s voice. “Are they alright?” He asked worriedly.
“Hi Doc…It’s Roy,” the blonde paramedic called.
“Roy…Thank God. Is Johnny alright? Is he with you?”
“He’s here Doc.” Halloran sat back, satisfied that the doctor and the paramedics were indeed friends. “He’s had two severe blows to the front of his head, both lacerated. He’s dislocated his left wrist and he’s got some lacerations to his right hand. Doc he’s got a deep graze between the eighth and ninth intercostal space. He’s dehydrated and running a low grade fever. They’re taking X-Rays right now.”
“What the hell happened?”
“Gayle Markson happened. She abducted John and Joanne this morning.”
“Oh my God…Is Joanne alright?”
“I’m here Kel and I’m fine,” she answered. “Just worried about Johnny…”
“Well don’t. Dan Halloran’s one of the best but I’ll make the arrangements and be there in the morning. We’ll airlift him back to Rampart. No offense Dan but this one’s kinda special to me and Dixie.”
“None taken…How is Dixie?”
“She’s fine and unless I miss my guess, I expect you’ll see her tomorrow as well when she finds out it’s her two favorite paramedics involved.”
“I’m number two,” Roy said in mock resignation.
“Only with Dixie Honey,” Jo teased.
Halloran and the DeSoto’s returned to the exam room a few minutes later and the work began. Halloran stitched John’s hand, head and the gash along his side. It was a rough moment for Jo and Roy as well as their young friend when the doctor reset John’s wrist, drawing a grunt of pain from the dark haired younger man but they’d finally gotten him into a room, bandaged and sleeping soundly with the help of a dose of Meperidine.
Detective Campbell sat in John’s room with Joanne and Roy for over an hour going over the entire harrowing ordeal. They’d been horrified at what Gayle had done, especially to Johnny. The pain and humiliation he’d suffered through for over ten hours was hard to think about. Roy squeezed her hand several times as her eyes pooled with tears in the retelling…knowing he’d endured all of it for her and would again if he had to. It was one of the many qualities that made Johnny so special to them all.
Roy looked at his partner as she finished the story, carefully brushing the sable hair from his forehead. “And you never expect a thing in return Junior,” Roy said softly…Drawing a smile from Campbell and a sniffle from Joanne at the gesture of affection and the quiet words.
John stirred, moaning softly. His eyelids lifted heavily before drooping once more. “Roy,” he murmured.
“Shhh partner, I’m here…You just sleep.” John nodded tiredly as a sleepy smile curled his lips. Roy shook his head wondering how many hours he’d spent camped in a chair next to his partner’s bed. Too many to suit him but he knew he’d endure however many more were to come as long as Johnny stayed in their lives. “Thanks Junior…Thanks for saving Jo.”
“Mmmm…,” he sighed as he drifted away.
Halloran had refused to allow Campbell to interview John, insisting much to the detective’s frustration that it wait until the next morning. He arranged a room for Joanne and Roy after Johnny had fallen asleep, but the blonde paramedic had tossed restlessly before finally making his way to his partner’s room. He pulled the chair up close and quickly nodded off but it didn’t last for long…Between the head injuries and Meperidine John kept Roy up half the night alternately holding his head while he vomited or stroking the dark hair soothingly afterwards until he’d drop back into sleep.
Kelly Brackett called early the next morning to let them know they’d be there with the helicopter to airlift John back to Rampart.
Halloran pushed open the door to John’s room to check his patient and found the older man asleep in the chair with his head resting on his folded arms upon the mattress. John’s bandaged fingers lay lightly on his arm as if reassuring himself even in sleep that his best friend was there.
The doctor shook the senior paramedic awake gently. Roy sat up and rubbed tired eyes, he cast a glance at his sleeping partner before turning to Halloran. “Morning Dr. Halloran.”
“Good morning…How’s your partner?”
“Bad night,” Roy said quietly. “He was up most of it throwing up.” The doctor frowned and looked over his chart before moving to check John’s pulse.
“We’ll get him on Compazine to settle his stomach.” Roy nodded in relief as the older man continued. “I spoke to Brackett this morning, he’s already on his way and so is Detective Campbell. He needs to interview Mr. Gage before he leaves.”
Roy bit his lip worriedly. Johnny had been pretty out of it last night and Roy wasn’t sure if he was ready to talk about what had happened yet. He remembered the several other times when he’d been injured and the police had needed a statement. John had been confused and scared and either unable to remember the events for several days or had been too afraid to talk about them. He hoped there wouldn’t be a problem this time.
He shook his friend awake. “Johnny?”
The dark eyes fluttered several times before opening to focus on the face of his best friend. “Mornin Roy,” he said tiredly.
“Morning Junior…Dr. Brackett’s on his way and Dr. Halloran needs to check you over before he gets here okay?” John nodded, moaning softly as the motion caused his head to pound once again. “You gonna be sick?” Roy asked quickly.
John swallowed hard and clenched his eyes shut fighting desperately to keep his stomach in place as the doctor rang for a nurse. “Compazine,” he ordered as she stuck her head inside.
John finally seemed to get it under control after a minute and the brown eyes opened once again. “Oh man,” he whispered miserably. “I hate that.”
Roy grinned but it faded quickly. “Um Johnny…?” He questioned hesitantly as the nurse returned. Halloran quickly injected the drug into John’s IV line.
John turned his attention back to his partner. “What’s wrong Roy?” He asked at the nervous sound of his partner’s voice. “Where’s Jo?” He asked worriedly.
“Jo’s fine…She’s asleep in the other room Junior,” Roy assured him. “But Johnny the detective is on his way here and he needs you to tell him what happened. You think you can do that?”
Johnny bit his lip uneasily before looking up into the concerned face of his friend. “You gonna stay?” He asked apprehensively.
“If you want me too…?”
“Okay.” Roy grinned in relief. John was okay and he had it under control.
Halloran watched the byplay between them not understanding the underlying concern but recognizing the close bond between the two men. “Good. Let’s get a look at you Mr. Gage and then I’ll see if he’s here and send him in.”
John met with Detective Campbell and his partner a short time later. “Good morning Mr. Gage,” Doug greeted with a reassuring smile.
“Mornin…And it’s John,” Johnny murmured.
“Okay John…Before we get started on the abduction of Mrs. DeSoto and yourself, I'd like to ask a couple of preliminary questions.”
John glanced at Roy before nodding warily. “Okay.”
“John…I spoke to your partner a couple of days ago and he told me Gayle Markson had accused you of attempted rape.”
John’s eyes widened nervously and flicked toward Roy. “I…I didn’t…I mean yes she accused me but I…I didn’t.”
Roy quickly reached out to calm his partner. “It’s okay…They know that,” he soothed.
Campbell was also quick to reassure the injured man. “I’m not accusing you okay. I just need to know if she did?”
John nodded slowly. “Yes.”
“John did you have sex with her at any time during the week that she was at your station?”
“No…I mean I kissed her a couple of times but that’s all,” he said blushing slightly.
“Did she try to entice you into it?”
“Yes...Once at her apartment and twice in the locker room at the station…”
The two detectives exchanged a glance. “Locker room,” Brandt muttered.
“What?” Johnny asked warily.
“Gayle Markson accused her father’s partner of raping her in the locker room of the fire station where they worked when she was sixteen. In every instance where she’s accused a fireman of rape it was in the locker room. Some of them said they did have sex with her there but that she was a WILLING participant.”
“She seemed willing enough to me,” Johnny said drily as he rubbed the back of his head.
Roy chuckled. “She practically raped him,” Roy said nodding at the embarrassed younger man. She tore him up pretty good.”
They noted the fading scratch marks. “Alright John let’s go over the abduction?”
John nodded and led them through the entire ordeal from the moment Gayle had entered the house the day before. He let them photograph the injuries as he explained when he’d received each one. They looked at him in admiration as he quietly downplayed the fact that he’d been shot after putting himself between Joanne and the gun on the last escape attempt. Roy had squeezed his arm in gratitude, knowing Joanne would likely be dead now if not for Johnny’s willingness to sacrifice his life for hers.
