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"Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." C.S. Lewis
“Dr. Hightower…,” A woman’s voice answered.
“Dr. Hightower, this is Roy DeSoto.”
“Roy, how are you? How’s Johnny?"
"Uh...Johnny is the reason I'm calling."
“I assumed he was but is something seriously wrong or just advice?”
“Both. I uh screwed up again…”
“Oh Roy…What happened?”
Roy explained the situation. “He’s shut down Doc…He’s hurt and he won’t talk to me. He walked out of the hospital without being released.”
“Oh dear… Do you know where he is?”
“Yes. He’s at his Aunts in Santa Barbara. She’s mad at me too and she wouldn’t let him talk to me. I was hoping you could tell me what to do?”
Dr. Hightower sighed. “Obviously a sincere apology is the first order of business. Telling him how much he means to you is right behind that. Have you mastered that L word Roy?” She teased.
“Uh…kinda…I’ve told him I uh…love him and he’s like a brother to me but right now he’s not buyin it.”
“Do you blame him?”
“No…But I still don’t know how to get through.”
“Groveling is always an option,” she joked.
“I may have too,” he said softly.
“Telling him how you feel is imperative.”
“Roy…He may not be ready for this yet but I think you are. I think it’s time for you to learn my therapy techniques.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t normally use this on adults and it’s usually a trained therapist who’d work with him but I’m going to make an exception for Johnny.”
“If you can get him to forgive you and you can start to rebuild that trust, I’d like you to come to my clinic. I’m going to teach you touch therapy.”
Roy swallowed hard. “Uh…touch therapy?”
“Yes touch…it’s not a dirty word either Roy,” she said sincerely. “Touch is the single most important sense that we have. Through touch we communicate every emotion. Love, anger, sympathy, hate, joy, pain…It’s all expressed through the way we touch others.”
“Well yeah but…”
“No buts…Think about this…If you couldn’t hear or see would you still know that your wife loved you by her touch or if she was annoyed or angry…?” She let the question hang.
Roy thought about the slaps to his arm when Jo was miffed at him, the stroke of her fingers on his chin when she kissed him. His face colored as he thought about some of the other ways she touched him. “Okay, I think I understand but what’s that got to do with John?”
“It’s not just your wife. It’s the same with anyone. A punch to a friends’ arm when you’re kidding around or a jaw when you’re angry… A slap on the back in greeting…A hug for your children, the stroke of your hand on a sick child’s forehead…”
Roy got the picture. “Okay…I mean I already do that for John sometimes,” he admitted sheepishly.
“Good…I’m getting some really good results with this therapy and once I teach you how we’ll see if we can get John to try it.”
“I don’t know Doc…I mean what does it do for Johnny?
“It’ll help him deal the traumas he’s experienced. It helps him get more in touch with his own feelings, his fear and pain and his senses. It helps you both to have a stronger, more open relationship and the ability to communicate it…To trust you completely.”
“I don’t think Johnny’d go for that.”
“Maybe not at first but that’s why I want to teach you. He’s far more apt to allow you to touch him, since you already do and he will control the sessions at least after we convince him that it works. Come on Roy…What will it hurt to try it?”
Roy wasn’t sure. He heaved a sigh knowing this might well be more difficult for him than it was for his friend. “Alright…I’d do anything for Johnny. I want my brother back.”
“Good…Bring Joanne. You can practice on her,” she teased.
“I will but what about my problem with Johnny now?”
“Sit him down…or on him if you have to and lay it on the line. I have complete faith in you Roy. I know how much he means to you and so does he. Remind him…Use that L word,” she whispered conspiratorially.
Roy hung up and ran his hands through his hair. He hoped Johnny would come home tomorrow. He had to be released by Brackett to return to work so either way Roy would get a chance to sit him down and talk to him, even if he had to sit on him. He desperately wanted to put his family back together.
When Johnny woke later, the room was dark so he knew he’d been asleep for a long time. He felt a bit better. His head wasn’t pounding as badly and his lungs felt a little less congested. He lay there in the darkness and turned his thoughts toward Roy.
What was he gonna do? How could he work with this man who’d been so close to him and keep him at arm’s length? He’d lived most of his life without feeling much of anything but it was different now. How did you turn off these damn feelings once you turned them on?
He’d worked side by side with people that he walked away from without a backward glance for years but Roy and even the guys at the station were different and he didn’t know how to let them go now. They mattered to him…a lot and Roy…? God, he loved the guy like a big brother…even looked up to him like a father figure sometimes. His face flushed at the thought. How do you turn that off? He didn’t know for sure…all these feelings and emotions were still so new to him, including hurt.
He finally threw back the covers and sat up, flicking on the lights. 10:18 PM the clock read…There was a light tap on the door. It opened and Rosemary peeked inside. “Are you okay sweetie?”
He nodded. “I’m fine. I just…I just thought I’d take a walk.”
“It’s late,” she pointed out, coming to sit next to him. He shrugged. She reached over and took his hand. He tensed but he didn’t pull away. He glanced over at her with a small, sad smile. “Roy called,” she said softly.
Johnny’s head snapped up. “What did he want?”
“He was looking for you. He said the Doctor wants you back at the hospital.”
He nodded. “I knew that would happen if they figured out where I was. I just wasn’t ready to talk to Roy. Did he tell you what happened?”
“Yes...He also said that he knew he was wrong and he was very sorry.”
“He said Chris and his friends tricked you into letting them on that ride and they’d all been taunted into it by some nasty new friend of Chris’.”
“Dalton,” Johnny supplied the name.
“Yes, that’s what he said. He also said the doctor was concerned about your lungs and that’s why they wanted you back there.”
“I’m okay. It’ll pass. It always does.”
“You’re not okay Na Háahketa. You’re wheezing with every breath,” she said as she reached to brush the sable hair away from his forehead. He pulled back but her pointed frown stopped him. She laid her hand on his brow. “You’re warm as well.”
He shrugged. “I’ll be fine. I just need to rest.”
“You need to go to a hospital. I can take you to Santa Barbara General. It’s close by."
Johnny shook his head. “I’ll go home tomorrow morning. I promise I’ll stop by the hospital and face the music…and the doctors,” he said softly.
“What about Roy sweetie? Are you ready to face Roy?”
He shook his head. “No,” he whispered forlornly. “But I can’t hide forever and I guess we have to talk about this if we’re gonna stay partners. I just don’t know how to keep him from hurting me again.” He said softly.
“Oh Na Háahketa, that comes with the territory?”
He looked at her in confusion. She touched his chest over his heart with one hand…“You can only be hurt here by those you love and those who love you,” she explained quietly as she brushed his cheek with her fingers.
John bit his lip, tugging at it thoughtfully. “By those you love and those who love you…,” he mumbled softly to himself. His dark eyes rose to meet her green. “I love you Aunt Rosemary,” he murmured.
She threw her arms around him, holding him tightly to her. “I love you too my little one.”
He blushed at the endearment that she usually only used in Indian, but he smiled anyway. “Aunt Rose…?” He questioned pulling back a bit.
She laughed. “Let’s go raid the refrigerator.” She said standing up and pulling him to his feet. Johnny followed her out.
Johnny was up early the next morning. His breathing was better but a raspy cough still seemed to be hanging on. The headache was almost gone and he was hoping Brackett wouldn’t find anything to keep him for once he returned home. He really just wanted to get back to work.
Rosemary was already up and waiting for him when he came downstairs. “How are you feeling this morning sweetie?” She asked.
“Not really…I think I’ll just head for home. I can stop for something on the way.”
“Okay…Oh sweetheart I’m so glad you came. I just wish it wasn’t under these circumstances.”
Johnny smiled at her. “I’m glad I came too. You made me see things a little clearer.”
“I did? That’s good I hope?”
Johnny nodded. “I’m still a little confused about how I feel and I’m not sure if I can fix it but…,” he shrugged.
“Call me when you get home and let me know what the doctor said.” He nodded.
She walked him outside hugging him to her one last time before he mounted his motorcycle. “I wish you’d get rid of this thing, you know I hate it,” she said nervously as he set his helmet in place.
Johnny threw her a wink and a laugh. “It’s perfectly safe Aunt Rose. I’m careful.” She shook her head as Johnny kick started his bike. He threw her one last smile and drove away.
John stopped as he reached a fork in the road. One way would lead to the Pacific Coast Highway and the other a quiet, less frequently traveled back road. The highway was faster and a beautiful route along the beaches. The other more mountainous and a bit more tricky to navigate the sharp curves. He was feeling a little reckless and opted for the back road. He turned to the left and accelerated away.
Half an hour later he spotted a small roadside café and decided to stop for a cup of coffee. He pulled in and slowed to a stop next to a beat up white pickup truck. John set his helmet down and went inside. A pretty dark haired girl was wiping down the counters while three rowdy young men sat in a booth…Older teenagers by the look of them.
John cast them a glance as he walked toward the counter. One of the boys saw him and slapped the other’s arm. “Hey Billy, would you look at that…?”
The one called Billy looked around but all he could see was John’s back. “What about him?” He asked, unhappy at the way the girl behind the counter was eyeing the man. Billy liked to tell everyone that she was his girl but Mary had other plans.
“Looks like we got us a real live Indian…” Billy perked up with a grin.
John smiled at the girl, oblivious of the boys behind him. She grinned back coyly. “Hi I’m Mary, what can I get for you?” She asked the handsome dark haired man in front of her.
“That it…?” She hinted.
John threw her a crooked grin. “For now at least,” he teased the girl.
She grinned and went to pour the coffee. She’d seen the obvious flare of interest in his beautiful dark eyes and he was a far cry above Billy Taylor… that was for sure. She returned a moment later and set the coffee in front of him. She leaned on the counter, her bodice dropping tantalizingly low as she smiled prettily. “So what’s your name?” She asked.
“John…John Gage. I’m a…”
“Geronimo…That’s his name ain’t it Indian…?” A voice interrupted from behind him.
John glanced over his shoulder. The three boys he’d seen earlier were standing there…Tall, burly and obviously bullies looking for trouble. Johnny was still not feeling well and the last thing he needed was a fight. He glanced back at the girl who was scowling angrily at the three men. “Billy, Sid…Ray. You go sit down and leave him be,” she snapped angrily.
They ignored her as Johnny picked up his coffee. “I guess I should go…thanks,” He said lifting the cup toward her in a goodbye gesture. He turned to leave.
One of the men stepped in front of him. “No one told ya you could go Geronimo. We’re just getting started.”
John heaved a sigh, stifling a cough as he did so. “Hey…I’m not lookin for trouble” he said quietly.
“You already found it Indian…”
“What’s your problem man…?” John asked in exasperation.
“You are Geronimo…Ya shouldn’t of come in here and hit on my girl.”
“I’m not your girl Billy,” Mary said angrily.
“Is it the girl or the fact that I’m an Indian that bothers you?” John challenged.
One of the boys pushed him angrily. “You are…Where’re your feathers Geronimo?”
John shook his head and tried to move around him. “Fine then, get outta my way and I’ll leave.”
Billy stepped in front of him again and John’s mouth tightened in annoyance. His eyes looked between the three men.
“Billy Taylor, you let him be…,” Mary yelled, frightened now that Johnny was gonna be hurt.
Johnny met the younger man’s gaze unflinchingly. “We don’t need to do this man…,” he said softly, trying to maintain control of the situation by staying calm. He knew he was trying to provoke him into a fight. “All I want to do is leave…end of problem.”
“You’ll leave when I tell ya you can,” he said shoving John backwards.
The dark haired paramedic stumbled a bit before catching his balance. Johnny knew there would be no other way out but to fight as they began to circle him. One of them put his hand to his mouth and began to pat it gently along with a “woo woo wooing,” sound in a poor imitation of an Indian war cry.
John made one last attempt at getting around them but the one called Sid grabbed his arm hauling the slighter man backwards as they moved in. John’s fist flashed, catching Ray square in the face and knocking him to the floor momentarily. His elbow caught Sid in the solar plexus causing the air to escape with a whoof before Billy’s fist caught him in the stomach.
Johnny doubled over and found his arms grabbed by Ray who had regained his feet. Billy followed that by driving his fist into John’s cheek, snapping his head around before returning to drive another devastating blow to Johnny’s midsection as Sid stepped up to help. Mary stood frozen in horror at the scene taking place before her.
John’s breathing had already been strained and the punches finished driving what little air he had left from his lungs. Another slam to his face split his lip. By the sixth blow, the young paramedic hung limp and bleeding between Ray and Sid as he gasped desperately to pull air into his lungs.
Mary fled for the kitchen to find the owner of the restaurant.
The three were laughing uproariously now as if they were watching a comedy act. “C’mon Billy, give him another one,” Ray urged.
“You know what the Indian’s missing…? War Paint…,” Sid taunted.
Billy laughed as he grabbed the ketchup bottle. “I can fix that for you Geronimo. Hold him…,” he said squeezing it onto his fingers. Sid grabbed a handful of shaggy sable hair, snapping his head back as Billy reached out drawing a thick streak of it across both sides of John’s face.
John was still struggling in their grasp, trying desperately to breathe. He managed to defiantly twist his face away. They laughed loudly. “Spunky ain’t he?” Sid taunted as Billy reached for the mustard, adding a streak of yellow to each cheek.
“There ya go Geronimo…Now ya can go back to your reservation,” Billy taunted as the other two shoved him to the floor.
A loud thump startled the three young bullies and they wheeled around to see the café’s owner standing there. The thump had been caused by the heavy Louisville Slugger that he held menacingly in his hands.
“You damn kids come in here and attack my customers, harass my help. Back away from him…NOW,” he warned angrily.
The boys moved hastily away from Johnny as the big man moved toward them. Johnny was struggling to breathe but he finally managed to make it to his knees. He wiped at the mess on his face in embarrassment… unable to tell where the ketchup ended and the blood started.
The young waitress knelt beside him with a wet towel. “I’m so sorry…,” she whispered as she tried to clean him up.
John’s face flamed in humiliation as he turned away, unable to meet the girl’s sympathetic eyes. He took the cloth from her and began to wipe the worst of the mess from his face, wincing as the ketchup burned the open wounds.
“You alright…?” The owner asked.
“Yeah…,” Johnny gasped, though clearly he wasn’t.
“You want me to call the sheriff?”
That was the last thing Johnny wanted, knowing they’d call Cap and that Cap would in turn call Roy. He didn’t want to face anyone in this condition, not to mention the trouble he was probably already in for leaving the hospital without permission.
He shook his head. “No man…I’ll be alright,” he gasped as he struggled to feet. His arm held protectively across his damaged mid section. Mary took his arm trying to help him but he shook her off. “I’m fine,” he said again, still not meeting the girl’s troubled gray eyes. John glanced at the owner. “Thanks for your help,” he said softly as he turned and headed for the door without a second look at the gloating smirks of the three younger men. He half staggered out the door and climbed on his bike. His muscles screamed in protest. He set his helmet in place and drove off.
The owner of the café looked at the three boys angrily. “Get outta my restaurant,” he snarled. “I don’t want you hanging around here anymore either.”
“But Joe,” Billy protested. “It’s the only place I get to see Mary besides… it was only some damn Indian anyway.”
Mary bristled. “I’d take that ‘Indian’ over you any day Billy Taylor,” she said angrily. “I don’t ever wanna see you again,” she yelled as she turned and fled back behind the counter unaware of what she’d just set into motion.
Joe grinned smugly. “Well I guess she made her choice so out…NOW,” he said as he shoved the three boys out the door.
Billy looked at his two friends as they laughed at the girl’s pronouncement. “She really told you huh Billy?” Sid taunted. “Rather have some Indian she don’t even know over you…” Billy’s face flushed in embarrassment.
“C’mon…,” he snarled as he headed for his pickup.
“Where we goin…?” Ray asked.
“After him… She won’t want him so much when I’m done with him.”
Johnny drove along the quiet back road, wishing now that he’d taken the highway instead. He coughed harshly still trying to draw a deep breath. Damn it, he was tired of being treated like this. He could still feel the burn of humiliation on his face along with the remains of his ‘war paint.’ When would people like these morons cease to exist and just accept other people as they were? Man, he wasn’t looking forward to the hour long drive he still had to go through to get home.
He felt terrible, his muscles burned from the beating he’d taken and he knew Brackett would flip when he saw him. It was a sure bet he wouldn’t release him for duty now. He reached up under the face plate of his helmet to touch his lip…at least that had stopped bleeding but his stomach was still cramped and his chest was tight.
He glanced in his rearview and saw a vehicle rounding the bend behind him. It was still a good distance away and he wasn’t concerned. He drove on…his thoughts turned to Roy. Man he wished he could drive over there but he was no longer sure of where he stood with him and he didn’t want to be a burden or cause any more problems for the DeSoto family…besides, how could he face them in this condition.
His face flushed again as he imagined the fuss Joanne would make if she saw him like this not to mention having to explain the whole humiliating story to them. He’d have to go home and shower, maybe lay down for a few minutes before he headed to Rampart to face the music. Maybe he’d be lucky and it would be Joe Early and not Brackett who’d check him out.
John coughed again, his stomach tightening painfully as he gasped in air. He glanced in the rearview and noticed that the vehicle behind him had gained on him. He could now tell that it was a battered white pickup truck and it was moving fast.
The vehicle seemed familiar and it suddenly dawned on him where he’d seen it before…parked in front of the café. His heart thudded a little faster and John picked up speed. A glance in his rearview told him the truck was accelerating as well.
“Oh man…,” John whispered to himself. The motorcycle afforded him no protection at all and there was nothing along this stretch of highway but high cliffs and steep drop-offs, nowhere to hide. He knew the road turned into a series of sharp S curves further along…If he could outrun them and make it there they’d have to slow down. The larger vehicle would be unable to safely maintain the high speed. It would give him a chance to put some distance between them and possibly make it to safety. John hit the throttle and kicked up the speed again but the truck continued to gain.
Ray began to laugh as they saw the motorcycle accelerate. “I think he’s seen ya…,” he said gleefully.
“He’s runnin from ya Billy,” Sid said. “Hit the gas.”
The truck picked up speed once more. Billy was furious…Mary had told him she preferred some crummy Indian drifter over him and humiliated him in front of his friends. Well if he ever came through this way again he’d think twice before stopping there and if he did have the guts to…well she wouldn’t think he was so hot when he was done with him...If he survived that is.
