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Chapter 1

Susie was singing in a sweet contralto voice along with the radio. Elton John was playing, and it was a sweet love song that had a particular line in it that rang true for her, now more so than before. She stopped singing and pulling the dirty linen to her chest, she marveled at how her life had changed for the better. When Elton sang about “how wonderful life is, now you’re in the world’, truly encapsulated how she was feeling with her life right now. A tingling warmth spread from her chest to her stomach and then encompassed her whole body as she thought of the man downstairs rummaging through the mudroom closet.

“Susie, have you seen my hiking boots? I could’ve sworn I put them in here from our last excursion in the woods. Oh, I found yours, mine must be here somewhere,” Johnny’s voice had started out strong and loud but as he located her boots it became quieter as he started talking more to himself than her.

Susie smiled and inhaled the scent from the bedsheets. She could smell Johnny and something else. There was a faint back note of smoke. Even though Johnny had a shower at the station before leaving after a particularly heavy fire, the smell still lingered on him. Her reverie was broken as she heard a crash followed by a mild oath. Oh, Johnny, what’s happened to you now? Of all the men I went out with, why did I fall in love with a klutz? Because he loves me as much as I love him, she thought and with a smile and dreamy look, started gathering all the dirty linen before she went downstairs to see what calamity had befallen her other half.

Johnny was running his left thumb under cold water, which was running red after leaving his hand. Susie walked over the clutter littering the space in front of the closet. She came up and stood beside her husband and gently holding his hand saw the cut at the base of his thumb. It was deep and bleeding freely. Using her veterinarian skills she ascertained that he hadn’t severed any nerves or ligaments. He had full movement and sensation of his thumb.

Seeing the bleeding slowing down, she gave Johnny’s hand a kiss and told him to keep it under the water while she went and got the first aid box. With a few butterfly bandages in place and a simple dressing over the top she kissed him better on the lips and then with a sideways glance to the closet asked if he had found his boots yet.

“No, I found yours and the spare canteen, even found a dog leash.” Seeing Susie’s surprised look, he shrugged his shoulders and admitted he didn’t know why he had it either.

“Maybe it’s from the previous owners” he volunteered. They had talked about getting a dog. Susie wanted to adopt a stray or abandoned dog. Sometimes at her veterinary hospital dogs were brought in by owners who didn’t realize so much work went into having a dog for a pet or had bought the wrong breed and the dog was too big, or too boisterous, too this, too that and so the list went on. They had decided on getting a Golden Labrador should one become available.

“I think you will find your boots are sitting by the porch swing if memory serves me correctly.” Susie told Johnny while putting the washing into the machine and sprinkling in the laundry powder.

“Oh.” A blushing Johnny went to retrieve his boots which he remembered taking off two days earlier as he and Susie made out on the swing in the afternoon sun.

“Yes, Oh,” Susie said with a laugh. Her attention was drawn to the cluttered mess with fishing poles leaning up against the wall, their bowling ball bags sitting on the top shelf, and an assortment of anything and everything spilling out onto the floor. “By the way Johnny, I think you’re wanted back at the closet, don’t you?” Susie said while pushing Johnny playfully over to the mess he had made in his quest for his missing boots. Why he was looking for them, she had no idea. Johnny set about tidying up the avalanche that had befallen their storage closet.

Susie went back to seeing to the laundry, hand washing her delicates and hanging out the previous load on the line. She could hear a few muffled curses while Johnny tried to reload everything back into the closet. She could’ve sworn she heard garage sale mentioned. Not a bad idea she thought. They sure had a lot of stuff between them. An hour later with the closet put back to rights, the last of the washing flapping on the line with the strong winds swirling in-between the lines and several trips made out to the Land Rover, Johnny made them both a cup of coffee and called Susie out to the porch.

Collapsing beside him on the swing seat, Susie took her cup and rewarded Johnny with a light kiss on his cheek. His skin was slightly salty and a bit of beard stubble adorned his upper cheek where he had missed shaving it this morning. His beard growth was light anyway so it didn’t matter if he didn’t shave every day. It was another trait of his Indian background that she found enthralling about her mate.