He shuddered through the recounting of the pain she’d put him through in the garage and blushed in painful embarrassment as he recounted the woman’s advances while he lay helplessly handcuffed and chained to her bed and finally underplayed his own pain in injuring himself further to get Joanne to safety.
“She didn’t want to leave me but…I told her I was helpless to even defend myself as long as Gayle had her so she finally went. When Gayle came back, she was furious when she found her gone. She hit me with the gun the second time.” He touched the gash on his head.
He led them through Roy’s arrival and the final encounter with the crazed woman. “I tried to convince her that I’d just go with her if she’d leave Roy alone but she wouldn’t listen,” he said quietly. “And he wouldn’t leave without me.”
“I wasn’t about to let her take off with ya Junior. I might never have found you,” Roy teased.
“Well I didn’t want her to kill you and I figured she’d have had to take the cuffs off eventually,” Johnny pointed out “I’d have gotten away.”
“If you survived her love and devotion,” Roy said sarcastically.
Campbell and Brandt exchanged a grin while John blushed remembering the woman’s dubious displays of affection. He wondered vaguely what she’d have done if she didn’t like him. He shook the thought away with a shudder and continued on. “Anyway…When I heard that gun go off…Man I thought she’d killed him and then you guys showed up,” He finished.
“Thank you for your help John. I know that was tough for you and I really appreciate it. You do know that you’ll need to testify in court if this comes to trial?”
John looked away in embarrassment. How could he tell a room full of people what this woman had done to him…At her apartment, the station, at Roy’s house and in her bedroom…? He really hoped she’d just plead guilty and he wouldn’t have to but finally looked back at the three concerned men waiting for an answer. “I know,” he finally whispered.
Dr. Brackett and Dixie arrived while the detectives were in with John. Joanne joined them in the doctor’s office and told them everything that had happened in the last twenty four hours, leaving the three shaking their heads. The emotional stress had to have been tremendous and the fact that Johnny hadn’t retreated told Kel and Dixie that Roy and Joanne were making progress with the therapy and he was learning to cope with those traumatic events instead if withdrawing from them. John also must have known that Jo’s life would have been at stake if he’d slipped away.
Kel turned to the Fresno doctor. “So Dan tell me about John’s condition…”
“She really did a number on him Kel. The bullet wound was pretty deep but didn’t penetrate the cage, just skimmed along between the eighth and ninth intercostal space…My deepest concern was blood loss and shock. He took two severe blows to the head and he has a moderate concussion. The dislocated wrist and the multiple lacerations were the least of his injuries and shouldn’t cause him any lasting problems. Right now we’re dealing with a new problem…”
“He’s vomiting,” Kel said succinctly.
Halloran grinned. “I’m told he had a rough night. So how’d you know?”
Johnny and head injuries don’t mix,” Dixie explained.
“Know him pretty well huh?”
“Four and half years and more injuries and illnesses than I care to think about.”
“Careless?” Halloran asked.
Jo bristled protectively but Kel cut her off. “Not at all…More like enthusiastic,” he explained with a wink at Joanne.
“He hates to give up on a rescue,” Dixie added. “And he hates to lose a victim…He’s a lot like Kel here,” she finished with a grin.
Brackett looked at Joanne. “I’m assuming Roy is with him.”
“You have to ask?” She giggled.
“My nurses said he was there all night but something tells me that doesn’t surprise you,” Dan laughed.
“Not at all… If John Gage is in the hospital…Roy will be at his side.”
“And vice versa,” Joanne pointed out.
“Sounds like he’s pretty special to you two as well,” Halloran observed.
Kel stood up. “Yes he is. C’mon Dix,” he said taking her elbow. “Let’s go see our boy.”
“C’mon dad,” Dix teased.
Roy was at Johnny’s side when they arrived in the room. John was awake but he was pale and sweating. His right hand was swathed in bandages while his left was in a cast. After greeting Roy they moved to the younger man’s bed. “What’s wrong with Johnny? Kel asked seeing the dark haired paramedics eyes clenched tightly shut.
“The Compazine wore off…He’s feelin a little dizzy and sick to his stomach.”
Dixie picked up the cloth and carefully blotted the sweat from Johnny’s face before kissing his forehead. “Good morning sweetheart,” she said softly.
“Mornin Dix,” he murmured softly, opening his dark eyes. “Hi Jo,” he added with a smile as Roy’s auburn haired wife leaned down to kiss his bruised cheek.
“Hi baby,” she said… gently smoothing the dark hair back.
“Look at your poor face,” Dix muttered…tilting his chin for a better look.
John’s head swam once more. “Ummm,” he groaned.
“Here we go again,” Roy muttered as he rolled Johnny on his side. The younger man alternated between groaning and vomiting for the next couple of minutes, while Dixie held the basin for him.
Halloran rang for a nurse. “Compazine,” he ordered when she stuck her head inside the room. “Let’s get this boy’s stomach settled,” he said to Kel.
Brackett moved to John’s side while Joanne took over bathing his sweat coated face. “What are we gonna do with you?” Brackett teased the younger man.
“Put him out of his misery?” Dix suggested innocently.
John’s miserable dark eyes moved over all of them briefly. “Well you can’t shoot me,” he mumbled unhappily. “She already tried that.”
They all laughed, glad to see that John’s sense of humor was still in place.
The nurse returned a moment later with the medication but Dixie took it from her. “I’ll take care of it thanks.” The nurse looked to Halloran who nodded with a grin at the proprietary and protective attitude of the blonde nurse. Dix injected it into John’s IV line. “You’ll feel better soon tiger,” she assured him as her fingers gently swept through the sable hair.
John’s eyes drooped tiredly. “Thanks,” he mumbled as the medication took hold and his stomach began to settle.
“Go to sleep junior,” Roy said quietly. His partners even breathing assured the blonde paramedic that he’d drifted off. Roy turned to Halloran. “So what happened to Gayle Doc? Where is she?”
“She’s upstairs in the psych ward. She’s out of danger but…,” he hesitated.
“But…,” Roy prompted.
“She’s claiming this is all a huge mistake. She says that she loves him and that John told her he loved her.”
“John wouldn’t have said that,” Dixie said positively…Knowing Johnny’s past and the words he’d only spoken a few times and even then only to a couple of very select people.
“Yes he did,” Jo snapped. They all looked at her in shock. “At gunpoint…,” she clarified angrily.
“What?” Roy asked in confusion. This was obviously not something Johnny had told the detectives.
“That crazy witch forced Johnny to say he loved her. He refused until she told him she’d shoot me if he didn’t.”
“Oh man…That musta killed him,” Roy muttered angrily, knowing how difficult those words were for his friend and that being forced into speaking them would have been almost as traumatizing as the physical assault on his body. Roy’s expression softened and he gazed at his sleeping partner with pride…Knowing that Johnny had faced something so emotionally stressful and overcome it…Saving Jo in the process…“But he did it and he didn’t go away either,” he mumbled admiringly.
Dixie and Kel also knew how unsettling it had to have been for Johnny considering the disorder that the young man kept well hidden as well as his abusive past. The physical stress Johnny had no problem handling but being forced into any emotionally stressful situation could have brought on a bout of withdrawal but Johnny had done it without missing a beat. They exchanged a glance and a smile that John had come so far.
Halloran looked between them, not understanding their cryptic comments or the concerned and then proud looks that passed between them but he understood from them that it was something that the young paramedic would have found extremely difficult for some reason. “Your Helicopter’s waiting Kel…Why don’t we get this boy of yours ready,” Halloran suggested. Kel nodded and pulled a loaded syringe from his pocket.
“What’s that for?” Roy asked.
“It’s a sedative Roy. The last thing I want is Johnny waking up in the middle of the trip home and start vomiting again.”
Roy nodded his agreement. “Good idea. By the time he wakes up he’ll be at Rampart.”