He couldn’t believe the girl had taken his side…what was wrong with the girl, picking that scrawny little runt over him anyway?
He watched the man in front of him practically lay the bike down as he accelerated around a curve up ahead. “Damn it…,” Billy muttered. This guy was good on that bike and he knew what he was doing.
“What is it?” Ray asked him, hearing the muttered curse.
“I know what he’s doin.”
“What’s that?” Sid asked curiously.
“He knows if he makes it to the pass up ahead, I’ll have to slow down while he can make those curves at high speed,” he said nodding at the bike as it’s rider leaned it into yet another tight curve before once again hitting the straight away. Billy slowed to negotiate the first curve and John gained some distance.
He rounded the next one and hit the straight road. He only had three miles to go. If he didn’t catch him by then he’d have to give it up and let him go. His truck wouldn’t make those S turns at these speeds and the Indian knew it.
“Better pick it up man…,” Ray urged, pounding the dashboard in excitement.
“C’mon man…,” Sid agreed.
He hit the gas…pushing the powerful truck engine as fast as he could go and grinned…They were once again gaining. He was now less than a mile behind the Indian. He’d make him pay for losin Mary.
Roy woke to a ringing telephone. He fumbled for the receiver. “Hello…,” he mumbled blearily.
“Roy? It’s Dr. Brackett.”
“I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
“It’s alright…is Johnny there? Is that why you’re calling?” He asked hopefully.
“No uh…actually that’s why I was calling you. I was hoping you’d heard from him or found him…”
“I did find him. He’s at his Aunts in Santa Barbara. She said he wasn’t feeling well and that he was asleep and if he was sick when he woke up she’d take him to Santa Barbara General but she was pretty mad at me and she wouldn’t let me talk to him.”
“I see…He does know he can’t return to work unless I clear him for duty?”
“I’m sure he does Doc.”
“Does he know he’s in a lot of trouble for sneaking off like that?”
“Yeah…he knows that too but look Doc, that was my fault. I mean…I’d told him was coming back yesterday and we were gonna have this out. That was before I found out what really happened and that Johnny didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Exactly… I blamed him for something he didn’t do…again. Anyway, he just wasn’t prepared to face me with me hurling all those accusations and magnanimously telling him I’d forgiven him…”
“Yeah,” Roy muttered drily.
“It doesn’t change the fact that he walked out of hospital without permission though and put himself in jeopardy again.”
“I intend to correct that behavior when he gets back. Can you call his Aunt and find out if he’s been hospitalized there, if so I want to find out about transferring him back to Rampart.”
“I’ll call her Doc and let ya know.”
Rosemary took the phone from her housekeeper… “Hello Roy,” she said coolly.
“Hi Rosemary…Look is Johnny still there?”
“Why…so you can upset him some more?”
Roy sighed. “Rose, you know I love John. I never meant to hurt him and I’ll do everything I can to get our relationship back on track. I won’t lose him, he means too much to me.”
She relented slightly with those words. “Okay Roy…but please, don’t do this to him again. It’s all still too new to him and he can’t take it.”
“I’ll do my best to make it up to him Rose, I promise…now is he still there? Dr. Brackett really wants him back at the hospital.”
“He’s not here. He’s on his way home. He left about an hour ago so he should be there in another hour.”
“Do you know if he’s going straight to the hospital or was he going home?”
“He said he was going to Rampart to face the music…”
Roy chuckled. “Okay, I’ll let Brackett know to expect him. Maybe I’ll go down there to protect him from the worst of it whether he likes it or not. I have a lot of apologizing to do anyway.”
“Take care of him Roy…He needs you.”
“I need him too Rose.” Roy hung up and called Brackett back. “Hey Doc…?”
“Rosemary said he’s on his way home and he told her he was heading for Rampart to uh…face the music so he should be there in about an hour.”
“Great…Are you coming down here?” Brackett asked already knowing the answer and praying his two favorite paramedics could work this out. He was fond of both young men but Johnny was special to all of them. He worked so hard and come so far, impressing all of them with his ability to overcome everything life threw at him…They didn’t want to lose him, especially over a stupid misunderstanding.
Johnny watched the truck in his rearview as it gained on him once again. A glance ahead told him he only had a mile to go before they hit that pass. If he could just stay ahead of him for a little longer…The trucks powerful engine roared behind him and John knew he’d run out of time. The bumper was only a few feet from his rear fender. Johnny could see the laughing faces of the three men as they came closer.
The truck accelerated and Johnny swerved sharply to avoid the impact. The truck coming along side and veering over to hit the bike… Johnny hit the gas accelerating past them once again. The truck moved closer. Only a few more yards and they’d hit those curves. He almost made it.
Billy hit the gas swerving into the oncoming lane and giving the motorcycle nowhere to go as he came up beside it. He cut the truck over just as John hit the brakes… smoke billowed from the locked tires. The Truck almost shot past him but the fender clipped the bikes front tire sending it sideways and tearing the handle bars from his grip.
Johnny felt the motorcycle veer out of control and knew it was going into the ravine. He laid the bike down in an effort to stop the slide but he was moving to fast. The bike slid away from him, tearing up asphalt and sending clouds of dirt and dust into the air as it sailed out over the side of an embankment and tumbled away.
Johnny hit the pavement and the air was driven from his lungs. He felt searing pain as the hard surface tore at his clothing, shredding the heavy denim of his pants as well as the heavy cotton sweatshirt. His skin soon followed.
Johnny tumbled to a halt in the street. He was gasping for air and agony ripped through his side. His ankle had been pinned beneath the bike as it slid across the ground and despite the heavy boot, Johnny could feel the pain shooting up his leg. The miserable burn of road rash was everywhere making him wonder if he was on fire and he began to shake as shock quickly set in.
A pair of boot covered feet appeared before his face, they were quickly followed by two more sets. Johnny could barely open his eyes and breathing was agonizing. He felt hands grip him hauling him to a sitting position. He could only hope he didn’t have a broken back or neck, he’d be dead in no time with this rough handling. He could be dead anyway if that’s what they had in mind…He was completely helpless.
Hands jerked the helmet from his head, casting it to the side of the road and then he felt his head yanked backward. “Mary ain’t gonna think you’re so pretty when I’m done with ya Indian,” a voice growled close to his face. Johnny hung limp and unresisting as Billy hit him in the face over and over...his head held by one of his friends as they laughingly urged him on.
He could taste blood as it trickled down the back of his throat. A low whimper escaped his lips… “You gonna kill him Billy? Ray asked worriedly.
“Nah…This is bad enough. He gets to live with it and remember it.”
“What if he tells someone?”
He pulled John’s head up and looked into the barely conscious dark eyes of the man they held between them. “You ain’t gonna tell anyone are ya?” John could hardly understand what was being said. Billy drove a fist into his midsection. “Are ya?” He repeated. “Cause if you do…I’ll come back and finish it.” The voice was beginning to fade into the background but he heard the words. He’d heard them before…from his Uncle.
“No…,” he whispered as he mercifully blacked out.
“He’s out man…,” Sid laughed as they dropped him on the ground.
He never felt the booted feet that kicked at his stomach and ribs and he never felt the pain as they dragged him to the edge of the drop off and shoved him over to tumble down the hill, coming to rest within feet of his mangled bike.
Roy was standing at the base station an hour later waiting for his wayward friend to make an appearance. He knew Dixie was still upset with him by the coolness of her face as she listened to his explanation of exactly what had happened.
“So you accused him of something he didn’t do again…?” She said in frosty tones.
“Yeah Dix and I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not me you need to convince.”
“I know that and I will convince him just as soon as he gets here.”
Brackett joined them a few minutes later, glancing at his watch. “He should be here any time…,” Kel predicted with a tight set to his mouth.
“Uh Doc…What are you gonna do?”
“A little lesson in what will happen if he ever pulls this again…”
“Um…exactly what…?” He asked hesitantly.
Kel smiled a smile that made Roy’s skin crawl. “You’ll both find out together.” Kel said secretively, knowing Roy would protest even the threat if he knew what Brackett planned. “Dix…let me know when my escapee gets here…,” he said as he headed into treatment room four behind an arriving gurney.
Roy looked at Dixie. “Wow…That uh…didn’t look good at all.”
Dixie frowned after Kel. “No it didn’t,” she said, sounding a little worried herself. She knew it wouldn’t be too bad, after all Kel would never hurt Johnny.
They waited anxiously but a half hour later, John still hadn’t arrived.
“Maybe he went home first…?” Roy suggested.
Dixie nodded her head toward the phone. “Give him a call and see.”
Roy dialed the number but no one picked up. He shook his head as he hung up the phone. “He’s not there.”
“Or he’s not answering,” she said drily.
“I’m gonna drive over and see if he’s there.”
Kel stepped out of the treatment room and came to join them. “Still no sign of him?”
“No Doc and I’m starting to worry. We called his apartment but he’s not answering there either. I’m gonna go over just to see if he’s home and just being stubborn or maybe he’s sick, ya know?”
“Yes I know. Dix why don’t you call the highway patrol and see of there have been any accidents reported.”
“Okay Kel,” she said as she turned the phone on the counter and began to call.
“I’ll be back Doc…,” Roy said as he turned and headed for the parking lot.
Searing, agonizing pain ripped through his awareness as Johnny’s eyes fluttered open…or least as much as he could open them. His face felt tight and he knew it was probably swollen and badly bruised, possibly even fractured.
He tried to move but cried out as every nerve ending came alive, sending waves of pain rolling through him. His ribs tightened as he tried to get his breathing under control and he knew they were most likely broken. His belly cramped and nausea threatened to erupt. Johnny struggled to keep his stomach in place, knowing he couldn’t even turn himself over in this condition. He panted desperately until it settled down once more. His left side felt as if it were on fire and he could feel the warmth of his own blood as it soaked into his shirt and blue jeans. His ankle throbbed relentlessly keeping time with the miserable pounding in his head.
He squinted up into the sun trying to get his confused brain to focus. He finally realized the sun was high overhead and knew it was midday. He guessed he’d been here for several hours and wondered if anyone would even find him out here or worse if they were even looking.
He tried to turn his head to get a better idea of where he was but quickly realized his mistake as his head spun dizzily, his stomach rolled and he began to heave. His gasping breaths alternated with retching and moans of pain as his body cramped and jerked miserably. Saliva blended with the remains of ketchup, mustard and blood that trailed across the young paramedic’s cheek. One small, faintly uttered word escaped his lips as darkness took him once more. “Roy…,” he whimpered softly
Roy worriedly paced in front if the base station. His anxious blue eyes locked with Dixie’s periodically alternating with looks at his watch. It had been over four hours and Johnny still wasn’t back. Dixie’s call to the Highway patrol had yielded no results.
Roy had gone to John’s apartment but he wasn’t there either. He had once again enlisted Laverne’s help and she had promised to call him if John returned. He’d called Cap and the guys. None of them had seen or heard from him. His final call had been to Rosemary to confirm that Johnny had indeed promised to come straight to the hospital. She was now worried as well.
Kel stepped out of a treatment room and saw the blonde paramedic lean on the counter. His head hung in discouragement. Kel went over and rested his hand on the younger mans back. “Maybe he stopped somewhere along the beach and he’s just lost track of the time. After all Roy he doesn’t know that we know what time he left.”
Roy shook his head…John was in trouble somewhere, he knew it in his soul. “He wouldn’t do that. He told his Aunt he was coming straight home. He knew she’d be waiting to hear from him.”
Kel nodded. He hadn’t really believed it either but he’d wanted to give the young man hope that John was alright somewhere.
“Damn it…,” Roy said slapping his hands on the counter…he could almost hear his partner calling for help. “I’m gonna go find him.”
Roy, that’s a lot of area to cover. You really think you’re gonna find him out there?” Kel asked.
“Not if I don’t try,” he said as he picked up the phone and called Rosemary. “Rose…this is Roy.”
“Have you found him?” She asked fearfully.
“No Rose we haven’t. I’m on my way there.”
“To see if I can find him along the way. Maybe he’s just broken down somewhere but if not then your house was where he was last seen. I’ll start from there and work my way back.”
“Alright… Please Roy…you’ve got to find him.”
“I will Rose…I’ll find him.”
“You’ve set yourself up with a tough task Roy,” Kel warned.
“He’s my brother…What would you do?”
Brackett nodded. “The same thing you are. Call us if you find anything.”
Roy drove home to tell Joanne where he was going. She looked up from her vacuuming as he came inside the house. She switched off the machine, looking anxious at the worried look on his face.
“What’s wrong Roy?” She asked. “Is Johnny okay? I mean he’s home right?”
Roy shook his head. “No Jo…He’s not home. He never showed up.”
“What? Well…maybe he just went straight home…Maybe…”
Roy shook his head, cutting her off. “We already checked that. No one’s seen him. There haven’t been any accidents involving motorcycles on the Coast Highway and Rosemary swears he meant to come straight to Rampart.”
“What are we gonna do?”
“I’m gonna go look for him. Maybe he’s just broken down somewhere.”
“I’m going with you.”
“What about the kids?”
“I’ll ask Debbie to watch them. She won’t mind, she likes Johnny.”
They set out a short time later after dropping the kids off with the next door neighbor. Chris’s frightened blue eyes met his fathers. “He just has to be okay Dad. I have to apologize…I need to tell him I love him so much,” he said tearfully.
“I know Chris…So do I.”
Roy and Joanne set out along the highway and if it hadn’t been for such a frightening reason as searching for a missing friend, they might even have enjoyed the view. But right now their eyes never left the roadside. “Look for anything that might show damage to the guard rails or churned up grass okay?” Roy told her. Jo nodded.
They drove for two and half hours, taking longer than necessary, having stopped several times to look at places that most likely had been the scene of an accident at some time, but not thankfully this time.
They arrived in Santa Barbara and pulled into Rosemary’s driveway. They stared in wonder at the beautiful home, finally glancing at each other in shock. They’d known Johnny’s father’s family had been well off even though they’d disowned their son for marrying a penniless Indian woman, but they hadn’t expected this. Johnny never mentioned that his father’s ancestral home was practically a mansion.
They started to get out but the door was flung open and Rosemary hurried down the stairs. They knew she’d been waiting for them. Her eyes searched theirs desperately, hoping to see relief in their faces or even better for Johnny to step out of the vehicle. They shook their heads. “No sign of him anywhere Rose.”
“Where could he be…?”
“God, I wish I knew.”Roy looked at his watch. It was getting late and it would be dark soon. If they were going to continue the search they had to leave right now. “We’re gonna get back on the road…we’ll call you if we find anything.”She nodded and they saw the tears of fear reflected in her green eyes. Roy moved to the older woman’s side. “John’s been missing before and I swear to you Rose…I’ve sometimes heard him calling me. He’s doin it again…I’ll find him.”
She looked up at him in wonder, knowing how strong a bond he and her nephew shared. “I know you will,” she whispered.
They set out once again. They reached a fork in the road and Roy hesitated. One would take them back to the highway the way they’d just come. It was possible that they’d just missed him but they’d been so careful. The other would also take them back to Los Angeles but via a curving series of mountainous roads that Roy was pretty unfamiliar with. It would be dangerous in the dark. Roy started to turn toward the highway but at the last minute changed his mind. He turned the other way.
“Where are we going honey?” Jo asked.
“Home...It’s just a different route.”
“Would Johnny go this way?”
“He might, if he wanted the solitude. I don’t know why…but something’s telling me to go this way.”
She nodded. “Let’s go then.” Joanne knew the bond they shared as well and she was willing to trust Roy’s instincts. They’d led him to Johnny on several occasions. She hoped they would do it again.
John woke as the sun was beginning to set. Every muscle in his body hurt and his breathing was becoming difficult. His body was shaking uncontrollably as his dark eyes watched the sun sinking over to the west and he was afraid he was gonna die here. Man he hurt so bad. Tears of pain trickled down his temples as he tried to roll onto his right side. Maybe if he could crawl up the embankment to the street he could find some help. He cried out at the first movement. His head swam dizzily and he gasped for air as his side hitched painfully. God, between the accident and his assailants he wondered idly if he had broken every bone in his body? His side burned mercilessly.
Their faces swam before him, hurting him…threatening to come back and finish the job if he told anyone. They weren’t gonna have to worry if he couldn’t get to help soon. Injury combined with shock and the elements were gonna finish it for them.
“Roy, help me…,” he whispered. He dug his right foot into the loose ground and pushed himself a few inches. He gasped as pain flared once more but he tried again. He pushed himself slowly, making it mere inches at a time but he continued on. John turned his face upward toward the road. He saw lights from a passing motorist. “Help me…,” he called weakly. But the car continued on.
John clenched his teeth and pushed again…his right arm pulling him upward. Tears of frustration began to flow as his strength ebbed and he collapsed onto his back. He once again saw lights above him and tried to push himself upright. “Help…,” he called out. “Please…Oh God,” he whispered as his body cramped in agony and he sank into darkness.
Roy and Joanne had been on the road about thirty minutes when they spotted a roadside café. Roy desperately needed a cup of coffee and a pit stop. “I’m gonna stop here for a minute for coffee honey.”
“Good idea,” she said softly. “I need the ladies room anyway.”
They pulled into the parking lot and went inside. A pretty dark haired girl was working behind the counter as they sat down. “Hi,” she said tiredly. “What can I get for you?”
“Two coffees to go please,” Roy replied as Jo signaled him that she was going to the rest room. He nodded. The girl set the coffee in front of him and turned to leave but Roy stopped her. “Excuse me Miss?”
She turned back. “Can I help you?”
“You wouldn’t possibly have seen a young, dark haired man on a motorcycle this morning would ya?”
She looked at him suspiciously. “Why…?”
“He’s a friend of mine…My partner. He was on his way home this morning but he never got there. I’m trying to find him,” he explained as Joanne rejoined him.
The girl closed her eyes for a minute in fear. She reopened them to find two sets of anxious blue eyes on her. “What’s his name?” She asked.
Roy reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He handed her a picture of him and John together in front of the squad. “John Gage…He’s a paramedic with Los Angeles County,” he said hopefully.
The girl looked at the photo. “Oh my God, he was a fireman.”
“WAS…,” Roy and Jo said together fearfully.
She looked at them sharply. “Is…,” she clarified. “I mean yes…he was here this morning. Joe…,” She called out to someone in the backroom.
