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Fate chooses your relations, you choose your friends…Jacque Delille
The wail of an infant snapped twenty eight year old paramedic John Gage from a sound sleep with the efficiency of the Station Control Unit Klaxon. It was a sound he’d grown very well accustomed to over the last few weeks and far more intimately.
The handsome, dark haired man sat bolt upright and he glanced at the beautiful woman sleeping next to him, her raven hair spread out like a blanket over the pillows. John’s fingers toyed with the silken locks as his dark eyes wandered over her stunning features.
John smiled down at the girl, still finding it hard to believe that this lovely young woman was his wife. They’d been married on Christmas Eve and now here they were five months later with two beautiful babies and their whole lives ahead of them, speaking of which his son Roy Joseph was making himself heard and he knew that it would only be a matter of time until his twin sister, Kathleen Joanne woke and added her complaints to her brothers.
His wife Danella’s soft amber eyes began to flutter open and John leaned down to place a tender kiss on her lips before he swung his long legs over the side of the bed and pushed himself to his feet.
Dani’s eyes finally opened and she raised herself up on her elbow, allowing the blankets the fall down around her waist.
John’s dark eyes widened at the beautiful picture she presented in her rather low cut nightgown. He swallowed down a longing groan of disappointment that Danella still wasn’t up to love making at this point and he turned away before he totally disgraced himself.
“Your son is hungry Na’méhoht,” she said softly.
“Yeah I heard,” he replied, as he pulled his sweat pants on before heading for the door.
“I’ll take care of him Me’oo’o,” she said as she flipped the covers back.
“That’s okay…you stay put and I’ll bring him here. Maybe I can get him before he wakes up Kat...,” his words ended as he heard the second squall join their sons. John sighed and grinned at Dani as she pulled her robe on and came around the bed to join him.
“We’ll do it together,” she laughed. John nodded and let his wife precede him from the room and across the hall to where the babies were sharing a bedroom, at least for now.
The couple pushed open the door to the nursery, where their son and daughter were now both making their displeasure with their empty bellies known. Their tiny faces scrunched up and red with anger. John and Dani leaned over the crib and smiled down at their offspring.
The young couple adored these moments with the infants despite the fact that neither of them had been able to get a full night’s sleep since they’d brought the babies home two weeks ago. Dani’s parents, Joseph and Sena had come right after their birth and stayed for a week to help out, but Dani was breastfeeding and John refused to stay in his comfortable bed while she had to get up in the middle of the night to take care of the babies, besides, he enjoyed the bonding time they shared as she fed their offspring.
John’s attention was pulled back as their daughter snuffled back her tears and gurgled hopefully up at her parents. The young man grinned and scooped her up in his arms. “Good morning Katie Jo,” he said softly, kissing the tiny girls forehead tenderly.
Dani shook her head in wonder. It never failed to amuse her that her husband had this effect on girls of all ages. Whether aged and withered as Little Fox or as young as Roy’s daughter Jennifer, it made no difference and his own daughter was no different. She gave her daddy a toothless grin as he wiped the tears off her plump cheeks.
“Here you go my love…off to mommy,” he said, handing the infant over to her mother. Katie Jo snuffled unhappily at being displaced but gave her mother a teary eyed hopeful look that breakfast would be forthcoming.
“Hello me’oo’o,” she greeted her daughter with a kiss and waited as John reached down to lift his still squalling son from the crib.
“Wow Rory…You sure got some good lungs,” he teased, using the nickname they'd dubbed him with to prevent confusion when Uncle Roy was around. He raised the infant to his shoulder to pat his back comfortingly. Rory continued to wail in his ear for another long moment until he suddenly realized he’d won what he’d wanted…Attention. He hiccupped back his tears and his scrunched up fists loosened briefly to clutch at his father’s collar length, sable hair. John winced a bit at the tug, drawing a giggle from Danella.
“He is strong like his daddy,” she teased.
John grinned at her. “He is beautiful like his mother,” he replied, leaning down to kiss his wife.
The kiss lingered until both babies decided they’d been patient long enough. Rory began to whimper and a moment later Katie Jo followed suit. “Uh oh,” Dani warned as she broke the kiss.
John grinned and gave her a head jerk toward the doorway. “Honeymoons over,” he sighed as the foursome made their way downstairs for breakfast.
A short time later both of them sat with an infant in their laps. Danella had Katie Jo at her breast while John kept Rory busy with a bottle of water until it was his turn.
“What time is Rosemary expecting you?” Dani asked, giving her daughter a gentle pat on her bottom to keep her awake while she nursed.
Johnny glanced at the clock. “I told her I’d meet her at the house at ten,” he replied, jogging his son as the infant began to whine a bit, realizing this wasn’t what he’d been hoping for.
“I hope you can find it. Dixie’s wedding is only a week away and she was hoping to have that veil to wear.”
“I know…Aunt Rose thought Joshua would help her but he didn’t want to crawl around in a dirty attic to find it for her,” John replied in disgust.
Dani grimaced and shook her head in annoyance. She hadn’t met Rosemary’s children yet and wasn’t looking forward to them being at her own wedding in a couple of months.
Even though she and John were already married, they’d decided to renew their vows for all of John’s friends and co workers who hadn’t been able to attend the ceremony in Lame Deer. This one would be a traditional white man’s wedding unlike the one Native American Ceremony they’d had in Montana at Christmas time.
She knew they’d been horrible to John while he was growing up and she was afraid she might offend Rosemary if they started anything at the wedding, but she had no intention of letting them insult her husband on that special day either and she knew John wouldn’t do anything to disappoint his aunt.
“Why don’t you take your daughter and I will take Rory. If you could just change her and put her down…I will take care of our son while you feed the horses…,” she offered as she carefully moved her now sleeping daughter and handed her over to Johnny. “Joanne will be here soon to help me out.”
He grinned as he handed Rory back to his wife and brought Katie Jo to his shoulder to pat her back gently as he carried her off to the nursery.
Roy and Joanne had been here many times since the twins had been born…Roy and Chris along with Joseph, had helped him finish the nursery since the babies had arrived a month sooner than expected. They’d even helped clean the stalls a few times so Johnny could relax, while Jo, Sena and Jennifer had cooked and helped Danella pick up around the house until she’d gotten back on her feet after the twins birth. In fact all of the guys and their wives had been frequent visitors in the last few weeks, taking their role of honorary aunts and uncles seriously.
John had been very pleased that Danella’s father had been impressed by the ranch and had left knowing John would be able to provide for his daughter and his grandchildren.
John made short work of changing Katie Jo, feeling rather proud that he hadn’t even wakened the infant while he did it. He wasn’t really surprised though, he’d had years of practice with Jennifer DeSoto after all. He laid her down in her crib and headed for the stables.
He glanced at his watch…He had a bit over an hour to drive to San Gabriel to meet his Aunt at the Hughes mansion where all of her old things were still stored, even though she’d long since moved to the Gage home in Santa Barbara. She’d never seen the need to move the junk in the attic, especially since her parents had had enough of their own stored away in their house. He’d need to hurry to get there on time.
The horses greeted him with a hopeful whicker. He reached up to pat each animals head as he passed, stopping to give his particular favorite, Rain’s Fire a gentle head to head touch. The horse snorted softly and John blew a small breath of his own into the horse’s nostrils. Rain’s fire gave John a nudge with his nose making the young man laugh. He reached up and scratched the stallion’s neck, “Good morning to you too,” he chuckled good humouredly, pushing the horses head away. He headed over to the bins where the grain was kept, pulling the scoop out…He measured out five buckets and headed back…He fluffed a couple of squares of hay into each stall and filled the water buckets…He’d turn them out to pasture when he returned.
He glanced at his watch…He was still ahead of schedule…He ran inside to shower. Fifteen minutes later he was on the way to San Gabriel.
John pulled into the driveway and spotted his Aunt’s car parked there. He breathed out a sigh of relief that she was already here and he wouldn’t have to deal with his cousins and Joshua’s wife Allison alone. He’d spent four years growing up in this house but it had never been his home.
He climbed the stairs, his mind winging back to a time years ago when his Aunt’s servant Edward Devane had worked here. John remembered the conspiratorial twinkle in the man’s eyes as he opened the door to greet him after school, wondering what trouble John had gotten himself into that day.
He remembered Laura, Carrie and Ellen waiting with an afterschool snack and they’re smiling faces. He grinned to himself…Well…he guessed, looking back…It hadn’t been all bad. His aunt had been very good to him, but so much had happened to him previous to her guardianship that John had been unable to accept her love and affection. He’d cut himself off from caring about anything or anyone.
The only one who’d been able to finally reach him had been his best friend and partner, Roy De Soto and his family. It had only been because of his persistence and brotherly affections that he had finally broken down the barriers in John’s life and allowed the young man to feel and learn how to love and be loved. Something Johnny would be forever grateful for. He knew that Danella and his two beautiful babies probably wouldn’t be in his life right now if Roy hadn’t come along six years ago.
John pulled his attention back to the matter at hand. As much as he hated being here with Joshua and Tiffany, he loved his Aunt and she needed his help to find something for another dear friend. So for Dixie’s sake…He’d put up with the pair.
He knocked on the door. A moment later it opened and an older man scanned the tall, slender paramedic with a condescending air. John sighed, realizing Joshua had outdone himself in hiring someone as narrow minded and arrogant as he was. “I’m John Gage…I’m supposed to meet my Aunt Rosemary here,” he informed him without preamble.
“Yes uh…sir,” he greeted haughtily… “She’s expecting you,” he replied, backing hesitantly away as if allowing some sort of riff raff to enter the pristine halls of his employer.
John rolled his eyes in annoyance and brushed past him. His dark eyes taking in the hallway and the changes his cousin had made. He frowned and shook his head…His aunts once elegant entryway had been transformed into a gaudy mass of heavy furniture, gilt and ostentatious décor. Must have been Joshua’s choosing. The young man had a flair for arrogance unmatched by anyone John had ever met.
“Hello Na’ha’keta,” his Aunt’s voice came from behind him.
John spun around to see Rosemary and his two cousins along with Joshua’s wife Allison and Tiffany’s fiancé, Alex Blake coming from the sitting room. “Hi Aunt Rose,” he greeted with a smile, giving her a tight hug and a kiss on her cheek before turning to the other three. “Joshua,” he said coolly. He nodded a greeting to Tiffany, Allison and Alex, remembering the man well…He’d tried to drown John the first time they’d met.
“Hello John…How are you?” Joshua questioned, not really caring about his answer.
“I’m fine and you?” He replied with equal coolness.
“Doing very well…”
“I’m sure,” John answered disinterestedly.
“I heard you got married John?” Allison cooed, looking a little disappointed. She’d always thought John was the more handsome of the two Cousins and if she’d thought for a minute that John would inherit any of his family’s estate and bank accounts, she’d have turned her sights on him years ago…Though her friend Elise had zeroed in on him regardless of his penniless state. She’d informed Allison not long ago that she’d been John’s first teacher in the art of lovemaking…Allison hadn’t admitted it but she’d been incredibly jealous. Joshua was just as selfish in bed as he was out of it.
“That’s right Allison…And we have a set of twins,” John informed her proudly.
“That’s right…You followed in your father’s footsteps and married a squaw,” Joshua sneered.
Rosemary gasped and opened her mouth to bite out a retort but the words didn’t get a chance to come out before John’s fist lashed out and clipped Joshua’s square in the face. Her son stumbled back a couple of steps before he fell onto his rear end.
Alex and the other two women sucked in their breath in shock…John had never been violent before, but even so…none of them moved to assist Joshua and risk the tall paramedics wrath.
John leaned down and grasped him by the front of his shirt and quickly hauled him to his feet. The butler moved forward to try and protect his employer but Rosemary waved him back. “Mind your business,” she snapped as she folded her arms over her chest to watch John handle the situation. The man backed away at the look in her eyes.
John gave Joshua a slight shake like a dog with a rat. “I hated that particular insult when you used it on my mom…I still hate it. Don’t call my wife that again or I’ll knock your teeth out,” John snarled.
Joshua’s eyes widened in stark terror at the look of rage in his cousin’s eyes… He’d never seen John get this angry and he was suddenly very afraid of his usually pacifistic cousin. He nodded quickly, not even attempting to defend himself. He already knew he couldn’t beat his young cousin when it came to a test of strength.
Allison hid a smug grin behind her hand, having been on the receiving end of her husband’s mean spirited insults a few times herself.
Tiffany was standing in dumbstruck silence with her hand over her mouth in shock that her mother had not only allowed John to knock Joshua to the floor, but had stopped the butler from interfering. She really shouldn’t be surprised she guessed…Her mother had been protecting the little upstart for years now.
John gave his cousin a shove and the older man stumbled back against the credenza, rattling the bottles of alcohol atop it. Joshua wiped at the trickle of blood that ran from his nose…His eyes widened in horror at the sight of the crimson liquid and he spun around to look at his image in the silver mirror hanging over it. He stared at his reflection incredulously…A deep red swelling was appearing just below his eye and high on the cheekbone and blood still trickled from his nose. He looked at his butler. “Well don’t just stand there William…get me some ice,” he growled angrily.
“Yes sir,” the older man muttered as he headed for the kitchen.
Joshua felt safe enough to glare at John now that he was safely out of reach. “Get out of my house,” he snarled angrily, once again peering at his reflection.
John shrugged and turned toward the door but Rosemary’s voice stopped him. “Nonsense…This is still my house until the day I die. I asked John here to help me, so unless you plan to go upstairs and look through all those boxes in the attic…”
“Mother,” he sneered in disbelief. “He just hit me,” he reminded her indignantly.
“And rightfully deserved and a long time in coming,” she pointed out to her son. “He should have done it years ago,” she replied with an arch to her dark brow.
His mouth dropped open in shock.
John gave his aunt a sheepish glance that he’d lost his temper and punched his cousin in front of her. “I’m sorry Aunt Rose,” he mumbled. John wasn’t prone to violence but he’d had to stand by while this arrogant snob had insulted him and his mother over and over again the entire four years he’d lived in this house and while he didn’t much care what Joshua had to say about him, there was no way he’d stand by and allow him to insult his wife…It was time to put this annoying buffoon in his place.
“Don’t be Hakéta…Let’s go upstairs and see what we can find for Dixie shall we?” She invited, sweeping her hand toward the stairs.
John grinned and followed her up the steps without a backward glance at his cousins.
Joshua and Tiffany stared angrily at his back as they left, while Allison struggled to control her mirth. “You’ll pay for that someday you damn half breed,” he sneered half under his breath. Tiffany looked at her brother in surprise. He actually sounded as if he meant it.
Rosemary pushed the door open to the attic and flipped the lights on. Dust motes, stirred by the opening of the door swirled and filtered through the sunlight coming through the lone window high up above them.
John glanced around curiously. He’d never come up here when he lived in this house. There were boxes and trunks and old furniture stacked along the walls. Old clothes hung on racks…Rolled up rugs and stacks of old books. He moved into the room picking up a few items and turning them over in his hands before setting them down and moving on.
Rosemary stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips. She hadn’t been up here herself in twenty years. Edward had always come up here to find or store whatever they’d needed. She’d had to search her parent’s attic herself when John’s partner and best friend Roy DeSoto had asked her to find old photo’s of John’s parents back when he and her nephew had first become partners and best friends, which is why she’d asked John to come and help her... She’d almost destroyed her back moving the heavy boxes.
She sighed. “Alright sweetie…I know my wedding dress was packed away up here somewhere…I saved it, hoping someday I’d have a daughter to wear it…Not that Tiffany would,” she said sadly before she shook it off. “Anyway…I don’t know where Edward would have put it,” she finished.
John shrugged… “I’m sure I’ll find it,” he said, pulling a box down and opening the flaps to peer inside. It was full of old papers and he closed it back up and set it aside before grabbing the next.
Rosemary was pulling some of the lighter boxes down on the other side of the room and doing her own search. They set to work, making small talk and catching up with each other’s lives as they worked.
It was almost an hour later and both of them were hot and sweating in the musty warmth of the attic room before John finally opened a sealed white box. “Hey Aunt Rose…I think I got it,” he announced, holding out the box to his frazzled looking Aunt.
She took it from him as John began to move some of the previously viewed boxes back where they had been. John was about to set one down when he noticed the large box the wedding dress and veil had been resting on. The return address caught his eye…Kate Gage…Duarte, CA
The box was sealed and John set the first one aside and slid that one out in the middle of the floor instead. He turned toward his aunt as she shook out her dress… “This is it,” she said happily, holding the white gown against her, tossing her nephew a grin. John smiled as she turned and pulled a blue paper wrapped bundle from the box. She pulled the paper away and the veil they’d been searching for appeared. She smiled in relief…Thirty years in storage hadn’t hurt it at all. She laid it over her head and smiled at John.