Twenty minutes later they were in the air.
“Welcome back Junior,” Roy said softly as John’s eyes fluttered open. They tracked drowsily around the room.
“We’re home,” he slurred.
“Yeah partner, we’re home.”
A knock on the door brought Roy’s head around. The crew of station 51 stood in the doorway looking a bit apprehensive about their welcome. “Can we come in Roy?” Hank asked.
“Sure Cap…Guys. Its great timing, he just woke up.”
John was trying to bring the new arrivals into focus. His eyes blinked heavily before they drifted shut, only to open again a moment later. “He looks terrible,” Chet said worriedly…Their eyes taking in the bandages and bruises.
“She really did a number on him but he’s alive and he’s gonna be fine. He’s just coming out of sedation so he’s a little sleepy right now.”
“What did they sedate him for?” Cap asked as John’s eyes closed once more.
“The trip home…She hit him in the head a couple of times and he’s been pretty sick and Brackett didn’t want the helicopter ride setting him off.”
“Good idea,” Hank said wryly.
“Johnny…Can you hear me?” Roy asked, resting his hand on his friend’s forehead. “C’mon Junior, it’s time to wake up…Open your eyes…You’ve got company.”
The dark eyes slowly made an appearance once more, focusing on the face of his partner. “Roy,” he murmured before his eyes moved to the rest of the crew. He frowned warily at the people gathered around him. “Hi Cap.”
“Hey pal,” Hank replied, coming to stand next to the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Not so good,” he whispered softly.
The others moved a little closer. “Johnny?” Mike called to him. “We’re not gonna stay long today but we needed to come see you.”
“Yeah,” Marco chimed in. “We needed to tell you how sorry we are for what happened at the station John. I can’t believe I let a pretty smile make me doubt you.”
Chet moved around to John’s other side. His face flushed at the apology he was about to make. “I’m so sorry John. We’ve… I’ve been an absolute jerk. I know you’d never hurt anyone…We all do and we just wanted to tell you we’re sorry.”
He hesitated at the guarded look in John’s dark eyes.
Mike reached out to touch John’s bandaged hand. “We let you down the other day and we can’t take that back John but we can promise you that we’ll stand by you from now on…No matter what comes okay?”
“That goes for me too pal,” Hank added.
“Can you forgive us Johnny?” Marco asked quietly.
The brown eyes flicked to Roy briefly before returning to search the faces of his crewmates. There was fear in their eyes…Fear that they’d lost not only their friend but the center of the family they’d become. There was also sorrow that they’d hurt their young crewmate so deeply and there was sincerity. John could see they meant each word they’d spoken.
“It’s okay…I understand,” he said softly as his eyes turned to Roy. The older man gave him a smile and a wink at his young friend’s forgiving heart.
The others looked relieved that he’d understood that they’d been deceived by this woman just as he’d been and that he was willing to let it go. They gathered closer. “You gonna be okay?” Mike asked.
“I’m okay guys.”
“Why don’t we believe that?” Hank teased looking at the injuries on his youngest crew member.
“What happened to Gayle?” Marco asked.
“She was shot during the rescue but she’s gonna be okay. She’s at the psychiatric ward in the hospital in Fresno.”
“Good…So we’ll never hear from her again right?”
“Afraid not guys…They’ll be a trial. John’s gonna have to testify.” They looked apprehensively at the younger man. John looked decidedly unhappy about that proposition but he knew he was a living, breathing witness and Campbell wouldn’t let this opportunity get away. “So will Jo and I,” Roy continued. “And most likely you’ll all be called as well.”
“That’s not a problem is it guys?” Cap asked his crew.
They shook their heads. “Whatever it takes to put her away for good so Johnny will be safe,” Mike said earnestly. The others nodded in agreement.
“So what happened Johnny?”
Roy patted John’s shoulder and told them a synopsis of the story that Johnny had given to the detective, leaving them all in speechless shock at the girl’s crazy delusions.
Chet looked at John with a wicked glint in his blue eyes. “Well Gage I knew it had to happen eventually and you finally did it.” The younger man looked at him questioningly. “You finally drove someone crazy,” he teased.
John frowned. “Oh shut up Chet…She was already nuts,” he growled in annoyance.
“Yeah Chet,” Marco piped in. “Johnny just made her worse.”
“Don’t help me Marco,” Johnny mumbled as the others broke into amused laughter.
Kel released Johnny two days later. Roy picked him up after his shift ended. “You ready partner?”
John grinned in relief. “I’m ready.” The hard, cumbersome cast had been removed and his left wrist was now in a light brace and his right hand no longer looked like a pink puffball. The bruises were still there but had begun to fade already. The dizziness and nausea from his concussion had receded. Only the wound in his side was still causing him any serious discomfort and curtailed any physical activity and he was still on mild pain killers and antibiotics but nothing would heal him faster than going home. He willingly plopped into the wheelchair Roy had brought with him and let his partner wheel him out.
Johnny had been out of the hospital for three days before Roy and Joanne once again began his therapy sessions. Johnny told them about his time with his grandparent’s and about his grandmother’s death before being dumped one final time on yet another relative by his grieving grandfather. My cousin Chloe was actually not too bad,” he said softly. “I don’t really remember much…I think I was in withdrawal most of the time by then and she just ignored me. I was kinda like a stray dog you threw your scraps too.”
Joanne was disgusted. Sometimes these sessions were harder on her and Roy than they were on Johnny who’d accepted the abuse as a matter of course and at that time in his life had no idea that it should be different.
“The rest of the people just sorta tolerated my existence. They thought I was crazy because of the Aspergers…I mean none of them knew what I had either. Among the Indians a crazy person is taboo ya know. You don’t mess with them but at least they let me stay,” he finished.
Roy shook his head. It was bad enough to be plain ignored by an entire group of people but to know the ones who should have protected him…Loved him and offered him the greatest support were cruel and cold and that his best friend had had no one to turn to tore at Roy’s heart.
It was difficult for both of the DeSoto’s to stay calm as Johnny spoke of his past and they knew there was much more buried inside but that would come slowly…A little at a time but through it all John would build a deeper trust for Roy and his family…Even Chris and Jen had taken to secretly watching when they were home.
John was becoming more at ease all the time and almost never regressed to reliving the experience, just remembering. Roy’s hands never brought the fear as they had at first and John would relax almost instantly at his touch, drawing a grin from both his partner and his wife and when John returned to work a couple of weeks later he was more open with his friends there as well.
They continued to taunt and torment him with their jokes and pranks but Johnny never got upset and they were much more sensitive to his moods… Seeming to understand when John needed his space or just time quietly with Roy. The older paramedic found himself frequently nodding his approval at them instead of frowning in annoyance as he used to.
Things slowly returned to normal at the station and none of them had heard from the detective in Fresno…They hoped that meant the Gayle had pleaded guilty and been put away somewhere so John wouldn’t have to testify but there was no such luck.
Six weeks after they’d been kidnapped, Detective Campbell appeared on Roy’s doorstep. “Mr. Desoto…How are you?”
“I’m fine…C’mon in,” Roy replied stepping back and allowing the man to step inside.
“I’ve been trying to reach your partner but…”
“He’s here,” Roy interrupted.
“Still…? I would have thought he’d have gone home by now.”
“He has but we’re putting up a new swing set for the kids. He just hung the last swing. John’s on the deck with Jo.”
“Great…Um…Can I talk to him?” Doug asked hesitantly.
“Sure…I’ll go get him,” Roy answered warily. He stepped out on the deck and returned a moment later with Johnny and Joanne.
“Detective…,” John greeted holding out his hand.
Campbell shook it, nodding toward Jo as he released John’s hand. “Mrs. DeSoto.”
“Can I get you something to drink?” Jo offered.
“Coffee would be great,” he said politely. Jo nodded and headed for the kitchen as the three men sat down at the table.
“We may have a problem,” Campbell said without preamble.
“What’s that?” Roy asked.