A large man came out to the counter. “What’s the problem Mary?”
“These two people are looking for the young man that was here this morning. He didn’t make it home.”
“Oh good Lord…,” he muttered.
“Will you two please tell me what’s going on,” Roy snapped in frustration.
“Was he alright? I mean did you get him to a hospital?”
“No…he said he was okay, though honestly, he didn’t look it. He was pretty embarrassed after what they’d done. I offered to call the sheriff but he wouldn’t let me.”
“So he rode off on his own steam?”
“Yeah… Kinda worried me when those boys lit out in the same direction but they come back through a half hour or so later honking their horn and being obnoxious.”
Roy threw Jo a worried look. “Thanks for your help.” He said to the two as he turned to his wife. “Let’s go.” She nodded as they both ran to the car.
Mary looked at Joe. “You think they caught up with him?”
“God help that poor boy if they did.”
The sun dropped behind the horizon as John’s eyes fluttered open. His body trembled with both shock and chills as the temperature began to drop. John could feel the stickiness of dried blood pulling at his clothing as he tried to move. He moaned softly. He once again dug his heel into the ground and pushed himself upward but this time there was very little progress. He was simply too weak. A light coating of sweat beaded his face and stung the open cuts.
Lights once again passed by overhead but he didn’t have the strength to even cry out. He didn’t notice that these lights didn’t continue on as his eyes drifted closed tiredly.
Roy had been driving for about ten minutes when Jo suddenly pointed. “Roy, look…”
He saw a churned up spot in the asphalt, as if something heavy had been dragged across it. It disappeared over the embankment. Roy pulled the Porsche off the road and ran to the front to open his trunk. He pulled a flashlight out and shone it around the area. A moment later the beam hit a dark spot on the road. He and Jo moved toward it.
Jo tripped over something but quickly regained her balance as Roy cast her a glance to be certain she was okay. She leaned down and picked the large object up as he continued on. The light played over the pavement and Roy sucked in his breath. Blood and pieces of denim fabric created the shadowed spot in the road. Roy bit his lip in fear as Jo’s frightened voice called to him. “Roy…?”
He turned toward her as she approached and held out the object in her hand. A white motorcycle helmet…beat up and scratched. Roy took it from her, turning it over in his hands. The number 51 stared up at him in the light of his flashlight. “Oh my God…,” he whispered as he frantically played the light around the area. “JOHNNY…?” He yelled. He went back to the damaged area of road and followed the trail toward the cliffs edge, shining the light down the embankment. He saw the motorcycle and a moment later it fell on the prone body of his partner several feet away. “Oh God…JOHNNY…,” he called as he stumbled down the steep hill.
Joanne stood at the top, her hands pressed over her mouth in fear that their friend was dead. “Please be okay…please be okay…,” she whispered in anguish, her body shook with dread.
Roy fell to his knees next to his friend. “Johnny…?” He touched his neck and breathed a sigh of relief as he felt a pulse beating weakly beneath his fingers. “He’s alive…,” he yelled up to his wife.
Joanne almost wept with relief. “What do you need me to do?”
“Look in the trunk. Get me the towels, the first aid kit and the blanket I keep there and bring them down to me but be careful honey. It’s really steep.”
“Okay…Roy how bad is he?”
“Can’t tell yet… I’ll need you to hold the flashlight while I check him out.”
“Okay…,” she called. She ran back to the car and grabbed the requested items and carefully made her way to her husband’s side. Her eyes filled with tears as she heard her husband’s gentle words as he spoke to his young friend.
His hand gently brushed the sable hair from his partner’s badly bruised and bloodied face. “I’m here Junior. I love you…do you hear me…I need you to hear me…wake up Johnny. Open your eyes dammit.” Tears coursed down his cheeks as he looked up into her face.
She knelt next to him and understood. Johnny looked horrible and she knew they could easily still lose him. “Here Honey…,” she handed him the items he asked for and took the flashlight so Roy could check him over. She leaned over the younger man and tenderly kissed his forehead. “Wake up baby…,” she called to him softly. A soft whimper answered her. “That’s my boy…C’mon sweetheart,” she urged.
Roy glanced up at Johnny’s soft moan but the dark eyes remained closed. Roy ran his hands over John’s body, feeling the bones shift beneath his fingers as he moved over his ribs. He pulled his knife from his belt and slit John’s shirt, gasping in horror at the damage revealed beneath. God he was bruised all over…the deep red of road rash covered his left side disappearing below his waistband. Roy directed Joanne’s hand a little further down and realized it continued down his left hip and thigh.
Roy slit the pant leg all the way up to the waistband, carefully peeling it away and felt sick. This had to be agonizing and he could only hope Johnny had been unconscious and not feeling any of it. He continued down the leg and found the broken ankle. He slit the boot, peeling it away and easing it off the swollen foot.
He returned once more to his upper body and found the dark black and purple bruising along his ribs and stomach. Probably from the fight but if so, how had he managed to ride his bike away from there with this much damage done? His left shoulder was dislocated.
Roy moved to John’s face, he grimaced at the bruises and swelling. Blood was dried along his cheek from his split lip along with vomit, dirt and saliva. Roy shined the light down the hill and saw the drag marks where John had tried to push himself upward. “You never give up, do ya junior?” he whispered proudly as he swept the sable hair back. “Jo, I need you to take the car and drive back to the restaurant. Tell them to get the fire department, an ambulance and the police out here okay?”
She nodded giving the younger man one final kiss on his swollen mouth. “Don’t you leave us John Gage,” she whispered against his ear. She stood up throwing her husband an encouraging smile and made her way up the hill, using the Porsche’s headlights to guide her. She climbed in and turned the car around and roared off into the night.
Roy cleaned and bandaged several smaller wounds but there wasn’t much he could do for the worst of it. He covered the shivering form of his partner with the blanket and then used the towel to gently bath the sweat and blood from John’s face.
John’s head turned, moving restlessly from side to side. He moaned in fear at the hands touching him. “Easy junior…,” Roy soothed. “I’m here…I’m here and I’m gonna take care of you. Shhh…,” the older man comforted gently.
The eyes opened slowly only to drop closed once more before finally re-opening and keeping them open. They were both swollen and bruised but Roy was pretty sure he could still see out of them. Suddenly Johnny began to fight. His fist swung toward Roy weakly and he cried out in terror. Roy grabbed his wrists. “No..,” the younger man moaned softly.
“Johnny, it’s me Roy…Can you hear me? I need you to settle down now. You’re gonna hurt yourself. Please junior?”
The voice finally penetrated and John began to relax. “R…Roy?” he stuttered.
“I’m here junior, it’s gonna be okay. There’s an ambulance on the way and we’re gonna get you to a hospital okay?”
John’s eyes drifted around fearfully for a moment but he finally seemed to comprehend. “K…kay,” he whispered. “Mmmm…hurts R…Roy,” he whimpered.
“I know it does junior…We’re gonna fix that as soon as possible. Can you tell me what happened?”
Johnny heard the words in his head. ‘You ain’t gonna tell anyone are ya? If ya do, I’ll come back and finish the job…finish the job…finish the job…’ A different voice intruded… ‘If you ever tell anyone I’ll kill you. No one will ever want you.’ His head snapped from side to side. He moaned fearfully.
“Johnny? Are you okay? Can you tell me what happened? Who did this to you?”
“No…,” he whispered. “I don’t know…”
He gasped for air and coughed, his body convulsing under Roy’s hands as his body reawakened to the damage that had been done to it. Roy held his shoulders, pinning him to the ground to keep him from hurting himself any further. John panted, trying to bring his breathing under control and get a grip on the pain he was experiencing. He’d never had so many things hurt all at once.
He felt the soothing touch of his best friend’s hand stroking his sweat dampened hair back from his forehead. ‘I have to be with my family…,’ flickered through his confused mind. Hurt and heartache struggled to reassert itself but the need for Roy to be here was even stronger right now. He raised his hand and Roy took it in his own.
“Johnny…Can you hear me?”
“Mmmm…,” he mumbled softly.
“I’m gonna say this again and I want you to hear me this time okay…?”
“K…ay,” he moaned.
“I love you…you’re my best friend and my brother and a part of my family. A part I can’t do without anymore than Jo or Chris or Jen. Do you understand?”
Johnny frowned in confusion. ‘Trouble, problem…irresponsible…’ That’s what he’d said. The words replayed…round and round in his brain and then the other words joined them. ‘Love, brother…family.’ Johnny was too out of it to comprehend anything.
Roy heard sirens in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief. He saw the headlights stop above him and knew that Joanne had returned. He looked back at his friend but the eyes looked distant and vague. “Stay with me junior…,” he whispered as he leaned close over his young friend. “We’ll finish this later, just stay with me. I need you partner.” His hand cupped the side of Johnny’s face as Joanne knelt next to him.
“How is he?”
“Drifting in and out I think,” he said softly as John’s face sagged into his palm. The eyes closed once more. “He was talking but I don’t think he understood everything I said to him.”
“What happened to him Roy?” she asked.
“He can’t or won’t tell me. I think he knows but he’s afraid of something or he could be blocking it. He’s done that before or he could just have a bad concussion and can’t remember,” Roy said with a shrug. “We’ll talk about it later, right now I’m just worried about keeping him alive.”
She nodded as the rescue squad drew closer. The flashing red lights cutting through the darkness. “I’ll go get them,” she said as she climbed the hill.
A few minutes later a team of Santa Barbara paramedics slid down the hill beside him. “Can you step back outta the way sir?” One asked as he leaned over Johnny.
“I’m Roy DeSoto…I’m an LA County Paramedic and this is my partner John Gage,” he explained. “I wanna help.”
The other looked up at him and nodded. “Great, we can use a hand down here… I’m Gary Ashford and my partner’s Jim Erickson. “How about if you get his BP and respirations while we set up the Biophone and hook him up to the monitor…?”
Roy nodded… “Sure thing Gary…”
Jim had his pulse and was checking the damage to John’s left side. “Man, he’s a mess,” he mumbled. “How the hell did he survive this?”
“Pure obstinacy,” Roy assured them. They threw him a grin as they continued to work. “He’s got a couple of broken ribs and his right ankle is fractured,” he told them. They nodded. “His BP is 90/60 and his respirations are 8.”
“Pulse is weak,” Jim added as Gary picked up the Biophone. “Santa Barbara General this is squad 48, how do you read me?”
A male voice came back over the line. “Squad 48 this is Santa Barbara General, go ahead.”
“We have a male victim of a motorcycle accident. He’s age…,” He looked at Roy expectantly.
“Twenty six,” Roy supplied.
“Twenty six…He’s suffering from multiple injuries. He’s unconscious.”
“He was awake earlier. He’s been drifting in and out,” Roy clarified.
“He has been awake and drifting in and out of consciousness,” Gary corrected. “He has at least three broken ribs…the third, fifth and sixth on his left side, also his left ankle is fractured. He’s got a severe road rash on his left shoulder, chest and hip. His left shoulder is dislocated and he’s having some difficulty breathing.”
“He had smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion the day before yesterday. Could be part of the respiratory problem,” Roy warned them.
“Santa Barbara…His friend said he suffered from a case of smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion the day before yesterday and could be the cause of the respiratory problem.”
“Either this young man is severely accident prone or you’ve got yourself a Code I there.”
“10-4 on the code I,” Jim acknowledged. “Paramedic outta LA…”
“Is there any head trauma?”
“Facial lacerations, bruises and contusions…Looks like his helmet took most of the impact.” Gary said looking around. “Where is it anyway?”
“Up there...,” Roy said. “I don’t think he went over with the bike, I think he was thrown down here by a couple of punks he had a run in with up the road.”
“Oh them…,” Jim muttered.
“You know them?” Roy asked.
“Not personally, just of them. You’re friend isn’t the only one they’ve had run ins with.”
“Several Hispanics, a couple of young Black men,” he looked at Johnny and glanced at Roy for the missing piece.
“Indian…,” Roy said softly, having had just about enough of these lousy bigots messing with his partner.
“Looks like they just added something new to their collection…”
“Why haven’t they done something about them?”
“No proof and no one will testify…”
Roy remembered John’s fear and he knew in his heart his partner would be the first one at the police station if it wasn’t for his past history of abuse. Damn it…Would John block it as he had with Brad Kimmerlin or deny it as had with his uncle? He didn’t know but he had to try and get Johnny to tell him what happened and get these animals off the street but Brackett’s words flitted through his mind. ‘Don’t rush him, don’t push him…let him remember at his own speed.’ He sighed in frustration.
The Doctor’s voice interrupted his reverie. “Start an IV 48… D5WTKO and give him 5 mgs of MS. Cover the road rash with sterile sheets and saline solution. Splint the ankle and immobilize his shoulder. Use full spinal precautions 48.”
“10-4 Santa Barbara…”
Roy saw more lights flashing overhead and realized the ambulance and the sheriff’s Department had arrived. Joanne stood talking with the officer at the top of the embankment before moving off in the direction of the blood stained pavement. Most likely pointing it out to him and showing him where they’d found the helmet.
The crew of station 48 lowered the stokes and a backboard, along with a C Collar down to the paramedics. Their Captain escorted it personally. “How’s he doin?” He asked.
“Pretty bad shape Cap…,” Gary responded.
The Captain turned to Roy. “Captain Harold Scott,” he said holding his hand out to Roy. “Your wife told us you and your partner here are paramedics out of LA?”
“What’s your station son? I’ll have my dispatcher get in touch with your headquarters and your Captain.”
“Station 51 Captain Scott…we’re outta Carson. Captain Hank Stanley.”
He nodded as he knelt down to help them log roll John onto his right side. Johnny moaned in pain but the MS was helping already and his eyes remained closed.
Gary turned to his Captain. “DeSoto here seems to think his partner here mighta run afoul of that Taylor kid and his friends.”
The Captain looked to Roy… “What’s your partner’s nationality DeSoto?” He asked squinting at the heavily blanketed young man on the backboard.
“Crap…,” he muttered. “Something’s gotta be done about them. If your partner makes it DeSoto, will he testify?”
Roy bit his lip… “I don’t know…He seemed pretty shook up and he said he couldn’t remember what happened but Johnny’s tough, he’s testified against other people who hurt him…just for a different reason.”
“I see. Well we’d certainly appreciate getting these three thugs off the street.”
“So would I…,” he muttered as he turned to follow the stokes up the hill.
They arrived at Santa Barbara General a half an hour later and Johnny was transferred to the exam table. Gary and Jim both gave Roy a light pat on the shoulder. “Let us know how he’s doin huh?”
“I will and thanks…both of you.” They nodded.
The nurse threw him a glance as the Doctor burst into the room. “This my code I?” He asked Roy.
He nodded. “Dr. Ted White. If you’d wait outside I’ll let you know how he’s doing shortly.”
Roy’s eyes turned to his partner. “Uh Doc…I’d kinda like to stay with him.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know how they do it in LA but here, I don’t let my paramedics stay with a patient.”
“Then you’re wasting their talent but that’s not what I meant…,” he said to the surprised doctor. “My partner has a problem that I can’t discuss but…”
“Then it can’t be that important, now out you go…”
Roy heaved a sigh of frustration. “Alright fine but if he wakes up and you have any ah…trouble with him, I’ll be right outside…,” he said heading for the door.
White shook his head. These damn paramedics always thought they were smarter than the doctors.
He moved to the young man on the table and stripped the sheet back. He sucked in his breath and glanced at the sympathetic eyes of his nurse. “Let’s get to work.”
Roy leaned against the wall with Joanne, watching the comings and goings as other nurses came and went from Johnny’s room. He peeled himself off the wall as the X-Ray technician wheeled his portable unit inside. The doctor stepped out and spotted the blonde paramedic.
“Your friends in bad shape…,” he said matter of fact.
Roy nodded. “Yes I know…Uh Doctor, this is my wife Joanne.” He nodded politely as Roy went on. “Can you tell me just how bad? I need to call his Doctor in LA and let my Captain know and his Aunt. I…”
“Mr. DeSoto, we’re doing all we can for your friend but you have to realize that he was badly hurt.”
“What are you saying? Are you saying he’s not gonna make it?”
The doctor sighed impatiently. “No…that’s not what I’m saying exactly. I’m saying he’s in serious condition. He has a mild respiratory infection. What appears to be three broken ribs. We’re pretty sure that he hasn’t got any internal injuries, though from the beating that he took…I don’t know how that’s possible,” he muttered.
“The owner of the café said he walked out of the restaurant after the fight.”
“Not with those injuries he didn’t.”
“Then all that bruising wasn’t from the accident?”
“Someone worked your friend over real good Mr. DeSoto.”
“But he’s gonna be okay right?”
The doctor looked into two pairs of worried blue eyes. “I just don’t know,” he said with a shrug.
Roy’s eyes narrowed angrily at the air of indifference in the doctors attitude. “I’ll call Brackett…,” Roy said to Joanne.
“Brackett…Kelly Brackett?” Dr White asked almost in disbelief, putting the city they worked out of and the name together.
“Yes…He’s Johnny’s doctor.”
“Well you two certainly hobnob with the elite,” he said snobbishly.
Roy shot him a dirty look but continued on. “Jo why don’t you call Rosemary and tell her to get down here…Just in case…”
“Rosemary…?” The doctor questioned.
“His Aunt… Rosemary Hughes.”
The Doctors face suddenly paled and for a moment Roy thought he was about to faint. “Rosemary Hughes? Of Santa Barbara…?” Roy nodded. “That young man in there is Rosemary Hughes’ nephew?” He asked urgently. Gage..He should have put it together...Rosemary Gage - Hughes but he hadn't realized that there were any Gage's left.
Roy nodded as the door opened and the X -Ray technician backed out. The doctor suddenly became a whirlwind of activity. “I want those stat…,” he snapped. “Get Doctor Allen out of orthopedics and Dr. Hastings out of his meeting. I want them both in treatment two NOW…,” he barked at the nurse.
“What is it Doctor?” She asked at his sudden change of attitude. Roy heard two words Hughes and Nephew. The nurse’s eyes almost bugged from her head and she turned and ran back to Johnny’s bedside.
Joanne looked at Roy wide eyed. “Well what in the world was that all about?”