He grinned back. “I’ll bet you were a beautiful bride Aunt Rose,” he said sincerely.
“Thank you my darling,” she said as her eyes fell on the box. “What’s that?”
“I was gonna ask you…It’s addressed to you from my mom,” he said.
“WHAT?” She gasped…She set the dress and the veil aside and almost ran to the box. “Where did this come from?” She breathed out.
John shrugged…He certainly didn’t know. “Can I open it?” He asked hopefully, wondering what his mother would have sent to Rosemary.
“Well I….I um…Maybe I should open it by myself,” she said worriedly.
John frowned. “But why…If it’s my mom’s, shouldn’t it belong to me now?” He began…
Rosemary licked her suddenly dry lips…What could she do? John was right, but she was afraid of what might be in that box. She couldn’t tell John the truth…His father had worked for a very powerful man when he was young…He’d stumbled upon some papers that proved that Wyvern Morris and Son was a corrupt business...Putting the lives of their workers in jeopardy and the environment at the major risk of horrific oil spills as well as the cover up of several accidents that had cost the lives of others. He’d copied those papers and hidden them somewhere…But before he could get them to the Federal Agents who’d been trying for years to prosecute the man and his company for his illegal activities, Rod had suffered a mysterious ‘accident’ aboard one of those oil rigs and the papers had been lost. Only Rose knew that it had been no accident but deliberately done to keep Roderick silent.
Rose’s green eyes lifted to John’s and he could see the worry reflected in them. “What’s wrong?” He asked warily.
“Nothing Hakéta,” she said, finally collecting her thoughts. “You’re right…I just…I didn’t want anything in there to…to upset you,” she stammered.
“Like what?” He asked in confusion, uncertain what could be in there what would upset his aunt so much.
She shrugged… “I don’t know…It doesn’t matter I guess…You’re not a child and these things do belong to you,” she finally said resignedly. “Let’s open it together,” she offered, hoping if there was anything he shouldn’t see, that she’d get to it first.
John frowned at her nervousness but then his aunt had always been over protective of him…John wished he’d understood her love for him when he was a teenager, but he’d been unable to give or accept love back then…She caressed his cheek gently bringing his mind back to the present.
“Okay,” he finally agreed. He fussed with the box for a moment and finally stripped back the tape. He opened the flaps and the first thing that greeted him was an envelope and on it was his mother’s delicate writing. It was addressed to Rose.
John wanted to read it but he really needed to let Rose have it first since it was addressed to her. He handed it over.
Rosemary opened it. Inside was a short note.
March 24, 1959
I am sorry to impose on you but I have very little money to ship our things back to the reservation and have asked a neighbor to drop this off at your home. I was hoping you could store these few things for me until John and I get settled in a place of our own. I will send you the money later to pay for the cost. You have been so kind to us both since Rod died and I hate to ask for more but these are precious treasures that I do not wish to lose forever. Thank you my sister.
How had she not seen this when it arrived? She saw the date…Five months after Roderick’s ‘accident.’ She’d been devastated over the loss of her brother and Geoffrey had taken her to Europe on a working vacation, hoping to take her mind off of Roderick’s death.
Diana…she guessed. She was former housekeeper and she’d often taken things upon herself. Rose wouldn’t put it past the old battleaxe to simply hide something from that ‘heathen savage’ Rod had married and say nothing. She should be grateful that she hadn’t just thrown it out…She probably would have if she hadn’t been afraid that Edward would have seen it and rescued the package for his employers.
She looked over to see what John was pulling from the box. An old music box…John opened it carefully…The old mechanism clicked a couple of times before it began to play a tinkling version of Secret Love, which had been his parents favorite song. A smile lit her nephews face as he listened before he set it gently aside and reached into the box again.
He pulled a few books and an old photo album from inside. He flipped through it, grinning at the pictures of him and his parents that he thought never existed. He passed the album over to his Aunt…She gave it a quick glance but her eyes returned to the box as John continued to remove a few trinkets, decorative plates, a native American vase and small statuettes of old fashioned ladies and cute animals. “How do you suppose it got up here?” He asked as he reached in once again and removed a small stack of framed photographs. It was all Rosemary could do not to snatch them from his hand, as it was, she couldn’t hold back the gasp of shock that what Agent Tanner and Agent Chambers had been looking for had been sitting in her attic all this time.
“I don’t know sweetheart…I never saw this box…I was away from home in March of that year…Geoff took me to Europe…I needed to get over the loss of my brother,” she said quietly.
John nodded…He understood…He’d had to get over the loss of his father and his life turned upside down because of it. He pushed the sad thought away and returned his attention to the framed photos. “Hey look at these Aunt Rose,” he said happily as he started looking through the stack. He handed her the pictures as he sorted through.
She glanced at them quickly, holding each of them for a long moment before setting it aside. “Check this out,” he said with a small giggle as he spun a photo of himself around. Rose’s eyes widened a bit and she clenched her fists to keep from grabbing it from his hands. “I was a pretty cute kid huh?” He teased his aunt. He suddenly frowned… “This is pretty heavy,” he noted in confusion.
“May I uh… see that?” She requested holding her hand out.
John turned the picture over briefly, wondering why it was so heavy when the others hadn’t been but he figured he could check it out when she was finished. He handed it to Rosemary.
Rose took it from him and knew she was right…The weight alone of the old wooden frame was a giveaway, not to mention the obvious bulge between the photograph and it’s cardboard. She worried her lower lip between her teeth as she tried to figure out how to get the contents out without John seeing her. Her nephew was no fool…She could tell the minute he’d noticed that there was something odd about the picture…It wouldn’t take long for his natural curiosity to take hold and check it out.
Nervous sweat broke out to mingle with the perspiration already trickling down her face and neck and she reached up to brush it away and suddenly had an idea. “Woo…Oh sweetheart…I’m very warm…I think I need a cold drink…Could you run down and get me a glass of cold water?” She requested, fanning herself briskly.
He moved quickly to her side. “Are you okay?” He asked, taking her arm and leading her to an old chair.
“Just a little light headed sweetie…I just need a drink,” she assured him.
“Let me take you downstairs,” he offered solicitously.
“Oh nonsense John…I just need some water.”
“Well…,” he hesitated, not liking the idea of leaving her alone. He knew she could be just as stubborn as he was so he figured the only thing to do was get her a drink and get back up here as quick as possible. “Okay…But you just sit here and relax till I get back okay?”
“Of course sweetie,” she promised.
John gave her one last worried look before he headed out the door and down the stairs at a rapid trot.
Rose wasted no time. She shot out of her chair and quickly began to work the back off the old photo. The cardboard pulled away and a pack of papers fell out on the floor…They were yellow with age.
She picked them up and carefully unfolded them…She saw the name on the copied letterhead…Morris and Son Oil Company. This was definitely it.
Rosemary refolded the papers and quickly wrapped them in her wedding gown…Folding the garment around them carefully. She pulled open a couple of boxes until she found what she was looking for…A box of old dishes kept separated by old newspapers.
She yanked out several pieces, unconcerned about the fragile china and quickly folded the newspaper in behind the photograph before putting the back in place. She’d barely sat back down when John came through the doorway with a glass of water.
He gave her a concerned look as she now looked even more frazzled than she had before he left. “Are you sure you’re okay?” He asked handing her the glass and watching her slightly shaking hand.
“I’m fine Hakéta,” she reassured him, taking a long drink from the glass. “Why don’t you put all this back in the box and we’ll take it downstairs…You can take it home with you along with the hat,” she offered.
“Alright,” he agreed taking the picture from her hand and placing it back in the box. He quickly loaded up the rest of the items and picked up the box. Rose gathered the gown and veil into her arms and the pair headed down the stairs.
Rosemary wasted no time when they reached the bottom. “Well my sweetheart…I need to get back to Santa Barbara and you need to get home to those two adorable babies,” she teased, handing him the veil.
John almost argued but Joshua came from the study, interrupting the conversation. His eye was half closed and had already gone from red to purple and was slowly turning black. John threw him a smug grin as his older cousin glared his rage at him.
He turned back to his Aunt. “Alright Aunt Rose…I know you’re tired and Dani could probably use me at home with the twins,” he agreed.
“Thank you for helping me,” she said walking him to the door and keeping a tight hold on the dress and the papers concealed within it.
“I’ll see you at Dixie’s wedding next Saturday,” he answered, leaning down to kiss her cheek.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” she replied as John carried the box down the stairs and out to his rover.
“I’ll see you later Aunt Rose.”
“I love you sweetie,” she said, giving him a sideways glance.
John understood the look…Not too long ago he’d have shied away from a reply to that phrase but not anymore. “I love you too,” he replied. She smiled at him happily as he continued. “Aunt Rosemary…I was uh…I was kinda wonderin if…,” he stopped, worrying his lip hesitantly.
“Wondering what sweetie?” She questioned.
“Dani and I were um…We were wondering…”
Rosemary sighed. “You’re beating around the bush John Roderick,” she pressed.
John glanced at the ground sheepishly, knowing she always hated it when he hemmed and hawed about something instead of just asking. He decided to rush in…The worst that could happen is that she’d be affronted and say no. “Dani and I were wondering if you’d mind the twins calling you grandmother,” he said quickly and then looked away. “It’s okay if you don’t,” he added quickly not wanting to put her on the spot. He heard her gasp of surprise and then felt her hand gently cup his cheek to turn his head back toward her.
“Oh sweetie…Thank you…I’d be honored,” she replied as tears of joy welled in her eyes and slid down her cheeks.
John blew out a relieved breath and hugged his aunt before setting her away from him and wiping the tears off her face with his sleeve. She shook her head but said nothing and John laughed knowingly. Not long ago she would have reminded him that that wasn’t what his sleeves were for, but right now she was just happy that he wanted her to have a role in his children’s lives.
Rose gave him a huge grin as he climbed into his car and started it up. A moment later he drove away.
Rosemary didn’t wait any longer… she walked quickly to her car and threw the dress in the back along with the papers that had been worth her brother’s life.
John swung by Dixie’s apartment on his way home to drop off the veil. He tapped on her door and a moment later the pretty, blonde nurse opened the door. She saw the gossamer lace and a smile of delight lit her face.
“Oh it’s beautiful,” she said, reaching out to take the headpiece from his hands.
John grinned as she turned away to hurry to a mirror in her hallway to try it on. He followed her in. She turned to look at him with a huge smile. “What do you think?” She asked with her blue eyes shining with happiness.
“I think you’ll be the second most beautiful bride ever,” he said sincerely.
Dixie reached up to kiss his cheek, not offended in the least that John had said second. She’d been at his wedding and would have to agree that Danella had been stunning.
“Are you getting excited?” He asked, grinning at his usually unflappable friend.
“What do you think?” She asked drily. “I’ve waited a long time for this tiger,” she added, her eyes shining with as much excitement as any teenage girl in love for the first time.
“I know,” he replied with a laugh, remembering that they’d been a couple when he’d first met them. “And I’m really happy for you both.”
“Thank you sweetie,” she replied. “Would you like some coffee?”
“Ah no thanks…I gotta go. Dani’s expecting me home for lunch and I got some work to do around the ranch and I found this box at my aunts that I wanna look through…It was my mom’s stuff.”
“Oh how nice…Then I’ll see you at Rampart next week,” she replied, linking her arm through his and walking him toward the door.
“Can’t wait,” he replied. As much as he loved the twins and his wife, he loved his job too and he’d missed being at work with Roy and his friends.
“We’ve missed you sweetie,” she assured him.
“Thanks,” he said, sounding pleased.
“I’m only working a couple of days next week so hopefully you’ll be back on shift at least one of them, but if not…I’ll see you at the wedding,” she warned him.
Wouldn’t miss it,” he said.
“I’ll be back in time for yours and Danella’s,” she assured him.
John grinned… “I have Marco and Janessa’s to get through first,” he reminded her.
She nodded. “I guess that’ll just leave Chet Kelly as the only bachelor at station 51,” she teased.
Johnny grinned. “Not for long,” he snickered. “Erin has him wearing the same moony eyed look Marco has,” he finished.
Dixie giggled. “Well…It’ll be a good year for happily ever after then,” she said happily.
John’s smile fell away as an odd feeling of dread swept over him.
“Something wrong?” Dixie questioned.
John pushed the gloomy feeling away and smiled at his friend. He figured it was just a reaction from his abusive past. His Uncles had always made him feel as if he was worthless and shouldn’t expect anything good in his life…It was a hard habit to break. Every time something good had come along, his family had made sure to take it away.
Thankfully his best friend Roy had come into his life and turned it around, showing him that he was loved and worth loving, but still…Too many years of the other had been beaten into him for it to go away without a fight.
“Nah,” he finally answered, “Just the ghosts of the past,” he said softly.
“Yeah…Tell them to take a hike,” she urged with a smile.
John laughed and nodded. “Okay Dix. I’ll see you next week,” he said as he turned and left.
John returned home and carried the box with his mother’s things inside where Danella was waiting with his lunch.
“Hey baby,” he greeted, dropping a soft kiss on her lips as he passed her.
“Hello Me’oo’o,” she replied as he pulled away, wishing she could haul her handsome husband off to their bedroom for some time alone while the twins were napping.
“Where’s Jo?” He questioned curiously…The older woman usually stayed as long as possible to play with the twins…Roy sometimes had to drag her out. ‘Before she gets any funny ideas,’ he teased a couple of times at the look of longing in his wife’s eyes when she held the babies.
“She is Dixie’s Matron of Honor…She said she had some things to plan before the wedding and had to leave,” She replied. John nodded understandingly. Her amber eyed gaze fell on the box. “What have you got?” She asked curiously.
“We found this in the attic while we were looking for the hat…This stuff belonged to my mom and me when we lived in Duarte…She sent it to my aunt for safe keeping,” he explained.
“Oh…Show me,” she said excitedly.
John began pulling the wrapped items out of the box as Dani oohed and aahed appreciatively as she pulled the paper away and examined each item. She set the photo album aside, wanting to take the time to examine it more carefully later but she stopped to flip through the framed photos. She giggled as she turned one of them to show John. “Is this you Me’oo’o?” She asked.
John grinned and nodded. “I think I was about six there,” he replied, taking it from her. The weight of it reminding him that he wanted to see what was behind the photo.
He carefully took the back off. Johnny was hoping to find something really secret tucked behind the frame…A love letter or something but he was disappointed when nothing but folded newspaper popped out from the back.
He unfolded it, thinking there might be some featured article about his dad or something they would have saved the paper for but there was nothing but a few sale ads.
“What is wrong Na’méhoht?” Dani asked as a frown drew her handsome husband’s brows to a knot above his nose.
John shrugged. “Nothing I guess…I was just trying to figure out why they stuffed this picture full of newspaper,” he replied, setting the paper aside and putting the cardboard backing in its place before locking it down.
Danella shook her head. “That is odd but…I’m sure they must have had a reason at the time,” she soothed, patting his arm and picking up several of the items.
“What are you doing with those?” John asked following his wife as she turned and headed into the great room.
“Finding someplace to put all of these things…They’re a part of your past with your parents and should be displayed,” she explained sensibly.
John smiled at his wife, bending to give her a tender kiss. “Thank you,” he said softly.
She grinned deliciously up at him and John sighed… It would be another couple of weeks before she was ready for anything more than a passionate lip locker and John was counting the days.
Dani giggled knowingly and began to search the room for just the right place. John watched the swing of her hips and the rounded curve of her behind and forgot about the picture and its odd contents and simply enjoyed the view.
Rosemary drove home, wasting no time examining the beautiful scenery along the Pacific Coast Highway. She snatched up the gown with the papers still inside and ran up the stairs and past her startled housekeeper Helen without even saying hello. The door to her office slammed closed behind her leaving the woman standing open mouthed in surprise.
Rose threw her gown on the sofa and pulled the papers free...The phone was in her hand seconds later as she dialed the now familiar number, tapping her finger’s anxiously as she waited for someone to answer.
“FBI… Agent Chambers,” a voice replied.
“Ed…This is Rosemary Hughes…,” she began in a rush.
“Yes Rosemary…What can I do for you?”
“You’re not going to believe this,” she said breathlessly.
There was a brief pause and Rose could hear the creak of a chair as Ed caught the excitement in her voice. “What is it Rose? Is something wrong with John?” He asked in concern.