Cuddled together they quietly drank their coffee before settling in for a more languorous kiss. The haze of the sun was sapping away their energy and contentment settled into the two as the kisses demanded nothing more than just to give and receive without any subtext.

“Is the Rover packed?”

“Hm hmm.”

“You’ve sorted everything with Dennis?”

“Hm hmm.”

“You’ve confirmed the booking?”

“Hm hmm.”

“You managed to get the kitchen sink into the Rover?”

“Hm hmm.”

“Johnny, are you paying any attention to me at all?”

“You have to ask? I’m paying lots of attention to your neck; found I couldn’t really fit the kitchen sink in the Rover, so I put it in your car instead.” Johnny murmured as he nuzzled along her jawline.

Susie let out a joyous giggle and pulled her man closer to her as she told him he had missed a spot just there, and pointed to her lips.

---***---

Their lazy sojourn on the swing seat came to an end as the phone rang. It was Roy just checking in that everything was in order and that they didn’t need anything done while they went away for their belated honeymoon courtesy of their work colleagues.

With everything done, the newlyweds finally changed into clean clothes and left their home for a weekend staying in downtown LA. Pulling up into the forecourt of the Century Plaza Hotel, they were met by a valet and their vehicle was taken to the underground guest parking lot. A bellhop was there with a luggage trundle and their luggage was loaded on. The doorman greeted them with a cordial smile and opened the imposing doors with a flourish.

The wide expanse of marble with a twenty-foot crystal chandelier hanging down illuminating the foyer took their breath away. Not wanting to make a spectacle of themselves they made their way to the reception desk and greeted the concierge warmly.

“Mr. and Mrs. Gage, for the honeymoon suite.” Johnny said as his arm circled around Susie’s petite waist.

“Welcome to the Century Plaza. Congratulations on your recent nuptials. May you have a very pleasant stay. If there is anything you desire, please do not hesitate to contact the concierge desk. We are here to see to any and all requests. Nothing is too big or small. I will have our bellboy take you to your room; your keys,” said the Concierge as he handed the bellboy the keys.

Johnny and Susie followed the bellboy to the elevator and got off on the 22nd floor. They were escorted to their suite and after tipping the bellboy were left alone to their own devices. The suite was beautiful with a large window the length of the room which gave the guests the best panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean and in the evening the night lights down below resembled glittering strands of jewels. They found next to the dining table a wine bucket with ice and a complimentary bottle of champagne and sitting on the table chocolate liquor hearts. In the bedroom was the largest bed they had ever seen. It was a four poster with soft white cotton drapery affording privacy and romance should one want it. Rose petals were scattered on the bed and more chocolate hearts sat on a small platter in the center of the bed.

Susie gave a small squeal of delight as she went into the bathroom. A large double spa bath with padded head rests was the main focus. There was a walk in multi jet shower for two with a glass barrier separating it from the spa bath. A golden honey marble on the floors and walls with recessed lighting gave the room a warmth and inviting luxurious atmosphere. The bathroom was to die for. It looked like it had stepped right out of a movie star’s home. It was Susie’s favorite room. There was a basket of fresh red rose petals next to the bath and beautifully scented bath oil and bubble bath containers.

“I think we need a bath, don’t you?” Susie said to Johnny as he entered to see what had her squealing with delight.

“You run the bath, and I’ll unpack and pour the champagne.”

A short while later they were ensconced in the large bath with soft bubbles and bath oil coating their skin. Susie was nestled against Johnny’s chest and the two were sipping on flutes of champagne. Johnny had brought the wine bucket into the bathroom and set it beside the bath. Having to top up the hot water twice and with their skin resembling prunes they finally relented and got out. Both were feeling a little bit giddy and tiddly. With thick white terrycloth robes wrapped around them, they made their way to the bedroom and with gentle kisses leading to greater passion they showed each other their love.