“I went over the case files with the DA this morning…We have the documents from Miss Markson’s attorney.”
“Okay,” Roy said glancing at his partner. John shrugged at the hesitancy in the detective’s voice.
“Alright let me cut right to the chase here. Mr. Gage? Do you have some kind of mental illness or disorder that you never mentioned to me?”
John’s brown eyes widened in shocked surprise and then he glanced away from Campbell. “Why do you ask?” He questioned softly.
“Miss Markson’s attorney said she overheard your friend and your Captain discussing it. She said that she thinks that’s why you got so upset and lost control in the locker room that day and tried to rape her.”
“But I didn’t…,” Johnny began.
“That doesn’t matter…She’s going to claim you did.”
“She’s also going to claim that you were having an affair with your best friend’s wife,” he said drawing a gasp from Joanne as she returned to the dining room with the coffee.
“We were not having an affair,” Joanne snapped angrily.
“She’s going to allege that that’s why she threatened to break off her relationship with John and that this disorder is what caused him to go berserk and attack her in the locker room. That it causes him to be insecure in his relationships…?” He asked suggestively. John, Jo and Roy exchanged a glance as he laid out her defense strategy. He continued when they offered nothing…“She said when she found out about that she confronted you…Begged you to give up your married lover for her and that when you refused she tried to leave and you attacked her.”
“That’s not what happened,” Johnny said. “I mean she did say that she saw me and Joanne together but it’s not what she thought and I told her there was nothing between us but she didn’t believe me.”
“Besides what’s her excuse for kidnapping them then?” Roy asked.
“She says she’s in love with Johnny and that he told her he loved her as well. That she just couldn’t give him up and that she went temporarily insane at the thought of losing you.”
John rolled his eyes. “Nobody would believe that,” he said.
“You’d be surprised what people will believe John,” he replied. “You forget…I’ve already seen this girl in action and she’s a very good actress.” The dark eyes flicked to Roy…They both already knew that as well. John’s eyes lowered to rest on his hands. Campbell looked at him questioningly. “John…? Do you have some kind of illness that I need to know about? Remember that you’ll be under oath and they will subpoena your medical records as well as your work records.”
John’s eyes closed in embarrassment and he sighed in resignation. “I don’t have a mental illness,” he assured Campbell quietly. The man breathed a sigh of relief. “I have a neurological condition called Aspergers Syndrome Disorder,” he admitted reluctantly. “It’s coupled with Childhood Traumatic Stress Disorder.”
“What is that exactly?”
“ASD is a brain dysfunction,” Johnny said… “It affects my behavioral abilities and it’s considered by some doctors to be a very high functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
“No…My therapist doesn’t lump them all together though I guess some do and mine was very mild and I’ve mostly outgrown the worst of the symptoms except when I’m really emotionally stressed.”
“How can you be a Paramedic with this disorder?”
John continued to stare at his hands and refused to make eye contact. Roy watched intently for any warning signs and he knew John was struggling…He stepped in.
“Some of the most brilliant people in our history have had Aspergers Syndrome detective,” Roy said. “Beside…John’s job is physically and mentally stressful but not emotionally. He can handle the other aspects and he’s doing much better with the other as well since we’ve started a therapy program.”
“Drugs…?” Campbell asked worriedly.
“No…None,” Roy answered. “That’s why it’s okay for Johnny.
“I have it under control most of the time,” He said softly.
“But stress can bring it on.”
“Yes...emotional stress,” Johnny said in frustration. “I deal with it. My emotions are not in play during a fire and I don’t usually have time to get emotionally involved with someone during a rescue, besides…We’re trained to keep our victims at arm’s length even when it’s not always easy to do.”
“Okay…What about the other…Childhood Traumatic…Something?”
John was desperately trying to maintain a grip on his emotions. He was embarrassed enough at having to explain his condition and worried what would happen if it was made public. It would finish him as a paramedic and a firefighter. McConnikee was one thing but headquarters would never risk him out there with the public. The public wouldn’t want a paramedic with Aspergers treating them. People were nervous about things they didn’t understand.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I’m an orphan detective. I lost both of my parents before I was twelve. My remaining family didn’t want me and I’m afraid they made sure I knew it.”
Campbell looked at him in pained understanding. “They abused you?”
“Yes,” John whispered.
“I’m sorry John…,” he said sincerely. “But I have to ask…What happens when this condition flares up?”
Johnny shrugged. “I usually tend to go into withdrawal.”
“What’s that exactly?”
“John retreats to a safe place in his own mind,” Roy answered for him. “Pulls into himself...”
“Is he dangerous?”
“No of course not,” Joanne snapped.
The detective smiled at her protectiveness…“In the last three months have you had occasion to go into withdrawal?”
John grimaced slightly. “Yes,” he whispered.
“It was my fault,” Joanne said quickly.
“Jo…?” Johnny began.
“It was,” she interrupted. She explained what happened. “He thought he’d lost us too,” she finished as she reached out to touch John’s hand. For the first time in weeks, John jerked his hand away and he stiffened. “Oh baby no,” she said softly. Taking his hand again and rubbing it between her own.
Campbell looked confused at the words but Roy drew his attention. “Detective…? What does this have to do with what she did? Johnny’s not on trial here…She almost killed the man she claimed to love. Beat the hell out of him…Chained him to a bed…Shot him. She kidnapped my wife.”
“Well if she can use this to make it sound like he was out of control.”
“He wasn’t…John has it under control and you wouldn’t know he had a problem at all unless he withdraws and when John withdraws he’s non functional…Not dangerous.”
“She’s going to claim temporary insanity brought on by jealousy at the loss of her lover.”
“I wasn’t her lover,” Johnny growled.
Campbell shrugged. "Then we’ll have to convince the jury of that.”
“What about the others she’s done this too?” Roy asked.
“We’re going to do our best to get as many of them as we can to testify and we have the gun she used. It’s the same gun that was used to kill her father and his partner and we’re trying to link it to Max Tate as well but John’s my main witness. Now the DA will try and keep this out of course as John is NOT the one on trial here but we may have to explain this disorder in order to diffuse it.”
“NO,” Johnny said adamantly.
“What?” Campbell asked.
“I said no…I won’t tell the world I have Aspergers or CTSD. It could ruin my career.”
“We may not be able to keep this out.”
“If we can’t…?”
“I won’t testify,” John whispered.
“What? But you have to.”
“NO,” Johnny said adamantly. The slightly faraway look in John’s eyes worried Roy and Joanne.
“What happens if he won’t testify?” Roy asked.
“They’ll bring it in that he had some unknown disorder and that he was having an affair with your wife. That he attacked Gayle when she wouldn’t continue her affair with him because of it and that she lost control at the idea of losing the man she loves. It would be up to your wife to disprove all of it. If we won, which is doubtful without John she could get as little as three months in a psych ward and ordered into therapy.
“Geez,” Roy muttered in disgust. “Even with the testimony of the others…?”
He shrugged. “Most of them are dead or missing. The ones we do have are in prison or left the force in disgrace. Obviously, she’s not gonna look good because of her involvement with all of it but I can’t tie it all together without John. If she gets off John, she’ll come looking for you. She’s obsessed. Joanne she sees as a threat…She’ll be at risk as well.”
John was shaking his head agitatedly… “Johnny…You’re at risk if you don’t testify,” Roy pointed out.
“I don’t care…I’ll take my chances that she’ll just cut her losses and go away,” he whispered.
“She could hurt someone else.”
“I don’t care.”
“Johnny, that’s not like you.”
“No…I won’t do it,” he shouted…Getting increasingly upset.
“Then you put Jo at risk too,” Roy said…His blue eyes flashing angrily. “Do you care about that? After everything we’ve done for you.”
John’s dark eyes burned and his body trembled knowing he was about to lose his best friend. He stood up…“I…I’m S…sor…ry Roy…I c…can’t.” John bolted out the door to the deck.
Roy stood up and moved to follow him. “I’m gonna go talk some sense into him.”