“No…No,” she reassured him, understanding his concern. “John’s fine…He was in San Gabriel with me this morning…We were looking through the attic for something for a friend and we found it…WE FOUND IT!” She reiterated loudly.
“Found it...Found what?” He asked in confusion. Why would she be calling over finding something for a friend…And then it suddenly sank in. “Rosemary? Do you mean the photograph…The one with the papers?” He questioned warily.
“YES!” She yelled. She drew a deep breath, trying to calm herself down. “Yes,” she huffed.
“Oh my God,” he breathed. “Rose, are you sure?”
“Yes…Yes, they’re right in front of me. They have Wyvern Morris’ name all over them and they were tucked in behind a photo of my nephew…Right where he told you they’d be,” she replied.
“Rose…Did John see them?” He asked urgently, worry clearly heard in his voice.
“No…I sent him down to get me some water and got them out of sight before he got back…I don’t want him involved in any of this…,” she insisted.
“Neither do we…,” he hesitated. “We’ll ALL be relieved to know that,” he finished.
“Alright Rose…You just sit tight…I’ll get with Tanner and get someone over there to pick them up ASAP…I’ll let you know when and if this will finally be the piece that gets the ball rolling,” he told her. “And if this is the missing piece…Things will happen VERY quickly…We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
“I know…Thank you.”
Rose hung up the phone. Finally…Finally there would be justice for Roderick and the family they destroyed.
One Week Later:
The sound of papers shuffling interrupted the musings of the seventy six year old business man who sat listening to the drone of his son’s voice as he addressed the table full of business partners and stockholders.
It had been a good year for their company, the old man reflected as he once again returned his attention to the financial statements in front of him.
There had been a few small lawsuits settled that had cost them a bit, but it was small in comparison to what it could have been since four of his most productive rigs were on unstable and potentially dangerous sites that would not only get him shut down if anyone found out, but would also most likely land him, his son and his head of Operations in a federal prison if they were caught.
Most of his stockholders would most likely find themselves in financial straits as well if he had to shut down the wells. While the federal government suspected there was some fraudulent information, they couldn’t prove anything, and no judge would cross someone as powerful as he and his company were and issue a warrant without some evidence of wrong doing, and they didn’t have that.
The only ones that had that information was himself, his son and his rather nervous partner. His son was too greedy to ever care about such trivial matters and safety or fraud, and his partner was too scared to open his mouth, after all, he of all people was well aware of what happened to anyone who crossed him or his son.
The last few people who had, had suffered terrible tragedies and only one of them had any real hard evidence and that man had become ‘fish food’ twenty years ago, he mused gloatingly.
He heard the sound of someone clearing his throat and glanced up. His son and his C.O. along with several other board members were watching him expectantly and he suddenly realized that his son had finished with his presentation to the board and was now waiting for him to say something.
The old man cleared his throat. He knew his son was annoyed with him by the sour look on his face. He knew his son and heir was hoping he would just hurry up and retire, claiming his father was old and having more and more difficulty running the company or even remembering some things. The older man knew he really just wanted to get control of the money.
Well he’d have to wait…He wasn’t quite ready to hand over the reins just yet. He pushed himself to his feet, but just as he opened his mouth to speak, the doors flew open and several men rushed inside, practically bowling over his secretary as she tried to stop them.
Two of the men held out badges…”Everyone please stay where you are…Wyvern Morris?” One of them said, looking at the older man at the head of the table.
“What is the meaning of this?” The old man barked without answering the question.
“Agent Chambers FBI…This is Agent Tanner with the Bureau of Minerals Management Service…Wyvern Morris…We have a warrant for your arrest and for the arrest of your son Chadwick Morris as well.”
The old man sat down abruptly at that announcement. The color drained from his face but his son shot from his chair. “ARREST? Arrest for what?” He growled angrily as several other agents spread out around the room.
“For environmental and mineral acts fraud and violations of OCSLA Regulations,” Chambers answered smugly. Chad’s face paled…He knew they’d been after them for years but he also knew they had no evidence of wrong doing to get a warrant…They’d seen to that so what was happening here? His musings were cut short as the gray haired Chambers continued. “We also have a warrant to seize all records but especially pertaining to your rigs N 44, W-140, R-265, L-91 and M-47,” he reeled off.
Chambers and Tanner noted that three of the men sitting at the table looked positively ill at this point while the rest murmured in confusion.
“Where did you get a warrant? You have no evidence that Morris and Son has done anything wrong?” Wyvern snarled arrogantly. Heads were about to roll for this affront. He’d greased enough Politician palms over the last few years to at least have gotten a warning from one of them that something was coming so they could get rid of any recent incriminating surveys.
How had they gotten around them to get a warrant without his moles knowing about it? How had they convinced a judge to sign it without evidence?
A slow, smug smile turned up the corners of Chambers lips. “I’m afraid we have all the evidence we need to get a warrant Mr. Morris. Seems that some old reports have surfaced and they’ve given us all the evidence we needed to have you and your son arrested. Furthermore…There may be more charges pending since our evidence proves that your company knowingly allowed men to work those rigs and several of them have been killed aboard them.”
Down the table, Fred Briggs moaned in misery. Damn it…He just knew they’d found the evidence Roderick Gage had copied and hidden. It was the only proof that they could possibly have…The boy was coming back to haunt them from his grave.
His suspicions were confirmed with Chamber’s next words. “You’re lucky there isn’t a warrant for the murder of Roderick Gage as well,” he growled angrily.
Chad and Wyvern exchanged a disbelieving glance as they were none to gently, jerked from their chairs. How could this be happening? That evidence had been lost and now, after all these years it was coming back to haunt them.
They both winced as the handcuffs slapped around their wrists with a frightening finality. They knew at that moment that someone…Whether Rosemary or Rod’s son John, had located the papers and turned them over to the authorities. They may have the evidence, but they’d never be able to prove that Rod’s death had been intentional.
“We never touched that boy,” Wyvern protested… “His death was an accident,” he added indignantly, as Agent Tanner led him toward the door.
“We have a witness that will testify otherwise,” Tanner assured him.
“Now…You have the right to remain silent…Anything you say…,” Chambers droned as he hauled Chad after them.
Both Morris’ paled a bit at that piece of information. Chad looked to Briggs as they were hauled toward the door. “Call Carl Weiss…Tell him to get down town and bail us out…,” he snarled, interrupting Chamber’s recitation of his Miranda rights.
Briggs nodded but his heart was thumping wildly in his chest. Who was this witness and exactly how much did he know? Did he know about his own involvement as well? Did he know about Roderick and the others they’d had silenced? Could it be Samuel Bertullo? He’d been the one that had actually set up the ‘accident’ that had killed Rod at their behest or maybe Dennis Farmer…He’d fixed the brakes on the Gages car when they’d overheard them talking about their son’s murder…He had also been the one Wyvern and Chad turned to for a number of other…’jobs.’
Which of them would have turned on them this way? They’d better find out and fast…Maybe he should think about just disappearing to a non extradition country…He whipped out his handkerchief and blotted his perspiring face, while the other board members and stockholders sat in stunned disbelief at this turn of events.
He at least had better call Carl. He didn’t dare cross Wyvern Morris…The man had far reaching contacts and Fred knew he wouldn’t be safe from him no matter where he went, even if he went to prison. He headed down the hall to his office to make the phone call.
Chad Morris sat fuming in an uncomfortable, straight backed chair in a tiny, dimly lit interrogation room. He’d been rudely seated and handcuffed to a ring situated between his legs and bolted to the chair itself as if he were some common criminal. The table before him was worn and obviously old and well used.
He couldn’t believe this was happening to him. He was a rich and powerful man and they were treating him as though he were some dreg of society. He could only hope they weren’t treating his father the same way.
His concern wasn’t for his father’s comfort as much as his concern that the old man’s temper would snap if they riled him too much and he’d blurt out something he shouldn’t. He certainly wasn’t used to be treated like a criminal either.
The door opened and Agent Chambers and Agent Tanner stepped into the room, closing the door behind them. Tanner leaned against the wall as Chambers took the seat opposite Chad.
“Where’s my father?” The younger man barked.
“He’s in another room up the hall…Don’t worry, we’ll get to him next,” he reassured the man. “In the meantime…”
“I have nothing to say to you,” he sneered. “Not until my Lawyer get’s here,” he smirked.
“Well…That’s your right,” Chambers drawled, but in the meantime…Hear me out?”
Chad shrugged indifferently. “Do I have a choice?” He growled, trying to lift his hands and being thwarted by the handcuffs.
“We have the evidence of what you and your father have been doing all these years,” he said, laying copies of the papers Rod had hidden out in front of him. “We know for sure that there are at least five deaths associated with what is right here.” Chad paled a bit at that but remained stubbornly mute.” “By the time we get through going over every piece of paper in your offices and your bank records, we’ll find even more.”
Chad’s eyebrow rose with a sickening arrogance. He knew what they had was damning enough but he also knew what they didn’t have and would never find would bury him and his father in a Federal Prison for the rest of their lives. Thankfully, after Roderick had accidently seen those records, his father had demanded that Fred Briggs, whose stupidity in leaving them out where they could be seen in the first place had caused this whole mess, cancel his retirement and take those records into his personal keeping in his home.
They…along with the payouts to some of their less than honest ‘employees’ weren’t kept in the office either. Having them in his home insured Fred’s silence. Wyvern and Chad knew the man was scared of everything he’d become involved in since working with Morris and Son and forcing him to keep those records, insured his silence. He was an accomplice to all of it.
The good thing was that the Fed’s didn’t know that Briggs was up to his neck in all of it and not just an employee or he would have been arrested too.
Chad’s attention was pulled back to Chambers as the man continued. “Now…We know that your father was behind most of this while you were still in high school and you really didn’t have the power to stop him…,” he suggested. Chad’s eyes narrowed a bit as he waited for the other shoe to drop. “We’re willing to cut a deal if you’ll talk to us about what was going on at Morris and Son,” he offered, hoping Chad would be willing to save his own skin and save them the trouble of a Grand Jury and Federal trial but his hopes were dashed.
Chad leaned back in his chair, smiling smugly. He knew they could be sent to prison for a time because of those papers and he knew it could cost them millions in reparations, but if he told them about the murder of over a dozen potential witnesses, including Roderick Gage and his parents…They’d put them both away for the rest of their lives.
He also knew that son or not…If he turned on his father, the man had far reaching tentacles that could hurt or destroy him, even from prison. No…There was no way he’d risk that. He also knew that his father had some very powerful friends…Friends that could pull strings and get them off with a hand slap and some fines. He just had to keep his mouth shut and wait them out.
“I don’t believe that will be necessary,” he replied arrogantly, lounging back in his chair, looking totally unconcerned.
Chambers smiled and sat back in his own chair. “We’ll only make this offer once…If we walk out of here you won’t get a second chance. We’ll also make this offer to your father of course. He’s old after all and prison will be rough on him. He may want to deal to stay out of jail,” he warned. “If he does…There won’t be any deal for you after and you’ll take the brunt of this mess,” he threatened.
Chad smirked. “I don’t know what mess you’re talking about? You have some twenty year old papers and no proof that we haven’t corrected those problems long ago. Whatever witness you have couldn’t possibly know anything about those old reports,” he sneered, thinking that it had to be Bertullo or Farmer or one of the other low life thugs his father employed for some of the more dirty jobs he required. They were only the hired muscle and none of them were smart enough to know the engineering or mineral and land rights issues. Even John Gage and Rosemary Hughes wouldn’t really understand what they were looking at.
Chambers gave him a sly grin. “Trust me…This witness has firsthand knowledge of your less than honest ethics,” he assured him.
Chad frowned at that but he was still sure the man was only using scare tactics. His father would pull the right strings and the ‘witness’ if there was one, wouldn’t live to spew his tales and they’d have nothing new on them to corroborate the charges…They’d be forced to let them go. He shook his head.
Chamber’s slapped the table and pushed himself to his feet. “Alright then…This offer is done. We’re going down the hall to chat with your dad…See if he wants to play ball. In the meantime, we’re going to book you in and allow you to enjoy our amenities here until your lawyer arrives and can post bail.
Chad gave him a disbelieving glare. You can’t mean to lock me up in some dirty cell?” He protested indignantly.
“That’s exactly what I mean.” Chambers grinned. “You’ll love your new roommates,” he assured him.
Chad looked horrified which made Chambers smirk broaden all the more. Served the little bastard right, he mused, after everything him and his old man had done to others. Do him good to know what he was in for.
Chambers turned and headed for the door where Tanner was waiting. “You better get used to it…You’ll be in another just like it soon,” he taunted.
Chad glared back at him as two other men entered the room to take him to his cell. “You have nothing on me,” he sneered.
The older man grinned triumphantly. “We will when we’re done,” he said turning away.
Chad threw him a smirk. “I doubt that.”
Chambers turned back toward him and snapped his fingers as if just remembering something. “Oh…I forgot to tell you...We also have a warrant for Fred Briggs home as well as your own. We’ll have plenty,” he said smugly. Chad’s jaw dropped and his face went white…he looked positively ill.
Ed Chambers left the room whistling happily which brought a grin to Tanner’s face. “It’s a good thing Gage told us about Briggs having those papers packed up or we might not have gotten that warrant,” he said laughing.
Chambers slapped his long time friend off the back. “I’m sure we have all we need and then we’ll get Briggs too,” he assured him. They stopped at another door and waited as Chad was escorted down the hall toward the jail cells. It would be an eye opening experience for the arrogant man…He’d better get accustomed to it.
Chambers and Tanner entered another room where Wyvern Morris sat fuming at being kept waiting in such lowly accommodations for so long. He sat at a table much like the one Chad had been at except that in deference to his age, his hands, while in cuffs were not attached to the chair ring. They rested on the table top and both agents could tell from the clenched fists that the man was livid with rage.
The pair sauntered into the room and took their time getting seated and placing the folder of papers out in front of them, further aggravating the already angry man.
“Good afternoon Mr. Morris,” Chambers began but Morris cut him off.
“It’s about damn time you two decided to stop playing games and come talk to me…You’ve kept me waiting for almost two hours…This is an outrage,” He growled. “Where is my son?” He barked angrily.
“Your son is currently headed for a jail cell until your arraignment before a judge this afternoon…Then you can both post bail.”
Wyvern’s face tightened in anger. Someone was definitely going to pay for this affront to their dignity, no matter how long it took,” he fumed silently. He just needed to find out who’d done it.
Chambers pushed documents toward the elderly oil man. “Do you recognize these documents sir?” He questioned calmly.
Wyvern scowled. “Of course I do,” he sneered, glancing at the copies of the damning papers. “A rather disloyal employee of mine copied those years ago,” he added.
“So you know who it was then?” Ed asked casually.
“Of course I do…That young Gage…,” he trailed off, realizing that he’d just given them a motive for Roderick’s ‘accidental’ death if they chose to pursue it. “I uh…I mean…We thought he might have, but we didn’t know…,” he hedged.
Chambers threw him an ugly glare. “Wasn’t it very convenient for you that Roderick Gage had such an unfortunate accident before he could hand them over then,” he growled.
“Now see here,” he protested indignantly. “You’re not accusing me of doing something to that boy…Why he was the son of a dear friend,” he added primly, trying to look innocent.
“Of course not…We’d have to have evidence of that wouldn’t we?” Chambers growled. “But since we also have a warrant for Fred Brigg’s home as well as yours and your bank records…Who knows what we might find or what charges we could add.”
Morris’ face paled with his words but he took a deep breath and calmed himself, not wanting to give them anything more to trip him up with. “I don’t know what you think you’ll find at Fred Briggs’ home,” he said arrogantly, hoping he’d bluffed them into believing he wasn’t worried about what they’d find. Damn that Briggs….If he’ hadn’t left those papers where Rod could find them, none of this would be happening.
Chambers shrugged. “You never know…But you could do yourself a favor.”
“What’s that?” He questioned warily.
“Work with us…Tell us everything…avoid a trial altogether and we’ll get you a reduced sentence in a minimum security prison instead of a federal one,” he offered.
Wyvern snorted derisively, much the same way Chad had done. “I doubt seriously that you have enough evidence even with a witness that would make me want to talk to you,” he said gruffly.
“Mr. Morris…I don’t think you understand the trouble you and your son are in?” Tanner interrupted. “We have enough right here to put you in prison for the rest of your life, if not the rest of your sons as well. What do you think will happen if we find more or the evidence that Roderick Gage’s death was anything but an accident?” Tanner pressed.
