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House Divided, House United

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Chapter One

The crackle and pop of wood as it succumbed to the fire. The screaming death cries of structures as they gave up to the all-consuming flames. The hiss of steam that was created as water sizzled on white hot materials. Smoke growing and hanging like a forbidding thunder cloud just above their heads, growing in size and depth, coming down to greet them. The smell clinging to their turnouts, embedding itself, reluctant to leave. Sweat running down their skin, little rivulets leaving traces of salt in their wake. Soot lying in the creases around their eyes and face; making them look like a bad interpretation of Al Jolson. This is what got his adrenaline going. He was feeling so alive, and in the moment. This is what he lived for. Captain’s orders being issued over HT’s. Firemen, following those orders, scurried around. Flames being attacked from every direction. Hoses lay crisscrossed over one another like demented spider webs. Water was everywhere, reflecting the fire and sky. Puddles rippled as the men ran through them, distorting the warehouse, flames and sky in their wake.

Johnny loved a good fire. Was he a secret pyromaniac? He often wondered. He found this thrilling and horrific at the same time. I can understand what drives firebugs he thought as he wielded the hose at the flames before him.

“Station 51, advance to the west side” came over the bull horn. The Battalion Chief had turned up and assumed command.

Captain Stanley joined his men on the lines. Mike stayed by Big Red and manned the gauges. His crew mates’ lives were in his hands. He watched as they moved around the side of the building. They were now out of his sight. Mike’s anxiety went up another five notches.

Station 36 was ordered into the area just vacated by Johnny and Marco. The flames flicked out from the doorway. Heat cascaded in waves around the men. Water was directed to the base of the flames. Loose papers and other detritus were pushed up into the air by the force of the water from the hoses.

An explosion was heard from inside. Mike’s heart raced in his chest. Was 51 alright? He wished he could see them. The signal was given for everyone to pull out from inside. The Battalion Chief must have been notified of something by one of the four fire stations there, for that order to be made. Mike was looking around to see what it was that brought that order on. He couldn’t see anything from his spot amongst all the action.

Suddenly the flames retracted and sucked in on themselves. BACKDRAFT!!! Mike thought immediately. Oh God, please be OK guys he thought, as he turned his back to the fire and crouched down before the building blew. A shockwave of heat and air whistled past him, blowing anything loose into the elements. A cloud of dust saturated the air around them. Mike knew from experience that some of the building had come down.

HT’s were up against Captain’s mouths, and Mike noted the Battalion Chief looking stressed and anxious. He was waiting to hear from two crews from what Mike could make out. Lip reading came in handy, he realized, not for the first time in his career.

Mike’s anxiety was equal to that of the Battalion Chief, he thought. It seemed like an eternity while he waited to hear about 51’s fate. His gauges were still pumping out water at high pressure, so he figured they must still be working the hoses. At least, that is what he was hoping. He didn’t want to think of his friends lying unconscious, buried under rubble and the hoses writhing in the air like angry cobras with gallons of water raining down on them, possibly drowning them in the worst case scenario. He had often had nightmares about that. The men all had nightmares, but Mike never told them what his was about. Well, he had told Cap once after a particularly bad dream, after a bad fire where Marco and Chet had both been hospitalized for smoke inhalation. Was this the stuff of another bad dream? Mike wondered.

He was starting to fear for the lives of his friends when he saw Chet and Roy half carrying, half dragging Johnny between them. Cap was carrying Marco in a fireman’s lift. Marco’s arm dangled down by Cap’s side. It swung with every step he took.

The men made their way over to the squad and Chet held Johnny upright while Roy opened the compartments and got out the supplies. He laid a yellow sheet on the ground and Johnny and Marco were deposited on it. Roy helped Cap to place Marco down gently on the sheet as best they could. Mike was watching to see what was going on. He saw the paramedics from Station 24 run over. JC and Reyboy knelt down to help Roy with the injured men.

Johnny was sweating profusely and complaining of a headache and chest pain. Roy took Johnny’s SCBA gear off and stripped him down to his shirt, which he opened up. Roy noted Johnny’s flushed face and the pain filled grimaces Johnny made every time he moved his head. Johnny had been supporting Marco on the line when the explosion had brought the wall down on them. Johnny had received a good bang to the head and his face mask had been knocked off. He had inhaled smoke and was trying hard not to cough, but the coughing was erupting from him every time he breathed in.

Marco was out cold. It also looked like he had a broken arm and a laceration to his lower leg. JC was seeing to Marco and Roy to Johnny. Reyboy had got Rampart on the biophone and was acting as relay.

“Rampart, this is Squad 24, we have two Code I’s, from a building collapse. First victim is male, approximately 30, he has not regained consciousness, pupils are reactive but sluggish, he has a broken right arm and laceration approximately 10 cm long to right lower leg. First victim is Marco Lopez.” Reyboy told Dr Brackett. “His vitals are bp 120/75, pulse 80 and 20 respirations.”

“Squad 24, splint the arm; put a sterile dressing over the laceration; commence on oxygen at 4L; start IV Normal Saline TKO; take spinal precautions and monitor vitals and report any changes.” Brackett released the button and told Dixie that they had two firefighters coming in.

Reyboy repeated the orders to Dr Brackett while writing them down. JC was listening to the orders as they were relayed back. He started to splint Marco’s arm.
Reyboy then looked at Roy and started to relay Johnny’s condition.

“Second victim is approximately 25 years old. He is diaphoretic, complaining of a headache and chest pain. He has bilateral wheezing and coughing from possible smoke inhalation and is currently on 6L oxygen. Patient is denying being knocked out. Pupils are equal and reactive. There are no rib fractures that we can determine. Vitals are bp 160/110, pulse 140, respirations are fast and shallow. Johnny Gage is victim number 2.” Reyboy finished his report to Dr Brackett. He then relayed the instructions back to Roy.
Twenty minutes later the ambulance backed into Rampart. The doors were opened and Roy and Sam, the attendant, got Johnny out. Next was JC with Marco. Sam helped JC get the stretcher out and wheel it into the ER.

Marco had still not regained consciousness.

“Room 2.” Dixie ordered Roy, who was pushing Johnny’s gurney. Johnny was sitting upright at a 90-degree angle to help with his breathing. He was still coughing hard and looked in pain with every breath.

Marco was ordered into room 1 where Dr Early was waiting for him. During the exam, Marco regained consciousness but his memory was scant and missing the last two days. He promptly threw up into an emesis basin which was quickly thrust under his head. Head, chest, spine, right arm and leg x-rays were ordered. Marco was going to be a guest of Hotel Rampart for the next few days at least.

Johnny was coughing continuously and clutching his chest. Tears were streaming down his face. A skull series and chest x-ray was ordered. Johnny was given his first nebulizer for his smoke inhalation. He too, would be a guest at Rampart at least overnight.

New vital signs were taken by Carol. Johnny’s blood pressure had slowly come down during the ride into Rampart. It was now 135/85. He was still slightly tachy at 110 but he was dehydrated and receiving a bag of Normal Saline. The breathing treatments were also elevating his pulse and it was slowly going back up again.

Brackett reviewed the x-rays and went over to talk to Johnny. Roy stepped closer to the gurney.

“Well, Johnny, you’ve earned at least one night at Rampart. There is considerable wheezing in your lungs and you’ll be on breathing treatments for a while yet. I’m also going to start you on IV antibiotics just as a precaution while you’re here. Your skull series shows no trauma so we can give you a small amount of MS to help with that headache. I think you’re just dehydrated and have a case of moderate smoke inhalation.”

Johnny just nodded his head. Any attempt he had made to talk so far just made him cough longer and harder, hurting his chest and throat more.

Marco went to the neuro step down ward and Johnny to medical respiratory ward. Marco was on hourly neuro observation and Johnny on hourly breathing treatments. Johnny’s treatments were spaced out to 2 hourly as the night progressed.

Chapter Two

In the morning, Johnny made his way to Marco’s room and helped him eat his breakfast as he was proving that his left arm wasn’t that hand to mouth co-ordinated. His casted arm rested on a pillow and his fingers resembled little sausages. Johnny reminded him several times to wiggle his fingers and make a fist to help the swelling to go down. Marco still wasn’t firing on all cylinders.

Johnny was doing much better. He still had a hoarse throat from the smoke and coughing but at least he could talk and breathe without coughing every time. His headache was gone and he was hoping to be discharged. He was waiting for Dr. Brackett to swing by and listen to his chest so he could be given the all clear.

Station 51 turned up shortly after shift change. Johnny was telling them all he was fine. Marco was talking in Spanish and had a dazed look in his eyes. He obviously wasn’t fine yet.

“Did he just say something about cornmeal and kneading?” Chet asked, indicating Marco with a nod of his head.

The men just shrugged their shoulders not knowing Spanish very well. Johnny, who did, hadn’t been paying any attention as he had been talking to Roy. Cap was telling Johnny and Marco, that Tommy from 39’s had stepped in for Marco yesterday and Dwyer for Johnny. HQ had informed Cap prior to leaving the station this morning that they were getting a new boot, named Chip McKendry, and he would be at the station under the tutelage of Chet for the next year.

Chet was in his glory. He had already thought of several pranks he could pull on the boot. Cap had warned him to take it easy when he saw the glint in Chet’s eyes at the news. Somehow Cap knew he was talking to deaf ears.

Dr. Brackett entered the room and wasn’t surprised to see all of Station 51 there. The men stepped out of the room giving the guys some privacy while Dr Brackett gave Johnny the once over. Finding Johnny’s lungs much improved, he ordered one final breathing treatment before he could go. It would take him that long to do the paperwork anyway. Marco just smiled in his easy going manner at the doc and answered him in Spanish.

Johnny laughed as he realized Marco was reciting his recipe for his mother’s famous tamales. Brackett, not understanding Spanish, had no idea that Marco was on a different planet. That is, until Johnny, who had finally stopped coughing from the unexpected laughter, told Dr Brackett what Marco was saying.

The men returned to the room to hear the outcome. They were relieved that Johnny was being discharged but were concerned for Marco, who was now looking very tired, and with drooping eyelids, finally succumbed to the call of St Elijah, the patron saint of sleep. Mrs Lopez and Carmelita, Marco’s sister, were coming to sit with Marco, Johnny told everyone. They had been there yesterday, when Johnny had popped in to see how Marco was doing. They were coming back today after Mrs Lopez had her hair done by her cousin Angelica. Johnny then left to go back to his floor to get his last breathing treatment and eat his cold oatmeal. The thought brought on new nausea.

When Roy brought Johnny’s clothes into the hospital, he told him that Joanne insisted that he come and spend one night with the De Soto’s at least. If all was well, he would take Johnny back to the station to get his Land Rover tomorrow and Johnny would spend their second day off at his ranch. He had phoned his neighbor, Dennis, and informed him about his partner’s latest mishap. Dennis offered to tend to the animals until the young man was home again.

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Jenny squealed with delight as she saw her Uncle Johnny get out of Daddy’s little broom broom as she called it. She rushed out the door and straight into Johnny’s long legs. Johnny had to hold onto the car to stop himself from being thrown backwards. Jenny clung on tightly to his legs and had to be slowly extricated so that Johnny could pick her up. He gave her a raspberry kiss on the cheek, causing her to squirm in his arms and scream with delight.

“Do ‘nother again Uncle Johnny,” she demanded. Johnny obliged three more times. Jenny was in fits of laughter as she hugged him tight.

They made their way into the house and were met by Jo, who was wiping her hands on a dish towel. “I’ve made you both breakfast,” she said and kissed Roy on the lips and Johnny on the cheek as they made their way to the kitchen table.

“Thank you, Jo, I’m absolutely starved.” Johnny said as he rubbed his stomach to emphasize his hunger comment, regardless of his hospital breakfast earlier.
Pancakes with bacon and sausages sat appetizingly on the plates. A pot of hot steaming coffee was put on the table.

“This looks absolutely amazing, Jo. Thank you for going to so much trouble. Me and my stomach sure are gonna enjoy this. You’re a lucky man, Roy. What I wouldn’t give to have this to come home to every day.” Johnny ended on a lopsided grin.

He let little Jenny down and sat at the table. Roy sat opposite him and both men tucked into breakfast. Johnny’s appetite never ceased to amaze Roy. Furthermore, his inability to put on excess amounts of weight just compounded Roy’s jealousy. Roy was prone to putting weight on easily and he regularly had to go on little diets to drop a few extra pounds. He was never fat but he had to work hard at keeping himself fit and trim.

Jenny went to get her latest artwork to show her favorite uncle. Jo caught her as she came running back and grabbed her before she went to shove the pictures between Johnny’s mouth and knife and fork.

“He will look at them later, Jenny, if you ask him nicely. Now, let him have his breakfast and a rest then you can ask, OK?” Jo put the pictures on the coffee table in the living room for later. Jenny went and sat quietly beside her uncle, waiting impatiently for him to finish eating and resting up. She was swinging her little legs back and forth and if she could get away with it, doing the occasional dramatic sigh. Jo gave her a threatening look and she immediately stopped her antics.

Having seen and admired the beautiful artwork, played with her Barbie dolls and read her two stories all in short order, Jenny went off to her afternoon preschool class. The three adults sat down to a quiet house and enjoyed just talking. Johnny fell asleep as the day wore on as his disrupted sleep from the hospital caught up to him. Roy threw a comforter over him and he and Jo went upstairs to their bedroom for a bit of afternoon delight. After their shared shower, they both came down to see Johnny still fast asleep with his arm flung over his face. The little band aid in the crook in his arm from where Roy had cannulated him was just visible from his pushed up shirt sleeve.

Jo made them both a coffee and they sat outside on the porch swing smooching until Roy went to pick the children up from their schools. Thankfully the children schools were next door to each other.

Roy warned the children to enter the house quietly as Johnny was sleeping on the couch. He wasn’t to be woken as he had had a long night in the hospital and was catching up on his sleep. Both children nodded solemnly and agreed to be good and quiet.

They entered and saw that Johnny was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and sitting up with the comforter half over his legs and the rest swaddling the floor. He was coughing but not very harshly, Roy noted. It ended quickly and Johnny gave the De Soto children a big smile as they bounded into the room. Chris ran up and hugged his Uncle Johnny and sat right up close to him. Jenny did the same but slobbered a wet kiss over his cheek and left ear. Johnny’s two little companions then told him all about their busy and exciting day at school. Chris had learned about chrysalises and wanted to go out and find some. He wanted to see a butterfly get born. Jenny said she would help. They had one in her preschool on the window sill and it was real pretty.

Johnny, feeling more alive, agreed to help them look after he had a cup of coffee and a sandwich. His stomach was rumbling and could be heard across the room.
Three bodies sat at the table. Their mouths full with cheeks bulging. Johnny looked like a chipmunk with a milk moustache. Jenny laughed at her silly uncle. Chris tried to copy his uncle and got told off by Jo. Johnny seeing that he was setting a bad example wiped his mouth and swallowed his food and slowed his eating down. He took his oral antibiotic to stave off any chest infection as ordered.

Returning from the walk around the neighborhood looking for a chrysalis but finding none, the three adventurous explorers returned home to get ready for dinner. Johnny promised to look around his property to see if he had any baby butterflies incubating in little sleeping bags as Jenny put it.

Everyone was fed and watered. The children then got ready for bed after watching an hour of TV, coming back downstairs for a bedtime story. Both children had their favorite soft toy with them and all ‘four’ of them settled down while Uncle Johnny read them a bedtime story and then told them an Indian story. After kissing their parents and Uncle Johnny goodnight, Roy took them upstairs and tucked them and their sleeping buddies into bed.

Johnny wasn’t that far behind them really. He was still feeling tired and even though he had had a nap in the afternoon he was more than ready to hit the sack. He took his last antibiotic for that day and taking his leave, wished Jo and Roy a good night and made his way into the guest room.

Jo and Roy watched “The Late Show” with Johnny Carson. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were on tonight and the promo looked very funny and Jo had been looking forward to the show all week. She sat curled up on the couch with Roy, her head resting on his shoulder and his arm around her, both munching on popcorn and drinking soda. The occasional cough could be heard emanating from the guest room but it didn’t sound too bad and each episode was short lived. Roy’s mother hen instinct subsided, and it eventually settled on its’ perch for the night and went to sleep.

Turning the TV off after the show, Jo and Roy made it upstairs where they checked on their children. Jenny had tossed the covers off and her doll had fallen to the floor. Roy picked up the doll and put it back in Jenny’s out flung arm which instinctively pulled the doll into her chest in a firm embrace. He then pulled up the covers and kissed her gently on the forehead.

“Good night, my little princess. Sweet dreams.” He whispered quietly before leaving the room.

He met Jo coming out of Chris’s room. Content that both kiddies were settled and sleeping soundly, Roy went to check on Johnny. A quick look in the guest room showed Johnny on his back, arm over his eye. The moonlight was peeping into the room through the gap in the curtains. It helped to show the slow and steady rise and fall of his chest. Roy listened for a while but could hear no wheeze or stridor. Reassured that Johnny was OK, he gently pulled the door closed and made his way into his bedroom.

Sometime through the night Johnny woke up with a massive headache.

Oh great, another headache he thought. He had a couple of drinks of water and took some Anacin he found in the bathroom cabinet. He tried to get back to sleep but the headache stayed with him and wouldn’t release its hold for a couple of hours. He was tempted to wake Roy and ask him to take him to Rampart but thought better of it. He didn’t want to wake Roy and Joanne. The headache would go away and he would get back to sleep. Three hours later that’s exactly what happened.

Next morning Johnny woke up and made his way downstairs after freshening up. Roy was sitting on the porch swing and Jo had taken Jenny to the mall to get new shoes. Johnny was amazed to find it was 11 AM. He had slept soundly for several hours after his headache finally went. After a cup of coffee and some toast, Roy took Johnny back to the station so he could get his Land Rover. He had to go to Rampart and be seen by Dr Brackett. He needed medical clearance before he could return to work tomorrow.

Chapter Three

He arrived at Rampart and it was a beehive of activity. Dixie was doing a good impersonation of an MC at the circus.

“Kel’s tied up in surgery for several hours. Go into room 7 and when I find a free doctor I’ll send them in.” Dixie told Johnny as she picked up a clipboard and gave it to Dr Morton before he could ask for it.

Johnny waited for 25 minutes before he went out to approach Dixie again to see if he could offer his services since they were swamped from an MVA from the freeway as well as the walk ins. He found Dixie talking to a tall thin sandy haired man that he didn’t recognize. He was wearing a white lab coat so he had to be a doctor. He didn’t look old enough, Johnny thought, as he approached Dixie at the nurse’s station. Dixie saw Johnny approach and gave a small gasp. She had forgotten all about him.

“Doctor House, could you see to my friend here? He was in the other day with a case of smoke inhalation and needs medical clearance before he can return to work as a firefighter.” Dixie asked in her soft husky voice.

The young doctor turned around and met Johnny with an easy smile and penetrating blue eyes that looked like they missed nothing. “Why sure, Dix.” He said. “Hi, I’m Gregory House, but my friends just call me House.” He extended his arm and shook Johnny’s with an easy confidence that spoke of a self-assured young man.

“Hi, I’m John Gage, but just call me Johnny,” Johnny replied as they were shaking hands.

“Room 7 guys.” Dixie redirected them away from her station. The place was still crazy and she was starting to get a headache and just wanted some peace and quiet and to get on with her budget report.

Settled on the gurney and with his shirt off, Johnny sat quietly while House listened to his chest.

“There’s still a very slight wheeze going on. How do you feel?” House asked Johnny as he placed his stethoscope in his lab coat pocket.

“Never better, doc.”

“I’m gonna order you another breathing treatment and give you a prescription for a salbutamol inhaler. I will get the respiratory therapist to show you how to use it.”

“I don’t need to be shown how to use it. I give it to patients when ordered, myself. Honestly doc, I don’t think I need an inhaler. I’m not asthmatic or anything. I ate a little smoke the other day and got a wheezy cough. These things are a work related hazard.” Johnny tried to explain, hoping he could talk the doctor out of the inhaler.

“I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll give you the prescription, you humor me and get it filled, then carry it with you for a while in your pocket there,” House pointed at Johnny’s shirt which was draped across the end of the gurney “and then when you’ve had enough of carrying it around, put it into your locker until it finally ends up at the back in a dusty corner.”

Johnny’s jaw dropped open. Was this guy serious? Was he a mind reader? What the hell was he? Apart from correct in what Johnny would do.

Sensing Johnny’s thoughts he laughed, “I’m a very good observer of human nature. The truth is, inevitably our best intentions soon become mere shadows, everyone reverts back to their true self, until the next crisis that is.” House scribbled on his prescription pad and then charted Johnny that breathing treatment. “Oh, one more thing, don’t take it into burning structures. It’s liable to explode if it gets too hot. Come back to the desk when you’re done and your medical clearance will be there, ready and waiting for you.” With that the young intern left the room and an admiring but slightly shocked Johnny was left behind, still sitting on the gurney. He was definitely a better, more understanding doctor than Morton.

One breathing treatment behind him, one medical certificate in hand, one inhaler in his pocket, one John Gage asked one Dixie out to lunch, his treat. How could a lady refuse lunch with such a good looking man? She gladly accepted and together they made their way to the cafeteria and sat outside with their coffee and sandwiches for her and a burger, fries and a malt for him.

“What do you think of our new intern?” Dixie asked Johnny as he took his first bite of the burger.

Quickly chewing and swallowing his mouthful, he looked at Dixie and told her what had happened during their consult. A loud feminine laugh rented the air and everyone turned to see who it had come from and what had made her laugh so loud. Johnny turned bright red when he saw all the diners staring at their table. Dixie was too busy wiping the tears from her eyes as she regained her composure.

“He’s different, but in a good way ya know. He doesn’t beat around the bush. He’s very direct.” Johnny said when Dixie was back to normal.

“He definitely is that. I like him a lot and he’s an excellent doctor. He’s very intense though and his mind is like a razor. It’s sharp and to the point. It’s a pity we only have him for six months. That is one doctor that will go far. He reminds me a lot of you. He’s always on the go and doesn’t know how to relax.” Dixie acknowledged as she went to take a bite of her lunch. “Come on hose jockey, eat up. You need to put some flesh on that skinny carcass you call a body.”

Dixie and Johnny had a pleasant lunch talking about their plans for the upcoming weekend which they both had off. Johnny invited Dixie over to go horseback riding with him on Sunday. She readily accepted and details were finalized over the last mouthfuls of their meal.

Chapter Four

Johnny phoned HQ and Station 51 and informed them that he would be back to work the next day with his medical clearance in hand. He automatically put his hand up to his shirt pocket and felt the inhaler there. He gave a silent chuckle to himself. I wonder how long it will be before I do just throw this into my locker and forget about it, he thought.

He took Pretty Owl, his American paint mare, out for a ride in the hills surrounding his ranch and then cooled and brushed her down. Red Cloud was baying in his stall, wanting attention. “I know boy, you’re next. I’ll take you for a ride too. Don’t get your mane in a mangle” Johnny told his stallion.

In short order Johnny was on Red Cloud. He was riding him bareback with his shirt undone and flapping out behind him. The sun was beating down on his body. He let go of the reins and just controlled him with his legs. The horse and man acted as one. They were so attuned to each other. It was poetry in motion. Dust was stirred up behind the pounding hooves and depicted the trail they had taken before it settled showing no trace of man or beast being this way.

Going high into the hills on a different trail he had gone with Pretty Owl, Johnny sat on Red Cloud and admired the views this vantage point afforded. No clouds adorned the sky today and the sun was sitting high and proud up in the crystalline clear blue Californian sky. Hawks were circling further over to the east. Some poor animal had probably died and they were eyeing up their meal for tonight. It looked like the hawks were having take out for dinner again Johnny mused before he nudged Red Cloud and they made their way sedately back to the corral. It was far too beautiful to race it. Sometimes it was nice to just sit back and go slow and take everything in.

With both horses cooled down and brushed till their coats gleamed in the sunlight, Johnny went looking for Sotkazi. He hadn’t seen him since he had got back from the hospital. Since it was a hot day, no doubt he was lying somewhere in the shade and would become more active as the night time hours approached. He set a bowl of fresh, clean water out for him and some dried cat treats. He would do fresh meat when Sotkazi came inside and made his presence known.

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Having done some overdue chores around the house and yard, he grabbed a six pack and went over to see his neighbor, Dennis. He was sure Dennis would help him to down a few cold ones.

Calling out as he approached he saw a strange car parked next to a half filled wheelbarrow of weeds by the flower garden. Gardening utensils lay on top of the small heap of weeds. Johnny could hear voices coming out from around back. There was a soft feminine voice talking and Johnny followed the voice.

Sitting on the swing seat, Johnny saw a vision in a soft white cotton dress. Her softly curled shoulder length raven hair shone with auburn highlights as the summer’s sun caressed it. It fell around the most beautiful face he had ever seen. Her fair skin looked like smooth alabaster. Her lips were full and luscious and drew you in. Johnny wanted to kiss them and feel their softness yield to him. She had the bluest of eyes, they were almost violet and they sparkled at him as he walked over to this siren that had captured his heart and stopped his breath in an instant.

“Ah, Johnny, how are you feeling now? Better I hope? Let me introduce you to my niece. Johnny, this is Susan Sommers. Susan, this is Johnny Gage. He’s my nearest neighbor. He lives across the way there in the white house.” Dennis said.

Susan offered Johnny a warm hello and put her hand out to greet him. Johnny, overcome temporarily by her beauty, returned a hello and gave her hand a soft shake. “How do you do?” he asked.

“I do very nicely, and even better now, thank you for asking.” Her voice was soft and melodious. They both just stared at each other. Neither one moving as both didn’t want to disrupt this moment.

“Here Johnny, pull up a seat and take a load off.” Dennis said as he saw the sparks fly between the two young people. If it had been night time the sky would be a brilliant white. Finally, Johnny pulled up a seat and made himself comfortable. His eyes never leaving Susan for long, and vice versa.

“Um, I brought over some beer, I didn’t know you had such beautiful company, otherwise I would’ve come sooner. Um, sorry, I meant I would’ve not come sooner. No that’s not what I meant. I don’t know what I meant, sorry.” Johnny fumbled through his tongue tied thoughts. Get a grip, Gage. This woman will think you’re an idiot and not want to have anything to do with ya, he thought to himself.

Dennis went and got fresh glasses and a bottle opener. Susan requested a shandy. Her friend from England had put her onto them and she loved them. Receiving blank looks from the men, she just asked for her Uncle to bring out the lemonade soda in the fridge and she would open up a whole new world to them, she told the men. Having got his brain to start functioning, he and Susan learned quite a bit about each other. They both loved bowling and reading, history for her and geography for Johnny. They also loved going to the movies and the great outdoors. Susan loved camping and photography just like Johnny did.

Somewhere in the afternoon Johnny realized that she was THE ONE. He could feel it in his bones and everything about her felt so right. She was his soulmate. He just knew it. Oh Great Spirit, what if it’s not mutual his mind was saying filling his heart with icy dread. Take it slow Gage, see how it goes. Oh, please Great Spirit, please may she feel about me what I feel about her, Johnny was praying.

Johnny gave her his shandy. He had tried it but he preferred his beer without lemonade pop. Susan gladly accepted his glass and sipped away at her second shandy while listening to her Uncle and Johnny organize what days he would need to tend to Johnny’s animals because of Johnny’s work schedule.

The sun was coming to rest a bit lower in the sky. Shadows were leaving longer impressions on the ground. The earlier glare of the day was fading into a duller glow and a simmering, not boiling, heat remained. A balmy breeze was wafting through now and then. It lifted the fine hair from Susan’s face revealing a slender alabaster neck. A sweet floral perfume drifted over to him from time to time. It was so enticing and alluring. Johnny found himself leaning into the last tendrils of the scent as it faded away on the breeze. He wanted to hold onto the smell, hold onto Susan and clutch her close to his chest and breathe in her very essence.

It had never been like this with any of his other girlfriends. He couldn’t wait to ask Roy if this is what he felt for Joanne all the time. Johnny was in love with a petite raven haired beauty.

Not wanting to leave, but having to still do chores at home, he regrettably made his goodbyes, but not before arranging a date with Susan on Saturday.

Once back at home, he found Sotkazi waiting by the back door, tail curled around his front paws, and the tip slowly flicking up and down against the deck. A bright green, unwavering stare following him as he approached the steps leading into the house. He had tried to outstare cats in the past, but they always won. Did cats never need to blink? He wondered.

That night he went to bed thinking of Susan and eagerly waiting for Saturday to come.

Chapter Five

At roll call, five men lined up. The new Boot was a young man who wore his blond hair in a short crewcut. His blue eyes were wary and whether out of habit, or just plain nervousness, kept flicking to the sides, taking sly glances at the men and surroundings. He stood proud and tall and his Adam’s apple bobbed when he talked. At 5’10” and 190 pounds, a lot of which was hard muscle, he gave off the air of one you didn’t mess with. One by one he assessed the men he would be working with. They all looked like nice guys. He would have no problem working here. Cap welcomed him to Station 51 and gave Chet instructions to show Chip where everything was.

Chet had thought of some great pranks he could pull on his Boot. Cap’s warning had fallen on deaf ears. Everyone knew that Boots had to go through initiation rites before they were a fully-fledged member of the fire service. After roll call, the men gravitated to the kitchen where they introduced themselves again and shook the new Boot’s hand. Chip had been told by a fellow classmate of the familial relationship of 51 and the reputation of their paramedics. His fellow classmate wished it was him going there.

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“I’m telling you Roy, I’ve never, NEVER, felt like this before!” Johnny was saying. “She’s absolutely beautiful, and smart and witty and sensitive and compassionate and everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman and more. She has qualities and attributes that even I didn’t know I wanted. Roy, I can’t stop thinking about her. Was it like this with Joanne? How soon did you know she was the one?”

Roy looked over at Johnny as they were driving to Rampart to fill up on supplies. The C shift had got back late after doing 17 runs throughout their shift and they were low on many essential items.

“Well, Junior, we were only nine when we met but as we got older it became more like that. So yeah, I remember not being able to think of anything but Joanne. As for knowing she was the one, I think I was 11!” Roy laughed. “I was a bit slow on the uptake; Jo said she knew when she was 10!”

“I can only hope that Susan feels the same way about me. Now where will I take her on Saturday? I thought bowling followed by a romantic walk on the beach. But I don’t think that’s special enough, ya know? When we look back at our first date in years to come, it won’t be that memorable. Maybe dinner and dancing at Le Palais d’Or, and then a walk along the beach under the night sky.”

Le Palais d’Or, Roy had wanted to take Jo there but it was way out of his price bracket. It was a seriously fantastic restaurant. Johnny was going in strong and hard. Roy was slightly concerned it might scare this girl off.

“Keep it simple, Junior, you don’t want to scare her off. That’s the type of place for special celebrations, or maybe proposals.” Roy let Johnny think about that for a bit as they were just about to pull up outside Rampart’s ER.

“Hello, how are my two favorite paramedics this morning?” Dixie asked. “Pete and Charlie were here quite a few times overnight, they were saying on their last run this morning. They looked dead on their feet. They couldn’t wait to get back to the station and hand over the keys to you. Let’s hope you have an easier shift than them.”

“We intend to.” Roy said to Dixie as he handed her their supply list. Johnny was standing to the side and was totally ignorant of the new nursing students that were being shown around the hospital on their induction day. Dixie saw Johnny miss the latest potential dating parade and gave Roy a quizzical look with the raise of her eyebrow.

“He’s met THE ONE.” Roy said.

“THE ONE?” Dixie was amazed at how quickly Johnny had met her considering that less than 24 hours earlier he was in-between girlfriends.

‘Yep! Her name’s Susan.” Roy nodded his head knowingly. He would be around to pick up the pieces when THE ONE inevitably dumped him.

Dixie saw House coming out from treatment room 4 with his latest patient. They parted ways as the patient left to go home and House came up to get his next patient.

“Greg, this is Roy, he’s Johnny’s partner, and Roy this is our new intern, Dr. Gregory House.”

Once pleasantries were exchanged, House turned around and noted the bulge in Johnny’s shirt pocket. “In all honesty, I thought it would be in your locker already. I’m duly impressed.”

Johnny gave House a blank look and then the lightbulb went on. “Oh, um it is. These are flat batteries from the handy talkie that I need to dispose of.” Johnny said as he patted his pocket and then looked for a suitable receptacle to put them into. Dixie pointed out the bin behind him with her pen.

“It’s always reassuring to be proven right about human nature.” House said before smiling and picking up his next patient’s chart. “It was nice to meet you, Roy.” With that House went to see a 42 year old woman with intermittent upper abdominal pain especially after eating fatty meals. Sometimes things were just too dull for words, he thought.

“What was that about?” Roy asked.

“Oh, just about a salbutamol inhaler, which I don’t need!” Johnny added on quickly seeing the startled looks on his friends’ faces. “I still had a slight wheeze when I came in for my medical clearance yesterday. Really, you guys need to take a chill pill. You should see the look on your faces.” Johnny, picked up the supplies, turned and walked to the exit.

“Guess I’ll see ya later.” Roy said to Dixie as he went to join Johnny in the squad after answering a call from the handy talkie.

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She was gasping and coughing while scratching her neck. The mother was frightened and held her daughter close to her chest. She relaxed slightly as Johnny and Roy announced their arrival to the child with the difficulty breathing call. With adrenaline, Benadryl and an IV access in, the child was put into the ambulance breathing easier and on her way to Rampart.

That was the first of eight calls and the two paramedics made their way into the apparatus bay. Tiredness and hunger were battling it out in Roy’s body. Johnny was just plain hungry and his stomach was having no qualms in letting him and those close to him know as it rumbled loudly. Johnny dished up two bowls of Mike’s still warm casserole. Roy grabbed the bread and butter. Within minutes the men were at the table quenching their hunger and thirst as Mike brought over the pot of coffee and sat it on the table in front of them with cups. Johnny also got a tall glass of milk.

“So, how’s Marco doing?” Cap asked.

“He’s doing a lot better. His memory appears to be back, apart from the fire itself. His fingers look like little sausages but Dr Brackett said he will be discharged in a day or two. His mother will look after him when he finally out of Rampart.” Roy said.

With dishes done and chores still to do, the paramedics set about doing their tasks. Johnny had beds to do and Roy was responsible for the apparatus bay. The pressure was on to do the beds as the men wouldn’t want to sleep in the dirty sheets from the previous shift. Doing the six beds at a maniacal speed, then sweeping and mopping the dorm floor, Johnny worked up quite a sweat. His shirt was wet under his arms and down the middle of his back. In fact, everywhere his clothes were touching him he noticed he felt wet. Sweat glistened across his forehead and upper lip. His arms were slick with perspiration. Feeling hot and uncomfortable, Johnny made his way into the latrine and splashed cold water on his face. What he really wanted to do was jump into a cool shower.

Chet came in to use the facility when he saw Gage dripping water over the sink and floor. His hair hung in black strings over his forehead. Water had splashed onto his shirt. Johnny looked up into the mirror to see who had entered.

“Jeeze, Gage, you look like a drowned rat.” Chet teased.

“Take a good look, Chet; this is what hard work looks like, not that you would know.” Johnny threw back at Chet, before straightening up and reaching for some paper towels to dry his face with.

Chet tossed Johnny a retort that if Johnny was accustomed to hard work he wouldn’t work up a sweat just making beds.

The rest of the shift went with a few more call outs for the squad and two for the engine. The station was called out to a two alarm structure fire and finally made it back to the barn at 3AM. The men were all thankful to finally get into bed and catch a few hours’ sleep.

“Chet, I don’t believe you!” Johnny stated in a loud voice. Roy looked over and found Johnny scrunched up in his bed. True to Phantom style, Johnny’s bed had been short sheeted.

“Ya know Chet, your humor is so immature, it belongs in a juvenile detention center.”

The men in the dorm started laughing at Johnny’s comment.

“What ya gonna do Gage? Come over and scalp me in the middle of the night!” Chet yelled back

“Enough.” Cap said, “Chet not another word, Johnny straighten out your bed and not another word from you either. Lights out in two minutes.” Cap then resettled into his bed, still smirking at Johnny’s comeback.

Johnny remade his bed, and thumping his pillow a few times till he had it just right, he assumed his favorite sleeping position. He sighed and within a few minutes was fast asleep as was Roy. The rest took a few more minutes but eventually soft snores filled the dorm.

All except Chip. When he heard the comment about Johnny and scalping he was shocked that the Cap or Johnny didn’t rebuke it. Johnny had the dark hair and eyes like a filthy injun. He also had the bone structure the more he thought about it. Suddenly Chip felt sick. He was sharing the room with a good for nothing, filthy red skin. He sat up and looked over at Johnny’s bunk, sneering at this man who thought he was as good as a white man. I’ll put you in your place, you’re nothing but red trash, Chip thought as he swallowed down the bile making its way up his throat.

The morning tones came and all six men stretched and yawned as they greeted another day. It was the first weekend they were having off for some time. So they were all eager to hand it over to B shift.

Chapter Six

Chip was talking to Chet about the prank he pulled on Johnny. He found out from Chet that Johnny was a half breed injun. He also heard of some of the earlier pranks Chet had pulled on Johnny and it started to give him ideas. It would be even better if Chet got the blame.

Chip was in his car and out of the parking lot shortly after the other shift had finally arrived. Roy, Chet, Mike and Johnny wished him a good weekend. Chip wished all the guys likewise but deliberately ignored Johnny. He wasn’t gonna talk to a red skin if he could help it. In all the goodbye’s being said Chip’s deliberate slight was missed by the men.
One by one the A shift drove away. Johnny was eagerly awaiting his date with Susan. He had spent most of yesterday between runs planning their date. Roy was right. He didn’t want to scare her off but he wanted it to be special all the same. He had devised a plan and had most of the day to put it into action. He had a bit of shopping to do.

Later that afternoon he went to collect Susan from her apartment in town. As he knocked on her door, Johnny’s heart was beating fast in his chest. He could feel it hammering against his ribs. His palms were sweating. In fact, all of him was sweating. He felt really nervous and anxious. Get it together, man, you’re acting like a teenager going out on their very first date, Johnny thought. Then all thoughts of teenage angst went as a vision of beauty opened the door.

“Johnny, it’s so good to see you again. You’re looking very handsome.” Susan said as she eyed the tall dark haired man dressed in jeans and a checked shirt. Susan was in a blue flowing dress, her hair tied back in a ponytail, emphasizing her slender neck.

“And you look beautiful.” Johnny said as he bent down and gave her a small peck on the cheek, taking in her perfume and the softness of her skin and hair all at the same time. He then gave her the small posy of flowers he had picked up at a florist’s on the way over.

“Oh, Johnny, they’re beautiful. I’ll just put them in some water and then we can go.”

A short while later with their arms linked together, Johnny walked her to his Land Rover and opened the door for her. They then set off on their first date.

“Johnny, where are we going?” Susan asked as they headed out of town in the direction of her Uncle’s house.

“We are going to a beautiful place I know, it’s out in the country. There’s a stream, swaying trees, sweet grass and camomile under your feet and it’s private and peaceful. It’s so pristine, it’s perfect. Just like you. It also serves pretty decent food and nice wine.”

Susan thought they were going to a country restaurant by a stream. It sounded very romantic. They settled back into a comfortable silence. They passed her Uncle’s house and turned down a gravel driveway and stopped before a white ranch style house. Susan swung around and looked at Johnny.

“This is your place.” Susan said without reproach.

Johnny gave her his lopsided grin and replied, “That is true, but we are not dining in there.” He said nodding to the house, “But over there.” His finger pointed to the hills surrounding his property.

He helped Susan out of the Land Rover and led her to the trail taking him to his favorite place.

Sitting at a white cloth picnic table, Johnny lit the candles setting the scene. The pair dined on cold chicken and salad with white wine. As the evening wore on, Johnny asked Susan to dance.

“There’s no music, Johnny.” Susan said.

Johnny leaned down and retrieved his tape deck from his picnic hamper. He placed it on the table and depressed the button. Soft tones of music enriched the air by Johnny’s stream.

“May I have the pleasure of this dance?” Johnny held his hand out to Susan. She gently clasped her hand in his and allowed herself to be lead around the ‘dance floor’.

Together the couple swayed around the grassy dance floor while a compilation of instrumentals, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Roberta Flack filled the air. The tape deck stopped and clicked off. Listening to the music in their hearts, lost to everything around them but each other, the couple kept dancing. With the warmth of the Californian evening caressing them, and the sweet smell of crushed camomile and sweet grass beneath their feet perfumed the air as they continued to dance. With the moonlight glittering off the ripples in the water as it babbled over stone and with the swaying tendrils of the weeping willows as their backdrop the couple finally kissed. They were oblivious to the flickering candlelight illuminating the desire in each other’s eyes.

Their passion for each other quickly consumed their need, turning the kiss into something deeper. It connected the two in a shared promise of a future together. Susan had found THE ONE, and her heart couldn’t stop rejoicing as she and Johnny lay down in the grass and committed themselves to each other.

Chapter Seven

The next morning the sunlight came through the windows of the master bedroom. It splayed across the bed shared by the new couple, lighting across their faces as it skittered across the room. Fine raven curls sprawled across his chest and soft breath ghosted across his nipple. Her hand lay reposed on his chest. His arm curled around her shoulders and his head bowed to hers, their legs entwined.

It was soft kisses along his jawline that awoke Johnny. A pair of the deepest blue eyes he had ever seen greeted him and a smile that melted his heart.

“Good morning Beautiful. How are you today?” Johnny asked the love of his life.

“Never better, um Johnny, I don’t want you to think I do this all the time; sleep with a guy on the first date, I mean.” Susan said quietly.

“I never thought that you did, and for the record, neither do I. As for last night and this morning, I can’t explain ….”

“Shush, something so good and beautiful like we shared doesn’t need to be explained or justified.” Susan whispered into Johnny’s ear as she straddled his body and kissed him passionately.

Having a late brunch, they heard a car drive up on the gravel driveway.

“Dixie!” Johnny expounded. “I forgot, I invited her over to go horseback riding today.”

“It will be nice to meet your friends, and don’t worry; I’ll go see Uncle Dennis. I’m sure he will be pleased to see me since I’m the only family we have left to each other.” Susan relayed to Johnny.

Next minute a hello was heard from the front door. “Are you in, Johnny?” Dixie called out.

“C’mon in Dix, the door’s open.”

Dixie opened the door and stepped into the great room. Her eyes took a short time to adjust.

“We’re having brunch; do you care to join us?” Johnny inquired as he got up from the table and went to hug Dixie.

“Us?” Dixie was slightly confused. There was only Johnny’s Land Rover outside. Who were us? She wondered.

“Dixie, this is Susan, my girlfriend and Susan this is Dixie, head nurse at Rampart Emergency and one of my dearest friends.”

Both women smiled at each other and extended their hands in greeting. Dixie sat at the table and Johnny put an extra plate and cutlery out for her while Susan poured her a cup of coffee. An enjoyable hour was spent just talking around the table. Dixie was very impressed with the woman sitting opposite her and felt Johnny would do well to hold on to her.

“You two go and get a move on before the sun is too hot to take the horses out for their rides. I’ll clean up here and then I’ll pop over and see my uncle. It was lovely meeting you Dixie.”

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Soon after, Johnny and Dixie were sitting atop Red Cloud and Pretty Owl. The horses were galloping along the trail. Hair and manes flying in the wind. The sun was beating down and there was a golden haze shimmering in the distance. Johnny felt exhilarated. Life was good and he felt on top of the world.

“I like Susan, Johnny. She’s a keeper!”

“I think you’re right, Dix.”

They were slowly trotting the horses back, cooling them down after having done a strenuous workout. As they crested the rise, Johnny’s ranch was spread out before them. The corral was set to one side next to the barn and the driveway swept up between that and the house. The porch wrapped itself around most of the house and the sun was shining off the windows.

“You’ve got it looking lovely Johnny. You sure have put a lot of work into it.”

Johnny was quiet and when Dixie didn’t hear from him she turned in her saddle and saw Johnny rubbing his head and sweating profusely.

“Johnny, are you alright?” A concerned Dixie asked.

“Yeah, just a headache. I think I’ve overdone it in the heat today and not enough sleep. Sometimes it just catches up to you. Nothing that a cool drink, and sitting in the shade won’t cure. That and a couple of aspirin.” Johnny added on the end with his trademark lopsided grin at only half wattage.

“OK, cowboy. Let’s get back and get you and the horses cooled down and watered.”

The pair made their way back down the trail with the horse’s heads dipping with every step they took. They led the horses into the stalls and started to cool them down. They had both worked up a bit of a sweat and fine dirt was clinging to their bodies.

“I think a shower may be in order. There’s a shower in the mud room, I’ll get you some clean towels. I wonder if Susie’s back.” Johnny said. “If not, ya wanna come for a walk and meet her uncle. He’s lives across the road.”

“I’d love a shower and I couldn’t tell you the last time I went for a walk in the country. I’d love that Johnny.”

They made their way to Dennis’ house, all one mile away. Introductions were made and a few enjoyable hours were spent sitting out back in the shade exchanging stories with every one getting to know each other better. Finally, all four went back to Johnny’s place for an impromptu grill. Dennis brought with him some corn still in its husks to throw right on the hot bars on the grill. A quick look at Johnny’s pantry and fridge revealed a bachelor lived there and an impromptu meal to feed four was out of the question. While the coals were getting to the right temperature, Johnny and Susie jumped into the Land Rover and drove to the nearest grocery store. Johnny went and got steaks and Susie got ingredients to make a salad.

In quick order the salads were made and meat was on the grill. The foursome sat around the wooden table, that Johnny had made, and had a lovely evening; exchanging laughter and information about themselves over drinks and food.

Dixie offered to do the dishes and Dennis, seeing what Dixie was orchestrating, volunteered to help her. Thus the two lovebirds were free to enjoy some private time together.
Dennis was delighted that his niece’s life was blossoming. He had raised Susie from the age of 9 when her parents and sister had died in a car crash with her as the sole survivor.
Dennis was Susie’s uncle but she looked upon him as her Dad. He was her father’s identical twin so it was hard to look at him sometimes and not see her father and how he would look today. The thought saddened her at times.

Johnny took Susan to the corral to say goodnight to the horses. He gave them carrots from a sack he had in the tack room. Susie was a natural around the horses and they seem to take to her very quickly. Red Cloud gave her a kiss and muzzled her ear, shooting hot breath across her neck and shoulder. Susie shivered and Johnny wrapped himself around her and dispelled any further shivers.

They made plans for Johnny to come to her place on Tuesday evening before going out for pizza and bowling. They stepped in closer to each other and with arms wrapped around their lover’s waists they met with a long and passionate kiss.