“No…,” Joanne said catching her husband’s arm.
“Forgive me detective,” she said sweetly before turning on her husband. “What the hell did you just do?”
“What? Getting angry that he’s putting your life at risk?”
“NO…Telling him he owed us for what we’ve done. How could you say that to him? I thought you loved him?”
“I do,” Roy gasped in surprise. “You know I do.”
“Well I don’t know about you Roy but my love for Johnny is unconditional. No strings…No debts…Isn’t that what you’ve always told him?”
“He didn't ask for us to love him, that was our choice…”
“You’re right…You’re absolutely right but your life could be in danger.”
“If it is, then we’ll deal with that if it happens but I won’t force Johnny to destroy his career or humiliate himself on a witness stand.”
“There’s nothing to be humiliated about,” Roy argued.
“Johnny thinks there is and that’s all that matters. It has to be his choice or we’re just like his family or that woman…Forcing him against his will…Taking his right to be who he is away.”
Roy visibly wilted, knowing she was right. How could he expect John to give up everything? Man…How much damage had he just done?
“If I can ask…? Just what did Gayle Markson see that made her think you were having an affair?”
“A therapy session for John’s Disorder,” Jo explained. “It’s called touch therapy…It’s a series of light touches and massage techniques that we use to help relax him.”
“That’s it…Roy was here as well, she just didn’t see him.”
Campbell grinned. “We can at least blast that theory.”
John ran down the steps and out into the yard. Tears streaked his cheeks. He’d seen the anger in Roy’s eyes and he’d heard it in his voice. He owed them just like he owed his family in Montana. He was ungrateful for what they’d done for him.
John sat on the swing, hunched over and gasping as it rocked slowly beneath him. He struggled to regain control. He was being selfish. What was his career or his pride for that matter compared to Joanne’s life. Roy was right…Even if he didn’t care about the others that this woman had or would hurt, which he did…Than what about Jo?
John sniffed back tears, rolling his brown eyes at what he saw as his own selfishness. It was a matter of choices and what he feared losing the most…Roy and Joanne or his dignity but then that had been stripped from him long ago by his own family…He’d only recently reacquired it.
Now he had to choose between the shame of doing nothing at all and having his friends pay the price or admitting that he had a problem before the entire state of California. He couldn’t bear the thought of losing Roy and Jo and Roy would never forgive him if Gayle came after her…Johnny would never forgive himself. He made up his mind.
Detective Campbell rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Well I guess I better get back to Fresno and tell the DA my case just fell apart. I guess I can’t really blame him. I wouldn’t want to give up my career either.”
“Roy…Jo,” Johnny said quietly from the doorway. They looked toward him…Saw the tears that trickled down his cheeks. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets and his body was hunched. His mouth trembled slightly as he fought to keep his composure. “I’m really sorry…That…That was really selfish of me and I…I owe you guys so much…I…”
“Johnny,” Roy interrupted him, the anger gone from his eyes. There was only compassion. “Johnny…I’m sorry I said that. You owe us nothing. What we feel for you…What we’ve done, doesn’t come with a repayment schedule,” he said rising from his chair.
His partner stood shamefaced, eyes downcast. Roy reached out and tilted his chin up until John was looking at him. He was stiff and he reached up to wipe the tears from his cheeks with the heels of his hands. “Yes…Yes it does. It always does,” John whispered as he nodded his head. “It’s only a job and a little pride right?” He tried to smile. “I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I do nothing and something happens to you guys…I won’t repay your family by doing that.” He looked at Campbell. “So you go back and tell them I’ll testify.” John looked once more at Roy before retreating out the door to the deck.
“Great,” Campbell sighed in relief. “Look…Maybe I can take some of the burden off if you can give me the name of his physician…Maybe his therapist. Maybe I can get her to testify as to what it is and what the problems would be from it and spare him from having to do that.”
Roy looked disgusted with himself. He needed to go talk to Johnny. Roy had hurt him badly and his friend was distraught and they'd lost a lot of ground here today. They needed a heart to heart. Johnny had back peddled into his insecurities and self doubts and it was Roy’s fault.
“Dr. Martha Hightower,” Roy supplied the name. “You already met his personal physician. Excuse me for a minute okay?…? I have to go talk to Johnny,” Roy said absently as he stepped out the door. Johnny was nowhere in sight. Roy heard the Land Rover start up and started running but by the time he got around front the land rover was just turning the corner. “I’m so sorry Johnny,” he whispered as he watched it go. “Back to square one eh Junior…?”
“Was that Johnny leaving?” Jo asked worriedly as he came back inside.
“Yeah…I couldn’t catch him in time.”
“Go after him Roy.”
He shook his head. “He won’t go home…He’ll disappear. He doesn’t want to talk to me and I can’t blame him. God Jo…How could I have said that to him?”
“You were afraid for me…Johnny will understand that.”
“Will he? I betrayed his trust again. Man I musta sounded just like his Aunt.”
Jo moved to wrap her arms around her husband’s neck. “He’ll be at work tomorrow…Talk to him then.”
Roy nodded in disgust. “If he’ll ever trust me again…”
Campbell looked between them…realizing for the first time just how much John meant to this couple.
John was in early, knowing his Captain liked to be there at least a half an hour before his crew arrived. The dark circles beneath his eyes attested to the sleepless night spent in the rover in the middle of nowhere, thinking about his options.
“Mornin Cap,” he said softly from the doorway.
“Morning John…You’re in awfully early.”
“I wanted to see you alone.”
“What’s up pal?” Cap asked gently, hearing the serious tone of John’s voice and the quiet demeanor. Johnny handed him a piece of paper. “What’s this?”
“WHAT?” Cap barked in shock. “You can’t mean that?”
“Yeah Cap, I do.” John’s voice cracked and his mouth shook.
“Gayle Markson told her Lawyer I have some kind of mental disorder.”
“She what…? Oh good Lord…”
“They’re demanding full disclosure. If…When it comes to trial in two weeks my career is through. They’ll have no choice but to fire me. If I quit on my own…This whole mess can’t be held against the fire department. I won’t be an active fireman or paramedic any longer. Heck maybe they’ll still give me a decent reference.” John tried to smile.
“Where would you go…?”
“Does Roy know about this?”
“No,” John whispered.
“Know about what?” Roy asked from behind them.
John jumped but didn’t turn to face his friend.
“John’s resigned,” Hank said quietly.
“HE’S WHAT?” Roy snapped, coming up behind his partner. Johnny started to stand but Roy’s hands on his shoulders held him firmly in the chair. John’s body tensed under his fingers.
“They’re gonna have to fire me anyway Roy…For keeping this from them.”
“You don’t know that.”
“What choice will they have? You think the general public will like the idea of some paramedic with ASD treating them?”
“You’ve been doing it quite well for several years.”
“How many have we lost who may have family members come back and claim they died because of me?” He asked softly. “How many will turn our services away rather than let me near them? How’s headquarters gonna feel when they find out I’ve kept this hidden from them for eight years?”
“Five,” Roy corrected. “You didn’t even know you had it the first three.”
“Cap…Can I have a minute with my crazed partner here?” Roy asked.
“Sure pal…Take all the time you need.” Hank stepped outside to wait. He leaned against the wall deep in thought. They had to do something and fast. He didn’t intend to lose Gage…They were a family.
“Johnny, please don’t do this,” Roy said as he came around to squat in front of his partner. John looked away. “Johnny, look at me… please,” Roy pleaded. “Don’t shut me out. What I said to you yesterday was wrong. I was worried about Joanne and I didn’t think about the sacrifice I was asking you to make.”
“I owe you that.”
“NO!” Johnny jumped at the adamantly snapped word. “No…,” he said again softer. He reached for his friends face but John ducked his head away. Roy wouldn’t give up. He caught John’s face between his hands. “Look at me.” Johnny’s face was a stony mask but his dark eyes glistened with unshed tears. “I’m so sorry. I should never have said that.”