Wyvern threw them an evil looking smirk. Any doubts the two agents might have had as to exactly whom was running the show at Morris and Sons evaporated. The seemingly harmless old man suddenly had the look of a rattlesnake.
Morris leaned back and chuckled. He had no doubt that if there were a witness, he’d never make it to trial to testify and the only one who could swear to the so called ‘evidence’ and its legitimacy was dead already.
The door swung open a moment later and a rather distinguished looking, gentlemen stepped into the room. He threw the two agents a quick glance and then turned to the elderly man. “Vern…Don’t say another word,” he said warningly before turning to the others. “You had no right to question my client without his attorney,” he barked angrily.
Chambers and Tanner shrugged. “He didn’t ask for one,” Tanner said calmly.
“And we weren’t questioning him…We were offering him a deal,” Chambers added.
Carl Weiss gave them a wary look. “What kind of deal?” He asked.
“A lesser sentence,” Chambers informed him.
“I see…Well…I’ll need to talk to my clients of course, so until then this interview is over,” he said authoritatively.
Chambers and Tanner shrugged and pushed themselves to their feet. “Just remember…We made the same offer to your son and we’ll make it for Briggs as well…First one to take it,” he shrugged again.
Wyvern glared at the pair, not wanting them to see the worry he was feeling. His son would never go to prison if he could find a way out and Briggs was a coward…One of them might swing a deal unless he could stop them by making sure there was no ‘witness’ to testify against them.
Carl saw the look and knew there would be ‘NO DEAL.’ “Are they under arrest?” Carl asked…Uncertain if they were actually in custody or only in for questioning.
Chambers nodded. “Chad has already been through the booking process…Mr. Morris will be soon…We’ll be flying them to Sacramento later this week.”
“They have to be arraigned?”
“Mr. Weiss…These are Federal Charges and they will appear before a Federal Judge and a grand Jury…Understood.”
Weiss sighed…this was going to be bad. “Yes…,” he muttered.
“Good…Maybe the Judge will grant them bail but with their resources and the ability to uh…Skip town…I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
Morris frowned at that information and Weiss sighed. He knew they were right. “I want to speak to Chad,” he growled.
“We’ll arrange an interview room for you as soon as Mr. Morris has been booked as well,” Chambers agreed.
The lawyer nodded unhappily and turned back to his client.
The two agents opened the door. “We’ll give you a few moments before he’s taken downstairs,” he said quietly. “Just knock on the door when you’re done and the officer outside will open it.”
Weiss nodded again and the pair left them room closing the door behind them. Wyvern pointed at the chair across from him and Weiss sank slowly into it. He quickly filled him in on what he’d been told. He finally leaned across the table and lowered his voice. “You find out who this ‘witness’ is, do you understand?” Weiss nodded. “If it’s not Bertullo…You call him…You tell him I don’t want this witness to appear…Whatever it takes.”
“God Vern…I can’t get involved in something like this,” he whispered in horror.
“I’ve paid you a lot of money over the years and I’ve made you very rich…Don’t make me sorry I did…you OWE me,” he growled.
Carl paled. He was in too deep not to obey Morris. “I’ll take care of it,” he promised softly.
“Will Briggs talk to save himself?” Weiss questioned unhappily.
“I don’t know…Bertullo can uh… ‘help’ him disappear as well. Let’s just hope he had all of the evidence well hidden,” he sneered.
“God…Why did you keep it?” He whined unhappily.
“I needed those surveys…I also needed the evidence to be sure Bertullo and Farmer and a few others like yourself, kept their mouths shut,” he snapped angrily.
This was getting worse all the time. If the payoffs he’d taken in his dealings were found and made public…He could be disbarred. He had to help him this one last time…The witness that had gotten them that warrant had to be silenced…Maybe even Fred Briggs if the man showed any sign of panicking…Then he’d wash his hands of the Morris family once and for all.
“I’ll take care of everything Vern,” he promised somberly as he headed or the door. He knocked softly and it opened. Two uniformed men stepped inside. “I’ll be back to talk to you and Chad later tonight,” he said as the men helped the old man to his feet and led him from the room.
Chambers and Tanner were in the hall as they led him past them toward the elevators. Ed threw a glance toward his long time friend and partner in this whole debacle.”I have a couple of calls to make…Care to join me?” He invited.
Tanner grinned back. “I wouldn’t miss it,” he replied.
Rosemary snapped up the phone in her office on the second ring. “Hello?” She said anxiously.
“Rosemary…It’s Ed Chambers,” the voice on the other end replied.
“What happened?” She questioned breathlessly. “Tell me everything?”
Chambers grinned at his end. “It’s a picture you would have loved to have mounted on your wall,” he teased.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean Chadwick and his snake of a father in handcuffs and down in a holding cell in our basement,” he answered.
“Oooh. I wish I could see that,” she said enthusiastically. Chambers laughed but then grew serious as she continued. “Did they take the deal?” She asked hesitantly, not sure what answer she really wanted. If they did…Then one or both might get far less than they deserved for what they’d done to Rod and his family…If they didn’t, then there would be a trial and John might hear about it, and that was the last thing Rosemary wanted.
All that mattered to Rose was that John stayed safe and that he never find out what really happened to his father. What he didn’t know could never hurt him.
“I’m sorry Rose…Neither of them seemed ready to negotiate…We haven’t picked up Briggs yet.”
She was silent for a long time. “There will be a trial then?” She asked somberly.
“I’m afraid it’s looking that way,” he replied.
“Remember what I told you,” she warned.
“We’ll do our best Rose but this is bound to hit the news…John isn’t stupid and he could hear about it and put two and two together.”
Rose knew that as well but she remained adamant. “Do your best…Whatever you have to,” she replied.
“We will,” he promised.
He hung up the phone and turned to Tanner. “What did she say?” Peter asked.
“What do you think?”
“Protect John?” He questioned, with a rueful arch of his brow.
“Whatever it takes,” Ed agreed.
“You gonna call Rich?”
“Yeah…He’s gonna have to be told that he has to testify,” Chambers replied as he picked up the telephone and dialed a number.
Tanner could only hear one side of the conversation but he was getting the gist of it and from Ed’s replies…Rosemary Hughes wasn’t going to be happy.
“I can’t do that Rich,: Chamber’s argued after he’d explained the mornings events. “We promised Rosemary,” he added.
There was a silence as he listened to whatever reply was being offered.
“No…That’s too dangerous. He could recognize you. We’re going to charter a plane and fly you to Sacramento.” There was another long pause. “You can’t do that.” Another pause and then… “Why are you being so stubborn?” He finally growled, sounding frustrated.
When he spoke again, his voice was softer with compassion. “I know you haven’t and I understand but it could put you and him at risk,” he explained.
Pete watched curiously while Ed rubbed his forehead in resignation. “Alright…I’ll figure out something,” he finally agreed with a sigh.
He hung up and looked at Tanner ruefully. “You heard?”
“He wants to see him before it all goes down?”
“Yes…He knows there may never be another chance…He may have to disappear…again.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“I don’t have an option…He won’t testify if I don’t.”
Pete chuckled. They both knew how stubborn their ‘witness’ could be.
John rolled out of bed early the next morning…In fact, he beat the alarm clock and the reason he beat the alarm clock was because he hadn’t slept since two this morning. Rory had wakened them at one. Both he and Danella had climbed from their bed to go and give their son his early morning feeding.
Danella had told John to stay in bed but he’d been afraid Katie Jo would wake up before she finished and Dani would have her hands full, so he’d gone along as well.
Katie Jo had slept through the feeding and John had taken his son from Dani and laid him against his shoulder…The dark haired infant had been fussy and Johnny had to pace the floor for some time before he’d gotten him to sleep and back in his crib
The couple had barely had time to head back to their bed before Katie Jo woke and began to cry. Dani threw her husband a tired smile. “Go back to bed Me’oo’o…I’ll take care of it,” she said, but John shook his head.
“They’re my kids too,” he reminded her.
“You have to work Na’méhoht,” she replied wearily.
He nodded but he still followed his wife back to the nursery. They’d barely made it back into the room before Katie Jo’s woeful cries of hunger woke her brother once again and his wail joined hers.
Johnny and Dani sighed. Twins were wonderful but they’d quickly discovered that trying to keep them both awake or asleep, at the same time was next to impossible. There wasn’t much John could do for his daughter at this point, so he scooped his unhappy son up in his arms as Dani sat in the rocker and began to feed her daughter.
It hadn’t gotten any better the rest of the night…They’d no sooner get one to sleep before the other would begin to cry and wake their brother or sister respectively.
For the first time since their birth, John almost looked forward to returning to work. He felt a bit guilty that he felt that way and that he was somehow abandoning his wife. Dani rolled over as Johnny climbed from the bed, her amber gaze admiring the view of her husband’s boxer clad behind as he stood up. She grinned but it faded as he turned and she saw the tired, dark eyes.
“Oh Me’oo’o…I’m so sorry,” she said tossing the covers back.
“For what?” he asked curiously.
“You look exhausted,” she told him.
He shrugged. “I’ll be fine,” he assured her, leaning over to kiss her tenderly, before he drew on a pair of jeans and his boots and made his way downstairs and out to the barn.
He quickly got the horses fed and watered, mucking out the stalls while they munched contentedly. They were finishing up their breakfast about the time he completed his chores and John led them out to the paddock one at a time. He stood watching them for a long moment and a grin twitched at the corners of his mouth…His dreams were all coming true…A gorgeous wife, two beautiful children…A ranch of his own and his other family…Roy and Joanne, their kids…His Aunt Rose. He felt blessed. There was only one regret…That his parents hadn’t lived to see it.
John sighed and pushed the thought away…He still had the rest and that was all that mattered now. Roy and Jo had filled that empty space in his heart long ago…He wouldn’t trade them for anything. He stifled a yawn as he pulled away from the fence and headed inside to get ready for work…He still needed to shower and eat.
He stood under the steaming liquid for several long moments but it only seemed to make him even more sleepy. He finally turned the hot water down and shuddered under the cold stream pouring from the spigot…He’d thought he’d be able to give up on cold showers now that he was married but it had actually gotten worse over the last month.
Having his beautiful wife under his nose and not being able to touch was hard enough but now he needed them just to stay awake. He was desperately looking forward to making love to his bride again but more importantly was the time the babies would get in sync and actually sleep through the night.
He shut the water off and stepped from the shower…He had to hurry to get to work on time…The last thing he needed on his first day back since Dani had given birth, was latrine duty .
He made his way to the kitchen where Danella was cooking their breakfast. Among other things, he’d quickly come to love this part of being married…Sharing his coffee with Danella along with gentle kisses over breakfast or having her sit on the bench in the barn chatting as he took care of the horses or lying on the rug before the fire, sharing his previous day at work.
John sighed, knowing that those alone times would be fewer and farther between now that the twins were here. He wondered how Roy and Joanne had put up with him being around so often over the last few years with one injury or illness after another, taking away their private time.
Danella saw the corner of his mouth turn up in a quirky Gage grin and she smiled back. “What are you thinking of my love?” She asked, sitting across from him and propping her chin on her small fist.
“Just wondering why Roy and Joanne didn’t throw me out all those times so they could have some time alone,” he replied with a giggle.
She frowned. “Are you not happy with your children?” She questioned, looking a bit worried.
John reached over and took her hand, pulling it over the table to kiss her fingers one at a time…His dark, chocolate colored eyes locked with hers as he pressed his mouth briefly against her palm. “I love my children…I will always love them,” he reassured her softly. “It’s just going to take some getting used to,” he admitted.
Her breath caught in her throat as he turned her small hand so his lips could caress her knuckles. She always marveled at how easily John could bring her to that breathless state of desire with such a simple play of his mouth against her skin. She grinned and leaned across the table to kiss her husband. She pulled back with a frustrated sigh of her own that she couldn’t haul her handsome husband back to bed and answered his question. “And that’s the reason Roy and Joanne never threw you out,” she said quietly.
It was his turn to frown as he gave her a questioning arch of his brow. “Why?”
She sighed in exasperation that her husband could be so clueless sometimes…that he still didn’t ‘get it’ even after all this time and the therapy he’d been through with Roy. She knew there were just some things that had simply been too ingrained in him and that having Aspergers made nearly impossible to overcome…Thankfully Roy and his family weren’t ones to give up that easily and neither was she…They’d keep working at it until he did understand no matter how long it took.
“Because they love you me’oo’o…They always will…You are like their own child to them …a part of their family and you were more important than their ‘alone’ time.”
John felt the burn of tears behind his eyes but he blinked them away and nodded. “I know they do,” he admitted, looking a bit embarrassed.
“And you love them,” she added. “Like the parents you lost…The brother and sister you never had…The friends that are always there to support you.”
He smiled poignantly. “Yes…And now I have you and Rory and Katie Jo too.”
“Which is why we will get through this time and someday we will laugh as we remember these frustrating moments,” she told him with a giggle.
John laughed and nodded. “You’re right…Someday we’ll be crying over the absence of the pitter patter of little feet,” he teased.
She kissed him once more. “You need to eat or you will be late…We do not want Chet Kelly to beat you to work Me’oo’o,” she reminded him.
John nodded his agreement and began to eat…
John rolled into the parking lot just under the wire, but thankfully Chet still hadn’t arrived as he raced inside, thanking himself under his breath for his decision to put on his uniform at home.
The curly haired Irishman was close behind him but John made it into the kitchen to join the rest of his crew as well as the men from the departing C-Shift a few moments before him.
All of the men glanced up as he sauntered into the room.
“Hey Gage…Welcome back,” C-Shifts Engineer Hal Bailey exclaimed, giving John a slap off the back.
“Hey papa Gage,” another called.
Marco and Mike grinned at their teasing. They knew everyone liked John and of the eighteen men stationed on the three shifts at Station 51, John was the youngest and the one none of them had ever thought they’d see married and with two babies.
Roy turned away from the stove where he was making another pot of coffee and smiled at his young partner. “Welcome back Junior,” he said with a happy smile. He’d missed John being in the squad, especially since his absence had led to a succession of temporary partners.
Roy was a professional and he could work with just about anyone, but he seriously missed his young friend when he was out.
“Hey Roy,” John returned with a tired smile.
“You look exhausted,” Roy noted worriedly…His keen blue eyes sweeping over his young friend.
“Didn’t get much sleep the last couple of nights,” he replied.
“Whatsa matter Gage,” Chet said coming in just in time to catch the look. “Fatherhood wearin ya out?” He taunted the youthful, dark haired paramedic.
”No...It’s not wearin me out Chet,” he shot back. “It’s just…Rory and Katie Jo just can’t seem to quite…get their timin together,” he said, looking a little frustrated.
Roy moved over to join the group. “My Niece and Nephew still keeping you up all night…?” He asked, only half teasing. Unlike the others who were too busy teasing their young crewmate, Roy noted the dark circles under his partner’s eyes and the tired slump of his shoulders.
“Yeah,” he replied, blowing out tired breath. “You’d think I’d be used to it from working here,” he added.
“Not the same…No adrenaline rush like there is here when you’re jolted from your sleep by the SCU,” he reasoned.
“Not to mention that the fire isn’t wailing in your ear half the night pal,” Cap reminded him, with a pat on the young man’s shoulder.
Mike grinned and added his own two cents worth. “Besides…sometimes it’s hard when you don’t know WHY they’re crying and you can’t get them to stop,” he added.
“Now multiply that times two,” Roy said with an arch to his blonde brow. “It’s no wonder you’re tired.”
“I guess,” he said, looking a bit depressed. “Guess I’m just not good at this father thing yet,” he admitted, sounding a little insecure.
Roy heard the tone and decided to nip that way of thinking in the bud before it could take root. “Hey now…That’s not true. You may be a little unsure of yourself right now, but I’ve seen you in action for the past month Junior….You’re a great father,” Roy argued.
John worried his lower lip. “You think so?” He questioned, sounding a bit doubtful. “I felt a little torn,” he said quietly. “I didn’t want to leave them, but then I was relieved to get back to work too and guilty that I left Dani alone to handle it,” he said, looking confused.
Chet and Marco exchanged a glance…The only two in the room that couldn’t understand what he was feeling right now…But Roy, Hank and Mike did.
They all smiled at the young man they’d all grown so fond of. Station 51 was like a small family and Johnny was at the heart of it. They’d all watched him practically grow up here and they were all very proud of the fire fighter, paramedic and the man he’d become. They knew all the tragedies he’d suffered in his young life…The struggles he’d endured and they all thought of him like a kid brother and had no hesitation in jumping in to offer advice.