Dixie proffered her services as a chauffeur seeing as Johnny had an early start and it was getting late. Johnny waved the two ladies off, Dennis said he would walk back as it was a hot night and it would do him good to get rid of some of the calories from dinner. Johnny took his uniforms and duffle bag out to his Land Rover to save time in the morning. After closing up the house he settled into bed pulling the covers up over his hips. Johnny replayed the day’s events in his head. With pictures of Susie smiling at him, and the memory of her lips on his and the velvet feel of her skin, Johnny eventually fell asleep with a smile on his face. His alarm clock set to go off in seven hours at 5.30 AM.

The night was hot and sticky, the bedcovers ended up on the floor and sweat glistened on Johnny’s body, drenching the bed. Johnny slept on, none the wiser. His naked body rolled to the other side of the bed, his head burrowed into the plump pillows and the faint smell of Susie’s perfume drifted into his senses with every breath. A smile lighted across Johnny face as he snuggled into the pillow, pulling it closer to his body.

Chapter Eight

Five weeks had passed, and Susan and Johnny were still going strong. The relationship was serious and Johnny had sworn Roy to secrecy. He didn’t want Chet to pester him. Although it was pretty obvious that Johnny was seeing someone. Phone calls between the two, and Johnny taking the calls in Cap’s office or the dorm, confirmed everyone’s suspicions. Johnny was also more settled and happier.

Chip had bided his time. He couldn’t believe how these guys could rub shoulders with the red skin, let alone call him their friend. He had decided that the LACoFD would be better off without him and any other non-white firefighters. Chip wasn’t aware that Marco was of Latino descent, since they hadn’t met.

He had watched Chet set up pranks including water bombs over doors and in Johnny’s locker. Heck, Chet had short sheeted Johnny’s bed the first shift he had worked here. It gave him an idea and if he played his cards right, everyone would think that Chet had pulled another prank and that it had just gone slightly wrong. If he was successful, Johnny would never work in the Fire Department again. Not even in Dispatch. Liquid acid, in a water bomb launcher, to Johnny’s face and eyes would soon wipe the smile off this injuns’ pretty face. He had kept a water bomb launcher from an earlier time when Chet had used one on him.

Chet had been an equal opportunity prankster. Both Johnny and he had been victims of whatever scheme Chet had played on them. This would be payback on Chet as well. No one played pranks on Chip McKendry and got away with it, he thought. He had done a few practice runs with water bombs and poor Chet had got the blame. Mind you, it was a bit harder when Chet was the victim. Everyone denied being the Phantom then and it was soon forgotten, but not by Chet. Was his pigeon coming out of the roost at long last?

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On their next shift, Cap put himself down for KP. He had taken a phone call shortly after the men were disbanded from roll call. Cap came out a short time later smiling. He would leave the outcome of the phone call as a surprise for later.

The men came in from various parts of the station at Cap’s lunch time call and took their place around the table. The heavenly aroma of Mac and Cheese wafted through the station. It was into this that Roy and Johnny entered after coming back from a hoax call. Johnny was going on about how the police should trace the call and then charge them for premeditated waste of emergency services or something to that effect. Roy just nodded his head. He had heard this argument before, after other hoax calls.

Getting plates and glasses out of the cupboard the men sat down and dished up their lunch. Talk around the table ranged from Mike’s surfing, Chet’s latest scavenging hunt and finding a long time desired piece of one of the earliest ever made forms of barbed wire. Cap was looking at replacing his wife’s clutch on her Edsel. Chip had volunteered a really good place to get second hand parts to help Cap keep the cost down. Roy was planning on taking Jo out to dinner for their anniversary. Johnny offered to take the kids back to the ranch to give Jo and Roy a night on their own. Roy quickly accepted the offer. They were discussing where to go out for dinner. Johnny suggested Le Palais d’Or. It was do-able if Roy pulled some overtime shifts and not having to pay babysitting fees helped. Roy went and contacted Joanne. He told her the latest plans for their upcoming 10th wedding anniversary. Jo, although not happy with the OT, gave Roy her blessing; she had wanted to go to Le Palais as well. He then phoned HQ requesting OT shifts. He came back with two shifts already. He would only have to do another two maybe to safely cover their night out.

Cap put the men through some rope drills. Johnny was once again the fastest. Chet this time came second to last. Chip had the dubious honor of coming last. He was not happy to lose to an injun. He quietly seethed underneath. Johnny was going to pay for making him look slow and clumsy.

The engine was called out to a run and the paramedics took the opportunity to catch up on their log book. Cap had dinner to do and the guys offered to get the food prep started, but Cap said he had it all under control.

Johnny was looking for something to tide him over. “You know, I don’t see anything prepared for tonight. I wonder what Cap’s doing for supper?” Johnny mused out loud to Roy. He sat back down munching on an apple. He was still hungry but he didn’t want to spoil his appetite. Roy just shook his head. He saw Johnny eating an apple and asked if there were any more left. Johnny got up and retrieved one for Roy from the crisper in the fridge. Someone was knocking on the back door. Johnny went to answer it, depositing his apple core in the bin on the way out.

“Marco! How’s ya doing buddy? How’s the arm?” Seeing Marco struggling to hold the box in his arms he quickly relieved Marco from his burden, while standing aside to let Marco in. His mother was right behind him, and she too was loaded down with boxes from which a rich and spicy aroma was making its way to Johnny’s nose. Marco went into the kitchen; Roy looked up and greeted his friend with a smile.

“How’s the arm?” Roy enquired as he cleared the logbook away.

Marco went to answer when Mama Lopez walked in with Johnny following both talking in Spanish. Both bearing food by the smell of it. No wonder Cap had things under control, Roy thought. Marco was doing dinner. Well, Marco and his Mom that is. The cold food was put in the fridge after shuffling some things around. Johnny put the oven on to keep the food warm, although he couldn’t resist a tamale which he found in the second box.

"I thought I would treat you all for saving my little Marco from serious injury. You are alright, no?” She asked of Johnny as she looked him over as only a mother would. “You are too thin. One puff of wind and you blow over.”

Johnny smiled and said he was fine. His stomach rumbled regardless of the tamale he had just eaten.

She was looking at him quizzically. “You have a secret, I think, a very good secret. She is good for you, Juanito. I’m very happy for you.” She whispered in his ear. “Roy and his wife like her Juanito, soon everyone will get to know her and like her too. Don’t let her go; the Gods have heard your prayer and answered it. You are a lucky man, my Juanito. Your parents have sent her to you. She is your gift from them. They want you to be happy.”

Johnny blushed and hugged his second mom. A single tear silently slipped down his face and he kissed his Mama Lopez on the top of her head before giving one final squeeze and released her after saying thank you and that she was right. But for the time being he was keeping it quiet as it was still too new and precious to be bandied about. Mama Lopez smiled up at Johnny and gave him a conspiratorial wink. He made Marco and Mama Lopez a cup of coffee. Marco was telling the guys how everything was going. Johnny was listening from the kitchen. He was setting up the table for eight diners.

Johnny’s mouth was watering and he was wishing the other men were here so they could be eating it now. He was praying that Roy and he didn’t get a run.
About five minutes later the engine backed into the bay. Johnny thanked the Great Spirit for bringing the men home safely and quickly. Now they could eat, after the men had washed up.

Warm hellos and slaps on the back greeted Marco. Mama Lopez was hugged and kissed by all the men but Chip. She put it down initially, to him not knowing her. However, as the evening wore on, she noted that Chip didn’t talk to Marco or Johnny. She even saw Chip give Johnny a foul look as Johnny made some comment about teaching Roy’s children to ride horses. Apparently the other men didn’t seem to notice. Maybe it had been already brought to their attention and things were just as they were. He would not be the last bigot that they would encounter in the world, she thought sadly.

While the men were complimenting Mama Lopez on the excellent food, Chip wondered why Johnny wasn’t having any of the chicken mole. It was then he learned that Johnny was allergic to chocolate. “You can’t have that Juanito, it has chocolate in it. It’s chicken mole, a famous dish from the homeland. I made for you a special dish of beef barbacoa with guacamole and salsa. Unless you have a deathly allergy to barbacoa as well, you should be fine. If the other men are good they may get some too.” Mama Lopez told Johnny.

Chip couldn’t believe the little nugget of gold that had been handed to him. He had some Hersey kisses in his locker. All he had to do was just wait for an opportunity to present itself.

The squad was called out to a woman down. Johnny thanked Marco and gave Mama Lopez a kiss on the cheek and hug before running to the squad.

The remaining men helped clear up the dishes and put the food in the fridge for snacks; not that there was much left. Mama Lopez and Marco wished everyone a safe night and would call on them again soon. Everyone asked if they could come, with food of course, when Johnny had KP. Chet said he would phone Marco and let him know when that misfortune was allocated to Johnny and subsequently their stomachs. Mama Lopez had heard about Johnny’s lack of kitchen skills. She came up with an idea but thought she might disguise its primary target by making it an open invitation. She would talk to Marco first.

Chapter Nine

The squad returned an hour and a half later. The woman down was heavily pregnant and was bleeding from her vagina. She was adamant she wasn’t full term. “I was bigger with my last two pregnancies.” She said. “I don’t know how far along I am, OK?” She replied angrily to Roy’s question.

She had track marks up her arms and obviously hadn’t had regular prenatal care. The signs of malnutrition and neglect on her scrawny frame and swollen belly were painfully obvious. She had managed to find money for her fixes as some of the track marks were fresh. It’s a pity she didn’t find money for food and things for the baby Roy thought.

“Who’s looking after your babies now?” Johnny enquired as he struggled to find a place to put a needle in.

“First one died, second one is with some holier than thou do-gooders. They want to adopt, but I won’t let him go, ya know. Someone’s got to look after me when I get too old for the streets.” She got tired of Johnny trying to find a vein. “There’s a good one over here. Don’t stuff it up! If ya do you’ll have to use my feet.” Her finger pointed to a vein on the outer side of her forearm. All the other sites were hard and knotted. They were thrombosed years ago. There was always the neck but some marks were there too, Johnny saw on closer inspection. Aiming between needle marks on the arm Johnny got the IV in.

The patient was delivered into Rampart and was met by an obstetrician. She was taken over to maternity. Betty was on duty as well as Drs. House and Early. There were a few patients sitting in the waiting room still to be seen. Other nurses were coming and going from rooms. It was just the usual pace for a weekday night at Rampart.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

It was an unpleasant run. Both Johnny and Roy were unsettled by the events. They got out of the squad and made a beeline for the coffee pot. A couple of the men were watching TV. Cap must’ve been in his office, Johnny surmised and Chip anywhere but in the dayroom.

The guys went outside and sat at the picnic table just mulling over their last run. It was one of Roy’s fears. He had seen good parents with bad kids, junkie kids, criminal kids, spoiled kids… the list was endless. He didn’t have a manual for child rearing and there were times he was in a quandary about if his actions would lead his children to a less than desirable path. He could only pray that he was doing everything right, and that his mistakes were small.

Johnny was thinking how someone couldn’t see what she was doing to herself. She would be lucky to be alive in five years. You never saw an old junkie. He had seen a few ‘past their best by date’ prostitutes in his line of work and wondered what twist of fate had brought them to that.

Chet came out after his TV show had finished and sat with the two guys. He had a cup of coffee that Chip had made. It tasted really nice. It was spicy and had a bit of a kick to it. It smelled really good too. With both their cups of coffee long finished, Roy offered to get a refill. Johnny requested a plate of tamales or the beef and salsa with guacamole if there was any left. A short while later Roy returned with Mike in tow. Mike had the food and Roy the spiced coffees. Johnny thanked them as he relieved Roy of one coffee and Mike of a plate of food.

“Man I don’t know how you can fit it all in and still stay thin.” Chet complained.

“I’m a lean, mean firefighting machine.” Johnny joked. “I need my energy. It’s not my fault I can’t put weight on easily.”

“Oh, to be blessed with such a curse!” Chet moaned. He was currently sporting a few extra pounds, as was Roy and both men envied their friend’s metabolism.

“This is good.” Johnny said after taking another mouthful of coffee. “I wonder what’s in it?”

“A bit of this and that.” Chip replied as he was walking over to the men at the table. He wanted to be there to see his prank on Johnny play out.

Johnny was finishing off his cup of coffee when he felt a slight tickle in his throat. The tickle sensation became more intense. He started ahem-ing and clearing his throat.
Oh, this is going so well, Chip thought.

Johnny put his hand up to his throat. It felt like it was huge and burning on the inside. He was finding it difficult to breathe. By now the other guys had noticed his difficulty.

“Johnny, are you OK?” Roy asked.

Roy was getting up from the table to get a better look at Johnny. He had his penlight out from his pocket but it didn’t afford him much light. Johnny could barely get air into himself, let alone answer Roy. He just shook his head while he struggled more to get air in and out of his lungs. He was clawing at his neck. Panic and fear dilated his pupils and sweat poured from every pore on Johnny’s body. Johnny was shaking all over with the effort to breathe. His heart was pounding, his head felt set to explode. I’m going to die Johnny thought as he collapsed on the ground. All this had occurred in less than a minute from his first symptom.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

“Quick, get him inside and get the trauma box, biophone and oxygen. Chip, call in a still alarm and get an ambulance here stat.” Roy ordered.

Mike and Chet carried a limp and lifeless looking Johnny into the apparatus bay. They laid him down by the squad. Johnny’s breaths were becoming more futile. His chest was heaving with the effort of trying to get air in. He was diaphoretic and his light blue shirt was not only darker from the heavy perspiration but clung to his body. The effort of trying to breathe showed right through the clothes. The veins in his neck stood out. His eyes were closed and still under the lids. A loud and harsh expiratory wheeze and inspiratory stridor as the air struggled to get through his rapidly swelling larynx were audible. The men worked with quick efficiency while icy sweat trickled down their backs.

Cap, hearing all the commotion came out of his office to see what was going on. He saw his junior paramedic lying still, apart from the monstrous effort Johnny was making trying to breathe. Now was not the time to ask what happened. Now was the time for quick lifesaving action.

Roy was on the biophone to Rampart. Chet was getting Johnny’s blood pressure. Mike was counting respirations and Cap was counting Johnny’s pulse. Chip came back and said the ambulance was on its way.

Chip was even angrier at Johnny for making a big production number out of a little itsy bitsy bit of chocolate in his coffee. No doubt about it Gage was an attention seeker. He had no time for attention seekers. His hatred for Johnny went up another notch. Suddenly a thought hit Chip. What if Johnny died? Could he be charged with manslaughter or murder? He didn’t want to go to jail for knocking off an injun. It wasn’t worth it. In the future it would be better to just maim them, he thought.

House was at the base station handling the call. Roy had relayed Johnny’s vitals: pulse 89, respirations 12 and labored, blood pressure 80/55. He ordered adrenaline IM, Dexamethasone IV, oxygen at 15L, IV D5W wide open and to have a tube ready in case they had to intubate him. Roy gave the adrenaline, Mike put the O2 on and Chet helped Roy with the line and fluid. Roy then gave the iv med. Cap had the apparatus bay door open and drove the engine out to give the ambulance attendants room to back in and take Gage to Rampart when they arrived. Chip just stood there with his mouth set in a firm line and his eyes narrowed to mere slits. His thoughts portrayed on his face. Everyone was focused on Johnny, so his look of hatred went unnoticed.

The ambulance arrived and Johnny was still breathing harshly and ineffectively. He needed some additional help; Roy was bagging Johnny with every attempt Johnny made to breathe. Johnny’s lips and nails were slightly cyanotic. His respiratory effort was getting weaker as time went by. Another shot of IM adrenaline was ordered and IV Hydrocortisone.

Roy was counting the respirations when he noted that Johnny had stopped breathing. He felt for Johnny’s pulse and it was fast and bounding. He alerted Rampart and was instructed to secure an airway and take over breathing for the patient. An EKG was requested. The line was kept open and the doctor could hear everything going on.
Roy’s first attempt at inserting the tube was unsuccessful. Johnny’s throat was swollen. Faced with a time critical event, Roy got a bougie out. He had only ever used it once before. It was only to be used when the throat was severely occluded as it helped to guide the tube into the throat and into the lungs. It was twice the length of the tube and very thin. He put lubricant on the bougie, and with difficulty he put it down Johnny’s throat, through his voice box and into his trachea. It required a fair amount of force. He then resorted to a much smaller endotracheal tube used for a child and with great difficulty got it down by threading it over and down the bougie, when he was happy that the tube was now in his lungs he removed the bougie from inside the endotracheal tube. It was a traumatic intubation and everyone noticed the blood coated bougie when it was pulled out.

“Sorry Johnny.” Roy said quickly before Mike connected the ambubag and started bagging Johnny, feeling the resistance with every squeeze of the bag. Roy listened to Johnny’s chest and heard the air being forced into uncompromising lungs swollen with fluid.

“It’s in.” Roy said. “Aim for 20 breaths per minute.” He told Mike. Mike nodded his head in response.

Roy then set about getting the EKG. He was having difficulty. The leads didn’t stick to Johnny’s skin as it was so clammy. “Chip go get me a towel or dish towel, anything that’s dry.” Roy asked.

Chip went off to get what was requested. Gotta keep up appearances he thought.

“This will be on lead two, Rampart.” Roy said a short while later having dried Johnny’s skin down with the towel.

“I read sinus tach, rate 146. What is his blood pressure and is the ambulance there?” House wanted to know.

Roy set about getting his blood pressure. He gave a startled look as he had to keep pumping the cuff up until he finally was happy with what he got. He then did it again, not believing the first reading or maybe Chet’s reading was wrong.

“BP is 235/120, that has been checked twice Rampart. Ambulance has just arrived.” Roy released the button and waited for Rampart to reply.

“Repeat vitals again, I have a blood pressure reading of 80/55 initially. Was that correct?” House asked.

Roy looked at Chet. Chet feeling the pressure said he thought it was. That’s what he heard anyway but maybe he hadn’t gone up high enough like Roy did and therefore only got the end of it or something. He really didn’t have an answer. He thought he had got it right but in all the excitement and panic maybe he hadn’t. Roy repeated the blood pressure and the reading was 235/125, he relayed it to Rampart. He was told to slow the fluid down and monitor every five minutes.

Johnny was loaded onto the stretcher. The oxygen cylinder placed between his legs and IV fluids tucked under his shoulder. Mike was still bagging Johnny. Sam and Walt helped to wheel Johnny into the back of the ambulance. Roy carried the biophone and trauma box. He sat on the stretcher opposite Johnny; Walt sat at the top and took over bagging from Mike. The EKG machine was connected again and with everyone and everything loaded, Sam gunned the accelerator and the ambulance took off with sirens wailing and lights flashing.

Johnny remained unconscious, sweating heavily and his body was shaking. Walt was working hard on getting air into the prostrate paramedic. Everybody was sweating in the tiny back compartment while the ambulance roared to the hospital.

Chapter Ten

House and Nurse Sally Lewis were waiting for Squad 51’s victim. Next minute the doors from the ambulance bay flew open and a gurney came flying round the corner with Roy standing on the lower support bars doing chest compressions.

“He went into V Tach just now!” Roy stated while pushing on his best friend’s chest.

“Into 4.” House ordered. “Get me Early and another nurse now!” he directed at Sally. She went running off to page them stat to code blue in room 4.

They entered the room a short while later seeing Roy doing chest compressions, Sam was still bagging the patient and House had hooked up the EKG to theirs and was reviewing the rhythm. Both Early and Betty gasped as they saw who the patient was.

“What have you got?” Joe asked House.

“Originally anaphylactic reaction to unidentified substance is my guess, then respiratory arrest of approximately 10 minutes duration followed by 1 minute V Tach. Adrenaline in and I shock given” House showed Early the EKG strip. Johnny heart was still in V Tach.

Roy was still doing chest compressions and watching the EKG monitor

“Stand back everybody…..Clear.” Joe said as he put the paddles on Johnny’s chest and shocked him. “Don’t you die on me Johnny.” He said out loud as Johnny’s body arched and leapt off the table. It took 2 more shocks, several rounds of CPR and another 3 doses of adrenaline and one of intra cardiac adrenaline before they got Johnny back.

“Vitals are bp 60/30, pulse 70 irregular and bounding, respirations are 4 unassisted and 16 assisted.” Sally told the Drs.

“Repeat vitals every five minutes.” House ordered the nurse. Early and House were checking for any bite marks from spiders that may have caused this.

“Doctors, his pulse is now 129, and blood pressure is 210/105. I’ve checked it twice.” Nurse Sally said aloud.

“It must be a toxin causing all this. Let’s slow the IV fluid down again, I want a bed for him in ICU and bloods and blood gases drawn. Let’s get him connected to that ventilator now that we’ve got him through this crisis.” House told Betty.

“He’s stable for the moment but there’s still considerable congestion in his lungs. He’s not out of the woods yet. Put a Foley in him and monitor his output. We may need to give frusemide to help get the excess fluid out of his lungs.” House ordered.

“Let’s just wait awhile before we do any frusemide, we might tip him over into cardiogenic shock.” Joe said with his hand resting on House’s forearm. “He’s just come back from death’s door let’s not put him there again.”

A short while later Johnny was wheeled up to ICU. He was placed into a medically induced coma. He remained intubated and was now sporting a Foley and draining amber liquid into a bag hanging at the side of the bed.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

JC and Reyboy from 24’s had just dropped off a patient and were having a cup of coffee while filling up their supplies. To say they were shocked to see Johnny wheeled past them on life support was an understatement. It was Reyboy who found his voice first.

“Was that Gage and if so what happened to him this time?” Reyboy asked a stunned and dazed Roy.

Seeing that Roy was now in shock, they led him over to the doctor’s lounge and gave him a cup of sweet coffee. Roy took a sip, grimaced at the sweetness and then absentmindedly continued to take sips, grimacing each time as if he was encountering the sugar for the first time.

“Best we can think right now is anaphylactic shock. But he’s only allergic to chocolate as far as I know. We didn’t have any chocolate. Oh, wait. Momma Lopez made chicken mole. It couldn’t be that though. He didn’t have any. Unless some got into his food by mistake. That was hours ago, could it take that long given how severe his response was?” Roy was more or less talking himself through the events trying to find the cause, he had seen the effect and he was still coming to terms with just about losing his best friend.

JC went off to find Joe or House. Roy was in no fit state to go back to work. While he was looking for a doctor, Chet came into the doctor’s lounge.

“Betty said you were in here. She looked upset. How’s Johnny? Is he OK? He’s not dead is he?” he added when he saw the distraught and pale face of Roy and Reyboy supporting Roy as best as he could.

“He went into full cardiac arrest. We couldn’t get him back and..”

Chet ears started to buzz, his vision narrowed. Johnny’s dead. Oh my God, Johnny’s dead!!! These were his last thoughts as Chet’s knees buckled and he hit the floor in a dead faint.

Reyboy left Roy’s side and went over to Chet. He checked him over for any injuries and then put him into the recovery position. This was turning out to be a stressful night. Heaven only knew how 51 was coping. Everyone knew they were a close knit family in A shift.

“Maybe you should have started out stating that Johnny was in ICU. I’m pretty sure Chet thinks Johnny’s dead.” Reyboy told a stunned Roy.

“Ah…yeah. I think you’re right. Well it proves one thing at least. Chet must like Johnny if this is his reaction when he thinks he’s dead. I wasn’t thinking. I’m a bit shocked myself.” Roy told Reyboy.

Dr Early and JC were approaching the doctor’s lounge when they both saw a pair of blue trouser clad legs sticking out from the doorway. They broke into a run and approached the prostrate figure.

“It’s OK, he just fainted. He passed out at hearing about Johnny’s practice run at checking out. He thinks Johnny’s dead. He will be feeling mighty foolish and relieved when he finds out that his pigeon lives.” Roy told the newcomers. “It was my fault, I didn’t word it correctly. I’m having a bit of trouble processing things.” He added lamely.

“I’m putting you on sick leave Roy, I don’t think you are in any fit state to be working tonight. Chet will be fine in a minute or two. When he’s awake I’ll give you the latest news on Johnny.

Chet finally did come to. He looked around and then remembered what had happened and burst into tears. Life without Johnny just wasn’t possible.

“It’s OK, Chet. Johnny’s not dead. He’s sick and in the ICU, but if all goes well he will be up and around in no time. I’m, ah, sorry for how I told you. I was still processing it myself so it was still a bit raw. Sorry about that.” Roy told Chet as he helped him up off the floor, steadied him and then led him over to the couch.

Dr Early then told them all how Johnny was stable, his vitals were still elevated but were being closely monitored and he had been given some verapamil to reduce his blood pressure and remedy his current heart arrhythmia. Dr Early was hopeful by morning his lungs would be in a stronger and less congested condition. If they were, he would be weaned off the ventilator. There was no reason to think of brain damage from hypoxia. Johnny had artificial airway support throughout and he would be running some tests tomorrow to confirm his prognosis. As to what had caused this they would need to go into more detail. Maybe book Johnny into an allergy testing session. Chet went to speak but Squad 24’s HT went off calling the paramedics away to another response.

“It was chocolate. Chip put a small amount in the spiced coffee he made everyone. He said he had forgotten about Johnny‘s allergy. I believed him at first but then he said he didn’t think Johnny would have that severe a reaction. That would mean he would have to have remembered the suppertime conversation, right? So why did he lie? I’ve been thinking about it all the way over. It just doesn’t make sense.” Chet looked between Roy and Joe Early.

“No Chet, you’re right it doesn’t. I don’t remember tasting chocolate in my coffee, otherwise I would have warned Johnny about it.” Roy said.

“You’re right! I don’t think there was any in mine either. If we are both right, then this makes it even worse. Mama Lopez had only mentioned it two hours previously. I don’t like where this is going. I think we need to talk to Cap when we get back.” Chet stood up, ready to get straight back to the barn and talk to Cap.

“I’m fine now, Doc. Honest. I think it was just the initial shock of everything and having to do CPR and then seeing my partner getting shocked. Well, it was a bit overwhelming but I’m good now. Can we go see Johnny before we leave?” Roy asked Joe.

“Sure, come with me. We’ll go up and see him together. He should be settled in by now.” Joe gently said. He could see the strain around Roy’s eyes. He would release him to go back to work. Maybe it would be better that he did. That way he wouldn’t be sitting by Johnny’s bed brooding and worrying.

The three men made their way up to ICU and into Johnny’s room. It was really just a space with a bed in the middle, machines and pumps at the back and curtains that went around from both sides to define your room. The ICU nursing staff was familiar with this routine when it came to any of the paramedics being their patients. House was still by Johnny bed. He was mulling over the charts. A look of puzzlement on his face.

"What is it Greg?” Joe asked as he too, looked at the chart House was holding and scrutinizing minutely.

“I don’t know but I think there’s something else here, I just can’t see it and it’s not from a lack of looking.” House laughed, “I must be desperate looking for things that aren’t there.” He turned to Johnny’s colleagues, “Well, he’s stable. There have been no more dramas. We will be monitoring him closely but I’m quietly optimistic that he will recover completely and be back on his feet in no time.”

Joe and House left conferring over what Joe had learned downstairs.

“He looks real pale. Must be the paleface side of him coming out. I think I prefer him red and healthy.” Chet ended on a quiet hitch of his voice.

“I know what you mean. I don’t think Johnny would appreciate the paleface comment but in case you can hear us, Johnny, we prefer you with a bit more color in your cheeks. And not blue like before. Red, tan, even green is better than the white as sheets look you’re trying to pull off, a bit too successfully too, I might add. We’ll see you tomorrow, Johnny. You just rest and take it easy. No dramatics. Ya hear me!” Roy patted Johnny arm.

The two men made their way back to the squad.

“I’m tired. I can’t wait for this shift to end. I feel completely drained.” Chet said

“I hear ya, pal.” Roy then turned the key in the ignition and steered the squad home.

Cap made no pretense of waiting for his men and news of Johnny. He had called HQ and requested a replacement for his junior paramedic. He gave Roy a quick assessing look. Apart from looking tired and slightly stressed he seemed OK to work but, he would offer him leave if he thought he needed it.

Both men went into Cap’s office. Chet closed the door. He didn’t want a certain person to hear what they had to say.

Chapter Eleven

Cap was very disturbed at what he heard. He had spoken to Chip privately after he had mentioned the chocolate in the coffee. He felt that Chip had accidentally let it slip. There was no chocolate in his spiced up Chip brew either. He felt sick to his stomach. No one but Gage had chocolate in their coffee. No one but Gage had a severe allergy to it.
The more he thought about it, the more intentional it became. How was this going to look on the incident report. He told the men to keep everything they had discussed here under wraps. He needed to think. It was going to be a long troublesome night for his mind, Cap thought.

Chip was delighted with his actions. It was hit or miss whether Gage got the chocolate laced coffee. It was even more of a fluke that Roy and Mike came in to get refreshments when they did. He had just poured the last of the coffee into the mugs when the men came in laughing and talking about Johnny’s empty leg syndrome. He surmised that Johnny must be OK, as Roy and Chet had been in the office for some length of time. He felt that if Johnny was dead, they would be out now and he would have to be acting all upset and maybe even try to cry to make it look real.

The men came out and made their way into the dayroom where Mike and Chip sat watching whatever mindless show was on. Canned laughter erupted into the air at times. Chet went and turned the volume down. He then turned and watched Chip’s face while Cap relayed the news about Johnny, including the full arrest and defib.

Cap was sure he saw Chip’s mouth curl up into a smile before Chip put his hand up to cover his mouth. My God! He’s actually pleased that Johnny just about died. What sicko have I got working under me and sleeping just a few feet away from me? Cap felt his stomach lurch. He thought he was going to be physically sick.

He wasn’t the only one to notice it. Chet and Roy also saw what Chip was too late to hide. Chip’s smile made both men sick and angry. Roy wanted to go up and bash the living daylights out of him, but not before he had squeezed his throat so tight that tears came out of his eyes, just like they did for Johnny. He wanted his throat swollen and rubbed raw where tubes had been forced down them grazing the delicate lining and making the tissues bleed from the trauma of it all. He wanted to defib him 4 times and see how he liked the current of electricity as it coursed through his body, causing painful spasms and contractions of all his muscles, twisting his body off the table. He wanted to stick a knife, not a long wide bore needle into this man’s heart, see if you find that funny, you piece of dirt! He wanted to jump on his chest and see how he liked having a bruised and sore ribcage every time he took a breath. He basically just wanted to do to Chip, what Chip had done and submitted Johnny to. Roy was amazed at the level of hatred and revenge he felt for this man. He didn’t think he was a violent man but he was learning new things about himself every day.

It was only Mike who hadn’t seen the smirk across Chip’s face. He had been paying attention to Cap and occasionally looking at Roy to see how his friend was coping. At the time Chip gave himself away, Mike was looking at Cap. He thought Cap going suddenly pale and rubbing his stomach was just a natural reaction to what had unfolded here tonight. Heck, even Mike was feeling sick and on edge with the recent collapse of his friend. He didn’t know what his friends now knew to be the truth. Chip had deliberately tried to kill Johnny.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Cap left the room. He needed some Alka Seltzer for his stomach. He also needed to phone his wife. Right now he needed to hear her; she always helped him regain his composure. His Emily was the voice of reason and would soon have him seeing if his racing thoughts were headed in the right direction or had got lost in the overload of supposition.

Roy couldn’t be in the same room as Chip right now, maybe never. He left to phone Joanne. He was currently stood down until Johnny’s replacement turned up. They still had ten hours to go until shift change. “Jo, I’m sorry to wake you honey but something happened to Johnny and we need to contact Susie and let her know what’s happened.” Roy was sitting in the dark of the dorm room. He didn’t feel up to having the lights on. There was enough light coming through the windows from the streetlights and the moon. He told Jo everything that had happened and told her he would tell her more in the morning. He would be late getting home as he was going to pop in to see Johnny after work. Jo had Susie’s number, they had become very good friends and she promised to phone her right away.

Susie was sleeping. She had had a busy day at the practice. One of the top clients’ mares had developed colic and she had spent seven hours dealing with the emergency, ultimately saving both the mare and her unborn foal. She was a junior partner at Walker, Clarke and Associates Veterinary Hospital. Susan was a big animal vet. The practice also did small animals but Susie loved the outdoors so specialized in horses, cows and the like.

The ringing phone woke her and she slurred a hello into the phone. She woke very quickly when she heard Jo on the other end mentioning something about Johnny. Her heart was in her mouth; she was too scared to ask Joanne to repeat what she said. Her brain, like her heart, had frozen on the words ICU and Johnny in the same sentence; that was several sentences ago.

“I’m on my way and thanks Jo for letting me know. Is Roy OK? He’s not hurt too is he?”

Jo relayed again, this time more slowly and emphasized that it was only Johnny that was ill not Roy. She didn’t think Susan had heard her correctly the first time. Shock, Jo reckoned. Susie now had a better picture of what had happened. She was anxious and hopeful that Johnny would be alright. She looked for her clothes and pulled on jeans and a sweatshirt. Grabbing her keys, she was out of her apartment within minutes of the phone call.

Chapter Twelve

The next morning Roy was up and dressed early. He had dark circles under his eyes. He and Animal had had three call outs through the night. None of them required follow up at Rampart. They blamed the full moon for the crank calls. Roy had been too wound up about Johnny to get much sleep in-between calls. He kept looking over at Chip’s bed and thinking what could drive a man to do that to another human being.

As soon as the first B shift paramedic turned up Roy got permission to go. He headed straight to Rampart. Dixie and Dr Brackett had heard the news from Joe at shift change. Kel was upstairs reviewing Johnny’s chart while the ER was quiet. Dixie saw Roy come in and head straight to the elevators. She went over and putting her hand on his shoulder got his attention.

“He had an uneventful night, Roy. Kel’s up there with him now, reviewing everything. Susan came in about eleven last night, and she’s still up there. She had to phone me so that she could stay the night, as she wasn’t next of kin, I had to vouch for her. I didn’t think you’d mind. Why don’t I come up with you?” Dixie then let Carol know where she was going to be. Together Roy and Dixie headed to ICU. While in the elevator, Roy asked about the junkie mom in labor from their run last night.

“I don’t know anything about it Roy. I’ll look into it and find out for you.”

"Thanks, Dix. It wasn’t a good run, all things considered.”

Johnny’s room had quite an audience. Kel was looking Johnny over and listening to his chest. The ICU nurse stood on the other side of the bed, opposite Dr Brackett. Roy and Dixie then entered and made the space appear even smaller.

”Johnny’s lungs are much better. I want to do a chest x-ray to make sure. His blood pressure is back to his normal range and his pulse is stable and back to below 100. All in all, I think we will stop the sedation and see how he goes on his own. If he does well and his x-rays are clear then we will extubate him later today.” Brackett told Roy, Johnny’s next of kin. A collective release of breath resounded in the room. Roy thanked the Dr and went up to stand next to his partner. Johnny’s skin was now pink and dry. Gone was the pale clammy skin of just eleven to twelve hours ago. The rhythmic hiss and whoosh of the ventilator filled the room.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Having satisfied himself that Johnny was going to be OK, he made his way into the ICU waiting room, where Susie had been for the night after a brief visit with Johnny earlier.

“He’s definitely gonna be OK, Roy? I… I was so worried. I don’t want to lose him. He…. he’s too precious to lose.” Susie said wiping at the hot tears now running down her cheeks.

Now that the fear and uncertainty had been replaced with kind words and reassurances, Susie felt such relief that the tears were a cathartic release. Funny how it was always the kindness that was the undoing of one’s emotions during a stressful time, Susie mused as Roy held her close while she sobbed onto his chest. She was only 5”4’ but she packed an awful lot of emotion into her petite frame. She was also inordinately strong Roy noted absently. She held Roy with a grip he didn’t think a woman possessed.

“He’s gonna be fine. You’re gonna be fine too. I don’t think he would leave us, he’s too stubborn. Now go wash your face and I’ll get us a cup of coffee.” Roy suddenly went pale. He realized this all started over a cup of coffee and Johnny had yet to be told.

Susan noted the change in Roy and went back to him. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Something I need to tell Johnny and I don’t think he will be pleased to hear it. Oh, God. It makes me sick just thinking about it.” Roy sat in the chair Susan had spent the night in, worried about Johnny.

“Will you be OK? Do I need to get someone for you?” Now it was Susan comforting Roy.

What a fine pair we are, Roy thought. It was their mutual love and concern for the man lying in the bed with a tube down his throat that had brought them to this period of roller coaster emotions. “I’ll be fine. Let’s get that coffee.”

Cap, Mike and Chet entered as Roy and Susie were about to make a cup of coffee. There was a momentary silence as the men looked at the beautiful, petite woman standing next to Roy. Roy had his arm around her shoulder in a protective and brotherly way. No one knew what to say until Susan stepped up to Hank.

“You must be Captain Stanley? Johnny has told me so much about you. I’m Susan, Johnny’s girlfriend. My friends call me Susie.”

The last bit of news came as a revelation to the guys. No one, apart from Roy, obviously, knew he had a girlfriend. Normally Johnny would be talking about her non-stop. Then they remembered all the phone calls and the mysterious woman phoning Johnny. It all made sense.

“Why yes I am, and I’m pleased to meet you. Just wish I had heard about you. I’m sorry we get to meet at a time like this. I believe he’s going to be alright. We spoke with Dr Brackett on his way out.” Cap then introduced the rest of the men.

“So you’re the phantom!” Susie said to Chet.

Chet blushed and mumbled that he was.

“Relax, between you and me, I don’t think Johnny really minds too much. But should you hurt him in any of these pranks I will have to come after you. Oh, did you know I have a black belt in judo and am going for my fourth dan next month?” Susie said to Chet.

Chet was speechless. He was trying to work out if she was serious or not. He decided that she must be pulling his leg. How could someone that tiny be a third dan judo expert? However, he decided to play it cool until he knew more.

Joanne walked hurriedly down the corridor. She had dropped Chris off at school and Jenny was having a play date with her friend down the street. Her heels clicking on the linoleum floor announced the arrival of a woman on a mission. She opened the door expecting to see Roy and maybe Susie but instead got met by everyone.
“Roy, Susie, Cap, guys. Any word yet on Johnny? I phoned the hospital but they just said he was stable and holding his own. That doesn’t tell you much at all.” Joanne said as she went up to Roy and kissed him on his cheek. She gave Susie a warm hug and stood back to eye up everyone. The men looked strained apart from Mike who looked well rested and bright eyed. Chet, Cap and Roy all looked tired and worn out like last weeks’ newspaper. Roy brought everyone up to speed with Johnny’s condition and the plan. It was then that Chet wanted to know what was going to happen with Chip.

Mike, Susie and Joanne looked at Chet as if he had two heads. Cap cleared his throat and started to relate what had happened and what the men had pieced together so far. Roy was so angry he couldn’t sit still. He paced back and forth until finally Jo caught his arm as he went past her again and pulled him into the chair beside her. When all the facts were laid bare it seemed incredible that this could happen. The room was quiet as everyone digested it.

“I better not come across him in a dark alley as I’ll uchi mata him until he couldn’t stand, failing that I’d go for certain pressure points and leave him crying for his mother! What type of monster is he? How would he like that done to him?” Susie finished on a sob. Hot tears sprung from her eyes and she hastily blew her nose and wiped her bloodshot eyes on a tissue that Jo handed her. Her emotions were all over the place. She hadn’t slept while sitting in the waiting room in a hard plastic chair and everything was catching up with her.

The crew of 51 looked at Susie and decided she was one lady you didn’t want to mess with. Chet had his answer, she wasn’t messing with him.

“What’s a coochee momma?” Chet asked.

“An Uchi Mata is a judo throw where you are standing beside or behind your opponent and you hook your leg through theirs and pull them down by exerting pressure on their groin and upper body. It can make a soprano out of a man if done right and trust me, I know how to do it right.”

The men in the room, swallowed and in various ways, whether from crossing their legs or sitting slightly more forward, protected their family jewels.

“Someone better warn Gage not to tick you off.” Chet told the room at large. A few laughs were heard around the room.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

The door to the waiting room opened up and Mama Lopez entered after Marco.

“Marco! Mama Lopez! How did you know?” Roy asked.

“Chet phoned just before they left the station. Sorry I couldn’t get here earlier.”

Marco and Mama Lopez were then given the latest news about Johnny coming off the ventilator. Mama Lopez looked around the room and was happy with what she saw but not the circumstances that brought them together. A family united in crisis. She was not surprised to find Chip wasn’t there.

“So, where is Chip? Tell me when did you find out he doesn’t like colored people?”

“MAMA, you can’t make accusations like that.” Marco said.

“Marco, I feel it in my bones, and my eyes tell me it is so. Last night he ignored you and Johnny. He kept casting evil looks at you both. You are my blood son, and Johnny my spirit son. A mother protects her children. Chip is a bigot and he has a hard road ahead of him. Before you say anything, Grandmother Trujillo told me.” Crossing her arms across her ample bosom she defied her son to challenge her.

“Oh mi Dios, Grandmother has been dead for twenty years or more.” Marco said, not believing his mother could say this.

“And she had the gift. She comes to visit me quite often. You mark my words. This Chip is no good. Whereas, you my dear, you are perfect for my Juanito, yes. His, um…amiga del alma.” Mama Lopez was waving her hands in the air trying to think of the English word. When that failed her she simply said it in Spanish and put her hands to her heart.

“Mama!” Marco didn’t know who this beautiful woman was, but calling her Johnny’s soulmate was way over the line.

“Gracias. Creo que tienes razon. Mi Corazon me dice asi tambien.” Susie said to Mama Lopez, smiling and instantly liking this woman.

That stopped Marco in his tracks. She was agreeing with his mother. Mama Lopez gave a knowing look to Susie and nodded her head.

Cap cleared his throat and told Mama Lopez and Marco what had happened to Johnny. Each time he said it, it didn’t make him feel any better. Mama Lopez looked at her son and saw the pain in his eyes. She took his good hand and gently squeezed it. The room fell back into a somber quietness. Once again the gloom of the situation had permeated into everyone’s consciousness. Johnny could so easily have died from the hands of a “brother”.

Roy went and spoke to the head nurse and got permission for them all to see Johnny, two at a time. Cap and Mike went in and sat with Johnny for a bit. Seeing the bruising coming out on Johnny's chest and the tube still in his throat brought home the reality of how close it had been. Cap promised Johnny that he would not let the matter lie. He owed Johnny that much. This had happened on his watch, and he took it as a slap in the face that Chip could do this to a firefighter brother.

Marco and Chet went next. Chet hesitated by the nurse’s station in front of Johnny’s bed. He never liked seeing anyone so sick especially his friends. He put on a hard exterior but he was really a marshmallow inside. Johnny lay still in the bed. He didn’t look right. Chet then got his arm and gently put it up over his face in his preferred sleeping position. Johnny looked better like this. Not so mummified as before. Marco said a prayer to St John of God, the patron saint of firefighters and the sick. He said two prayers since Johnny qualified for both right now, or as Chet said, Johnny had upsized his order.

Mama Lopez and Susie were waiting outside the ICU doors while Marco and Chet were in visiting Johnny. They were talking in Spanish and getting more acquainted.

Susie gave a little giggle when she saw Johnny’s arm over his face. She figured one of the guys must have done it as Johnny was still under the influence of muscle relaxants and couldn’t move anything. She went up and kissed Johnny on the side of his face. She whispered words of love and promises into his ear. She held his other hand and kissed it before she and Mama Lopez left. Mama Lopez told her Juanito to get better soon as he had a whole lot of good times coming up and being in bed, pretending to be sick, was not where he was meant to be.

Susie told Roy and Joanne that she had to go to work. She had surgery in two hours’ time and needed to get home and freshen up. Joanne said she’d talk to her later if not before. Susie gave her work number to both Jo and Roy before she left. “Call me if there’s any change for the worse, please. I’ll come back as soon as I’m able.” Susie said before she left for the elevators.

Roy and Joanne were the last to enter. Joanne had not seen Johnny so quiet, and to her, he still looked very pale. Roy assured her that he looked 100 times better than yesterday. They sat in the chairs watching their friend as the machine breathed for him. Roy removed Johnny’s arm from his face as it was a dead weight and already leaving an imprint on his face.

A few hours later he started to move his legs, then he flung his arm onto his face and turned his head into the crook of his elbow. The alarm on the ventilator went off as Johnny tried to breath over it.

“Looks like Sleeping Beauty’s waking up.” Jo said.

Roy silenced the alarms and went to inform the nurses. His nurse came in and took vitals and called Johnny’s name. She got a weak fluttering of Johnny’s eyelids and that was all.

“He should be more with it in an hour or so.” She said as she plotted his vitals down on the chart and went to leave the room. “I’ll let Dr Brackett know.” Was the last thing she said before she left Johnny’s cubicle.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Roy was sitting by himself. He had tried to read the magazine Jo had brought for Johnny from the gift shop downstairs, but his mind was too unsettled. Jo had left twenty minutes earlier to pick up the children and take them home.

Dixie came into Johnny’s cubicle. “How’s he doing, Roy?”

“He’s starting to wake up. I’m just waiting for the grand eye opening.”

“How are you holding up?” Dixie could see the strain around Roy’s eyes.

“I’m doing OK.” His words didn’t match his face or body language. He looked crumpled and was sitting slumped in the chair. It was obvious he hadn’t slept well, the dark circles under his eyes told the story.

“Oh, I’m sorry I thought I was talking to Roy, not Johnny.” Dixie said while giving Roy a look.

Roy gave a small laugh, “Sorry, Dix. Just a lot on my mind. It’s not been a good 24 hours. You ever wish you could take time back and just change that one second that changes everything?” Roy said desolately. He looked as sad as his comment.

“Yes, many a time, and, for many a reason. But what I’ve learned in those times is that they are out of our control, they always make you grow from an emotional angle, and they usually make you stronger and wiser. They build character, how you deal with them, helps to define you as a human being. Ultimately the reason those times hurt so much is because they involve people we love even more. Just remember, you’re not going through this alone, Roy. A lot of people are going through the same thing too. Johnny is well loved. There are a lot of hurting souls out there all worried for their friend here.” Dixie emphasized the point by giving Johnny’s hand a squeeze. Johnny moved his legs in response and turned his head towards Dixie but his eyes didn’t open when she called his name.

“By the way Roy, I’m sorry to say but that junkie mother you two brought in last night, she had to have an emergency caesarean. She had a grade 4 placenta previa. She bled out in the OR. Both mother and child didn’t make it. I’m sorry Roy, I was hoping to bring you good news.” Dixie said softly.