“But you were right. I do owe you.”
“No John. We’re family and a family’s love is not conditional. It’s not a debt and we don’t keep score. I was afraid for Joanne and I said something stupid…AGAIN.”
“You shoul…,” Johnny began but Roy silenced him with a look.
“I love you…We love you…And I’ll respect what you decide to do. Testify or not but I can’t let you walk outta our lives like this. I won’t have you thinking our love for you hangs on your testifying…Do you understand…?” Roy asked looking into the tired, sad dark eyes.
“But it’s better for me to quit than to get fired,” Johnny said softly. “It’s better…Safer for you if I just go away… I draw trouble like a magnet,” he said ruefully. “My Aunt Lacey was right.”
“NO SHE WASN’T,” Roy barked. “She was a hateful, bitter, selfish woman and you are not a magnet for trouble. None of this was your fault John…You didn’t ask for this. You didn’t lead this girl on. It wasn’t your fault and I’m just sorry you’re the one that has to pay for it.” Roy carefully swept the sable hair away from John’s face.
He tensed slightly and then drooped tiredly in defeat. Roy pulled him forward into his arms…The top of John’s head pressed against his shoulder. He stroked the dark hair as he spoke quietly to his friend. “We’ll get through this. We’ll find a way. Will you give me time to think of something else before you quit?” Roy asked quietly.
John slowly nodded and Roy climbed to his feet coming around to stand behind his partner. His hands began to gently rub the tense shoulders.
“You can’t do that here,” John protested, shifting uncomfortably under Roy’s hands.
“Just for a minute…You need to relax.”
“Mornin Cap…” Chet said merrily as he came into the apparatus bay.
“Shhh,” Hank shushed him, gesturing inside his office.
“What?” The Irishman asked quietly as came up to peek into the Captains office. He saw Roy holding Johnny and watched as he stood up to come around behind him to rub his shoulders as he had that day at his home.
“Better?” He heard the softly voiced question.
“Yeah,” came the quiet reply.
“Don’t quit Junior…You’re not a quitter…It’s just not in your nature to give up.”
“What’s he mean quit?” Chet whispered to Hank. He shook his head as he continued to watch Roy work his magic with his young partner.
John turned his head to look up at his best friend. “Okay Roy…I won’t quit.”
Roy gave him a slap off the back. “Go get some coffee Johnny…I wanna talk to Cap for a minute.”
Cap rested his hand on his youngest crew member’s shoulder as he left his office. “Your resignation letter,” Cap said handing the paper back to John. Chet’s eyes widened, looking at Gage in stunned surprise.
Johnny took it. “Guess I’ll hold onto it for a couple of days Cap…Roy wants to try something.” He shrugged in a ‘let him try’ gesture…Resigned to losing his job but willing to let Roy try to salve his own heart.
The squad was toned out to an early morning car accident. The young lady involved had swerved to avoid a dog and had rammed into a telephone pole. Johnny had done the extrication and splinted her leg while Roy had given her an injection of Pentazocine to kill the pain. Roy accompanied her in the ambulance while Gage cleaned up the scene.
Kel was waiting at the base station when they arrived. “Mike can you handle that,” he asked when he spotted Roy.
“Sure Kel,” he agreed…Curious as to why Brackett had taken Roy’s arm and was now leading him to his office.
“What’s up?” Roy asked suspiciously.
“Suppose you tell me.” At Roy’s blank look Brackett continued. “I got a call from a District Attorney in Fresno named Jeffrey Waters this morning.. They want Johnny’s records.”
Roy nodded. “Give em to em.”
“I know Johnny has to say yes and he will Doc. They know he has a neurological condition and they want to try and diffuse it before Gayle can play it…”
“Martha Hightower called. They subpoenaed hers as well. She’s very concerned about Johnny and his emotional state.”
“She should be…It’s pretty fragile right now. He resigned this morning.”
“What? But I heard him on the Biophone.”
“Oh I talked him out of it for now but he’s afraid he’ll be fired when this all comes out or that the fire department could be held liable for wrongful death suits that he worked on.”
“That’s ridiculous…John’s never made a mistake in the field…Either of you for that matter.”
“I know that but…”
“What can I do to help?”
Roy looked thoughtful for a long moment. “Would you be free to come with me and Cap tomorrow morning?”
He nodded. “I’ll meet you there. What time?”
“Done…Now let’s go find your partner.”
“What’re you gonna do?”
“About me resigning…”
“Find a way to keep that from happening.”
“You mean finding a way to keep me from testifying?”
“How…?” He asked chewing his lip.
“I’m working on it.”
“I’ll be fired.”
“If it comes to that then I’ll tell them you resigned. Don’t give up yet Junior.”
“Okay. Roy? I’m really sorry for yesterday?”
“For what I said about not caring if someone else got hurt…That was pretty self centered of me.”
“You have nothin to be sorry for Junior. You didn’t mean it…I knew that.”
“Of course… John Gage may have his quirky moments but selfishness isn’t one of them.”
John’s mouth curled in a half smile. “Quirky huh…? Well I guess that’s better than nuts, strange, crazy or any of the other things you’ve called me over the years.”
“How about little brother…Best Friend…”
“I’m particularly fond of those,” Johnny smiled.
They backed into the station. John climbed out and came around the back of the squad looking forward to a cup of coffee. He was still tired after not sleeping all night and the coffee would help wake him up. He stopped short at the sight of Chet, Marco and Mike standing three abreast, arms folded across their chests.
Roy stopped to watch the three curiously. Johnny’s eyes shifted between them warily. “What’s up guys?”
“Chet said you resigned this morning,” Mike stated.
“Well…Yes but Cap wouldn’t take it,” Johnny said glaring at Chet.
John sighed. These were his friends who’d kept his secret all these years…They deserved an explanation. “Gayle’s defense knows I have Aspergers and CTSD…They’re going to bring it out during the trial…When that happens there’s a good chance the fire department will terminate my job. I thought…I thought it would be better if I just left quietly.”
“That’s the problem Gage…You keep trying to think,” Chet said snidely. John blinked in hurt surprise. “So think about this,” He continued. “We’ll go to bat for you Johnny if it comes to that.”
“We’ll fight it all the way to the top brass,” Mike added.
“We’ll stand by you Johnny,” Marco agreed. “As long as you don’t quit…”
“It’s not your style Gage,” Chet finished.
Roy felt his throat grow tight as he stood watching, trying not to let the tears well up. Johnny smiled at his friends. “Thanks guys,” he said softly as they gathered around him.
Johnny was exhausted. They’d had four runs during the night. He was so tired he could hardly see straight. “Go home,” Roy told him. “Get some sleep and stay where I can find you okay?” John nodded. “Promise me you’ll sleep.”
“I promise…But what are you gonna do? I mean…You canceled our session and…”
“Just go get some rest and trust me okay?” He said giving his friend’s hair a light scruff. John nodded and climbed into his rover. Roy watched him drive away before turning to his worried crewmates. “Guys…Cap and I are going down to headquarters to see the chief…Wanna come along.”
“What for…?” Chet asked nervously.
“We’re gonna tackle this head on. My mom always told me the best way to solve a problem was to be direct and honest. We’re gonna take the fight to them and Kel Brackett’s meeting us there.”
They all exchanged a glance. “We said we’d stand by him,” Mike reminded them. “No time like the present.”
They arrived at headquarters to find Kelly Brackett, Dixie McCall and Dr. Hightower waiting for them. Roy glanced curiously at Kel. “I brought reinforcements,” the dark haired doctor explained. “She understands John’s condition better than any of us and she can explain it.”
“I’ll take all the help we can get,” Roy said as they headed inside.
McConnikee was waiting. He looked at the group a little bit surprised. “A little larger group than what I was expecting DeSoto,” he said.
“He’s got a lot of support Chief.”
“The more the better,” he said drily as he nodded at the conference room door. “They’re waiting.”