“Take it easy on yourself pal,” Cap advised. “It’s perfectly normal to question yourself the first time…Being a dad isn’t something you just know how to do…You learn as you go John,” Cap said patting his back reassuringly.
“But you’d think I’d be used to it from being around Roy’s kids so much,” he argued.
“Not the same thing Junior,” Roy explained, putting his arm around John’s shoulders companionably. “You got the fun part with my kids…You skipped the two and four in the morning feedings and the ‘oh my God when will they stop crying’ and the ‘what’s wrong with them that they won’t stop crying’ part,” he reminded his young friend drily.
John grinned at his partner’s reasoning as the others continued, knowing he had a point.
Mike nodded. “I was scared silly and I only had one,” he admitted.
Roy smiled… “I promise…It’ll get easier…Especially after they start sleeping through the night and you can get some sleep…,” he reassured him.
“That’s when they get to be fun and not exhausting,” Hank assured him.
“I can’t wait till it’s me and Nessa,” Marco said longingly.
“Easy to say pal,” Hank said with a snort of laughter.
Mike and Roy nodded but Chet shook his head… “Well not me man…That baby thing isn’t for me,” he said as the others turned their attention to him.
“You’re probably right,” John agreed with the Irishman.
Chet drew himself up indignantly. “What’s that supposed to mean?” He asked.
“Remember when that couple had that baby on the freeway and you went to the hospital to see her?” Chet nodded. “You scared the poor thing half to death,” John reminded him.
“Yeah…Well…I was just trying to make her smile.”
John grinned…They’d all been great over the last month… helping Johnny out with fixing the house up, visiting with Danella, holding their ‘honorary’ Niece and Nephew, but Chet hadn’t seemed to quite get the hang of it. Katie Jo broke into tears every time Uncle Chet held her and Rory strained away as if being held by a monster. John thought it was the fire fighters insecurities and the awkward way he held them but Chet was sure Johnny was telling them bad stuff about him when he wasn’t around.
“Like Katie Jo,” John reminded him, speaking aloud of his daughter’s reaction to Chet.
“She’s just too young to appreciate my finer qualities,” he said indignantly.
“Or too smart to be taken in by you,” Marco teased, poking his best friend in the back.
“Thanks Marco…,” he grouched. “I thought you were my friend,” he whined.
“You are…That’s why you’re gonna be my best man when I get married,” he reminded him.
Chet smiled at the reminder. “Yeah…I forgot about that.”
“Well I haven’t and you’d better leave the phantom at home,” the Hispanic linesman warned, shaking a finger at his partner.
“The phantom hates weddings,” Chet replied smugly.
“I’ll be sure to have Dani warn Erin about that,” John said as he headed for the coffee pot.
Chet looked horrified. “Now Johnny baby…No reason to go snitching on me,” he protested worriedly. He had no intention of telling any of these clowns that he’d fallen in love with the pretty redhead…He’d never hear the end of it. He just wasn’t sure how to marry the girl without them finding out and having a field day at his expense for his fall from bachelorhood.
The others chuckled as they followed John to the stove. None of them were fooled. They were all well aware that Erin had the man wrapped hopelessly around her little finger and they were just waiting for the curly haired fire fighter to admit it and get it over with…John also knew that Erin was getting a bit tired of waiting, so he prodded the man whenever they got together, hoping to push him into it before the girls temper exploded and she moved on to greener pastures.
The crew poured themselves some coffee and settled down to sip it before roll call…John just shot a grin around the table at his friends. Glad to be back and enjoying the easy camaraderie of his friends. He loved his wife and kids with all his heart, but he’d missed this…Especially being with Roy.
Roy knew John better than Johnny knew himself sometimes and no matter what the circumstances, he could bring his young friend around better than anyone.
John watched his friend carefully as he bantered with Hank over something that had happened on his last run. Roy had been his role model as a friend, a great husband, a fire fighter, a paramedic and a father for years now.
John could barely remember his real dad now, but he sometimes wondered what his father would have been like had he lived to see his son grow up? And his mom…He could almost picture her with her grandchildren in her arms. He shook his head to clear the thought…It didn’t matter anymore he guessed. He couldn’t change the past but what he did know was that Roy was the one who’d changed his future and he was grateful for his love, concern and guidance over the last six years. He’d become the father he’d lost…The brother he’d never had… The best friend that he could trust…And Jo…He smiled poignantly. She was his sister and the mom he’d grown up without…What Kate would have been had she lived.
Roy caught his partner’s eyes on him and smiled…He wasn’t sure what his young friend was thinking about but he hoped it was about something that made him incredibly happy…That’s all Roy wanted for his young friend and had worked hard over the years to help him achieve that goal. John was his partner and best friend. He knew John inside and out and often thought of John like a young brother and a second son. He’d protect and guide him through anything that came along as if he were part of his own family.
Neither knew what the other was thinking about at that moment nor that it would be put to the test sooner than either realized.
“So how’s Dani feeling?” Hank asked sitting down between his two paramedics.
“She’s great…She’s still not up to…,” John stopped, catching himself before he blurted out his frustrations with being unable to make love to his wife but it didn’t matter…The five men at the table already had caught on.
“Taking a few cold showers there Gage,” Chet taunted with a smirk. John’s face turned scarlet at the jest but he only shrugged. “He is…,” Chet crowed triumphantly.
“Man…I bet that sucks,” Marco commiserated…He knew how hard it was to keep his hands off Janessa and was looking forward to his own wedding just a week away.
Hank, Roy and Mike nodded, remembering those days after their own children were born…A time when you were feeling a new, special bond with your wife…and all you wanted was to hold her and show her how wonderful she was in your eyes and yet knowing you couldn’t actually do anything more than cuddle with her, if she wasn’t too tired, was frustrating.
John threw a glare at Chet before changing the subject. “Anyway...She’s a natural at this stuff…She’s a great mom,” he acknowledged.
“That’s something I think most of them are born with,” Hank said. “Emily is a wonderful mom.”
“So is Joanne,” Roy added.
Johnny nodded… “I’ll agree with that,” he said with a grin…She’d been there for him too many times not to know what a wonderful mom she was…even to a grown man she’d taken into her heart as her own.
John’s recitation of new fatherhood woes and the crew’s attempts at parenthood advice was interrupted by the loud chiming of the station control unit.
“Squad 51…Woman trapped. 4587 Holbrook… 4-5-8-7 Holbrook…Cross Street East Bay View…Time out…7:58,” Sam Lanier’s voice intoned.
Johnny and Roy shot to their feet and ran for the squad while Hank crossed the kitchen to slip through the small door to the podium. He quickly wrote down the information and snapped the mic from the hook. “LA squad 51…10-4,” he responded, tearing the slip of paper free and handing it to Roy through the open window. He watched as the squad rolled from the bay and roared away…Lights and sirens on and wailing through the still morning air.
He turned and headed back to the kitchen where the rest of the crew was finishing their coffee before roll call.
Chet glanced up at him with a smirk on his mustachioed face. “So Cap…I’m taking bets on how long it will take before Gage loses his mind between exhaustion, celibacy and two crying babies at home,” he questioned with a gloating laugh.
Hank grinned and made eye contact with the only other person in the room would understand John’s frustrations right now. “Oh I dunno Chet…Maybe about half as long as it took Mike and me with only one at a time huh?” He quipped, defending his youngest crew man. He and his Engineer had both been in John’s shoes at one point and Johnny had it twice as bad.
Roy pulled the squad up in front of an older looking home that looked sadly in need of repair. They both climbed from the cab and quickly ran to pull their gear from the compartments.
The two paramedics trotted up the walk. Roy knocked on the door. “Fire Department,” he called loudly. They waited for a moment but heard nothing.
Johnny stepped back and looked through the window but couldn’t see anyone. Roy knocked again. “FIRE DEPARTMENT…CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?” Again there was nothing.
“I’m gonna check around back,” Johnny said, stepping off the stairs and jogging around the side of the building.
Roy banged on the door one more time before giving up and following his partner.
Johnny was halfway around the building before he heard the weak cry for help from the rear of the house. “Roy…Back here!” He yelled, breaking into a run. He rounded the corner of the home and spotted an elderly woman half standing and half leaning over the tub of an old fashioned wringer washer.
The look of pain on her face was unmistakable. He made it to her side just as Roy came around the corner behind him. Johnny grabbed hold of the rapidly sagging body and held her up until Roy got there to help him.
*The dark eyes took in the wrinkled arm that disappeared between the rollers…Tears pooled in her faded blue eyes and spilled down her cheeks. “Help me,” she whimpered, her voice cracking with age and pain.
“I’m gonna help ya ma’am,” Johnny soothed gently as Roy came around the side of the house at a run and joined them, quickly moving to the woman’s other side. Stepped over the phone handset she’d obviously dropped after calling the fire department for help.
“You got her?” John questioned as he searched for a way to release the rollers and free her arm.
“Yeah,” Roy replied before turning his attention to their victim. “What’s your name?” He questioned the woman.
‘Ida,” she breathed out, just barely audible.
“Okay Ida…“Can you tell me what happened?” He asked, more to try and keep her attention diverted from what John was doing than anything else.
“I was just w…washing clothes and I rolled my ddd…dress through,” she stuttered through the pain. “It got stuck and….and I tried to pull it loose and it suddenly went through and just…Just…,” she gasped, unable to finish.
“And it just pulled your fingers in with it,” Roy finished, his blue eyes watching alternately watching his partner and the woman’s face.
Johnny finally found the release mechanism and with a loud crack, the rollers split apart.
Ida breathed a sigh of relief but it was short lived as the feeling in her hand returned with a vengeance. The sensation was excruciating. Her knees began to tremble and only Roy’s hold on her kept her from falling. “Oooooh,” she moaned softly.
John gently cupped her hand in his own as they led her into her kitchen and sat her down in a chair that looked almost as old as she was. “Okay Ida…I’m just gonna take a look at this, okay sweetie?” he asked, giving her his most reassuring grin, meant to melt the heart of women of any age.
Much to Roy’s disgust it worked and the weathered, old face cracked a small smile at the handsome paramedic.
“Alright young man,” she replied with a slight crack to her voice.
“You can just call me Johnny,” he invited her as examined the swollen hand that was already turning several shades of red, blue and purplish black.
“What a nice name,” she murmured, wincing slightly as he probed the area.
“Thank ya,” he replied, his dark eyes meeting Roy’s over her head. They danced with laughter and he grinned as his best friends eyes rolled in exasperation. “This is my partner Roy, he said, nodding his head toward the older man.
She glanced around and Roy smiled as he wrapped the BP cuff around her frail arm. “Hello,” he greeted with a reassuring smile.
“Hello Roy,” she replied.
“I’m just going to take your blood pressure okay?” He asked, as John finished his examination and gripped her thin wrist to get a pulse.
Ida grinned despite pain…quite happy to be receiving so much attention from the two handsome men. Just wait until she told her friends at the Senior center, she mused. She’d be the envy of all the ladies for at least a week.
Roy finished up as Johnny pulled his note book from his pocket and jotted down his findings. He glanced up at his partner expectantly. Roy felt more than saw his partner’s eyes on him.
“BP is 150/100,” he responded without waiting to be asked.
John nodded and turned to the biophone while Roy turned his attention back to the woman and laid his hand on her stomach. She patted his hand with her own drawing a giggle from John as she obviously misunderstood Roy’s intentions.
“Are you married dear?” She questioned.
John snorted with laughter and turned his back to the pair. Roy grinned at the woman even though he wanted to throw something at his snickering partner. “Yes ma’am…I just need to get your respirations here okay?” He explained.
“Oh…I’m terribly sorry,” she said flushing in embarrassment.
“Perfectly alright ma’am,” he soothed, shooting a glare at his smirking partner. John ignored him, but Ida turned her sights on the younger man.
“What about you?” She asked, not one to be put off.
John grinned at Roy. It was the first time he’d been asked by a patient since he’d been married. “Yes ma’am...I am,” he replied happily.
“Oh…What a shame,” she lamented. “The girls at the center would have loved to meet you,” she explained.
John grinned and continued to try and raise Rampart. “Rampart base, this is County 51...How do you read me?”
There was a momentary pause. “County 51…This is Rampart, go ahead,” Dr. Joe Early’s voice came back.
“Rampart…We have a woman…Approximately sixty five…She had her right hand trapped in the rollers of a ringer washer…We have freed her hand. It’s swollen and I think there are several broken metacarpal bones. Her BP is 150/100, Pulse is 120, respirations are…,” he hesitated and Roy’s voice filled in the missing piece of information.
“Fourteen,” he said as he began to pull several items from the trauma and drug boxes.
“Respiration 14,” John repeated, watching Roy set out a splint and a bag of D5W IV solution.
“10-4 51…Splint the hand and due to her age, start an IV D5W TKO…Give her 50 mgs of Meperidine IV,” Early ordered.
“10-4 Rampart…50 mgs of Meperidine…IV D5W and splint the hand,” John repeated back. He set the phone aside and noted that Roy had tossed the splint over to him and had already begun to ready the IV.
John grinned, Roy hadn’t even waited for Early or Johnny. After all the time they’d been doing this job, he’d already known what would be ordered and what task John would choose to do and had set it up even though he’d waited for Early’s instructions before actually administering it. It’s what made the best team in LA as well as being individually the two best paramedics in LA
John began to work on her hand even as his mind went to his best friend. John knew that now that he had a wife and two babies, that he would one day soon, need to make a decision on whether or not to stay with the paramedics and his partner and best friend or move ahead with his career.
He knew Roy had stayed for him and he was grateful, but he always worried that he was holding Roy back from fulfilling his own potential. Roy had assured him repetitively that that was NOT the case and that he’d stayed because he loved what he did and that he was particularly fond of the company but still…John knew he was the main reason Roy had decided to stay.
Not so long ago, John had been too insecure in himself to want to try for anything higher, not to mention that even though he excelled at what he did, he hated the idea of leaving Roy and station 51.
That had changed over the last eighteen months. Roy had begun a therapy program with John and he’d grown a lot over that time. He still had his insecure moments when he looked to his partner for support, but he’d grown in his own self confidence and he now knew when the time came…He’d be ready to go out on his own, knowing Roy would always be there when he needed him.
John was also unsure what the next step should be. He really wasn’t interested in being an Engineer and the only other position he could try for would be Captain. That was a huge responsibility to contemplate and John wasn’t sure he was ready for that…That position put so many other lives in his hands and subject to his decisions…right or wrong. He’d have to think about that decision long and hard, but right now…He was content to be at Roy’s side for a while longer.
Johnny smiled to himself now that he’d talked himself out of leaving the paramedics and Roy for a bit more time. He felt Roy’s eyes on him and glanced up, catching the curious look of his partner as he stretched the length of tubing in preparation of starting the requested IV.
John’s grin broadened, knowing that nothing about him escaped the notice of his friend. “I’ll tell ya later,” he said as he returned to splinting the woman’s hand.
“Okay Junior,” Roy replied.
Ida looked a little confused by the cryptic comments but her attention was diverted as Roy prepared her arm for the IV and Johnny taped the splint in place.
They were just finishing up when the ambulance attendants came around the corner of the house looking a bit lost. John stepped out the door and waved at them.
They made short work of getting Ida on the gurney before they wheeled her out and loaded her on board the ambulance for the ride to Rampart.
Roy looked to Johnny before he climbed aboard. “You okay Junior?” He asked quietly.
Johnny grinned. “Yup…Just happy to be where I am Pally,” he replied.
“Well I’m glad to hear that,” Roy said with a smile as John slammed the doors and slapped them twice to signal the driver that they were ready.
The vehicle drove away. John smiled to himself…It was good to be home.
The ambulance was empty by the time John backed the squad into the bay. He grabbed the handy talkie as he climbed out and headed for the emergency room doors.
He spotted Dixie and Kelly Brackett standing close together at the base station. He didn’t see his partner and he had no idea which room he was in, so Johnny wandered over to the base station to join the couple.
They both glanced up as the young man approached. “Hey Doc…Dix,” John greeted, setting the HT on the desk.
“Hi Johnny,” they both replied warmly.
“How are those adorable babies?” Dixie asked with a grin. She’d been a frequent visitor over the last couple of weeks, dubbing herself as Aunt Dixie to Rory and Katie Jo.
“They’re great…,” he replied, smiling at the pretty blonde. “Noisy, but great.”
“And Danella?” Kel asked.
“She’s fine…She’s a natural mom…She’s just tired…like me,” he said wryly.
“Thankfully…They should start sleeping through the night within the next two or three months,” Kel reassured him.
John’s face paled a bit. “Three months…I’ll be a zombie by then,” he quipped.