“Thanks Dix, maybe it was good news. She was too far gone with drugs and that baby would have been born addicted and have to go through withdrawal, and she obviously hadn’t been looking after herself so I doubt the baby would have been strong. Now they will both be in Heaven and out of pain.” Roy said. “Now maybe those ‘holier than thou’s’ can adopt her other child.”

Dixie raised an eyebrow and Roy told her about what their patient had told them.

“Like I said, you get stronger and wiser and you’ve just proven it. There are times when death is a mercy for some.” Dixie leaned down and kissed Johnny on the cheek, she then went over and gave Roy a kiss and hug too. Once Dixie had left the room Roy looked over at Johnny and saw him grimacing over the tube in his throat. It was obviously causing him pain. It also meant Johnny was closer to waking up.

Chip had introduced so much pain and worry into the house of 51. He had torn down the walls built of friendship, trust and love and brought racism and hatred in his wake. How dare HE! Roy thought. How dare Chip hurt his little brother; Johnny had done nothing more than been born with Indian blood.

Brackett came in some time later. He hadn’t been paged to the ICU so he figured Johnny must still be sleeping under the influence. “How’s he been Roy?” Dr Brackett asked.

“Quiet. He’s moving a lot more. He seems to be in pain when he moves his neck. He grimaces a lot. I think it’s from the tube. I had a difficult time intubating him last night. His throat just about closed up on me.”

Dr Brackett could hear the guilt in Roy’s voice. “You saved his life Roy. Without you he would be in the morgue right now. Just you remember that!”

“Thanks Doc. I just hope Johnny forgives me for his throat and ribs. He’s pretty bruised up”

“I think Johnny is wise enough to know what was happening to him and I think he’s going to be happy to be waking up at all, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right.” Suddenly Roy didn’t feel so bad with guilt anymore. He had saved his friend’s life and Johnny probably did know he was dying. Then the realization of his best friend knowing that as one of his last conscious thoughts appalled him.

Dr Brackett went up and called Johnny’s name. Johnny rolled his head to the sound of the voice. His face gave an involuntary frown as the tube rubbed his raw throat.
“That’s it Johnny, now open your eyes for me.”

Johnny complied. He blinked several times. His vision was blurry. He went to rub his eyes and took a deep breath. The alarms on the ventilator went off. Johnny turned his head sharply to see where the noise was coming from. His throat kicked up a protest. Tears squeezed out of his eyes and ran down his cheeks. His chest was killing him, his back hurt him, he felt sure his skin over his shoulder blades was bruised. His lungs felt tight and his chest was heavy. What had happened to him? He started to panic.

Roy grabbed Johnny’s hand and moved it away from Johnny’s mouth. Johnny was going to pull out this obnoxious thing in his throat. Roy got Johnny’s attention and coached him to slow his breathing down, that all was okay now and he needed to be calm and relax. Roy quietly told his friend that Dr Brackett would tell him what was going on. Johnny looked over to Dr Brackett. His vision had cleared and he gave an enquiring look to Dr Brackett.

With Johnny calming down, Kel turned off the alarm again. Once everything was explained to him, he nodded his understanding and Dr Brackett removed the tube on an exhale. Johnny gagged and his throat was suctioned. Blood stained sputum made its way up the suction wand. After a few sips of water which Johnny choked on, his throat was too sore to swallow. Johnny croaked out a barely audible thanks to Roy and Dr Brackett. He received two puzzled looks in return.

“Saved…. life.” Right now the barest minimum of words suited Johnny fine. It hurt too much to talk as well.

Johnny was discharged from the hospital four days later. He had tartan bruising over his chest and shoulder blades from the force of Roy pushing against his body with a wooden board under his back, when Roy was doing CPR on him. He had no voice to speak of, but his eyes, as always, did his talking for him, that and pen and paper. He was on sick leave until he could at least talk and be heard. Until then he was on strict orders to not speak. He wasn’t to answer the phone or even hum and definitely not to whisper. Susie was staying with Johnny during his recovery, she was his voice over the phone as a lot of get well phone calls came his way.

Chapter Thirteen

Cap had a meeting with Chief McConnikee the day that they had all been up to see Johnny in ICU. Over lunch they discussed the situation and a plan was made with policies and procedures followed.

The next day at work, Cap called Chip into his office. He asked Chip what happened regarding the chocolate in Johnny coffee. Chip got so caught up in his lies that he was getting himself confused with what he had told Cap and the other guys earlier. In trying to keep his lies straight, he ended up contradicting himself till in the end he had tied himself up into knots. Cap’s line of questioning and laid back encouragement helped Chip to make mistake after mistake. In the end Chip admitted he did it on purpose because the red skin half breed deserved it.

Cap felt like he was going to throw up when he heard that.

Chip was asked to write a statement about everything he had said and he and Cap would sign it and then it would go to the Battalion Chief as it was a serious matter. Cap read the statement, it mentioned that he had known about Johnny’s allergy from Mrs Lopez. It also went on to say that he thought it would be fun to see if Johnny truly did have a severe allergy, he wasn’t too concerned as Roy was there and could give him some antihistamine pills if they were needed. He had used derogatory language in reference to Johnny and even Marco, whom he had met only once. Cap then suspended Chip immediately from duty without pay due to the seriousness of the complaint.

“You will be notified in due course of the meeting at HQ. It is strongly recommended that you bring representation with you.” Cap informed Chip.

Chip was flabbergasted. They were making him out to be the criminal. Couldn’t they see that these coloreds weren’t fit to be anywhere near white men. Hitler had the right idea. The pure breeds should rule the earth.

Cap phoned HQ and got through to Chief McConnikee. He informed him of the outcome and suspension. He was requesting another linesman as the station had to be stood down.
Chief McConnikee advised Cap that he would be in touch with the time for Chip’s disciplinary meeting. They discussed a few pertinent items and when the call was finally disconnected it was with a certain amount of dread that Cap picked up the phone and dialed a number he knew by heart.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

The next morning Cap drove up a gravel driveway located forty-five minutes away from the station. He was met by Susie standing on the porch smiling and the snickering of two horses as they frolicked in the field. Sotkazi was curled up on one of the chairs on the porch. It was a picture of domestic bless, Cap thought, as Johnny came out and wrapped his arms around Susie. Johnny kissed the top of Susan’s head as they stood together on the porch waiting for Cap to retrieve things out of the car and make his way inside.

They sat around the table, hot cups of coffee for all but Johnny. He wasn’t allowed any hot drinks because of his throat, so Susie had made him a coffee and banana smoothie instead. Johnny had lost a bit of weight since this had all happened and he was having difficulty swallowing anything that wasn’t very soft.

Cap explained what was going on at the station and what was going to happen. He then told Johnny what the possible outcomes were and wanted Johnny to be prepared. Johnny was going to hear things that would be upsetting. He really just wanted to protect him as much as he could from the emotional pain he knew was in store for his youngest charge.
Johnny’s hands started to shake and beads of sweat broke out over his brow. Johnny was feeling very nervous about all this. He didn’t want to be involved in it and wished that it had never happened. The stress was getting to him and he felt the start of another headache. He got up and downed a couple of Tylenol.

Having written questions and answers till his hand cramped, Johnny finally slumped in the chair, resigned to his fate. Susan wished she could be there but it was a closed meeting.

Cap gave Johnny a copy of all the statements for him to read before he left.

“I’m sorry John, if there was another way to do this without needing your input I would gladly take it, but it’s not up to me and the whole case revolves around you and Chip. So it’s imperative that you be there.” Cap said to Johnny with his hands resting on Johnny’s shoulders. “Hopefully, you won’t be called on to talk per se, but if Chip’s testimony differs and he makes allegations, then we think it’s best you be there to defend yourself.”

Johnny shrugged his shoulders and looked away at the distance. This was one experience he could do without.

After Cap left, Susie took him back to the bedroom to lift his spirits. The reading of the statements could wait till later, she thought. They had other, better, things to do.

Chapter Fourteen

The day of the disciplinary meeting arrived. Chip was mildly surprised to see so many people in the room. Battalion Chief McConnikee, his secretary Connie, Captain Stanley and FF/PM John Gage, looking pale and pathetic so he could ham up his so called life threatening injuries, Chip thought. Next to Johnny sat FF/PM Roy De Soto. Chip sat in an empty chair away from Antonio Perez - Guadalupe, the union rep, in this case here to ensure that Chip’s rights were met. All the firefighters were in their dress uniforms and looked very smart.

Dr Cooper, an ENT specialist, Dr Gregory House and Dr Early were all seated around a table and sworn statements from the men of 51, including Johnny’s and Chip’s, were sitting in a see through folder in front of Chief McConnikee. There was even one there from Mrs Lopez describing Chip’s behavior that night as it pertained to Johnny and Marco. She also wrote how she had mentioned about Johnny’s allergy while they all sat around the table only two hours before the incident.

Chip was given a copy of each to read at his leisure. They all stated the same thing about his admission with the chocolate. A tape recorder sat between him and Chief McConnikee. A stenographer sat to the side and quietly tapped away at her keyboard throughout the meeting.

Roy was the first to speak. He told of how Johnny started coughing and trying to clear his throat after finishing Chip’s special coffee. He then went on to describe how quickly Johnny had succumbed and how he had to intubate his partner.

It was at this juncture that Roy’s testimony was stopped, and the tape of Roy’s call over the biophone to Rampart General Hospital Base station was played to a quiet and enthralled room. You could hear the stress and worry in Roy’s voice and the other men of Station 51 as they were calling out Johnny’s vitals. Mike could be heard saying the air wasn’t getting in. Roy was asking for a smaller airway and the bougie. Chet was heard in the background stating quite clearly about blood being on the bougie when it was removed. Then Chet telling Roy that Johnny’s fingers were still blue and cold. All the while Johnny’s loud and harsh stridor and wheezing was audible from start to finish throughout the tape, until he was tubed and bagged. Then Roy’s quiet voice came from the tape, “I’m sorry Johnny.” Johnny’s breath hitched slightly on that.

It was a powerful and damning piece of evidence portraying the severity of Chip’s actions on an unsuspecting and innocent brother and colleague.

Throughout the playing of the tape, Johnny’s eyes never left Roy. The two friends were sitting beside each other. Johnny had no idea, until now, just how hard it had been on Roy. He saw his best friend, head turned away from everybody and looking out the window, wipe a tear and then another from his eyes. Johnny reached over and squeezed Roy’s hand with a firmness that demonstrated his support and thank you to his best friend and savior. He knew Roy was feeling guilty over something, he just didn’t know what until now. His best friend, who had saved his life, was feeling needless guilt for hurting his throat in the process.

Drs. House and Early then recounted the grave condition that John Gage had arrived in the ER that night and the fact that John was clinically dead for several minutes until they could get a heartbeat back after four electric shocks to the heart and numerous lifesaving drugs, the last being straight into the heart. The subsequent 2 days in ICU, one of which John Gage remained on life support, then his three days in the ENT ward before discharge.

Johnny didn’t know about the intra cardiac drug and automatically put his hand up onto his chest, over his heart, and rubbed it. He was shocked to say the least. He really had died. No wonder his body hurt like anything when he was in the hospital and for a while after. They had pulled out all the stops and got him back.

Dr Cooper then spoke about his findings when Johnny had been referred to him. Johnny was looking at a prolonged recovery. The damage to his throat was moderate to severe and his voice box had been badly damaged in the intubation which had been necessary to keep him alive. Johnny, who was still holding his friend’s hand, gave it another squeeze. He knew his partner well, just as Roy knew Johnny. Johnny knew that his best friend would be feeling guilty and responsible for Johnny’s throat. Johnny didn’t blame Roy, he blamed Chip 100%. He would need to work on Roy a bit to see this.

Dr. Cooper was explaining now about the possibility of scarring and how Johnny’s ability to talk as before with full pitch and tone was unknown, but he was very hopeful for a positive outcome, but he hadn’t ruled out the need for delicate surgery to repair any long term damage. So far it was just a waiting game. He would know more in three weeks when Johnny had a follow up appointment.

Roy looked sharply at Johnny, He was not aware of this possibility but it looked like Johnny was. If Johnny didn’t get his voice back, they were over as paramedic partners. Heck, Johnny was out of the fire service full stop. Roy looked pained and fearful for his friend.

Johnny looked depressed when faced again with the harshness of this reality. He had been trying not to think about it. It made him feel anxious and fearful. What would he do? Would he ever have a voice again? How would he pay the mortgage? Would Susie stay with him as a mute? His hands belied his fear as a fine tremor started in them. Roy noticed Johnny trying hard to control his fears. He squeezed Johnny’s hand to offer him support this time around. Eventually Johnny got his shaking under control.

Dr Cooper then had to excuse himself from the proceedings as he had surgery in an hour and had to go.

The brass around the table hadn’t realized that Chip’s actions still hadn’t finished for Johnny or for them. The worst case scenario was that Johnny’s voice would never return to its previous level due to scarring and then LACoFD would lose a highly trained, respected and commended paramedic. Not to mention one half of the best team ever to ride the streets of LA. It was an outcome no reasonable man around the table wanted to befall one of their own.

Having the statements read out including his own, Chip was given the opportunity to defend himself after their lunch break.

When Chief McConnikee, who was running the meeting hadn’t heard from the union requesting copies of statements several days ago, nor enquiries about what charges were to be laid in order to help the accused, he contacted the union directly. He found out that they hadn’t heard from a Chip McKendry, the Chief went on to explain what was happening and requested one to attend on Chip’s behalf.

During the lunch break, Antonio approached Chip. This would be the first time they would be able to talk. Chip had refused to meet with him prior to this. He hadn’t done anything wrong in his eyes. It was everybody else that had it wrong. Chip sneered at the man before him. He told him to go away. He didn’t need the likes of him by his side. The union rep suggested he ask for leniency and support from the LACoFD to attend psychological therapy. Chip was enraged. How dare a spic tell him what to do. He spat at the rep and everyone in the room froze at such ugly and racist behavior especially as it seemed to come out of nowhere. Antonio wiped his face dry with a napkin and excused himself so he could go to the washroom and clean his face. He had never been spat at before and it made him feel sick and belittled.

The Chief waited until Antonio reappeared, his face scrubbed clean and sporting a pink glow especially over his left cheek where Chip’s spittle had landed on him.
The Chief then reconvened the meeting. Chip had no defense. His actions once again had spoken louder than words. Chip wisely refused to talk.

The Battalion Chief found Chip McKendry guilty of causing grievous bodily harm and racial discrimination. He was fired from the LACoFD, effective immediately. He was then asked to stay as Detective Lieutenant Crockett from LAPD was coming to question him on further charges.

Chapter Fifteen

Chip’s white face became several shades whiter and while he was getting his breath back a knock at the door announced the detective’s arrival.

Detective Crockett didn’t have to come from very far. He had been in the next room awaiting his summons. Connie had left the room at the conclusion of the meeting and informed him he was needed next door. The matter had already been taken to his boss and the evidence was put before the DA’s Office and it was agreed that a case did exist and charges would be laid regardless of the outcome at the LACoFD meeting.

Detective Crockett addressed the pale, young, blond man before him. He identified Chip McKendry and duly placed him under arrest for the attempted murder and grievous bodily harm to one John Roderick Gage. A startled gasp followed by a painful cough broke the sudden hush in the room. Johnny wasn’t expecting that and the subsequent coughing was agony on his throat.

When Chip saw the black detective approach him, he couldn’t believe his eyes. It completely bypassed him that he was being arrested for attempted murder and grievous bodily harm. All he could see was the black man coming for him.

As Crockett stood in front of a seated Chip, he recited the Miranda rights to him. He asked him if he understood, Chip nodded his head and said yes. Next Chip was asked to stand up and face the wall with his arms and legs spread. Chip saw the gun sitting in Crockett’s shoulder holster. He grabbed it out of the leather sheath and aiming the gun at Crockett, he fired.

Crockett saw what was happening a split second behind Chip’s actions. He went to grab Chip’s arm. He successfully directed Chip’s arms up to the ceiling. The hole in the white plaster wasn’t very big. The noise of a gun going off in a confined space was. Chip, not being used to guns, was momentarily deafened and shocked by the noise, he wasn’t prepared for that. In fact, he wasn’t prepared for any of this and kept thinking it was somebody else doing all this, not him.

Crockett seeing his advantage, grabbed the gun out of Chip’s hand and threw it across the room over towards the stenographer who was as white as a ghost and sitting stock still like a statue.

In one swift motion, Crockett had Chip’s right arm twisted up behind his back and with handcuffs swooping out of his waist band he clicked them over the young firefighter’s right wrist and then his left. They were secured tightly and then Crockett did a quick pat down, ensuring the accused didn’t have a weapon on him. Crockett retrieved his gun and clutching Chip in one hand and the statements in the other proceeded out to his car.

Chip was placed in the back of the unmarked police car, the door closed and he was taken away to the police station to be booked and charged. Except now there would be new charges laid; attempted murder of a police officer, illegal use of a firearm and resisting arrest. Chip McKendry wasn’t going to be a free man for a very, very long time, if ever.
What a waste of a young life, Crockett thought as he looked in the rear view mirror and saw the dazed and confused look of a young 21-year-old man that would never marry and have children in the foreseeable future. This might even be his last day of freedom. It was highly unlikely given the charges in front of him that he would get bail.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Back at the Los Angeles County Fire Department HQ a stunned group of people sat around the table.

“I never thought that would happen.” Captain Stanley said out loud to no one in particular.

“The gun came right at me, it hit my leg. It could’ve gone off.” The stenographer was definitely in shock. Connie, Chief McConnikee’s secretary, went and got her a strong sweet drink of tea. She raided her boss’s drinks cabinet and put a good slug of whiskey in it. Then thinking what the heck, she grabbed the bottle and several glasses as well, and made her way back into the room with the stunned crowd.

Chief McConnikee looked very pale and sweaty. He loosened his tie from his neck and sat slumped in his chair. “He’s mad, he’s certifiably mad.” He kept muttering.
No one had to ask who he meant.

Antonio was covered in white plaster dust and was busy brushing it off his uniform. He only succeeded in rubbing it in. He would need to take another trip to the washroom before leaving. Every time he moved his head, more dust would settle on his shoulders. He looked like he had gone prematurely grey, although it was only temporary as a good shower would get his hair back to rights.

Roy was shaken but coping. He looked at Johnny and saw him shaking like a leaf. The tremors in his hands were back, his skin was clammy and Johnny was holding his head. Johnny’s eyes were squinting at the brightness of the midday sun as it hit the highly polished table and reflected back into his retinas increasing his headache. His pulse was racing like there was no tomorrow and was magnifying his headache as it pulsated through his head. Roy thought Johnny was having another one of his migraines.

Drs. Early and House gave each person a quick visual once over and apart from obvious shock, no one was hurt. Roy called them over to see to Johnny. Cap came over with them. He could tell that Johnny wasn’t well. He didn’t think Johnny would be up to this meeting so soon and it looked like he was right.

Dr Early recognized a migraine when he saw one. He asked Johnny if he was having a migraine attack. Johnny nodded his head. Joe sent House out to his car to retrieve his medical bag.

House came back in after a few minutes accompanied by a secretary from down the hall who announced that Crockett was sending someone over to get police statements about what had just happened; and that they all had to remain in the room until their statements had been gathered. A collective groan went out.

House put the bag down on the table, next to Johnny. Dr Early pushed his combination into the locks and opened up his bag. He retrieved his penlight, and blood pressure equipment. “Never leave home without it.” He told his audience. “Your blood pressure’s a bit high there Johnny.”

Johnny looked up at Joe and mouthed the words ‘how high’?

“It’s 160/90.” Johnny wasn’t the only one shocked to hear that. Cap and Roy were well aware that Johnny ran at the lower end of the scale.

“Your pulse is up. It’s 115. I reckon the excitement, stress and pain are playing a big part in your condition right now” Joe said, trying to reassure his young and extremely excitable friend. Both doctors noted the tremor in Johnny’s hands. “You’re not having a good day and instead of going home to bed to sleep it off we have to wait for the police. Let’s see if we can’t get you comfortable and out of here in very short order.” Joe said to Johnny.

Chief Houts had been alerted as to the drama that had unfolded just down the hallway from him. He, like a lot of others, had heard the gunshot but weren’t too sure what it was they had heard so continued on with their work. Chief Houts entered the room to be met with a dishevelled group of people in various states of shock. Chief McConnikee was sitting at the head of the table with a glass of untouched whiskey in front of him. Chief Houts approached him for an overview of what had transpired and saw the tremble in his friend’s hands and gently handed him the glass.

“Here take a sip and settle your nerves. When you’re ready, tell me what happened. There’s no rush, Mack. Tell Captain Stanley that I will want to talk to him too, so he’s not to leave until then”

Chief Houts saw the small group huddled around someone. He then noticed the medical bag on the table. Oh my God, someone’s been shot! Was his first thought. He quickly made his way over and saw a pale and sweaty John Gage clutching his head. No blood, can’t see any blood, not shot, I don’t think he’s been shot, thank God. He doesn’t look good though.

“What’s going on here? Is he hurt? Has he been shot?” Chief Houts asked the two doctors.

“I think it’s just a stress induced migraine, we need somewhere quiet and dark where we can lie him down for a bit. We have to stay to give police statements but I think Johnny would recover better if there was some place quiet we could take him within the building?” Joe asked hoping that the Chief would know of such a place.

“He can go lie down in my outer office, there’s a couch there and it’s quiet enough. I’ll get my secretary to act as a bouncer and keep everybody out.”

Penny, his secretary who was pouring Chief McConnikee a cup of tea, overheard and nodded her head to acknowledge her boss.

The group got up and helped Johnny to his feet. The color drained from Johnny’s face and his knees went to buckle. Johnny quickly grabbed the table to support himself. He stood there for a moment or two until he felt his body strengthen under him. Standing straighter, he signaled he was ready to go on. Johnny was led out by Penny, Roy and Joe. Finally, with Johnny laid out on the Chief’s couch and a blanket and pillow retrieved from a side cupboard which raised an eyebrow from Roy.

“The Chief gets migraines too,” Penny stated. Together they got Johnny settled and then Joe gave Johnny some codeine.

In due course, police officers Vince Howard and his rookie Trudy Gaynor, arrived and were escorted to the room where a captive audience waited for their arrival. With statements obtained and orders to come to the police station tomorrow to complete official business one by one the witnesses left the room.

Chapter Sixteen

The police officers and Chief Houts made their way into his outer office where Roy sat in a chair and Johnny was asleep on the couch.
Johnny didn’t stir when the door quietly opened. The Chief held a finger up to his lips in a ‘shush’ motion; he nodded his head towards his inner office. Roy got up and making sure Johnny was still sleeping, he went with the others into the office.

Roy gave his statement which didn’t differ from the others. He was released and then Vince had to get a statement from Johnny. He was loathe to wake him up. He wasn’t aware of Johnny’s lack of voice and strict instructions to not talk. Roy explained all this to Vince. It was decided to let Johnny sleep and to bring his written statement in tomorrow. Roy said he would let Johnny know. The police officers quietly made their way out of the building.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Roy was about to go and check on Johnny when he was stopped by Chief Houts.

“Take a seat Mr De Soto.” The Chief then picked up his phone and requested both Chief McConnikee and Captain Stanley to come to his office, there were to be no interruptions he told Penny. A minute later both men quietly entered the room and closed the door behind them. After pleasantries and introductions were made, which Roy found oddly out of place given what had happened, until he realized it was more a gesture to let the men settle themselves. Chief Houts got right down to business.

“What type of man is firefighter paramedic John Gage?” He asked

Captain Stanley gave his appraisal of the fine man John Gage was. Roy continued where Cap left off.

“What I really want to know,” Chief Houts asked, “is he the type of man that would sue. He has every right to. We failed to screen our recruits well enough to notice an unbalanced bigot and instead welcomed him into our service. Now from what you say there is a very real prospect of one of our finest paramedics being medically unfit to ever return. Sorry Roy. I see this is painful for you but it has to be addressed.” Chief Houts said when he saw Roy swallow hard on his last comment.

“I don’t want to see you split as a team either, but as head of the department, I need to look at the bigger picture. Regardless of whether he sues us or not, the LACoFD will be covering all his medical costs and he will be on full pay, not sickness as would normally be the case. This Dr Cooper that you mentioned is he the best? I feel it only fair to have Mr Gage treated by the best.”

The men around the table didn’t know and it was Roy that said he would ask around at Rampart and let Captain Stanley know in due course.

“He’s not the type of man to sue, either. He is an honorable and proud man. He would see this as no ones’ fault but the man who inflicted it. I feel that John has had a lot of dealings with bigots and racists in his young life. He has always handled himself with great dignity and never lowered himself to their level. I have every confidence that he would not see this as a failing of the LACoFD employment process. We all know that bigots are everywhere, unfortunately they don’t have it tattooed on their foreheads.” Captain Stanley boldly stated.

Cap would back John Gage to an inch of his life if he had too. The young man possessed a lot of fine qualities, which when you looked past the quirkiness and frenetic energy exuding from the young man, were plainly there for all to see.

Roy seconded what his Cap had said.

Chief Houts picked up the phone and requested coffee for his guests and Misters Whitehouse and Gibb to also come in very quietly to his office. It had been a long day and wasn’t over yet.

Roy popped out to check on Johnny who was still sleeping soundly with his arm now flung over his face.

Penny had warned the two new gentlemen to enter the inner office very quietly as there was someone sleeping in there and he was unwell and not to be woken. She had put a large portable map of LA, used for brushfires, in front of Johnny earlier to act as a screen to afford him some privacy.

Mr Gibb was the LACoFD head lawyer. Mr Whitehouse was the press release officer.

Roy knew of Mr Whitehouse, he had seen him on TV a few times. He looked smaller in real life. He had heard that TV added ten pounds; he didn’t think it added height as well as the man before him was a lot smaller in stature. Maybe it was his preconceived ideas that had this man being taller. He had only ever seen the man from shoulders up and normally he was focused more on the fire in the background that the man delivering the updates.

Over cups of coffee and sandwiches, the new men were brought up to speed. Mr Whitehouse said he would know more about the court case when charges were laid and the DA and Prosecutor were known. He would be contacted by the DA office soon he imagined, as a matter of courtesy.

“Sadly I feel that this will be big news. A civil servant trying to kill two other civil servants in different field’s and with racial overtones there’s no way to play it down no matter which way you look at it. Before long I reckon we will have a lot of different factions getting in on the act. This could be a major headache. Somewhere in there will be us. We must appear strong and united in our stand and weather the storm that’s coming,” the lawyer, Tony Gibb, said.

“Tony has nailed it on the head. I will prepare statements for the upcoming circus. I can only advise that any and all enquiries be directed to me. I request that all persons’ concerned keep their mouths shut and say absolutely nothing.” Patrick Whitehouse said.

This last comment was met with laughter from around the table. Patrick and Tony looked at each other; they didn’t know what was so funny. Chief McConnikee enlightened both men about the injury their main witness had received indirectly from the actions of the accused.

“It would appear that Mr Gage is getting practice in early, he will need to remain tight mouthed as a lot of media attention is going to be focused on him.” Tony Gibb said.
The somber and serious mood broke momentarily around the table and then with assurances that they would be in touch to those concerned, the men left the room just as quietly on their way out.

Roy also excused himself. He could see that the conversation was going to take on a more serious tone and he was not required. He went back to his chair in the outer office waiting for Johnny to wake up. They had driven in together so it was just a matter of waiting for Johnny to rouse. Hopefully it wouldn’t be too long, Roy thought.

Chapter Seventeen

A short while later Johnny stirred. A light cough heralded his return to wakefulness, it quickly turned into a harsher, hacking cough. Roy looked around and found some tissues on a side table. He went over to Johnny who was now sitting on the couch and hunched over coughing. Roy held out the box of tissues. Roy saw blood on the tissue when Johnny removed it from his lips. He was immediately concerned for his friend’s ultimate health and recovery. He was also fearful that their days of riding together had come to an end. Johnny grabbed another tissue out of the box and wiped his eyes. The coughing hurt his throat each time. He felt suddenly weary. He didn’t feel as if his throat was getting any better and he too was fearful that he wouldn’t return to work.

“Johnny, does this happen all the time?” A worried Roy asked his friend.

Johnny shook his head. He threw the tissues into the bin but they missed and he went to get up to put them in.

“Leave it, I’ll get it in a bit, do you need to see a doctor?”

Johnny vehemently shook his head again. His headache was still there but not as bad as before, but anymore shaking and nodding was doing his head in.

Roy went and asked Penny for a glass of water for Johnny. She came back a short while later and handed it to Roy. He gave it to Johnny who took several small sips and found although painful, he could tolerate it. He finished the glass. He got out his notebook and wrote “Can we go or what?”

“I’ll just go check.”

Roy came back smiling. “Let’s go Junior. I think you still need to rest, c’mon.”

Johnny was up and out of that building before you could say jack rabbit. He gave a nod of thanks to Penny on his way out and then surprised Roy by handing the keys to his Land Rover over to him. He must still have a pretty bad headache for me to be driving Roy thought. He didn’t make an issue of it. He unlocked the Land Rover and both men got in. It was a very quiet drive back to the ranch. Johnny stared out the window for a bit but eventually he fell asleep, his head resting against the side of the door and window and slack jaw breaths told Roy that Johnny was out for the count. Looks like I’m not the only one catching up on sleep, he mused to himself.

His overtime shifts had left him tired. He had done two so far and had another three lined up over the next two weeks. But when he thought of the reason why, it was all worth it. He just hoped Johnny would be well enough by then for his babysitting offer.

They made it to the ranch in good time and Roy pulled up next to his little convertible. He shook Johnny’s shoulder and called his name out a few times. Johnny stirred and saw he was finally at home. He went to say thanks and immediately felt his throat tightened. He swallowed what little voice there was and nodded his thanks to Roy. Both men got out and made tracks inside.

Susie had left a note on the bench, next to the coffee machine. ‘Don’t even think about it. There’s a banana and apricot smoothie for you in the fridge. Enjoy. I will be home, which had been crossed out, back about six. There’s custard or yogurt in the fridge and fruit salad too. I‘ve made a gazpacho soup if you’re interested and Mama Lopez is bringing over some pulled pork tamales. Love you with all my heart. Your Chotkwa Hantasacotsi. xx

Johnny laughed. It hurt his throat but his little hummingbird knew him well. He retrieved the smoothie and put the kettle on to make Roy a cup of coffee. Roy watched as Johnny took Susie’s note and kissed it. He then put it lovingly inside a finely hand carved wooden box. There were other notes and cards inside. Roy didn’t want to pry on this private moment, so he pretended to be looking out to the horses in the field. It looked very peaceful watching them standing still and eating grass or walk leisurely around the paddock.
The two friends sat on the porch with drinks in hand. They didn’t need to talk, which was just as well for Johnny. They watched the horses flick their tails at pesky flies and birds sweep through the air in search of food. Sotkazi rubbed his head against Johnny’s lower leg, leaving fur on Johnny’s dress pants. He was purring loudly. Something caught the cat’s eye and he was off running into the thick grass at the edge of his property and before you knew it the black streak was swallowed up in the tall waving weeds and grasses. Johnny settled himself against the steps and newel posts and tilted his head up to the sun. The warmth felt good on his skin. The meeting was over and now he could relax for a bit.

Roy thought Johnny had fallen asleep at one stage there. He called out his friend’s name and Johnny opened his eyes and gave Roy a questioning look.

“Just checking to see if you’re awake. You want a cold one?” Roy asked.

Johnny thought about it and nodded his head.

Roy returned with two beers and the friends drank leisurely out of the bottles. Both men had removed their blazers and ties. Roy’s top two shirt buttons were undone and his sleeves rolled back. Johnny had undone all his buttons and untucked his shirt completely and his bronzed skin was absorbing the sun and going browner. Roy envied his friend’s melanin. Roy just went red, peeled and back to white again.

Time ticked on and pleasant as it was to just sit there in companionable silence, Roy had to be getting back. He tapped Johnny and getting his attention asked if he could use the phone to see if Joanne needed him to bring anything home.

Johnny waved as Roy maneuvred his car around and down the driveway. A plume of dust rose in the air in its wake. Johnny stripped off his dress shirt, and picked up his discarded clothes on the way back inside. He changed into jeans and a t shirt and was sitting down to write his statement when Mama Lopez drove up with Marco and Chet in tow.
A smile came to his lips. When it came to friends he had the best!

Chapter Eighteen

The friends sat around the table. They were stunned and shocked at what Johnny had written. Chip arrested, court case, media frenzy. It was hard to believe.
Chet and Marco swore their support to Johnny and promised to be in the courthouse on their days off. Mama Lopez gave Johnny a strong motherly hug and promised her Juanito that she would be there every day come rain, hail or shine. She could feel his ribs and thin body as she hugged him.

“You are too thin, my Juanito. I am planning on teaching single woman at the local Mexican community hall how to cook both homeland and American food. However, I am nervous and want to practice on people that know me, will you help out your second mama and come to my home? I will give you private lessons and you can tell me where I can improve.”

Johnny jumped at the chance. He was on sick leave for an indefinite period and was getting bored already. Also Mama Lopez was an excellent cook and he would love to make Susie a real home cooked dinner. It wouldn’t hurt the guys at the station to get a break from his hamburgers and hotdogs either, he thought.

Marco nudged Chet in the ribs. “What, I already know how to cook chili.” Chet replied, while giving Marco a filthy look.

“Ah, but I plan on cooking sweets to snacks to mains and more. There is more to Mexican food than just chili.” Mama Lopez said.

“Alright I’ll come too. Who knows it might be fun.” Chet reluctantly agreed.

Mama Lopez smiled, her plan had worked. She would get her Juanito to put weight on and become a better cook in the process. He had no idea that he was the primary target all along. It was getting on to six and Mama Lopez instructed Johnny on putting the tamales into a preheated oven for 30 minutes. She then produced the salsa from the fridge.

“This is to help you to get the tamales down. I have made a lot so that you can swallow each bite with a good amount. It is time for us to go. Susie will be back soon and I’m sure she doesn’t need us here cluttering up the place.” Mama Lopez said.

Johnny grabbed Mama’s hand and stayed her movements. He quickly wrote for everyone to stay. There was ample food and meals were best enjoyed among friends. Johnny set the table and got the food ready. Susie arrived at 6.30 and the smell of the tamales permeated through the house. It smelled divine. The friends sat down to gazpacho soup and tamales with salsa.

After dinner the men went out to settle the animals for the night. Sotkazi came bounding in from somewhere dusty and cobwebby. Matted cobwebs stuck to his ears and whiskers. Streaks of dust coated his black, silky fur. Johnny set out his food and water for him and was rewarded with a loud purr and the cat weaving in and out of his legs with its tail curling around his calves as he made figure eight circuits hampering Johnny’s movements.

The women sat inside and talked. The doors had been left open and the inside lights were drawing the bugs and moths in. Susie quickly closed the door and swore that men must’ve been born in tents. Quickly realizing that she had just insulted Marco in front of his mother, she put her hand up to her mouth and apologized to Mama Lopez.

“Don’t need to apologize to me, I am always telling Marco to close the door. Though with Johnny, it is more likely to be a tepee than a tent.” Both women laughed.

The guests left shortly after 8.30pm. With the dishes done and Susie curled up next to him on the couch, Johnny showed Susie the notes from earlier about the meeting and outcome. She was shocked at what had occurred and hugged her lover closer. She watched him closely as he gave affirmative nods that he was OK. He showed Susie the last note explaining that he would know more tomorrow when he went to the police station to hand in his statement, he would talk to Crockett about what was happening. Hopefully he would get some answers. The couple snuggled up to one another and watched a bit of TV before heading off to bed.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

The next morning Johnny made his way into see Det. Crockett. He handed his statement in. He wrote a few answers out to Crockett’s questions and then had his own questions answered.

After everything was completed he made his way to see Roy and Joanne to fill them in on the news and to also let them know that Susie would also be helping him babysit the kiddies for their anniversary weekend, but only if they were happy for their children to be exposed to that living arrangement over the weekend. Johnny didn’t know if his voice would be back in time.

Joanne met Johnny at the door, Roy was doing an OT shift and she wouldn’t see him for the next two days. Johnny noted that their lawn needed to be cut, he volunteered to do it. After all, he had monopolized most of Roy’s day yesterday and this was his brother’s family. It was the least he could do. With hedges trimmed, lawns cut and weeds sprayed down the back fence, Johnny sat stripped to his waist soaking up the sun and drinking iced cold lemonade. The sweat on his body glistened in the sun and his hair hung lankily around his face and neck.

Jo threw Johnny a towel and told him to help himself to a shower when he was ready. Johnny gave a lopsided grin and raised his glass in thanks. She placed a bowl of left over spaghetti, Stoker’s recipe, in front of Johnny for an overdue lunch. Jo then sat beside Johnny on the deck and enjoyed the quietness and companionship for a while. The scene was reminiscent of Roy and him just the other day at his place. Johnny smiled to himself as he thought it. He had no family left but his friends were his family and he couldn’t ask or wish for better.

When Jo went to collect the children, Johnny slipped inside and had a refreshing shower. Jo had placed clean clothes there for Johnny. He always had a change of clothes there. He would leave his dirty clothes from today here and Jo would wash and dry them. Then the next time he needed to change clothes he would wear those when and if the need arose. The clothes he was gonna put on now were from when he and Roy had finished building the deck.

He heard the slamming of car doors, Jo telling the children to settle down and walk not run. Then excited chatter as the back door opened and two little voices erupted into the quietness calling out for Uncle Johnny. A big smile lit up Johnny’s face, and kneeling on the floor inside the living room, he met his little fan club with open arms and gave them a big bear hug before swinging them in the air. Giggles and screams of delight resounded throughout the house.

After the three of them had had a snack of fruit and milk, Johnny played with Jenny for a bit while Chris did his homework. Jenny was all excited to tell them about how the chrysalis had opened up and a monarch butterfly sat by the window for a couple of hours, flapping its wings which were all scrunched up, but in the end were beautiful and all orange and black. Mrs Wallister, her preschool teacher, had put some sugar water by the butterfly and it drank some and then it flew away when they took it outside. She and her friends had gone looking for it during recess but it hadn’t come home yet, and it had better as it was only a baby and would get grounded for being out so long. Johnny and Jo laughed at the seriousness of Jenny’s last comment. Johnny’s throat still hurt after laughing but he didn’t think it hurt as much, or was it wishful thinking, he sorely hoped not.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Three weeks passed and Johnny had his appointment with Dr Cooper, the ENT specialist. Dr Early had referred well as Dr Cooper was one of the top specialists in his field. Johnny had been trying out his voice in secret. It sounded slightly hoarse to him but it was there in full measure. Hopefully Dr Cooper would deem him fit to return to work. He was hoping to have good news to share with everyone. This would be an extra anniversary present for Roy tomorrow if everything went OK.

That night he took Susie to the stream where they had their first date. He laid a blanket out and the two sat down and enjoyed the ambience and each other’s company. Susie had known of the ENT appointment and was eager to know how it went and Johnny was prolonging her agony. She threatened him with all sorts of nasty judo throws and moves. If worse came to worse, she threatened to tickle it out of him.

Johnny retrieved his duffle bag and brought out a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“I’m back to work on Monday.” Johnny said. His voice was strong but slightly hoarse.

His happiness was evident. Susie let out a squeal of delight and kissed the man that was her life. Her passion was equally returned. After a while, with Susie snuggled into Johnny’s lap with his arms around her, they watched the water turned silver by the moonlight, race over the stones and boulders in the stream. They drank the wine and talked into the late hours of the evening. The spring night was warm and still on their skin. The moonlight filtered between the leaves of the weeping willow added romance to the air. The dappled moonlight played across their skin as they moved in closer for a passionate, wine tasting kiss.

Chapter Nineteen

The next morning the couple went to the De Soto residence and Johnny told his partner that he would be back next shift. They also wanted to know if they could take the children early as Susie had her Judo 4th dan exam today and if they were happy for the kids to come along they would take them with them and start the babysitting early. Jo wanted to see Susie in action. The De Soto family went in Jo’s car and followed Johnny and Susie.

The competition was already underway. The children were going first and Chris was immediately enthralled at children as young as him doing the sport. Susie was already in her outfit with her black belt tied around her trim waist, she looked even smaller that her 5’4” in her loosely fitting judogi. She wasn’t performing until later, so she acted as commentator on what was going on to her bewildered guests. She was explaining the throws and what depicted a good throw over a bad one. Jo was slightly mortified to see most of the participants landing on the mats in various positions. Susie went on to explain that they get taught how to land and that judo actually stood for the gentle way. It was not designed to kill but rather to show restraint and thinking.

“Can I do this too, please Mommy and Daddy. Please, please, please.” Chris begged.

“We will need to think it over Chris, alright. We are not promising anything, young man.” Jo said with Roy nodding in agreement.

Susie overheard his plea and went up to Roy and Jo when Johnny had taken the children with him to bring back refreshments for all.

“I could teach him for free at your place or Johnny’s. Heck, I could teach all of you. I’ve shown Johnny a few moves. It helps with balance and poise and centers the mind and teaches discipline. It also keeps kids out of trouble and off the streets. I’ll let you think about it, the offer is always there.” Susie finished just before the masses of food and drinks appeared in front of three smiling faces.

Susie’s level was called up and she proceeded to the floor. The amount of competitors in this level was substantially smaller. The opponents bowed to each other as a form of respect and then set about trying to throw their opponent to the floor. Susie’s opponent was a 6’3” heavily built man. The height difference made the match exciting. Susie darted around her opponent, escaping his obvious lunges and flying throws.

“C’mon chotkwa hantasacotsi!” Johnny whispered under his breath. He was watching the match intensely and clenching his fists and grimacing when his little hummingbird got thrown onto the mat and pinned by the bigger man. Susie did manage to get her opponent down twice as did he to her. They were very evenly matched competitors.
Chris and Jenny seeing Johnny so caught up in the match before them, joined in on the act. Jo and Roy, giggling at their children’s behavior, told them to settle down.
The match was over and both opponents got up and bowed to each other before leaving the mat. Susie made her way back to her ardent admirers and Johnny bent down and kissed her sweaty face. She looked radiant and full of life.

“How do you think you did?” asked Johnny.

“I’m pretty sure I did OK, he was a formidable opponent. The markings will be posted out at the end of the rounds. It is pretty obvious if you aren’t up to the next level.” Susie said while rubbing her shoulder. “He got me good on that last throw, I’m sure he’s gonna get his 4th dan.”

There were two more matches after Susie’s then the 4th dans going for their 5th dan were called up. In a short while Susie who had been watching the master’s table saw the runner go to the announcement board and put the results up for all to see.

“Well here goes.” Susie said as she got up and made her way with Johnny and the De Soto children in tow, until Roy called them back.

“You will find out soon enough.” Roy told his children.

Four sets of De Soto eyes watched as Susie jumped with joy and Johnny swung her around and landed a kiss on her lips. Their happiness plain for all to see.

“I guess she passed.” Jo said, pleased for her friend.

“You think?” Roy laughed into his wife’s ear as he bestowed a kiss on the woman he had married on this day 10 years ago.

The mood around the De Soto-Gage-Sommers camp was upbeat and full of laughter. The matches drew to an end and the competitors lined up per their rank. The lowest levels got awarded first. Finally, it was Susie’s turn. She and four other competitors, including her match opponent, received their 4th dan black belt. Johnny had his camera ready and took more photos of this as well. He was onto his second roll. He had already gone through a roll when she was flinging her opponent, or vice versa, around the mats earlier today.

Making their way back to the cars at the end of the competition, Roy retrieved the overnight bags for Jenny and Chris and put them into the back of Johnny’s Rover. The kids kissed their parents goodbye and promised to be good, then they clambered into the back seat where Susie started buckling them in. Johnny went over and promised to take good care of them, and wished them a lovely evening. Soon the cars left in different directions.

Arriving back at the ranch, the kids quickly undid their safety belts and scrambled out the back and made a beeline for the two horses. Chris took a slight detour into the barn and came out a short while later with a whole lot of carrots tucked into the rolled up bottom of his t shirt. Jenny went and helped him free half his bounty. The horses, seeing their little visitors, but more importantly the orange sticks waved through the fence, made their way over and started munching on the carrots. Both children taking delight in this simple act and squealing when the horse’s mouths got too close to their hands. Johnny got the overnight bags out of the Rover and Susie made tracks over to the children. Susie relieved Chris’s tee shirt of a few carrots and started feeding them to the horses too.

Having got the horses fed and then settled into the corral for the night, it was decided that they would eat out. Johnny loaded up the cooler into the back of the Rover. Within twenty minutes all four were outside Gino’s Pizzeria. After eating their fill of hot cheesy pizzas and an ice cream sundae they went to go back to Johnny’s. He took a slight detour and knowing that Roy’s dinner reservation was at 8 PM, swung by the De Soto house about 8.30pm. The car was not in the driveway and the house was in darkness.

“Whatcha doing Uncle Johnny? Can I come too?” Chris asked.

Jenny who was half asleep saw her house and went to get out of the car.

“No, Jenny love, stay in the car. Uncle Johnny just has to drop something off for your parents. OK. He won’t be long. Chris make sure Jenny is still buckled up.” Susie said.

Meanwhile Johnny used his spare key and entered the house and made his way upstairs. He was out again in 10 minutes.

“All done?” Susie asked.

“Yep. Right kiddoes, back to the ranch, story and beddy-byes I think.” Johnny said as he started up the Rover and steered the wheels home.

Jenny had to be carried in, she was fast asleep. Susie got her into her nightie and then pulled the covers up to the little girl’s chin and put her favorite soft toy in beside her. Jenny didn’t stir throughout. Her blond tresses framed her little face. She looked like an angel, so pure and innocent. It made Susie feel very broody. Chris brushed his teeth and washed his hands and face. He changed into his Batman pajamas and brought his favorite book and teddy bear with him into the lounge. He selected a story from the collected works of the Brothers Grimm. Chris sat next to Johnny and listened as the elves came and made a pair of shoes for the poor tired shoemaker. He was asleep before the elves had received their new clothes. Johnny closed the book and picking Chris up took him to his bed and settled him for the night.

He then sat next to Susie and nuzzled on her neck till she relented and they made their way to bed, too.

Later that evening, Roy and Joanne got home after a fantastic meal and dancing. After leaving Le Palais d’Or restaurant they drove down to the marine parade. Taking off their shoes and walking on the cool sand as it squelched between their toes, Roy and Joanne strolled along the sand, hand in hand, giggling and running away from the waves as they caressed their bare feet and ankles. The sea was cold and sounded more menacing in the silvery moonlight. The warmth of the day had long since gone and with a slight shiver the couple made it back to the car. The sound of the waves crashing against the shore and the briny smell of the sea was replaced by the hum of the motors and the gas fumes of the city.