He opened the door and the others cast nervous glances at each other. They knew that whatever happened in this room could destroy John Gage’s life. They entered slowly. “Chief Sorenson and Chief Hayes…,” McConnikee began the introductions.
It was over an hour later before the door opened again. They all glanced at each other. “Who wants to be the one to call Johnny and tell him to get down here with that letter of resignation?” Chet asked looking depressed.
“I will…It was my idea,” Roy said. He went to the phone.
Roy’s call woke Johnny. “I thought you wanted me to sleep?” He complained.
“I did and I do but I need you here at HQ Junior.”
“What for…?” He asked nervously.
“Chief Sorenson and Chief Hayes want to see you.”
“Johnny…They want you bring the letter with you.”
John swallowed hard. “Okay,” he whispered. Roy felt terrible.
Johnny arrived fifteen minutes later. He looked resigned and sad but in control. Roy met him at the door. “They’re waiting partner.” John shot Roy a glance at the title. The look said ‘not for long.’ He saw the others waiting at the door.
“What’re they doing here?”
“They came with me to talk to the chief about you.”
He nodded as he approached his friends. “Thanks guys,” he said softly. He turned and greeted Kel, Dixie and Martha. “Thanks for trying,” he said quietly. “Let’s get this done then,” he sighed. Roy knocked on the door and the group went inside. They all found a seat at the large conference table leaving the spot next to Sorenson empty for John. Roy sat next to his partner…Their folded hands mere inches apart.
Sorenson looked at the nervous young man next to him. “Gage…I must tell you that you have a lot of very good, very determined friends.”
“Yes sir, I know that. They’re the best.”
“I’ll have you know they bent our ears for over an hour about you.” John blushed but said nothing as he continued. “About your career, your record and your performance…” John shot his friends a small grin of gratitude. “We listened carefully to what they had to say and I have to admit…I was impressed…Not only by your accomplishments but by their loyalty to you.” So was Johnny but he was speechless in surprise.
“The department has rules for a reason however,” The Chief continued and John’s face paled and his eyes closed briefly before reopening to stare at the table, he chewed his lower lip nervously…Waiting for the ax to fall. “Could I have the letter you gave to your Captain this morning?”
“Yes Sir,” he said quietly. He handed him the letter. His face was flushed with sorrow and he felt a little lightheaded now that it was really happening. His eyes were beginning to burn. “If that’s all,” he said as he stood up, desperately wanting to get out of there before he disgraced himself completely.
“Sit,” Sorenson ordered.
“Yes sir,” John sat back down waiting for the dressing down for the problem he’d kept hidden for so long and determined not to let his friends take the fall for it if it came to that.
“Those rules are in place not only to protect you but also to protect the public.”
Johnny nodded. “I know that.”
“Good…Than you’ll understand that because of that determination to protect the public to the best of our ability …One of those rules is not to let good personnel with excellent records resign without trying to talk them out of it.”
Everyone’s head snapped up as surreptitious glances began to exchange around the room. John’s eyes rose to Sorenson’s. He saw the flicker of hope behind the tell tale glisten of tears. “Sir…?” He croaked.
Sorenson scanned the letter. “While we appreciate your concern for the department and the potential legal ramifications of your condition…Every rescue was well documented both by our own department as well as the hospital. Your record both as a team with DeSoto as well as individually is impeccable John…Your spotless record as well as your friend’s loyalty to you speaks volumes. We’d like you to know that you’ll have this department’s full support.”
Smiles and sighs of relief broke out all around the room as a look of shocked disbelief crossed Johnny’s features. Sorenson smiled and tore the letter in half and then in half again before laying it on the table.
“We’ll stand behind that record if there are any repercussions. This can only serve to prove that people with your condition may have an occasional special need but that you can lead a normal, healthy, professional life and we do not plan on losing one of our better paramedics.”
John looked almost ill as the others watched him with grins. “Thank you,” he finally whispered as his eyes closed in relief. Roy, Kel and Martha were watching him closely with a slightly worried expression until John’s eyes suddenly flew open as reality set in. A broad crooked grin spread across his features. “Thank you Sir,” he said more authoritatively. Sorenson shook his hand as the rest of the group broke into applause and they stood to gather around their young friend. They clapped him on the back or shook his trembling hand while those close enough to get away with it hugged him.
Sorenson's eyes raked over the young fire fighter...He'd been hearing about John from Chief Hayes since the boy had started with the department when he was just eighteen and Hayes had been right. These people had put themselves on the line for John Gage because he'd earned their loyalty and respect, and Sorenson knew that this young man would one day be a great Captain that men would easily follow. He watched the two young paramedics as they came together after the others were done.
John and Roy shared a moment of eye contact. It was fleeting and Johnny gave his friend the barest nod before someone pulled his attention away once more.
“That’s what makes them a good team,” Hank said at Sorenson’s look of amazement. “You just witnessed an entire conversation in that glance.”
Sorenson nodded. “That’s incredible.”
“Trust me Chief…You get used to it.”
“Roy? Why didn’t you tell me on the phone instead of putting me through that?” Johnny complained softly. “Man you scared ten years off me.”
“Now you know how I feel every time you get hurt,” the older man teased back.
“Seriously Johnny…I didn’t know myself which way he was goin either. He just told me to call you and said he had a couple of calls to make himself before he reached a decision…I guess they came back with good news.”
“Oh… Roy?” Johnny said softly as his eyes locked with his partners. “Thanks…Thanks for everything.”
Roy patted John’s cheek gently. “You’re welcome Junior.”The others smiled at the quiet moment.
John turned to his friends. “Thank you…All of you. You mean…Uh…It means a lot to me.” He may have changed the words but they all had understood. “I don’t know where I’d be without you guys,” he said seriously.
“Unemployed,” Chet said, breaking the serious mood. They all laughed.
Dr. Hightower made her way to Roy’s side. “They subpoenaed my records,” she stated.
“I know…It’s okay.”
“They asked me to testify at this woman’s trial. They want me to tell them about what Aspergers is as well as trauma touch therapy and your partner’s specific condition.”
“You don’t mind do you?” Roy asked. “It would keep Johnny from having to explain it.”
"No I don’t mind Roy but I only saw John once and all I have are the reports that you’ve given to Kel and the one time he observed and what you told me about him on the phone.” Roy nodded. “You’ve been keeping up the therapy?”
“Is he still resisting?”
“No…He’s come a long way.”
“That’s wonderful. It would help a lot if I could sit in on one of your sessions before I testify. I’d like a reference point to testify to what it’s done for John.”
“I’ll ask him.”
The others were getting ready to leave as Roy joined them. “Thanks again guys,” John called as they all filed out, shaking his hand a final time as they left.
“Um Johnny?” Roy called getting his attention. “Dr. Brackett and Dr. Hightower are coming back to my house with us. Jo’s gonna make coffee and they’d like to sit in on a therapy session.” John’s dark eyes swiveled toward the Doctors and Dixie. He was uncomfortable with having an audience but these people had all put themselves out for him and were prepared to do it again at the trial. “She wants to be able to testify accurately about your therapy program at the trial.”
“At your house…I don’t have to go back to that clinic.”
“Right on the deck as usual…,” Roy answered, noting the tiredness and the tension in John’s face. “And then you can get some much needed sleep while you’re nice and relaxed…Besides I really have some things I’d like to talk about.”
John looked at him uncertainly but Roy smiled reassuringly. “Okay Roy.”
Roy headed back to the Doctors. “Johnny said okay Martha.”
“Let’s do it then.” They all followed Roy back to his house.
Joanne heard the cars pull in. She was out the door and waiting anxiously as they pulled up in front… breathing a sigh of relief that one of them was Johnny’s rover. Roy had told her the night before what he was planning and she’d been a nervous wreck all night.
She watched the dark haired man climb from the cab. He looked exhausted. She headed down the stairs to meet Roy. “Well?” She asked apprehensively.
Roy grinned. “He’s still a paramedic and he’s still employed.”