Kel and Dixie both laughed. “You should be used to it,” Dixie teased.
“Roy and my Captain have assured me that it’s not the same,” he replied drily.
Dixie nodded. “They’re right, but thankfully it doesn’t last forever,” Kel soothed.
John nodded and sighed. “You seen Roy?” He asked, changing the subject.
“He’s in treatment room three with Joe,” Dixie replied.
Johnny leaned on the base station with a grin. “So are you two ready for your big day tomorrow?” He teased, looking at Brackett…He already knew Dixie was.
Kel grinned and nodded. “We were just discussing that,” he answered, giving Dixie’s fingers a squeeze.
John finally noticed that they were holding hands and he smiled. A few months ago they would never have been caught fraternizing on the job. They’d been in love for years though neither would have been the first to admit it, at least not until the pair had accompanied John and the Station crew to Montana to kick start the paramedic program.
Both of them seemed to have lost their shyness about others knowing how they really felt about each other now that it was official.
Dixie and I are taking the afternoon off. Dixie is picking up her brother and sister in law and her nephew from the airport and I…,”Kel stopped in mid sentence as he saw the expression on John’s face change. The young man began to worry his lower lip between his teeth and his face seemed to pale. “Johnny? Are you alright?” He asked worriedly.
John’s dark eyes shifted toward Dixie for a brief moment before he glanced away again uncomfortably.
Dixie understood exactly what the problem was, though neither of them had discussed it since they’d put the tragedy behind them a couple of years ago. The pretty blonde reached out to lay her hand on John’s arm just as the door to treatment room four opened and Roy stepped out. He spotted the small group at the base station and headed toward them.
He joined them in time to hear the older woman’s reply. “Sweetie…Nothing that happened to Meghan was your fault. David and Colleen know that too. I explained all of that to them…It’s over,” she said softly.
Roy understood the unhappy look on his young partners face immediately. Johnny had dated Dixie’s visiting niece Meghan a couple of years ago. The girl had spiked John’s drink with meth amphetamines * without his knowledge. The next day there had been a boating accident and John had still been feeling the effects of the drug and almost drowned during the rescue.
Unfortunately the victims had been Dix, Joe Early and Dr. Brackett along with Meghan. The girl had taken too many pills that morning herself and had drowned before John could save her.
Dixie had blamed him for her niece’s death for a time before the truth had come out and she’d forgiven him, but the hurt and pain in his eyes told her that he hadn’t forgotten it.
“Junior…,” Roy said softly. “Let it go. It’s in the past,” he added, using the tone he often used during touch therapy sessions with his young partner, when John was holding on to past hurts and pain.
The dark eyes lifted to meet his. “How do I face her family?” He asked quietly.
“You shake their hand and tell them it’s nice to meet them,” Roy replied, tossing Dixie a glance. She smiled and nodded her agreement.
“They don’t blame you,” she assured the worried paramedic.
“And they shouldn’t,” Kel added. “She almost killed you,” he reminded his young colleague.
John nodded but he still didn’t look totally convinced.
“So what else is going on?” Roy asked, resting his hand on John’s shoulder and changing the subject. John was tense but not so much that Roy would need to use therapy to relax him. After all this time, the older man could usually tell just by the feel of John’s muscles or his stance. He gave him a light reassuring pat and let his hand fall away as Kel answered.
“We were just discussing that,” Brackett replied. “Dixie is leaving to go pick up her family…I have to leave to go pick up my new suit and…”
“You mean your Tux,” Roy interrupted.
Kel shook his head “Nope…Penguin suits aren’t my thing,” he replied with a laugh.
“So he bought a new suit instead,” Dixie said wryly.
“Hey…I’m just practical…I can wear it to work after the wedding,” he quipped.
Dixie’s blonde eyebrow arched as Johnny and Roy chuckled at their byplay. “Mr. Thrifty,” she said ruefully. “I on the other hand, had to spend a fortune on a dress…,” she began.
“Exactly…,” Kel interrupted. “So why spend the money on a Tuxedo that will hang in a closet unused for the next forty years til they bury me in it,” he laughed.
“Good point,” Roy agreed.
“Then I have to pick up Sean and Steven…They’re coming for the wedding but I promised them a tour of Rampart this afternoon.”
A commotion at the bay doors stopped the conversation… “Gotta run,” Kel said. “And if I ‘m gone before you get back…I’ll see you tomorrow,” he called, half running from the base station toward the gurney being rushed toward a treatment room. He disappeared inside and the door closed behind them.
Dixie turned to the pair. “Is Joanne all ready to be my Matron of Honor?” She asked Roy with a grin.
The blonde paramedic nodded. “Yeah…he used it as an excuse to have her hair done, buy new shoes and make up,” he said drily. “You’d think she was the one getting married,” Roy teased.
Dixie grinned but didn’t really look all that sympathetic. The HT beeped and the conversation ended as Johnny and Roy listened to the tones sound.
“They’re playing our song,” Roy said as Sam Lanier’s voice began to speak.
“We gotta run Dix,” Johnny said, glancing around quickly to be sure no one was looking. He kissed her cheek and spun toward the exit. “See ya tomorrow,” he added. Roy tossed her a wave as he turned and followed his partner.
“Don’t forget to bring those babies with you,” she called after him.
“Promise,” John yelled back as they disappeared around the corner.
She smiled at their retreating figures until they disappeared around the corner. Those two young men meant a lot to her and she knew she might not be marrying Kel this weekend if not for them. She might not even been alive if they hadn’t had the nerve to stand up to Kelly Brackett in those first few weeks of the paramedic training program.
She broke off her musings as her eyes fell on the clock on the wall. She began to clear the desk. She had to get to the airport.
The rest of the shift remained uneventful but busy with routine runs. Cap headed for his office just after dinner to finish up some paperwork. He’d barely sat down when the phone rang. He snapped up the receiver on the second ring.
“Station 51, Captain Stanley speaking,” he answered still working on getting the reports laid out before him. The voice on the other end caught his full attention and he set down his pen.
“Hank…This is Chief Sorenson.”
“Yes sir…What can I do for you sir?” He snapped briskly.
“Relax Hank…I just wanted to give you a quick heads up on a personnel change on your next shift.”
“Yes sir…Uh…Who?” He questioned, curiosity lacing his tone.
“I received a call from the justice department a little while ago.”
Hank looked a bit non plussed. “The Justice Department?” He questioned worriedly.
“Yes…They’re planning on transporting a rather important and highly secret witness within the next few days and they need our help.”
Hank frowned in confusion. “Our help? Why would they need our help?” He asked.
“Seems the witness has some serious health issues and they’ll need a couple of paramedics to travel in the ambulance with him when they transport him from San Diego to Sacramento,” he explained.
“Yes…Seems this is a federal trial…Not local.”
“Well why don’t they just fly him up there?” Hank asked, sounding more perplexed than ever.
“I’m not sure…They didn’t give us a lot of information…Just that they didn’t want him seen by too many people…I guess this is a huge federal case against some pretty powerful and dangerous people who most likely don’t want him testifying.”
“Oh…I see,” he said, sounding concerned. If Sorenson was calling him, then it was most likely that they were planning on sending Roy and John. Hank wasn’t too keen on putting his men at risk. “Um…I assume you’re telling me this because you want to send Gage and DeSoto?”
Daniel heard the worried tone of the captain’s voice but he had no option. “Yes…They specifically requested John.”
Hank’s dark eyebrow rose quizzically. “John? But why?”
“They didn’t deign to tell me that and when the Governor and the Federal Justice Department make a request…We say ‘yes sir’,” he said.
“Um…Yes sir,” Hank agreed, still none too happy about this.”
Sorenson heard the concern in the tall Captain’s voice and he understood, he didn’t like the idea of putting his men at risk, but he really had no option either. “I just wanted you to be aware of the situation so you’d know why Brice and Belliveau will be at your station next shift.”
“Yes sir and thank you. Do you want me to tell Roy and John or just tell them to report to you?
“Just have them report to headquarters Sunday morning and we’ll have all their itinerary and airline tickets. We’ll fly them to San Diego to meet the man setting this up and he’ll handle it from there. They’ll fly them back from Sacramento on Tuesday morning.”
“Yes sir,” Stanley agreed.
“Don’t worry Hank…Sounds like they have this all worked out.”
“Yes sir,” he said, not sounding convinced. It sounded dangerous and he wasn’t happy about putting John and Roy in harm’s way, but he really had no choice. Have a good night sir,” he added.
“You too Hank,” he replied. “Don’t worry…,” he said again before hanging up.
He sat staring at the instrument for a long moment. He hadn’t told Hank the worst. He hadn’t told him that their witness would most likely have a price on his head. He’d tried to find out himself why they wanted Gage and why they didn’t simply fly him up in a jet but they’d refused to give him any more answers than the rather lame excuses he’d repeated to Hank.
They’d assured him that the witness would be well camouflaged and guarded and not to worry…It hadn’t helped. Despite the assurances he just given Hank, Daniel was worried about Gage and DeSoto…They were the two best paramedics they had and HQ had their eye on both of them for bigger and better things down the road.
He knew the pair, like every other fireman, risked their lives daily, but this wasn’t the same thing…There was usually no one wanting to kill their patient. Sorenson sighed…There was nothing he could do but hope this Agent Chambers had it under control as he’d promised.
Captain Stanley pushed himself to his feet…He needed to go talk to his men and he hated that he didn’t have all the answers for the questions they were sure to ask.
Hank stepped into the bay where John and Roy were finishing up cleaning the squad. The rest of the crew were wiping down the Engine.
He threw the others a glance before turning his attention on the two paramedics. “John…Roy, I need to speak to you a minute,” he said soberly.
The pair exchanged a glance at their captain’s tone. John snapped the rag from his partner, earning him a mock scowl as he cleaned his hands and tossed the rag on the hood of the Dodge truck.
“What is it Cap?” Roy asked as they turned their attention to the tall, lean man.
The others stopped what they were doing and came to lean against the engine to listen. Chet was hoping they were about to get a dressing down so he would have some new ammunition to use against Gage. He was quickly disappointed.
Hank threw them a glance. This crew was like a small family and Sorenson hadn’t exactly ordered him to keep this hush-hush from his men.
“Chief Sorenson just called.”
“Everything alright?” John questioned warily. A call from the Chief at this time of night could mean trouble.
Hank saw the worried look cross all their faces and quickly reassured them. “Nothin’s wrong, he just has a special assignment for John and Roy,” he explained.
The two younger men frowned at that. “What kind of special assignment?” Roy asked curiously.
“Seems the fed’s have some kind of high profile case coming up and they need to transport a witness from San Diego to Sacramento to testify.”
“What’s that got to do with us?” Roy questioned cautiously.
“Well it seems he has some kind of medical issue and they want you to fly down to San Diego and accompany him to Sacramento?”
The two younger men looked bemused. “Us…? Why wouldn’t they just get one from San Diego to fly up with him?” John asked in confusion.
“They’re not flying him up…they’re driving him up?”
“Why?” Roy asked.
Hank sighed. “I don’t know…Seems they don’t want him seen by too many people or something like that,” he replied. “So they’re sending him by private ambulance.”
The two exchanged a glance. “So why not a San Diego team?” Roy pressed, looking for more answers.
Cap rubbed his chin thoughtfully as his eyes traveled to John. “Seems they specifically requested John.”
Roy’s blonde eyebrow rose in surprise while John’s eyes widened in shock as he pointed a finger back at his own chest. “ME?” He asked in disbelief.
“Seems so?” Hank affirmed.
John shot a stunned look at his partner before turning his attention back to his Captain. “Why me?”
“I have no idea…I thought you could tell us?” Hank replied.
John shook his head. “I have no idea…The only people I know in San Diego are Roy’s in laws…,”
“And I can guarantee they are not involved in anything important,” Roy interjected with an eye roll. “But I’m not surprised they asked for John…He’s a damn good paramedic.”
“So are you pally,” John added.
“And his name’s been in the papers over the last few years with being kidnapped, hit by a car, Gayle’s trial…They might of remembered it,” Roy added.
“Well I guess you’ll find out on Sunday,” Hank replied with a shrug, seeing John’s doubtful look.
“Sunday?” Roy questioned in confusion. Neither of them had been scheduled for Sunday.
“Yup…you’re supposed to go to headquarters Sunday morning…They’ll give you all your flight information then…You’ll be met by someone at the other end who’ll brief you and get you set up with your transportation.”
John and Roy shared a glance. Neither of them knew what was going on but they couldn’t very well refuse when the Government and the Senior member of the department requested their presence.
“Yes sir,” John replied for both of them.
Chet waved his rag to get his Captains attention. Hank glanced over to where the rest of the crew was listening and were now looking concerned.
“What is it Chet?” Hank asked.
“Uh Cap…Is this gonna be like…dangerous or anything?” He asked worriedly.
“Look…I don’t know that either…I’ve told you all I know,” he replied honestly.
They shot a concerned glance at the two paramedics…Worry clearly written on their faces, but there was nothing any of them could do about it.
John and Roy both shrugged…They’d both been in dangerous situations before, besides…How dangerous could it be to transport one sick man to Sacramento?
The SCU tones suddenly broke the stillness and the tension. “Station 51…Structure fire…”
They all put Sunday from their mind and ran for their vehicles.
“Gonna be a nice day for Doc and Dixie’s wedding,” Johnny noted, squinting up at the sun that was climbing in the eastern sky.
“That’ll be good…All those fancy gowns everyone will be wearing won’t be ruined by mud,” Roy replied.
John chuckled and nodded. The pair heard an engine and glanced over to see Charlie Dwyer’s car pulling into the parking lot.
“Well one of us is free to go,” Johnny said indifferently.
“Why don’t you head out Junior…You still gotta take care of your horses before you can get ready to go,” Roy suggested. He knew Jo would already have the kids up and getting ready before he got home but John had a full stable of mouths to feed and water and two babies to help with on top of it…at least Chris and Jen could dress themselves. Besides, Dani would appreciate the help.”
“Okay,” he agreed.
John went back inside and rinsed his coffee cup before he sketched a wave at the others. “See you this afternoon,” he said.
“See ya pal,” Cap called as the others waved back. They all began to get themselves ready for their replacements to arrive and take over as well. They had a wedding to go to. Marco in particular was excited…It was now only two short weeks until his own and he could hardly wait.
John arrived home and slipped inside the house. He noted that there were no lights or sounds and guessed that Danella had had a long night and was probably tired and still sleeping while the twins were quiet.
He slipped into the bedroom and sure enough, Danella was asleep. Her long, dark hair spread over her like a satin blanket. She was stunning…John decided to let her sleep but couldn’t resist leaning down to place a gentle kiss on her cheek.
She barely stirred and he knew she’d probably just gotten back to sleep. He sighed at his good fortune in marrying such a beautiful woman, but right now he had chores to do…That was also a part of his good fortune in owning a working ranch.
He quietly left the room and poked his head into the nursery to check on the babies. Rory was snoring softly but Katie Jo was awake and was studiously watching her own waggling fingers in fascination.
Johnny chuckled from the doorway and a happy, toothless smile spread across her chubby cheeks at the sight of her father. He came into the room and walked to his daughters crib.
“Hello Hakéta,” he greeted, using the nickname his parents and his Aunt Rose used for him all through his life. Even Roy used it occasionally during therapy when Johnny was very stressed or upset about a memory. John’s face flushed a bit as he thought about that.
He loved Roy and Jo and as much as enjoyed Roy’s big brother, best friend and Partner roll in his life, he still got a bit embarrassed when his friend took on that paternal attitude and treated him like a kid. He was a married man with two children of his own now after all. But still…He knew it was done out of love and he hated to admit that it sometimes felt kind of reassuring that his best friend was there when he really had no one else to fill that role.
Katie Jo’s plump fingers reached out toward him and John grinned down at her and scooped her into his arms… wincing a bit as he noted the warmth of her diaper and guessing she needed a change. He carried her to the padded table and made short work of getting her cleaned up and in a fresh onesie before picking her up to cuddle her once more.
He kissed her soft cheek and rocked her in his arms. This was the time he most enjoyed being a father…Just the quiet moment when he could look at his children and see their mother in their faces…Their eyes held such trust and innocence and wide eyed wonder that he had trouble thinking of all the craziness the world would throw at them one day and just prayed he’d always be as good a ‘father’ as Roy was to his kids…Had been to him in his own way.
