Station 51 gleamed in the morning sunlight, the American flag in front of the building waving briskly as Dr. Joe Early drove into the parking lot. I'm really looking forward to this, he thought. It'll be nice to be at the other end of the biophone for once. I'm glad Kel suggested this as an option for all the doctors in the ER.
He parked his car and walked into the station, following the sound of voices and the aroma of freshly-made coffee into the kitchen. Pausing on the threshold, he surveyed the inhabitants.
Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto he recognized immediately; their jobs frequently brought them to the hospital. The others' jobs occasionally brought them to the hospital under less happy circumstances, after close calls with fires, electricity, or ceilings. Looking around the room, he recalled that Captain Hank Stanley had been electrocuted by power lines, Marco Lopez had been trapped in a burning building, and Chet Kelly had been thrown from a building by an explosion. Come to think of it, though, he couldn't remember ever having seen Mike Stoker at Rampart except to visit the others. Lucky fellow.
"Good morning, gentlemen," he said. "Mind if I join you?"
"Hey, Doc!" Johnny Gage greeted him.
"Mornin', Doc," said Roy DeSoto.
Mike and Marco nodded their greetings.
Stanley put down his coffee and got up from the table. "Glad to have you with us, Dr. Early," he said, shaking the doctor's hand.
Chet turned from the coffee maker. "Want some coffee, Doc?"
"Don't mind if I do," Early said, seating himself at the table. "How are you doing, Chet? Haven't seen you in the ER in a while, so I'm guessing that you're doing well."
"Fit as a fiddle, I'm happy to say," Chet said, setting a cup in front of him.
"Now if only he could do something about that mustache," said Johnny. Chet made a face at him.
Roy changed the subject quickly. "Ready for your ride-along with us today, Dr. Early?" he asked.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," the doctor assured him. "I get to see the end result when you arrive at the hospital, but I'm eager to see how you boys work in the field."
The tones went off. "Station 51. Child trapped in tree. Anderson Park, near the south end. Time out, 8:17."
The firefighters raced for the engine and the squad. Early looked regretfully down at his untouched coffee, then up at the loudspeaker. "I didn't mean that eager," he said. Then he followed the others out to the bay and climbed into the squad with Johnny and Roy.
The squad pulled up to the park first, with the big engine thundering up after it. Johnny, Roy, and Dr. Early jumped out of the squad, and a man dressed in a park policeman's uniform came up to them.
Captain Stanley climbed down from the engine. "I'm Captain Stanley. Are you the one who made the call?"
"I'm Officer Purvis. Yes, I called it in. Come on, I'll take you there."
"We're right behind you," said Stanley.
The park policeman led them deep into a forested area. After a little while he stopped at the base of a tree. "This is the one," he said. "You can just see her way up there. She's really scared, poor kid. I think she's about five or so. My partner's checking around to see where she could have wandered in from."
Craning their necks to look up into a welter of leaves and branches, they could just see the terrified child.
"A ladder would be long enough, but . . . " Stanley mused aloud, scrutinizing the child's position.
"But what, Cap?" Roy asked, squinting upward, a hand shielding his eyes from the sun.
"I don't think those high branches will support it. Look how thin they get up there." As if to underscore his words, the branch to which the little girl was clinging suddenly swayed. She let out a high-pitched scream, then reverted to whimpers as the branch stilled.
"What about one of those cherry-pickers you sometimes use?" asked Purvis.
"A snorkel," Stanley corrected. "Unfortunately, this area is too thickly forested to bring one in."
Johnny exchanged a worried glance with Roy. "Cap, I'm gonna climb up after her. I don't see any other way."
Stanley nodded agreement. The lanky Gage weighed the least of any of the assembled team.
"Is there any way I can help?" asked Dr. Early.
"Just stand by, Doc," said Roy. "We don't know if she's hurt."
"Chet, Marco, get the climbing gear out of the squad," said Stanley.
"Right away, Cap," said Marco. The two firefighters ran to get the gear, returning quickly.
"Let's get a rope up there for backup," said Stanley. After a couple of tries, they got a rope over a branch some feet up and secured it. Johnny buckled on his safety belt and began the climb. It was easy at first; the lower branches were sturdy and plentiful. As he got higher, the branches gradually decreased in number and size. The little girl was just above him when he had to stop. He latched his belt to a branch at waist level that looked as if it could hold his weight, and inched out across the next one down. It creaked slightly, but held him.