Jo threw her arms around Roy’s neck and kissed him joyfully. “He looks so tired,” she said in concern as she watched him slip his arm around Dixie’s shoulders as they came up the walk.
“He hasn’t slept for two days,” Roy pointed out. “He’s pretty tense.”
“What are they here for?” She asked nodding at the doctors and Dixie.
“Besides coffee…? They’re here to watch a therapy session before they have to testify.”
“Is Johnny alright with that?”
“He agreed to it.”
“That’s not the same thing,” she muttered as John drew close. “Kel, Dixie…Martha, How are you?” She asked but her eyes were on Johnny. They nodded a return greeting but they all recognized that her attention was on the young paramedic. She moved to look up into his face. “Johnny?” She said softly as she reached up to brush the sable hair from his face.
He smiled back at her. “Morning Jo…”
“Good morning sweetheart,” she replied as she pulled the younger man into her embrace. “Don’t you do that to me again,” she whispered in his ear. She pulled back and took his face between her hands. “You gave me one hell of a scare John Roderick Gage.”
“I’m sorry,” he replied softly as he gazed back… “Kinda scared myself too…”
She kissed his cheek…“Let’s go inside. I’ll make some coffee and we can get this started so you can get some sleep.”
Jo made coffee while Roy set up the lounge on the deck. John watched it all nervously. Joanne stepped outside and the others followed her carrying their cups. They sat in a casual group, trying to keep Johnny at ease with the whole procedure. Roy leaned toward Jo. “Honey…Would you mind if I handled this alone today?” She looked at him curiously. “I have some damage control to do,” he said quietly. "And if they really want to see if this therapy is working then they need to see it goes both ways.” She grinned softly at him and nodded.
Roy looked over at Johnny. “C’mon Junior,” he said patting the chair.
John took a deep breath and cast a final nervous glance at the group watching them, wondering why Joanne had joined them instead of being here. “I’m gonna sit this one out sweetheart,” she said with a smile.
He looked at Roy in confusion but lay down on the lounge without question. “Ready?” Roy asked.
“Yeah,” he replied closing his eyes. Roy’s fingers started at his forehead sweeping the dark hair back before moving down his face to his throat and then to his shoulders. The older man could see the tension begin to fade from his friends face.
Roy leaned close to John’s ear. Doctor Hightower leaned forward interestedly, wondering what Roy was doing. This wasn't normal procedure. “Johnny…I don’t wanna talk about your past today or the hurt they put you through when you were a kid okay?”
“Okay…So what do you wanna talk about?”
“The fresh ones…The ones I put you through. I need to apologize.”
“Shhh,” Roy whispered. “Just listen. I hurt you so badly several times now…The last one just the other day and I’m so very sorry.” The others strained to hear the softly worded exchange.
“It’s okay Roy, I…”
“Just let me finish okay?” John nodded. “You’ve become such a huge part of my life John and I love you more than even you and I understand sometimes. You’re as much a part of my family as if you were born to it but Johnny…You scare the hell outta me.”
“Why?” The younger man asked frowning.
“I’m so afraid all the time that I’m gonna say or do something that’s gonna…Destroy you and I don’t wanna do that.”
John tensed. “Are you saying you don’t wanna be friends anymore?”
“No…God no Johnny it's just that I'm afraid I’ll hurt you one day beyond what I can repair. I mean like the other day when I said something so stupid…That you owed us.”
“I do…,” he began.”
Roy’s fingers came up to sweep the shaggy hair from John’s face. “No…no but that’s exactly what I mean. My feelings for you are and should be unconditional. I don’t want you to think of me the way you do your Aunt. There are no strings…No obligations for what you are to this family. To me…To Jo…the kids, do you understand?”
“Everybody expects something?” Johnny said forlornly.
“I’ll take your friendship…Your love if it’s offered freely but I won’t demand it from you and I’ll love you regardless.”
“But you already have that,” Johnny replied.
Doctor Hightower’s eyes widened in delight… John was completely at ease with those words he’d barely understood such a short time ago much less spoken so freely.
“Johnny,” Roy said gently. “I don’t want you doing anything that makes you uncomfortable to please me, including therapy or testifying. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he answered after a long pause.
“Good…I love you my friend…No matter how stupid I get sometimes, don’t you ever doubt that okay?”
John smiled sleepily. “Love you too Roy.”
Roy grinned. “Johnny…about testifying…?”
“I’m going to.”
“Are you sure partner? I know you’re afraid and you don’t have to do this.”
“I am but…I still have to do this.”
“For you…For Jo but for me too…For my own self esteem. I have to face her and what she did to me. To face this disorder and say it doesn’t matter. I’m still a good paramedic. I have a life and friends and family and to say I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“They’re gonna ask embarrassing questions about Aspergers and touch therapy…About you and Jo.”
“I know and I’m scared.”
“I know you are.”
“But you’ll be there right?”
“Right…Are you sure you can do this because you don’t have too.”
“I can do it. I have to Roy…For me.”
Roy smiled and lightly brushed John’s cheek. John smiled tiredly. “Can you tell me what frightens you about the trial?”
“That I’ll panic. That they’ll twist what I say and make it sound bad…Like I did something wrong,” he said as his breathing grew a bit heavier. “That they’ll make Jo look bad…They’ll say that she and I were…But we weren't so don’t be mad okay Roy?”
“I won’t be mad…I’m never mad at you Junior okay?”
“What if I screw up? Disappoint you? What if she gets off? She’d come after Jo.”
“You just give it your best and that’s all I’ll ever ask from you partner.” John nodded. “You get some rest okay?” there was a faint nod one more time before Johnny drifted off to sleep.
Joanne smiled at the others as the conversation wound down. She brushed the tears from her eyes and noticed they were wiping at their own.
Dixie glanced at Kel. “Pushover,” she whispered at the glisten the gruff doctor was unable to hide.
Roy eased himself to his feet, giving his partner one last sweep across his forehead before joining the others. He sat down heavily and let Jo knead the knots from his own shoulders. She leaned down close. “That was beautiful,” she said softly.
“I just hope he heard me,” Roy said.
“Heard you?” Martha said in surprise. “You two have done more in the last few weeks with this young man than some of my therapists manage in months. I may need to find a way to bring what you did into my therapy somehow. That was lovely.” She assured him.
“You look pretty tired Roy,” Kel told him.
“Sometimes that takes as much outta me as it does him. You know I was never good at expressing my feelings for anyone. Not even Jo sometimes and certainly never to another man. I never told my dad I loved him…Not once,” Roy said looking at them. “John’s taught me to say them and not just to him but to everyone who’s important to me. Johnny demands the words…he has to hear them. To understand what he should have had from his family. But it’s so much easier now to say them to my wife…My kids. Heck…I even shocked my mom.” He grinned.
“Roy…Is Johnny ready for this trial?” Martha asked him.
“Emotionally…? No he isn’t…but he’s determined to try.”
“I’m very concerned about this,” She said, worry written plainly on her face.
“Why?” Roy asked, getting nervous himself at her look.
“Because they’ll twist his words. Put him on the defensive, confuse him…Frighten him if they can. Make him feel as if he’s done something wrong…Something he should be ashamed of and that could cost you a lot of what you’ve accomplished here. Their calling doctor Henry Dupreé…He’s a specialist in Autism Spectrum Disorder but they’re going to try and lump them all together with Aspergers. They’re not the same and I’ll tell them so but Roy…This trial has become about John and not that woman. Her defense is his inability to control his emotions and himself…They’re going to do everything they can to try and humiliate him…Embarrass him to try and trip him up understand? I don’t know if he’s ready for that.”
John’s friends exchanged worried glances.
“Maybe I shouldn’t let him do this? Roy said.
“I’m going to see the Judge in pretrial…I think I’m going to suggest a few things…After all John’s still technically my patient and I’ll see if I can get a few precautions set in place. If they won’t go along with it then you’ll still have time to pull him as a witness and I’ll tell them so in no uncertain terms.
TO BE CONTINUED….Part 6 TRIAL
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