He could hardly remember his own dad but the memories had mostly been good ones…The only bad ones were of him leaving them for weeks at a time until the day came when he’d left them permanently. He’d been angry with him for that for a long time, even though he knew it hadn’t been his dad’s choice to go. He shook off the sad memory…John didn’t want to dwell on that…With his job…It was an all too real possibility that he could someday be killed in the line of duty and his children left without a father…All he could do was love them every moment of every day so they’d always remember how much their daddy had cared for them.
He looked down and saw his daughter gazing up at him adoringly. She was happy, clean and smelled sweetly of powder and lotion and for the moment was content to play with the buttons on his shirt. He lifted her to kiss her tiny cheek and for the moment, all was right in his world.
“Wanna come help daddy with the horses?” He asked softly as she pulled at his nose. He laid her in one of the seats of the twin stroller his aunt had given them for a baby shower gift, along with half the rest of the furniture in the room, he mused in amusement. He handed her a small, soft toy to clutch and keep her entertained while he saw to her brother.
He lifted his son and got him changed and dressed before settling the still sleeping infant in the second seat. He wheeled the stroller out to the barn and by the time he got them safely parked out of harm’s way, Rory was awake and looking at his surroundings in wide eyed curiosity.
John gave them both a gentle pat on the head before he turned to the reason he was here and began to feed and water the horses.
The infants were enthralled by the large animals and stayed quietly entertained as he went about his chores. John knew some people would be horrified at having the infants in a smelly stable and this close to the huge beasts but John and Danella had been raised on a ranch and had been around the animals their whole life and had no fears about their health or their safety by their proximity. Some of their people even rode with their infants strapped to their chests and while he wouldn’t probably try that himself, he knew they’d be on horseback by the time they could walk.
He set about filling water buckets in preparation for the evening feedings. John knew they’d be late getting back from Dixie and Kel’s wedding and figured to get a jump on it by having everything set up so all he’d have to do was bring the horses in from the pasture tonight.
Once that was done he pushed the stroller onto the porch before he returned to the barn and led the horse to the pasture one at a time, turning them out to graze for the day. He finished up quickly and headed for the house.
The smell of bacon frying reached his nostrils as he climbed the stairs and he realized Dani must have wakened and was cooking breakfast. His stomach growled in anticipation. He wheeled the stroller inside where his wife stood at the stove in one of his shirts and nothing else. He sighed as a different kind of hunger rose up, but he beat it back…She was stunning but she wasn’t ready yet. This forced celibacy was the price they both paid for the joy they’d already shared ten months earlier. He sighed again…Just a couple of weeks more, he mused.
She turned at the sound of their arrival. “Pa’have’oona’o Me’oo’o,” she greeted the trio.
“Mornin beautiful,” Johnny returned as he parked the carriage near the table and headed for the stove.
She grinned at the compliment. “Thank you for letting me sleep a bit,” she said, reaching up on tip toe to kiss her handsome husband as he came up beside her.
“I figured you mighta had a long night,” he replied as he slipped his arms about her once again slender waist and rested his chin on the top of her head.
“Yes…They took turns being awake,” she explained.
John had been there enough himself over the last month to need any more explanation. “That’s what I thought.”
“Did they enjoy helping daddy with the horses?” She teased, turning to look up at him over her shoulder.
“Yup…They’ll be riding in no time,” he quipped with a grin as they looked over their shoulder at their offspring, who were currently being occupied by the dancing motes of sunlight shining through the window.
“Well, maybe we should give them a few more months,” she teased.
Johnny chuckled and took a plate off the counter for her to put his breakfast on before handing her the second for her own.
“Are you all set for the wedding?” He questioned his pretty wife as he headed for the table.
“Yes…But are you sure she wants the twins there?” She asked worriedly.
He nodded his head. “Yup…She said I coul...nt show u with…ou em,” he mumbled around a mouthful of food.
Unlike most people, Danella shrugged off her husband’s penchant for talking with his mouth full, after all, she’d grown up with a village full of people who saw no need to adopt the white man’s rules of proper etiquette.”She did say she’d have someone to watch them for the actual ceremony though,” he added after he’d swallowed.
She nodded gratefully. The last thing she needed was for those two little fire alarms going off in the middle of Dixie’s long awaited wedding.
“Oh yeah…By the way…Cap told Roy and I that we have some kind of special assignment coming up so I have to work tomorrow and Monday,” he told her sipping his coffee.
“What kind of assignment me’oo’o?” She asked curiously.
Katie Jo gave a whimper that warned that she was tiring of being trapped in the motionless stroller. John reached out with his foot and began to roll it back and forth until she settled with the motion once again. He resumed his conversation without missing a beat.
“I guess we’ll be escorting a federal witness to Sacramento,”
“You will be flying up with him?” She asked.
“No…I guess it’ll be in a private ambulance or something.”
She frowned a bit. “That is a long drive me’oo’o,” she noted.
“Yeah…Especially in the back of a cramped ambulance…Let’s hope it’s one of the newer models,” he teased as he finished his coffee.
She giggled picturing her tall husband hunched over in a low roofed older ambulance like a vulture over prey. “You will be safe right? This isn’t dangerous?”
John shrugged. “Can’t see that it would be…He’s a sick man and not a criminal.”
“Alright me’oo’o. Can you watch the twins while I shower?” She questioned, rising from her chair to carry the dishes to the sink.
He nodded and pushed the carriage into the nursery…He’d get them dressed in the new outfits they’d purchased for the infants while she got ready. Then she’d just have to feed them one more time while he got ready himself.
An hour later, John finished tying his bowtie on his rented tuxedo. He ran a brush through his shaggy dark hair and stepped from the bathroom. He stopped in mid stride and stared in dumbfounded awe at his beautiful wife.
Danella was usually pretty casual in her dress but right now she’d rival any movie star, at least in his eyes.
Her raven hair was twisted in a French braid and her black and white gown clung to her curves before flaring out at the hips to swirl in waves down to her ankles. “You’re stunning,” he breathed out.
He giggled at his stunned look. “What did you expect…Deerskin and feathers?” She teased, remembering Chet Kelly’s snide remark about her dress at their engagement party. John grinned as he took her in his arms.
“No, but I wasn’t expecting you to look like you should be on a red carpet in Hollywood either,” he replied, leaning down to kiss her gently. “I almost wish we could stay home,” he whispered against her lips.
She smiled up at him tenderly and reached to straighten his tie. “Dixie would never forgive you Na’méhoht,” she reminded him.
John sighed. She was right…Dixie was too close a friend to miss this special day. “Alright my Princess…Let’s get rolling,” he said in resignation. He hefted the diaper bag over his shoulder and scooped Rory into his arms. Danella lifted Katie Jo and the small family headed out to the rover.
The DeSoto family was also just arriving when John and Danella and the twins arrived. They stopped to wait while the younger couple climbed from the rover and pulled the babies from the back.
Roy let out a wolf whistle when he saw Dani and the girl blushed prettily. “Roy,” she admonished.
He chuckled at her reaction but came to take his niece from her hands. “Let me see my girl here,” he said taking her from Dani before reaching out to give his ‘sister in law’ a hug in greeting.
John turned to Joanne. “You look beautiful?” He complimented the woman who had become his friend and big sister and even sometime surrogate mom over the last few years. She looked beautiful in the dark blue and white gown and her long auburn hair twisted up in a French twist in the back.
“Good morning baby,” she greeted. “And thank you,” she replied using the endearment she’d been calling Johnny by for several years now. She often thought of the young man as one of her own and loved him dearly.
Jen ran to greet Johnny, her blonde curls bobbing and her pink dress swinging with the motion. “Hey…Wow…Look at my princess,” he teased, turning his attention away from Jo. “You’ll be the belle of the ball in that dress,” he said sincerely.
Jen grinned from ear to ear at his praise…Glad that Uncle Johnny still thought of her as his princess even though he had Dani and Katie Jo now. “Will you dance with me today Uncle Johnny?” She asked hesitantly.
John shifted Rory in his arms so he could reach down and scoop Jennifer up with his free hand. “Of course I will…I’m the prince right?” He asked, playing a role they’d engaged in from the time she was born.
Jen planted a kiss on her uncle’s cheek and nodded eagerly. He set her down and ruffled Chris’ blonde hair. “Hey buddy,” he greeted.
“Hi,” Chris grumbled, not at all happy about being trussed up in a suit. He tugged uncomfortably at the sleeves. Johnny understood how he felt. He’d been the same way when he’d been forced to attend his Cousin’s wedding when he was seventeen. He couldn’t wait to get out of it…He flushed as he suddenly remembered the rest of that day’s events and the young woman who’d uh…‘helped’ him get out of it in the hayloft in the stable.
“Something wrong junior?” Roy asked, noting his flushed features.
“Nope…Just remembering my first wedding…Joshua’s,” he said not explaining further.
Roy nodded…Knowing Johnny wouldn’t have most likely enjoyed being at that wedding. “We better get inside. Jo is supposed to be helping Dix and I’m supposed to be an usher,” he reminded them all.
John nodded and the small family group headed for the church. They were greeted by a flustered looking Dixie McCall dressed in a bathrobe…Her fancy, white high heeled shoes peeping out from beneath the hem. Faux diamond combs held her blonde hair back away from her face.
“What’s wrong Dix?” Johnny asked worriedly when he saw her.
Her eyes lit up at the sight of the ‘boys’. She knew Kel had asked Roy to be a groomsman along with Mike Morton. Joe Early was to be his best man. She knew he’d specifically not asked Johnny because of the twins and knowing Dani might need his help but she was now in a bind.
“Johnny,” she gasped, gripping his arm. “I need your help.”
“What is it Dix?” He asked worriedly, handing Rory over to Danella.
“My brother David was supposed to walk me down the aisle today but he just fell on the stairs.”
“Is he alright?” Johnny asked worriedly.
“Yes…Kel and Joe are looking at it right now…They don’t think it’s broken, just a bad sprain but he can’t walk on it too well.”
John stared at her in confusion. “What do you need me to do?” He finally asked.
Roy shook his head while Danella and Joanne giggled… They all knew Johnny had Aspergers and that it left him with the inability to read people’s moods and pick up on their innuendo’s but still… Johnny was so clueless sometimes.
“I’m sorry to ask this on such short notice and I know Dani could probably use your help with the twins but…”
Dani interrupted. “You have someone to watch the babies during the ceremony anyway don’t you?” She asked.
“If necessary yes but…”
“Then there’s no need to apologize,” she said smiling at her husband’s long time friend.
“Apologize for what?” Johnny asked, still looking confused.
“Sweetie…I want you to walk me down the aisle,” she said in a rush.
John blinked back the sting of tears. Dixie was dear to his heart and had been like a big sister to him for a long time but he’d never expected her to ask him for something this important to her. Roy maybe…Even Joe Early but not him.
He chewed his lower lip with his teeth for a moment before he nodded his head. “I’d be honored,” he said sincerely.
“Oh thank you sweetie,” she said happily. “C’mon Jo…”I still have to get my gown on,” she said, grabbing Joanne’s hand and dragging her toward the small room off the vestibule.
“Good thing Johnny was available,” Jo said as they slipped the dress down over Dixie’s head.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” Dixie said softly.
“What’s that?” Jo questioned, doing up the tiny row of buttons up Dixie’s back.
“I wanted Johnny to do it all along but I didn’t want to hurt my brother’s feelings,” she admitted with a rueful grin as she turned to look at Joanne.
Jo stared at her for a long moment before she giggled. “You didn’t push David did you?” She teased.
Dixie looked affronted for a moment before she laughed too. “I didn’t think of it,” she said through her chuckles. “Just call it divine Providence."
John was still standing outside the door when the rest of the guests began to arrive. Nurses and doctors from Rampart…, even the hospital administrator, Mr. O’Brian. John nodded at several other off duty paramedics as they came through the door.
“What you hangin around out here for Gage?” Tom Wheeler of station 110 asked.
“Yeah…How come you aren’t with that gorgeous wife of yours?” His partner Kurt asked.
“Dixie asked me to walk her down the aisle,” he admitted.
“Wow…Teacher’s pet huh?” Wheeler teased.
John grinned and nodded proudly. Glad she’d asked him even if it was a last minute decision.
He greeted Sean Carlton and Steven Handly as they came inside…Dr. Brackett’s father whom he’d met briefly at the hospital when the older man had had a heart attack. He introduced him to Brackett’s mother.
His Aunt Rose arrived looking stunning as usual and John took the time to escort her to the seat next to Danella and the twins. Chris and Jen were seated just in front of them and Jen was holding a bottle of thinned juice for Katie Jo while Chris played proud Cousin with Rory.
Rose smiled tenderly at John and brushed his shoulders and smoothed the material of his suit. “You look so handsome Hakéta,” she assured her nephew.
The smile fled her face as she suddenly remembered…Her mind winging ahead to tomorrow and the coming trial…She could only hope that John was too busy being a husband, father, rancher and paramedic as well as planning his own second wedding to have time to pay attention to the news and he wouldn’t hear of it.
She wasn’t sure if he’d remember those men from his past but she didn’t want to take the risk and have him start asking questions either. Questions she couldn’t or rather wouldn’t answer.
“Something wrong Aunt Rose?” He asked at the sudden serious look.
She shook her head. “No Sweetie…There’s nothing wrong…You better get back to the door though,” she told him, standing on tip toe to kiss his cheek.
John grinned and hugged her to him. “I’ll see you in a bit,” he promised as he turned and left.
Members of his crew began to arrive. Hank gave him a fatherly once over. “Wow John…You clean up pretty good son,” he teased his youngest crew member.
“You look so handsome,” Emily Stanley added.
“Gee thanks Cap…You don’t look so bad yourself,” he replied. “And you look great ma’am,” John assured his captains wife.
“You waiting for Danella?” He asked looking around.
“Nope…She’s inside…I’m waiting for Dixie,” he replied.
“I’m walking her down the aisle cap?”
Hank grinned and clapped him off the back. “Good practice…You’ll be walking your own daughter down the aisle someday,” he teased.
John’s face paled. “Don’t remind me,” he said.
Hank chuckled. “I think you have a long time before you really need to worry about it,’ he assured him.
Johnny grinned. “I hope so Cap…I may have to beat them off with a bat though,” he laughed.
Hank smiled back and moved on with Emily.
Mike and Melissa arrived next and John led them to the door where Roy stood ready to escort them to their seats. Marco and Danella’s best friend Janessa were just coming in as he returned to the door.
“Hey Johnny,” Marco greeted, proudly leading his fiancée inside. Janessa was stunning and both of them were anxiously looking forward to their own wedding just two weeks away.
“Hey Marco…You look great…Wow Nessa…You sure you wanna marry this guy? You could get a job as a model and become rich,” John teased the shy Indian girl.
She giggled but nodded her head emphatically. “Oh yes…I am looking forward to it,” she admitted, giving Marco a adoring smile. He sighed dreamily…John shook his head. They both had it bad.
“Uh hey Nessa…? Dixie asked me to walk her down the aisle….I don’t suppose you’d mind helping out with Rory and Katie Jo until I’m done would ya?”
“Of course I will Johnny,” she agreed. He led the pair to the door and pointed over to the side where Dani had parked the stroller and where Katie and Rory were thankfully sleeping soundly for the moment.
She and Marco made their way over and joined them.
There were a few more arrivals and John glanced at his watch…It was almost time. He began to close the doors in preparation for Dixie and Jo to step out, but suddenly heard thudding footsteps and the click of high heels running up the steps. He held the door as Chet and his date Erin slipped inside.
“Cutting it a bit close aren’t ya Kelly?” He asked sourly.
“Yeah well…You know me?” He shot back. “I love to make an entrance.”
John grinned at his long time nemesis. He and Chet usually vied for the honors of latrine duty due to late arrival at the station, though John had been doing much better now that he was married and Danella kept him on his toes.
“You got your hair cut and you shaved and everything,” John taunted as he circled the man.
“Yeah…I thought I should at least look presentable for someone as important as Brackett and Dixie…I wouldn’t waste my time for you,” he grouched. “But don’t worry…It’ll grow back.”
“Erin…You still hangin around with this deadbeat?” He teased the pretty redhead.
She laughed as Chet bristled indignantly. “Maybe I’ll catch the bouquet and he’ll finally ask me,” she hinted. “I might even say yes…Now that he’s presentable.”
John chuckled as Chet’s face turned red. “Yeah well…Maybe I will,” he shot back wiping the smirk off John’s face and putting a hopeful one on his dates.
“You two better get inside…It’s almost time,” he said pointing toward the door where Mike Morton stood waiting.
The pair headed inside and John closed the heavy outside doors. He walked to where Roy was now waiting for the minister to signal that Kelly Brackett was ready.