Thirty minutes later Roy was pulling the car into their driveway. He helped Joanne out of the car and escorted her into the house. There was soft music playing on their record player. It was Mantovani and his Orchestra. The player was set to repeat.

“Johnny” Roy and Jo said at the same time. Then laughed at their synchronicity. “Well, it would be a shame to let the music go to waste.” Roy said as he asked his wife to dance.
As they made their way around the living room, a soft glow was noted coming down the hallway.

“What else has that partner of yours thought of?” Jo asked Roy.

Together they went into their bedroom where the light was dimmed and a bottle of champagne stood in a wine cooler and two champagne flutes sat beside it. Red rose petals were strewn over the bed. Unlit candles were placed around the room and the soft music could be heard from downstairs.

“Either, this is Susie’s work or Johnny is a bigger romantic than I thought.” Roy whispered into Jo’s ear as they took the scene in.

Roy found the box of matches and set about lighting all the candles. He then turned out the main light. The room was cast in a soft light that enhanced the beauty of the two people in the room.

“I love you, Mrs De Soto, will you do me the honor of forever being my wife?” Roy whispered into his wife’s ear before he laid a trail of kisses down her neck and then up to her lips.
A breathy “Yes” was her only reply.

Chapter Twenty

“Mommy and Daddy are here!” Chris yelled into the living room as he saw the station wagon drive pass the window. The weather had turned slightly cool and everyone was playing pick-up sticks. Chris was winning, followed by Jenny. Johnny and Susie were yet to get a stick between them. They were accidently on purpose losing by moving the sticks so that the children could get them on their turn.

Roy and Jo entered the living room and saw the game being played. Jenny was very serious when she told her mommy that Uncle Johnny and Miss Susie weren’t very good, “I’ve told them a thousand times how to play it too, but they don’t have good hands like me and Chris.”

“Is that right? Well, looks like they need more practice, doesn’t it? Maybe next time you play, they might be better. Were you a good for your Uncle Johnny and Miss Susie?” Jo asked Chris and Jenny.

“Uh huh” They both nodded their heads and then told their parents all that they had done from yesterday.

After the information had been said at the speed of light, Johnny offered his friends a coffee, or would they prefer something stronger. Roy took a beer and Jo a coffee.

“Looks like I’ll be driving.” Jo said, as Roy put his order in.

“Thank you for the beautiful surprise last night. It was very romantic. Whose idea was it?” Jo wanted to know.

“Mine, and don’t go spreading it around, I have a macho image to uphold!” Johnny told Jo and Roy.

A pleasant afternoon between the four adults was spent while the kids played pick-up sticks and connect the dots, with Chris winning both times. Johnny and Susie waved the De Soto family goodbye then made their way over to the corral and settled the horses. Sotkazi came in, smooched a bit then ate and took off again. With everything done for the night, Susie and Johnny spent the evening watching TV. They had an early night as both had work in the morning.

Having kissed Susie goodbye with a see you tomorrow and a promise to take care and her not too work to hard they left for work. It was Johnny’s first day back in a month. His voice was stronger and only slightly hoarse. He wasn’t to yell or raise his voice, Roy would do the biophone in those circumstances but he was back to full duties, nonetheless.

“Welcome back, John.” Cap said as Johnny entered the station.

Mike gave him a smile and nod. Marco slapped Johnny on the back and welcomed his amigo back to work adding that it had been quiet without him and it was good to have the family back together again. Johnny returned the slap to Marco’s back and said he was truly pleased to be back. Johnny made his way into the locker room where Roy was tying his shoes.

“Howdy, partner, welcome back.” Roy smiled up at Johnny.

Chet was last in and saw Johnny standing at his locker getting undressed. “Look who’s back? Don’t tell me you’ve got your voice back. The peace and quiet was nice while it lasted.” Chet said on a sigh, then spoiled it by slapping Johnny on the same shoulder Marco had only ten minutes earlier. “It’s good to have you back, Gage.”
Chet was given latrines as he was last in and Roy and Johnny had hoses.

Johnny did the biophone check and got Dixie on the other end. “Welcome back, Tiger. I’ll buy you a coffee next time you’re in.”

The guys had three runs before lunchtime; none required a follow up at Rampart. Mike’s spaghetti sat in the middle of the table and six men voraciously ate while the going was good.

“So have you heard anything about the trial yet, Johnny?” Chet asked.

Johnny just shook his head. His mouth was full of spaghetti and he was waiting to hear like the rest of them about the trial. Johnny wasn’t pleased to be one of the main witnesses in an upcoming trial. Just the thought set his nerves on edge. He noticed the fine tremor in his hands. Get a grip, he told himself, not for the first time. He left the table and returned with two aspirin. He washed them down with a large glass of milk and returned to the table, having topped up his drink.

“What’s with the aspirin?” Cap asked.

“Slight headache, just thinking of the trial lately gives me a headache. I try not to think about it very often but it doesn’t seem to work. I’m really not looking forward to being media fodder.” Johnny said as he resumed eating his lunch.

The matter was dropped, as they could all see the effect these last few weeks had had on Johnny. He had lost a bit of weight and his nerves were easily upset. He seemed to get tension headaches a lot more too. Hopefully, now that he wasn’t solely existing on soft boiled eggs, custard, ice cream, soup and smoothies he might start putting weight on. Then again the stress of the upcoming trial and media frenzy would undoubtedly have Johnny losing instead of gaining weight.

Lunch was interrupted for the squad. Quickly downing another mouthful of spaghetti as he was rising from the table, Johnny ran out to the passenger side and got into the squad. He donned his helmet, his chin strap loosely dangling under his chin. Roy gave Johnny the call slip that Cap had just given him. With the motor started and the accelerator depressed and the gears engaged, the squad started to move to the scene of a child not breathing.

Having arrived at 1139 Sycamore Lane they found a small girl lying prostrate on the front lawn. Her mother was bent over the little lifeless form and breathing air into her and looking white with fear and panic.

“Please, help my baby, she was on her scooter and fell off, then she didn’t get up. When I came out she wasn’t breathing. I….I.. can’t get air into her. I don’t know why she’s not breathing.”

Johnny was down beside the mother. He was feeling for a pulse in the child’s neck. There was still a weak, slow pulse, if they didn’t reverse this respiratory arrest a cardiac arrest would follow very quickly. He tilted the girl’s head up and breathed into her mouth. He felt the air force its way back out from his mouth. He repositioned the child’s head and tried two more times but was still unsuccessful at ventilating the child.

Roy was setting up the biophone and taking the little girl’s vital signs. He, like Johnny, noticed the blueness around the girl’s mouth and hands. It was spreading. The little girl was dying on them right in front of their eyes.

“Give me the laryngoscope and Magill’s.” Johnny asked as he opened the girl’s mouth. “It’s as I thought, Roy, she’s got something lodged in her throat. It’s blocking her airway.” Johnny said as he grabbed the Magill forceps and angled them down into the girl’s throat. With delicate care and skill, he grasped the foreign body from the girl’s throat and slowly removed a jawbreaker. Johnny then bent over the child’s mouth again and blew sweet revitalizing air into the girl. After several breaths, the little girl’s face and hands were pinking up. She took a shaky breath of her own and then resumed normal breathing. Roy administered oxygen via a child’s mask and the errant jawbreaker was looked at with disdain.

“Oh my God,” the mother cried, “Cindy went to the shop to get some candy. I didn’t think of checking her airway for an obstruction.” The mother turned bright red and silent tears of relief ran down her face. “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I can never thank you enough. You saved my baby.”

The ambulance arrived a short time later and the child was loaded up onto the gurney with Johnny riding in, Roy following and the mother following behind in her car. The entourage arrived in Rampart and Johnny helped get Cindy into treatment room two where Dr Early was waiting for her.

“You did nice work today, Gage.” Morton told Johnny, when he saw the jawbreaker and how slippery it was to hold on to with the forceps. The men were leaning over the nurses’ desk and Johnny was looking out for Roy who was returning from the washroom.

“It’s all the practice he’s had playing Operation with my kids.” Roy said as he overheard the last comment as he approached the desk.

Johnny went bright red and said nothing in his defense. He had played a LOT of Operation with them.

“What’s this I hear about you performing a lifesaving procedure in the field?” Dr Brackett wanted to know in a teasing manner. He had heard about the call out and the candy stuck in the little girl’s throat. “Next they will be asking for a pay raise.”

“I don’t know, but if they did, I know of one mother that would gladly support it right now.” Dixie said.

The thought of what could so easily have gone the other way and the pain they would all be feeling, stilled the group momentarily. It was into this stillness that the mother saw the huddled group and more importantly a tall, slender dark haired man in blue. She went up to Johnny and tapped him on his shoulder. Johnny turned around and saw the mother with tear bright eyes.

“I really can’t thank you enough. Cindy is our only child, I can’t have anymore. If she had died today, I think Martin, that’s my husband, and I would have died too.” The mother ended on a sob. She gave Johnny a strong hug and then thanking all the others for their help she went back into the room to sit with her daughter who was breathing easy with no significant trauma to her throat.

“She looks familiar.” Dr Morton said.

“She’s a nurse in orthopedics.” Dixie said. “I’m amazed that you of all people didn’t recognize her, Johnny.” Dixie said on a laugh.

“Well, she looks different with her clothes on.” Johnny said in his defense. Realizing what he had said and the surprised looks from around the desk, Johnny replied, “You know what I mean. I meant out of her uniform. Before you go there, I’ve never seen her naked not that there’s anything wrong with the naked female form. I….I…, oh heck, now I’m not sure what I mean. I don’t think I’ve even seen her before. She doesn’t look familiar to me at all. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t know, nor have I dated, every nurse in the hospital.”

Seeing that Johnny was getting slightly flustered and annoyed, the friends relented and said they were just pulling his leg.

“Yeah, well, these legs better start making tracks to the squad. We’ve got drills this afternoon and I’m hoping that there will still be some of Mike’s spaghetti left over, I’m hungry.” Johnny said rubbing his flat washboard stomach.

“We’ll catch ya later.” Roy said as the two men made their way to the squad.

After completing drills, being called out three times and once with the engine the men returned and made their weary way into the day room. Johnny grabbed a glass of milk and Roy a coffee. They hadn’t been back at the station long, when the tones sounded and the station was called out to a structure fire. When they got to within a block of 459 Stevens Crescent the smell of smoke hung densely in the air. People were milling around the burning two story house. More people were making their way there. Kids on their bikes were zipping up the road following the little red fire squad and the big red fire truck.

Johnny got out of the temporarily stopped squad and waited for Big Red to drop a hose. He connected it to the hydrant and then hopped back into the squad that was now following the truck.

The men were donning their SCBA gear and Cap was appraising the scene. He found an agitated man standing outside looking wide eyed and distressed. Guessing that this may be the home owner he made his way to the man. He was indeed the home owner. He had come home from work and found his house ablaze. He lived by himself and apart from obvious shock he was alright. Cap instructed his paramedics to grab an inch and a half and attack the fire from the north side. Cap meanwhile draped a blanket around the shoulders of the distraught homeowner. A neighbor had brought him out a hot cup of tea. Cap could smell the alcohol from where he stood. He felt like telling the man not to stand close to the flames in case he should spontaneously combust via the alcohol.

Chapter Twenty One

Returning to the station, six sooty and smoky men climbed out of their respective vehicles. The men made their way to the latrine, while the first two to the sinks cleaned up, the other two hung back waiting for their turn.

The car parked outside showed signs of life and a tall, thin black man got out wearing his glasses. He acknowledged Cap, who recognized him instantly.

“Detective Crockett, it’s good to see you. What brings you here? Or needn’t I ask?” Cap said as he placed his helmet into the cab.

“I’m doing well, Captain Stanley. I’m here to see John. Is he available?” Crockett said while eyeing the squad. He had already checked with LACoFD HQ and knew that Johnny was working today so the question was rather moot.

“Mike, go get Gage and tell him he has a visitor in my office. If you see Chet, tell him to stay well away or he will have me to deal with.” Cap instructed Mike who was last out of the engine.

Mike went and found the men washing up in the latrine. He relayed Cap’s instruction to Johnny. Johnny quickly dried his face. He still had vestiges of dirt and dried sweat clinging to his body but only a shower would remove them. His limbs felt heavy and fatigue was niggling away at his stamina, not for the first time he thought fleetingly. Chet went to see who the visitor was and found a hand splayed across his chest and the owner of that hand glaring down at him.

“Cap said if you follow, you will have him to answer to.” Mike then released his hand and quietly walked out and went to make a pot of coffee.

This last interchange had the men’s interest piqued. Roy correctly surmised it might be to do with Chip’s upcoming trial. The men made their way into the kitchen. Cap was standing close to his office to make sure no one, especially a short, curly haired Irishman, eavesdropped. When all the men went into the kitchen, Cap followed. They were all thirsty and drinking various liquids when Cap entered.

“Take John and his guest a coffee, please Mike, oh, and in John’s case a large glass of milk too. I don’t want him dropping from dehydration.” Cap then went over to the phone and stood down the squad until further notice.

Quickly downing the milk and now sipping the coffee, Johnny listened as Crockett explained what was happening in the attempted murder cases. The court date for the hearing was next week. The judge would see if he felt there was enough evidence to proceed to a trial. There was always hope that Chip would change his plea to guilty as the evidence against him was overwhelming.

“Between you and me, John, he doesn’t think like you and I. I’m not talking about his racism, it’s something deeper, more integral to his personality. I’ve seen it a few times in other criminals. They don’t respond to the same situation like we do, it’s almost as if they have to copy our emotions and actions to fit in. I’m not explaining myself well, but I’m pretty sure the presiding Judge may order a psychiatric report on him too.”

The two men talked a bit more and then Crockett went to say goodbye to the other men and tell them briefly about the court date. They may or may not be called to give evidence at the hearing so their presence was also required. Johnny definitely had to be there as did Crockett. As Crockett made his way out, Cap took this opportunity to remind the men that they were not to talk to the media. Johnny went and drank two large glasses of water as his headache was getting worse and he felt very thirsty. He needed food and fluid and for this whole mess to be over.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

He was hunting for aspirin in his locker but was having no luck. Roy quietly entered the locker room. Johnny jumped a foot off the floor when Roy asked what he was doing. He immediately rubbed his chest. His heart was thumping wildly against his ribs with that unexpected surprise.

“Are you alright, Johnny?” Roy asked.

“Yeah, yeah. Just looking for some aspirin but I’m out, do you have any?”

“You’re going through a lot of aspirin lately, you got another headache?” Roy asked as he opened his locker and retrieved a bottle of aspirin and handed it to Johnny.

“Yeah, but I don’t think I drank enough water after that fire. I should also not drink so much coffee as it dehydrates you. In fact, I think I’m gonna cut back on coffee, I’ve been reading about it and it’s not good for you. Too much can give you a headache, did you know that?”

“Ah, no I didn’t,” said a surprised Roy.

“I’m feeling really stressed out about this trial Roy. I’ve decided that I need to make some healthy changes to my life as I’ve been having more than enough headaches or migraines to last a lifetime recently. I’ll be perfectly frank with ya Roy, I feel like I’m drowning under the stress and my body is telling me to do something about it.”

“Have ya spoken to one of the docs about it. They might have some advice that could help you.” Roy said, now concerned for his friend. He took a good look at Johnny and saw he was looking tired and had lost weight. Chip had a lot to answer for, Roy thought.

“No, but I think talking to Dr Early might be a good idea since he gets migraines too. He might be able to help me identify some triggers and help me get through this ordeal. I think I will be fine after the trial is over.” Johnny said.

With the aspirins now in his hand and the bottle returned to Roy’s locker, the two friends left the room and headed to the dayroom. Johnny took the aspirin and settled himself onto the couch. He was wishing the pounding in his head and chest would go away. He was absently rubbing his chest. His heart was racing as his thoughts of the trial resumed and took up his attention once again. Now he was feeling slightly queasy as the aspirin settled in his stomach.

Cap saw Johnny and was instantly concerned. “Roy, my office, please.”

Once Roy was in Cap’s office, Cap got straight to the point. “John doesn’t look good. I know that this trial with Chip is playing on his nerves and that’s not helping. Has he said anything to you about it?”

“Just now, actually. He’s gonna talk to one of the doctors over at Rampart. He’s aware he’s not doing well with this trial coming up.”

“Do you think a run to Rampart for ‘supplies’ might be in order?” Cap asked Roy.

“I’ll put it to him but even if he says no today, I think he will go on his own volition when the time is right for him.” said Roy.

Cap got up from his desk and he and Roy left to go back to the dayroom. Johnny was looking pale and the aspirin wasn’t working.

“You wanna go to Rampart, Johnny?” Roy said quietly into Johnny’s ear so only Johnny could hear.

“What….um, no. I’ll be fine. Just need some time. I might go rest for a little while.” Johnny went and laid down on his bunk. His arm flung over his eyes and his other hand rubbing his chest.

Cap entered shortly afterwards, He sat on Roy’s bunk. Johnny could tell by the footsteps that it wasn’t Roy. He opened his eyes and saw Cap looking at him intently.

“Johnny, do I need to call a replacement in for you?” Cap gently asked.

“No, Cap. I’ll be fine. I’ve just got a headache is all.”

“If it gets worse I want you to go to Rampart, and that’s an order pal.” Cap patted Johnny’s leg and told him to rest.

Five minutes later the tones went off and ended Johnny’s rest.

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The multiple tones sent four stations and squads out to a pile up on the 405.

Station 51 was the second engine to arrive. They saw car after car smashed into each other. Twisted metal that once were cars were sad relics of their former self. Gasoline was puddling on the asphalt and cries and screams rented the air. There were some bodies lying on the asphalt or the banks as they had travelled through their windshields. There was black smoke curdling the air with its acridity making the eyes sting and water and laying a thick coat across the olfactory and taste buds. It was an ugly sight and traffic was piling up behind the scene; meanwhile the north bound traffic slowed down and was gawking at the carnage on the south bound lanes. The gawker’s just about causing accidents in their own lanes. Flashing lights heralded the arrival of the fire, police and ambulance. News helicopters hovered in the air getting film for tonight’s news. CHiPs officers were trying to keep the traffic moving on north bound lanes, while others were detouring traffic coming onto the south bound lanes.

Turnout gear donned and handy talkies in pockets, the paramedics set about triaging patients. Black tags attached to people too late to be saved. Their dead bodies covered with blankets. Other victims were from all walks of life and at every age of man. The ambulances were diverted to several hospitals based on the nature of the injuries. Rampart was getting mainly neurosurgical patients and a fair smattering of orthopedic.

A woman driver in late pregnancy was diverted to St Francis Hospital, as they had an outstanding maternity and neonatal ICU service. Johnny was escorting the victim to St Francis. As he was relaying the vitals, the lady went into a seizure and an IM injection of diazepam was ordered immediately, settling the patient. The patient was delivered to St Francis two long minutes later. Once he had given a handover to the receiving Doctors he was back in the ambulance and on his way back to the scene. Johnny made one more visit to St Francis and two to Rampart before all the victims were seen to.

Roy was going to Harbor General with a spinal injury patient. The young teenage boy had no feeling from his neck down. His vitals were dangerously low and mast trousers were ordered. The ambulance attendant helped Roy put them on the patient. The teenager was handed over to the staff at Harbor General and then Roy was on his way back. He had another four trips to Rampart before he would meet up with his partner.

So it went for several hours. Ambulances and life flights taking the critical, the seriously injured and the not so seriously injured to the hospital. The walking wounded were the last to go. Some opted to see their family doctors and signed MICU forms. Others went to the hospital and sat for hours waiting to be seen. They didn’t need to be told why they had to wait. They had been there and seen it for themselves.

Gas and debris were washed down from the accident scene which extended for over 600 yards. Tow trucks were clearing away mangled wrecks and the employee’s from the Medical Examiner’s office were there taking the dead away. Police were gathering data about what had happened from the injured. It appeared a semi had overtaken a small family car and jack knifed blocking the lanes and with no escape route. The oncoming traffic had piled in to each other with unmitigated speed and disaster. The screeching of tires applied too late to avoid the inevitable.

For all the emergency services attending the scene it wasn’t their first time at a multiple MVA and, it sadly, wouldn’t be their last. As the carnage was cleared away and all the victims dealt with the services started winding down. Their jobs here done for another day. The order was given for some stations to leave. Station 51 was one of the last stations to go.

The Battalion Chief and Captain Stanley had digressed from talking about the car pile-up and were now talking about Chip McKendry’s trial. The LACoFD had been kept informed of what was happening and Chief McConnikee was also a witness and he’d received a subpoena that day at home to appear at the pre-trial hearing next week. Cap realized that all of Station 51 were probably going home tomorrow to see the same summons in their mailboxes.

“I’ll release ya boys and you can all go back to the station now. You all did fine work tonight Hank.” Chief McConnikee said as he raised his helmet as a salute to his former engineer.

“C’mon guys, we’ve been released from the scene. Let’s get back to the barn, cleaned up and maybe order a pizza for supper. Whatcha all reckon?” Cap asked his men as they were pulling the hoses back on Big Red.

“Sounds great to me, I’m starvin’” Johnny said as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

“When are you never starvin’ Gage, I swear, I think you have worms in your belly.” Chet said as he lept down from the back of Big Red. Her hoses secured and ready for another call out should they be unfortunate to get one before reaching the barn.

“Yeah, oh, yeah, well you’re just jealous because some of us don’t need to worry about putting on weight, Chester B. Kelly.” Johnny threw back with a smug grin on his face.

“Yeah, but some of us don’t need to worry about being kicked out of the service from being underweight either!” Chet retorted.

“Enough! Kelly, go take your seat in Big Red; Gage, my office when we are back at the station. And no, you haven’t done anything wrong, so relax, you’re not in trouble.” Cap then made his way to the front of the cab and climbed in. His men followed suit and soon the loud diesel motors started up and headed back to the station.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

“Johnny, Chief McConnikee received a summons today. I think we may all find one waiting for us tomorrow when we get home. If you want to talk to me about it, my door whether it is here or my home, is always open for you. Not just for this but for anything now and in the future. That offer stands for all the men here Johnny. I don’t want you to think you are being singled out.” Cap quickly added on when he saw Johnny’s downtrodden look. “You are an integral part of this team, Johnny. You may not realize it but you are the glue that holds these men together. When you hurt, they hurt. When you laugh, they laugh. Don’t feel you are going through this alone, we are all going through it with you. Is there anything I can do for you Johnny?” Cap asked.

“Um, no Sir. I’m OK, really I am. I have my moments when it gets to me but I think that’s only to be expected all things considered. Roy helps and even Chet, believe it or not. Thank you, Cap, for your, ah… kind words just now. If I’m the glue, then I want you to know that you and the guys are what gives me my strength.”

“Thank you, John. Now let’s get back out there and get cleaned up before the pizza arrives and they eat it all. God, I hope they remembered not to order anchovies on all of them.” Cap said feeling slightly dismayed at the thought.

“I think your dislike of fish is well known Cap.” Johnny said with a laugh in his voice.

Both men made their way to the latrine to clean up. The room was empty apart from steam billowing out from the shower and a bad rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Great Balls of Fire’ being sung by Mike. Both men looked at each other and smiled. They had never heard Mike sing before. He obviously thought he was alone in the latrine. Later six men sat around the table, eating pizzas, with and without anchovies, and drinking sodas while talking about anything and everything. Within the hour all men were in bed, lights were out and turnouts sat by their bunks in case they got any call outs. Station 51 was settled for the night. Even Henry was sleeping.

Chapter Twenty Two

It was Susie’s birthday on Saturday and both Susie and Johnny had the day off. Johnny had decided to throw his girlfriend a party. Susie had said she was happy just to spend the day doing nothing as long as she was with him. However, he wanted to do something more celebratory and fun. Susie would be turning 25 and it was their first birthday together. She then admitted she had never really had a big party to celebrate her birthdays as it had only been her and Uncle Dennis, or she was away at the university and studying. Deep down she was thrilled to be having a big birthday party. She was looking forward to it like a little kid looks forward to Christmas.

Finally, it was decided to heat up the grill and have an outdoor celebration. The guys and their families from 51 were coming as well as Dixie, Kel, Joe and Greg House. Susie had gotten to know the doctors quite well when Johnny was in the hospital. Dr Morton was working the night of the party and couldn’t attend. Susie had invited her work partners and some close friends as well as Uncle Dennis. There was going to be about thirty to forty guests.

Marco was organizing a pig on a spit and Mama Lopez was bringing some salsas and dips condiments. It quickly turned into a potluck grill. From the sounds of it there would be food galore. Mama Lopez said she could get trestle tables from her Community Hall. Roy volunteered to load them on his pickup truck and take them to Johnny’s. With plans quickly made and details seen to, Johnny was on the phone and talking to Mike’s cousin, Richard Stoker a manufacturing jeweler. He had an appointment to see him the next morning at the end of shift and to pick up Susie’s present. Johnny had commissioned Richard to make some bespoke pieces of jewelry and they were now finished. He couldn’t wait to see them. Everything was coming together nicely.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Come Saturday morning, Roy De Soto was the first to arrive with the tables in the back of his pickup. Marco and two of his brothers arrived next who Johnny asked to stay and enjoy the day’s activities as there would be plenty of food and drink to go around. They volunteered to cook the pig thereby freeing Johnny up so that he could see to his guests and Susie.

Roy stayed and helped Johnny with getting the lights strung up over the porch and candles in jars sat around the tables or were nestled in trees in lantern like glass cylinders. A bucket of water was filled and left close to the grill in case a small fire broke out anywhere. Susie’s little portable record player from her student days was set up on the porch close to the designated dance floor where lights were strung from the porch to the tree, sheets of plywood rectangles were laid next to each other depicting the dance floor. A selection of records ready to play later that night, were stacked beside the player.

Preparations were just about complete. The five tables had been dressed and looked like a country fair. The plastic gingham print tablecloths adorned each trestle table. There were two jars with candles placed on them to help keep the cloths on, not that there was any breeze to speak of. Chairs were festooned 8 to a table. Plastic plates and glasses sat ready to take food and drink. Cutlery was placed in jars at each table, along with paper napkins. Everything was purchased with a view for a quick and easy clean up.

Johnny’s fridge was full of sodas and beer. There was some wine there for the ladies and several bags of ice. His wheelbarrow was washed and put in the shade to dry and keep cool. It wouldn’t be needed till later that evening.

Marco, Pedro and Frances were working the spit and the smoke from the hot coals was wafting in the air. They had the pig trussed up on the spit and were waiting for the embers to die down a bit before they set the pig over the coals and started the slow process of turning it. Two hours later the smell of roast pork was wafting through the air. Everyone present was salivating and couldn’t wait to have some. Johnny gave the Lopez brothers several bottles of refreshment as it was hot and hard work and they couldn’t leave the pig as it would burn.

The afternoon quickly approached and one by one people started to arrive. Johnny’s front paddock was turned into a temporary parking lot. Marco and Roy were directing the guests with the parking. Jo and the children came about 3pm and Roy helped get the food out of the car. Joanne was impressed with all the hard work done by the guys. The preparation for the night time looked impressive.

Jenny and Chris ran on ahead and were calling out for Uncle Johnny. When they spied him their voices became louder with excitement and they made a slight change in their initial flight path and ran to their Uncle for hugs and kisses. Jenny was bubbling over with excitement. She and Chris had made Miss Susie a birthday card and brought her a small gift.

Johnny had asked Jo to make two red velvet birthday cakes with cream cheese icing. It was Susie’s favorite. 25 candles were to be placed in one of the two cakes shaped as two hearts. It was put into the laundry room as it was the coolest place in the house. It was left in the large cardboard box for protection until later when it would be brought out with candles ablaze. It was to be a surprise for Susie. The De Soto children had made marzipan figures of Johnny and Susie for the cake at Johnny’s request. Jo had helped slightly but the two wobbly figures bore a resemblance to a male and female with dark hair and big smiley faces. Johnny saw them and couldn’t be happier.

Susie and Uncle Dennis arrived at 3.20 pm and her work colleagues and friends arrived at 4pm. Susie had told them this time as she wanted to be there to greet them as they didn’t know anybody else there. Introductions were made and drinks were offered and food put into the kitchen and an overloaded fridge. By 5pm the last guests had arrived. They had finished work not that long ago and Marco was showing Dr Early where to park in the now very full front paddock. The Rampart staff got out and made their way around the back to meet everybody.

Laughter and chatter versed through the air. Music was playing and Chet was doing a great job as the DJ. Little groups stood around in clusters and children were running around playing tag or hide and seek. Some of Susie’s colleagues and friends had small children similar in age to Chris and Jenny. Everybody was enjoying themselves.

Johnny placed the wheelbarrow under a tree, tipped several bags of ice into it and then placed all the drinks from the fridge into it. The empty fridge then got loaded up with salads and other foods ready for eating later.

Susie and Johnny had shared many a look at each other but being host and guest of honor was keeping them apart at this stage. Later in the evening once the food was consumed and the dancing commenced they knew they would spend time together.

The aroma from the spit had appetites growing by the minute. Johnny had the grill ready to go and started cooking the meat and vegetable kebabs. Mama Lopez was overseeing the spit and her boys. When the pig was removed from the spit she organized the ladies to help set out the food from the kitchen to the table. Her sons were cutting up the meat and placing it on a large platter. The food cooked on the grill was placed on another platter and carried over to the table.

Johnny announced to the gathered audience that the parents with small children were to go first and to see to their children’s meal. Then the adults were to follow. The two tables were fairly groaning with food, both hot and cold, and little burgers ideal for children sat at one end for easy access to the kiddies table. This was a trick Mama Lopez shared with Johnny in one of her cooking classes. She had given Johnny lots of ideas as she had been to, and hosted a lot of Lopez family functions.

Soon food was loaded onto plates. People had settled into groups and sat eating and talking. Trips for seconds and in some cases thirds were made. Mothers saw to their children making sure they had enough to eat and drink. Dirty faces and hands were wiped clean with napkins. Johnny had nailed the trash bags to the barn with big signs saying used plates and trash here. Another sign was over cardboard boxes saying Bottles. The guests were only too happy to oblige. When all the guests were finished with the main course, the food was cleared away and covered in plastic wrap and put into the fridge. Desserts were gathered and taken out and put on the now cleared food table.

The evening was getting slowly darker and the fairy lights were turned on apart from the one over the porch steps and newel posts. The candles were lit on the tables and trees. The children’s table had battery operated lanterns as a fire precaution. With all the lights on, the backyard was well lit up and looked very romantic. Soft music was put on and left to repeat while guests went and got their dessert.

Susie had managed to sit next to Johnny and her Uncle at the table. She looked radiant in a fine silvery blue long dress and accompanying shawl. Her hair was pinned up with fine tendrils of curly raven wisps hanging down. Johnny’s birthday present sat around her slender neck. It was a necklace with a silver hummingbird in flight with a violet aquamarine for its eye. Johnny had chosen Susie’s birthstone and had gone for a very expensive deep blue to reflect her eyes. Her soft alabaster skin was warmed by the closeness of Johnny by her side. Her heart beat faster every time he touched or looked at her. It had been doing that ever since they had met 3 months ago. Johnny stole a kiss from her lips tasting the citrus cheesecake that Mrs Stanley had brought to the party.

Chapter Twenty Three

Everyone was asked to fill their glasses as a toast to the birthday girl was due. When everybody had their drinks replenished, silence was called for. As soon as the hush came over the crowd, Johnny got up and called for Susie to stand beside him on the steps of the porch. He nodded to Roy and when Susie was beside him the final set of fairy lights went on and the couple was bathed in soft red and white light from the strings of fairy lights wrapped around the porch and newels. A heart with red fairy lights dangled from the top of the roof over the porch steps. The couple stood just below it.

Everyone was looking at the couple on the steps of the porch, glass in hand. Roy went and stopped the music, he gave Johnny a wink and patted him on the back before going to join Jo and the children on the lawn below. Jo gave him his beer and he put his arm around her waist, kissed her on the cheek and held her close.

Johnny cleared his throat, took a sip of beer before he spoke. His nerves were making his hands shake and his knees weak. Johnny took a few deep breaths and regained his composure. He turned and spoke to the woman standing beside him. “It is testament to the beautiful person that you are, that your friends and family are here to share in your special day. 25 years ago today your parents gave the world a very precious gift. I thank them for giving me you. I’m sure that if they were with us today they would be extremely proud of what you have achieved and of the friends you have made along the way as they reflect the person that you have become. I thank Dennis for raising you to be the bright and intelligent woman that makes my heart flutter. I thank you for being my other half, you give my heart wings and send it soaring to the heavens and back. You put the sunlight in my day and the starlight in my night. You are my breath, my life, my soul and my reason to be. I love you Susie Sommers, my little hummingbird.”

Johnny then got down on one knee, he took a little red box out from his pocket and opened it up. Nestled inside was a beautiful engagement ring with a diamond offset with violet aquamarines. Taking Susie’s hand in his he asked, “Will you do me the greatest honor of being my wife?”

The air was still with anticipation, some women were wiping their eyes at the pure love and romance emanating from the young man that had just pledged his love.

Susie, had put her hand up to her mouth, she was feeling very nervous and her knees were shaking. Her heart was pounding in her chest and she gave a little gasp. “Yes, Johnny, with all my heart, YES! I would love to be your wife. You are my breath, my life, my soul and my reason to be. I love you John Gage.”

Johnny slipped the ring on her ring finger and kissed her hand before standing up.

Chet yelled out from the lawn below, “Give her a kiss.” Johnny now on his feet, took her in his arms and did just that to the future Mrs Susan Gage. Wolf whistles, cheers and clapping accompanied the kiss. Until finally Chet once again yelled out, “Enough already, get a room.” The guests laughed and Johnny and Susie broke the kiss a little while later. They weren’t going to stop it for anybody’s sake.

Susie’s eyes had started to tear and she could barely speak. She had dreamed of this moment all her life and here it was. Her soulmate stood before her and unbeknownst to her, the diamond ring reflected off the early evening moonlight and fairy lights, making it sparkle. Johnny kissed the ring on her finger again and then kissed her open palm. Before once again joining lips and kissed her before their guests started coming up to congratulate them.

Cap and Emily, were one of the first to offer their congratulations to the happy couple. Johnny thanked Uncle Dennis again, when he came up to congratulate them. Johnny had gone to see Dennis last week and requested permission for his niece’s hand in marriage. When the congratulations were over, music was started and Johnny and Susie took to the ‘dance floor’. Chet resumed his role of DJ. Joe Early asked Mama Lopez to dance; Dixie and Kel stepped onto the floor as did Roy and Jo. Soon the floor was awash with couples swaying to the crooning of Dean Martin and various other artists.

Chet was approached by Nellie, a receptionist at Susie’s work. She was slightly shorter than Chet and had brown straight hair down to her waist. “Hi, I’m Nellie. I work with Susie. Would you care to dance?” Nellie enquired shyly.

“Sure Babe, let’s go. My name’s Chester but everyone calls me Chet.” He took her hand and together they made their way down the steps to the dance floor.

Mike Stoker and Marco approached friends of Susan’s and the couples joined into the swaying mass moving around the lawn. Jo and Roy slipped off the dance floor and made their way into the house. They quickly came back out and placed the cakes on the food table. Roy put the 25 candles in one cake and the figurines adorned the other cake. Roy went up to the porch and turned off the music. Johnny and Susie continued to sway to the music in their hearts. They were completely oblivious to what was going on around them.

“Will someone get the two lovebirds attention.” Roy asked.

Greg House stepped up to Johnny as he was the closest and tapped him on the shoulder. “I think your attention is required up there.” House said.

A blushing Johnny and Susie stopped to find everyone looking at them. They smiled and quickly turned to face the direction that House had pointed to. Roy was on the porch and seeing the newly engaged couple now looking at him, he proceeded with his speech. “We have been very honored tonight to be invited to share in not only the birthday of a beautiful and intelligent woman but in her proposal of marriage and, luckily for Johnny, her acceptance of that proposal.” Everybody laughed, including the happy couple. “May I ask you all to raise your glasses once again.”

Several minutes later, with glasses filled and raised in the air, Roy lead a chorus of Happy Birthday Susie followed by three hip, hip hoorays for the happy couple. With the toasts out of the way, Jo lit the candles and Roy directed Susie to the food table to make a wish and blow out her candles.

Susie started to cry and Johnny wiping the tears from her eyes kissed her gently on the lips and walked her to the table. “Come on my love, your guests are waiting for their cake.” Johnny whispered in her ear, before kissing her earlobe and making her shiver with desire.

Susie laughed when she saw the two little figurines, obviously made by little hands. Once Susie had thanked everyone for coming, a wish was made, the candles were blown out, and the cake was cut. Johnny retrieved the figurines and with a slice of cake each, he and Susie sat down under the twinkling fairy lights and feed each other. Jenny rushed up to Uncle Johnny and Miss Susie asking if they liked the figurines. Johnny told her he had them and showed her the two figurines wrapped in a napkin.

“These are going into my treasured memory box” Johnny told Jenny.

“I made you Miss Susie, I wanted to make you Uncle Johnny but Chris said he wasn’t gonna make a woman mercy pain doll. So Chris made you Uncle Johnny. Do you like your dolly Miss Susie?” Jenny asked.

“I think it is the loveliest marzipan dolly in the world and I’m so very lucky that you made it for me. You made my dolly look beautiful, thank you for doing such a wonderful job.”

The smile on Jenny face was reward enough. “Are you going to marry Uncle Johnny?” Jenny asked.

“Yes, I am. Why do you ask?”

“I’m pleased cos you’re real nice and now you get to be my Aunty too.” Jenny said before she saw Chris and went to boast about how her dolly was better than his as it was the most beautiful and loveliest one ever made.

Susie sat there for a while and was speechless. A silent tear running down her face. She wiped it away feeling foolish and overly emotional. Johnny saw the tear and asked if she was alright.

“You have given me so much. You have made my world big, full, happy, fun, boisterous, crazy and full of love. I am overwhelmed and couldn’t ask for another thing. You do know that I honestly love you. Take all this away,” Susie spread her arm out around the backyard, “and just leave the bare bones of us and I will still be deeply and truly in love with you. Thank you for loving me. I don’t know what I did to be so lucky.” Susie then kissed Johnny.

“Well, the way I see it, it’s me who is the lucky one.” Johnny said returning the kiss.

The evening continued to be full of laughter and happiness. Johnny offered his guest room or the couch for the sleepy children while their parents enjoyed the party. Some parents took Johnny up on his offer and little bodies were settled on the couch or in the bed. Others took their kiddies home. The music and dancing went on till close to midnight then one by one the guests started to leave. The couple were given kisses and birthday wishes mingled with congratulations again as people left. Johnny had quite a sore back from all the thumping on it he had received from his friends and his hand was slightly throbbing from all the handshaking he had done. Susie saw him rubbing his hand after her boss had left.

“He’s got a very strong handshake hasn’t he?” Susie laughed.

“I think he’s crushed every bone in my hand.” Johnny replied as he flicked his hand out shaking it.

Roy and Joanne were the last to leave. Each was carrying a sleeping child. Johnny and Susie walked them to her car and helped to buckle them in. Jo hadn’t really had a chance to talk to Susie much after the engagement had happened. Johnny had monopolized most of her time. It would seem Roy was in on the proposal but she had been surprised like everyone else.

“You and I need to talk, sister to be, about this wonderful night. Somehow I think the women were left out of the plans.” Jo said giving Johnny and Roy a piercing look. “I’ll phone you or you phone me and we will get together over coffee. Now that you’re gonna be family, I’ll spill all the dirt I have on your fiancé.” Jo told Susie.

“Hey, I don’t think I like that idea very much. What dirt?” Johnny demanded to know but his playful tone took any sting out of the words. He kept his arm around Susie’s waist pulling her in closer to him as if to protect her from gossip.

Jo just tapped her nose a few times and gave a wink to Susie. “Later,” she said to Susie as she gave her a goodnight kiss and hug. “Welcome to the family.”

Roy then thumped Johnny on the back again and made a comment about not feeling he could call Johnny, Junior anymore as he was all growed up and, hiccup, getting married to a wonderful, hiccup lady vet doctor. Hiccup, hiccup.

“How much has he had to drink?” Johnny asked.

“Enough that he won’t be driving.” Jo said as she took the keys out of his hand.

“But what about my car.” Roy asked.

Johnny put his hand out and Jo placed the keys in his palm. “I’ll bring it over tomorrow, sometime in the morning or early afternoon. We’ll phone before we come over, Susie will follow and bring me back here.” Johnny looked at Susie for confirmation and she nodded her head.

“Did I ever tell you that, hiccup, you’re a great friend. You’re just like my brother. I don’t have a, hiccup, brother. BUT, if I ever had a brother that is, I’d wanted him to be like you and that‘s the way it is. Hiccup” Roy said. His words were just verging on being slurred.

“Come on pal, let’s get you into the car before you fall down. Do you think you’ll be able to manage Walter Cronkite here at the other end, if you can’t we have the beds, you can all stay here the night.” Johnny told Jo.

“I will manage just fine. He’s not that far gone, besides something tells me you two lovebirds will be wanting your privacy tonight.”

Johnny and Susie had the decency to blush and Jo swore that she could feel the heat coming off their faces. Johnny helped Roy into the car, and the pair waved at the De Soto’s car as it turned up the driveway making its way home under the careful driving of Jo.

The candles were blown out one by one as the couple went around and tidied up. Paper and plastic plates, scrunched up napkins and bottles were put into their respective trash receptacles. When it was looking tidier, Johnny went over to the record player and found what he was looking for. He put it on repeat. The soft strains and gentle harmony of ‘The First Time Ever I saw Your Face’ by Roberta Flack drifted down to Susie and Johnny approached with his hand extended, “I do believe they are playing our song. Will you do me the honor of having this dance with me?”

Susie put her hand in Johnny’s, “Always.”

The pair just stood together swaying in time to the music. No words were shared or thoughts expressed. It was just Johnny and Susie, the twinkling of fairy lights and the sounds of the night competing with the beating of their hearts and the melding of their souls.

Chapter Twenty Four

Johnny drove into the station on Monday. They had a 48-hour shift. He was running late after being delayed by Susie when his alarm went off. She promised to see to the animals as Johnny would’ve been even later. Johnny entered through the kitchen and was greeted by the off going C shift. The men got up and surrounded Johnny. They had been waiting for his arrival. More back slaps and handshakes were given to Johnny along with congratulations.

Pete and Charlie, C shifts paramedics, joked that now that Johnny was off the market, they had a better chance of getting dates from the nurses at Rampart. Pete then thought about how that sounded and wasn’t sure if he had phrased it right. Eventually the men left to go home and Cap tapped his watch and Johnny, head bowed raced to his locker to get changed.

“CHET!!!” echoed through the apparatus bay and Cap looked at Chet, along with Roy, Marco and Mike.

Chet just smiled and said “I don’t know why ya acting so surprised. I’m amazed nobody else did anything.”

Johnny didn’t have time to tidy himself up much as roll call was waiting for him. He quickly shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. It didn’t really help that much.
Johnny entered the bay leaving a trail of confetti, rice and sparkling glitter behind him. There were even stars and crescent moons in amongst it all. Several looks were thrown Johnny’s way and then loud laughter reverberated around the apparatus bay. Johnny tried to give Chet the evil eye but, the myriad of multi-colored glitters and confetti sticking to his shirt and skin, not to mention his hair, failed the look he was trying to give Chet.

“Twits, I’m in charge of twits.” Cap gasped between laughs.

Congratulations were given out again with more back slapping after the men had got their breath back. More glitter and confetti fell to the floor after every celebratory slap. After roll call and the assignment of duties, Johnny had latrines, all the men went into the kitchen for coffee. Chet and Mike went to their lockers and came back and put photos down on the table.

“Here you go Gage, you can start your wedding photo album off with these.” Chet said as he pulled a wad of photo’s out of their packet.

Mike added his to Chet’s. “I got duplicates” was all he said.

“Thanks guys.” Johnny started going through them but was dropping glitter and confetti over everything.

“Gage, go outside and shake yourself free of all that stuff.” Cap ordered.

The men watched as Johnny went into the parking lot out back and started jitterbugging around. His hands were messing up his hair trying to get all the confetti and glitter out, and then he was brushing down his clothes. Thinking that he had gotten most of it off he went to go back in. He saw four men staring out the kitchen window laughing at his impromptu dancing. Chet was standing out by the back door, he held his camera up and gave Johnny a thumbs up sign. Johnny was feeling too happy about everything to even raise a retort. “I’ll have a copy too, if that’s ok.”

Over coffee and a glass of milk for Johnny, the men poured over the photos from the party. There were quite a few of Johnny on his knee proposing to Susie. Johnny realized he had been so lost in the moment he hadn’t even noticed the flashing of cameras. The photos were rather good and Johnny asked Mike if he could get a particular photo enlarged from the negative, and he would pay him for it. It was of Johnny holding Susie’s hand while he was on bended knee and they were looking deeply into each other’s eyes. The look of love between the two was there for all to see; even ‘Mr Magoo’ would be hard pressed not to see it. Johnny stowed the photos in Roy’s locker. It was a double shift and even he knew that the phantom had only just started with the pranks. He didn’t want anything to happen to the photos. Roy volunteered to keep them safe.

The first day of their double was a long and hard one. The squad had been called out to thirteen runs in the daytime and didn’t get back to the barn until after nine that night. They had hardly been in the station all day. They sat down and ate warmed up Irish stew. Johnny was starting to get a headache again. As he was leaving to get some aspirin, Roy asked where he was going.

“Can you bring me some too, I think with all the runs today and lack of fluid and food it’s only inevitable we got a headache.” Roy said as he rubbed his temples.

Johnny left the table and retrieved the aspirin out from his locker and both he and Roy downed them with a large glass of water. Johnny was feeling quite fatigued. Slight nausea was just starting to set in and he had the beginnings of a stomach ache. His hands had a fine tremor to them and his heart was doing the rumba in his chest. He was feeling slightly nervous. This was the first quiet moment they had had since starting work this morning and his thoughts, as usual, had drifted to the pre-trial hearing set for two days’ time. His subconscious was letting him know that it hadn’t forgotten.

Roy saw Johnny rubbing his chest and holding his head. Johnny pushed the food away when he sat back down. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Roy asked quietly. “Is it a headache or a migraine?”

“I think it’s just a headache coupled with starvation and dehydration. I feel slightly sick. Too long without food, ya know what I mean.” Johnny said as he held his throbbing head. “I think I’ll get Dr Early to look at it tomorrow. I thought cutting back on coffee would help but it hasn’t so far.”