The little girl peered down at him. Her face was streaked with dirt and tears, and her playclothes were torn. Johnny could see no visible injuries, however, and she was clearly awake and alert. "What's your name, honey?" he asked.
A long moment passed, and she finally whispered, "Jenny."
"Well, Jenny," John said cheerfully, "you're going to be all right. You'll be just fine. Now, if you can just come down to me, I can carry you on down."
Jenny shook her head. "Uh-uh," she said.
Johnny reached toward her. His fingertips almost brushed her sneaker. "Jenny, see how close we are. I can't come up to you 'cause I'm too big. You gotta come down to me."
"Why not, Jenny?"
"Are you hurt anywhere?"
"No, I'm not hurt. Just real scared."
Why couldn't I get an easy rescue? thought Johnny. Like, a cardiac victim in a burning house?
"How's it going up there?" called Cap. His voice carried surprisingly well in the stillness of the park.
"She looks okay," John called back, "but I can't quite reach her. And she's too scared to climb down to me."
There was a pause and then Roy said, "Ask her what her favorite song is."
"Her favorite song?" repeated Johnny, perplexed. I'm a paramedic, not a disc jockey.
"You got a better idea?" came the answer.
Johnny shrugged. "Jenny, what's your favorite song?"
Jenny thought about that one for a few seconds. Finally she said, pronouncing each word slowly and carefully, "The One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying Purple People Eater song."
"The . . . one-eyed, one-what?" Johnny asked.
"One-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater," she repeated patiently.
Johnny briefly contemplated trying to shout that back down to Roy. "Er, Jenny, do you have a second-favorite song?"
"Puff the Magic Dragon," she said.
Was it wishful thinking, Johnny wondered, or was she really a little less tense? He relayed the information down to Roy.
"Thanks," Roy called back. Moments later, a pleasant baritone floated up to them. "Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea . . ."
That sure doesn't sound like Roy, thought Johnny. Getting a firmer grip on the branch, he twisted around and looked down to see who it was. There, crooning away at the base of the tree, was Dr. Early.
Jenny was smiling. "Can you sing along, Jenny?" Johnny whispered. Soon her little piping voice joined in.
Johnny waited through a couple of verses. Jenny had become relaxed, almost cheerful. "Come on, honey," he whispered, trying not to interrupt the song, and held out his hand.
Still warbling, Jenny crawled down toward him. When she reached him, she climbed onto his back and got a death grip around his neck. "A little lower, Jenny," John said, gently repositioning her arms.
"I got her!" he shouted down. A cheer went up. He unhooked his belt and climbed carefully down. Hands reached up to take Jenny as soon as he was near the ground, and he swung down from the last branch alone.
Roy clapped him on the back. "Good job."
"Thanks," said Johnny. He pulled down the rope and began coiling it for storage. Glad I didn't need this, but I’m glad it was there.
Dr. Early was looking the little girl over carefully. "She looks okay, Johnny," he said. "I don't see any injuries."
Another park policeman joined them. "We found her parents," he said. "She wandered away from the campsite while they were making breakfast. They've been worried sick. I'll take her to them." He held out a hand. "Come along, Jenny."
"First I have to say thank-you," she said. Bypassing Johnny and Roy entirely, she went over to Dr. Early and looked up at him. He immediately squatted down so that they were on eye level. She threw her arms around him and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you," she said simply. Then she went over to the park policeman, took his hand, and walked away with him, leaving Dr. Early with a smile on his face.
"Well, Roy," said Johnny, "I can tell who's going to get all the women this shift!"
As they walked back to the squad, Roy said, "I gotta hand it to you, Doc. Your singing to that little girl really helped us get her down."
"Yeah, that was great!" Johnny enthused, stowing his gear. "Man, you could go into showbiz!"
"Thanks, boys," said the doctor. "But I don't plan on quitting my day job."
On their way back to the station, they heard multiple tones over the radio, followed by the voice of the dispatcher. "Station 10. Station 51. Truck 104, Battalion 14. Structure fire, SunRay Warehouse. Time out, 8:03." Johnny scribbled down the address as the dispatcher read it off.
Dr. Early listened as Captain Stanley's voice crackled over the radio, "Station 51 en route. KMG 365."