He heard the door open behind him and he turned to see Joanne and Dixie step into the foyer. John’s mouth dropped open at the sight of Dixie. He’d never seen the beautiful blonde nurse look like this.
He let out a low whistle. “Wow,” was all he said for a long moment.
Dixie grinned at her handsome escort. “I take it I look okay?”
“Okay?” He squeaked… “You look…You look…Well you’re gorgeous,” he finally finished.
“Well thank you handsome…I certainly hope Kel thinks so.”
“If he doesn’t he’s blind,” John said appreciatively, drawing a smile from Dixie and a giggle from Jo.
Roy poked his head inside. “They’re rea…,” his voice trailed off as he spotted Dixie. “Holy cow…Doc’s a lucky man,” he said in awe.
“Thank you Roy,” Dixie replied, looking pleased.
“I don’t know how we’ll be able to get this image out of our heads when we see you at Rampart,” Johnny teased.
“Well there’s nowhere in this dress for a rectal thermometer or a hypodermic needle so I think you’ll remember the real me when I’m in uniform,” she teased.
John shuddered. He’d too often been on the receiving end of both of those items and at her hands.
“They’re ready when you are,” Roy said, finally remembering why he’d opened the door in the first place.
“Let’s get this circus over with,” she said happily.
Jo stepped in front of the blonde to precede her down the aisle. John held out his arm to let Dixie take hold of his elbow. Roy opened the doors and walked quickly down the aisle to Join Brackett and Early at the front of the Church. He turned as the beginning strains of the wedding march began.
The guests rose to their feet as Joanne made her way down the aisle and a hush fell over the room as Dixie and Johnny stepped through the doors. It was a sure bet the people she worked so closely with had never seen the usually down to earth nurse look like this before.
Roy heard a sharp intake of breath and glanced around to see Kelly Brackett open mouthed in shock at the sight of his future wife.
Roy grinned, afraid for a moment that he and Johnny might have to do a bit of CPR if the good doctor didn’t breath on his own soon.
He almost laughed as he heard the telltale gasp as Brackett suddenly realized he hadn’t breathed and finally exhaled.
His eyes locked with Dixie’s as she came toward him and he mentally kicked himself for having waited so long to make her his wife. He’d been such a fool to let his stubborn pride keep them apart for so long and could only be grateful that she’d chosen to forgive him and agree to marry him.
Suddenly she was there with John Gage at her side and the minister began to speak. “Dearly beloved…We are gathered here together in the sight of God…” His voice faded into the background as he and Dixie stared at each other.
He snapped back to the moment as he heard the words. “Who gives this woman to this man?”
John smiled at Dixie. “I do,” he replied, kissing her cheek and placing her hand in Kel’s. Brackett nodded his thanks to the younger man as he took the blonde’s hand in his own and they turned to face the pastor.
Every one glanced around but no one said anything. Kel and Dixie blew out a relieved breath bringing a small round of chuckles from the guests.
The minister continued on with a reading from Robert Louis Stevenson.
“Lord, behold our family here assembled.
“You may be seated,” he instructed the audience.
Johnny slipped away and walked quickly back to join Danella and his family. He and Danella had their own wedding coming up in a month and they’d finally come to agreement on their own vows. John was looking forward to it, even though they’d been married at Christmas…A lot of his friends had missed it and this would be a reaffirmation of their love for one another. The date had been changed several times over the last year and John was beginning to think it would never happen but now it was only a few short weeks away and nothing was going to stop it this time. His attention was drawn back as the minister continued the ceremony.
“We are gathered together to celebrate the very special love between Kelly and Dixie, by joining them in marriage. All of us need and desire to love and to be loved.And the highest form of love between two people is within a monogamous, committed relationship.”
“Kelly and Dixie, your marriage today is the public and legal joining of your souls that have already been united as one in your hearts. Marriage will allow you a new environment to share your lives together, standing together to face life and the world, hand-in-hand. Marriage is going to expand you as individuals, define you as a couple, and deepen your love for one another. To be successful, you will need strength, courage, patience and a really good sense of humor.”
There was laughter and a lot of head nodding at that comment.
“So, let your marriage be a time of waking each morning and falling in love with each other all over again.”
Kel and Dixie nodded in agreement.
“Kelly…Repeat after me.
“I Kelly Michael Brackett, take you Dixie Elizabeth McCall to be my wife,” he intoned, stopping periodically to wait for Brackett to repeat the words.
“My partner in life and my one true love. I will cherish our union and love you more each day than I did the day before. I will trust you and respect you, laugh with you and cry with you, loving you faithfully through good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles we may face together. I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, from this day forward for as long as we both shall live.”
Dixie blinked back tears as she listened to him repeat the vows and then it was her turn.
“I Dixie Elizabeth McCall, take you Kelly Michael Brackett to be my husband… My partner in life and my one true love. I will cherish our union and love you more each day than I did the day before. I will trust you and respect you, laugh with you and cry with you, loving you faithfully through good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles we may face together. I give you my hand, my heart, and my love, from this day forward for as long as we both shall live.”
“Do you have the ring?” The minister questioned.
“You better,” Kel whispered to Joe Early, drawing a giggle from the row of people in the front of the audience. Kel took the ring from his long time friend and turned back to Dixie as the pastor began again.
“For thousands of years lovers have exchanged rings as a token of their vows. These simple bands are not of great value themselves, but instead are made precious by your wearing of them. It is worn on the third finger, because of an ancient belief that a vein from that finger goes directly to the heart, thus connecting emotion to physical body.”
The pair exchanged a nod, knowing this as fact.
“A circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe. In these rings it is the symbol of unity, in which your lives are now joined in one unbroken circle, in which, wherever you go, you will always return to one another and to your togetherness. May they remind you always of the vows you have taken today and of the promises that have been made.
Dixie, I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and friendship. With this ring, I marry you and I am honored to call you my wife,” Kel said as he slipped the ring on her finger.
Dixie in turn took the ring from Joanne before she turned back to Brackett. “Kel… I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and friendship. With this ring, I marry you and I am honored to call you my husband,” she said with a crack to her voice that told the handsome, dark haired doctor that she was barely holding it together.
The minister smiled before he closed the ceremony. “Now that Kelly and Dixie have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring, I now pronounce you wife and husband, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” He smiled down at the couple. “Kelly…You can kiss your bride,” he urged.
“You don’t have to tell me twice,” Kel said sincerely, drawing a laugh from the crowd as he took Dixie in his arms and leaned down…Their mouths met softly at first and then with a deeper passion. The couple lost track of time until a thunderous applause broke them apart.
Wolf whistles from the fire fighters and paramedics brought a slight blush to both of them as they realized how lost they’d been in each other.
The minister laughed. “Alright Kel…Save some of that for tonight,” he teased.
The room resounded with laughter. The minister raised his hands and quieted them for a moment.
“Ladies and gentlemen…May I present to you. Dr. and Mrs. Kelly and Dixie Brackett.”
The reception lasted throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Champagne flowed freely and the food was by one of the finest restaurants. The owner owed his life to Brackett and had given him a good deal.
The music flowed and Kel and Dixie danced the day away…Going from one partner to the next until some other part of the traditional ritual needed to be done. The cutting of the cake…The first dance as man and wife.
Dixie’s father was no longer living but she danced with Joe Early in lieu of her brother while Kel escorted his mother onto the floor. Toasts were made and dinner was served. True to her word…Dixie’s brother and sister in law greeted Johnny warmly and without any hint of animosity, only sadness at her absence from such a joyful occasion.
John and Danella hadn’t needed to worry about the twins…They were being passed around as liberally as the glasses of champagne.
John led Jennifer onto the dance floor and the small blonde beamed while he lifted her off the floor and waltzed her around the room. Chris attempted the same with Danella, but not quite as smoothly as his Uncle.
The bouquet was tossed, which Erin caught and then the garter. Chet made a diving catch of the blue elastic circle as it flew through the air. There were far too many single men trying for it after they’d seen the girl who caught the bouquet for his peace of mind and he didn’t want any of them running their clammy hands up his ‘girls’ slender leg.
He knelt before her and slid the frilly thing up her leg. She gazed down at him with a grin.
“Hey Chet…While your down there,” Johnny called to his nemesis…
“Shut up Gage,” Chet growled.
Erin pouted that he wasn’t taking the hint, fearing the stubborn Irishman would never give in. Chet flipped her skirt down and held his hand out. She almost refused but decided not to spoil the moment. John looked at Roy and shrugged.
“You can lead a horse to water,” the older man quoted.
John’s aunt came to join them…She’d been enjoying being Joe Early’s favorite dance partner for most of the afternoon but he’d been called over to play the piano for everyone so she was free to visit for a time.
“Dance with me Hakéta?”
John grinned and set down his drink before leading her out on the dance floor. “Are you having a good time?” John asked as he swept her around the floor.
“Oh yes…Joe has been very attentive today.”
John grinned. “Any chance of uh…?” John waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
She made a face and swatted his behind and then laughed. “No Mr. Nosey,” she replied. “We’re just friends…You know I lo…,” she stopped herself before she said too much.
John didn’t have to hear the words…He’d figured out a long time ago that his aunt had feelings for a former employee…Feelings neither had ever acted upon but still…It had been obvious, even to his sometimes oblivious emotional capabilities. He gave her a silly Gage giggle and a knowing grin, reminding her so much of his father she almost stumbled in his arms.
“Are you okay?” He questioned, tightening his hold until she was secure once more.
“Yes sweetie…you just sounded so much like your dad for a minute.”
“Oh,” he replied softly, his face taking on a sad look.
She patted his cheek. “Must just be too much champagne,” she told him with a laugh, trying to lighten the mood. With everything about to hit the fan on Monday, the last thing she wanted John thinking about was his father.
He nodded and glanced at his watch. “Speaking of…It’s getting late and I have to get some sleep.”
“Are you on duty tomorrow?” She questioned.
John shook his head. “No but headquarters has a special assignment for Roy and I tomorrow so,” he shrugged.
“Oh…What kind of special assignment?” She asked curiously.
“Johnny…Can I cut in,” Joe Early’s voice interrupted.
“Oh sure Doc…I was just telling her that I had to get going anyway,” he added handing his aunt over to the kind, gray haired doctor. “I’ll see you at Marco’s wedding in two weeks,” he told the older woman, giving her a peck on the cheek just before Joe swept her out on the dance floor.
“Say goodnight to Danella and kiss the twins,” she called back.
John nodded and headed off to find his wife. She and Jo and Roy were standing together. Chris and Jen were slumped tiredly in their chairs and the twins were sleeping in their stroller. Tiny milk bubbles on their plump lips warned him that they’d just been fed. They turned at his approach. “I was just coming to find ya,” Roy informed him. “We have to catch that flight tomorrow morning.”
“Yeah…I just told my aunt that we had to leave. Guess we just need to go find Doc and Dixie and say goodnight.”
The group made their way toward the newly wedded couple. It was obvious from their attire that they were getting ready to leave themselves. They also had a plane to catch...They were headed to Mexico for a cruise.
“Hey Doc…Dix,” Roy began as they approached.
“Are you getting ready to go?” John asked.
“Yeah tiger…Our flight leaves in an hour,” she told him.
John nodded. “We have a plane to catch in the morning so we need to go as well,” Roy told them.
“Oh? Where are you two headed?” Kel asked.
“The feds are transporting a secret witness,” John whispered, glancing around dramatically to be sure no one was listening.
Everyone laughed at his antics. “Anyway…He has some medical issues and they want us to accompany him in case he has any problems I guess,” John finished.
“Anyone we know?” Dix asked.
Roy shook his head. “Nope…But apparently he knows John…or at least about him,” he said with a frown.
“Why do you say that?” Kel questioned.
“They asked for him specifically.”
Kel’s eyebrow rose in surprise but John shrugged. “I don’t know anyone involved in anything secret Doc…Guess we’ll find out soon enough,” he added.
“Well you two be careful and I want to hear all about it when we get back,” he said as they realized that the others had seen them in their street clothes and realized that the guests of honor were getting ready to leave. The two couples gave Dixie and Kel hugs and handshakes before they headed off to gather their children and head for home.
They walked out to their cars and got the kids settled in before turning to bid farewell to one another. Danella and Joanne exchanged a hug. Dani kissed Roy’s cheek while Jo brushed a sisterly kiss on John’s lips. “Goodnight baby,” she said softly.
John grinned. “Night Jo…Hey Roy…I’ll pick you up in the morning and we can go to headquarters together.”
“Sounds like a plan Junior,” the older man agreed.
The two couples parted company for the night.
Early the next morning John rolled from his bed. His head felt a little fuzzy from all that champagne the night before. He padded on bare feet to the bathroom and popped a couple of aspirin…he peeked into the nursery but the twins were still sleeping. Their bellies full from the five AM feeding they’d just gotten them back to sleep from. He returned to his room and quickly got dressed in a pair of jeans and his barn boots.
He headed out to take care of the horses. He wasted no time playing with the large animals this morning…He had to pick up Roy and get to headquarters. He gave each horse a treat and a pat on their glossy necks as he turned them out to pasture and then headed inside.
He returned to his room and changed into his uniform. Danella stirred but resettled and John grinned down at her. He leaned down to brush a soft kiss on her lips. He stood up and the grin faded from his face as a feeling of foreboding suddenly swept over him…Like he’d never see her again. John closed his eyes as he remembered the morning his father had kissed him goodbye before he’d headed off that fateful day…He’d never returned.
John shook his head…He wouldn’t dwell on that…It was in the past. He had his whole future ahead of him. He turned and left the room.
John went to the nursery and bent down to kiss each of his children tenderly. “I love you both,” he whispered.
He wrote a short note to Dani.
Didn’t want to disturb you Na’méhoht, I’ve taken care of the horses and everything is ready so you can just bring them in tonight. I’ll see you on Tuesday. I love you Danella…With all my heart,
He returned to their room and set the paper where she would see it when she woke. He leaned down and kissed her one final time. His fingers toyed with the silken hair as his dark eyes roamed over her, memorizing every curve of her cheek. He finally sighed and turned away. He didn’t notice his father’s green pen had slipped from his pocket and lay on the bed next to Danella.
John pulled up in front of Roy’s. The blonde paramedic was waiting with a small overnight bag identical to the one John had tossed in the backseat of his rover.
Roy tossed his inside and climbed in the front seat. “Morning Junior,” he said, sounding a bit under the weather.
“Mornin Pally,” he returned with a grin. “A little too much champagne?” He asked flippantly.
Roy nodded. “And too little sleep,” he added. “Joanne wasn’t through with the party,” he added with a waggle of the eyebrows.
John giggled but it quickly faded. “Yeah…Well I don’t have that problem lately,” he grouched.
Roy laughed and slapped him off the back. “Soon junior…Soon,” he teased.
John grinned and backed out of the driveway. Twenty minutes later they were at headquarters.
It was still early and there were only a few people about. One of them was Chief Sorenson.
The pair snapped to attention and threw him a salute. “Morning Chief,” they replied almost in unison.
Daniel shook his head. This pair did that often and it always amazed him to see the bond these two young men shared and had from the beginning of their friendship. “At ease gentlemen.” The pair relaxed a bit.
He handed them each a packet. “These are you plane tickets and your orders…You will be meeting an agent by the name of Edward Chambers…He’ll give you any further details that they think you need to know.”
“Yes sir,” Roy replied.
“I don’t need to remind either of you that this is a request from the US Government.”
“No sir,” John replied stiffly.
“Good…I can’t think of two more qualified candidates to do the department proud,” he said sincerely.
Johnny and Roy shared a surreptitious sideways glance. “Thank you sir,” John answered for them both.
Sorenson nodded. “I know you two are highly regarded and you’re both professional but…John…Roy…Please be careful.”
The two nodded their appreciation of the subtle compliment in the form of a cautionary warning. “We’ll do our best sir,” Roy replied.
“I know you will…Dismissed,” he said.
The pair headed for the door. Daniel watched them pull out and prayed he hadn’t put the two best paramedics they had in the lion’s den.
John and Roy drove to LAX…Both lost in their own quiet reverie. Roy from a hangover and too little sleep…John from that small niggling worry that continued to gnaw at his belly. He pushed it away…He’d talk it out with Roy…The older man could always make John feel better. He cast a glance toward his best friend but his eyes were closed and John didn’t want to disturb him. They’d have plenty of time to chat on the way down and back.
Forty five minutes later their plane taxied down the runway and lifted off…Soaring toward San Diego and whatever waited for them there.
To be Continued in Part 2
* References my story Sacrifices.
Posted to site 4/13/15
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