Roy, concerned for his partner’s health, and not for the first time, made Johnny swear he was going to see Dr Early tomorrow regardless of how he felt. He would also get something for these bouts of nausea too, his stomach was so unsettled and the mountain of aspirin’s he’d been taking wasn’t helping it, more than likely they were adding to it.
Not feeling any better, Johnny washed his dishes after scraping his barely eaten meal into the bin. He then went and got ready for bed. He needed an early night with no distractions, he thought. He hoped the tones wouldn’t go off.

At 3.30am the tones called the engine out to a dumpster fire. Johnny tossed and turned for a bit and then finally fell back to sleep. Roy had been awake and watched his friend resettle. He knew something wasn’t right with Johnny, he just couldn’t put his finger on it.

The squad was called out to a woman in labor at 6.20am. They made it back to the barn at 1050 after another three runs. Johnny had been given the dorms and Roy the apparatus bay and sweeping the parking lot.

The men got stuck straight into their tasks when Roy remembered Johnny’s promise to see Dr Early. He knocked on Cap’s door and entered. He told Cap about Johnny’s promise and that at their next run they would seek him out so they may be a little later back than usual. Cap having concerns himself for Johnny’s health agreed wholeheartedly.

“Make sure they find out what’s wrong with him, Roy, before you come back. Failing that he needs something stronger for all these headaches but not too strong to render him incapable and unsafe to work.” Cap said. “I think the trial might be the overall culprit and we have a long way to go on that. Tomorrow’s only the start, unfortunately.”

The next run saw them take a broken ankle attached to a teenage girl wanting to improve her athletic prowess, into Rampart. She had been trying to high jump her height, as well as missing the bar she missed the pads and landed badly, her high jumping days on hold for the foreseeable future.

Roy was looking for Dr Early but he was tied up in surgery but should be free soon. The guys decided to have lunch while they waited, hoping that Dr Early would be finished before they left. On the way to the cafeteria Johnny got congratulated several times by nurses, orderlies and Drs alike.

“News sure does travel fast around here, I thought the fire station was bad enough. But it seems the hospital gossip mill spreads faster than a wild fire in the Santa Ana winds.” Johnny jokingly laughed to Roy. They got their food and the two paramedics made their way to the outside courtyard from the hospital cafeteria. They saw Drs. Mike Morton and House sitting at a table having lunch together. Mike saw them and waved them over.

“Oh great, Morton.” Johnny groaned.

“Don’t worry you’re not a patient this time, so you don’t need to worry about his bedside manner.” Roy replied trying to jolly his partner up as they weaved their way through the tables over to join the young doctors.

“Yeah, well his tableside manner ain’t that great either!” Johnny said as an aside to Roy, through clenched teeth while trying to maintain his smile. The paramedics pulled up two chairs from surrounding tables and sat down with the Drs.

“Congratulations John. I heard you got engaged over the weekend in front of forty guests. You don’t do anything on the quiet side.” Morton said. “You didn’t waste much time either. I didn’t know you were seeing anyone seriously! How long you been going out?”

“If you saw the beauty he proposed too, you wouldn’t waste any time either.” House said.

“We have been going steady for 3 months and no, I don’t do anything on the quiet side. My fiancée said afterwards we could have done it the first day we met as that’s how right it felt. I’m one very, very lucky man.”

“Then I’m nothing but pleased for you Johnny. I wish you and your fiancée only the very best. I’m sorry I couldn’t have been there to share in your special moment.” Morton put his hand out and Johnny shook it. Morton also gave the customary two back slaps.

Yep it’s definitely bruised, Johnny thought as he felt the slight sting from where a hundred and two back slaps hand landed in the last 2 days. He was taken aback at the sincerity in Morton’s gestures and words. Maybe he had the guy pegged wrong after all. He made a mental note to invite him to his wedding.

“So what does your fiancée do, John?” Mike asked.

“She’s a large animal veterinarian.”

“You did well for yourself there, Gage.” Mike stated between a bite of his sandwich.

“Yes, I did, but not because of what she does but because of who she is. I’m very fortunate that she loves me because I love her. But even if we were both paupers with not a cent between us or clothes on our back and nowhere to live, we would still be together and getting married. I would have thought that you of all people, would‘ve known better about the many forms that prejudice can take Doctor Morton.” Johnny said with an icy edge to his voice.

“You’re right. I’m sorry, John. I seem to be putting my foot in it a lot today. Please accept my apology. I didn’t mean to infer you were social climbing or marrying someone above your station. I’m truly sorry.”

“Apology accepted.” Johnny said with more warmth in his voice now that his point had been made.

The men then talked about other topics and ate their lunch in a pleasant camaraderie. They all went back to the ER together. Johnny was hoping that Dr Early was out from surgery. Dixie saw the four men enter and make their way down to her desk.

“Before you ask, Joe’s in room 1, waiting for you Johnny. He’s having a coffee while he waited and no, he hasn’t been waiting long. Mike and Greg you have patients in rooms 3 and 5 respectively.” Dixie then handed the Drs their charts and all four men left to go to their ordered rooms.

“And just where do you think you are going Roy De Soto? Have you not heard about patient confidentiality? You come back here with me and tell me all that you know about these wedding plans.” She gave Johnny a wink as he left to see Joe.

Chapter Twenty Five

Joe was sitting on a stool, using the gurney as a table. He was resting an elbow on it and his other hand held the coffee. “Ah, Johnny, I take it you haven’t been feeling that great lately?” Joe said as he got up from the stool and deposited his coffee on the bench.

“I don’t know what it is Doc, but now I’m getting concerned.”

For Johnny to admit that, a man who was on first name basis with denial, Joe was instantly alerted. “Why don’t you sit here,” Joe said patting the table, “and tell me what’s got you concerned?”

“Jeeze, it may be nothing but I’m getting headaches all the time. Some of ‘em are really bad, and nothing touches them. Some even wake me up at night. I’m getting ‘em just about every day, sometimes twice a day or if I’m really lucky every second day. I’ve cut back on my caffeine intake but it hasn’t helped. I’ve also been getting nausea with them. I dunno if it’s from all the aspirin I’m taking or just part of the migraine. I know I’m stressed about the hearing and the possibility of a trial and I think that’s causing all this. I need something for the pain Doc and ways to avoid them, trigger signs and reduction, ya know.” Johnny looked at Joe, his brown eyes reflecting the misery that he had been through lately.

Joe then examined Johnny, with vitals and an eye test done to rule out eye strain, Joe set about asking Johnny a series of questions. “Well, Johnny from what you describe it could be a condition called Cluster Headaches, but you don’t have all the symptoms of them either. I can give you a drug called verapamil which may help with the headaches but it would then necessitate the LA Fire Department reviewing your suitability to be a paramedic and firefighter. I’ll be honest with you; you could lose your job.”

Johnny audibly gulped on hearing that. “Then in that case I don’t want it. Firefighting’s my life and being a paramedic is the icing on the cake, Doc. All I want is knowledge of trigger alerts and better pain relief for my headaches. But the pills can’t interfere with my work. I need to keep working as I’ve a wedding to pay for now.” Johnny smiled at the thought of Susie and how one day she would be his wife.

“I don’t want to pry but isn’t it customary for the bride’s family to pay?”

“Susie only has her Uncle Dennis and she’s quite a liberated and fiercely independent woman. No, we both see it as our responsibility to pay for the wedding.” Johnny ended looking happy and moonstruck in love.

“That’s an honorable stance to take John, it’s very rarely seen in people today. Now, as for your headaches I’ll give you a prescription for Tylenol 3 and plain codeine for when they get really bad. If that doesn’t work then I’ll book you in for some tests on an outpatient basis and we’ll see if we can’t get to the bottom of this.” Early wrote him out a prescription and Johnny tucked it into his shirt pocket. He knew he had better go put his partner out of his misery. No doubt by now, Roy would have bitten most of his fingernails to the quick.

“Thanks Doc. I better go get Roy and tell him the outcome. He’ll no doubt be pacing the floor like an expectant father.” Johnny said and both men laughed as they made their way to the door.

Dr Early went to go and get a fresh cup of coffee as his had gone cold and had a fine layer of scabby milk on the top; he looked at it with distaste.

Johnny found Roy leaning on the nurse’s station desk talking to Dixie. Roy saw the men leave the treatment room and stood up and gave his partner a critical once over. No band aid was over his inner elbow so no blood was taken. Johnny was smiling and laughing over something so it couldn’t have been that bad.

“Will he live, Doc?” Roy asked as Joe Early shuffled in behind the desk to get a hot refill.

“I can’t see why not. Besides, I’ve a vested interest, I want an invitation to John and Susie’s wedding. Ya know I never thought I’d ever say the words wedding and John Gage in the same sentence. It stills feels alien on my tongue.” Joe said.

“Have you set the date yet?” Dixie asked.

“No. We are thinking sometime next year. There’s a lot to organize and I want it to be everything she’s ever dreamed of since she was a little girl. We will be working out the plans for some time I think. We briefly sat down to do the guest list and realized it’s going to be an intimate wedding as we are both in the same boat. I’ve only an Aunt who won’t be able to attend, and Susie’s only got Uncle Dennis. The wedding will be more friends than family.”

“I wish Jo and I had that problem when we got married. It was more family than friends. Neither of us knew who half the guests were. If we were getting married again, it would definitely be more friends than family.” Roy said.

“You could renew your vows on your wedding anniversary. Just have a backyard wedding, invite your friends over and have the priest do his thing then open the grill and viola the wedding of more friends than family accomplished.” Johnny said in a joking manner.

Roy looked at Johnny. “Johnny that’s brilliant, just one problem, we’ve just celebrated our wedding anniversary, in case you’ve forgotten.”

“There’s always next year. Why don’t you talk to Jo about it when we are off shift and see what she thinks? I’m just going to take this prescription to the hospital pharmacy. I won’t be long but I’ll take the handy talkie just in case we get a call.”

Arriving back at the station with pills in his pocket and a raving hunger, Johnny jumped out of the squad and darted into the kitchen. “I’m starvin, what we got to eat?”

“There’s cold cuts and salad in the fridge.” Marco said from the day room as he was watching something on TV.

Cap got up and approached Johnny. “Did it all go well, John?”

“Yeah, got my pain pills right here.” Johnny said tapping his pocket with the hand holding the mayo while the other held the meat with a salad bowl tucked into the crook of his arm. Johnny then closed the fridge with his hip and made his way over to the bench and relieved himself of all the fixings and then got the bread and a ripe red tomato from the fruit bowl. “Cheese, I need Cheese.” Johnny said more to himself than to anyone else.

“You need de-worming,” Chet yelled from the couch, waking up Henry who was drooling all over the corner of the couch and down the side.

“Har har, very funny.” Johnny then set about making a very seriously filled sub sandwich. Roy shook his head when Johnny offered him half. Twenty minutes later Johnny was finishing his second lunch and downing the last of a couple of glasses of milk. He wiped off the milk moustache, burped loudly, apologized and then complained he had eaten too much. His stomach was slightly distended and he undid his belt a couple of notches which helped marginally.

“I don’t think I can move, and if we get a call I don’t think I could run as I’d get a stitch after two steps. Oh, why did I eat so much, Roy? You should’ve stopped me.”

“Don’t blame me Junior. You’re the one with eyes bigger than your stomach.”

Johnny stayed sitting at the table with his long legs splayed out and his hands resting on his little paunch. His head started drooping down and resting on his chin in short order. Little snores could be heard now and then.

“Leave him alone Chet. You wake him and you will have me to answer to.” Mike said from across the room. Chet resettled himself on the couch and turned his attention back to the TV, he watched Phil Donahue introduce his latest guest onto the floor.

“I’m amazed that they can keep coming up with topics to base their shows on. Eventually they will run out of ideas.” Chet put out into the ether. None of the four other awake firemen commented. The female guest was quite striking and deserved a lot more TV time they were all thinking quietly.

The tones sounded and Johnny woke with a start. He jumped up and made his way into the squad, the rest of the guys followed and got into their seats. Within two minutes the men were on their way to a structure fire.

Chapter Twenty Six

The day of the pre-trial hearing was upon them. 51 all arrived at various times in their dress blues. They were huddling outside the door to Courtroom 3. Chief McConnikee was present, as was Paddy Whitehouse, the press officer. Mama Lopez stood with the men from 51. Talking was kept to low murmurs. An almost reverent stillness was in the air and the feeling of being arrested for disturbing the peace was pervasive after entering the wide open marbled atrium.

Eventually their case was called and the men entered the courtroom and sat down. They were all asked to stand and the Judge entered.

The door to their right opened and all the heads swivelled to see who was entering. Johnny felt sick and could’ve sworn he was as white as a ghost. His hand went subconsciously up to his very dry throat and he swallowed a few times to try to put moisture in it. Johnny’s hand started to tremble and his knees were shaking. For Heaven’s sake, calm down. It’s only a hearing, you probably won’t even have to get up there and talk. Take deep breaths….. Settle down, I need to settle down. I can do this. You’ve done and gone through worse things before. It’s only a trial… yeah right, a trial of attempted murder.. of ME! Johnny’s thoughts were buzzing in his head. After recovering from his initial shock he sat up straighter in the seat and looked directly at the Judge who was looking directly back at him.

Chip looked brazenly out to everyone, he espied Johnny in the row of blue and his eyes narrowed. He gave Johnny a sneer and screwed his mouth up as if he had eaten something rotten and bitter. Marco and his mother were sitting at the end of the row and Chip gave them the same look that he had given Johnny only a moment before. Det. Crockett sat two rows in front and was used to looks of hatred coming from the accused when he had been the arresting officer. However, the look of disgust on Chip’s face was more to do with Crockett being black than being the one putting handcuffs on him.

The Judge looked over at Chip and saw the look of pure venom and hatred on the young blond man’s features. It made him look rather repugnant the Judge thought. One by one, the witnesses took the stand as they were called to testify. Their statements were read and the Judge asked a few questions. Dr Cooper had testified to the severity of the injury to the victim. Drs Early and House testified to the full cardiac and respiratory arrest and Roy and Cap attested to the state of emergency as it unfolded in the apparatus bay that fateful night just under three months ago. Johnny was called and his answers were mainly yes and no’s. As he went to sit back down, Chip spat at Johnny, his spittle hit Johnny in the face. A collective gasp was heard, Johnny, taken aback as he wasn’t expecting that stood and retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his face. To his amazement he looked Chip in the eye and didn’t flinch as he wiped the saliva away.

The Judge banged his gavel calling for order and instructed counsel to control their client and that if he did it again he would be found guilty for contempt of court and with another outburst like that and he would be muzzled for the remainder of the proceedings. Johnny, although looking undeterred on the outside, felt nauseous with the utter hatred that this man had for him and those of non-white extraction. Roy gave his friend a look of support and patted Johnny’s knee when he was seated again. He leaned over and asked if he was alright, Johnny nodded his head and the judge called a recess for lunch when Johnny was seated. Court was to resume in an hour time. Judge Mendoza then left his courtroom and everyone filed out and congregated in a huddled group outside the steps of the courthouse.

“Tell Johnny that we had to leave as we have work this afternoon and we are not sure how long this hearing will take. It looks pretty open and shut. I don’t think Johnny needs to worry about it so much.” Dr Early said. House agreed and the two men left to go to Rampart.

Johnny was the last to arrive as he had taken a detour to the washroom and cleaned his face. He then felt bile rise into his stomach and without warning Johnny threw up into the sink. Luckily he was the only occupant. It was just a small amount of coffee and bile stained fluid. He still felt queasy and a bit shaky when he returned to his colleagues outside.
The men went to the nearest diner. With orders placed and coffee with limitless refills seen to, the men somberly talked about what had transpired so far. They were all convinced that it would go to trial. This hearing was just a formality. Chip had cast his own die today and in front of a Hispanic Judge no less.

Crockett sauntered over and joined 51 and Chief McConnikee. He gave a nod to Delores, the owner waitress, and she brought him over his coffee and confirmed his order for his usual. “I spend a lot of time in the courthouse. Delores knows me well, heck my wife thinks she’s my mistress.” Crockett said before taking a mouthful of coffee.

Delores looked over her shoulder, coffee pot in hand and replied with “I tire my lovers out too quick. You’re just a wee whippersnapper of a man. You wouldn’t last a day, let alone a night!” Her quick repartee made the men around the table laugh.

Delores was well into her 60’s and was of a rubenesque physique and her greying dreadlocks were held off her face with a green, yellow and black bandanna. Her sweet Jamaican accent highlighted her words and added a lilting note to her laughter. With food quickly eaten and coffees drank, the men walked over to the court house.

Detective Crockett was called to the witness box and he gave his account of the arrest and subsequent attempted murder of himself as the accused used his own gun against him.
Finally, Chip McKendry was called to take the stand.

There was a flurry of activity from the back of the courtroom and heads turned to see what all the commotion was about. A group of young men with crew cut hairstyles similar to Chip’s and wearing badges and arm bands with swastikas stood at the back of the room. They were making no attempt to sit down. Their arms linked in a show of support to their brother in arms. Chip smiled at his comrades and the head man, who looked like Chip but older, returned the smile.

“We are here for you, brother.” An older version of Chip yelled from the back.

The judge banged his gavel loudly and ordered the young men to leave his courtroom, failure to do so would result in contempt of court and they would find themselves sitting in the cells until he saw fit to release them or they apologized; whichever came first. The group of neo-Nazi’s stood united and refused to move or apologize. Bailiffs were summoned and the eight men were led away to the cells below for contempt of court.

Paddy Whitehouse felt a major headache coming on. So far, only one reporter from the Los Angeles Daily News crime desk sat in the room. He had watched him scribble something down when Chip had spat at Johnny. Now he was writing furiously. The media nightmare had begun.

The revelation that Chip was a neo-Nazi stunned everybody from the fire service.

Chief McConnikee wondered fleetingly if they could ask questions on their application forms regarding applicants having any links to subversive organizations. Probably not, he decided on a sigh. This trial had just got a whole lot messier. He looked over to Paddy and saw his thoughts replicated by the body language and look Paddy returned to him.
Once order had been restored, the Judge called the accused to the stand.

It quickly became apparent that Chip harbored some very disturbing thoughts, and even more disconcerting was the fact that Chip thought everybody thought like him and couldn’t grasp that his thinking was way off base. He had no remorse for what he’d done, in fact, he seemed angry that he had failed.

“I should have stuck to my original plan,” Chip stated while looking directly at Johnny. “You deserved to have acid scar your face and body, make you look as ugly on the outside as you are on the inside!”

The mention of acid drew several gasps and murmurs from the courtroom. The Judge had to call for quiet. It was a while before order resumed. Chip’s answers showed he was an extremely emotionally unstable young man. He had had several outbursts and the judge had used his gavel more in one day than he had in the last week. The judge gave his findings, having found there was sufficient evidence, a date was set for the trial of the People vs Chip McKendry for the attempted murders of John Gage and Det. Ronald Crockett. Judge Mendoza then went on to add other charges pertaining to his resisting arrest and discharge of a firearm in an enclosed space and illegal possession of a firearm, which collectively could add considerable years onto his sentence, if found guilty.

Chip McKendry was ordered to undergo a full psychiatric assessment. There was the possibility that Chip might be found criminally insane and unfit for trial. If that was the case, Chip would spend his natural life behind bars of a different institution; Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino. Chip was denied bail and remanded to the local jail. Judge Mendoza then made a surprise announcement. The future trial was to be a closed court. No media or public were to attend. Judge Mendoza acknowledged the undercurrent of racism and the neo-Nazi movement that constituted a large portion of the upcoming trial and he didn’t want it to gain any publicity through his court room. He then directed his last statement to the journalist sitting in the back row. He was ordered to not report anything from today’s pre-trial hearing and if he did so he would be found in contempt of court and would spend a long time in the cells.

Chief McConnikee, Paddy Whitehouse and several witnesses breathed a huge sigh of relief. Paddy felt like doing an Irish jig there and then but refrained. More than likely he would be found in contempt of court for such action. A smile erupted on his face and his headache was working its way back to where it had come from. After being dismissed, and watching Chip being lead back down to the cells with handcuffs on as he was deemed a high risk and violent offender, the men went back to Delores’ Diner. They ordered coffee and pie in a much more joyous mood than they had been at lunch time.

It had been a long day and emotionally tiring for them all. The brief respite and sojourn into happiness, however brief, was welcomed by one and all.

Chapter Twenty Seven

It would seem that the closed court had everybody feeling relieved. The reason why hadn’t been overlooked but for now not being on public display and vulnerable to media, had lifted the spirits of all involved. Susie and Dennis, like everybody else, were elated at the closed court, but dismayed at the neo-Nazi undertones. Given the distasteful nature the case was taking and the strain it was taking on Johnny, Susie couldn’t wait for the case to be over. For the hundredth time she wished she was allowed five minutes with Chip. Given her way there wouldn’t be a case at all, just a funeral for some small minded, bigoted, neo-Nazi, redneck that had smashed into their lives, leaving behind a trail of poison everywhere he had been. Susie had to console herself that in three months the court room chairs would once again be filled with her fiancé and all of 51. On a bright note, it would be the beginning of the end of this unpleasant affair.

Johnny called Susie in from her ruminations on the swing seat outside and sat down to a chicken dish that Mama Lopez had taught Johnny last week. Johnny had been trying out his cooking on Susie and then when he felt comfortable at upsizing the meals he would take his new found talents to 51 next time he had KP duty.

Susie and Johnny sat around the dinner table after supper and the conversation drifted to their upcoming wedding. With the calendar laid out on the table between coffee cups, a date was finally chosen. Next was where to have the wedding and reception. Several places were discussed and a list was written down on a pad. They would go check them out on their days off. With choices made for the main bridal party, a list of wedding guests were drawn up. It was decided to keep the party small and intimate. With the list completed they expected 72 guests to their wedding. The list would be reviewed, no doubt, as time went by. The evening progressed and several other aspects were discussed and ideas written down. Feeling happy with the plans and decisions they had made so far, the pair went for a stroll to the corral and settled the horses for the night.

The couple sat on the porch swing, breathing in the sweet air warmed by the evening heat. Now and then a gentle wisp of wind would gust across the fields and wrap itself around the couple, bathing them in warm kisses from the hills. Susie had her legs curled under her and Johnny was cuddled up to her with his arm around her shoulders. The couple just bathed in their love for each other and every now and then the moonlight would show the couple sharing gentle kisses and whispering terms of endearment to each other.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Another month had passed and everything was returning back to normal. Thoughts of Chip and the trial were forgotten to some extent, more for some than others. Johnny thought of him quite a bit. He had tried to put him into the back of his mind and keep him there as he had other more pleasant things to do. Johnny started focusing more on his upcoming nuptials even though they were still a far way off.

“Good morning, good morning, good morning.” Johnny gave out his customary hellos to his fellow colleagues as he made his way into the locker room.

Mike was retrieving something out of his locker and returned the gesture. Marco and Chet were deep in a conversation about their double date on Friday night. Chet wanted to go to a dinner then a disco, and Marco wanted to go to a Salsa Club.

“Mornin’ Gage,” came from Chet before he resumed his argument for why TGIF’s was a better venue than La Bamba Nightclub. Johnny nodded his head over to Marco and Chet and asked Roy if they had been going at it for long.

“Dunno, I just got here myself and they were in the thick of it when I got here. I think Marco might have the winning argument. What are you doing this Friday?” Roy asked Johnny.

“I’m pleased you asked. How would you and Jo like to go on a double date with Susie and I. We could do dinner and a dance or go bowling or to the movies. We‘re easy, so talk to Jo and see if it’s a go and if so, where to?” Johnny told Roy when he saw Roy smile and nod his head in agreement to the double date suggestion.

“Jo was saying just the other day that we should all go out together. We can get Amy to babysit and I’ll let you know what Jo wants to do.” Roy then stood up and attached his paramedic pin and badge to his shirt.

He stood by the locker watching Johnny get changed. He was slightly taken aback at the thinness of Johnny’s chest. His ribs appeared more noticeable. “I thought it was the bride that went on a diet and lost weight before the wedding. It looks like you’ve lost weight, what’s ya secret?” Roy asked in a teasing way but secretly he was quite shocked at the weight loss.

“I dunno, guess I haven’t been eating as much with all this stress with Chip.” Johnny said as he shrugged his shoulders, making his collarbones stick out more.

Chet, overhearing Johnny’s comment looked at Gage and saw what Roy saw. “I don’t believe that for a minute, Gage, you’re always eating. It‘s like I said you’ve got worms.” An idea popped into Chet’s head. He closed his locker and made his way into the dayroom. He picked up the phone and dialed a very familiar number. Afterwards he went and made a cup of coffee before anyone else came into the room.

Johnny got KP duty. His smile split his face in two. “Your guy’s stomachs are in for a treat.”

“Yeah, I can see it now, Gage. All of us running to the toilet puking our hearts out. I call dibs to be in front of the queue to talk to God through the big white telephone.” Chet quipped.

“Ye of little faith. You’ll see. You won’t be disappointed.”

Chet had stopped going to Mama Lopez’s classes after one cooking class. He wasn’t aware that Gage was still going. Cap was prepared for the hamburgers or hotdogs, heck he even felt like them. Now he was having second thoughts. John wasn’t doing his usual. He had stepped out of the box a time or two before and it was with dubious results. Some attempts were good others less so and once he had ended up giving everybody an upset stomach. He did a mental check and a brief smile came and went as he remembered the Pepto Bismol in his desk drawer.

Mike and Roy got hoses. Chet got latrines, although not the last in, that honor went to Johnny, Chet was working out his punishment for getting Cap with a water bomb last shift. He had mistimed it and Gage had walked in after the event and quickly left as he couldn’t stop laughing but didn’t want in on the punishment for laughing at his very wet superior.

Johnny did the checks and made a list of the medical supplies they needed. He could pick up the foodstuffs for lunch and supper after their trip to Rampart to get supplies. He was going out to see how far into the two hundred feet of hose were hung when the tones went off calling the Station out to a gas leak.

The men scrambled to the respective seats and along with Station 41 made their way to 8770 Prebbleton Way. Cross street Collingwood West. 51 and 41 arrived within minutes of each other. They disembarked from their engines and donned their turnouts and SCBA gear. 41 unloaded their large extractor fan and Captain Stanley ordered his men to find the leak which was pervading from the house and left its identifiable stench in the air. Johnny and Roy were to look for victims. The doors were locked and avoiding sparks, the pry bar was not used. A window was broken around the back and Roy clasped his hands together as a foothold for Johnny. A minute later he was in the house and making his way to the front door where he opened it and his partner walked in.

They did a systematic search of the house and found it empty, apart from a little tabby with a pink flea collar and bell. She had not survived the gas. Johnny carried the little victim out and placed her on the lawn not far from the house. They administered some oxygen in case it could be saved but it was too late. Marco found the pipe under the house, it had been sawed and little tooth marks from the blade were visible with a flashlight. 41 had the extractor fan set up and were removing the contaminated air from the house.

Several onlookers, mainly housewives and small children had gathered across the road. A couple of teenage boys, playing truant on a school day were also watching the excitement. They saw Marco go under the house and come out a while later and approach the guy wearing the white striped helmet. Next they saw the guy with the helmet go over to the engine and talk into the microphone.

The two boys watched and saw the police arrive and the LACoFD arson unit. The police started evacuating the neighborhood until they were given the all clear by the Gas Company. Station 51 was released from the scene. Carl the bigger of the two teenaged boys, and the leader, whispered something into Larry’s ear and the two took off on their skateboards to the nearest gas station. Carl made sure the little pruning saw was firmly in his inside jacket pocket.

The neighbors confirmed that the lady occupier was at work, but no one knew where she worked or her last name as she had only moved in by a week or so. They did have the name of the realtor that sold her the house. Officers Vince and rookie Trudy Gaynor, left to speak to the realtor.

On their way back to the station, Squad 51, made a slight detour to Rampart, got their supplies, then headed to the grocery store and picked up the extra ingredients for lunch and dinner tonight. Johnny was keeping things close to his vest. He didn’t even tell Roy what he had planned for them that day.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Johnny quickly unloaded the paper bags and ordered everyone out, but had a quick word with Marco, who agreed to finish off the meal if they were called out. Johnny then worked like a whirling dervish, chopping, mixing, grinding and simmering. He had 3 pots on the stove and had two slow roasted chickens that he had done earlier, now sitting in the fridge. He had done the prep for dinner as well.

Johnny put his homemade guacamole and several salsas on the table. The spiced beef and fillings were next followed by warmed tortillas that he would have made had he had time but instead Johnny used shop bought ones. Lunch was called and the men came in sniffing the air in appreciation. On the table before them sat a virtual feast. Johnny had outdone himself. Even he was taken aback at how nice it all looked and smelled. “Well, don’t just look at it, dig in.” Johnny said as he grabbed a tortilla and started to fill it up. He took a portion of spiced beef, lettuce, guacamole, pico de gallo and black bean salsa and then sprinkled some grated cheese over the top. He then rolled and tucked the tortilla like a true Mexican and went to take a bite when he was stopped by Chet’s comment.

“OK, who are you and what have you done with the real John Gage.”

Johnny realized that apart from Marco, the other men hadn’t even started. “Mama Lopez’s cooking classes for the last three and a half months, give or take.”

He didn’t need to say anymore. The men quickly grabbed a tortilla, Mike and Chet grabbing the same one only for Chet to win. Within minutes the sounds of mmms and ahhs were heard. It was Cap who finally gave Johnny some validation. “This is good, John. It’s right up there with Marco and Mama Lopez.”

“Thanks, Cap. I’m glad you liked it. I’ve learned quite a lot from Mama L. and I’ve even taught her a few dishes from my ancestors. She’s even helped me cook them better.”

“I’d like to try some of them one day, John. I’d feel honored to have you cook them here, as long as there was no fish in them, of course.”

“Don’t worry Cap, no fish but getting the alligator meat in LA may prove difficult.”

Laughter rang out from the table. Chet believing Johnny to be joking added, “I’d like a belt and shoes with mine to go please.” Causing more laughter to erupt from around the table.

“I’m a size 9,” said Marco.

“I’m a 10, and Jo is a size 7.”

“Who said I was joking.” Johnny said mystified as to why they were all laughing and making fun of him after being invited to cook his native food.

“I don’t think I could stomach alligator, John. Got any beef, pork or chicken dishes in your family recipes?” Cap asked hopefully, wiping a tear away from his eyes after laughing so hard.

“Sure do, don’t worry I wouldn’t waste good alligator on este-hvtke who hadn’t tried it before.” Johnny said as he put down his tortilla, his appetite suddenly gone.

“Have we just been insulted?” Chet asked.

“No, that ‘honor’ fell to me. I wouldn’t want to ruin your ‘pilgrim’ sensibilities. Just remember when your ancestors came to the land of MY ancestors, it was MY ancestors that helped and fed YOUR ancestors. Without us your ancestors would’ve died and you wouldn’t be here today. What did we get in return but YOUR diseases and theft of our land and rape of our women. We were rounded up like cattle and relegated to reservations and banned from practicing our ways and culture."
"Don’t tell me you would be honored to eat my ancestor’s food and then laugh and belittle it. There are times when your lack of understanding and ignorance sits right up there next to Chip’s. I get it in ways like just now or downright disgusting ways like peace pipes and so called tomahawks adorned with cheap feathers. You guys just don’t get it, do you? For me to bestow you a meal of alligator meat would’ve been one of the highest honors I could bestow on my friends."
"Meat was scarce and armed with only a bow and arrow and our wits to trap and kill an alligator was not an everyday event. There were inherent dangers and it was done as part of the tradition turning young boys of twelve and thirteen into braves.”
“To share something that was scarce and revered as a delicacy by my people was me extending my hand in friendship and showing you the respect and esteem I have for you all! If you had bothered to ask questions about my ethnic background and beliefs and traditions, instead of making fun of them, maybe you would’ve known that I wasn’t joking about the alligator! And…and that it’s an honor to be served it. Oh, and for your information, it would be farmed gator and it tastes better than you think.”
“What I don’t understand is that you ask Marco questions about his ethnic background and you never make fun of his beliefs, culture and traditions and yet you make a travesty of MINE!!! Excuse me, I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Oh, by the way the salsas and the cooked chickens in the fridge are for tonight, so hands off.” The last point was made directly to Chet. Johnny then left the room and a short time later the door to the parking lot was heard closing.

“Oh God, he’s right.” said Mike.

Cap and the other men sat looking at the food in front of them. They weren’t laughing now. Everything that Johnny had said was true. They had laughed at him and his culture. Not once had they asked about his peoples’ ways and their beliefs. They knew that Johnny went and gave talks at primary schools in Carson and the surrounding suburbs, so they knew he would be only too happy to share it with them.

Chris De Soto had gone on for days about how interesting it was and he had learned a lot from Johnny’s talk, after Johnny had spoken to his school in assembly the week before Thanksgiving. It suddenly dawned on Roy that Chris probably knew more about Johnny’s culture than he did. He too had lost his appetite as had every man around the table.

“I’ll go talk to him.” Cap said, “After all I was the one to insult him first.”

“I think we all need to apologize. We all laughed and made fun, not just this time, but a lot of times in the past. I’m not feeling very proud right now.” Chet said.

Marco was berating himself in Spanish, at least that is what the guys thought he was doing, because each and every one of them was doing the same.

Chapter Twenty Eight

The tones sounded calling station 45, 24, 51, 10 and 110 for sea support to an abandoned warehouse down at the docks. Cap diverted his steps to the parking lot and went to the dais instead, where he picked up the mic and confirmed their response. Johnny climbed down from the hose tower and made his way into the apparatus bay. He wasn’t feeling particularly jovial and the spring in his step was definitely missing. He looked at no one as he entered through the back door and made his way into the squad.

“Johnny, I want to apologize for my…”

“Save it Roy. Now is not the time or place to get into this. I think we all need to step back. I know I need to give some serious thought to whether I stay here or not.” Johnny then turned his head and looked resolutely out the window. His hand cupping his chin, his eyes not seeing the passing buildings but looking far, far ahead.

Roy went even paler. Johnny’s hurt feelings went deeper than what he had thought. His partner was an enigma. He appeared so flighty with his crazy ideas and money making schemes but he knew it was just a superficial cover to the real John Gage. John was a man of complex, deep emotions, outstanding qualities and unbidden loyalty. When he was truly hurt, he hurt deeply and put on a false cheer to hide the depth of his pain. God, what had they done? Roy thought not for the last time that day. It was only when he had had enough that he would explode like that. It was like playing Russian roulette. Every empty chamber was filled with a deep hurt or transgression and finally the bullet would come out on the last one. Now Johnny was looking at leaving.

He should have paid more attention to what Johnny had said in the past. He told them then that it wasn’t funny and it was insulting to his people. They had heard him say it enough times and yet they chose to ignore it. Now their prejudices were splitting the station apart. Johnny was right!, Roy thought as he rounded a corner taking them closer to the fire, we are no better than Chip. Oh, God, and we are his friends; with friends like us who needs enemies.

The other men in the engine were thinking along the same lines. They remembered all the jokes, both verbal and physical played on John’s culture. Some even remembered how they had spoken to Johnny, the words they had used. When reflected upon it looked remarkably like succinct slurs and slithers of racism peppered their speech. Did they think they were better than John? Would they use the same phrases, words and terminology to their white friends? Chet, Mike and Captain Stanley had a lot of soul searching to do.
Marco was feeling exceedingly bad. He too had laughed at Johnny and his ethnic background. He joined in doing the pranks. He had been the one to supply Chet with the feathers for the tomahawk knowing what Chet wanted to do with them. He had hurt his spirit brother. Mama would box his ears if she knew what he had done. He was not feeling very proud right now either. He knew better than most of what Johnny had gone through. He had been a victim of racism and prejudice too. Just because the guys didn’t make fun of his background, did that make him think he was ethnically superior to Johnny?

The squad led the way to the fire. The engine followed and pulled up next to Station 24. Battalion Chief McConnikee was there and already directing the stations as they arrived. 24’s was working the south side. 45’s the east, 51’s were given the north side, 110’s were at the back and the fireboat was spraying seawater at the decrepit old wooden building. Its red paint flaking off under the pressure of the water spray.

“HEEELLPPP!!! HEEEELLLPPPP US, PLEASEEEE!!!”

Every one’s attention was directed up to the second floor. There at the broken glass window were two teenage boys. One of the guys was waving frantically with his right arm while he held onto his limp friend with his left arm.

“Squad 51, prepare to do a search and rescue. There appears to be two males in the building, second floor, west corner.” Chief McConnikee informed them over the bull horn. He saw Johnny wave his arm in acknowledgement and both he and Roy secured their breathing apparatus and entered the building.

The groaning and creaking of the beams sagging in the middle were long past their structural solidity. The licking of the flames up the walls and across the ceiling was sending a message to the men that the building was surrendering to the almighty power of the fire. They knew they didn’t have long. Johnny was first up the stairs and made his way along the corridor to the west corner. There was an area of no floorboards and only a few rotten joists remained. Why is it that kids always pick the hardest or most dangerous places to get stuck in, Johnny thought. Treading carefully, Johnny only just made it across as the last joist gave way under his weight and Johnny fell to his knees as he toppled forward and landed with a grunt on the dusty floor on the other side of the great divide. Roy went to go next. Johnny stood at the edge waiting for him with his hand outstretched to help him across the last gap.

“Stop!” Johnny screamed out to Roy.

Roy halted in his tracks and looked up at Johnny.

“The next two joists are cracked right through. I don’t think they would take your weight, or mine and the victims. Go back and get help up to the window as it might be our only way out.

Roy nodded his head and threw Johnny the handy talkie before going the way he had come. Johnny made it to the room with the two boys in.

“Help us, please. I’m Larry, and this is my friend Carl. He got hurt when some of the roof fell on him. I can’t wake him up. We have to get out of here, there are more Molotov cocktails to go off. We got caught and our escape route was cut off. How did you get in? Can we get out that way?”

Johnny shook his head. Urgency was in his actions. Smoke was seeping its way into every corner and was starting its downward descent. Carl was unconscious and there was no reply to painful stimuli. His left pupil was slow and sluggish. Johnny thought he felt a depression over the young man’s right side of the skull. The boy needs help, we’re trapped and there are Molotov cocktails that still have to go off. This day just keeps getting better and better, Johnny thought. Johnny spoke into the HT to Cap informing him of the Molotov’s and that they couldn’t get out but Roy was on his way out now by the way they had got in.

“We are getting a ladder set up against the window. Can you make your way over? Chet will be coming up to help with the victim.” Cap instructed Johnny

“We are already there. Tell Chet to hurry up. If the Molotov’s don’t get us I think the flashover will. The heat is getting unbearable. HT 51 out.”

Sweat was trickling down Johnny’s back and arms. He so desperately wanted to wipe his forehead but that was a no go for now. He blinked salty sweat away as it ran into his eyes causing them to sting.

Hoses were angled over to the second story and water sprayed out trying to delay the flames eating away at the structure until the men were out. Roy had made it outside and ran up to Cap to see what was going on. He was instructed to set up a triage area.

Johnny had broken out the remaining glass to help speed up their escape before the ladder was placed against the building. Chet, finally made it to the top of the ladder. He helped to put the injured teenager over Chet’s shoulder and then he watched as Chet settled the patient more comfortably across his back and then started to slowly descend down the ladder. Larry was next with Johnny following. Johnny was the only person on the ladder. He was just about halfway down the ladder when Hell came and paid a visit.
It was hard to say what came first. Whether it was the flashover or the Molotov cocktails was anybody’s guess. Whatever it was the outcome was the same, carnage.

There was an eerie silence. It wasn’t of long standing. If you didn’t know it was a precursor to a fireman’s fear, then you would’ve missed it. After the quietness, came a deep alto sounding rumble followed by a loud blast with flying debris piercing the air like javelins. The heat of the blast caused flames to appear as if they were being pushed out with force between the wooden slats of the dying building. Windows broke and dirty, soot covered glass went flying, slicing the air with their sharpness and deadly trajectory. Smoke billowed out in angry streams like witch’s fingers clawing at the sky. Internal structures gave up their valiant fight and succumbed at last to gravity and the heat of destruction. The warehouse imploded and the debris that fell into the crater of hell was hungrily eaten up by the insatiable flames.

The shockwaves of the explosion felt like a punch in the solar plexus. Many firemen were brought to their knees. Others staggered under the power of the pummelling air pulsating through their bodies. Johnny was lifted up into the air, his hands and feet forcibly removed off the ladder. With nothing behind him, the momentum of the blast caused Johnny to sail through the smoke laden air and come crashing down to the hard asphalt below.

Roy ran over to him, calling out his name, stopping when he arrived at the crumpled heap. He immediately saw a piece of jagged glass sticking out from his partner’s side. The blood was turning his turnout coat red and a little pool of blood was forming on the tarmac mingling with the water from the hoses. Roy fell to his knees and put a hand out to feel for Johnny’s carotid.
Debris continued to rain down but the force wasn’t in it as before. The flames surged out of the windows. The heat was all encompassing. Some firefighters were shaking themselves to rid them of the debris that had landed on them. Others were getting back up on their feet. Hoses were recharged and aimed at the beast. The battle had recommenced.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

When the blast came, Chet and his victim were making their way over to the triage area; Larry had just got off the ladder. Roy was knelt over the biophone getting it set up. Chet, Carl and Larry were knocked to the ground. Chet was dazed and he hadn’t been able to put his arms out to break his fall. He had a laceration along his forehead and was seeing stars. His victim received another knock to the head from the hard impact with the asphalt. Larry was winded as his breath had been knocked out of him.

All the time that Roy was working on his best friend he saw a stillness that didn’t belong to his partner. He was pleased that Johnny wasn’t moving as he had no idea how deep or big the piece of glass impaled in his friend’s side was. Johnny was carefully placed onto a backboard and strapped down. Roy was cutting off the turnout coat, carefully working around the glass. A donut dressing was placed around the glass and he wrapped a c-collar around the swan like neck of his partner. He contacted Rampart and relayed his initial findings and proceeded to do their orders.

“Rampart, IV now secured and lactated ringers running TKO. Victim has still not woken. Repeat vitals are bp 115/70, pulse 89, resps 20. Pupils are equal and reactive. Squad 51 out.”

“Continue to monitor, maintain spinal precautions and bring in ASAP.” Dr House instructed.

Roy watched the fluid run into his partner’s arm and the paleness stay on Johnny’s face. The donut dressing was starting to turn red. Roy carefully added more packing around the wound, hoping to staunch the bleeding and stabilise the spear of glass. The ambulance attendants helped to load Johnny and Chet into separate ambulances. The young man named Carl was loaded and the ambulance whisked away with Reyboy from 24 tending to the young man. His friend sat in the front nursing a winded chest and shock.

“I need you to wake up now, Johnny. I have a lot of apologizing to do.” Roy said as he held Johnny’s hand squeezing it, hoping that Johnny would wake and give him a lopsided smile and tell him that everything was okay and to let go of his hand. Roy was overcome with despair and guilt. “Please don’t let the last thoughts of my best friend be of how I belittled his culture. Roy did something he hadn’t done in a long time, he prayed.

“Hurts” Johnny said.

Roy broke his prayer and looked at Johnny’s face, “I know Junior, but we are just about at Rampart. Can you open your eyes for me? Can you tell me where it hurts?” Roy asked, suddenly feeling hopeful of a good outcome.

“No, sleeping. Got headache, chest hurzzz. Tired….What’s… arrgghhh ….whaz wrong with my side?” Johnny went to put his hand over his side but found them tied to the board. He started to panic. His eyes opened but he was completely disorientated. This wasn’t the station. What was going on? He became more combative but just caused more pain for himself. “Not station.” He kept repeating.

Roy was on the biophone to Rampart relaying Johnny’s agitation and apparent disorientation. 2mg diazepam IV were ordered. The last thing anyone wanted was Johnny slicing his internal organs to pieces. Roy administered the drug and then seeing Johnny settle slightly got new vitals.

“Rampart, patient given 2 mg diazepam IV, patient has become more settled. Vital signs are pulse 122 and bounding, resps 26, bp 130/90. Pupils, equal but slightly sluggish. Rampart, be aware that I have rechecked pupillary response twice and reading is consistent. Pt awoke briefly and complained of headache, chest pain and pain in side before becoming distressed. Squad 51, out.”

“Retake vital signs and pupillary response every 5 minutes. What’s your ETA 51?” Dr House asked.

“We are entering the hospital grounds now, over.”

The ambulance reversed up to the entrance. Roy felt some relief that they were finally at the hospital and Johnny would get treatment. The back doors flew open and Drs House, Early and Brackett stood waiting to help get the gurney out.

“He’s going into 3.” House ordered. Dr Early followed them all into room 3 helping to guide the gurney. House had called him in for a neuro consult. Johnny’s behavior, pupil response and climbing vital signs didn’t bode well for the young man.

Brackett was waiting for his patient and the ambulance was pulling up now to reverse in. “How’s he doing?” Brackett asked Reyboy from squad 24.

“His bp is starting to climb with widening pulse pressure and he’s becoming bradycardic. Respirations are starting to decrease. Pupils are dilated and non-reactive.” Reyboy replied.

“Damn.” Brackett mouth twitched and he helped wheel the young man into treatment room 2. “Have the family been notified yet, do we know?”

“Negative, Doc. His friend sat in the front of the ambulance on the way in. He’s in shock after his friend convulsed that first time. He says the patient is Carl Simpson, 15, of Carson City High School. Police have been informed and they are tracking down the parents now.” Reyboy said. The door opened and JC popped in.

“Chet is in room 7 with Carol and Morton. We ready to go?” JC asked. Brackett released them and they made their way over to room 3. JC juggled the HT out of nerves. Reyboy was chewing his lip. They waited for someone to come out of the room to let them know how Gage was doing.

“It doesn’t seem that long ago when Gage was a patient here.”

“Yeah and Chet fainted on the floor thinking he was dead. Thing was, he did die and they struggled to bring him back then. How many times can you cheat death?” JC asked his partner.

“I don’t know, but Gage is sure testing the limits isn’t he?”

Next minute, the portable x-ray machine was trundling down the corridor, heading in their direction.

“Here we go, we’ll find out soon enough now.” Reyboy said.

They held the door open for the machine and heard House call out for skull, c-spine, chest and abdominal pictures. JC noted Johnny’s uniform cut up and in a plastic bag over in the corner. A catheter bag was attached to the table and hematuria was present. Johnny lay naked on the back board with only a sheet draped over his lower half affording him a modicum of decency. He was still unconscious and deathly white. A large shard of glass was protruding from his left side. An oxygen mask was fogging with every exhalation. Student nurse Sharon Walters came out carrying several tubes of blood. She was rushing them down to the lab.