“I’m not sure but I think Johnny’s chances just got better,” he muttered angrily. “I’m going in there with him Jo. They’re gonna have to throw me out. Can you call Brackett and let him know what’s happening?”
She nodded. “Do you want me to call Rosemary?”
“No…Let’s wait. We’ll call her in the morning. Honey I think you should take the car and head for home. The kids will be getting worried soon.”
She nodded. “I’ll call you in the morning, if I don’t hear from you sooner.”
“I promise, I’ll let you know the moment I do.”
“I’ll call Cap and let him know where I am. He’ll want to hear how Johnny is from me and he’ll need to get a replacement for both of us. There’s no way I’ll make it home in time for tomorrow’s shift.”
“Okay…Give Johnny my love.”
“I will,” he said kissing her goodbye.
He headed for Johnny’s room and pushed the door open. John lay on the table covered to the waist with a sheet. There was a flurry of activity around him. Doctors, Nurses and technicians moved around each other giving him the best possible care. Roy’s eyes narrowed angrily. It was the kind of care he would have received at Rampart, but the difference was he’d have gotten it there no matter whose nephew he was.
Dr. White spotted him standing there. “Can you wait outside?” He snapped.
“Not a chance…I’m staying with him.”
“I told you…”
“I’m sure Rosemary would love to hear about your earlier attitude with her nephew…,” he threatened quietly.
The doctor’s face tightened at the threat but he knew that one woman could easily get him fired from this hospital and both of these young paramedics were apparently close to her. “No need for that now. Certainly if it means that much to you, you can stay with your friend,” he said placatingly.
“Good,” Roy said moving to John’s side. The younger man shook with shock and his breathing was rasping once again. His eyes fluttered several times, fighting the drugs he’d been given.
A nurse stepped up with a brush and a small basin and Roy’s face paled a bit as he realized what she intended to do with it. He hoped those pain killers were doing their job. She began to clean out the dirt and grit that was embedded in Johnny’s skin.
The dark haired paramedic writhed on the table at the first touch. It felt as if his skin was about to explode into flames. His eyes struggled to open and a cry of pain was ripped from his lips. Roy grabbed his shoulder’s, pinning him down to keep him from moving too much. “Johnny…its Roy. Can you hear me? I know you’re hurting junior but you gotta be still okay?”
“R…Roy…Oh God it hurts,” he panted.
“I know…I’ll stay with you. They’re trying to get all that asphalt out of your skin okay?” Roy’s eyes lifted to the Doctor’s, "and they’re gonna give you something to help with the pain.”
The doctor muttered to the nurse who left immediately, returning a moment later and injecting another 2 mgs of MS into his IV line. Johnny began to relax soon after and his dark eyes drifted shut once more. Roy gave the nurse a nod and she continued with her gruesome task. He smiled politely to the Doctor who glared back. That man really didn’t like him but Roy didn’t care. He’d do whatever it took to be sure Johnny got the best possible treatment, even blackmail.
An hour later his ankle had been cast and his shoulder reset and immobilized. His ribs were taped and the road rash was treated and covered with sterile gauze. His lip had three stitches and his face had several lacerations with small butterfly stitches. Johnny’s lower face was covered by an oxygen mask to assist his breathing, while the IV dripped antibiotics and fluids into his arm. Johnny was sound asleep while his best friend sat comfortably beside him holding his hand. The doctor had assured him that the young man would sleep through the night but Roy had no intention of leaving his side. They still needed to talk and he currently had a captive audience.
Roy’s blue eyes watched his friend’s chest rise and fall and thanked God once again for giving him back his partner in one piece. He sighed heavily and picked up the phone. He had several calls to make.
Hank picked up the phone beside his bed on the third ring. “Hello…?”
“Cap…? It’s Roy…”
“Roy, thank God…I just got off the phone with headquarters. They said you found John and that he was badly hurt.”
“He is but they’re pretty sure he’s gonna make it.”
Roy heard the sigh of relief before the words. “Thank Heaven. How bad is he Roy?”
“He’s been beat up pretty bad Cap.”
“Beat up…? I thought it was an accident?”
“It was…well not exactly. Look from what I can gather he ran into a couple of trouble makers at some roadside coffee shop and he got into a fight. They beat him up but John managed to get back on his bike and ride away. The owner saw them take off after him but then he didn’t know what happened after that. When we found Johnny there was a pool of blood on the pavement where he must have laid for a minute or two and his helmet was a few feet away but he was down in the ravine with the motorcycle. The doctor here says most of the bruises look more like he’s been badly beaten than from the accident, though that certainly left its own variety of injuries.”
“Okay, let’s have them,” Hank said with a sigh.
“His left shoulder is dislocated… His cheek is fractured along with his left ankle. He has severe road burns along his entire left side, three broken ribs and multiple facial lacerations along with a mild respiratory infection.”
“Is there any part of him that isn’t hurt?”
“Well…he didn’t sustain any major head trauma, which is why they think he didn’t lose the helmet during the accident. I think they caught up to him and knocked him off the bike and took his helmet off and…,” Roy hesitated.
“Beat a helpless, injured man and threw him over a cliff?” Cap asked.
The silence was long and Roy knew Hank was steaming mad. “Can John tell you what happened? I mean is he conscious?”
“He was off and on. He says he doesn’t remember.”
Hank sighed. “You don’t believe that?”
“No…I think he’s afraid or he’s blocking it but I can’t push him Cap… Brackett always says not to push him. Let him remember on his own.”
“Okay Roy…Just bring him home alright?”
“As soon as possible Cap… Oh Cap I…”
“I already told headquarters I’d need a replacement for both of you. Dwyer and Carlson said they could use the overtime and volunteered to pull a double.”
“Tell them I said thanks.”
“I will Roy. I’ll call the guys…they’ve been worried about John too.”
Johnny’s eyes fluttered open darting warily around him. The room he was in was dimly lit and unfamiliar…in fact the only thing he did recognize was his partner sleeping in the chair beside him. John’s eyes turned toward the water glass and he licked his dry, swollen lip…wincing painfully. His left arm was immobilized and right now he wasn’t feeling too bad but he knew that would change the first time he moved.
He finally forced himself to raise his right arm and try to reach for the glass but it was just a few inches beyond his grasp. He tried to scoot himself over but only succeeded in waking his sleeping nerve endings and agony flared over his whole body. “Mmmm…,”A low whimper escaped from his lips before he caught himself, panting from the pain and the exertion…he coughed, almost crying out again as his muscles tightened painfully.
Roy’s blue eyes flew open and he quickly sat up. “What are you tryin to do Johnny? What do you need, huh?” He asked his young partner gently.
“W…wa...er,” he gasped around the swollen lip, his voice muffled behind the mask.
“Okay, you just lay there and I’ll get it alright?”
Roy picked up the glass, angling the straw. He pulled the mask down under John’s chin and held the straw for him to drink. “Easy, not too fast…” Johnny sucked in the liquid, gasping after each pull. “Better now…?” Roy asked. John nodded hestitantly.
Roy set the cup aside and pulled the chair closer to John’s side. His hand came to rest on the top of his friend’s dark head. “Are you in pain?”
“A lit…le,” he whispered.
“I’ll see what I can do okay?” Roy rang for the nurse.
An older, gray haired woman stuck her head inside a few minutes later. “Can I help you?”
“John’s awake and he’s in pain.”
She came inside and picked up the chart. “I’m afraid the doctor didn’t leave orders for anything more.”
“What…?” Roy asked in disbelief.
“I’m sure it’s an oversight. He’ll be in...,” she looked at her watch. “In an hour and we’ll get it taken care of okay?”
“An hour…?” Roy barked. “He’s in pain now.” Good God what was wrong with these people?
“I told you sir…”
“And now I’m telling you…Call that damn doctor and get him something for the pain,” Roy said in a warning tone.
Her eyes widened at the anger in his voice. “I’ll see if I can reach him,” she said quickly.
“You do that.” Roy turned back to John, whose swollen dark eyes were wide as possible with shock at his usually calm partner. “What…?” Roy asked him.
John shook his head. “Noth…thing…,” he mumbled.
Roy grinned as he sat back down and took John’s hand. “You breathin okay…? You want the mask?” John shook his head. “Okay then… Junior, we have to talk.”
John turned away. “Doan wan…na talk,” he murmured.
“Well we have too…and I have you right where I want you.” John looked back at him, throwing him a curious glance. “A captive audience…,” Roy clarified.
John turned away in annoyance. Roy heard a mumbled, “Not f…fair.” He grinned.
“Johnny? I spoke to Chris and his friends and they told me what really happened. God junior…I’m so sorry for what I said to you. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Did…n’t give me…chance. Si…sides, would you really w…wanna h…hear that?”
“No. No, I probably wouldn’t have. I guess I just couldn’t believe my son would lie to me…to both of us.”
John turned his head back to look at him. “It w…was easier to b…lieve I was stu…pid an…an irresponsible…let them on th...that ride?” He gasped, obviously hurt.
“No…No, that wasn’t it. I just couldn’t admit that it was anything else, even when Jo suspected. I was too stubborn to listen, even to her.”
“You did…nt e…even give me a ch…chance. Y…you said I was a pr...problem and I caused all the tr…trouble,” he panted. “Do you know how b...bad that h…hurt Roy? Comin f…from you?” He looked away as his voice hitched and his eyes began to burn.
Roy’s eyes filled with tears of his own at the pain he’d inflicted on his friend. Knowing he probably wouldn’t even be here in this hospital if it hadn’t been for this whole mess and the chain of events that it had touched off.
“I’m so sorry…I do know how badly I hurt you. I do…but Johnny, I’m not perfect either. I’m human too…I was scared for my son and I reacted badly. I know that, but you have to believe I never meant to hurt you and man junior…you’re just so… damn easy to hurt and I forget that sometimes,” he said softly as he reached out to gently turn the younger man’s face toward him. “I don’t wanna lose my little brother, my best friend and I know it’s gonna take some time to fix the damage I did, to heal the hurt I caused you and the trust you’ve lost.” His hand cupped the side of John’s head. “But we have to try. I’m so sorry, please Johnny, please forgive me and let’s try and put this family back together.”
John closed his eyes trying to stop the gathering moisture and block the pleading blue eyes from his vision but they were both still there. He worried his sore lip in indecision. Could he risk being hurt again? He loved this family so much but it was what gave them the power to rip his heart out and then there was Chris? How could he get past this with the boy? Could he ever trust him again? “Doan wan…na be hurt any…more,” he whispered miserably.
“And I don’t ever want to hurt you. That was never my intent.”
He felt Roy’s hand move to sweep the sable hair back from his forehead. “Stop Roy…That’s ch…cheating,” Johnny whispered.
“By fair means or foul,” he said softly. “I don’t know if you remember much from last night so I’ll tell you again. Johnny, you’re such an important part of my family and I need you in it. I love you.”
Those three words tore at John’s heart. He’d rarely heard them as a child and never after his parents died until he’d come to live with Rosemary. Even Roy usually had trouble getting them out and almost never said it to anyone but Jo and the kids but not today…today they’d come easily. He remembered his Aunts words. ‘You can only be hurt here, by those you love and those who love you…” He knew Roy meant it but he was still hurt.
The dark eyes cracked open to meet Roy’s but the door opening a second later interrupted the conversation. He expected Roy to pull his hand away but he didn’t. He just glanced toward the door as Johnny’s Aunt came into the room. Joanne must have called her. Roy’s fingers gave John’s cheek one final brush before he stepped away to let Rosemary closer to her nephew.
She looked at Johnny and her eyes widened in horror at his battered features. “Oh little one, look at you,” she whispered as she stroked the bruised cheek lightly.
John’s face colored in embarrassment at the greeting, though it was hard to tell beneath so much bruising. Roy could tell from his eyes as they rolled upward behind swollen lids and chuckled.
John’s eyes narrowed in a brief glare at Roy before he attempted a small smile for his Aunt but the stitches pulled bringing a grimace of pain instead.
“What happened sweetheart?”
John’s eyes slid away from her face unable to meet her gaze. “I doan r…rem…ber,” he whispered.
“Oh sweetie, how can you not remember?”
John tensed nervously and his breath rate began to increase. The door opened once again and Dr. White entered the room. His eyes fell on Roy. “My nurse said you were quite ru…,” he hesitated as he spotted Rosemary. He dismissed the blonde paramedic and moved to Rosemary’s side. “Mrs. Hughes…How nice to see you, I’m Dr. White,” He said holding out his hand.
She held out her right hand to him while her left continued to gently stroke the dark hair of her nephew. The tender gesture wasn’t lost on the Doctor and he breathed a sigh of relief that they had found out in time who this young man was and had managed to pull him through last night. He prayed the blonde paramedic would keep his mouth shut about his rude and somewhat callous behavior the night before.
He’d been irritated with his pushy, know it all attitude certainly but he shouldn’t have let it influence the patients care. He knew if Roy chose to, he could end his career here. He needed to do everything in his power to please Mrs. Hughes.
She smiled at him gratefully. “It’s certainly not the way I’d like to be visiting this hospital,” she said pointedly. “But I do want to thank you for saving John’s life. He means a great deal to me,” She said, bringing another embarrassed blush to John’s face.
“Yes Ma’am, I can see that. How are you feeling this morning Mr. Gage?”
“Bet…ter than l…ast night…,” he mumbled around the stitched lip.
“He’s hurting…,” Roy corrected, seeing the pain reflected in John’s dark eyes. John’s gaze swiveled toward Roy. Man, he always knew. He almost smiled.
“Well really Mr. DeSoto, I think this young man is capable of knowing how he feels...,” The Doctor corrected.
Roy opened his mouth but Rosemary cut him off. “Dr. White…If Roy says John’s hurting than you can bet he is. They’ve been friends and partners for a very long time and he knows my nephew better than anyone.” Roy smiled at her.
“Yes…well. We’ll see if we can do something about that,” he said pushing the call button. Roy rolled his eyes at the Doctors obvious fawning behavior, bringing a giggle from Rosemary. She was well accustomed to it and hated it herself but if it made him give John better care than she’d deal with it.
The nurse poked her head into the room. “Yes Doctor?”
“Get me 40 mgs of Meperidine for Mr. Gage.” She nodded and left the room. He turned back to Rosemary. “Mrs. Hughes, we’ll be sending him to a private room very soon. There was simply nothing available last night.”
“That’s not necessary,” Roy said. “His doctor is making arrangements to transfer him back to LA.”
“Roy…,” Rosemary protested. “I’d like to keep him here.”
Roy’s blue eyes met hers. “Rose, Johnny and I have some work to do and we can’t do that if he’s two hours away from me. Besides, he’ll be more comfortable there with all his friends.”
“Now look DeSoto…,” the Doctor interrupted, “If Mrs. Hughes wants her nephew…”
Rosemary raised her hand and the doctor fell silent. “What do you want to do sweetie?” She asked turning to John.
His eyes flicked between the both of them and he sighed. “Aunt Rose…I d…doan know if R…Roy and I can get b…back to where we were right a…way but, I know I…I have to t…try. I don’t wanna l…lose my…,” He hesitated trying to catch his breath.
“Your friend…,” she finished for him but he shook his head.
“My b…brother,” John finished with a cough.
Roy grinned and swept the sable hair back, his blue eyes met Rosemary’s and she threw him a wink. The doctor cleared his throat, prepared to argue but Rose turned back to him. “My nephew will be returning to LA with his…brother,” she said with a satisfied smile.
“Very good…um…we’ll help Brackett anyway we can of course. Oh…uh Mrs. Hughes…Mr. Gage, there are two detectives outside and they’d like to talk to you,” he said turning toward Johnny.
The dark eyes widened fearfully. “Why?”
“Why..?” The Doctor asked incredulously. “Mr. Gage you were assaulted, beaten.”
“What?” Rosemary gasped in horror. “I thought this was an accident.”
“It was…,” John gasped.
“It most certainly was not…,” the Doctor corrected. “He was beaten…we found ketchup…mustard…boot marks…”
John’s breathing became heavy. “R…Roy,” he said in a panic. “I doan w…wanna talk t...to em. Please R…Roy… I don’t r…rem…member.”
“Shhh…,” Roy soothed, leaning over his partner. “It’s okay. No one’s gonna make you do anything,” he assured him gently.
“Roy, he needs to talk to the police. If he can tell them anything that will help them. I want them put away.”
“N…no Roy…,” John whispered. The voices replayed inside his head and faces swam before him. One was white and heavyset, his hate filled gray eyes threatening…the other darker...his black leering eyes bore into his...Their voices a confused jumble.
‘You ain’t gonna tell anyone…I’ll be back to finish the job…no one will want you…I’ll kill you.’
John clenched his eyes shut to block the vision. “I can’t…I can’t…,” he gasped breathlessly before he began to cough.
Rosemary eyes filled with sorrow as she watched John clutch desperately at Roy’s arm. The blonde paramedic’s eyes met hers. “I’m sorry Rose, he’s not ready yet,” he warned before he turned back to calm his friend. He set the mask back over his nose and mouth. “I won’t let them bother you okay? You don’t have to talk to anyone. It’s okay…Shhh,” he soothed. His fingers brushed over John’s forehead. “It’s okay, I’m here.” The grip on his arm began to relax and his breathing evened out. “You just rest now okay?”
The nurse returned with the Meperidine and injected it into his IV line. It quickly began to dull the pain and the dark eyes closed under Roy’s soothing fingers.
The doctor watched in amazement but his eyes flicked to Rosemary as she began to speak. “Roy…I won’t let them get away with this and they will if he doesn’t tell them what happened.”
“I know that…”
The Doctor interrupted them as John stirred restlessly. “Why don’t we talk about this in the waiting room,” he suggested, sensing that an argument was about to ensue.
“That’s fine,” Rose agreed. Roy gave John’s hand a final squeeze and then followed them out.
Two men waited in the hall. The Doctor glanced at them and back to Rosemary. She’d made her wishes very clear and that was good enough for him. Perhaps the young man would be alright without his interfering partner. He pursed his lips for a moment and made a final bad decision. He caught the eyes of the two men and nodded toward John’s room. He followed Rosemary and Roy into the quiet waiting room. “Have a seat he said smiling at Roy.”
The two detectives pushed the door to John’s room open. The young man in the bed was sleeping fitfully…His hand lifted several times as if searching for something or someone. He moaned softly in his sleep. His face was swollen and badly bruised. One looked at the other. “Man, they sure did a number on him.”