Roy turned on the siren and swung the squad around. Turning to look behind them, Early saw the big engine lumbering into place. "Never a dull moment, eh boys?" he asked, smiling.
"That's for sure," Johnny agreed.
"We may need you on this one, Doc," said Roy, his eyes on the road. "It sounds like a big one."
The warehouse was fully involved when they arrived; the painted words "SunRay Corporation: Kitchen Appliance Storage" on the side of the building were barely readable through the smoke. Station 10 had already arrived. Roy pulled the squad up alongside the other emergency vehicles, and the engine pulled in behind them.
The battalion chief was already on the scene. He conferred with Captain Stanley, directing him where to deploy his engine and his men.
"Looks like someone forgot to drain the propane out before storing a bunch of used barbecues," the chief told the captain. "We could be looking at more explosions. There are other appliances in there as well, mostly stoves and refrigerators. All the employees have been evacuated, and no one's been hurt so far."
Cap jogged over to the squad. "Roy, Johnny, Doc, I'd like you to set up over there, just in case," he ordered, pointing to an area of the parking lot some yards away. "No civilian injuries, but we're looking at a dangerous situation for our guys."
"OK, Cap," said Roy, and pulled the squad around. The captain went to the engine; they could see him gesturing to the crew, assigning them their places.
Dr. Early helped Johnny and Roy unload their equipment. The paramedics hunkered down on the pavement, arranging the drug box, trauma box, oxygen, and biophone in the most advantageous positions. Early watched. He wanted to lend a hand, but the two young men moved with such practiced synchronization that he sensed he'd be more hindrance than help.
He looked back at the fire and at the men scurrying around it, beating back the monstrous flames with such pitifully small weapons. Despite the oxygen masks that obscured their faces, he made out the familiar forms of Chet and Marco, hauling a line toward the blaze. He recognized Captain Stanley's stride as he moved among the men on the near side of the building. He could see Mike Stoker clearly, as the tall, quiet engineer monitored and adjusted the engine's dials and switches, keeping a steady flow of water to the hoses.
As he watched, the wind picked up, blowing the smoke toward the far side of the building. Stanley conferred with the battalion chief and reassigned his men.
Johnny came to stand by Dr. Early while Roy spread a blanket out on the ground. "How's it look?"
"To the untrained eye," the doctor confessed, "it looks like total mayhem."
Johnny grinned. "I bet Rampart Emergency looks that way to the untrained eye as well."
"Are you kidding? It often looks that way to me!" Joe said with a smile.
Roy joined them and they watched in silence for a moment. The wind shifted again, sending smoke back toward the firefighting crew.
A horrible sound suddenly split the air, a shrieking, wailing groan like the bellow of a wounded animal. Johnny and Roy exchanged a single glance and began to run toward the engine, pulling their masks on as they went.
"What on earth was that?" asked Dr. Early, puffing to keep up with them.
"Something's happened to Mike," said Johnny. "That's the sound an engine makes when all the water runs out at once." As they reached the site, they saw Chet and Marco scurrying out of the building, dragging a lifeless hose. Mike Stoker lay in a crumpled heap on the ground beside the engine. The needles on the unattended gauges hung at zero.
"Stay back, Doc!" said Roy suddenly. "Looks like he was overcome by fumes. They might still be hanging around. Get back to the treatment area and we'll bring him to you." Roy and Johnny lifted their friend gently and carried him over to the treatment area they had set up, laying him on the blanket.
Dr. Early knelt beside Mike, examining him carefully. "Can you get me a set of vitals, Johnny?" he asked. Johnny already had a hand on Mike's wrist and an eye on his watch. Roy handed him the BP cuff.
"Oxygen," said Early crisply. Roy moved around to Mike's head and fitted the mask on him, handing the dial to Dr. Early to adjust.
Captain Stanley loped over. "I've called for an ambulance," he said, looking down worriedly at his engineer.
"Good," Dr. Early nodded. "Do you have more of these blankets?"
Stanley was right next to the squad; he reached into a compartment and handed two more blankets to Roy.
Roy opened the wrapping and shook out the blankets, handing them to Johnny. "What is it, Doc, can you tell?" Roy asked.
"Freon," Dr. Early said, peering into Mike's eyes with a penlight. "Captain, you should make sure all your personnel have air masks on. I think we can assume that the fire has reached the refrigerators, or possible a cache of stored refrigerants, which are now leaking into the air."