The Drs left the room with Roy following. Dixie stayed behind to help position Johnny and ensure that the glass didn’t move during the x-ray taking. Everybody else, stood just outside, ready to return at a moment’s notice if needed. The x-rays were going to take some time, Johnny was having a lot taken. Roy wouldn’t be surprised if Johnny glowed when they were all done.

“How is he?” JC asked.

“Too soon to tell,” House replied.

The tones sounded and JC and Reyboy got called out to an MVA with casualties. “We might see you later. If not, hope all goes well.” JC said as the two paramedics left.

“I can’t rule out a lacerated kidney at this stage. The x-rays and ultra sound scan will help us with that. I can guarantee that there is damage to his kidneys given the hematuria. In all honesty I don’t think that they are lacerated as his bp is holding only too well and there’s no abdominal rigidity that you would expect with a major injury. However, his vital signs don’t fit with what’s going on. They too are a bit of an enigma right now. I think they might be pain related. We will just have to wait and see.” Dr House said.

“I need to phone Susie. Excuse me.”

Roy made his way to the payphone and dropped a coin in and dialed Jo. He told her what had happened and got Susie’s phone number. He then dialed Walker, Clarke and Associates Veterinary Hospital and got Nellie on the phone. He was put through to Susie who was just back from tending a sick cow with mastitis. Susie was instantly concerned when she got the news. She had to reschedule some visits and one of her colleagues volunteered to get his wife to drive her to the hospital but Susie declined the offer. Nellie said she would see to her appointments for the rest of the day thereby freeing Susie up to go right away.

Forty-five minutes later, Susie came through the doors at Rampart’s ER. She saw Dixie and Roy huddled together. Dixie had her arms around Roy and was patting his back. Roy had his head resting on her shoulder. Susie stopped in her tracks. Her heart lurched and she was instantly frozen to the bone. Johnny’s gone, Susie thought. Her hand clutched her chest and she could feel the bile coming up her throat. Clasping a hand over her mouth, she looked around wildly for the nearest ladies. Please don’t let me make a mess here. She spied the international logo and ran to the woman’s room.

She found the nearest empty cubicle and a gush of vomit forced its way out splashing into the bowl. Her heaving and retching echoed around the room. A fellow woman heard her distress and left to seek medical aid for her. She saw a blonde nurse consoling a man in turnouts.

“Excuse me, but there’s a young woman in the washroom. She’s not doing very well. I think she needs some help.” The kindly woman said.

Dixie excused herself from Roy and made her way into the washroom. She found the woman kneeling on the floor, her hair dishevelled and the occasional sob and further retching coming from the woman in obvious despair.

“Can I help you, dear?” Dixie said as she knelt next to the woman, a vague sense of recognition struck Dixie. It was the perfume the woman wore. It was the same as Susie’s, as was the hair and physique. “Susie?”

“Dix…Dixie, oh… God, Did he …..suffer? Please….tell me he didn’t suffer.”

“Oh, Susie, he’s still alive. He’s hurt, but the Drs are optimistic he will make a full recovery. Let’s clean you up and then maybe you can go in and see him.”

“I saw you comforting Roy, it looked like Johnny had died as he looked so sad and… and … my imagination put two and two together and got six. Oh, Dixie you don’t know how relieved I am.” Susie was still feeling emotionally wrought.

“Oh, I think I do. C’mon Susie we have a very important man to go see.”

Having washed her face and rinsed her mouth out. Susie dragged a comb through her hair returning its shine and bounce as it fell into its wavy curls. Dabbing on a cherry red lipstick and pinching her cheeks, Susie squared her shoulders and took a couple of deep breaths. “Right, I’m ready. Does it look like I’ve been crying?” Susie said with slightly pink eyes.

“You look like a woman whose fiancé has been hurt in an explosion. Beautiful and worried. Now, why don’t we go see that fiancé of yours and see if we can’t wake him up again.”

Dixie led them to room 3. Johnny lay quiet and still on the table. The rails were up and the bruising down his right side of his body was evident. The glass sticking out from his left side with a blood soaked donut bandage around it was glaringly obvious. The white hospital sheet lay just below the wound. Susie noticed there was a small amount of blood ooze that had stained the edge of the sheet. His oxygen mask ghosted over every few seconds with the warmth of his breath. The regular beep of the heart monitor set a steady and fast pace.

“He looks so pale.” Susie said. Roy was standing on the other side of the gurney. He looked sad and older than his years. “What happened, Roy?”

Roy told her what happened and was about to tell her about how Johnny was upset with all the guys when Dr House came in.

“Dr House, how badly is Johnny hurt and will he be alright?” Roy asked.

Susie stood next to the gurney, listening avidly. She gripped Johnny’s hand tighter as the injuries were relayed.

“I’ll start from the top and work my way down. He has a moderate to severe concussion but no skull fracture or bleed on the brain. He has bruised ribs on his right side but no fractures. There is bruising to his kidneys and we expect the hematuria to lessen as time goes by. We will be monitoring his input and output very closely, and here is the good part, the glass has not hit anything major, but we will need to remove it under light sedation given his head injury. There’s no significant intra-abdominal bleeding. He has a few small cuts and contusions. All up, I would say that Johnny was very lucky. We will be moving him up to the OR soon. Why don’t you stay with him for a while and talk to him.” Dr House said before he patted Johnny on his shoulder and then walked out of the room.

Chapter Twenty Nine

The men from 51’s entered the ER. Cap was looking around for someone to tell him what was happening to his two men. The station had been stood down until replacements could be found. Cap decided they could be stood down just as well at the hospital as they could back at the station. Three grimy, sweaty men entered in full turnout gear.
Roy saw them as he and Susie were coming out of room 3. Johnny was wheeled out next with an orderly.

“What’s happening with Johnny?” Cap asked.

“He’s off to surgery to get the glass removed. We are going up now with him. I don’t know how Chet is, sorry. I believe he was in room 7.” Roy told Cap as they followed the gurney to the elevator.

Cap said he’d find out about Chet and meet him up in the OR waiting room. Unfortunately, they were all familiar with its whereabouts from previous vigils when one or the other had been hurt. Mike and Marco joined Johnny’s entourage to the elevator. It was the first time Marco had seen Johnny and he was sickened when he espied the glass sticking out from Johnny’s side. Mike had seen the blood and glass but now that the clothes were removed it looked worse that what he thought it would. The procession waited at the elevator, after pushing the button the lights showed an elevator descending from the 4th floor. The others were on the 6th floor, and not moving, while the last one was going up.

Cap entered the waiting room. It was very quiet and the faces all looked up expectantly. He hadn’t been gone that long, had he? He looked at his watch and saw 30 minutes had gone by from when Johnny was wheeled into the elevator.

“How’s Chet?” Mike asked.

“Apart from a slight concussion, fourteen stitches on his forehead and bruised wrist and knees, he’s going to be fine. They are keeping him here overnight and will review him in the morning for possible discharge. He’s more concerned about Johnny. I promised him I wouldn’t leave without telling him how he’s doing, but if we have to go before then, could you tell him Susie? He’s in room 219.” Cap stated.

“Not a problem, I’ll be pleased to help out.” Susie replied and gave Hank a small smile. He looked tired and world weary Susie thought, it must be hard when your crew gets injured during your command. She studied Hank a bit longer and could see why Johnny held him in great esteem.

Suddenly it occurred to her that Chet was actually injured, even though it had been mentioned a couple of times. “Has anybody phoned his girlfriend?” Blank faces stared back at her. “When you phoned me Roy, had you told Nellie about Chet?” Seeing Roy looking confused as to who Nellie was, Susie elucidated, “Nellie was the woman you spoke to before me. She’s our receptionist and Chet’s girlfriend. They met the night of my birthday and surprise engagement party.”

Recognition lit up his face and then consternation quickly followed. “Um, no, I didn’t know she was his girlfriend, I knew Chet had a girlfriend but didn’t know who it was.”

“I’ll phone her and let her know, I’m sure that my colleagues will be eager to hear how Johnny is as well.” Susie got up from the table and made her way to the payphone across the room. She was hunting through her bag looking for her purse when Cap walked up and gave her some loose change, she thanked him and then phoned work.

“I met Dr Brackett downstairs just before I came up. He wanted me to tell you Roy, that the young boy that Johnny got out of the building isn’t going to make it. Something about a depressed skull fracture extending down to the base of the skull and major bleed causing his brain to cone from the increased pressure. Does that make sense?” Cap asked.

“Sadly, yes. He’s only 15 apparently. What a waste.” Roy said dejectedly to the room at large.

“His parents consented to donate his organs so they are doing all sorts of tests and phone calls. He said if he has time he will pop up to see how Johnny’s doing. The transplant team is coming over from Harbor General and Dr Brackett will be handing over the case to them. He said he will be free later on today.” Cap then sat down at the table and joined in the silence that was momentarily broken.

Susie eventually got off the phone having updated her boss and informing him about Nellie’s boyfriend. Losing two staff to sick boyfriends wasn’t an everyday occurrence and wouldn’t happen again she hoped. She resumed her place at the table and waited for word on Johnny. It seemed to be taking forever.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

“I want to thank you, Roy for being there for Johnny when he was hurt. You have no idea how much it means to both of us.” Susie said.

The other men from 51 looked at Susie and then down to the floor. They were all feeling guilty from lunch still and now Johnny was injured and their chance to apologize was hindered by this new inconvenience.

“I… I need to tell you something Susie. It’s what I was telling Dixie when you saw us. I’m afraid you may change your mind about Johnny wanting me around.”

Susie looking confused, went to speak, but Roy put his hand up and continued. “Please this is so hard. I need to do this without interruption. Then if you want me to leave, I will.”
Roy then told her everything that had happened over lunch, he then went on to explain previous times they had laughed at Johnny’s culture and how there must have been times that Johnny had been spoken to less than respectfully because of his bloodline. He looked at Susie throughout the explanation. He saw her face take on a distant look and realized that by hurting Johnny he had hurt her too. “I’m so sorry, Susie, Johnny is looking at leaving 51’s. You have no idea how much I am so truly sorry. My best friend and little brother’s been hurt on so many levels and it is us, his friends, that have done it to him. I’m really very, very, sorry. If I could turn the clock back I would. I can understand if you never want to see or speak to me again.”

Roy went to leave but was stopped by Susie.

“Oh, no you don’t buster! You will stay right here and we will discuss this here and now!” Susie was only little, but she was a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Susie looked around the room and saw the guilty looks on the men’s faces. That was answer enough for her to know that they admitted their part in it.

“I’m not going to bite your heads off, I may do a coochee mama, as Chet calls it, but I think we all need to talk this out, don’t you?” Susie wasn’t smiling but her voice held no anger and that somehow was reassuring for Roy. However, as with Chet that one time, Roy wasn’t completely sure if Susie was joking about kicking him in the balls. She not only said it so seriously, she looked it too. He sat at the table with the other men and Susie was sitting opposite him.

“I understand about prejudice. I’m a female working in a predominantly male workforce. I’ve been mistaken for our receptionist I don’t know how many times, and have had to listen to new clients say ‘Don’t send out that female vet. I’ve heard she ain’t no good with the strong ‘uns.’” Susie laughed at that. “If only they knew that size and gender has nothing to do with it, it’s all about fulcrums and position - just like judo. I’m also a short person in a world built for tall people. Also let’s face it, I, like over half the population, am a woman living in a man’s world. You guys don’t make it easy on us woman. You don’t even let woman into the fire service. Heck, until I started teaching judo to you and your family Roy, you couldn’t even throw me to the floor, now you’re throwing Johnny. Women aren’t weak and dropping with the vapors, like you all like to think. We are strong and just as capable, sometimes even more so.”
“Johnny will get over this but I do think you all need to look at your behavior and see where you can improve it. I know, as does Johnny deep down, that you are all his friends and as such you love him. I also know that you are his best friend, Roy, and will always be so. And Cap, Johnny holds you in very high regard, he looks upon you as a father since he doesn’t have one anymore. Mike and Marco, he sees you, and Chet as well, as his brothers in every sense of the word. Maybe it was about time it was brought to all of your attention, granted the timing sucks, but there will be plenty of time for you all to reflect on it. Johnny will be on sick leave for a while. Maybe Roy, you and the guys need some time without Johnny around so you can reflect on things without guilt or pressure. OK? Then, given the nature of the hurt, I think individual talks and apologies would be better, don’t you?”

Roy and the guys just nodded. The disharmony and widening gap in the 51 A shift family was reparable with a bit of work. They had a lot of thinking to do. Given how it was a personal thing maybe one to one apologies would be better than a group apology.

“Johnny sure did choose wisely, he got one smart woman as his future wife, didn’t he?” Roy said. It suddenly dawned on him that Susie was a lot like Jo. She was tough when needed but compassionate also and offered sage advice that only a woman could.

“Yep, and don’t you forget it, buster!”

They both laughed and got up from the table and hugged each other. “Thank you.” Roy whispered into her ear.

Roy poured them both a cup of coffee and sat back at the table putting Susie’s coffee in front of her.

“Thanks Roy.” Susie said.

A quietness settled in the room as everyone mulled over the last conversation. Everyone, but Susie, she was praying that everything was going alright in the OR. Lost in thought, everyone was startled out of their reverie when the door opened and Jo walked in. Seeing Roy, she went over and gave him a kiss.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

“How’s Johnny?” She asked.

After receiving an update, she sat down next to Roy and seeing an untouched coffee in front of Roy, she took it and quickly drank it. Roy gave her an offended look and muttered under his breath about petty larceny and knowing a cop or two.

“What? You weren’t drinking it, I’ve been running all day and organizing a last minute babysitter so that I could be here. I’m thirsty. In fact, I could do with another one, and since you’re the one complaining about it, why don’t you make another one for yourself. While you’re up there, can you get me a refill, please honey?” Jo smiled sweetly at the end and gave Susie a wink. “How are you holding up?” She asked Susie when Roy retrieved the cup and was making his way back to the coffee pot.

“I’m doing okay, but I’ll be better once Johnny’s out of surgery and doing alright. The Dr said that his main injuries are a moderate to severe concussion, and he has bruised ribs and kidneys. Amazingly enough there are no fractures, and the glass hasn’t cut anything major. He should be okay and back at work in a few weeks or so. He seems to always be getting hurt. How do you cope when Roy’s hurt?”

“He’s not hurt as much as Johnny because he is always being saved or protected by Johnny who takes the brunt of the injuries so that Roy can come home to his family each day. But now I’m thinking that Roy may be getting hurt a bit more as Johnny will be wanting to get home to you now that he has someone special in his life. Knowing Roy, he will probably reverse the role just to make sure Johnny comes home to you at night. Oh, my. I don’t think I reassured you at all. This isn’t the time or place really to go into the life of a being a fireman’s wife. How about we go to lunch or something and talk about it. I can answer any question you have, how does that sound?” Jo extended her arm across the table and squeezed Susie’s.

“It sounds like a good idea to me. Don’t worry, I won’t be running into the hills shrieking about it all being too much. I’m made of pretty strong stuff.” Susie said while remembering her earlier visit to the ladies and how she had a mini breakdown. She started to blush and a smile broke out on her face. I won’t be running to the hills but I may make a mad dash to the ladies’ room and throw up till there’s nothing left, Susie thought on a silent giggle to herself. You’re not really that tough after all, little hummingbird. Her eyes took on a quick glistening and her bottom lip quivered to the point she had to bite it to stop the telltale downcast set her face wanted to take on.

Chapter Thirty

It was another twenty minutes before Dr House entered the waiting room. He saw the remaining crew of 51 and two women clustered around the table with empty coffee cups dotted here and there.

Susie was the first one up and asking the usual questions “How is he? Is he going to be alright? Can I see him?”

“The operation went well, he will be fine, and yes you may see him. He is awake at times. The light sedation and concussion are playing havoc with his ability to stay awake and his lucidity. Don’t expect miracles. He has one heck of a headache that I can tell.”

House went to take Susie in to see Johnny. Susie turned around to Roy and held out her hand. “Aren’t you coming too?”

The three of them entered the recovery room and saw one pale, slightly greenish Johnny sleeping with his arm thrown over his eyes blocking out the bright light of the room.

Susie carefully grasped his other hand, mindful of the IV. “Johnny, honey, can you hear me. Open your eyes if you can hear me. Roy and I are here sweetheart. Open your eyes for me, my talaofo.”

Johnny stirred, he opened his eyes halfway and saw blurred images that doubled then became one then blurred and morphed into two. He groaned and slammed his eyes shut. The morphing made him feel sick and the light hurt his eyes. He swallowed a couple of times with difficulty as his mouth and throat felt dry from the continuous oxygen. The plastic was making him feel nauseated down to his toes.

“Johnny, are you going to be sick?” Susie asked.

Instead of answering verbally he answered physically and rolled over onto his bruised side and started dry retching causing him to gasp in pain. He was clutching his left side where he now sported a bandage and had the dressing been visible they would have seen small dots of blood dotted along the dressing where his incision lay. Sweat glistened on his body and the back of his hair was damply stuck to his head, outlining the shape of his skull. His hospital gown was not done up at the back and Roy could see the vertebrae and ribs clearly defined. The bruising extended to his back and the vivid purple and almost black discoloration was hot to the touch. That amount of bruising would significantly lower his hemoglobin and that could explain why a blood transfusion was dripping into his arm. The machines attached to Johnny showed he was still tachycardic at 140 and his blood pressure was 210/160.

Surely that wasn’t right and they had done something about it. “What’s going on with his vitals? They’ve never been like that before when he’s been hurt. They are almost off the scale for Johnny.” Roy enquired of Dr House.

“I think it’s a stress response to the injury and pain. His bp and pulse have been high ever since the accident. Believe it or not, his blood pressure is coming down, it was 230/165 before. I have given him a blood pressure medication, metoprolol, to help lower it. I would have thought that it would be working a bit more by now but we will just have to give it a bit more time.” Dr House said.

House then got paged to the ER. He made his way to the nurse’s desk and quickly scribbled something in Johnny’s chart then made his way down to the ground floor.
Johnny stayed in the recovery room for another two hours until he was stable enough to be transferred to his room. He was sharing it with Chet. Cap got notified via his HT that replacements for Chet and Johnny had been found. Roy returned to the station following the engine.

Chet was lightly sleeping when Johnny was wheeled in and transferred onto his bed. The noise woke Chet up. He wasn’t aware he was getting a roommate and hoped the guy wasn’t a snorer. He had a doozy of a headache going on and the local had worn off and his forehead smarted every time he moved his eyebrows. He rolled over and went back to sleep.

He was woken to the sound of his roommate vomiting. He rang the call bell and his nurse came in. “It’s not for me, but the other guy is vomiting.”

“Johnny, are you feeling a bit better now?” The nurse asked as she went around the dividing curtain and saw Johnny lying on his side clutching an emesis bowl. It contained sputum stained with yellow bile and little streaks of blood. He had vomited so much that some blood vessels in his gullet had burst. It wasn’t uncommon with persistent nausea and vomiting. The nurse checked the chart and saw that he could have some more anti emetic. She was leaving the room to get it when Chet asked if his roommate was John Gage. The nurse confirmed it as she left to get the medication.

“Gage, are you awake?”

“Yeah. Is that you Chet?”

“The one and only. How you doing Johnny? Are you okay? Can I get you something?”

“Water.”

Chet got out of bed and pulling the curtain back saw his friend huddled into a ball of misery. His eyes were squeezed shut, his face was pale and sweaty, and he looked like he was in a lot of pain. His catheter bag was full of dark colored urine and looked fit to explode. Chet brought over a glass of water with a straw and gently placed it against Johnny’s lips.

“Just a bit, Johnny. We all know you don’t handle anesthetics well and too much fluid after an operation for you could be a disaster for me. I’ll start sympathy chucking just to keep you company. I don’t want you spewing all night for another reason, you need to rest and get some sleep to get better soon.”

Johnny took two small sips of water and spat it out into the bowl. Then he took another couple of sips to swallow and wet his dry mouth and throat.“Finished, thanks Chet.”

“What are you doing out of bed?” the nurse asked when she saw Chet tending to Johnny.

“He’s my friend, and I was seeing that he was alright.”

“He’s fine, you need to get back into bed, you’re not meant to get out without someone with you.”

She then turned her attention on to Johnny, and after checking his details, gave him the Compazine IM for his nausea and vomiting. She then did his neuro observations and took his vitals. He still was moderately concussed and missing things like his birthday and today’s date. His blood pressure was down to 190/150 and pulse 128, temp was 101.4. GCS 13/15.

Chet pointed out the bulging catheter bag and the nurse made a comment that she would be back soon to drain it.

“Always knew you were a great pisser, Gage.”

Johnny didn’t answer, he had gone back to sleep.

“Typical, I get a great one liner and have no audience.” Chet grumbled.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

The nurse came back a short while later and was draining the bag. She glanced a look at Johnny and saw he had gone very pale and was breathing very fast and shallowly.

“Johnny. Johnny.” She called into his ear while rubbing his chest.

The nurse’s call went unanswered.

“He doesn’t look right.” Chet said, stating the obvious.

The nurse retook Johnny vitals and then retook his blood pressure another two times. She got the same reading every time. She plotted them down on his chart and then pushed the emergency call button and tipped Johnny’s foot of the bed up so that he was lying head down. The nurses came running into the room.

“What is it?” the head nurse asked.

“I dunno. His blood pressure has crashed and he’s more tachycardic. I also can’t wake him to voice or painful stimuli. He was talking just before he crashed.

Within minutes Dr Early rushed into the room. He was part of the crash team and had been paged to Johnny’s room by a junior nurse. Dr House, recognizing the room, also came running in. With all the excitement, no one thought to draw the curtain back around. Chet said nothing hoping they would forget he was there and he could see what was happening to his friend.

Susie came bounding into the room next. She had been in the hospital cafeteria having supper while Johnny was sleeping. She planned to see him till the end of visiting hours.
Chet saw Susie and put his fingers up to his mouth, signalling her to be quiet. Maybe the Drs and nurses wouldn’t see her arrival and kick her out, with Chet included. Picking up on Chet’s plan she moved to the corner of the room by the head of Chet’s bed. They were afforded a good view at times depending on where Dr Early stood.

The nurse repeated her story to the attending doctors. Early was looking at the chart and saw the blood pressure of 80/60 and pulse 140 and resps of 32 documented next to 190/150 blood pressure and 128 pulse and resps 18 from only a few minutes earlier. The only thing done in that time was IM Compazine. It shouldn’t cause that reaction so suddenly, if at all. What’s going on with you, Gage, this time round? Can’t you for once just be normal? I sure don’t need to look very far when I’m trying to find the cause of me going prematurely grey now, do I. You and all these complications? What has brought about this sudden shock response? Dr Early thought as he ruminated over the readings. Further blood pressure readings showed no improvement.

House reviewed the charts and conferred with Dr Early. He then charted a levarterenol infusion. He saw the small bore needle in Johnny’s arm and unable to palpate a vein called for a cut down kit. Dr Early saw Susie and Chet staring over at Johnny and back at him then at Johnny again. He nodded his head to them and they followed him out of the room, even though Chet was on bed rest.

"I’ll be honest with you. Right now we don’t know what caused Johnny’s blood pressure to drop. He’s exhibiting severe signs of shock but I don’t think he is bleeding out. There is no abdominal tenderness of rigidity or distension. He had IM Compazine which he has had several times before and this has never happened. It’s also not an appropriate response to that drug. We need to get his blood pressure back up and prevent multi organ failure. I see his blood pressure was running at a very high level before and that isn’t normal for him either. I’m baffled as to what’s going on.”
“We will need to move him to ICU for very close monitoring. Greg is placing a wide bore needle in him as a precaution. We will be taking him to the OR to insert a central venous catheter in him, and we may just open up that wound again and see if there’s any free blood in his belly. If there is we will need to perform an exploratory laparotomy. We will be doing some special monitoring due to the medication we want to give him. I will need to organize an OR and ICU bed for Johnny. I’ll answer any questions you have when we have Johnny upstairs and everything attended to.” Dr Early then turned on his heel and swiftly made his way to the nurses station and pick up the phone.

The two stood in the hallway stunned at what they had just heard.

Susie started to gently weep as she realized she could lose Johnny. Chet went and put his arms around her and she cried into his hospital gown. Chet could feel cool air around his lower back and down to his toes. Susie had managed to pull his gown apart and Chet was standing in the middle of the corridor at peak visiting time with his butt hanging out for all to see. Somehow that didn’t seem that important, the young woman crying in his arms right now was of higher priority. Chet didn’t like to see women crying at any time. He offered soft words of encouragement and support to Susie. He was gently patting her back while he consoled her, just like a father would a child.

“I phoned work and told Nellie about you being admitted.” Susie told Chet.

“I know, she phoned to see how I was doing. They have a late clinic tonight so she won’t be in until just before the end of visiting hours. I told her not to visit as it’s a long drive over from your clinic. I’ll more than likely catch up with her tomorrow after work.” Chet said. He also had told her not to bother with the deworming tablets, they weren’t needed anymore. It would’ve been a great prank but with all that had happened that day he decided that the Phantom was going to take a vacation for a while. He would also never do another racially based ‘joke’ again.

They saw Dr Early hang up the phone and then pick it up again and make another call. He turned and came back to Johnny’s room when he was done on the phone.

“We’ll be taking him to the OR shortly. It will be about a minimum two hour wait or so until he will be able to see visitors again, just so you know.”

Early then went into the room and they followed him, Chet hopped into bed. He was feeling a bit lightheaded and standing for too long hurt his head and made his headache come on a bit stronger.

Dr House had secured a large bore needle into Johnny’s right femoral vein. A stat bag of plasmanate was running into his groin. There was another 1L normal saline bag set up to go after the blood filler was through. The head ward nurse came into the room and was assisting Johnny’s nurse with the emergency. She handed Dr Early an operation consent form, and he filled it out and went over to Susie. She already knew what they had to do. She signed the form as his next of kin. Little did either one of them know that when Johnny had changed his next of kin to Susie after their engagement that it would be put into use so soon.

The OR orderlies arrived and Johnny was wheeled out in his bed to the OR.

Susie stayed with Chet for a little while but Chet was starting to droop and she politely left so he could get some sleep. Johnny’s bed came back. It was stripped and freshly made waiting for a new occupant. Susie went to a bank of phones on the wall and phoned work requesting emergency leave for the foreseeable future. She then phoned Station 51 and got Cap and informed him about the change in Johnny’s condition and how he was returning to surgery and then ICU.

Cap promised to inform the others and asked Susie if she needed some company there as he could get his wife over to be with her. Susie thanked Cap, but declined the offer. She would wait till Johnny was settled into ICU and then leave. She then phoned Dennis and brought him up to date with what was going on and then the conversation moved onto more general topics. He offered to come and sit with his niece while she waited at the hospital but once again Susie turned the offer down.

Susie was given interim leave for the next day but if her boss, Steve, was unable to find a locum vet at short notice Susie would have to return to work the day after tomorrow. Her work schedule was heavily booked and there was no available vet at the practice to pick up her workload. They had struggled today and that was partly why they were still open two hours after their closing time.

Chapter Thirty One

It had now been over two hours and Susie hadn’t heard anything. She sat in the ICU waiting room just waiting and waiting, listening to the clock on the wall, tick. There were other people in the waiting room and they, like her, were waiting for word on their loved ones. Initially they shared a bit of polite chatter but soon the conversations stopped and they sat there each wrapped up in their own world of anxiety.

Susie talked to the parents of a young boy who was brain dead and they were donating his organs. He had been hurt in a fire at a warehouse. He was a good boy, his mother kept saying and they wanted his goodness to benefit others. It was the ultimate gift. They hoped that it might redeem their son in the eyes of God, the Merciful. Susie sat there thinking how stoic the parents were, in what could only be their darkest hour. A young woman burst into the room, she saw her parents and ran over to them, crying the moment her father hugged her. The daughter, Susie thought correctly. The three sat there in white faced silence only broken by the occasional sob. She saw the parent’s lips moving from time to time and their hands moving the beads on their rosaries. They were obviously praying.

Susie wondered if Johnny had been involved in that fire. He had been hurt in a warehouse fire and so had the boy, what were the chances that it was the same fire she wondered.
Susie’s head was trained at the big window in the waiting room looking out into the corridor and ICU entrance. Susie sat for a while but couldn’t take it anymore. She started to pace back and forth, twisting her engagement ring on her finger.

I’ve had enough of waiting in waiting rooms today. They’re really torture chambers in disguise. How can people sit here and be so calm and patient? Susie thought. Susie saw movement of the ICU doors. Her heart leapt in her chest. Then she saw Dr Brackett come out with another two Drs that she didn’t know. They stood briefly outside and spoke for a moment then the two doctors she didn’t know went to the elevators and Dr Brackett came into the ICU waiting room. He saw Susie and his mouth twitched but he didn’t acknowledge her, he went over to Mr and Mrs Simpson and introduced himself to the daughter. He sat down and took the mother’s hand.

“The transplant team have arrived. We have contacted the three recipients whose lives your son will change forever due to the gift of hope and life your son is about to make. If you want to come in and say your farewells before he goes to the OR now is the time.”

Brackett extended his hand and the parents, too emotional to speak, just nodded their heads. He led them in to see their son and hold his warm hand one last time. The mother gently kissed her sons’ warm cheek and wished him Godspeed. She then broke down into howling sobs and buried her face in her husbands’ chest. The daughter couldn’t see for crying. She squeezed her brother’s hand and whispered “Goodbye Carl, know that I love you and will always remember you in love and laughter. Be one with God, Rest in Peace with the heavenly angels,” She then kissed his cheek and stood back to allow her father in.

The father bent and kissed his son and wished him a safe journey into the arms of Our Lord and Savior. He then removed his necklace with the crucifix on it and placed it around his son’s neck. The family then all linked hands with the parents, on either side of their son’s bed, they held his hand, completing the circle. They then said an Our Father one last time as a complete family.

The transplant nurse, waited till they had finished, then confirmed details with the family to ensure they had the right patient and then giving the signal to the orderlies they proceeded to take the young man, machinery and all down to the OR. His bags of life preserving infusions swinging on the poles as the bed made its slow procession to the elevator doors.

Susie was watching this mournful procession and was totally lost in the family’s grief, her own worries temporarily forgotten.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Dr House entered and Susie jumped at the sudden intrusion into her private thoughts. House told her Johnny was ready. They entered the ICU and saw Johnny just about back in his favorite spot. This time he was in the cubicle to the right of where he was last time. House was explaining that there was no free blood in Johnny’s abdomen so they had ruled out internal bleeding and therefore no laparotomy was performed.

Johnny was breathing on his own. A thin tube was running from one of his nostrils, the tip of the tube had a spongy foam plug occluding any air leaks and it conformed to his nostril. It ran through his oxygen mask and connected to the CO port on the monitor. He had a central venous catheter in now on the left side of his neck. He also had EKG monitoring on and a temperature probe going into his rectum. He had an arterial line in his left wrist which was strapped to a splint immobilizing his wrist.

He had the levarterenol bitartrate infusion running into one of the ports on the triple lumen central venous catheter in his neck. Another port had a cable connection and went from the second lumen up to the machine giving out a central venous pressure reading. The last port had saline running through to help his blood pressure. House went on to explain to Susie, when she commented about the PAWP cable, that because of the levarterenol infusion they wanted to measure the pressure in the left ventricle and pulmonary arteries so they could carefully gauge for any side effects. It would help them determine the hemodynamic state of Johnny’s circulatory system and possibly what was going on and help with their diagnosis and subsequent treatment. His left leg was restrained due to the PAWP catheter in his femoral artery.

He now had an hourly urine bag which was measuring the moderate hematuria that was dribbling into the first chamber.

There wasn’t anything that wasn’t being recorded, Susie thought as she looked at all the paraphernalia attached to her beloved. Johnny was under the influence of a sedative drug and wouldn’t be awake for some time. Susie stayed until the end of visiting hours. Seeing that Johnny was in good hands, she bent over and whispered into his ear and kissed him goodnight. “I’ll see you tomorrow my love, sleep well and whatever you do, don’t you leave me. Promise me, you will fight whatever this is, and come back to me.” A tear fell onto his cheek and she kissed it away. “I love you, talaofo.” Susie then gave one last lingering look at Johnny. Before she went home, she checked that they had her phone number as next of kin. She then made her way to the parking lot and headed home with a heavy heart and fearful of her phone ringing.

Back in ICU, Johnny’s arterial blood pressure was hovering around the 88/51 mark according to the monitor and his pulse was 145. So far there hadn’t been a great change in his recordings.

He had two nurses working on him at all times. He was on two minute vitals and recordings. One nurse was checking his pedal pulses which were marked with a big X for easy finding and checking the warmth and color of his legs. She was measuring his blood glucose every hour and adjusting the Levarterenol infusion as required every two minutes according to Dr House’s guidelines. The other nurse was the scribe and documented all the recordings down and the findings of Johnny’s extremities as dictated by the other nurse. Johnny had already gone through four ICU charts and was halfway through his fifth already. There was a stack of labelled ICU charts underneath the current one.
A strict fluid balance chart was also the responsibility of the scribing nurse. So far Johnny had more fluid in him than what was coming out. There was an alteration in his PAWP showing that Johnny was developing a slight pulmonary edema which had been an expectation all along. He remained hypotensive and critically ill. Yet the cause for this sudden change in his recordings remained unknown.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Dr Brackett sat at the table, in the ICU doctor’s office, nursing a cup of coffee. He was now available as his patient was in the care of the transplant team. Drs. Early and House were sitting in the doctor’s office too and the three of them were reviewing all the data they had so far on Johnny. Suggestions were put forward by all and they were either discarded or kept on the table. Possibilities were challenged and when it looked like they may have a winner, tests were ordered to either confirm or deny the diagnosis. So far sepsis was only partly ruled out and blood and urine cultures were taken to help with the diagnosis. Hyperparathyroidism, thyrotoxicosis and ETOH blood tests were added to the mix. Maybe Gage was going through alcohol or drug withdrawal. Cocaine addiction would fit with most of the symptoms. More blood tests were added checking for cocaine metabolites in Johnny’s blood. The timing and not all the symptoms fit but these were desperate times and nothing was to be ruled out until it couldn’t be ruled in. Sadly, dysautonomia from paraneoplastic syndrome did fit most of the symptoms but the thought of Johnny having cancer was unthinkable. Bloods were drawn for cancer markers too.
Psychological illnesses with physiological symptoms were discussed including generalized anxiety disorder and an overactive stress response causing him to crash and burn were entertained at one stage. But even they wouldn’t cause this.

Brackett was running with a rare form of medication reaction and Early although slightly reticent was favoring the neoplastic diagnosis. House, felt it was something else entirely but they just hadn’t done enough checking yet to determine what. House wanted to study Johnny’s medical charts from previous admissions. “What if this is a chronic condition and has been under our noses all this time?” House put to the other doctors.

“We would have seen the symptoms or something at least and Johnny being Johnny would’ve been going on about it ad infinitum. Not to mention he’s been a patient here so often that something would’ve shown up.” Dr Brackett said.

Dr Early started to nod and then became very thoughtful. “Headaches! He’s had a large amount of headaches and migraines. I treated him for cluster headaches and had to repeat his pain prescription only a couple of weeks ago.”

“He had a migraine at that disciplinary meeting a while back, he also had hand tremors.” House said.

“I don’t know if you could call that a symptom, everyone was shaking, even me!” Dr Early said. “I’m stumped as to what could’ve caused this. Nothing that we know fits in with anything that is presenting like this. Once again Johnny’s putting us through our paces.”

“I guess we wait for the blood tests to come back and see if that helps our differential.” Dr Brackett said.

“Going back to these cluster headaches, what were his symptoms?” House asked Early. The symptoms were quite general, apart from the daily occurrence, nausea and having them continuously for weeks nothing else about them fit the criteria for cluster headache. They weren’t located to just one side of his head and other symptomology wasn’t there.
“I don’t think he suffers from cluster headaches. There was no mass noted on his skull x-rays so I don’t think it’s a brain tumor but I think it’s something to do with now, today, just don’t ask me what, I don’t know? Any ideas, gentlemen?” House asked the two experienced doctors sitting around the table with him. They looked at each other, then at House. Early was fiddling with his silver bracelet and Brackett was frowning but both doctors were stumped.

Dr House not content with waiting made a bold suggestion. “I’m going to go through his medical files. I still think the answer lies in there somewhere.”

“Good luck with that. He must have a whole shelf dedicated to just his notes in medical records alone.” Dr Early said before chuckling at his own joke.

House phoned up medical records, while Gage remained critically ill and on the levarterenol infusion, House as attending wouldn’t be going far. He was off tomorrow but had every intention of getting to the root of this problem. He did like a good puzzle, and Johnny Gage was certainly giving him a good one. In due course House, Brackett and Early were looking at copious notes from Johnny’s last few admissions. House had only asked for the last three folders, one each for the doctors to study and see if they could find any links. Dr Brackett was paged back to the ER. He tidied up his folder and made his apologies before going.

Neither doctor could find anything but each were looking at their own file so any chronic trends weren’t being seen as the information being shared wasn’t helping to form a picture. It was a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Different eyes were seeing different things or interpreting them differently. Finally, Dr Early had to go, he was scheduled to perform brain surgery tomorrow and he needed to go reassure the patient and chart him sleeping tablets and a morning pre-med, and then get to bed himself. It was going to be a long surgery tomorrow to remove a brain tumor, and Dr Early needed to get a good night’s sleep.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

House was left alone with Johnny’s files. He got a fresh piece of paper and wrote signs and symptoms at the top of the page. He then wrote down what he knew, which wasn’t much. He decided that he needed to talk to people that knew him. Gage’s personal and work life had to be incorporated into the diagnosis. Could he have been exposed to an environmental toxin or biohazard? Was there something in his house slowly poisoning him? He went to check on Johnny and see if Susie was still there.

“Sorry, Doctor, but his fiancée left at the end of visiting hours.” The scribing nurse informed House.

There was some slight improvement. Johnny’s blood pressure was coming up to 100/70. Some blood results were in and they were all negative or normal. Nothing was jumping out. They had ruled out a few of their ill-fitting differentials and somehow House wasn’t surprised. He thought they were still skating around the problem.He reviewed all the recordings and slowed the normal saline infusion down.

House went back to Johnny’s medical records. He stopped at his last admission. The severe allergic reaction to chocolate. There was something there then that unsettled House if memory served him correctly. He got the chart out again and studied the notes well into the night.

Phoebe, who was the float nurse in ICU came and got House from the Dr’s office at 1AM. “Sorry to wake you Dr House, but you said you wanted to be informed when Johnny’s blood pressure stabilized at 120/80. Well, he’s there now.”

House got up, stretched and rubbed the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow. He quite liked the feel of it. Maybe he should grow his sideburns longer and not shave and develop a beard and moustache. It might make him look older he mused. He made his way into ICU and walked over looking at the monitors and glancing at the notes.

“I’m stopping the infusion. His blood pressure has stabilized and I see his recordings are all holding well. We might just be on the precipice here as we will see how much is the action of the drug and how much is Johnny himself?”

House stood there for a minute. Mulling over what he had just said. Something was circling round the edges of his consciousness. Of course! It had to be something to do with his autonomic nervous system and within that system the sympathetic nervous system or SNS. His blood pressure and palpitations even the tremors would be a SNS response. A smile crossed Houses’ face. “Flight or fight.”

“Pardon?” the scribe nurse asked House.

House wasn’t even aware he had spoken out loud. “Sorry, I was thinking to myself. I think I might have narrowed it down a bit, or at least it gives me a new avenue to go down. Has the sedation worn off yet?”

“No, he hasn’t even stirred.” The nurse replied.

“How long ago did he have any sedation medication given to him? I want him awake as soon as possible.”

“Um, he had some midazolam three hours ago.”

House retrieved the drug chart from her and crossed out the sedation drug. He then looked at the drugs charted and mentally reviewed their actions on the SNS. Having written the new orders and parameters, House left giving instructions to Johnny’s nurses to let him know if there were any changes, good or bad. With a frisson of excitement, House went back to Johnny’s notes and charts in the doctor’s office. He phoned Radiology and requested all of Johnny’s abdominal x-rays. He had an idea. He then looked at Johnny’s notes with renewed vigor. “Whatever you are, I’m gonna find ya. The body doesn’t lie. People do, but not the body.”

Chapter Thirty Two

After finishing his third cup of coffee in an hour, House was like a man possessed. He looked at the drug charts and vital signs. He had made a timeline of medications given and Johnny’s reaction from his vital signs. He also had gleaned information from nursing notes and doctor’s findings. It was all there, his possible diagnosis glowed off the page.
House could’ve kicked himself. He was 90% sure he knew what was wrong with John Gage but the only problem was he couldn’t fit the latest decompensatory shock to the condition. Nothing had been done to remove the problem so why was Gage’s body acting like it had?

That was the conundrum that House was now working on solving. If he could answer that he would be 100% certain of Johnny’s illness. It had followed the normal pattern that it had been until the IM Compazine was given to him. He phoned the ER and was informed that Dr Brackett had left for home several hours earlier.

Johnny had finally woken. He wasn’t completely lucid, the after effects of the drugs and the concussion made getting information difficult. In the end to speed up the process House just asked Johnny to say yes or no to the following symptoms. House then threw every symptom he could think of, associated with the illness he suspected, and a few red herrings in as well, to see if Johnny was following and not just saying yes or no at random. He even repeated the same signs and symptoms to see if he got the same answers, seeing that Johnny was concussed.

House told Johnny he had done well and he could go back to sleep now. Then seeing Johnny settle down again he ordered blood and urine tests to be taken later that day. It was a pity they had needed the levarterenol infusion. Hopefully they wouldn’t need to use it again and he could perform the diagnostic tests that would ultimately confirm his diagnosis.
Another thought came to him and he phoned the lab. He was in luck. One of the main blood tests he wanted done could be done on blood taken earlier that day when Johnny had been brought in and before the levarterenol infusion started. He remembered sending the student nurse to the lab with the vials. He told the lab he wanted the results for that test ASAP. He then ordered an abdominal x-ray on a hunch.

He made a mental note to contact Dr Tim Ford. He looked at his watch and saw it was only 3 o’clock in the morning. Far too soon to phone him, but he was ever so tempted. With a huge amount of restraint, he refrained from phoning the Dr, till a more respectable hour, seven thirty should do it. With a second wind, House went through Johnny’s notes and put torn up pieces of paper in the files that confirmed his diagnosis. He was right. It had been under their noses for quite a while. He started plotting out a timeline.

House decided he like the thrill of the hunt. He found he was fascinated by the puzzles and the feeling of euphoria when he got to the cause. He normally was presented with the effect and had to work back from there. Knocking off diagnosis like bowling pins when they were proved wrong, that is, until he got a strike and knocked the last pin down in victory.

Some illnesses had very few pins, some had a lot. Gage had had a few, but he had got his strike.

Chapter Thirty Three

At seven thirty House paged Dr Ford. He explained about his patient and his current condition and ultimately what he thought his illness was. Dr Ford was excited to say the least. He specialized in that area for over twenty years and had only had two patients with this condition. That’s how rare it was. He told House that he had some research to do but he would be there after his morning clinic.

Dr Ford requested the urine test to start now that the levarterenol infusion had stopped a few hours ago. He also warned House that Gage was not out of the woods yet and that they should keep up the 2 minute recordings as dangerous blood pressure spikes can happen instantly and be life threatening. Johnny could have a major stroke or heart attack, at the very least.

House went into the ICU and reviewed Gage who was fast asleep but rousing to voice now more easily. His blood pressure was slowly climbing and was currently 137/90. House instructed that they just continue to monitor. He ordered a 24-hour urine collection, and more blood tests.

“Johnny, Johnny can you hear me?” House asked. “I need you to open your eyes. I’ve got some questions I need to ask you.”

Johnny slowly opened his eyes and quickly shut them again “Lights”

The nurse then lowered the brightness of the lights in his cubicle and turned off the overhead light that shone directly down on his face.

“Try opening them now Johnny, the lights have been dimmed.”

Johnny slowly opened his eyes and found he could tolerate it a bit better but it was still too bright. A cave would be good about now, he thought.

“Johnny, I need to ask you some questions, you have to answer them for me, OK? Have you been getting chest palpitations at rest?”

“Yes. Thinking about court case.”

“I know you’ve been getting headaches, have you been getting sweats and tremors” House knew the answer to that before Johnny even answered it. He had seen it all at the disciplinary meeting. It had been misdiagnosed then as a migraine and a stress response to the gun going off. He even had an elevated blood pressure then, with hand tremors and palpitations. They had missed the signs way back then.

“Yes and yes. I’m not handling the stress of the upcoming court case very well. I’ve cut back on my coffee intake and saw Doc Early. I get cluster headaches. What’s going on doc. Didn’t I answer some of these questions yesterday?” His timeline was a little bit out but he was right about the questions.

“It wasn’t yesterday, Johnny, it was this morning. I think I know what’s causing all this. In a way you’re right about stress but it’s nothing to do with the court case. A specialist will be reviewing your case and if my suspicions are right we will be able to get you better. How does that sound?”

“Wonderful, can you do anything for my headache, I feel like my head is going to explode.”

House looked at the monitor as saw his arterial blood pressure was 143/95. “I’m sorry, but I think that’s the concussion to a large degree. Only time will heal that. Johnny if we are right about your underlying condition then we need to be very careful about what we do.”

“‘Kay.” Johnny closed his eyes again and started to dose. Sleep was welcoming. He had no pain when he slept. His eyes snapped open. “What…. what underlying condition?”

House was still there, he didn’t think Johnny had taken it all in. The concussion and sedation drugs were muddling his brain. “It’s ok, Johnny. I think that you have been ill for some time but I think maybe you have thought it was due to something else, court case, caffeine, work related stress, plain old headaches, that sort of thing. I’ll let you sleep. I will be back later with another doctor and maybe we will have some answers for you then. In the meantime, why don’t you just rest Johnny?”

Johnny had started to rest halfway through House’s explanation. The concussion had won out over personal interest and anxiety. I bet you’ve been anxious too, House thought as he went to see if Brackett was in. He needed to see if he agreed. He respected the head of the ER and would value his input one way or the other.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

“Brackett’s in his office.” Dixie told him as he came strolling down the corridor towards the base station. House was on a different mission after hearing that good news.

“Has he taken a coffee with him?” House asked.

Dixie just shrugged her shoulders. “I dunno, hey, aren’t you meant to be off today?”

House just smiled and said he thought he had cracked a case that had both Early and Brackett stumped.

“Really, and you think coffee might humor him when he finds out an intern has solved a case.” Dixie laughed.