“Worse than the others…”
“Either he really pissed them off or they’re escalating.”
“Let’s try and talk to him.”
“Mr. Gage…?” He called.
John’s eyes fluttered for a second before opening to try and focus blearily on the two men.
“I’m Detective O’Brien,” one said. He was tall and dark haired with a hint of gray at the temples, his hazel eyes had a cynical look about them. “This is my partner Detective Witt.” John’s eyes flicked warily toward the other. He was a bit shorter, his black hair worn a bit too long for departmental policy, much the same as John’s.
“We want to talk to you about what happened yesterday…,” Witt said. “And we need to photograph your injuries. Would that be alright?”
John looked frantically around the room, pushing the mask from his face. “Where’s Roy…?” He whispered.
“ROY…,” John called.
“I’m sorry, we don’t know who you mean,” O’Brien told the distraught young man.
“Mr. Gage we’ve spoken to the restaurant owner and he told us what they did to you…We need to ask you…Do you know who did this to you?” Witt asked.
“No…no…,” he gasped frantically, a fluid cough erupted from his lips.
‘Kill you…I’ll finish the job…’
John tried to sit up but his body flat rebelled, he gasped in pain, sinking back onto the bed. “Roy,” he whispered painfully. “Hurts…,” he panted.
“We know they hurt you. The waitress said they hit you and smeared ketchup and mustard on your face, do you remember that?”
Johnny was becoming increasingly agitated as they fired question after question…His eyes darted frantically trying to find a way out. “No…no…I don’t re…mem… I need Roy…,” he gasped, trying to draw air into his lungs. He began to cough harshly.
The two detectives threw a worried glance at each other. “Alright Mr. Gage…try and calm down. Maybe this will be easier?” He asked holding out an array of pictures. “Do you know any of these men?”
John’s eyes widened. “Leave m…me a…lone. I doan remember….ROY…”
Roy and Rosemary sat down together while the doctor pulled the other chair around. The blonde paramedic turned to the older woman. “Rose, he’s not ready to talk to anyone right now.”
“Rose, you know his past.”
“I know that but…,”
“He’s blocked out traumatic events before.”
The doctor sat up straighter. He’d been listening in annoyance while this intelligent, proud, well respected woman who sat on the board of this hospital took advice from this upstart paramedic rather than himself but now they’d caught his attention. “What are you talking about?”
Rose turned to him. “My nephew was an abused child,” she explained. “Before I took him in, he suffered several severe traumas and because of that he has a tendency to block out anything that frightens him,” she explained, not going into John’s other emotional disorder.
“Dear God,” the doctor said nervously.
Roy didn’t understand White’s sudden concern and turned his attention back to Rosemary. “If he does remember, then he’s afraid, more of his past memories than this probably but either way, he’s not ready to talk about it yet. Forcing him to remember will only make it worse.”
“They’ll get away with this?”
“No Rose…I have no doubt that Johnny will remember. It’ll come in bits and pieces or through nightmares or he’ll simply start telling me about it…in his own time. When he’s come to grips with it and then he’ll be ready to tell the police what happened. Just like Kimmerlin and Jackson…Do you remember?”
“Yes,” she said softly. “Alright Roy…I think I understand.”
The doctor’s face had paled with every word Roy had spoken and he stood up suddenly, surprising them both. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be right back.” He pulled the door open. The wail of fear was clearly heard from down the hall.
The blonde paramedic bolted from his chair, pushing past the startled doctor as he pelted down the hall to Johnny’s room. He burst through the door to find two strange men. They were holding several photos in an array before his agitated partner’s eyes.
Sweat beaded Johnny’s forehead as he tried desperately to hitch his battered body away from them. “Leave me alone…,” he begged. “Pl…please, I doan remember, please…I don’t know.”
“Get out,” Roy snarled as he shot past them. He dropped the bed rail and grabbed John’s shaking shoulders. “Shhh, it’s okay. They’re leaving junior. It’s okay.”
Rosemary and the doctor arrived, giving the two detectives a quick glance as they moved to the bed.
“Roy…,” Johnny panted as gripped his partner’s shirt in a death grip.
“It’s okay, they’re not gonna ask ya anything else alright? I promise okay? I didn’t know they were here and I’m sorry they upset you but its okay now.”
“Make em go away…,” Roy couldn’t tell for sure if he was talking about the detectives or whoever had hurt him so badly. “Can’t tell…Don’t remember…can’t tell.” The words were jumbled but Roy understood. He wasn’t blocking the memories, he was terrified by them…reliving his past through them. The trauma to his body had been terrible, how much more so to his mind and emotions. Roy was afraid he’d withdraw into himself if he couldn’t calm him down.
He pulled his friend into his arms, letting his head rest on his shoulder as he rubbed his back soothingly. John would tell them what happened, Roy had no doubt of that but right now it was too fresh and he couldn’t get his mind to come to grips with it. To separate past and present but he would…John was strong…a lot more than anyone knew. He just had to get it under control.
The shaking began to subside and his eyes drifted closed in exhaustion. Roy’s cheek rested against the sable hair. “That’s it junior…you just rest.” Roy eased him back on the pillows. He readjusted the oxygen mask and smoothed the hair back before heaving a deep sigh of relief.
The detectives moved back into the room once the younger man had calmed. Roy shot them a furious look. “Who told you, you could come in here and upset him?” He growled angrily.
“The Doctor…,” they began. “But we didn’t know he’d get that shook up.”
Roy turned angrily on the Doctor. “You…? You let them in here without permission? Good God man you’re his doctor. It’s your job to protect him,” Roy snapped.
“I…Mrs. Hughes wanted them to talk to him so…”
Rosemary’s eyes widened in shock… “You knew we weren’t through discussing it. That’s where we were going.”
“Yes Ma’am but I thought.”
“You thought…I’d say it’s the one thing you haven’t done,” Roy shot back. “You’ve been too busy trying to impress her and not busy enough being Johnny’s doctor. You just stay away from him…,”Roy barked angrily.
“Now see here…You don’t have the right to make that decision.”
Rosemary smiled wickedly. “I’m afraid he does. He has my nephew’s medical power of attorney. Roy has every right to make that decision for him if John’s not capable but just to make it official, I’m also telling you to stay away from him and we’re not through with this, rest assured.”
White’s face paled at the veiled threat. He saw his days at this hospital numbered. He turned and stalked out.
Roy turned back to the detectives. “I’m sorry I yelled at you. I had no idea that he’d given you permission.” He held out his hand. “I’m Roy DeSoto, LA County Fire Department. Your victim is my partner John Gage and this is his Aunt…Rosemary Hughes.”
Both of their heads snapped up at the name…Nobody in Santa Barbara didn’t know who the Gage - Hughes family was. “Ma’am…,” they greeted respectfully. They swallowed hard, knowing she could make their life extremely difficult if she chose to but she seemed to follow the younger man’s lead. She smiled politely and shook their hands. “O’Brien and Witt,” he said pointing to his fellow detective.
Roy glanced at his sleeping partner. “I’m sorry he can’t help you much right now. He’s still pretty traumatized by this whole thing.”
“We saw that…I’m truly sorry,” Witt said quietly.
“Boy they did quite a number on him,” O’Brien observed.
“That’s just what you can see,” Roy said, “the rest of him is even worse.”
“Is he gonna be able to help us put these guys away?”
“I think so. He just needs a little time.”
“We don’t have a lot of that. Your partner isn’t the only victim.”
Roy sighed and decided to trust them. “Look I know that. The paramedics told me last night,” he explained at their curious looks. “Look, my partner was a battered child. He has CTSD…Do you know what that is?”
Witt shook his head but O’Brien’s eyes widened in surprise. “Traumatic Stress Disorder…?”
Roy nodded. “Childhood Traumatic Stress Disorder. He usually has no problem with it and most people don’t know but after a trauma like this…Emotional, physical. You heard him a minute ago?”
They looked at him in confusion, even Rosemary’s head cocked to the side curiously. She hadn’t caught it either but then she’d never held John in her arms as he lived through one of his childhood nightmares. He’d never told her what they’d done to him but he had told his friend. “What Roy?” She asked.
“Can’t tell…That’s what he said, I can’t tell.”
Witt looked confused but the light came on for O’Brien. “He’s reliving his childhood.”
“Yes and no. I mean he’s not regressing. He knows where he is and everything but the fear and the abuse, his mind slides right back to his childhood when he thinks about it. I can’t tell…”
“Oh God Roy…,” Rosemary said softly, as tears rolled down her cheeks. “That poor child…”
“Is tougher than you think Rose… John’ll come around. He’s just got to sort it out in his own head first, understand? Once I get him home and he’s comfortable in his more familiar surroundings…he’ll get past and present separated… he’ll talk.”
“You sure about that…?” O’Brien asked.
“I know my partner.”
“Look, we understand about all this but we really need photographs of his injuries now, before they fade.”
Roy nodded. “Let me see what I can do.” He turned to his friend. “Johnny…Johnny can you hear me?”
“Mmmm…,” he groaned.
“Johnny the police need to take some pictures of your injuries, will you let them? You don’t have to talk and I’ll be here the whole time.” The dark eyes opened briefly, trying to focus on the face of his partner. He looked at him warily for a moment before he finally nodded. His eyes closed once more.
Ma’am…If you wouldn’t mind…?”
Rosemary stepped out while they closed the curtain. She heard the clicks and whirrs of the camera for several minutes before the two shoved it back. They both looked sick. They shook their heads at her sympathetically. “Mr. DeSoto, you’ll call us when he’s ready to talk to us?”
“I will and you have my number if you need to reach either of us. That’s where he’ll be once he’s released from the hospital in LA.”
“Thank you again.” O’Brien said. The two men left.
“Okay Roy, let’s see about getting our boy home,” Rosemary said.
“I’ll call Brackett.”
Several hours later Johnny was wheeled out to wait for the ambulance for his return trip to LA. Rosemary walked alongside the gurney, holding her nephews hand. He was reclined in a semi upright position to help his breathing.
“I’ll be down to see you soon,” she promised as she bent to press a gentle kiss on his bruised cheek. “I love you Na háahketa,” she whispered.
John smiled drowsily. The new doctor who’d taken over his case had thought it best to give him a mild sedative for the trip to help him sleep. It was working. “Love you too…,” he murmured as he struggled to keep his eyes open.
The ambulance backed into the bay. Roy hoped there wouldn’t be any problem with him riding with Johnny or it was going to be tricky getting home. He knew Rosemary would drive him or have someone else do it but he really wanted to stay with Johnny. The doors opened and an attendant stepped out. Roy started forward to explain the situation but stopped short as another figure appeared. Roy grinned as Dixie stepped down from the ambulance.
She threw him a wink and tossed a smile at Rosemary but her attention quickly turned to her favorite paramedic. “Hey hotshot…,” she said softly as she bent to kiss his forehead.
“Not so h…handsome anymore huh…?”
“Of course you are, I just didn’t want you to get a swelled head.”
“Too late…,” he murmured. “ev…rything’s swollen,” he whispered as his eyes closed.
“I see that sweetheart,” she said softly as she brushed his face with her fingers. She turned to Roy. “They have the little punks that did this yet?” She growled angrily as she watched them load the younger man inside.
Roy shook his head. “They know who they are, but they can’t arrest them without proof. They’ve got them on the assault in the restaurant. The waitress and the owner will swear to that.”
“That’s nothing…,” Dixie snapped. “That’s a lousy hand slap.”
“I know but Johnny…”
Dixie raised her blue eyes to meet Roy’s. “But Johnny what…?”
“Say’s he can’t remember what happened,” Roy finished.
“He’ll come around. He’s just a little scared and confused right now but he’ll come around,” he assured her.
“Let’s hope so. The idea that they could walk free…maybe do this to someone else.”
“They already have,” Roy said. “Johnny’s their sixth victim, though he’s their very first Indian.”
“Wonderful,” she snapped. “Let’s get him home Roy. Kel’s waiting.”
“Wonderful,” Roy mimicked, hoping John would sleep through the night and avoid Kelly Brackett’s wrath over his little disappearing act.
John slept most of the way home but he began to wake as they reached the outskirts of Carson. By the time the ambulance backed into the bay the dark eyes were open. He glanced at Roy and Dixie. “Where are we?”
“Home tiger,” she said, patting his hand.
The doors swung open and they pulled the gurney out. Kelly Brackett stood there with his arms folded across his chest. He moved to John’s side and looked him over briefly.
“Hey Doc…,” Johnny said softly. He frowned and then winced slightly as Brackett ignored him.
“What are his vitals?”
BP is 120/80, pulse is 80 and his respirations are 12. He’s still breathing a bit shallowly but everything else is good,” Dixie said.
“Good, let’s get our young wanderer settled then.”
They pulled the gurney inside and headed for the elevators. Roy was close behind. The doors closed behind the group and Kel punched the number five button. Dixie’s eyes widened. “Kel…He’s not…”
Brackett shot her a warning look and she clamped her mouth shut, casting Johnny a pitying glance. Roy looked between then worriedly. “What’s goin on Doc?”
John’s eyes shifted around the group. “Roy…?”
“I don’t know junior…Doc?” He asked again.
“A little lesson for my young friend here…”
The doors opened and they pulled Johnny out. The attendants wheeled him down the hall. The swollen eyes widened as they entered a restricted area. The doors had heavy locks on the outside and narrow windows in them. Kel finally pushed one open. It was empty but the bed was freshly made and the restraint straps dangled in plain view. John worried the stitches in his lower lips as his dark eyes looked fearfully at Brackett.
Kel leaned over the young paramedic until he was almost nose to nose. He pointed at the bed. “You see that bed John?” Johnny swallowed hard and nodded. “If you ever pull a stunt like this again I will see you in that bed… in restraints… under the assumption that you are suicidal, do I make myself clear?”
“Yes…,” he whispered as a small cough slipped free.
“Good…Take him to three fourteen,” Kel snapped.
The attendants turned John’s gurney back to the elevator and went down. Roy’s eyes were on Kel in disbelief but he said nothing. He just reached out and took John’s hand reassuringly as the doors closed.
Dixie turned and punched Brackett in the arm. The Dark haired doctor flinched. “Ow…,” he growled.
“Was that really necessary?” She snapped. “You scared him half to death and he’s already been through enough.”
“Yeah Dix, it was necessary. This is not the first time he’s lied about his health, disappeared from an exam room and now sneaking out of the hospital. He could have ended up with pneumonia or been killed and none of this would have happened if he’d stayed where we put him.”
“I know that but you know how sensitive John is…”
“Yeah…you know how sensitive I am too and I don’t like to think about what could have happened. I don’t want to lose him either Dix. You know how fond I am of Johnny but he has to understand that I won’t put up with these little tricks of his anymore.”
“Okay Kel,” she said softly. He rarely admitted he had feelings for anyone, though she knew he did… deep ones and to hear him say that about Johnny touched her heart.
“Let’s go down and be sure he’s okay,” he grumbled. He rubbed his arm where the blonde nurse had clouted him. “That really hurt Dix.”
“Oh quit whining. I think I broke a nail.” She snapped as the doors closed in front of him.
Johnny turned his head to look at Roy. “You th…ink he meant it?” He asked worriedly.
“Seemed pretty serious to me junior,” Roy replied.
“He’s really m…ad at me huh?”
“I think he was more worried than angry Johnny.”
“You think so?” He rasped out.
“Yeah…I think so. Just relax, you’re not going anywhere so the threat is moot right?”
“There better not be a next time or I’ll help him.”
John’s dark eyes looked at his partner with a brief look of panic before he caught the twinkle in the blue orbs looking back at him. He breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s n…not funny R…Roy”
The blonde paramedic chuckled as he squeezed his partner’s hand. “Let’s get you in bed so you can rest junior,” he said as they wheeled him into his room.
Kel and Dixie arrived in Johnny’s room as the attendants were leaving. Roy and a pretty young, red headed nurse were getting him settled. The head of the bed was elevated and he grimaced slightly as Roy raised him up and adjusted the pillows. The nurse placed the oxygen canula beneath his nose.
Wary dark eyes tracked toward the couple as they came in and Brackett felt a hint of remorse at the look he gave him but damn it, John had to quit doing this sort of thing. The young paramedic was going to drive him to an early grave with his antics.
Roy’s blue eyes narrowed as well, shooting the doctor an angry look of his own along with a shake of his blonde head. He knew why Brackett had done it and even agreed that John needed to understand the seriousness of what he’d done but he thought the doctor could have waited a bit to make his point.
Kel gave Roy an apologetic shrug and moved to Johnny’s side. The young nurse checked the IV and then headed for the door.
“Now that you’re settled let’s take a look at you,” Kel said as if nothing had happened. He began to check Johnny over. The young fire fighter winced as Brackett’s fingers moved over some of the more tender areas of his body.
“Do you know who did this to you?” Kel asked casually.
The dark eyes slid away, avoiding the doctor’s probing look. “No…,” he mumbled.
Kel’s eyes met Roy’s. “Can you remember any of what happened? The fight in the coffee shop maybe…”
“I’m kinda tired doc, I wanna sleep,” he said evasively as his brown eyes closed.
“Okay Johnny, We won’t push you alright? When you’re ready...”
John understood the underlying meaning and sighed in relief. Part of him wanted to tell someone but fear and embarrassment warred within him. The threatening voices and glaring, hate filled eyes that haunted him both awake and asleep. The humiliation of what they’d done to him…of being unable to protect himself. How could he tell that to Brackett, the police, even Roy…?
The door opened slowly and Joanne peeked into the room. “Okay if I come in?”
“Sure honey, they were just finishing up and I’m sure Johnny would love to see you.”
Kel and Dixie threw her a smile and moved away with Roy to talk as Joanne approached the bed. She smiled at him sympathetically. “How’s my boy?” She teased. His reaction surprised them all.
His mouth trembled slightly and he looked away. Joanne never hesitated… she opened her arms as she had with Chris and though he lacked the strength to throw himself into them as the boy had two days earlier, he did lean forward into her embrace. She wrapped her arms around him, being careful of his injuries. “Oh baby, it’s okay.” Her hand smoothed the sable hair. “I’m so glad you’re home.”
Kel and Roy exchanged a glance. Roy turned to his wife catching her eye. “Talk to him…,” he mouthed silently.
