The men of Shift A in Station 51 started the morning sleepy after a busy night. Chet was cooking bacon and eggs as his shiftmates stumbled into the kitchen. Marco poured coffee for himself and Mike while Roy did the same for him and Johnny.
“So you’ve got chow today, Kelly,” Hank said.
“That’s right, Cap.”
“So it’s Irish stew for lunch again?”
The rest of the men laughed at Chet’s consternation.
“Ha, ha, guys. Go ahead, mock my cooking. Beats Gage’s pemmican.”
“Hey, you guys wanted to try it. I warned ya.” Johnny sipped his coffee. “If you want real Indian food, I’ll serve corn and squash and green beans.”
Chet rolled his eyes while everyone laughed.
& & & & & &
Johnny smiled as Roy shut the door to the dorm. The wail of Engine 51 echoed down the street as they went on a call to put out a trash can fire.
“Unless there’s complications, they’ll be back in about a half hour.” Roy grabbed Johnny’s arm and pulled his lover close. “Guess we’ll have to skip the foreplay.”
Johnny laughed, Roy pushing him gently down onto his bunk.
& & & & & &
The squad was called out for a woman who had collapsed at the supermarket. By the time they finished with the call, successfully treating the woman and getting her to Rampart General Hospital, Johnny and Roy heard Engine 51 diverted on a call they had just received. Their colleagues were closer, and would handle the situation until the paramedics arrived.
“Busy last night and today,” Johnny remarked.
“Yeah.” Roy answered Johnny’s smile with one of his own.
Johnny felt a little thrill go him. He still couldn’t believe that someone as wonderful as Roy DeSoto loved him. He’d been attracted to Roy since Day One, but the man had been happily married and straight-as-an-arrow…until his marriage had fallen apart and he’d turned out to be very receptive to the kind of love they enjoyed now.
When they arrived at the house with ‘a girl down’, Johnny and Roy got out of the squad, all business as they took their equipment out and hurried toward the modest one-story house, Mike and Marco at the door.
“We got directed here until you guys could come,” Marco said.
“Never fear, the squad is here,” Johnny said with a quick grin.
He followed Roy into the house, and saw a teenage girl unconscious on the living room floor being tended by Cap and Chet, the girl’s parents anxiously hovering. The woman was petite like her daughter, but the man was huge, like an overgrown football player. While the woman wrung her hands, the man clenched and unclenched his meaty fists.
“She’s out cold,” Hank said. “The mother said she complained of a headache before collapsing.”
“Okay, Cap.” Roy set down his equipment case and started taking vitals while Johnny established the contact with Rampart. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the father staring at him but figured the man was in shock. He relayed the vitals and started to check the victim’s pupils when the father suddenly roared, “Get your hands off my daughter, you stinkin’ Indian!” He grabbed Johnny and flung him across the room, the paramedic crying out involuntarily as the corner of the endtable gouged his back.
“Johnny!” Roy cried. He started toward his partner.
& & & & & &
At Rampart, Kelly Brackett frowned at what he had just heard over the radio. What the hell was going on? Shouts and crashes continued.
“Fifty-one, do you read me?” Had he heard what he thought he’d heard directed at Johnny? Anxious for the safety of his friends, he called again, “Fifty-one, what’s going on?”
& & & & & &
Wow, fella, you think that’s a big deal? My old man punched me harder than that before breakfast. Johnny wanted to yell, “That the best you got?” but restrained himself. He took a pain-laced breath and said, “Go ahead and treat the patient, Roy.”
“Help my daughter!” insisted the mother, grabbing a handful of her frosted blond hair in frustration.
“I need Johnny to help me,” Roy snapped.
“No filthy redskin is touching my daughter!” The father moved fast for such a big man, and clipped Johnny in the face before anyone could react. Johnny rolled out of the way of the next punch as Hank and Chet grabbed his attacker, who howled in pain as his fist connected with the endtable.
“Marco, call the police!” Hank shouted. “Mike!”
Mike ran in from outside to help as the victim’s father raged, spewing epithets. Johnny focused on the patient as he crawled toward her, checking her pupils, ignoring the pain that shot up his back and through his face. He pushed the ugly ranting to the edges of his consciousness. He’d had plenty of practice once upon a time.