“No, well, not completely! I haven’t slept much and I need some staying awake juice. Our young paramedic friend has been keeping me up all night.” House ended on a yawn.

“Johnny, you’ve been working on Johnny’s case all night? Do you know what caused him to crash like that?” Dixie asked with urgency and concern coloring her question.

“Yep, I think so, but as to why his blood pressure bottomed out I’m still not sure of that, but Dr Ford is looking into it.” House didn’t have time to take his first sip of coffee. Dixie had him by the arm and was dragging him to Dr Brackett’s office, coffee spilling out of his cup along the way.

“Betty, I’m in Kel’s office if you need me, oh and get housekeeping to clean up the mess House has just made with the coffee on the floor.” Dixie said as she was propelling House towards the office in question. Dixie knocked and then barged right in.

“Come…” Brackett was fixing his tie and was startled to see an excited Dixie dragging a tired looking intern sporting an unshaven look into his office “….in. I see that you already have, and to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure of you two barging into my office to?”

“Tell him? Greg thinks he knows what’s wrong with Johnny.”

Brackett was immediately all ears. His interest was piqued and he ushered House over to sit in his chair.

“Actually, it might be better if we go to the doctor’s office in ICU. It’s all laid out upstairs.”

Not one to waste time, Dr Brackett grabbed his coat and the party of three went to the elevator and pushed the button and waited. It was during this wait that Dixie remembered House mentioning Dr Ford. They had three on staff. One was an OBGYN, so it couldn’t be him. The other two were an oncologist and an endocrinologist.

“Which Dr Ford did you consult with?” Dixie asked. Her voice tight with fear. Please not the oncologist she was repeating in her head like a mantra. The doors opened and they entered.

“Tim. Not his wife Christina.” House said as he pushed the button for Johnny’s floor, he immediately saw Dixie’s shoulders relax and her face soften “As far as I’m aware, Johnny doesn’t have cancer.”

The doors opened and they made their way to the doctor’s office. Other doctors were in there and were marvelling at the new decorations done to the room from the night before
.
---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

“What the….” Brackett was speechless.

Covering the walls was a timeline with cause and effect depicting Injury in blue marker pen, Treatment, mainly drugs, in red and Vitals in green marker pen. “Um, I may have gotten a little bit carried away, but my initial signs and symptoms sheet wasn’t big enough.”

“You don’t say.” said an impressed Dixie.

“What’s this all in aid of?” one of the other doctors asked.

House was just about to explain when Dr Tim Ford came into the room.

“I was so excited, I’ve got my registrar doing my clinic without me. He’ll page if I’m needed. I don’t think he’ll need me. It’s just follow ups really. They should all be fine. Right where’s the evidence?”

House now had an audience of several doctors and one head nurse.

“This is what I’ve been able to gather from his last three set of patients’ notes. We have been assuming that every symptom we saw was belonging to the cause of his injury. There are three main incidents that highlight what I mean.”

House went to the second wall and pointed to the incident where Johnny had smoke inhalation and a slight concussion from a wall collapse at a fire. “He was admitted for an overnight stay in a medical respiratory ward for breathing treatments and IV rehydration. He was complaining of a headache, nausea and chest pain then. He was noted to be tachycardic and sweaty. It was put down to heat exhaustion but if that was the case he should have had dry skin, not sweaty. I think he was having a hypertensive episode and what we saw was the tail end of it. His vitals soon settled after fluid and breathing treatments although I think his palpitations and tremors were masked by the side effect of the salbutamol effect on his alpha receptors.”

“The next incident, where we have evidence is the chocolate allergy reaction. His blood pressure was recorded as 80/55, pulse 89 and resps 12 and labored. I was running the call, from the base station. I ordered Adrenaline IM and dexamethasone IV.”

There was a gasp from Dr Ford.

Several doctors turned to see the said Dr had his hand covering his mouth. Dixie and Brackett didn’t like where this was going.

“What happened to the patient?” Dr Ford asked.

“Initially the patient was still struggling to get air in and the medications were making no noticeable inroad. Vitals at that stage weren’t the main priority. I ordered another dose of adrenaline IM and IV hydrocortisone. He went into a hypertensive crisis with a blood pressure of 235/120 and had what I can only presume to be palpitations with an EKG showing sinus tachycardia, rate 146. Pt was extremely diaphoretic. Pt went into V Tach, then cardiac arrested. He required several more doses of adrenaline including intra cardiac and four defib shocks before we got him back. You’ll see here how his blood pressure and pulse were weak 60/30 and 70 respectively. Within 5 minutes it was 210/105 and pulse 128."

Brackett was piecing it all together. The color drained from his face. “It can’t be.” Now he understood why Dr Tim Ford was sitting in on the consult.

Several doctors leaned forward in their chairs but those standing just stepped closer and stooped over listening intently. This was better than a ‘Marcus Welby MD’ show. Murmurings broke out amongst the group.

Brackett started to laugh and everyone turned to him as it was the least expected response from the head of ER. “The son of a gun has done it to me again.” Receiving blank and confused looks from those who hadn’t clicked to the diagnosis, Brackett explained “Pheochromocytoma! That boy doesn’t do anything halfway!”

The looks of shock then genuine medical interest appeared on all the doctors in the room.

“Here are your blood results for the metanephrines you ordered from that blood tube when he arrived. It confirms your diagnosis, Dr House. I’ve been doing some research myself. There is evidence of an 18-year-old girl that had the same catastrophic circulatory shock that Gage had after IM Compazine. Now here’s the kicker,” Ford sat on the edge of the table swinging his leg back and forth, “She too had a pheochromocytoma and after the Compazine it was gone. It appeared the Compazine destroyed her tumor. She survived the ordeal, by the way, and is now living a normal life. Subsequent checks show no return of the tumor, and she is not requiring any medications in any way, shape or form.”

“You said there were three events which highlighted the pheochromocytoma effects. Where’s the third?” asked Brackett, thinking he had already missed one presentation, had he missed two?

“Yesterday, Gage was brought in with a severe concussion and a foreign body impaled in his abdomen following a blast off a ladder at a fire.”

One of the younger doctors was heard to say that the patient should get another line of work as he wasn’t very good at this one. Dixie went up to the young doctor and made it quite clear that he was one of the best, if not, THE best firefighter paramedic in the county. It was because he cared so much that he got hurt as often as he did. Also, that his job held an intrinsic danger, one that they couldn’t even begin to understand. “While we are all screaming and running out of burning buildings, they are running in, often without any additional support for their own safety. What can you say about your job that’s on par with that?” Dixie wanted to know.

The young doctor was suitably abashed. Brackett gave Dixie a wink and she went and sat next to him. She wanted to hear what Greg had to say about yesterday.

“As I was saying, when Gage was brought in, his vitals were all normal; bp was 115/70, pulse 89 and resps 20. However, his bp and pulse continued to climb to 230 systolic, and we attributed it to a stress response and pain, possibly thinking a touch of dehydration as well having been cornered in a hot and burning building with no escape route. He was given metoprolol for his blood pressure which being a beta blocker, we know is not the first line of anti -hypertensives for pheo’s. He would’ve been better with verapamil, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. You’ll see that he was given verapamil on his first admission when he had smoke inhalation and concussion. His vital signs showed no cause for concern.”
“However, with the metoprolol, his vital signs depicted a very slow response to that, naturally enough. What we didn’t know, which I now believe it to be, is that these recordings were depicting the pheochromocytoma in its active phase. His bp was slowly coming down after a few hours of being over 200 systolic, the active phase of the pheo was going back into its own rest cycle and we were thinking it was the effect of the metoprolol. Gage had a headache and a fever so the symptoms of the sweating, tremor and headache were disguised by the concussion and possible post op temp.”

“It was hiding in plain sight! I don’t believe it! We studied those charts last night and I never saw any of that.” Brackett said.

“That’s because we were all fooled with what his presenting complaint was. It had me fooled too. It was only after I stopped the levarterenol infusion in the early hours of the morning when his blood pressure made it to 120/80 that I said something that made my brain go down this road.”

“Of course!” Brackett said out loud. Several heads nodded. They had followed the train of thought.

“Well, not all of us are doctors, and not all the doctors look like they are on the same road as you. Will someone care to tell me what some of you are looking so smug about?” Dixie said.

“In pheochromocytoma’s, the tumor in the adrenal gland produces a large amount of adrenaline and noradrenaline. It releases it without any stimulus, like the fight or flight that it would normally be released in. Johnny has been living off high doses of these hormones being released into his bloodstream every day for several months or more. With pheo’s they run to their own cycle usually every 18 hrs or so, hence his complaint of headaches once sometimes twice a day. That was when his blood pressure would be sky high. Yesterday, after what I now know and believe to be the IM Compazine spontaneously destroying his pheochromocytoma during its active phase, the levels of those hormones drastically decreased. The circulatory effect, of those hormones, last only about two minutes. Johnny was going through a major withdrawal, for want of a better analogy. We inadvertently gave him the one drug he needed to survive without knowing at that stage that that was what he needed. We, in effect, became his pusher.”

“I would be happy to oversee his care, I take it you have ordered the 24 hour urine collection to check his catecholamine levels?” Dr Ford asked.

House nodded his head and requested permission to be involved in Johnny’s care as the likelihood of him ever coming in contact with another patient with a pheochromocytoma was a long shot. Brackett, could only nod his head but reminded House, his first priority was to the ER.

“I ordered an abdominal x-ray in the early hours of the morning too. I would like you to take a look at this.” House then put two pictures on the light box. “A before and after.”
The doctors all got up and peered at the x-rays. House was pointing to the right kidney. There was a small darkened area about the size of a pinhead where his adrenal gland would be. “The only reason I know to look there is because of this picture taken in the small hours of this morning.”

The darkened irregular area was more easily discernible. It was the size of a dime and resembled a collection of blood as seen on x-rays in the past. It was nothing spectacular, but it was quite a diagnostic aid to support the findings. “I’ve ordered an ultrasound to help confirm. It should be done sometime this morning.”

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

“Well. I’ll be. You did good work House. I’d have you on my team any day.” said Dr Ford.

“Hey, now hold on. Stop poaching my interns. I’m trying to get him to stay in ER. Emergency medicine is just in it’s infancy.”

“Sorry gentlemen, but I really like diagnostics. I have to admit though it was fun going for that last bowling pin.” Seeing several confused looks, House just muttered, “Never mind.”

Various doctors went up to look at the walls and followed the fluctuating patterns of the pheochromocytoma and how it reacted to the drugs. Dr Ford had even pinned the metanephrine result to the last episode from yesterday.

House was picking up Gage’s files from the table. He had to return them to medical records. He had found the answer to this puzzle and now he was looking for his next one. He gave a small chuckle, the way he saw it both he and Johnny were addicted. Johnny to his adrenaline and noradrenaline which admittedly kept him alive and as for himself, well he lived for the puzzle of the undiagnosed off the wall conditions he thought to himself as he walked down the corridor towards the elevators. It was his day off and he had plans of going to bed sometime today. He was beyond tired now that his adrenaline buzz had worn off.

“House, House, wait up.” Brackett was calling from the doctor’s office.

When Brackett finally caught up to him, he suggested that House may like to present the case in next month’s Q and A. He would be the lead presenter since he had been the primary attending and had cracked the case. He would offer any assistance he needed. House accepted and went back to retrieve his notes from the walls of the office.

Dixie was coming out. She held them in her hand. “You’ll be needing these.” she said as she gave him all the notes from the now empty walls. “You are going to make a helluva specialist someday. If I ever get sick I with anything out of the ordinary, I want you treating me, and Kel of course. She said when she eyed the dark haired doctor that set her heart aflutter many a time.

Chapter Thirty Four

Susan was back in the ICU waiting room. She was tired, she hadn’t slept well last night, and eventually she just had a shower and came back in time for visiting hours.

“Susie! Would you like to follow me and see Johnny?” Brackett asked. House, having returned from medical records, had gone in to ICU ahead of the others.

They went up to his cubicle and looked at the man sleeping there with a pillow tilting him slightly to his side. He still had his wrist splint and leg restrained due to the catheters in his arteries monitoring his different pressures. His blood pressure was slightly elevated and sat at 160/120. His abdomen was slightly distended. Susie went up to Johnny and took his hand. “Good morning, Talaofo. How is my big strong palm tree? You stayed, you didn’t go away.” Susie bent down and kissed Johnny on his forehead. He felt slightly warm. She looked up at the banks of monitors and IV fluids going into Johnny. There in the second bag was the antibiotic. She assessed the information on the monitors and taking a shaky breath asked if they were any the wiser what was going on with her fiancé.

Brackett called House over and explained to Susie that House was going to be overseeing Johnny’s care with a Specialist, and that he had discovered what was wrong with Johnny.
House took Susie into the relative’s room and went through everything with her. The prognosis was looking favorable at this time. They were testing Johnny for a chance that the tumor was heredity, which held with it certain risks, and if that was proven to be the case they would discuss options then.

Susie was familiar with pheo’s. They were found in large animals too. Dr Ford entered the room and House introduced him to Susie.

“Dr Tim Ford, this is Johnny’s fiancée and next of kin, Dr Sommers.”

“Dr Sommers, I’m pleased to meet you. What is your specialty?”

“I’m a veterinarian surgeon, specializing in large animals. So my patients have four legs and up to four stomachs.” Susie laughed. “Please, call me Susie, and now if you can tell me about Johnny, and what is your proposed treatment?”

The group sat there and many questions were asked and answered on both sides of the table. Susie went back to sit with Johnny for a short while before she was informed that there were some men out their enquiring after Johnny. Susie left Johnny’s bedside and went out to meet Captain Stanley and the other men from 51, minus Chet who was downstairs hopefully being discharged today. Susie was smiling and that made the men feel more relaxed which came as a surprise as they didn’t know they were feeling as anxious as they were to begin with.

“He’s is going to be alright. He still very sick but now they know what is wrong with him and he’s getting the treatment he needs. I don’t know about you but I can do with a coffee while I tell you all that I know.” Susie said.

Cap delegated Marco to make coffees for everyone and then they sat down and Susie explained everything as it had been told to her. The men had questions of their own, the most important being, would Johnny be able to continue to be a paramedic?

“There’s no reason why not. The Doctors are very hopeful that he won’t be on any medication and the prognosis is very good. Once he’s recovered we will have our Johnny back. He will be in ICU for some time to come, and won’t be out of hospital for a while after that, but barring any mishaps or complications he should be back with you in about eight to ten weeks. We just have to wait and see. He could bounce back quicker than that and be bugging you again real soon.”

“Is this tumor cancerous?” Marco asked.

“On the whole, no. There is a very small chance that it may be and they are checking for that. There is also a very small chance that it could return and they will continue to check for that too in the future. Right now it’s just his blood pressure that is of most concern. It will still be going up and down as his adrenal glands get back to normal. If his blood pressure gets too low, he can go into multi organ failure and we don’t want that to happen.” Susie told the quiet audience who were hanging on to her every word.

The men feeling that Johnny wasn’t out of the woods yet felt the heaviness of their worry press down on their tired bodies. Mike was trying hard to stifle a yawn and Marco just gave in and yawned to his hearts delight.

“You all look tired. I think a good sleep is in line for all of you. The only ones getting a good night’s sleep are Johnny and Chet. Has anyone heard how Chet’s doing?”

“He’s being discharged today. He had an uneventful night. He’s moaning that he’s walking like his grandmother, apparently she had bad arthritic knees and hobbled everywhere.” Marco added into the conversation.

The men went in pairs, to see Johnny for a little while, but he was sleeping soundly, and given all that he had gone through, sleep was the best thing for him.
He had now been turned onto his left side and the bruising running down his right side had deepened and was now black as night. Dr Ford was overlooking his latest blood results and his hemoglobin was low and he was ordered two units of blood.

The men then left after checking on Johnny. They had been up most of the night fighting a three alarm fire and were all looking forward to a good sleep of their own. Cap and Roy gave Susie a kiss on the cheek, Mike and Marco hugged her and told her to look after herself. They had all noticed how tired she was looking.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Johnny’s days in ICU over the next few weeks consisted of blood and urine tests, machines beeping, medications being pumped in, fluorescent lights on for 24 hours seven days a week, disrupted sleep, indecipherable voices murmuring day and night and the swish of steps on the linoleum, phones ringing, pages going off. The continuous hustle and bustle routines of a very busy unit, which Johnny had learned while there. There was nothing restful about the ICU. People crying as their loved ones didn’t make it, or tears and fears replaced by smiles as people got better and were moved out into the step down units. Johnny hadn’t seen the sun, felt its warmth on his face or even seen a window let alone an outside view for weeks now. He was living in a bubble and he never thought he would get out of ICU. He began to fret that his blood pressure would never normalize and he was doomed to spend eternity attached to machines measuring everything about him including how much he peed.

It took four days before Johnny was allowed any food that wasn’t in a bag. His bowel sounds had been absent since his second trip to the OR and they had explored his bowel for any nicks from the glass thinking that was responsible for his circulatory collapse. The first tinkling’s of normal bowel activity was rewarded with a cup of green Jello. Party time, Johnny thought.

On day nine, Johnny started believing that the staff were aiding and abetting the machines in trying to turn him into a robot. He was calling out for Roy, refused any staff near him and was busy trying to pull all the tubes out of him. It took five nurses to hold Johnny down and save all the lines going into his arteries and various body parts. Dr House was summoned to ICU and was quickly apprised of the situation. Full restraints were ordered and then House reviewed all recordings and requested blood tests and oxygen to be given. He spoke to Johnny and found him to be delusional and combative. House found out that Johnny hadn’t been sleeping well for the last three nights and that coupled with being trapped in a windowless ICU and with all the usual trappings of a busy unit had brought on a spell of ICU psychosis. Johnny was given a sedative and kept asleep for 24 hours.

When the sedation was finally weaned off, Johnny awoke feeling foggy in the brain department, but no longer fearful of staff. Over the next few hours he became more cognizant of his whereabouts and recent events including what had happened to him. He had come through the ICU psychosis unscathed but still held a fear of returning to that dark place that had captured his rational thoughts and held them hostage while he ranted and raved about robots taking over the world.

On day eleven they decided to run a hypertensive test and Johnny was given a dose of an antihypertensive medication. His blood pressure dropped from 168/120 to 98/62 within two minutes. Then it rose again to 166/100 within ten minutes. He was still plagued with headaches but nothing like before. The test showed that his body was still producing enough adrenaline and noradrenaline to keep him a guest at the ICU for a while yet. Johnny sunk into a depression. By day thirteen his temperature was now reading 98.1 F. On the sixteenth day his blood pressure was down to 100/70. He was still having a cocktail of drugs being titrated depending on his body’s adrenal responses. 24-hour urine collections on day seven and thirteen remained high for catecholamines, the by-product of adrenaline and noradrenaline.

The first bright spot came back on day four, Johnny didn’t have the hereditary form of a pheochromocytoma. Johnny was feeling thankful for that at least. Those types ran a higher risk of being cancerous.

On day twenty-one his urine came back with normal levels of catecholamines. This was the second bright step in what had been a protracted and painful recovery. He felt like celebrating, Dr Ford agreed, and he stopped two more anti -hypertensive drugs and Johnny was put back on to two minute recordings.

The guys from the Station and Susie were his mainstay visitors. Other paramedics popped in from time to time but Johnny had no conversation so it was left up to his guests to tell him what was going on in the big wide world. It was during his time in ICU that the men of 51 came and individually apologized to Johnny for their cultural insensitivity. An open discourse of Johnny’s culture was shared to those who were interested. Marco, Roy and Captain Stanley showed a great interest. Mike did too but he was too shy to ask. Johnny sensed that in Mike and he broached the subject first and then the two sat there for three hours talking of Johnny’s background and Indian traditions. The biggest surprise of all though was Chet. He took to learning about Johnny’s culture before he saw Gage and apologized. He had gone to the library with Nellie and they had selected some autobiographical books written by Indian authors about their childhood and culture. It was an eye opener. Chet actually felt quite honored to have a real Indian as his friend. After all the men had apologized and learnt something about his culture, Johnny decided to stay at 51. He sincerely hoped that there would be a new understanding amongst them all. He also decided to share more about his culture when an opportunity presented itself. The biggest way to dispel ignorance after all is through education, Johnny thought.

Other distractions were employed to keep Johnny entertained when his world was defined by the width between the curtains on either side of his bed. Seeing no end in sight for Johnny’s eventual discharge from ICU, Susie then got him focused on wedding plans. It brightened up his days for a while but when it came to flower arrangements and bridesmaids dresses Johnny was at a loss. That part was handed over to Susie.

On day twenty-five Johnny was down to only one IV medication and they were going to stop it at midnight and see how he went. All blood and urine tests were coming back normal. Johnny, as was everybody else, was hopeful that he wouldn’t need it and be put into a step down ward with windows and the sun. He had lost the urinary catheter, much to his relief, the femoral catheter had been removed the day before and the A line in his wrist would be removed tomorrow if his body managed without the last IV antihypertensive drug. He still had the central venous catheter but that was a small price to pay to be out of ICU. He would be basically needle free when he left ICU. Johnny couldn’t wait for tomorrow to come.

Chapter Thirty Five

The next day Johnny was moved into the step down ward and given a room with a view over the freeway and parking lot of the hospital. Johnny was elated to have a view, any view of the outside world.

The first thing Johnny did was go have a supervised shower, but he didn’t care. It felt wonderful being under the hot water and lathering up his skin and washing his hair. He felt so good he even broke out into a bad rendition of ‘Born Free.’ His singing could be heard down the corridor and made a few people laugh as he warbled his way through the song making up words as he went along when he got to parts he didn’t know.

Roy was partnered with Brice the day Johnny got moved out of ICU. Roy had brought a man in with chest pain, it sounded more musculoskeletal than cardiac but Morton went the whole nine yards as a precaution and he came in with lights but no sirens. Brice was following in the Squad. It was Dixie who told Roy he was wanted in room 420, that a patient he had brought in wanted to thank him. She wouldn’t say any more than that really. Roy, wanted to go to ICU and check on Johnny first, but Dixie was insistent.

Roy made his way up to 420. He knocked on the door hearing a muffled “Enter” followed by a cough, Roy pushed the door and entered. Roy’s curiosity for the room’s occupant dissipated like wisps of gossamer when he saw his best friend. He stepped up to the bed and looked at his partner. Johnny saw Roy and gave him a big smile in return. If it was a competition to see who was smiling the most, it would have been a draw.

“I can see why Susie calls you ‘palm tree’ or ‘talaofo’. You really need a haircut Junior. Your hair is sticking out in every direction. Right now it’s the widest thing about you. Did you dry it before getting back into bed?”

Johnny was busy trying to plaster down his unruly mop of hair that had dried in ten different directions and resembled the fronds on a palm tree, his long lean body didn’t help either. Johnny was mumbling about never teaching her anymore Seminole words if all she was going to do was make fun of him.

“I’d give up if I were you, Junior.” Roy said as he sat down on the chair by the bed. “When did you get moved into here?”

“About 1 o’clock. Look no drips. I’m a free man. I’m on four hourly vitals and a normalish diet. I’m not allowed coffee yet, but I can at least manage that decaffeinated stuff. I might even stick to it in the future as it must be better for my body than the caffeinated one."

To say Roy was pleased to see his best friend looking so well and back to his normal self was an understatement. Now that he was out of ICU and looking better, if a little pale and thin, he could bring the kids to see him. Jo had managed to see Johnny a few times but the strict visiting times had made it difficult on occasion.

“When are they next due, vitals that is?” Roy added on after seeing Johnny’s blank look.

“Not for another three hours. Why?”

Roy just tapped his nose and left the room. He located Johnny’s nurse and she agreed to the plan. Roy then returned with an empty wheelchair that was parked by the elevator.
When he returned to Johnny’s room, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out Roy’s plan. Johnny was out of that bed in a shot and on his knees in the next instant. The problem now wasn’t high blood pressure but too low a blood pressure when he stood up too quickly.

“Johnny, are you OK?” Roy asked as he helped Johnny get up from kneeling on the floor while hugging the seat of the wheelchair with his arms. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Let’s get you back into bed.” Roy said.

“No, I’m fine, Roy. Honest.”

Johnny, determined to get his way, and not wanting to go back to bed like Roy wanted, turned around and promptly deposited his small little tush in the seat of the wheelchair.
“It’s nothin’ Roy. I’m just still kinda weak from bein’ in this bed forever. Let’s go! I wanna feel the sun on my face.”

“Junior, it ain’t that warm out there today.”

“I don’t care Roy. I’ve spent just under a month not seeing any daylight. It could be blowing a blizzard out there and I’d still wanna go. Now let’s go outside so I can catch my death of cold.” Johnny laughed as he watched Roy fuss over him and put a blanket over his knees.

“Will you stop fussing and get us out of here, time’s a wastin’.” Johnny said.

They got out on the ground floor and Johnny wanted to go see Dixie before going out to sit in the courtyard. Dixie saw her two handsome paramedics and smiled at the sight of them together again. It had been a long time since they had both graced the corridors or the ER together. It made a nice picture, even if one was in a wheelchair and trussed up like a mummy.

“Well, hello there, you two. How are you doing Johnny? You decided to pay us a visit? Tell you what, it’s my lunch break in five minutes why don’t you make it to the hospital cafeteria and I’ll meet you there.”

Johnny’s face lit up and Roy smiled at Dixie and turned the wheelchair back the way they had come and took his partner to the cafeteria. Johnny ordered a strawberry malt. “Um, I’m sorry Roy, I don’t have any money on me.” Johnny said looking slightly sheepish.

“That’s Ok, I got it ….. It’s so good to have you back and out of ICU. You really had me concerned there, partner. I don’t think I could live through that again.” Roy told Johnny.

“You couldn’t live through it again? Neither could I, Pally! Once was enough, believe you me! I was really anxious that I wasn’t going to make it. I’ve got a bride to walk down the aisle and a partner I couldn’t leave in the hands of Brice. I have responsibilities. I don’t want you thinking I’ve been lying here shirking my duties, ya know.” Johnny teased back at Roy, lightening the mood.

It had been very touch and go for a while and Johnny wasn’t the only one who had lost weight. Susie had too.

Dixie made it to the table with an egg salad sandwich and a coffee. “It’s so good to see you up again, Tiger.” Dixie grabbed Johnny’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “We’ve missed you. Roy may be playing it cool, but he’s come very close to killing Brice on several occasions.”

“Speaking of which, where is he? He’s a long time following in the squad. What, you have an outer space rescue and he’s stuck on the Milky Way or what?” Johnny asked looking around for the bespectacled walking rule book.

“I’m assuming he’s in with Brackett, going over some policy that he thinks needs to be clarified or improved or something. I stopped listening after a while and just mmmm’d him to death. He’s none the wiser.” Roy replied realizing too late what he had just said.

“You mmmm me to death too! Now I know you don’t listen to me.” Johnny pouted.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Junior. My mmm to you are listening mmmm’s, whereas my mmmm’s to Brice aren’t. They even sound different.” A flushed Roy was saying. He quickly picked up his malt and found it to be exceedingly interesting.

Dixie, seeing Johnny trying to work out Roy’s rationale and Roy being stuck in a corner, took pity on Roy and decided to leap into the silence by striking up a different conversation bound to distract Johnny from his current train of thought. “So Johnny, I still don’t know much about your wedding plans. Have you picked a date, a venue or a theme? You can’t keep denying this girl’s interest in these things.”

Johnny took a mouthful of his malt, he too, finding it exceedingly interesting. “Ah, Dix, I’ve been a bit busy and we, ah, well, we have made tentative plans but my getting sick kinda of, ah, halted the plan making a bit. We have narrowed down some venues and yes, we have picked a date but I don’t know if it’s up to me to tell people or the bride. I must check with Susie and see if she’s telling people the date yet. If she is you’ll be the first to know.” Johnny then took a long draw of his malt making loud slurping noises.

“Johnny, you should know better than to do that, be more like Roy.” Dixie said. No sooner had she finished saying it than loud slurping noises emanated from Roy’s direction. Dixie looked over at Roy to see him blushing hotly.

Johnny interrupted with “Who do you think taught me?” before they all laughed.

“When you see Chet, and if he’s phoning Nellie, can you tell Chet to tell Nellie to tell Susie that I’m in room 420 now.” Johnny asked Roy.

Roy was trying to work out what he had to do, “Who am I telling what to?”

“Really Roy, it’s easy.” Johnny then repeated it again until Roy looked less confused.

Brice came into the courtyard, “Carol told me you were here, oh, hello Gage. It’s good to see you looking well. I’m pleased you are on the road to recovery and I believe congratulations are in order for your upcoming nuptials, I wish you all the very best." Brice held his hand out and Johnny shook it, thanking Brice. Brice then gave the customary two slaps to Johnny’s back causing Johnny to gasp and grimace. His muscle tone was down and his serious weight loss had made any slight pressure over bony areas slightly painful. It didn’t go unnoticed by anyone at the table.

“Are you OK, Tiger?” Dixie asked leaning over taking a closer look at the suddenly pale man.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine. Just need to build my strength and body weight up a bit, that’s all. The pain’s gone already.” Johnny said as he straightened up and took a breath.

Roy, Dixie and even Brice were giving him a critical eye appraisal. He looked alright and didn’t seem to be in pain and his color was good. They gave him the benefit of the doubt and lunch resumed with even Brice taking a seat and joining in the conversation.

Dixie went with the guys up to Johnny’s room and helped to get him back into bed. This time Johnny remembered to stand up slowly and without feeling lightheaded he got into bed and Dixie pulled the covers up and the guys said a final farewell before leaving to return back to the station. Dixie went with them as her lunch break was over. Johnny settled back into his pillow and looked out to the cool blue sky. His thoughts drifting aimlessly while he watched the clouds do likewise. Before long Johnny was asleep with his arm flung over his face in its usual position.

That night Susie came in wearing all smiles. “Hello, Handsome. To see you in a ward and away from the machines and glare of the ICU is wonderful. How are you feeling?”

“Never better for seeing you,” Johnny said as he kissed her gently on the lips. “Here.” He said as he patted the bed indicating for her to sit on it.

“I don’t think so, sweetheart. I may not be held responsible for what I might do being that close to you, and this isn’t the right time or place.” Susie said as she settled into the chair by Johnny’s bed. She held his hand and the two lovebirds talked about her work and his day. Visiting hours came to an end and they shared a lingering kiss before Susie picked up her handbag and finally left.

Johnny had had a great first day out of ICU. He settled back into his bed and turned the lights off from his remote, and assuming his preferred sleeping position, settled for the night and went to sleep. It was tiring work being a patient.

Chapter Thirty Six

After 33 days in the hospital, Johnny was finally discharged. He had physical therapy sessions to attend to help regain muscle tone and strength and a dietician had formulated a diet plan for Johnny to put on weight. He had lost over twenty pounds and was given a high protein and calorie diet, including specialized drinks.

Susie had moved temporarily back into Johnny’s place to tend to the animals and take the horses out for rides. She collected Johnny from the hospital and finally took him home.
Once Johnny was reacquainted with his ranch, the horses and even Sotkazi, who was a little bit standoffish at first, he took Susie, and the two of them just sat on the swing seat on the porch and relaxed. It was good to be home, Johnny thought.

Dr Ford had arranged a follow up appointment in one and six months’ time. He had quite a few outpatient appointments to attend and he wasn’t expected back to work for another 10 weeks at the earliest. There was also the scheduled court case in 9 weeks. Johnny felt like he would never get back to work the way things were going. At least he was to receive full pay during the court case. He had gone through sick leave and most of his annual leave and money was tight.

Susie and Johnny were talking about the possibility of moving in together. Susie was spending more and more time at Johnny’s place and financially it made better sense to pool their resources together. They spent most of the day talking about it. In the end it was decided to give it a try. The way they saw it, it was a win-win for both parties. Dennis popped over to see what, if any, chores needed to be done. He was invited to stay for dinner. Dennis, being old school didn’t rally to the news of Johnny and Susie moving in together before wedlock at first, but then he could see some benefits to it and agreed to help Susie bring her belongings over when her apartment lease was up in a months’ time.
Life settled into a routine. Susie was bringing more and more of her smaller belongings over and they eventually found places for them to go. It was a little bit higgidy piggidy at first but soon the pieces looked like they always belonged there.

Johnny was slowly getting stronger and had put on a good ten pounds of muscle. He was feeling more fit and better each week. He went out jogging every day and when he finally found his stamina was improving, he added horseback riding into the mix and started his judo exercises for beginners. He increased his chores not only around his ranch but Dennis’ too.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Sitting back over a pile of newly chopped wood that he had yet to stack, Dennis approached Johnny with a proposition.

“I would be very honored if you would consider having your wedding here at my ranch. There’s a lovely meadow and running stream down yonder and Susie always thinks of it as a special place. It holds special memories for her, ya see. It was the last happy place for her and her family, before the accident. They had gone down there to have a picnic and, the girls a play in the stream. I know she holds that place dear in her heart. Whenever she wanted or needed to be close to her family that is where I would find her. I was just thinking that on her big day she would be wanting to be close to them, is ‘all.” Dennis said while idly kicking at some scraps of bark on the ground.

Johnny gave his lopsided grin before replying, “Sounds terrific, let’s go take a look. We aren’t rigid about a church do and I just want to make my little hummingbird happy.” Johnny then swung the axe into a rather large block of wood before wiping his face on his discarded shirt and then putting it on over his tanned torso.

It lay about 200 yards from the house and was just beyond a slight rise. Tall evergreen trees acted as a wind breaker smoothing the air around them. There was no traffic noise, just the stream babbling over the stones, if you listened hard enough, and birds and cicadas both singing away happily. Butterflies danced from one wildflower to another. The sweet smell of warm grass and pine scented the air. It did look beautiful with a sweep of flat land nestled by trees and hills in the distance. Johnny could understand why Susie felt close to her family here. He could almost sense their blessing as well.

“It’s beautiful.” Johnny said.

“Ya think Susie will go for it.” Dennis asked, a bit shy now that it had come to reality.

“I have a plan.” Johnny told Dennis before he pulled a piece of long grass and nibbled on the emerald green stalk, tasting the sweetness that lay within.

Later that afternoon when Susie arrived home, Johnny was all excited and told her he had gone to a wedding venue that was just perfect. Susie was slightly miffed that he had gone without her and Johnny quickly said that they could go again, right now before it got too dark to see it as it was an outdoor setting.

“I’ll only take you if you let me blindfold you,” he said.

“What are you up too, Johnny?”

“Nothing.”

They went out to his Rover and climbed in. Johnny then put the blindfold over her eyes. He waved his hand in front of her and got no response. Happy that she couldn’t see, he then drove for ten miles around the back roads of the neighboring countryside before turning the car back to Dennis’s place. He parked the car and told Susie to leave her blindfold on as he would walk her to the site. Dennis had seen the Rover come up the driveway and realized that Johnny must have told Susie. He went out to greet them, only for Johnny to put a finger up to his mouth, signalling Dennis to be quiet. Dennis looked into the passenger seat to see Susie blindfolded and oblivious to her surroundings.

“This better be good, Johnny. If you have driven me through town looking like this, I’ll never speak to you again.”

“Would I do that to the woman I love more than words can say.” Johnny then helped Susie out and once steady he took her by the arm and hesitatingly she walked to her childhood meadow.

Standing at the crest in the early sunset rays, Johnny told her to close her eyes and he took the bandanna away from her eyes. “When you’re ready open them and tell me what you think?”

Susie opened her eyes and looked around her before recognition finally hit home and she put her hand up to her mouth and burst into tears. “Johnny, how did you know?” was all Susie was capable of saying.

“A little bird told me, does this make you happy? Would you like your wedding here?”

“Johnny, I love it. I’m so pleased a little bird told you about this. I didn’t want to imposed on Uncle Dennis and I didn’t think he knew what I thought about this place. I never told him, as I didn’t want to upset him. He did so much for me, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful.”

Dennis had been standing a few feet behind them and approached the pair with a small cough to announce his presence. “You were always so thoughtful of my feelings and yet you had lost the most. Do you want to get married in ‘Susie’s Field’, munchkin?”

At the use of her childhood name and their nickname of the meadow, Susie just nodded her head as tears of happiness rolled down her face. She went up and gave Dennis a huge hug and kiss, whispering thank you in his ear.

“Then, it’s settled. We have the venue and we have the date, now all we have to do is ask our friends and family if they want to be members of the bridal party.” Johnny said. He gave Susie a nudge and a look to say now’s the time. Susie cleared her throat and asked her Uncle Dennis if he would do the honor of walking her down the aisle and give her away. The smiling face and exuberant whoop left them in no doubt.

“I’d love too. Hot diggity dog. I get to walk my niece down the aisle.” Dennis then did a little jig and slapped Johnny on the back and kissed Susie on the cheek while squeezing the breath out of her. “C’mon, this calls for a celebratory drink.”

The threesome made their way back to Dennis’s house and he poured them all a drink. Susie had her shandy and Johnny opted for a lite beer while Dennis had a whiskey.

“I suppose we better start asking the others and telling people the date so they can at least organize the day off if they are working it.” Johnny said.

“That sounds like a plan.” Susie said, they then told Dennis who they had selected to be in the bridal party.

The next day was a Saturday and Susie wasn’t on call and 51 was off. Johnny had phoned Roy earlier that morning to see what he was up to and hearing that he had a honey-do list with only two jobs on it, volunteered to come over and help, with Susie keeping Jo company. Soon the couple were sitting on the De Soto’s deck downing a few and talking about everything and anything. It was when Jo asked how the wedding plans were coming along that Johnny then got serious.

“Funny you should ask that because we came over here to tell you a bit about the plans. I hope you have the 8th of June free next year as we were hoping you might like to come and watch me marry this beautiful woman here.”

“Let me go get the calendar and appointment book and see if there’s anything booked that far ahead.” Jo said as she got up to retrieve the mentioned items.

“I’m so sorry, Junior,” Roy said as he looked at the diary, “but it looks like Jo and I are booked. We are going to a wedding it seems.” He then looked up and saw the look of disappointment on Johnny’s face blossom into recognition that he had been had by Roy.

“You know, for that very reason, I should ask Chet to be my best man, at least that way I know I won’t get pranked”

“Are you asking me to be your best man?” Roy asked. “Cause if you are, then I accept.” Roy put his hand out to shake with Johnny’s but Johnny being the demonstrative type, just grabbed Roy in a hug and slapped his back a few times.

“Jo, would you like to be my Matron of Honor?” Susie quietly asked, hoping that Jo would accept.

“Oh, Susie, that’s so lovely to be asked. I would be delighted.” Jo replied.

“Um, we haven’t finished. We were kinda hoping that Jenny could be the flower girl and Chris the ring bearer.” Johnny asked the happy De Soto’s.

“Sure, not a problem, Junior.”

“Can we do anything to help, as Matron Of Honor I’m at your disposal if you need anything done.” Jo offered.

“How good are you at sewing?” Susie asked.

With honey-do lists forgotten, Johnny and Roy found themselves alone on the deck sipping on beer and talking about sport and work, while watching over the children in the pool.
Jo and Susie decided to go to the mall to look at bridal dresses and outfits for the rest of the bridal party. Even though the wedding was over a year away there was a lot of planning to do and ideas to sort through.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Johnny pulled up at the parking lot outside Station 51 the next day the guys were working. He had seen the Engine and Squad in the bay so knew that all the guys were there.
He sauntered over to the back door and let himself in. The guys were sitting down having a late lunch, they had been out most of the morning attending a suspicious fire in the warehouse district. Marco had prepared cold cuts and iced tea. It was a hot day so no one was feeling particularly hungry.

“Hello, hello, hello” Johnny said as he entered the kitchen.

He was met with surprize then smiles broke out and chairs scraped back from the table and Cap and Roy got up to welcome Johnny with a pat on the back.

“Take a seat, John. Roy, grab another plate and glass. Have you eaten? There’s plenty here so help yourself.” Cap said as he re-sat in his chair.

“I’m good, Cap. I’ve already eaten. Thanks for the offer though. I came to ask a question of you all. But seeing as you’re busy maybe it should wait till another time?” Johnny pondered aloud.

“Nonsense, now is as good a time as any.” Roy said as he knew what Johnny wanted to ask.

“OK, then.” Johnny cleared his throat and then looked around at the men gathered at the table. “I was wondering if Cap, Mike, Marco and Chet if, um, you’d like to be my groomsmen. Roy’s already accepted to be my best man, and, well, since I could only have one best man, and you’re all my best friends I was hoping you would stand up there beside me on my wedding day.”

Johnny received four yes’. He then went on to tell them the date and venue for the wedding.

“Where’s the reception gonna be, then?” Chet asked.

“We are looking at hiring one or two marquees, and having caterers do the food and a DJ doing the music with a dance floor at the other end or maybe a separate tent for the dancing. It all depends on how big a marquee we can find, it will be set to the side of the field. Susie wants a big white marquee with a three peaked roof and windows in the side so you can see the field and look out to where we got married. There’s going to be fairy lights and flowers hanging down and candles on the tables and mood lighting to help set the scene. She’s been in collaboration with the different suppliers to see who can deliver what she wants.”

The guys nodded as they envisioned their own interpretation going by Johnny’s description. Chet tried hard to get the image of a circus tent with clowns running in and out, out of his mind. He immediately pictured anything that Johnny would be organizing to be a three ringed circus but then remembered Susie’s birthday and all the work Johnny had done then and changed his mind.

---***--- ---***--- ---***--- ---***---

Once Johnny’s business was done at the Station, he made his farewell and drove to the nearest swimming pool and did 20 laps. He was getting fitter and his body was starting to show the results of all his efforts. He was still underweight but the way he was going he would be in top shape in no time. He was getting good reports from his outpatient appointments. Dr Ford was pleased with his progress as was the dietician and physical therapist. However, it was Dr Brackett that held the power over Johnny returning to the paramedics. He wanted to test the water so he went to the ER and found Dixie and Mike Morton at the base station.

45’s had a child with a fever and they were bringing the child in. When the call was completed, Dixie turned and saw Johnny standing at the nurse’s desk, his hair had dried in several directions from the pool and Dixie asked how her favorite palm tree was doing. Johnny blushed bright red and started patting down his hair while cursing Susie’s fondness for her pet name for him. He didn’t think there was anybody who didn’t know it. Johnny was wrong, Mike Morton didn’t know it until just now. Now Johnny was cursing Dixie. Woman, he thought to himself, they hafta share everything.

“I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d pop in and see how you guys were going?” Johnny said as he automatically went to the coffee pot and poured himself a cup.

“We’re just fine, works been busy but we are currently having a slight reprieve.” Dixie said as she looked at the quiet corridor and a waiting room with only 3 people sitting in it.

Johnny took a sip and made a face. “Argh, caffeinated. I’ve got so used to decaffeinated now that this stuff tastes awful. Do you have any Sanka?”

Dixie shook her head, “Sorry Johnny. We only have the real McCoy here.”

Johnny took the cup of coffee to the staffroom where he tipped it down the sink. He returned to Dixie and asked if Dr Brackett was in.

“He’s in his office. Everything OK, Tiger?”

“Yeah, I just need to know if there’s any new protocols to learn as I will have to recertify, more than likely, before I can start work.”

“He’s in his office, go on in, he’s just catching up on paperwork.” Morton told Johnny.

Brackett was pleased to see Johnny. He had been keeping tabs on him via his outpatient appointments and was very pleased to see the progress made. He came to the conclusion that second-hand reports weren’t doing Johnny any justice. Johnny was glowing with health and vitality. The sparkle was back in his eye and although he was still underweight he looked fit and well. He had bulked up since his discharge and his musculature was getting very defined. Johnny also had to pass the physical by the LACoFD physician. Johnny had already worked up to their required level but he wasn’t happy to just meet minimum requirements, he wanted to excel.

Brackett gave Johnny the new protocols, all two of them, and then set a tentative date for Johnny’s recertification exam. He couldn’t see Johnny failing to pass his health checks the way he was progressing he would beat the ten-week recovery plan by a week or more, Brackett thought.

Chapter Thirty Seven

Johnny stood in line at roll call, it was his first day back at work after eight weeks on sick leave. He was only 2lbs underweight but given how he was all muscle and no fat and had passed the physical with flying colors he was deemed fit to return to duty. He had passed the paramedic recertification exam, like Brackett knew he would. He scored the highest test results every time they had to recertify. Johnny had worked hard to get back to work and it was with a great sense of pride that he handed his Captain his medical fitness and paramedic certification papers, two days previous.

After roll call the group went into the kitchen to have coffee, Johnny had slowly acquired the taste for caffeinated as hardly anyone had decaffeinated, so it was easier to join the masses. On the table was a sheet cake with ‘Welcome Back Johnny’ in blue icing and the squad underneath in red icing. The guys from C shift had stayed to share in the small party.

After much laughter and joking the C shift left and A shift got on with their assigned duties. The squad had to take a supply run to Rampart and test a few fire hydrants. Cap also had some drills lined up, they were really a refresher for Johnny and they all knew it. Chet was hoping he wouldn’t come last in the full turnout and SCBA drill. Once, just once, he would like to come second to last. He knew he would never be first that always went to Gage, but maybe this time Gage wouldn’t come first. If Johnny wasn’t up to par then maybe Chet did have a chance of coming second to last. He wasn’t asking for much and at the drill, he didn’t get much either. Once again he came at the bottom. Johnny had come first again, as usual. Johnny, seeing Chet’s disappointment, offered to help him with his speed and dexterity. Chet begrudgingly took Johnny up on the offer. He was tired of always being at the bottom.

It had been a quiet day. No tones had come for the engine or the squad. Lunch was eaten with some trepidation as they thought the tones must surely come then. They didn’t. It wasn’t until they had all worked up a sweat playing one on one basketball outside that the tones went off calling the Station out to a jumper.

The squad led to way with lights and sirens blazing. The engine followed. Johnny was giving directions to Roy and both were checking the intersections before cautiously entering them. They pulled up at the scene to see onlookers looking high into the sky. The crew got out and craning their necks saw a woman perched on the roof edge of an eight story building. Cap called dispatch to send out Station 14 to their address, as they had the safety net, and if worse came to worse they might be able to catch her if she jumped. Johnny and Roy made their way up to the top floor and then onto the roof. They approached cautiously and announced their arrival calmly as they didn’t want to frighten her and make her lose her precarious balance on the six-inch-wide ledge.

Her name was Melanie and she was 18 and had just broken up with her first ever boyfriend. It was Johnny who talked her down from the ledge. He told her about his turbulent love life and how he was always getting dumped by his girlfriends but how one day when he least expected it he found his soulmate. It was just a matter of taking one day at a time as you never knew when you were going to meet the one. The girl stepped off the ledge and Johnny was there to comfort her as she cried into his shoulder. An ambulance was called and she was taken to Rampart where a psychiatric resident was waiting to talk to her.