"Thanks for the tip," Stanley said, and hurried back to the fire.
"Huh," said Johnny, interested, tucking the blankets around Mike. He waited a moment, but no further details were forthcoming. "How do you know?"
Early looked up. "It isn't any arcane neurological detail, if that's what you're wondering. Look at his clothes. They're frozen to him." He looked over at the warehouse. "Freon's heavy; it probably got to Mike when he bent down to work some of the lower controls." He realized that Johnny and Roy were still regarding him intently, perhaps with a question they were afraid to ask. He smiled. "It's not all that dangerous if a person gets immediate treatment."
An ambulance pulled up to the treatment area. "I'll ride in with you, Doc," said Roy, standing up and hefting the drug box.
"I'll bring the squad," said Johnny.
Roy held the oxygen as the ambulance attendants wheeled Mike into a treatment room, Dr. Early walking along beside. Roy and the attendants helped move Mike from the gurney to an examining table. Two nurses came in, followed by Dr. Brackett; Roy yielded his post to one of the nurses, but couldn't quite bring himself to leave. Dr. Early looked up, noticing him standing there.
"Mike will be fine, Roy," the neurosurgeon said gently. "In fact, if you two can occupy yourselves for a little while--ten or fifteen minutes, maybe less--I can leave him in Kel's capable hands." Roy nodded. Dixie took his arm and guided him out into the hall, where Johnny was waiting.
"Well?" said Johnny.
"Dr. Early says Mike will be fine."
Johnny let out a long sigh. "I'm glad to hear that. It was pretty scary, seeing him lying so still like that."
Roy nodded. "Dixie, as long as we're here..."
"Let me guess," she said. "I bet you boys want to raid the supply cabinet."
"Who, us?" Johnny asked, trying to look innocent.
"Yes, you!" Dixie chuckled, not fooled a bit.
"I am going to be a white belt for the rest of my life," Mandy McTavish sighed as she pulled out of her parking space at the School of Martial Arts. "All these guys know the difference between a lunge and a regular punch 'cause they grew up with it. I've never hit anyone in my life!"
She turned left onto the street and continued up toward the light several blocks away, still mumbling angrily under her breath. "Step to lunge. Don't step to cross, don't step to jab. Next they're gonna make me go see a Rocky movie. I bet Kwai Chang Caine never had to learn this stuff."
Another car pulled out from a side street and fell in a couple of blocks behind her. Mandy glanced in the rear-view mirror; the other driver was driving very slowly, and Mandy noticed that she seemed to be holding something up next to her face.
The light turned red as Mandy approached it. She came to a stop at the crosswalk, and then realized with alarm that the car behind her was growing larger and larger in her rear-view mirror, and showed no signs of slowing down.
"Station 51. Motor vehicle accident. With injuries. Corner of Avalon and Turmont. Time out: 16:32."
The squad and engine arrived on the scene just minutes later, sirens winding down as they came to a stop. Two cars were off to the side of the road, one dented in back, the other dented in front. A young policeman was circling each car carefully, making notes on a pad. There were two women standing on the sidewalk near the cars. Vince was standing between them, obviously trying to keep them separated.
One of the women was screaming. She was in her thirties, wearing an expensive tweed suit and high-heeled shoes. Under her dyed blond shag, the area around one of her eyes was swollen and red. "Just you wait! I'll sue you for every penny you've got!" she hollered over Vince's shoulder at the other woman.
The other woman was about the same age, with dark hair in a wedge haircut. She wore a tan pantsuit and Earth shoes. Ignoring the screamer, she was bouncing on her toes, shadow-boxing in the air. "Jab! Cross! Lunge!" she crowed, grinning and throwing punches at an imaginary opponent. "I did it! Did you see me? I finally got it right! Did you see me?" she kept asking Vince.
Stanley climbed down from the engine. "Have tow trucks been ordered?" he asked the young policeman with the notepad.
"Yes, they have."
"We'll stay to make sure there's no problem," Stanley said. "Chet, check the gas tank on this one, make sure there's no fire hazard. Marco, take a look at this one."
Meanwhile, Vince rolled his eyes as Johnny, Roy, and Dr. Early approached. "Are these the drivers?" Roy asked him.
"Oh yes, and you're welcome to them," said Vince. "But I will need to get statements once they're settled down."