She nodded. “Sweetheart…? Can you tell me what happened?”
John’s eyes clenched tight, fighting the voices and trying to block the eyes. “Knocked m…me off my b…ike,” he whispered.
“Who did baby?”
“White truck…b…be…hind me. Coming too f…fast. Couldn’t g…get way…,” he gasped,
She kissed the top of his head while Roy, Kel and Dixie hung on every word.
“And then what sweetheart?” She said, her mouth clenched both in rage and sorrow as tears filled her eyes.
“Tried…to get to the pass. Lose em…” He shook his head. “N…ot fast nough. C…caught me. Hit my bike. Fell…,” his breathing was rapid and was struggling to talk.
“Can’t tell…Can’t tell…doan r…remember.”
“Go settle him down Roy,” Kel said in frustration. It was a beginning and they knew he remembered more than he was saying but he didn’t want to push him too soon. He needed to rest. They all knew it was a matter of time before Johnny would open up and tell the rest of the tale.
Roy threw his wife a wink before they both eased him back on the bed. Roy’s hand gently swept the shaggy mop of sable hair from his brow as Jo smiled at him encouragingly and dropped a kiss on his cheek. “Have you eaten yet?” She asked casually, as if they’d just discussed the weather instead of an attempt on his life.
“Are you hungry?”
“I bet we can fix that.”
Kel and Dixie nodded as they headed for the door. “I’ll have a tray sent up,” Kel said. He glanced at the DeSoto’s…“its okay if he wants to talk but don’t push him…,” he warned softly as he let the door swing shut behind him.
They talked about a number of things for the next hour and helped John with his dinner but the flow of words had stopped. They gave each other a disappointed look but knew they’d have to wait to hear the rest as the younger man’s eyes drooped tiredly. Jo kissed his forehead. “Goodnight baby. I’ll see you in the morning.” John half smile as he drifted off.
“Damn it…,” Roy muttered. “He was so close.”
“Well at least we know for sure that it wasn’t an accident.”
Roy nodded. “Those punks beat him up, chased him down and deliberately knocked him off the motorcycle,” He snarled… “Why? Because he’s Indian…? Because he flirted with some girl…?” He questioned in a rage. “That’s a damn stupid reason to try and kill someone,” he railed angrily.
“Calm down honey. That’s not gonna help.”
She moved into his arms, holding him the way she’d held John…“We also know he remembers more than he’s saying. He’ll tell you when he’s ready and then we’ll get these jerks.”
Roy nodded hugging her to him tightly. “I don’t know Jo, he didn’t talk to me, he talked to you. He may still be a little unsure with me.”
“He’ll get past it and sometimes it’s easier to tell your big sister something that hurt you than another man, even when it’s a big brother.”
“Why’s that?” He murmured against her hair.
She shrugged. “Would you want to tell another guy you weren’t superman and couldn’t get knocked off your motorcycle and then hold off three guys?”
Roy chuckled. “I guess not but why tell you?”
“Because I won’t judge him the same way you macho guys do,” she said simply. “Sometimes you just need a hug and some sympathy.”
The next morning the crew of station 51 made their way to Rampart. Dixie smiled as she looked up and spotted them approaching the base station.
“Well good morning fella’s,” she greeted. “You here to see our favorite patient…?”
"Good morning Miss McCall…,” Hank greeted as the others nodded at her politely.
“Captain, don’t you think after all this time it would be okay to call me Dixie?”
Hank grinned. “Alright Dixie and its Hank.” She nodded her agreement. “And yeah, we’re pretty anxious to see him. How’s he doing this morning?”
“He’s still got a bit of a cough from what was a nasty, borderline lung infection but we think we nipped that in the bud and he has no fever. He’s still pretty sore too but if he’s a good boy Kel might release him into Roy’s care tomorrow or the next day if his lungs clear. He’s lucky to be alive.”
“I’ll take all the luck we can get where he’s concerned,” Hank said ruefully. “He’s gonna need it when I get done with him. He’s lucky I didn’t report him for leaving the hospital.”
“Join the club. Kel already threatened him with a room in the psych ward,” she said drily. Hank chuckled while the other’s glanced at each other in amusement.
“Gage should have been in a psych ward for years now,” Chet quipped. “He just noticed?”
Dixie shot him an un-amused glare while the others grinned. “He’s in three fourteen. Roy’s already up there.”
“What a surprise,” Marco put in.
“Uh…how are they um… getting along?”
She smiled. “They’re getting there but so far the only one John’s opened up with about the incident was Joanne and even that was limited. He still won’t talk about what happened before that.”
“I can’t believe this happened to him,” Mike said quietly.
“What could he possibly have done that they’d wanna hurt him like that?” Marco asked in bafflement.
“The owner of the restaurant said it was a bunch of trouble makers, John apparently smiled at the waitress and one of them considers her to be his girl.”
“Leave it to Gage to pick the wrong chick…again,” Chet said wryly.
“Well I haven’t seen the whole report yet,” Cap said. “But it was more than that Chet. Apparently they didn’t like the fact that John was Indian.”
Their mouths dropped in surprise. “WHAT?” Marco asked in surprise.
“It’s not the first time these guys have done this either. John is apparently not their first victim.”
“Oh wow…,” Mike muttered.
“I guess it got a little ugly…I wouldn’t doubt John’s a little embarrassed to talk about it,” Cap said mysteriously.
The guys looked at each other but knew he’d never tell them and humiliate John. If they ever found out what happened it would have to be from Gage himself.
Dixie cocked a curious eyebrow as well but Hank shook his head. “Like I said …I haven’t read the whole report myself but McConnikee was steaming over it. He really wants to speak to John and I’m having a heck of time trying to keep him from pushing John into talking about it.”
Dixie nodded in understanding. The fire department had no idea about John having Aspergers Syndrome or his past history of abuse and Hank didn’t intend to drive his junior paramedic into an emotional withdrawal by pushing him too hard.
“C’mon guys, let’s go see him,” Cap said.
They said goodbye to Dix and headed upstairs.
They stopped outside his door and Cap turned to look at his men. “Look guys, Roy said he’s a mess so be prepared okay?”
They nodded as Hank pushed open the door. Their eyes almost bugged from their heads. The warning hadn’t helped, they were still shocked by their friend's bruised and battered appearance and the smart remark Kelly had prepared for his favorite pigeon died on his lips. “Oh my God,” he whispered softly.
Roy looked up as John turned his head tiredly in their direction. “Hey guys,” he murmured as they came in.
“Morning Cap, guys…,” Roy greeted.
They nodded toward the blonde paramedic but their horrified gaze was locked on their youngest crew member and their rage grew.
“Who the hell did that to you?” Chet railed angrily.
“Good God, Johnny,” Mike muttered.
Marco just stood with his mouth open in shock at the damage. Roy came around the bed quickly and intercepted the furious crew. “Don’t upset him,” was all he said but the tone was adamant.
“Yeah…um sure Roy,” Mike answered. Marco nodded but Chet’s eyes still blazed in fury.
“Upset him? Someone tried to kill him for crying out loud…Are the police doing something about it?”
“They were arrested Chet. The waitress and the owner of the café said they’d testify but…”
“But what…?” Cap asked.
“Without Johnny filing a complaint they’ll have to let them walk.”
“WHAT?” Chet yelled, looking toward the younger man in the bed. “You’re gonna do that right?”
John’s face flushed in embarrassment and he looked away as the conversation continued.
“Chet, lay off him,” Roy warned angrily. “He’s not ready to talk about this yet.”
“IF you don’t calm down you’re gonna have to leave. I won’t let you upset him any more than he already is, understand?”
Chet looked into blazing blue eyes and got himself under control. “Sorry man,” He muttered as his eyes flicked toward John.
“Johnny’s understandably experiencing a little difficulty remembering all of the details,” Roy warned subtly. All of them knew of John’s having ASD and they all knew there had been some kind of physical abuse in the younger man’s past but none understood the extent of it. They did know he’d blocked painful memories before and remembered Brackett’s warning back then not to push him or prompt his memory. They reluctantly nodded in agreement.
They moved to his bedside. “Sorry Johnny,” Chet muttered as he rested his hand on the younger man’s shoulder.
John smiled tentatively at him and then the other’s as they gathered around him.
“How ya feelin pal…?” Cap asked, taking in the heavy bandage that immobilized his junior paramedics left arm and shoulder.
“Doin better Cap,” he mumbled around his swollen lip. “M…my eyes are opening a l…ittle more and I can talk this m…orning”
Cap looked to Roy for a better explanation. “He’s still congested but the cough’s eased up a lot. His breathing’s improved so he’s not gasping for air so badly. His eyes were nearly closed but the swelling’s gone down some. His cheek was really puffy yesterday too but that’s almost back to normal,” he explained.
The crew exchanged a look. If this was better, how bad had he looked yesterday?
“You’re real fortunate John?” Cap told him. “I should have reported you for pulling this little stunt.”
“I know,” he murmured. “What did you tell em?”
“That you had smoke inhalation and Brackett released you.”
“Didn’t Brackett tell them the truth?” He asked worriedly, remembering how angry the doctor had been with him.
“NO…though he should have.”
“Yes sir. Um, thanks Cap.”
“Yeah well thank me when you get back and you’ve hung a couple of miles of hoses in between latrine duty.”
John swallowed hard. “Maybe I should transfer,” he whispered to Roy.
The older blonde man burst out laughing as the crew chuckled at the comment. Even Hank broke a smile as he leaned toward John. “Request denied,” he said as he reached out to touch the side of John’s dark head. The younger man quirked a crooked grin…
The gathered around him and began to talk about other things. They left a while later.
John remained silent about the details of the accident and even Joanne’s reappearance in his room later that afternoon yielded no further results. They talked about several things but John clammed up when the pressed for details of the fight in the restaurant. Roy wanted to see the report so he’d know for sure what happened but he would have preferred that Johnny trust him enough to tell him himself. John also went mute at the topic of Chris and the incident at the carnival. Jo and Roy exchanged a worried glance that Johnny still hadn’t forgiven the boy. It could be a problem when they brought John home.
Brackett pushed the door open later that afternoon. “Hi Roy, Johnny…? How are you feeling?”
“Better,” Johnny said hopefully.
Kel tucked his stethoscope in his ears. “Let’s take a listen,” he suggested. He set the bell in place, listening carefully. “Let’s sit him up,” Kel said to Roy. The two men eased John to a sitting position and Roy held him as Brackett once again listened. He pursed his lips and tucked the stethoscope back into his pocket. “Sounds pretty good. You’re very lucky Johnny. You could have ended up with bronchitis or pneumonia.”
“I know…,” he said softly.
“Hmmm,” Kel grumbled. “I know huh? But it didn’t slow you down any.” John glanced away guiltily. “Alright Johnny, lecture over.” The dark eyes looked back toward him hopefully. “Roy, are you off tomorrow?”
“Good, why don’t you make arrangements to take your partner home with you then?”
“For tomorrow…?” Roy asked with a grin.
“Yeah,” Kel said with a grin.
John’s voice stopped them. “Can I go home?” He asked hesitantly. Roy’s smile faded slightly and Kel turned a worried glance toward them.
“No Johnny, you can’t go home. At least not by yourself…your option is to stay here or find someone to watch you at your apartment,” he added.
Roy gave him a concerned look. “I…I don’t want to be a problem for Roy and Jo…,” he said softly, not looking at his partner. Roy closed his eyes in frustration. He’d brought these insecurities on and it was up to him to get rid of them.
He reached out to turn John’s face toward him. The dark eyes looked up at him worriedly. “You are NEVER a problem, okay?” The older man said sincerely. “We love you.”
John’s face turned scarlet as he cast a sideways glance at the Doctor. Kel shrugged with a grin, “It’s okay Johnny, I already knew that,” he teased.
Johnny remained speechless but nodded in embarrassment. “So is tomorrow still good for my house?” Roy asked.
“I…What about…?” Johnny hesitated. He’d have to deal with Chris sometime but he truly hoped he’d never set eyes on that other boy again. “Okay…,” he finally mumbled. Roy looked at him curiously but didn’t push it, just thanked heaven that Johnny had come around without further argument.
“I’ll be here to get him first thing Doc,” Roy assured him.
“Good, I’ll have his papers ready. I want him to rest and not do too much for another week or so. He can get up as long as someone’s with him but I don’t want him trying to walk, so I’ll get you a wheelchair.”
“Doc…?” John protested with a whine. “What am I supposed to do when Roy’s at work?”
“Jo will be there…,” Roy said.
“It’s that or you stay here.”
John blushed at the idea of having to have Joanne wait on him hand and foot as well as having to take him to the bathroom but he was pretty sure he could at least handle the worst of that on his own as well once he was in there. “I don’t wanna be a burden for Jo,” He mumbled, tugging at his stitched lip.
“You won’t be,” Roy assured him, sounding a bit frustrated.
“O…kay,” he gave in with a sigh.
Roy was at Rampart first thing the next morning. Dixie greeted him at the base station. “Morning Roy…”
“Hey Dix. I’m here to pick up Johnny.”
“Good, I’m glad Kel isn’t going to punish him by keeping him here any longer than he has too.”
“No, he’s gonna punish him by sending him home with me.”
Dixie looked at him curiously. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just that I’ve ruined everything I’d gained with him over the last five years with one stupid moment.”
“Roy…John knows you love him. He knows you were upset and he’ll get through this.”
“Maybe, but how long will it take to regain what I lost with him?”
“I don’t know. Days, weeks...”
“Maybe years or never…?” Roy muttered, looking away sadly. “God…I can’t believe I was so stupid Dix. When I know how fragile he is.”
“He’s done so well over the last few years you just forgot Roy. I know I was pretty angry with you but remember…When children are involved parents do stupid things.”
Roy nodded. “Yeah but you know John is sometimes like another son to me…Even Chris recognized it a few months ago. How did I forget that one?”
Dixie grinned. “Because he’s also your friend, your partner and your kid brother… He fills so many rolls in your life Roy… you just got a little confused at which one you were yelling at. You’ll work this out, I know it. You mean too much to each other to lose what you have. It’s too special…so fight for it.”
Roy smiled. “I spoke to Dr. Hightower. She wants to teach me her therapy techniques to try with Johnny.”
Dixie looked up at him with a grin. “Have you ever seen what they do there?” Roy shook his head and her smile broadened. “I have. Kel and I went there…”
“Dr. Hightower told me what’s involved,” he said with a blush.
“Good. I guess it’ll be a true test for how much you love John but it’ll be worth it if you can get past that armor you’ve got around you.”
“For Johnny…? I’ll strip it off to my boxers if I have too,” he promised with a grin.
“Good, let’s go get him.” She slipped her arm around Roy’s shoulders and the two headed for the elevator.
Between the two of them they managed to get Johnny into a pair of sweatpants that Roy had cut the elastic out of the ankle to fit around the cast. They removed the gown and tugged a pajama shirt over his good arm letting it drape over the other shoulder.
“Okay tiger, these are the rules. Sponge baths only for the next couple of days. No getting up except to get in and out of that wheelchair. Keep the arm immobile for the next three days and then we’ll see about letting you use that shoulder.” John nodded. She looked to Roy. “Change the bandages over those asphalt burns twice a day. If he has any trouble breathing or runs a fever, bring him back in.” She handed him John’s medications. “Antibiotics, one, twice a day for the next ten days… pain killers, one every eight hours…” She tilted John’s head up and the dark eyes smiled into hers. “Do what Roy and Joanne tell you…,” She leaned down close to his ear. “He loves you a lot,” she whispered before moving to drop a kiss on his cheek. “Take care of yourself and I’ll see you tomorrow,” she told Roy as the nurse’s aide began to push Johnny from the room.
Roy threw her a smile. “What did you tell him?” He asked curiously.
“Only what he already knows in his heart.”
They followed John out.
Roy pulled into the driveway and climbed out, going around to the back to tug the wheelchair from the back of Joanne’s station wagon. He brought it to the passenger side door. John had managed to get the door open and was struggling to turn his sore body in the seat. Roy had a flash of déjà vu…remembering the first time they’d done this. It was the first few months of their partnership and John had broken his ribs and had an infected puncture wound in his leg.
It was the first time Johnny had opened up and confided his past to his partner. It had been the first of many talks and too many times spent recuperating in his home but Roy was almost grateful for this time. He hoped that being here would help them begin to rebuild the trust that had been broken and heal the emotional hurt as well as the physical.
“Johnny just sit there and wait until I get this open for you,” Roy said sternly. Johnny looked up him, the dark eyes locked with blue. He suddenly grinned and Roy knew he was remembering as well. “C’mon junior,” he said with a chuckle as he carefully helped his young friend from the car and lowered him into the wheelchair. He rested his hands on John’s shoulders for a moment giving them a gentle squeeze and thinking how lucky they were to have this second chance and how close they’d come to losing him yet again.
John tilted his head back, looking up at his friend questioningly but Roy just shook his own. “Nothing, I’m just thanking God you’re here and that you’re gonna be okay.”
John frowned as he thought about Chris and how uncomfortable that was likely to be. His heart ached but how could he just forget what the boy had done and everything that had followed after?
Roy wrestled the chair into the house, drawing only a minor grimace of pain from his partner. “Jo, we’re home…,” he called.
She came from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel and planting a kiss on her husband before she squatted in front of John. “Welcome home baby,” she said kissing his cheek gently.
John grinned at her. “Thanks.”
“Are you hungry?” He nodded eagerly. “Good, I have pancakes, bacon, blueberry muffins and coffee. Which do you want?”
“All of them,” John replied with a grin. “After the food at Rampart, I’m starved.”
“Can’t have that, can we? Bring him in the kitchen Roy. The kids have already gone to school so there’s no need for the bigger table.”
Roy nodded and the three managed a quiet meal as John was too busy chewing to talk. Jo grinned at Roy as she set three more pancakes in front of Johnny. “It’s good to have you home sweetheart. You always appreciate my cooking.”
“It’s better than hospital food or the stuff at the station,” he agreed.
“Thanks I think…,” she teased with a laugh. Roy threw her a grateful look…Joanne’s attitude had put Johnny at ease instantly. The tension had faded and Roy knew the younger man was feeling at home once again. He knew they still had a ways to go but it was a good start.
John finished his breakfast and Joanne swept the hair from his forehead. “Your room is all made up. Are you ready to get some sleep?”