Back at the Station, no sooner had they just got out of their respective vehicles than the klaxons went off sending the paramedics to meet the coast guard at the Pallister Parade Marina for a sea rescue. Johnny groaned out loud and Roy tossed him the Dramamine out of the glovebox.

“There ya go, Junior, you better get these into ya.”

“There won’t be enough time for them to work, Roy.” Johnny whined as he dry swallowed two of them then replacing his helmet they set off to the marina.

A short time later the squad pulled up at the marina and the guys made their way over to the Coast Guard boat that was tied up at the dock waiting for them.

“He’s having chest pains, and the wife doesn’t know how to steer the boat. Harry here will bring their boat in, and the wife and husband will come back with us.” Neil, the skipper was saying as the coastguard boat crested over the waves.

The boat was bouncing up in the air and landing with a hard thump as it descended, usually hitting another wave making the boat judder and then go flying again. It sent jolts into one’s neck and back. Johnny was already green and breathing hard.

“He still gets seasick, I see.” Neil said to Roy with a nod to Johnny who was now throwing up what little there was in his stomach.

“Yep!” It was very hard to deny the truth of that when Johnny continued to dry retch over the side of the boat. They hit a particularly nasty wave and bounced quite steeply with the nose of the boat pointing just about perpendicular to the sea.

“HOLD ON!” yelled Neil.

As if we wouldn’t, thought Roy as he grabbed Johnny by the lifejacket. Johnny, who was holding on to the wet railings, just about went over the side, as his hands slid and he lost his grip. Little flakes of paint imbedded themselves into the palms of his hands. Please let this call end sooner rather than later. I don’t know how much more I can take, Johnny thought as another spasm of vomiting overtook him. I’ll be needing rescuing myself if this keeps up.

They finally made it to the cabin cruiser bobbing in the water. The wife was waving frantically. Having safely made it on board, the wife took them to her husband Jimbo. He was sitting inside the cabin, clutching the left side of his chest. He had a history of angina and hadn’t brought his medication with him. Rampart was contacted and a nitro-glycerine tablet was ordered as was an IV and EKG. Dr Morton was reading the strip on lead 2 and noted the ischemia but no other indicators of a heart attack.

“How is the patient doing now?” Morton asked

“Patient reports chest pain is diminishing and he is feeling better. Patient’s color has improved and he is breathing easier and less diaphoretic, Squad 51 out.”

Johnny continued to heave over the side of the rocking boat. He would replenish his fluids once he got onto dry land. Doing it now while still out to sea was pointless. The group then alighted onto the coast guard boat and Harry set forth steering the ‘Mermaid Princess’ back to port. Johnny sat in the corner hugging a bowl while Roy monitored the patient. The patient sat by his wife and watched his boat as it followed them in. Repeat vitals showed the patient was stable. The waters had become more choppier on the return trip. The swells were slightly bigger and Johnny just continued to moan into the bucket. He was just dry heaving now as nothing was left in his stomach to come out.

When they finally made it to dry land, a huge sigh of contentment was heard from Johnny followed by another painful spasm causing him to clutch the bowl with ferocity but nothing came up. The victim was taken off first and loaded into the ambulance. The wife sat in the front and Roy was the last to enter making sure the biophone and drug box were handy. The second ambulance officer sat in the back with Roy and Johnny drove the Squad in.

Morton greeted his patient as he came into Rampart. Jimbo was directed into room 1 with Dixie and Roy. They left the room a short while later after establishing the patient was going to be okay. The patient was feeling much better and had no chest pain. EKG showed normal sinus rhythm. Bloods were taken but it was looking more than likely he had had an angina attack and would be fine.

Johnny was lying on the couch in the Doctors lounge. He was feeling a bit queasy still and his stomach and abdominal muscles hurt from all the dry retching and vomiting. Dixie went up and brushed the hair away from Johnny’s eyes and noted the slightly green tinged paleness of Johnny’s face. Dixie cajoled Johnny into a treatment room where Morton was already waiting. Roy had told them all about Johnny’s motion sickness and loss of fluid. Dixie went about getting Johnny’s vitals. His blood pressure was slightly low for him and Morton acknowledged this by ordering a liter of Normal Saline IV to be given stat. Johnny wasn’t feeling happy about being hoodwinked into having Morton treat him or having an IV.

“It’s either that, John, or I sign you off as sick, and you go home.” Morton told Johnny.

Johnny begrudgingly put his arm out and Dixie put a needle in and connected the stat bag of fluid. Johnny just glared at them all. He knew he had been set up and payback was best served cold he thought. After the bag had run through and he had kept down some jello and a malt from the cafeteria, Morton passed him as fit to return to duty. Dixie removed the line, and Johnny jumped off the gurney and made a run for the door. He had had enough of this place and wanted to get back to the station away from any more needles and medicines.

Cap was waiting for them in the apparatus bay as Roy reversed in. “How you doing, sport?” He asked as Johnny climbed out of the cab. He had been given a heads up by Dixie about Johnny’s severe seasickness and treatment.

“I’m good, Cap. Nothing that a good cup of coffee and Mike’s spaghetti won’t cure.”

“Yeah, well Chet got KP today in case you forgot. Do I need to call a replacement in, John?”

“Only after dinner, Cap. Heck, you might need to call in 5 replacements.”

“I heard that, Gage.” Chet bellowed out from the kitchen as he was chopping up carrots for his famous Irish stew.

“How does he do that? I swear, he’s got hearing like a bat. I’m sure under all those curls he’s got ears shaped like a bat too.” Johnny groused.

“Talking of hair, John, I think it’s time you got yours cut don’t you. The trial starts next week and we will all be under scrutiny. I don’t want to have to remind you again, OK?” Cap said before heading into the kitchen for a coffee refill and to check what Chet was putting into his stew. Sometimes the one and only famous family recipe that was handed down from generation to generation had very different ingredients in it each time it was made.

“You are not putting maraschino cherries in it, Chet, and that’s an order. Now if you were making ice cream sundae’s that would be a different story. Don’t give me that look, maraschino cherries will never belong in a stew. We didn’t eat it last time and we won’t be eating it this time. What did I do in a past life to be surrounded by twits in this lifetime, dear Lord. Can you tell me?” Cap pleaded as he left the kitchen with his cup of coffee.

Johnny and Roy sauntered into the kitchen. Johnny went to get two cups from the cupboard but got a face full of water instead from one of Chet’s water bombs.

“I don’t believe you, Chet. I thought you had outgrown this phase.” Johnny said as he swiped the dish towel out of Chet’s hands and dried his face. He wasn’t worried about the wet shirt as he was going to change it anyway as it had sea spray over it and smelt briny.

“I thought you might need to replace ya fluids after the sea rescue. We all know you don’t handle the waves, Gage.”

Before Johnny could get in to it with Chet, Marco stepped in and asked about their victim.

“He’s going to be ok. He was lucky it was only a case of angina. I think next time he will remember to take his medicine with him.” Roy replied. As he reached out and accepted the coffee Johnny handed him.

Johnny went out for a minute and rummaged around in the squad and then came back with a pair of tweezers and started poking around on his palms.

“What ya doing?” Roy asked as he looked over at Johnny who was studiously plucking at his palms.

“I’ve got paint chips in my palms from the boat when it just about tipped over,” Johnny told Roy. Twenty minutes later and happy with his endeavors, he put the tweezers away and washed his hands. Some of the newly formed wounds stung but otherwise they were ok.

The shift settled into its normal routine. They ate dinner with various topics being discussed and then played a hand or two of cards to see who got dishes. Cap was washing the last dish when Johnny walked back in to the dayroom. He had been on the phone to Susie as she wanted to know how his first day back at work was going. Roy followed a short while later. He had spoken to Jo after Johnny and Susie were finished their talk. Susie was over at Jo’s and they were going through bridal books over a bottle of wine. Both women were sounding slightly merry. Susie was staying the night as she wasn’t fit to drive and Johnny was going to follow Roy home in the morning and they would all share breakfast before going their separate ways.

A false alarm and a structure fire had the station out twice through the night. The men returned at 5 AM and made their way into the latrine for a quick wash before stumbling back into bed. The morning tones woke them up and they donned their bunker pants and made their way into the dayroom for coffee and hopefully a quiet end to their shift.

Chapter Thirty Eight

The day of the trial arrived. A shift arrived in their dress blues and sat outside courtroom 3. Johnny was hoping for a miracle. Maybe Chip would plead guilty. Maybe he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Just please don’t let it be a mistrial and have to do this all over again. Johnny had been too nervous to eat that morning and now his stomach was churning up acid making him rub his stomach trying to quell the nausea that was getting stronger with each passing minute.

To everyone’s surprise, including her own, Mrs Lopez was called first. She came out an hour later. Only to have Roy called next. Everyone gathered around Mama Lopez to ask what had happened. She described how she took the stand, swore on the bible and then related how she and Marco had been at the Station the night of the incident and she had told Johnny he couldn’t have the chicken dish due to his chocolate allergy. She was adamant that Chip had heard her as she was sitting opposite him and saw him looking at her when she mentioned it.

Roy took a lot longer on the stand. It was almost lunchtime when he came out and when he did so he informed them that court was adjourned for lunch but they had to be back in an hour. They all made their way over to Delores’ Diner. She greeted them like long lost friends and poured them all a coffee while getting their orders for food. She gave Detective Crockett a big smoochie kiss and then laughed uproariously at his embarrassment.

Roy recited what had happened and how Chip’s D.A. was like a rabid dog and tried to pull apart everything that he had said but that the Prosecution played the tape of the call to the base station and that you could’ve heard a pin drop in the courtroom. The 12 jurors were all leaning forward in their seats, listening avidly, and could hear the struggle of one man trying to save his best friend’s life as he lay dying on the floor of the apparatus bay.

Roy felt hesitantly confident that his testimony had gone well. Although he still had some lingering doubts as the D.A. was good at attack and destroy, Roy thought. After lunch Roy was called back. Johnny was feeling sick and the sandwich he had forced down him was not sitting well in his stomach. He made a mad dash to the toilets where he threw up what little he had eaten. Cap went after Johnny to see that he was ok. Johnny was at the sink, splashing cold water over his face and rinsing his mouth out. He looked pale and his eyes slightly bloodshot.

“You OK, pal?” Cap asked as he handed Johnny a paper towel to dry his face.

“Yeah, at least I will be in a minute. I just wish this was over with, ya know. I never wanted it to come to this. Why couldn’t it have just ended with him being fired from the fire department and let it be at that?” Johnny asked Cap as he threw the used tissue into the trash receptacle and leaned back against the sink, facing Cap.

“I don’t know, pal, but I think Chip really brought this all upon himself. If it hadn’t been you and Crockett it would’ve been somebody else. Heck, I’ve often thought that he could’ve come across a victim from a different cultural background at a fire and instead of rescuing them, he could’ve left them to burn to death. So ya see, by doing this we are probably saving lives we don’t even know about.” Cap said.

Johnny hadn’t thought of that and in a way he felt he owed it to the people of Carson to do what he could to keep this madman off the streets. Straightening up he regained his composure and walked out of the washroom with a new steely resolve.

The first day came to an end after the testimony of Drs. Early and House. The men went home feeling a bit of the dread gone now that they knew what to expect. The next day, Captain Stanley was called to the stand. He was taken through his statement and then the statement he obtained from Chip. The D.A. was hot on his tail and tried to bring reasonable doubt into the juror’s minds about the obtaining and wording of Chip’s statement. Cap stood firm. He never wavered from his convictions nor the statements taken that day Chip admitted trying to hurt Johnny.

Cap and the Prosecutor felt that the D.A. hadn’t won that round. Cap did agree with Roy, the D.A. was a clever manipulator of the facts and you had to be on your guard.
Johnny thought that he would be called up the next day and he wasn’t wrong.

He entered the courtroom and took the stand. He was sworn in and then sat and looked out to the courtroom. It felt funny to be looking out to a room full of empty chairs. The two tables at the front had the Prosecutor with papers and a cardboard file box on one side and the D.A. with Chip sitting at the table on the other. Jugs of water and glasses adorned both tables. A bailiff stood to the side and Judge Mendoza sat at the top behind his podium, gavel at hand. The stenographer was silently tapping away as every word was spoken.

Johnny felt like he was auditioning for a part in a school play. It resembled an empty school auditorium with only the drama teacher and other principal actors. It felt slightly surreal and he was so out of his comfort zone.

The Prosecutor got up and took Johnny through the day in question after establishing his name, occupation, and relationship to the accused. Johnny was led through the events of the dinner, in particular Mrs Lopez’s comments about his chocolate allergy. He was then asked to tell them in his own words what had transpired after returning from a callout when they were all sitting around the back of the station on the night in question. Johnny relayed the events as he could remember them. The Prosecutor then played the tape of Roy calling Rampart as Johnny struggled to breathe. The D.A. tried to get the tape stopped.

“Your Honor, we have already heard this tape what more could we gain from hearing it again?”

The D.A. was over ruled and the tape played out in its entirety. Johnny subconsciously put his hand up to his throat. An action that did not go unnoticed by everyone in the room. He was looking pale and could barely keep the contempt out of his eyes as he looked at Chip throughout the playing of the tape. The Prosecutor seeing the fleeting anger in Johnny’s eyes then asked how it felt to be dying at the hands of a man he called a brother.

“Objection, your Honor. Leading the witness.” The D.A. was quick on his feet trying to get this train of thought out of the juror’s minds.

“You will strike that question from the record,” the Judge told the court stenographer. He then instructed the jurors to ignore that question and warned the Prosecutor to not lead the witness.

The Prosecutor didn’t mind, he had made his point. The rest of the session had Johnny answering question after question with a few breaks when the attorneys were called up to the bar and points of law were fought out with wins and losses going to both parties. It was during these times that Johnny looked at the jurors. There were seven women and five men sitting there looking back at him. At least four of the jurors were of Hispanic descent. What Johnny didn’t know was there were two women of Italian and Jewish descent also sitting in the juror’s box.

Johnny was sipping at the water regularly as he gave answer upon answer to the Prosecutor and then the D.A. Roy was right, the guy did go for the jugular. Johnny felt mentally wiped out. The D.A. was making Johnny’s head spin. He was asking the same question again and again but in different ways hoping to trip Johnny up. Johnny was finally dismissed from the stand with great relief. He remained under oath like everybody else that had taken the stand so far. He didn’t quite know how the D.A. had done it, but Johnny came out feeling like he had enticed Chip to try to kill him, and that Chip was unable to control himself because of this.

Detective Crockett was called the next day. He was on the stand to just before lunch. Finally, the prosecution rested and the court was adjourned for lunch. At 1.30pm the D.A. would present their case.

The group sat at a table with coffee and Delores’ special jerked chicken. The mood was low. Johnny was still feeling unsettled from the day before. He felt he had let the case down. They had played the racial card and he had risen to the bait. If they lost the case it would be because of him, Johnny thought.The time came for the men to return to court. They were now allowed into the court room itself as their part was mainly done. They sat together taking up one row of chairs in the empty room.

The D.A. called Mrs McKendry to the stand.

The doors opened and in walked a woman in her 50’s with dyed bottle blond hair and a stern look on her face. She gave her son a look and her features softened for a moment before she took the stand, eyed Johnny and immediately set her face into an implacable scowl.

The acorn didn’t fall far from the tree, Johnny thought as he watched her being sworn in. Apart from her initial strong look of distaste at Johnny, she came across as a weak woman who lived off her nerves. She sat down, took a drink of water with a shaking hand and then squared her shoulders and cleared her throat. She continued to give sly looks of ill will at Johnny as she was led through questions building her sons character as a gentle and loving boy that grew into a compassionate and humane man. Yeah, as long as you were white, Johnny thought. He would’ve been amazed to know that his thoughts were shared by all the men sitting with him.

Next Chip’s father was called to the stand. He looked like an older version of Chip. He had an arrogance that exuded from him and made lesser men squirm. It was obvious that he enjoyed the belittling of people. While his wife might have been more succinct with her hatred of Johnny, her husband was not. His eyes alighted onto Johnny, Marco and Mrs Lopez and stayed focused on them the whole time during his testimony. The blatant look of hostility and contempt he threw at them was obvious to all. The D.A. led the father through question after question that outlined what a brave and caring young man Chip was. He was proud of his son’s achievements and how he lived his life. It was while the father was extolling the virtues of his son he let slip about his affiliation with the white supremacy movement. He quickly tried to cover up his faux pas. It was too late, it had been heard and the Prosecutor jumped on it.

If Johnny thought the D.A. was tricky during his cross examination he was just glad that the Prosecutor was on his side. He was good, no, he was very good, Johnny thought.
Within minutes he had the father admitting that the family were all supporters of the white supremacy. The father’s arrogance and pride took over his earlier cautiousness and now he was in his element. He was very proud of his sons as they were associates of the neo-Nazi charter. The D.A. was trying to quash the testimony but since it had been mentioned in the D.A.’s examination, his objections were overruled.

Sensing the trial going against them, the D.A. was only too glad when the day came to an end and he could talk to his client and his family. He was hoping he could make Chip possibly change his plea. The case was touch and go, until the father took the stand, then it had turned on a dime. With the revelations of the family’s predilection regarding neo-Nazi and white supremacy allegiances, the D.A. felt Chip’s fate was sealed. With his father’s testimony and the findings of the psychiatric report stating that Chip was a sociopath with psychopathic tendencies, it was a forgone conclusion that his client was going behind bars. The D.A. now doing damage control, decided not to put Chip on the stand. The Prosecutor would have him for breakfast.

The Judge seeing the lateness of the afternoon adjourned the proceedings. The D.A. was only too happy with that, he had to go and do one of the hardest talks of his career with people that he would be glad to have no more to do with.

The Prosecutor caught up to the firemen as they were congregating outside. He wanted to prepare them for tomorrow. The Judge would give a closing speech and then the jurors would be out deciding Chip’s fate. The prosecutor was very optimistic that there would be a favorable outcome.

While the Prosecutor was talking to 51, the D.A. was talking to the McKendry family. Chip didn’t want to plea. His mother was crying into her white handkerchief, bemoaning the turn of events, and spitting tacks at her husband for putting their son in this position. His father was telling his wife to be quiet and demanding that the D.A. save their son.
An hour later a decision was met. Chip was led away to the remand cells and his parents left to go home feeling bereft and angry for how they were being penalized for their beliefs.

The next day when everyone was settled into the court the Judge was about to give his closing speech when the D.A. asked to approach the bench with the prosecutor.
A few murmurs whispered around the courtroom. Johnny noticed that Chip’s parents weren’t looking surprised like the rest of them were. The mother was looking tired as if she hadn’t slept, she had bags under her eyes and looked ten years older. Johnny actually felt sorry for her. No mother wanted to see their son in this position. The father though was looking angry and fit to hit out. He scared Johnny a lot. His animosity was palpable and you could almost feel it in waves coming at you.

There was hushed tones and hands waving between the attorneys and the Judge. Finally, the two attorneys went and sat back down. The Judge cleared his throat and then nodded to the D.A.

“Your Honor, the accused would like to change his plea to guilty on all counts.” The D.A. then sat down.

There were shocked gasps from several firemen. Johnny sat frozen in his chair. Had he heard it right? He couldn’t believe it. As the realization dawned on him he suddenly felt a rush of relief followed closely by anger. All this mental and emotional torment he had gone through and in the end Chip pleaded guilty. Why couldn’t he have pleaded guilty at the onset and spared them all this? Johnny wanted to know.

The Judge banged his gavel. Silence was soon restored and the Judge looked at the Prosecution to see if there were any objections. There were none.

“Will the accused please stand?” Judge Mendoza directed at Chip.

Chip duly stood as did his counsel.

“You have changed your plea to that of guilty on two counts of attempted murder, illegal possession and discharge of a firearm, resisting arrest and one count of causing grievous bodily harm. In the case of the People versus Charles Callum McKendry the court sentences you to a term of 25 years for each attempted murder charge to be served consecutively, you are also sentenced to 5 years for the unlawful use of a firearm and illegal use of said weapon. The latter sentence is to run concurrently. You will serve a minimum of 40 years before you will be considered eligible for parole. During the course of your sentence you will undergo extensive psychiatric counselling. It is noted from the psychiatric report that your personality and psychological profile has you in the extreme end of sociopathy and psychopathy. You will have another psychiatric evaluation at the end of your therapy. If it is stated that you are not mentally fit then you will be moved to Patton State Hospital where you will remain for the term of your sentence.”
“Your actions have brought shame and disrepute onto not only yourself but to your family. The abhorrence of your deeds speaks of a mind so twisted that your removal from the population at large can only be viewed with positivity for all those concerned. It is the hope of this court that you not only benefit from the therapy imposed on you, but that you seek it fervently, if you wish to make reparation to your maker for your misdoings before your day of judgement by a power much greater than mine.”

Chip was led away, and his mother cried out “Chip, I love you, son.” Before breaking down into heart wrenching sobs, he went through the doors in handcuffs and was taken out of their sight.

The Judge then thanked and released the jurors for their patriotism and attendance to duty in what he summed up as a look into the depraved mind of a man poisoned by a skewered view of the world, a man who hadn’t a chance at seeing anything different due to his upbringing.

“Court dismissed.” Judge Mendoza said before the bailiff ordered everyone to rise while the Judge left the room heading for his chambers.

The father gave his crying wife a look of disdain and told her she was an embarrassment to the family. He turned and abruptly left the courtroom but not before delivering the foulest look at Johnny and Marco. The wife stood up, and dabbing her bloodshot eyes with her sodden tissue, went after her husband.

The Prosecutor came over and shook the hands of the men from 51. He was all smiles and felt that justice had been served that day. It wasn’t yet lunch time but the men went over to Delores’ Diner and had a celebratory coffee and pie. Everybody was pleased it was over. Johnny felt a sense of weight being lifted from his shoulders. His body felt weightless, like he was floating in zero gravity. It was a wonderful feeling and he hadn’t felt like this for such a long time. Ever since he had woken up in hospital after Chip had doctored his coffee that fateful night. It was over, it was all finally over.

The mood around the booth was boisterous and raised voices and sporadic laughter added to the din already circulating through Delores’ Diner. Coffee and pie were eaten in-between snippets of the trial post mortem and the thoughts of the men around the table on this point and that point as they arose over what had transpired over the last week.

Chapter Thirty Nine

That night Johnny and Susie went for a walk out around the hills beyond the ranch. Johnny had told Susie everything that had happened at court that day and she could see the relief in his eyes. She was glad it was over and that their lives could get back on track. They eventually made it back to the house and sat on the porch swing discussing the wedding and plans for their future.

Now that the court case was over and the men were all to return to work in two days’ time, Johnny was all for going away to the hills to camp and cleanse his soul with the fresh air and beauty of nature. Susie was working so was unable to go.

Roy was just enjoying being at home with Jo and the children. It had been quite a novelty being home every night during the trial. Jo had enjoyed it and deep down inside she would’ve loved Roy working 9 to 5 and home every night and no fear of getting a phone call or seeing the Battalion Chief’s car pull up outside. However, that was not her lot, and she had learned to live with it and as her love for Roy was as strong as the day they married, it wasn’t a hardship.

Cap and Emily went out to dinner with the girls. Family outings were harder to achieve now that the girls social life was expanding, and many a day off found just him and Emily at home by themselves till seven at night when the girls would return from their after school activities.

Marco sat at his mother’s table surrounded by family and his good friend Chet. They were telling the story between them, about the day’s events to Mama Lopez. She couldn’t be there as her sister Lola had broken her ankle, and she had been looking after her for the last couple of days. Mama Lopez was pleased that Chip was going away but as a mother her heart went out to another mother, who must be hurting right now. No mother wanted their son locked up for forty years minimum with the potential for fifty years maximum. He was only 21, he would be an old man when he got released. He could even die inside. It was a heartbreak for any mother. All your dreams and hopes for your child ended behind cold steel doors and barbed wire. It was a sad loss for the McKendry family tonight and she said a silent prayer to St Eugene de Mazenod, the patron saint of dysfunctional families.

Mike Stoker was driving to his parent’s house. He was staying there for his days off. His mother had recently come out of the hospital having had a heart attack and he wanted to spend some time with her. Seeing the McKendry family torn apart today, drove home how sacrosanct family was. He was looking forward to getting home and giving his parents a hug for being there for him and loving him unconditionally.

The men decompressed over their two days off. It was six rejuvenated men that arrived at work on Sunday. Their mood was still buoyant and there was lightness around the Station that had been missing for some time.

Roll call was over and the men all went and had a coffee before starting their chores. The normal routine of Station 51 soon resurfaced and before long Chet and Johnny were in an arm wrestle competition. Cap mentioned to Johnny that his physical fitness and return to full health had been remarkable and wanted to know what his fitness plan had been. Having explained he was running, swimming and going to the gym as well as doing physical jobs on not only his ranch but on Dennis’s too, to rebuild his muscle, Cap complimented him on his success and mentioned a few others could take a leaf out of his book, himself included. Cap made a point of looking at Chet with this last comment.

Chet boasted that he had a high muscle tone; Johnny interrupted and said “Yeah, it’s just hidden under all that body fat.”

“Put your money where your mouth is, Gage. I bet I could still beat you in an arm wrestling match, stickboy.”

“Yeah. Oh yeah! You’re on.”

Chairs were scuffled and places taken and hands met in a clasp as the two adversaries looked each other in the eye and Mike acting as referee started the countdown. The two men squared off against each other. The arms wavered and went back and forth. Eventually Johnny got the upper hand and smashed Chet’s arm to the table.

“Not bad for a stickboy, don’t ya think, doughboy.” Johnny said as he raised his arms in triumph.

“It was a lucky break, is all. How about best of three?” Chet asked, not wanting to lose to Johnny.

“Ah ah, no way. Now hand it over.” Johnny said to Chet.

“Hand what over?”
“The money, I won the bet.” Johnny said to a perplexed Chet.

“Ah, Johnny, I hate to tell you this but you didn’t actually state what the wager was before you two arm wrestled.” Roy told Johnny.

Chet burst out laughing. “He’s right. We didn’t, therefore I don’t owe you anything. Oh, man. I can’t believe it. The pigeon ‘phantomed’ himself. Only you could do something like that Gage.”

The other men joined in as Chet had done it to Johnny again; or rather Johnny had done it to himself this time.

“What…..eh….what are you on about, Chet?” Then realization dawned on Johnny and he couldn’t believe how he had made such a mistake. “I don’t believe it.” Johnny mumbled before taking his empty coffee cup to the sink before starting to the dorm where six beds awaited his ministrations. He was still mumbling as he left the kitchen.

One by one the men left to start their tasks for the day. Life was back to normal at Station 51.

The Squad left to restock their supplies. They met Dixie and Joe Early at the base station. Morton was just replacing a chart at the nurse’s station and Brackett was coming back from a meeting when Roy and Johnny approached the desk.

“Welcome back. We missed you guys last week. I hear congratulations are in order for a successful outcome with the case.” Dixie said as she turned from the base station to see her two favorite paramedics standing there.

“Thank you. We’re just glad it’s all over with. Now life can get back to normal and we can hopefully put it behind us and move on.” Roy said.

“You got that right, pally. I don’t ever want to go through that or anything like it again. It’s far too stressful. I could’ve sworn I saw a grey hair in the mirror the other day. If it had gone on for any longer, I’d be prematurely grey” Johnny said as he mussed up his hair to make his point.

Dixie looked up and seeing the sleek black hair recently cut and now messed up smiled and said “If you did I’m sure it would make you look very distinguished.”

Johnny gave it some thought and agreed that Dixie was right. “Huh, wonder what I’d look like grey?” Johnny said aloud.

While Johnny was contemplating that, Roy handed over the list of supplies needed and Dixie went ahead and got them for him.

“So next thing on the agenda must be the wedding, Johnny?” Kel said as he poured himself a coffee.

“Yep, Susie and I were only talking about it last night. We are thinking of bringing it closer. Susie was approached by the head partner and they are thinking of expanding the practice. They want to open one that deals with large animals only. It would be closer to home, commute wise, and they want Susie to be the lead veterinarian as she’s building up quite a bit of a reputation out there amongst the farmers and stud farms and what have you. It would mean that Susie will be taking exams around the time of the wedding. So we think it might be wiser to bring the wedding forward so that Susie can devote more time to her study.”

“How far forward are you looking at?” Dixie said as she put the supplies on the desk in front of Roy.

“Um, well it might be in two months’ time. That way Susie can start seriously studying for the exams with the wedding out of the way and all.”

“Wow, that’s not long. Only two months. What about all the plans you’ve made so far. You will have to start all over again.” Dixie said.

“Well, that’s the beauty of it all you see. So far the only things we had sorted that might be a problem is the marquee. It was okay for the original date but we don’t know how it’s gonna be for August. Susie is phoning them today to check it out.”

“Can I do anything to help?” Dixie said as she put her hand over Johnny’s.

“I’ll let you know, but I’m pretty sure we have got most things covered. Susie seems pretty confidant with her end of the plans she’s made so far. It looks like we might be on track with everything.”

The tones went off and the guys were called out to an unknown rescue. “Catch ya later.” They said in unison as they hurried to the Squad.

Chapter Forty

It had been a whirlwind last two months. Johnny and Susie had been saving every last dime and Johnny had picked up extra shifts where he could and on their days off they had put out the invitations, organized their wedding and in his spare time, Johnny had even built a beautifully hand carved wedding altar where they would stand beneath it and say their vows.

Susie had her bridal shower with Nellie, Dixie, Joanne, Emily Stanley, Mama Lopez and friends from work and University. She was presented with a beautiful white silk and lace negligee ensemble for her wedding night. A knock at the door interrupted the evening and Jo got up to answer it. She let in a policeman looking for Susan Sommers. Susie’s alarm went down several notches thinking that something had happened to Johnny when the policeman turned on his tape deck and started to strip in front of Susie who was now a truly blushing bride.

Johnny had his bachelor night the same night as Susie’s bridal shower. The guys piled into Roxy’s Strip Club having been at Jake’s Bar and Bistro. Several of the group were decidedly seven sheets to the wind and needed assistance to get out of the cab. Johnny was sadly one of them. Not being much of a drinker he had downed quite a few as being the guest of honor every man had brought him a drink. Luckily Cap and Kel Brackett had not imbibed as much and took care of those less fortunate. It was widely accepted that Johnny wouldn’t remember much of the evening. He was going to have a helluva hangover in the morning. To Cap and Kel’s surprise Roy wasn’t that far behind Johnny. Dennis turned his hand to snapping incriminating photos which would make up for the scrambled memories of the night by the main players.

Chet and Marco were also taking photos which became more and more haphazard and when they got processed would be a testament to the state of not only the subjects in front of the lens but the guys behind the lens as well. Marco’s thumb was in a lot of photos and Chet’s were so blurry no one could make out what they were of, least of all Chet. The next morning saw Johnny asleep on Roy’s couch and Roy stretched out on his lazy boy chair with an afghan thrown over him. The heavy smell of beer and stale cigarette smoke permeated the air.

Chris and Jenny were the first down followed by a subdued Jo and Susie. It had been a good night and more than enough wine had passed their lips last night. They had the sore heads to prove it. Jenny saw her Uncle Johnny sprawled on the couch and went to jump on him to wake him up. Luckily for Johnny, Susie saw her intention and stopped her just in time. Johnny gave out a low groan and then turned into the couch and continued to snore soundly with his head nestled in amongst the cushions.

The woman made their way into the kitchen where coffee was made in short order and aspirin with a large glass or two of water was downed. The children were fed and told to play quietly outside.

Susie went and sat next to Johnny on the couch and gently whispered in his ear it was time to wake up. Jo wasn’t as succinct as she shook Roy by the shoulder and called out his name. He snorted and woke up with bleary and bloodshot eyes staring back at her. Johnny groaned again and turned over on the couch before opening his eyes. Two red orbs with dull brown centres and heavy lids stared out to the room. The view was slightly unfocused and as his senses came to order so did his stomach. Reading the signs of a pasty looking Johnny with wide eyes and his hand up to his mouth, Susie quickly stepped aside as Johnny made a mad dash to the washroom were he vomited up everything from last night and then some. Roy although not as sick as Johnny didn’t really improve until after midday. It was a very quiet house with four very subdued adults and two loud boisterous kids making far too much noise as far as the adults were concerned.

After a late lunch Johnny and Susie made their way back home where Johnny promptly fell asleep on the hammock with Susie nestled beside him. They stayed like that for several hours when it was the need to relieve his full bladder that woke Johnny up. He nuzzled Susie on her neck until she too woke up and together they went inside and saw to themselves before seeing to the animals. It had on the whole been a very wasteful and blobby day. Energy levels were still a bit below par.

The next day saw the men all line up for roll call. It was Johnny’s second to last shift for the week. He wasn’t working on the Thursday as the wedding was on Friday and he had a few last minute jobs to do. A shift was rostered on to work that Thursday on a half shift – doing a 0800 to 2000hr shift. Barring any accidents they would all be present and standing next to Johnny on Friday. Those last two shifts found Roy taking the lead in rescues and Johnny more on the ground than up in the air. It dawned on Johnny that Roy was protecting him from injury before his big day.

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Johnny and Susie weren’t taking a honeymoon, their budget didn’t allow it and they figured they could take it after she had done her exams in June next year. Johnny was just taking that half shift off and Susie was taking two days off before her wedding to see to any last minute details.

The day before the wedding the marquee was put up. The wedding altar was transported to Susie’s field and placed at the end of the aisle just waiting to be decorated with boughs of flowers and ribbons the next day. Strings of lights were strung up inside the marquee and tested with the generator. They lit up the inside and gave a romantic light to everything they touched. Tables and chairs were festooned with white covers and bows. Candelabra’s adorned the tables. Wildflowers bloomed along the sides of the field. The wedding cake arrived and was put into Dennis’s dining room for safe keeping. The bridal dress and bridesmaids dresses were upstairs in Dennis’s spare room.

Susie was spending the night in her old room at Dennis’s place. She went to her room and flounced on the bed looking up at the ceiling. Tomorrow was the day she would marry her soul mate. She was excited and nervous as only a bride would be. She was praying that the weather would stay warm and that everything would go to plan. The wedding wasn’t until 2pm so there was still time to get any last minute things done. All she had to do was try to get to sleep, easier said than done. She finally got up and phoned Johnny at 11 pm. The phone was answered on its second ring and a very alert Johnny answered the phone. He too hadn’t been able to get to sleep. The two nervous lovebirds talked till midnight and kissed each other goodnight over the phone. The next time they would see each other she would be walking down the aisle towards him.

The next day broke with birdsong and the sun rising high in the sky. The florists arrived and were setting up the flowers in the marquee, and the outdoor pews. The wedding altar was decorated with flowers and ribbons with boughs of white wisteria hanging down. It looked beautiful.

The wedding cake was taken into the marquee and placed on its own table. The caterers had placed all the tableware out and were now setting up the buffet tables. The DJ had arrived and was running through the acoustics. Microphones were tested for the speeches and the DJ checked his recording of the first dance song for the married couple.

Everything was in order.

Jo and the children turned up at Dennis’s house at 11am and went to see the preparations so far. It was beautiful. The field had been transformed and Jo and the children couldn’t help but be swept up in the festivities. The mood was buoyant. Susie was waltzing around in her robe with her hair pinned up. Jo was going to put the finishing touches to her hair later. The children were told to behave themselves and given instruction on what they had to do. Jenny was shown her basket of flower petals to sprinkle down the aisle, and Chris was shown how to take the cushion down with the rings tied on it.

Nellie, Dixie and two of Susie’s University friends completed her party of bridesmaids and turned up soon after Jo. They too were impressed with the field, and quickly made their way back to the house were they started getting ready. They wore long teal dresses with chiffon flowing scarves sewn in from the shoulders and tied behind their backs at the waist and hung low to the floor. Dennis was getting into his tuxedo and just had to put his boutonniere on.

Susie was dressed in her white flowing gown. It was an off the shoulder fitted dress with a starburst of rhinestones at the waist and highlighted her petite frame. The train draped from her waist and extended two meters behind her as it fanned out in a soft arc. More rhinestones cascaded down the train and glittered as the sun shone upon it. Her veil was festooned with rhinestones and it set off the dress as the rhinestones sparkled brightly against her raven hair.

Meanwhile across the road a mile away a certain dark haired paramedic was nervously pacing the floor in his living room. Roy was there as were all the guys from Station 51. They were dressed in black tuxedos with teal waistcoats and black ties. With the boutonnieres in their lapels and one final check over the groom’s party was ready. Johnny made sure Roy had the rings. He checked his pockets once again for his speech and looked at his watch for the umpteenth time that day. In less than 30 mins he would be standing in the field watching his beloved walk towards him.

Roy decided that it was time to go to the wedding. The four groomsmen all piled into their cars and drove the one mile to Dennis’s house. Cars were arriving and people were getting out. Dennis’s front paddock was used as a parking site and cars were lined up in an orderly fashion leaving room for driving out later that evening.

Johnny and Roy went to the corral and hitched Pretty Owl and Red Cloud to the carriage and with Johnny taking the reins they made their way to Dennis’s place.

At 1.45pm Johnny and Roy arrived at the house. The horses were led up to the trough of water and hay and then tied to the tree in the shade. They wouldn’t be used again until the photo shoot and then later that evening when Johnny was going to take Mrs Gage to their home together in a horse drawn carriage.

Johnny made his way to the front row and stood next to Roy who followed a short time later having gone and tied the rings onto the cushion. Chris sat on a chair guarding the rings for all he was worth, watching the last minute preparations going on in the house before the strains of the bridal march were heard.

“This is it, munchkin.” Dennis said as he looked at the beautiful woman standing in front of him dressed in white. “You look beautiful.” He then wiped his eyes and putting a smile on his face he turned to Susie and whispered in her ear. “Your family are with us today, love. Let’s go and make them proud.” Dennis put his hand out to Susie and together they joined the bridal procession.

Chapter Forty One

Jenny was in front, followed by Chris then Jo. Susie and Dennis were next with Dixie, Nellie, Connie and Samantha ending the procession as they left the house. The four bridesmaids were holding her train as she walked down to the field. When the bridal party got to the red carpet little Jenny started to sprinkle the flower petals as she walked up to her Uncle Johnny and father. Chris held on tight to the ring cushion. Jo came down the aisle and Roy beamed with pride and love as he saw the woman he loved more than anything walking towards him. She looked beautiful with her auburn hair swept up and the teal dress softly touching the ground.

Johnny gasped as he saw his betrothed walking towards him on the arm of Dennis. She looked radiant. The sun hitting the rhinestones on her veil and dress sparkled and made prisms of light reflect off them. His smile was matched by that of Susie’s as she looked at her tall dark and handsome man waiting for her in front of the altar. Johnny stepped forward as she approached and stood beside her as she made her way up into the wedding altar. The bridesmaids laid out her train and the congregation sat as the ceremony began.

Dennis gave his niece away, and Chris held out the cushion and let Roy take the rings off so they could be blessed before being put on the bride and groom’s hands. ‘Always’ was inscribed inside Susie’s ring, and ‘Forever’ was inside John’s; and both had their wedding day date next to the word, 8/24/1973

The priest then announced that Johnny and Susie had prepared their own vows and were now going to recite them.

Johnny took Susie’s hand and placing the ring on her finger recited, for all to hear, his vows to the woman he loved.

“I promise to encourage your compassion,
Because that is what makes you unique and wonderful.
I promise to nurture your dreams,
Because through them your soul shines.
I promise to shoulder our challenges,
For there is nothing we cannot face if we stand together.
I promise to be your partner in all things,
Not possessing you, but working with you as a part of the whole.
Lastly, I promise to you the perfect love and perfect trust,
For one lifetime with you could never be enough.
This is my sacred vow to you, my equal in all things.”

Susie gave a small gasp as she tried desperately not to cry. Jo and Dixie weren’t as strong and had their hankies out and were dabbing at their eyes.

Susie then took Johnny’s ring and reciting the same vows placed the ring on his finger.

The priest then went on to pronounce them husband and wife and gave consent for Johnny to kiss the bride. Johnny lifted the veil away from Susie’s face and cupping her face in his hands kissed her gently on the lips. The guests clapped and cheered.

The priest then broke up the commotion by announcing in the microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you Mr and Mrs John and Susan Gage.”

The guests started throwing confetti and rice at the happy couple as they made their way down the aisle, with the rest of the bridal party following. Chris and Jenny, Roy and Joanne, then Cap and Dixie, Chet and Nellie, Marco and Samantha and finally Mike and Connie walked down the aisle. Cameras were clicking throughout the ceremony. The newlywed couple were congratulated by everyone present. They went over to the table and signed the registry then posed for their official wedding photos, the carriage and horses taking center stage in many a photo.

Soon the congregation were sitting in the marquee and the toasts began.

Dennis acknowledged Susie’s parents and sister and a toast were made to them. He then acknowledged Johnny’s parents and raised a toast to them. Johnny’s aunt couldn’t attend, she had severe dementia and so Johnny had no family present on his wedding day.

Roy then got up and gave his best man speech which had Johnny blushing, and the guests and Susie laughing. Having thoroughly embarrassed his partner and raised the roof with raucous laughter he sat down and gave the floor over to Dr Brackett. Johnny wasn’t expecting this and was quite alarmed as he carried on in the same thread as Roy. Steve Walker, Susie’s boss, then got up and gave a speech levelling the playing field by embarrassing Susie which had her blushing and Johnny laughing. Connie and Samantha recalled many an adventure the two of them and Susie had shared in their years at University, including disastrous dates and dating calamities.

Towards the end of the speeches, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and many a guest had a sore stomach from laughing so much. Johnny then got up and finished off the speeches by thanking everyone for coming and sharing this special day with Susie and him. He asked them all to raise a glass to toast his beautiful bride and the bridal party.
With the speeches out of the way and people feeling relaxed and merry the wine flowed and conversations started around the tables.

Johnny and Susie made their way to every table to see all their guests and thank them for coming. The woman wanted to see the wedding ring which was a gold band with a lover’s knot set in diamonds. They sparkled in the sunlight and offset the engagement ring beautifully. Johnny’s ring was a simple gold band with a lover’s knot inlaid in white gold around the band. Richard Stoker had done a masterful job once again and the rings received many an admiring sigh.

Music was playing and some couples were up on the dance floor which caused others to join.

Eventually the food was brought out and people started to get their meals after the bridal party had been served. The selection was wonderful. There was hot and cold food galore. The noises in the marquee dimmed as the people enjoyed their meals. Some were going back for seconds. Johnny and Dennis led the charge. Desserts were at the second table and finally when everyone had had their full the food was cleared and Johnny and Susie took the floor for the bridal dance.

The soft, slow, melodious strains of Roberta Flack filled the marquee. Johnny led Susie in a slow waltz around the dance floor to the sounds of ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’. Johnny bestowed soft kisses on her lips and neck while they danced oblivious to everyone around them. Camera’s clicked and flashes went off but all Johnny and Susie could see was the look of love in the eyes of their soulmate. The couple continued to dance and then the bridal party got up and made their way to the floor when the next song came on. Dennis was whirling Dixie around the floor, her laughter rang out as Dennis told her something funny and Kel was feeling a little bit jealous. At the next dance he cut in and took Dixie into a clinch as the song played was a slow number.

As the evening wore on the fairy lights were switched on inside the marquee and the candelabras were lit. The room took on a romantic hue and the newlyweds made their way over to the cake.

Guests were lined up with their cameras and flashes went off as together Johnny and Susie cut the two-tiered cake and then fed each other a piece. The caterers then finished off cutting slices for everyone and with cake and wine in hand another toast was made to the happy couple.

The dancing went on till the early hours of the morning. Johnny and Susie decided to leave the party at midnight. They had all the single woman line up as it was time to toss the bouquet. It was Nellie who caught the bouquet and a very shocked Chet stood there with his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Johnny saw his friend’s distress and told him to cheer up, Nellie Kelly, had a nice ring to it.

As the couple made their way towards the horses and carriage, the DJ informed everybody that the bridal couple were now leaving but they were welcome to stay and continue to party. Several guests followed the happy couple to the carriage where Johnny helped Susie get in before he got in beside her. He turned on the lights that were battery operated and taking the reins set the horses off into a slow walk back to their home. Cap followed in his car as the carriage was hard to see at night and a car wouldn’t be expecting a horse drawn carriage on the road at this time. He would see them as far as their front door before he would leave the newlyweds alone. Besides he had a very important gift to give them.

The guests returned to the marquee and laughter and dancing continued on for a few more hours. Across the road a mile away the carriage finally made it into the front of Johnny and Susie's house. Cap got out of the car and helped to get Susie down with Johnny helping from the top. He helped Johnny free the horses and take them into the stables. Johnny had prepared their stalls so he didn’t have much to do. He would take the tin cans and ‘Just Married’ sign off the carriage tomorrow.

Cap approached the couple and pulled an envelope out of his pocket. He cleared his throat and then made a small speech to the couple.

“We, that’s the guys and I have got together and organized a small honeymoon for you two. It’s not much; it’s a weekend at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City, LA, honeymoon suite. All expenses paid including dinner reservations at Le Palais D’Or. Which Roy informs me is quite something. He recommends the fish by the way. It’s for next weekend as you will both be off then. We, um, already checked it with your boss, Susie, and he also pitched in as did your colleagues from work. With that Cap handed over the envelope to Johnny and then congratulated them again and kissing Susie on the cheek and shaking Johnny’s hand, he bid them a good night. Johnny stammered out a thank you and Susie gave Cap a huge hug and kiss and thanked him for everything and then told him to go back to his wife and enjoy the party. Cap and Emily had been dancing up a storm and had been totally enjoying the evening.

“I think I will. It’s not often that Em and I get out, it’s a great party and everybody seems to be having fun. I won’t detain you anymore. Good night Mr and Mrs Gage.” Cap then returned to his car, and giving a final wave to the newlyweds he left them standing under the moonlit sky with just the porch light on to guide them to their new home together.

“I just realized, apart from the Priest that’s the second time we have been called Mr and Mrs Gage. It sounds odd, but it feels wonderful.” Susie said as they made their way towards the porch steps.

Johnny then swooped her up and carried her over the threshold.

“I love you, Mrs Gage.”

“I love you, Mr Gage.”

With that Johnny heeled the door closed and carried his wife to their bedroom. There was champagne in the wine cooler, two glasses on the bedside table, and red rose petals on the bed. Candles were waiting to be lit and Susie’s portable record player with their song by Roberta Flack on it, all ready to go. The night was young.

THE END.