"Which one would you like to look at first, Dr. Early?" Roy asked.
"The young pugilist, I believe," said Early, smiling.
"Johnny, why don't you look at this one?" Roy said, indicating the screamer.
Johnny took the blonde woman by the elbow and steered her down the sidewalk a few feet. She was still yelling. "Ma'am?" Johnny interrupted. She didn't stop. "Ma'am!" he said more forcefully, turning her head to him. She stopped yelling and glared at him. "Ma'am, can I have your name?"
"Marianna Twickenham," she said. "Mrs. Roderick Twickenham."
"Mrs. Twickenham, I'm Johnny Gage," he said, striving for a calming manner. "I'm a paramedic, and I'm here to take care of you. Are you hurt anywhere?"
"Are you blind?" she asked him, pointing to her eye. "She hit me!"
Johnny bit back a retort, reminding himself that accident victims were often combative. She might be a perfectly nice person in ordinary life. Even if she wasn't, it was his job to evaluate her condition, not her character. Examining the eye carefully, he asked, "Are you hurt anywhere else?"
"No," she snapped.
That seemed odd; he wondered just how she could have gotten a black eye and no other injury in a low-speed fender-bender. Then again, he'd seen far stranger things. "Can I get you to sit down, Mrs. Twickenham, so I can check you over?"
She looked disdainfully at the sidewalk. "In this skirt?" she asked.
"Just a minute, I'll get a blanket," Johnny said. He got a blanket and an icepack from the squad and came back. He handed her the icepack. "Hold this against your eye, please," he said. Opening the plastic wrapping, he spread the clean material across the sidewalk and gestured to her to sit down.
"That's better," she said. Johnny watched carefully as she sat herself down; she moved with no obvious difficulty. She moved her arms and legs readily, if grumpily, when asked, and followed his moving finger easily, lifting the icepack upon request. He studied her eye again as he wrapped a blood pressure cuff around her arm. The injury didn't appear serious, although she was going to have a real shiner for a while. The bruising was already beginning to appear; he could see it around the edges of the icepack. Something about the other eye looked odd, though, almost as if she were getting two black eyes.
He finished taking her vitals and writing them down. "Ma'am, does your other eye hurt?"
"Not at all," she said impatiently. Johnny took a clean cloth from the kit and wiped at the other eye. The black color came off on the cloth.
"You're ruining my makeup!" she shrilled, batting at his hand.
"No, the accident did that, ma'am." He lifted the icepack to peer at the other eye. "There's no makeup on this side."
"Of course not," she said. "I was putting it on when the light changed. That's why I tapped that girl's bumper."
"I thought you said she hit you," Johnny said, puzzled.
"Not with her car. With her fist!"
Roy tapped the other woman on the shoulder, keeping out of range of the punches she was throwing in the air. "Ma'am?"
She stopped shadowboxing and looked at him. "Did you see me?"
"No, I didn't see you," Roy said gently. "But we'd like to have a look at you. I'm Roy DeSoto. What's your name?"
She plunked down on the sidewalk between Roy and Dr. Early. "Mandy--Amanda McTavish. I feel fine, really. But my poor car is in pain."
Dr. Early squatted down next to her and shone his penlight in her eyes. "I'm Dr. Early. Did you hit your head at all, Miss McTavish?"
Her pupils were normal. Roy wrapped the BP cuff around her arm and began pumping it up. Early began taking her pulse. "Do you hurt anywhere?" the doctor asked.
"No, I don't." Despite her words, her blood pressure was slightly elevated, and she had begun to shake slightly.
"Were you wearing a seatbelt?" Early asked, carefully feeling her neck. She nodded. "Just a lap belt, or did you have a shoulder strap too?"
"Lap and shoulder," she answered, then pressed her lips together.
Roy looked at her carefully. "Do you need to throw up?"
She shook her head. Then she nodded suddenly, jumped to her feet, and ran over to some nearby bushes.
She came back a moment later, looking mortified. "Feel better?" Early asked quietly.
She nodded. He tested her reflexes, which appeared normal. "I see no evidence of neurological trauma, Miss McTavish," he said , "but I'd like to have you come to the hospital so we can check you out more thoroughly. Just to make sure."
His genial way seemed to reassure her. "That would be okay," she said.