Johnny nodded tiredly. He was still sore and the medication made him sleepy. Roy pushed him to his room and helped his friend up and over onto the bed, easing him back against the pillows. John grimaced in pain but shifted around until he was comfortable. “I’m gonna leave the door open. Yell if you need anything.”
“Thanks for letting me come here.”
“It’s your home.”
John smiled as his eyes closed and he drifted off.
John woke several hours later to the sound of children’s voices. He took a deep breath, wincing slightly as the muscles around his ribs tightened painfully. The kids were home from school and he wondered if Chris would simply steer clear of him or if he’d talk to him? Roy hadn’t told him everything that had happened and he wondered if Chris had told Roy the truth on his own or if his Father had confronted him. He still wasn’t sure what to say to the boy himself.
He had little time to contemplate it as Jenny’s blue eyes peeked in the open door and seeing his eyes open turned to yell to the others. “He’s awake daddy…Hi Uncle Johnny…,” she squealed as she raced to his bedside.
John sucked in his breath afraid she’d jump in the middle of him as she was used to doing but apparently her father had warned her. She stopped and leaned forward to plant a soft kiss at the corner of his mouth. John’s lips quirked upward in a smile. “Hey princess…?” He murmured.
“How are you feelin?” She asked with a serious look as she reached out to touch the bandage on his cheek. “You’re all black and purple,” she added.
“I’m feelin much better after that kiss from you…,” he assured her with a tired smile.
She grinned as her mother and father came in behind her. Chris stopped in the doorway, his eyes filled with tears at the sight of his uncle’s battered features. This would never have happened if he’d just been honest.
Johnny’s eyes glanced toward him and then back to his friend and Joanne but he said nothing.
“Why is Uncle Johnny’s face all those funny colors?” Jen asked. “Did you get in another fight?”
“Uncle Johnny had an accident on his motorcycle,” Roy explained. Jen was too young to understand the concept of bigotry and why anyone would deliberately hurt this man she loved so much so despite her innocent and accurate perception of what had caused the injuries, they decided to explain it as a simple accident.
Chris now understood it quite well and he hated the idea that Johnny had been hurt so badly because of it…first as a child and now as an adult. Worse, he’d been a part of some of it and as guilty as the rest, though he hadn’t understood Dalton’s attitude or what was happening and why at the time. He’d still participated and allowed it. What had followed was the aftermath of what he and his friends had started. His father had told him as much as he knew about the accident on the way to pick up Jenny from school. He warned him not to talk about it.
Jen’s eyes widened. She loved Uncle Johnny’s motorcycle and he’d taken her around the block on it a couple of times. “Does your motorcycle look as bad as you do?” She asked.
John chuckled at the innocent remark. “Sorry princess, the bike was a fatality,” he quipped. At her confused frown he clarified. “The motorcycle’s gone sweetie…It didn’t make it.”
“Oh...,” she said sadly. “But I guess its okay as long as you’re alright.” John grinned, grateful that he was considered more important than the bike to the tiny five year old.
Joanne took Jen’s hand. “C’mon sweetheart, Uncle Johnny’s probably hungry. Why don’t we go make him some lunch?” She nodded her head and kissed him again before following her mother out.
Roy waved Chris into the room as he sat on the edge of John’s bed. He reached out to sweep the dark hair from Johnny’s forehead. “Feelin better?” He asked.
“Some…,” he said as he cast a sideways glance at Chris before looking away again.
“Johnny, Chris would like to talk to you?” John’s face turned away and Chris bit his lip painfully to keep from bursting into tears. Uncle Johnny hated him.
“I don’t think now’s a good time Roy. I’m really tired.”
The older man’s jaw set but he understood the hurt his friend was feeling. He reached out to turn John’s face toward him. “I didn’t listen when I should have, don’t make the same mistake junior okay?”
John’s dark eyes locked with his and Roy saw the pain and a hint of fear in them. Johnny didn’t want to open himself to yet another hurt but he finally nodded, “Okay…,” he whispered as he turned toward the boy. “What is it Chris?”
The ten year olds throat tightened painfully as he saw the cool look in the brown eyes. Uncle Johnny had never looked at him like that. Roy pulled the silent boy over to John’s bed. “I’ll leave you two alone for a minute,” he said softly as he stood up and left the room.
John watched him go before returning his gaze to the boy. One dark eyebrow rose questioningly.
“I know you hate me,” he said softly. John’s mouth tightened at the boys opening words. They weren’t true which is why what he’d done had hurt so bad and continued to hurt even now but he said nothing as the boy continued. “And I understand… I’d hate me too,” he whispered. “But I just wanted to tell you that I’m so sorry for what I did. For lying to you and my dad and for letting you take the blame for it. I never meant for anything like this to happen or for my dad to get so mad at you or for you to get hurt.”
“Why did you do it Chris?”
“To prove to Dalton that I wasn’t a chicken… He said I was too scared and that no one would get hurt by it and then when I found out what a big jerk he and his dad are…I was so mad.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“They came here all mad and wanted to make you pay for us getting hurt and he said some mean things about you and I got so mad I just hit him and hit him.”
Johnny’s eyes widened despite the swelling at the boys words. “You hit him?”
“Dad says he’s a bigot and that his father is too and I’m so sorry Unc…Uh…Johnny,” Chris corrected remembering John’s words to him a few days ago. “I didn’t know what that was or I would never have hung out with him. I didn’t know anyone wouldn’t like someone else just cuz they’re different. I didn’t know you’d get hurt like this by people just like him either,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry for everything and if you don’t like me anymore I understand but I still wanted you to know that I love you so much and I’m so sorry I hurt you and that they did and your family…” The words had tumbled out before coming to a halt.
John’s face paled. “My family…What…?” He asked warily.
“Dad told me your parents were dead and that your family was mean to you because you’re half white.”
“He told you that?” He whispered in disbelief.
“Yeah junior…I told him. I thought he was old enough to understand that people like Dalton and his father exist and that their whole purpose in their miserable life is to hurt others because they’re different.” Roy said, coming back into the room. “I also wanted him to understand just how bad he and I failed you.”
“That wasn’t fair Johnny…You didn’t do anything wrong and you got hurt and it’s all my fault and I wanted to tell dad but I was afraid too and so anyway,” he said scuffing his toe. “I just wanted to tell you.”
Johnny looked at Roy in indecision. He didn’t want Chris’ sympathy or pity. His eyes traveled back to the boy. “Are you sorry for what you did or because of my family?” He asked suspiciously. Roy sucked in his breath, knowing where this was going. He hoped his son had the right answer.
“Both,” he said honestly. John’s mouth tightened. “But I would have been sorry for what I did even if your parents were alive. I didn’t know about your family until after I told dad what really happened.”
Johnny looked at Roy… “That true?”
Chris looked wounded but then blushed at the realization. Why should the man trust anything he said? “That’s true junior.” John nodded.
Chris’s head hung in dejection… “I know you never lie and I’m so sorry I disappointed you,” he said sadly as he turned. Not believing his Uncle would ever do such a thing.
John froze. He’d lied many times in his youth, usually to keep anyone from finding out what his Uncle and the rest of his family had done to him but still…He was living a lie right now wasn’t he? He remembered every detail of the attack he’d been a victim of but he was afraid to tell the truth. Afraid of his past and the eyes and the faces and the threats that haunted him… John contemplated everything that had been said. The boy turned and shuffled to the door. “Chris…?” John called.
He turned back with a hopeful look. Johnny waved him back. “You think you and I could start again?” John asked him softly. The boy nodded, throwing his arms around Johnny’s neck, drawing a gasp of pain but the younger man waved Roy off as he started forward. John hugged the boy to him, disregarding the discomfort it was causing. “It might take some time Chris and we can get through this but you’re never gonna lie to me again right?”
“Never again…I swear. Can I call you Uncle Johnny again?”
His hand trailed through the boy’s soft blonde hair. “Sure you can.”
“I love you and I’m sorry I hurt you…I never meant to.”
The boy turned and left and Roy sat down next to him. “Why’d you tell him?” Johnny asked softly.
“I wanted him to understand how badly we’d failed you as your family and that you’d already had to live through it once before…that you’d trusted us not to hurt you and it wasn’t right to put you through that again.” John’s eyes were watching him intently. “That we were supposed to show you what a real family is.”
“Why?” He asked in confusion. “It’s not your job ya know?”
“No it’s not a job, it’s a privilege I take seriously. You are a part of this family and we care about you.”
John’s face colored and he looked away. “Johnny…?” He glanced back at Roy. “I love you and I’m sorry I hurt you…I never meant to,” Roy said repeating Chris’ words. John nodded squeezing his eyes shut against the sudden burn.
Roy turned and left. He didn’t hear the softly murmured. “Love you too.”
John slept for most of the day and Roy got him up for dinner. He was quiet and thoughtful as he looked at the family around him. He’d been badly hurt by the mistrust and accusations but how could he ever willingly give this up? Roy’s eyes traveled toward him several times over the course of the evening but he left him alone. Not knowing for sure what was going on but knowing John was working something around in his head and that he still had some issues to deal with at his own speed.
John lay in bed thinking about it for a long while after the house grew quiet. He thought about what had happened and about Chris and the lie that had started it all. About his own lie…that he couldn’t remember what had happened. How could he condemn the child for something he was doing as well? but he couldn’t get the voices out of his head. ‘I’ll be back … I’ll finish what I started.’ The hate filled eyes bore into his. ‘If you ever tell, I’ll kill you…’ the black eyes of his Uncle leered back at him. He squeezed his eyes shut. “Can’t tell…,” he whispered as sleep finally claimed him.
John sped along the deserted road as the truck bore down on him…he couldn’t get away and the road seemed to stretch for miles. The truck came up beside him, cutting over sharply as he jerked the wheel to avoid him. The faces of the three young men laughing as they pounded the dashboard in excitement and he knew they meant to kill him.
The truck cut over again and John locked up the brakes hoping they’d lose control and he could still get away but the fender clipped his tire sending the motorcycle out of control. He knew it was going over the embankment so he laid it down to try and control its slide but it was moving too fast. It ripped free of him and sailed away as he tumbled helplessly across the asphalt coming to rest in a crumpled heap.
He felt hands grasp him. And the eyes that swam before him…hazel, gray, black and leering…filled with hate. Blue…Roy’s eyes that had burned such an ache into his heart the last time but this time they were different. This time they were gentle, filled with something else. He reached for his friend, crying out his name… “ROY…”
He felt arms wrap around him pulling him from the grip of the others and their faces…their eyes faded from view and he saw only blue. The voices whispering their threats went silent and he heard a different voice. “I’m here…You’re okay junior. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Roy lay in bed thinking about dinner. He saw his partners face as he’d rolled whatever was still bothering him around in his head. He was a little worried. Johnny was obviously still upset and Roy really wanted to talk to him about it…See if he was ready to open up. He somehow sensed Johnny needed him and he rolled out of bed. “Jo?” He called through the bathroom door. “I’m gonna go check on John for a minute.”
“Okay,” she called back.
He headed downstairs. Roy flicked the lights on and cracked the door to John’s room open. His partner lay on the bed, his head tossed restlessly. Sweat beaded his forehead, trickling into his hair. He gasped for air and mumbled words escaped his lips. “Finish what I started…kill you…won’t say anything…can’t tell…ROY…”
Roy quickly moved to his partner’s bedside and sat on the edge. Roy reached out to smooth the dampened hair from John’s face. The younger man’s hand reached for him and Roy took it pulling his friend into his arms. “I’m here…you’re okay junior…I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
John’s eyes flew open and he struggled briefly before he remembered where he was and who it was holding him. He gasped air, trying to get control of his breathing. “Roy,” he whispered.
“Talk to me junior?” Roy said softly. He’d known this moment would come. The time when Johnny would finally get a handle on what had happened and face it…He always did.
“You can tell me…you know you can tell me anything. I’ll understand…even if you’re afraid…it’s okay.”
John’s breathing was calming now. His forehead pressed against Roy’s shoulder as his eyes clenched tightly. “Kill me…They wanted to kill me,” he whispered.
“Talked to the girl…Mary, her names Mary…Geronimo…they called me Geronimo. Tried to leave but they wouldn’t let me. Had to fight… Hit me…three of them. Couldn’t get away… God…they hurt me.”
“What did they do Johnny?” Roy asked gently.
“Held me…hit me…needs war paint.” Roy’s eyes closed in rage.
“Tell me…,” he urged softly.
“They held my head…They put…”
“They put what?”
“Ketchup and mustard…smeared it on my face,” he whispered in humiliation.
“I’m so sorry junior,” he said softly as he stroked the dark hair. He could feel the warmth of John’s embarrassed blush on his skin. “Can you go on?”
He felt a nod. “The owner came out and made them let me go. I got on my bike and drove away.” The words were coming easier now that he’d gotten through the part that had humiliated him the most. “I was a few miles up the road when I saw the truck in my rearview. I didn’t know it was them then and I wasn’t worried until they got closer.”
Roy rubbed his back gently and John blew out a breath. “You okay?”
“I tried to make it to the pass. I knew they couldn’t maneuver the truck there but I didn’t make it in time. They caught up to me. Tried to hit me with the truck and I swerved but they kept coming. They came up beside me and tried again but I had nowhere to go so I hit the brakes. I thought they’d lose control of the truck but the fender hit my front tire. The bike was out of control and I tried to lay it down and stop it but I couldn’t and it was dragging me with it. It finally just bounced away and I stopped sliding.”
“Do you know remember anything after that…?”
He nodded again, his body going rigid in Roy’s arms. “They pulled me up and yanked my helmet off. God…They hit me…over and over…told me if I said anything…they’d come back and finish the job,” he gasped. “I don’t remember anything after that until I woke up and I was in the ravine…I hurt so bad and I couldn’t hardly move.”
“It’s okay junior…You’re safe now.”
“I’m sorry I lied to you…I was scared,” he murmured, sounding embarrassed at the admission.
“Johnny…it’s okay. You were afraid that’s understandable but I knew you’d tell me eventually.”
“Sure I did…I told that to your Aunt and the police.”
“I kept hearing their voices… my Uncle’s telling me he’d kill me…if I told…I…I kept seeing their faces…”
“It’s okay…it’s okay…You’re gonna be okay and I won’t let anyone hurt you. Johnny…? You need to tell the police what happened so they can arrest them.”
“I’ll be with you…I promise okay? But you need to get these people put away.”
John finally raised his head and leaned back to look at his friend. “I don’t know…I was so humiliated…I…”
“You can do this…You’ve faced worse things and beat the odds,” Roy said cupping the side of John’s face in his hand.
John considered that for a long moment before he finally nodded. “Okay…”
“Good boy…Think you can sleep now?”
“Good.” Roy eased him back against the pillows before pulling the blanket around him. “Good night junior.”
Roy headed upstairs and found Joanne sitting up in bed waiting. “How was he?” She asked.
“He was having a nightmare.”
“Oh no…Is he okay?”
“Yeah… He told me what happened Jo.”
“All of it?”
Roy nodded and filled her in. “God Jo I wanted to drive back there and kick the crap out of them for what they did to him,” he finished angrily.
She kissed his cheek and slid under the covers. “I’ll help you,” she murmured softly as she reached out to flip off the lights. Roy chuckled at his gentle wife’s words and her protectiveness over their young friend.
“Good night honey.”
John had been home for two days and had endured the indignation of one sponge bath by his partner and warded off Joanne’s offer of a second while Roy was at work the following day, drawing a delighted giggle from the older woman and a warm flush of embarrassment at his predicament. It had been worse when he’d had to allow her to wheel him into the bathroom on several occasions.
She grinned at his red face and refrained from offering to give him a hand. She sailed out the door throwing a parting… “Call me if you need any help.” John childishly stuck his tongue out at her as she left.
The children made a point of being around and being helpful when they got home from school, taking some of the burden off of Jo. Chris knew it would take some time for his uncle to get over the hurt even though he’d forgiven him and stayed close, brushing off his friend’s invitations to play to stay and help out with Johnny.
Roy arrived home right after his shift ended and went to help John out of bed. He brought him to the table and regaled him with some of the rescues they’d responded to the day before. Johnny smiled with amusement at some of the antics of his friends.
The kids finally headed off for school and left the adults alone. Roy turned to his partner after breakfast was finished. “Johnny, we need to call those detectives in Santa Barbara.”
The dark eyes lifted to meet his. “I don’t…I can’t…not yet…I,” he stuttered.
“Johnny, you need to do this.”
“Why? Why are you pushing me?”
“Because they hurt you...” John opened his mouth but Roy interrupted him. “And if you tell me its okay cuz you’re used to it I think I’ll bust you one myself.”
John’s mouth snapped shut in surprise drawing a giggle from Joanne but she disappeared into the kitchen as Johnny turned his shocked gaze toward her. He looked back to his friend who was staring at him with a completely serious expression. “I don’t know.”
Roy reached out and laid his hand on his arm. “You’ll be able to let this go if you tell them what happened, just like everything else you’ve overcome but it’ll haunt you forever if you don’t and you know it.”
John closed his eyes but opened them a moment later as he felt Joanne’s hands rest on his shoulder’s “We’ll be with you every step of the way,” she promised. “And remember that you were angry with Chris for telling a lie that hurt you.”
“I’m not hurting anyone…,” he murmured.
“Of course you are sweetheart.”
John looked up at her over his shoulder. “Who…?”
“You…You’re hurting yourself because they need to pay for what they did to you and to others and you’re letting them get away with it and that’s not our John.”
He looked down at his lap in indecision. His teeth tugged at the stitches adorning his lower lip and Roy knew he was turning what they’d said over in his mind. He finally looked up at them. “I guess you’d better call them.”
O’Brien and Witt arrived later that afternoon. Their somber looks warned Roy that something bad had happened. They shook hands with both paramedics and nodded in greeting to Joanne when they were introduced. Joanne made coffee and they made themselves comfortable in the DeSoto’s living room. “Mr. Gage, first we’d like to apologize again for upsetting you so badly that day at the hospital but I hope you understand that we really just wanted to get these guys,” O’Brien said.
“Yes…I’m sorry I couldn’t help you much then.”
“That’s okay. We’re just hoping you can help us now,” Witt replied. There was an urgent tone in his voice and Roy looked up at them.
“Has something happened?”