Marco hurried in to help after making the call to the police, the firefighters glad to see him. The father was consumed by rage, the very sight of John Gage fueling his insanity.
“George, shut up!” shouted the mother, delivering a kick to his leg. It was like hitting a tree trunk.
“Helen, are you crazy? I won’t have that…!” He started off on a new round of insults.
Roy was just as coldly efficient as Johnny, but he clearly heard the vile words thrown at his lover. His voice trembled slightly as he talked to Kelly Brackett at Rampart, whose concerned tone echoed over the wires. Johnny knew that Roy was upset and angry, and he quickly brushed his hand against Roy’s. The blond looked up, nodding slightly, and Johnny knew that he would stay professional and do his best to ignore the raging maniac trying to take Johnny’s head off, but all bets were off if the guy tried to hurt Johnny again.
“Ready for transport, Rampart.” Roy hung up and the wail of a police siren sounded through the open doorway, dying off as the officers ran in. The ambulance arrived seconds later.
While the officers and firefighters subdued her angry husband, Helen ran to her car to follow the ambulance. Her daughter was placed in the ambulance, Roy going with her as Johnny clambered into the squad.
He took a breath. The right side of his face, including his eye, throbbed with pain, and his back was killing him. He tried to calm his nerves, but took only a handful of seconds. He had to get to Rampart. He started the squad up and followed the route taken by the ambulance.
& & & & & &
At the hospital, Johnny headed for the cafeteria. His eye was probably swollen by now, and he didn’t feel like answering any questions. He sipped a cup of tea, trying to quell his headache and nerves. He should be used to this by now, closing his eyes as childhood memories flooded over him.
& & & & & &
Roy left the treatment room. The doctors and nurses had things in hand now. He headed for the nurses’ station, trying to work through a mix of emotions.
“Hey, Roy.” Dixie smiled. “First run of the day?”
“No, our second. Have you seen Johnny?” Roy looked around for his partner.
“No. He probably went to get something to eat.”
“I want you to take a look at him.”
“He was hurt?” Concern shone in Dixie’s blue eyes.
Roy nodded. “The father of our patient attacked him.”
“Attacked him! Why?”
“The guy hates Indians.” Roy’s mouth twisted in disgust.
Dixie’s face registered her shock. “I’ll be happy to take a look, Roy.”
“Great. I’ll go see if he’s in the cafeteria. If you see him first, drag him into an exam room.”
After Roy left, Kelly appeared at the nurses’ station. “Did Roy and Johnny come in yet?”
“Yeah, they just did. Kel, Roy told me…”
“I know,” Kelly said grimly. “I heard what was going on over the radio when they were treating their patient.”
“Roy said Johnny was attacked by a bigot.”
Kelly sighed. “Not surprising after hearing the things he was saying. We’d better check Johnny out.”
“Roy’s going to get him.”
Kelly nodded and headed for another exam room as a new patient was wheeled in.
& & & & & &
Roy walked slowly toward the cafeteria, trying to get the images of his lover being attacked out of his mind.
If I hadn’t been attending the patient, I would have delivered some punches myself to the sorry sonafabitch.
He was still shaken over the incident. In all their years of working together, he had never seen anyone spew such hatred toward his lover simply because of who he was.
Funny, I always thought if someone had outed us we’d get grief for being gay. Being half-Indian is just who Johnny is. I never thought much about what kind of prejudice he must face because of his heritage.
Roy wasn’t naïve. He knew that Indians faced bigotry, but this was Johnny, his Johnny. His instincts were in full protective mode.
He scanned the cafeteria when he arrived and spotted his partner at a corner table. Johnny was nursing a cup of tea. He headed over.
Roy put a hand on his shoulder. “Headache?” Johnny usually only drank tea when he suffered one or had a sore throat.
“Yeah.” Johnny looked up, Roy nearly wincing at the black eye and bruised cheek.
“I want you to get checked out.”
“Please.” Roy squeezed Johnny’s shoulder lightly.
Johnny said nothing further but finished his tea and stood up, walking with Roy back to the Emergency Room.
& & & & & &
Dixie ushered them into the nearest empty exam room. She checked Johnny’s eye and cheekbone, then said, “Off with your shirt, Handsome.”
Johnny reluctantly unbuttoned his uniform shirt, taking it off, and Roy set it aside. Next came his white undershirt, and Roy felt his anger increase as he saw the broken skin halfway down his lover’s back.