Roy nodded and looked over at Johnny, who appeared to have settled his patient down a bit. "Johnny, I'm going to contact Rampart," Roy called to him.
"Okay!" Johnny called back.
"Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?"
There was a short pause, then a welcome click. "Go ahead, Squad 51," came Dixie's voice, "we read you loud and clear."
"Rampart, we have a minor traffic accident with two victims. Injuries are apparently not serious. Victim #1 is a female, approximately thirty years old. Dr. Early has examined her. She appears unhurt, but she is shaky and has vomited. She was belligerent when we arrived but has since calmed down." Mandy began to pout at the word "belligerent," but reconsidered. "Vitals are: pulse ninety, respiration twenty, blood pressure one-forty over ninety. No evidence of head injury. Pupils equal and reactive. Motor coordination appears normal. We're still going to bring her in to be looked over; she's pretty shook up."
"Sounds good," said Brackett's voice. "How about the second victim?"
"Stand by, Rampart," said Roy. He brought the biophone over to Johnny. "How's your patient?"
"Oh, she'll be fine," Johnny said wearily.
"I'd better be, or I'll sue you too!" Mrs. Twickenham said. Roy gave Johnny a sympathetic look as Johnny lifted the receiver.
"Rampart, I have information on Victim #2."
"Go ahead, 51."
"Victim #2 is a female, approximately 35 years old. She does not appear to have been injured in the crash, but she has a black eye inflicted by Victim #1." Roy raised his eyebrows, looking from Mrs. Twickenham to Miss McTavish as Johnny read off the vitals.
"Ten-four, 51," said Brackett's voice. They could just hear him saying aside to Dixie, amusement in his voice, "I guess that's what Roy meant when by 'belligerent.'" Then he said to Johnny, "Go ahead and bring her in for observation too. Do you think they can share an ambulance without further fisticuffs?"
"I think so, Rampart," said Johnny. "We'll ask Vince to escort us."
While Johnny was talking to Rampart, Dr. Early was speaking with Mandy. "I saw Mrs. Twickenham's eye," he said. "Where did you learn to hit like that?"
"At the School of Martial Arts, right down the street there," she said, pointing. She gave a nervous smile. "I was working on that punch all morning at the dojo and couldn't get it right. I can't wait to tell Mr. Lee!"
"Do you think he'll be proud of you?"the doctor asked, sitting down on the sidewalk next to her.
"I did it perfectly!"
"Is that what martial arts training is about? Hitting people?" Mandy bit her lip and looked down. "My nephew is taking karate lessons," Early went on, "and his instructor spends a lot of time talking about things like self-discipline and controlling your anger."
"I guess I didn't do so good after all," she said. Her exuberance faded abruptly and she looked as if she were about to start crying.
"Sometimes the shock of an accident makes people do strange things," Early said, more gently. "Don't be hard on yourself."
From a short distance away, he suddenly heard a loud cry. "Yeeooowww!" It was a sound of genuine pain. Early jumped to his feet. "Excuse me, Miss McTavish," he said. He looked up at Vince, who was patiently standing by. "Vince, would you stay with Miss McTavish for a moment?"
"Be glad to," said Vince, who had been watching her all along in case she decided to deck someone else.
"Thanks," said Dr. Early, trotting toward the source of the yell.
Chet was sitting on the ground next to Mandy's car, cradling one arm in the other, his face pale. Marco had moved next to him and was trying to get a look at the arm. "Johnny! Roy!" Marco shouted.
"I'm here, Marco," Early said.
"Sorry, Doc," said Marco. "Force of habit." Johnny came running up with supplies, and Stanley came over to see what was happening.
Early smiled at Marco. "No problem. Chet, let me see that arm."
Chet reluctantly extended the arm. There was a jagged, bleeding cut from the bottom of his hand to his elbow. "There was one more sharp edge under there than I counted on," he said ruefully, nodding toward the ragged bumper.
Early began carefully cleaning the cut. The blood was oozing, not flowing rapidly, but the sheer length of the cut dictated concern. "This may need stitches," he said to Chet, "and I want to check on your tetanus-shot history. Captain," he said, directing his next words to Stanley, "I want Chet to come along to the hospital with us."
"Aw, c'mon, Doc!" protested Chet. "It's not that bad."
Early glared at him. "Do I tell you how to fight fires?" he asked sharply. Chet subsided, startled. "Roy and I will go with the accident victims in the ambulance," Early continued, deftly bandaging Chet's arm, "while you and Johnny follow us in the squad."