Witt and O’Brien exchanged a glance. “Yes, something’s happened. A young Mexican man was beaten and tossed in a ditch. We think it was our friends again.”
John closed his eyes in dread. “How is he?” He whispered.
“He’s in a coma, they don’t think he’s gonna make it Mr. Gage.”
“Oh God…,” Johnny whispered. If he hadn’t waited…If he’d told them truth three days ago… He’d asked Joanne who his silence…his lie had hurt and now he knew.
“John, this is not your fault,” Roy said quickly, recognizing the tone. He reached over and laid his arm over John’s shoulder. “It’s not your fault.”
“I…I should have told you before…I told you I didn’t remember but that wasn’t true…I…I’m so sorry…I…”
“Mr. Gage,” Witt said apologetically. “Nobody is blaming you. You were badly injured and understandably traumatized.”
John shook his head obviously too distraught to hear what the man was saying.
Roy turned the younger man’s face toward him. “Johnny, don’t do this to yourself… Please. You couldn’t have known this would happen.”
“Mr. Gage, listen to me,” O’Brien said to the younger man. John looked at him, the dark eyes looked haunted. “They were out on bail. We’d arrested them for the assault on you in the café and they were out on bail.” John shook his head not understanding. “Even if you’d told us the truth they would still have been out on bail and they probably would have still beaten that man, do you understand?”
John stared at them still not comprehending. “I’m so sorry,” he said rocking softly.
“Johnny, look at me…,” Roy commanded, alarmed at the rocking motion. The brown eyes lifted to lock with Roy’s. “This was not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong. You were a victim too, do you understand?”
He finally nodded but the distress was still evident. “Yes…,” he whispered.
“Can you tell us what happened?”
John nodded and went through the story with the two men. His face burned in embarrassment when he explained the ketchup and mustard but the two detectives had already been told about it by the owner and the young waitress and merely nodded in understanding.
“One last question for you Mr. Gage…?” John looked at them curiously. “Will you appear in court and testify if this comes to trial?”
John closed his eyes briefly but finally nodded. “Yes…,” he whispered.
Chris and Jen charged through the door a moment later, dropping their backpacks and stopping short at the sight of two strangers in their living room. “Chris, Jen…this is Detective O’Brien and Detective Witt. They’re from Santa Barbara.”
“Are you here because of what happened to Uncle Johnny?” Chris asked.
They nodded, giving the children a smile as they moved to the young dark haired man’s side. John reached out and gently brushed Jen’s cheek and then turned to Chris. He hugged the boy to him. Chris hugged his uncle tightly looking at his father in confusion. Roy smiled. He’d explain later.
The bruises faded, the swelling went down and the stitches were removed but the real healing was taking place where no one could see it. Johnny was still troubled by the beating of the young Mexican man and his family rallied around him offering support and understanding and their relationship began to strengthen once again. John was still a bit insecure and he knew they still had some work to do but he also knew they’d get through it together.
After three weeks Kel put him in a walking cast and allowed him to go home on his own. Johnny breathed a sigh of relief that he’d no longer be a burden on his partner and his family. Roy would be upset if he knew he still felt that way but he couldn’t help it. Roy scruffed his head affectionately… “You’ll be back in the squad in no time partner.” John threw him a grin.
Johnny had only been home a short time when there was a knock on his door. He hobbled to it to find Chris and his three friends…Carl, Ron and Tony along with Carl’s father. He looked at them nervously, wondering what was up. “Uh John…,” Carl Sr. said extending his hand. “I’m glad to hear you’re doing better.”
“Thanks but what’s um…goin on?”
“The boys here owe you an apology and since you’re still laid up with your ribs and your broken ankle they thought it would be only fair if they did some work for you.”
“That’s not necessary,” he murmured thinking of his own guilty lie and its cost.
“John, the boys almost cost you your friendship, your family and you almost got killed because of it. The least they can do is help you out for a few days. C’mon boys. Ron, Carl…the rover could use a washing. Tony, Chris…how about some vacuuming and dusting?” John stood to the side as the two boys brushed past him, the protest dying on his lips as Carl shook his head. “They need to understand the consequences of their actions.”
Johnny nodded. He understood his own even though Roy and the Detectives had assured him that it wasn’t his fault and most likely would have happened anyway. He’d still have to live with it for the rest of his life if that young man died. He couldn’t work his guilt away but he could let the boys at least feel better about themselves.
Roy and Joanne met Dr. Hightower at her clinic for the first time while Chris was with Johnny. They’d left Jen with the neighbors. She showed them around and allowed them to watch a therapy session. Roy’s face paled as he watched the therapist work with another therapist, showing him how it was done. Joanne giggled at the uncomfortable look when he realized what he’d have to do. She elbowed him in the ribs. “You’ve touched me before honey, it’s nothing to be embarrassed by,” she teased.
“You’re not the one I’m worried about,” he muttered, drawing a laugh from his wife as well as the doctor.
“C’mon Roy, Let’s get started,” Martha said with a grin as she closed the door.
The detective’s had called Johnny shortly after their interview to tell him that the three men he’d identified had been arrested for attempted murder and that they were still trying to link them to the beating of the other man. They’d also managed to get one of the other victims’ to come forward and that would help a lot. The bad news is they were out on bail once again. John shook his head in disbelief…He couldn’t believe it. “We did tell you Mr. Gage that it would have been quite possible that Mr. Ramirez would likely have been beaten even if you’d told us the truth. I’m afraid our justice system is often on the side of the perpetrator and not the victim.” It helped some but John still felt guilty.
The crew was just as stunned when Roy had informed them that Johnny’s assailants were out on bail again. “How many people do they have to beat up before they lock them up?” Chet asked in shock.
“Apparently more than an Indian and a Mexican,” Roy replied in disgust.
“Is Johnny in any danger?” Mike asked.
Roy shook his head. I don’t think so. The Detectives haven’t released his name or his whereabouts to anyone so he’s probably safe enough.
The crew exchanged a look that boded ill for anyone who bothered their youngest crew member again. They like to tease Roy for his over protective streak toward Johnny but that streak ran straight through every crew member of station 51.
Over the next few weeks Roy continued his therapy training and Johnny continued to recuperate. The children continued to come several times each week to clean and help out around the house until John’s ribs healed and the cast was removed from his ankle.
The detectives called Johnny to give him the court date and to warn him that the three men had made a few threats but were reasonably sure that they didn’t know where he was. He was disappointed to learn that the last victim was still comatose and felt the guilt rise up once again.
“I’d really sleep better if you’d come back to the house til this is over junior,” Roy said after Johnny had told him what they’d said.
“I’ll be okay Roy. They still don’t know where I am.”
“You hope…Johnny, please be careful. What happened to Ramirez wasn’t your fault and I don’t want you beating yourself up over it okay?”
Damn it how did he always know?
“I promise you I’ll be careful Roy, but if they are lookin for me I sure don’t want them finding me at your house with Jo and the kids.”
“Well if they are lookin for ya, I don’t want them finding you alone either and they won’t know where I live.”
“I’ll be careful and I’ll be back to work in a couple of days,” he said stubbornly.
Roy sighed in defeat knowing his willful partner wasn’t going to give in…He was still insecure and Roy knew he needed more time.
He headed off for work the next morning...filling the guys in over coffee.
“You think he’s in any real danger?” Marco asked.
“Only if they find him…Thank God the trial’s only a few days away.”
“Bet you’ll be glad when he’s back to work and you can keep an eye on him?” Mike teased.
“Yeah, I’ve missed him…a lot.”
“Thanks a lot DeSoto,” Hal Dickson said with a grin.
“No offense but Johnny and I have been together a long time and I miss my best friend ya know?”
“I’ve heard,” he said drily. Every fireman in Los Angeles knew the relationship between these two men.
“In the meantime, I still have to worry about him until the trial is over and hope these guys don’t find him.”
Chet exchanged a look with Marco and Mike. The Irishman smiled wickedly…Johnny was at risk and none of them were gonna sit by and let something happen to him again, besides it was time these jerks learned the consequences of their actions. John would be perfectly safe until the trial was over. They’d see to that.
Roy’s blue eyes flicked between them in confusion at the suspicious glances but Cap’s bellow of “Roll Call…” stopped his worried query.
Johnny returned to work for the first time on the next shift two days later. He met Roy in the parking lot. “Man is it good to be back,” he said with a grin.
“I know what ya mean junior. I’ve missed you,” Roy said giving him a playful scruff of the dark head.
“Quit…,” he growled smoothing the shaggy hair back into place but his crooked grin took the sting out of his rebuke.
They headed inside glancing around curiously. Not a single member of the either shift was in sight though they could hear their voices from the rec room. John and Roy went to get changed. They entered the rec room a while later to find both shifts standing at the counter engaged in various activities. They studiously avoided looking at either paramedic. Mike held a cup of coffee out to Johnny without turning to look at him, drawing a curious look from the junior paramedic. “Welcome back Johnny,” he said as the younger paramedic handed the cup to Roy and took the next one, moving away and glancing at his partner with a look of bafflement. The blonde paramedic shrugged.
They went and sat at the table with his partner watching the five members of C-shift and their own crew mates. Roy set his cup down. “Alright you guys what’s up?” Roy asked finally.
“Up…? What do ya mean Roy?” Chet asked without turning around.
Dark eyes met blue…suspicion clearly written in John's. He raised an eyebrow and Roy shrugged again. Captain Hookrader entered the room, throwing a nod toward the young paramedic. “Good to see you back Gage.” He said moving to the counter.
“Thanks Cap,” he said quietly.
“Okay men,” Hookrader said. “Captain Stanley and the rest of A-shift are here so you’re free to go.”
Chet threw a glance toward the Captain. “Did you tell him?” He muttered.
“No Kelly, I thought I’d let him be as surprised as I was yesterday when my crew showed up.”
“Surprised by what?” Roy finally asked in exasperation.
“You haven’t seen em yet?” He asked with a grin.
Both Roy and Johnny shook their heads in bafflement. “Men…,” Hookrader barked as John lifted his coffee cup toward his mouth... “About face…,” Hookrader barked.
The crew groaned but obediently turned to face the three men. Johnny froze in mid motion his jaw gaping in stunned surprise. Roy choked on his own coffee, spewing it back into his cup as he took in the condition of his friends. Every one of them bore some sort of Injury.
Marco’s lip was split. Chet had a black eye and Mike Stoker had a bruised cheek. Charlie Dwyer had three butterfly stitches and Kirk Carlson sported a bandage over his right eye. Murphy had a splint on his finger while C-shifts other lineman Denny Blake had a fat lip. Their Engineer Evan O’Rourke was missing a tooth.
“What the hell happened to you?” Johnny asked, his voice squeaking in shock.
Roy’s mouth was open in stunned surprise as well.
Hookrader laughed in amusement at the shock on their faces. He gave Johnny a hearty slap off the back. “That was for you Gage…,” he said with a laugh as he headed out the back door to the parking lot.
“Wha…? F…for me…? What’re ya talkin about?” He asked whirling around in his seat to look at the older Captain but the door was swinging shut behind him. The faces of the eight men were turning red in embarrassment as Roy stared at them and Johnny’s dark eyes came back to rest on his friends. “What’s he talkin about?” Roy shrugged.
“We ah…took a little ride the other day while B shift was on duty,” Chet mumbled.
“Yeah…?” Johnny asked, still obviously confused.
“Took a ride to Santa Barbara…,” Mike added.
Roy’s eyes began to register awareness while his slightly naive partner still stared in confusion. “Why?” Johnny asked innocently.
“We heard there was this great little coffee shop out there…,” Dwyer said with a shrug.
“With this cute little waitress,” Kirk added.
“And three tough guys who like to beat up people,” Marco piped in. Roy began to chuckle in appreciation while Johnny’s mouth continued to hang open, his eyes staring blankly.
“And they were threatening a friend of ours so…,” Murphy hesitated.
“We gave em a little warning to stay away,” O’Rourke finished with a shrug.
Roy was laughing outright as Johnny finally understood. “God…I wish I coulda seen that,” Roy said with a grin..
Johnny looked at him as if he had two heads and then spun back to his friends. “What did you do?” He asked, looking at them in disbelief.
“We um…sent Marco in to talk to her…,” Chet began.
“Alone,” Mike added.
“He could have been killed,” Johnny whispered horrified, remembering Ramirez.
“We weren’t far away,” Dwyer protested.
“And I had a radio. I just clicked it when our friends got too aggressive and they came runnin,” Marco said with a grin.
“It was a great fight Johnny,” Blake added.
“And they’re a bit sore and not apt to be bothering you for a long while,” Murphy volunteered.
They needed to learn that there are consequences for their behavior,” O’Rourke put in.
The dark eyes were traveling from person to person, first in fear and then in disbelief and finally touched that they’d done this for him. “I can’t believe you did that,” he said softly.
“When Roy told us they were threatening to come find you…Well we thought they should know that you aren’t all alone here and it wasn’t gonna be so easy as it was with one man on a motorcycle. They go after you then they better be prepared to take on all of station 51.”
“Where was the owner?” John asked in surprise, remembering the large man and his baseball bat.
“He was watching to be sure we didn’t do too much damage…,” Chet said.
“And to be sure no one called the cops,” Mike added.
“Mary was cheering us on…She’s quite a girl Johnny. She asked me to give you her number,” Marco added.
Johnny gave him a double take while Roy wiped at his eyes both with laughter but also touched by the deep affection these men had for his young friend. “I wish I coulda been there,” he said quietly. John looked at him with a dumbfounded expression. “What?” Roy asked him. “You think I don’t wish I could have been there to beat the stuffing outta em too. Well think again junior,” he added reaching out to sweep the shaggy, dark hair from John’s face.
The younger man’s cheeks turned scarlet at the affectionate gesture in front of the others but Roy didn’t care. Dr. Hightower was not only teaching him therapy to help Johnny explore his feelings but his own as well. One of those lessons was not to be afraid of showing what you feel and he couldn’t teach it if he couldn’t express it. Johnny was gonna have to deal with it.
Captain Stanley strolled into the rec room reading a list of safety drills. “Okay gentlemen…,” He began. “Roll ca…” His words trailed off as he looked up and spotted the battered condition of his men.
“Mornin Cap,” Roy called.
Hank’s dark eyes swung toward his paramedic team brightening momentarily at the sight of John before darting back to the other’s in stunned amazement. The paper dropped from his fingers…“What the heck…?”
Murphy, Dwyer, Carlson, O’Rourke and Blake all made a hasty retreat toward the door. “See you guy’s in a couple of days,” Blake called back to them.
“Hey guys wait…,” Chet called with a whine.
“We already had to explain it to our Captain…It’s your turn,” Dwyer shot back as the door closed.
Cap’s eyes swung back toward them. “Someone wanna tell me what’s goin on?” He barked.
Roy and Johnny shrugged innocently. “Well Cap…See the other day when Roy told us…,” Chet began.
Cap held up his hand to stop him and looked at the floor… “Wait…Hank do you really wanna hear this?” He muttered to himself. “No Hank you probably don’t,” He answered himself. He looked up at his men and slapped his hands together rubbing them briskly. “Roll call Gentlemen…” He bent and picked up his paper before turning and heading for the apparatus bay. The laughter of his crew trailed after him.
Johnny appeared in court a few days later. His eyes widened in surprise as the three defendants entered the courtroom. All sported multiple bandages and bruises. He covered his mouth with his hand and avoided making eye contact. Some thought he was understandably nervous about testifying against his assailants but only Roy saw the sparkle in his eyes and knew he was trying not to laugh at their battered appearance.
As Johnny and Roy were leaving the courtroom a small group of people pushing a wheelchair approached them. A young Mexican man sporting several bandages of his own sat in it. He raised his hand as they drew closer. “Mr. Gage?” He asked.
Johnny nodded. “Yes.”
“I’m Jose Ramirez. The detective pointed you out to me.”
Johnny looked at him blankly for a moment before it sunk in. “Ramirez…Oh…you were their last victim?”
“I thought you were in a coma…?”
“I was until four days ago.”
“Wow…Man I’m so sorry,” Johnny whispered guiltily.
“For what Mr. Gage…?”
“Man…you’d a never have been hurt if I woulda told him what happened right away. I’m so sorry…”
“It’s John,” the paramedic interrupted. “And this is my partner Roy DeSoto,” he added.
“Alright then John…Roy…I came over to thank you for testifying today.”
“It’s the least I could do after you got hurt because of me…because I lied…”
The younger man shook his head. “You misunderstand…”
“I came to thank you for giving me the courage to be here as well.”
John shook his head. “I should have told them sooner. You wouldn’t have been hurt…”
Jose held up his hand. “No one could have known what would happen John and I understand. It wasn’t until the day before yesterday that I was willing to tell them what happened to me. They threatened to come after me and I was afraid but then detective O’Brien told me about you and that you were willing to come forward and tell them your story because of what they’d done to me so that these men would be put away. That because of you another victim was also willing to testify. I…I finally told them what they’d done and I wanted to thank you for giving me the courage to do this today.”
John felt Roy’s hand rest on his back as his eyes burned. He smiled at the young man before him and held out his hand. “You’re welcome then and good luck in there.”
They wheeled the other man away. John turned to his partner. “I can’t believe he forgave me…If I hadn’t lied…”
“He understood your fear and the fact that your human junior, just like the rest of us. You didn’t tell the truth because you were afraid and so was he…It was easy to understand because he put himself in your shoes. You faced up to the lie and the consequences of it and came forward to make it right just like Chris did and you forgave him right?”
John nodded glancing up at his partner. “Thanks Roy…”
Johnny shrugged. “Making me see things a little clearer sometimes…”
Roy slapped his shoulder. “Hey junior…That's what family is for."
"You know junior, I heard about this little café on the way home from Santa Barbara. It’s got a really cute waitress…”
“Yeah…I think I know the place…”
Their voices trailed off as the courthouse doors closed behind them.
The characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. There is no Santa Barbara General Hospital and I used a fictitious name so I wouldn’t offend a real hospital and the fine doctors and nurses in Santa Barbara. Any medical mistakes are mine.
Posted to Site 03/28/10
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The Characters of Emergency do not belong to me. They are the property of Universal Studios and Mark VII Limited. No copyright infringement is intended or monetary gain made. I merely like to toy with them and return them to their proper owner in good working order.
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