Dixie cleaned the wound, Johnny hissing in pain, and Roy grabbed his hand. The sting of antiseptic came next, and then a clean bandage was applied.
“Change the dressing every day,” Dixie said. “Your eye will heal in a few days.”
“Thanks, Dix.” Johnny gave Roy’s hand a squeeze before releasing it, and put on his undershirt and blue shirt and hopped off the exam table.
The three of them left the exam room just as police led their prisoner out of the next room. Shock crossed Roy and Johnny’s faces as they recognized Johnny’s attacker, now sporting a cast on his right hand.
“You! You dirty Injun, my hand’s broken because of you!”
“Shut up, Ramsey!” snapped one of the officers holding the prisoner.
George Ramsey’s hatred wouldn’t allow him to follow that order. He spat at Johnny as he let loose with a string of invective that left Dixie shaken and Roy angry. He put himself in front of Johnny.
“You ungrateful sonofabitch! My partner and I saved your daughter’s life!” Roy was shaking with his rage, Johnny putting a hand on his arm.
Ramsey sneered, “You’ve got a poor choice of partners, pal! Watch out that he doesn’t scalp you in your sleep some night! Can’t trust a redskin!”
Roy lunged forward, stopped by Johnny, who wrapped his arms around his partner’s torso, pinning his arms by his sides as Ramsey laughed and howled.
“Roy,” Johnny whispered into his ear. “Don’t. It’s all right.”
“It’s not all right,” Roy growled, but he stopped trying to get at Ramsey.
Doctors Kelly Brackett and Joe Early had just stepped out of an exam room down the hall as Ramsey had gone into his rant.
“Get this man out of here!” Kelly snapped to the policemen, hospital security running to help the beleaguered officers.
Ramsey’s howls echoed down the halls, people staring at Johnny and Roy. Johnny silently put his arm around Roy’s shoulders and they walked out of the Emergency Room as their friends watched them go.
& & & & & &
Neither man said anything as they drove back to the station. Johnny rubbed a hand between his eyes, silently accepting a bottle of aspirin from Roy.
Back at the station they went into the empty dorm, Roy suddenly pulling his lover into an embrace. Johnny held on tightly, and when they parted, he flashed Roy a crooked smile.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” he said softly.
“That’s a bunch of crap.” Roy brushed a lock of jet-black hair out of Johnny’s eyes, then hugged him again, trying to get his own shaking under control as Johnny rubbed his hand up-and-down his back.
& & & & & &
Roy headed to the kitchen while Johnny made a detour to the bathroom.
In the kitchen, Roy faced four pairs of concerned eyes.
“How’s Johnny?” Chet asked.
“A little banged up, but he’ll be fine.” Roy walked over to the coffeepot and poured himself a cup of steaming black liquid. He sipped it, glad that Marco was making the coffee today.
“How could anyone say those things?” Marco asked, though Roy suspected he’d heard his share of ethnic slurs in his time.
“Good thing that nut didn’t know Johnny’s only half-Indian,” Chet said.
“Why?” asked Mike.
“Mixing red and white probably doesn’t sit well with the charming Mr. Ramsey.”
Johnny appeared, and he met their sympathetic eyes. He copied Roy and went to the stove to pour himself a cup of coffee.
“It’s okay, guys. Listen, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.” He sipped his coffee, his back toward his colleagues, missing their distressed expressions. “You still make the best coffee, Marco.”
“Beats the sludge that Chet makes.”
“Hey! First you guys disparage my cooking, now it’s my coffee-making.”
Johnny came to sit beside Chet at the kitchen table. “Now, Chet, some of us have skills in the kitchen and some of us don’t.”
Chet snorted. “Like your skills are all that great.”
As the men joined in the teasing, Roy knew this was the way Johnny wanted it. He looked at his lover, who looked back, love and pleading in his brown eyes.
Okay, Johnny-boy, I’ll go along.
“Now, Chet, have you forgotten the surprise stew you made last month?” Roy asked as he sat beside Johnny.
“Yeah, it was such a surprise, we ended up in the Emergency Room,” Mike said.
Johnny shot Roy a look of gratitude, and Roy knew that when he got Johnny home, he would show him just how loved he was in a harsh world.