"Okay, Doc," said Chet.
"Good man," said Early. "Keep an eye on him, Johnny, would you?"
"Sure thing, doc," said Johnny, tucking the drug box and bandage kit under one arm. "C'mon, Chet, you're with me." Johnny extended his free hand to Chet, helping him to his feet.
Dr. Early got back to Mandy just as the ambulance pulled up. "I'll ride along with you," he told her, patting her on the shoulder as the attendants helped her onto the gurney.
"I'll come with you, Dr. Early," called Roy. "Be right there." He went over to Vince.
Vince was talking to the younger policeman who had been examining the cars. As Roy approached, Vince was saying, "It's clear from the physical evidence that Mrs. Twickenham is completely at fault for the accident." He nodded toward Mandy's damaged car. "I'm writing her up for several violations. I wish we had a specific statute for putting on eye makeup while driving. On the other hand, it's also pretty clear that Miss McTavish assaulted Mrs. Twickenham."
Roy nodded. "This will be an interesting day in court. Vince, would you follow us to the hospital? You can finish getting the drivers' statements there, and I think an official presence might keep the two of them reasonably well-behaved."
"Sure," said Vince.
While Miss McTavish and Mrs. Twickenham were being examined--in separate rooms--Johnny and Roy went to the nursing station. "How's Mike?" Johnny asked Dixie as soon as they were within earshot.
"Well, hello, John, good afternoon to you too!" She laughed at his shamefaced expression, then took pity on him. "It's all right, I know you're all worried. He's been moved to a room, and he's resting comfortably. Would you like to see him for just a minute?"
One of the treatment room doors opened and Early's voice said, "You take care, Miss McTavish. Vince, you can come in now." Early came quietly down the hall to join Dixie and the others. "Going somewhere?" he asked.
Dixie grinned at him. "Want to come with us and find out?" she asked.
"Don't mind if I do," he answered.
Johnny turned to the doctor with a mischievous expression. "Hey, how 'bout the way you handled Chet!" he exclaimed. "I thought he was going to jump out of his skin when you snapped at him!"
"It's all part of my devious scheme," Early said, putting on an earnest expression. "You see, my usual mild manner is just to put people off their guard. I lull them into a false sense of security, and then when I have to get tough with them, it's much more effective." He winked at Dixie.
"Very clever, Doc," said Roy, chuckling. "I don't suppose you could persuade Dr. Brackett or Dr. Morton to try your technique."
"Not likely," said Early. "Well, shall we go pay our respects?"
Chet had come up the hallway while they were speaking. His arm had been rebandaged, and the color had returned to his face. "You talking about Mike?" he asked.
"Can Chet come with us?" Roy asked Dixie.
"Only if he behaves," she said with mock severity. Johnny grinned and punched Chet's shoulder.
She led them into the elevator, off the elevator, and down the hallway to Mike's room. "Let me check on him first, Dix," said Early, and ducked into the room. He came out quickly, closing the door behind him. "He's asleep," he said softly. "You can peek if you want, but don't stay."
Dixie smiled to herself as Johnny, Roy, and Chet tiptoed into Mike's room, their boots making surprisingly little noise on the polished floor. They tiptoed back out after a moment and closed the door.
"He looks a lot better," said Johnny, relieved.
"He looks so quiet," said Roy.
"How can you tell?" asked Chet.
"CHET!" said Johnny and Roy simultaneously. Dr. Early chuckled; Dixie stifled a laugh.
Roy's handi-talkie squawked. "Squad 51, are you available?"
"No rest for the weary," said Johnny. "Hey, Doc, you wanna come back out with us?"
"Thanks, boys, but I think I've had enough excitement for one day," said Early. He stood with Dixie, watching the three young men walk back down the hallway, Roy talking into the H.T. unit. As they watched, Roy lowered the unit and said something to the other two, and all three sprinted for the elevator.
"Can I buy you a cup of coffee, Doctor?" Dixie asked with a smile.
He was about to reply when the public address system intervened. "Dr. Early, Dr. Early. Report to Treatment Room 3. Nurse McCall, Nurse McCall. You are needed at the nurses' station."
"How about that, Dixie?" said Dr. Early, leading the way back to the E.R. "They're playing our song."