Later that evening they went down to the main dining room and had a sumptuous meal and a bottle of wine. Susie wore her hair up and the low cut black dress with a cinched in waist and flowing long skirt accentuated her long slender neck and alabaster skin. Her deep violet eyes glittered in the candlelight on their table and made Johnny’s heart lurch every time he looked at her. He couldn’t believe how lucky he had been in meeting this woman.

He excused himself from the table and made his way up to the resident band. He spoke quietly to the bass guitarist and Susie saw the bandsman nodding his head and Johnny waving his hands as he talked. She looked at her husband who cut a tall lean figure in a black suit. His black hair was cut stylishly to accentuate his fine bone structure and handsome good looks. Susie liked his new haircut that he had done for the wedding and she told him often, she couldn’t help but run her fingers through it every chance she got.
She watched Johnny come back to their table and asking for her hand he led her to the dance floor. With her high heels on she was only about 5 inches shorter than Johnny. Together they moved around the floor when the music started. Before the next song the lead female singer made an announcement.

“The following song is a special request. It would seem we have a couple of newlyweds here tonight. So ladies and gentlemen please put your hands together for a Mr. and Mrs. Gage as they dance to their song.”

As the singer started the opening bars of “The First Time”, a spotlight found the happy couple and followed them on the floor briefly while everyone clapped for the happy couple. Susie blushed and buried her head in Johnny’s shoulder. “You are so going to pay for this, Mr. Gage.”

“Promises, promises.” Johnny then swept her up in his arms and kissed her as they continued to sway around the dance floor.

The next morning saw two slightly hungover people wake up to the sunlight streaming into their bedroom. Rose petals stuck to various parts of their bodies. Half full glasses of white wine were on the bedside tables.

“Susie, do we have to do anything this morning? My brain isn’t working.”

“No, not till dinner tonight at the Palais D’Or. Now go back to sleep.”

“Did we put the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door?”

“Yes, now shhh. My head is killing me, ‘n I need to sleep”

They snuggled in and with his arm put over his eyes Johnny resettled back to sleep and Susie curled into his side and wrapped her arm around his lean torso. Within a few minutes they were both fast asleep and ignorant of the sun shifting across the room as the day wore on. Eventually they stirred and with a pressing need to relieve their bladders, they got up and greeted the late morning. Sharing a shower and ordering room service they sat down to lunch while looking out to the blue sea and beyond.

They spent a lazy afternoon strolling down the high end shops, window shopping while making their way to an ice cream parlor and succumbing to a shared butterscotch ice cream sundae. There was no rush to be anywhere and as they ambled through the streets they stumbled upon a small backstreet with quaint shops and what looked like a street carnival going on. People were milling around. Music was playing off from the side and couples were dancing and little kiddies were swinging their hips back and forth and jumping around as their parents watched or danced. Laughter and shrieks of excited children abounded.

The smell of cotton candy and hot buttered popcorn competed with hot dogs and fries. Some attendees were perched on the small concrete garden border. They were eating the hot food with gusto. A stray pink balloon drifted across the small area going higher and higher until it was free from any buildings and continued to drift away on the warm air thermals. A little girl with blonde curly hair was crying and pointing to the balloon. Her mother was trying to console her then her father came up and tied another pink balloon to her tiny wrist. The tears stopped instantly and it was like the sun had come out on her face and a smile lit up her watery blue eyes.

Johnny bought Susie a purple balloon to match her violet eyes. “Don’t want you crying,” he told her as he tied it to her wrist. He then stood in line and bought a wand of pink cotton candy which they shared. They watched a series of acts perform their routines for the next hour. The street artists were good and the standup comedian had the audience in fits of laughter.

Back in their suite they got washed and dressed for their night at the Palais D’Or. They dined on fine cuisine and danced to the music for the second night in a row. Susie’s red dress clung to her slim and shapely body. Johnny cut a fine figure in his tight charcoal suit and highly polished black shoes. Several heads turned as the handsome couple entered the restaurant. Susie had the fish, as Roy suggested, and Johnny ordered duck. The food was divine and fell apart in their mouths. It tasted so good that neither could wait to eat the dessert they had ordered.

Later, back at their hotel suite, Johnny confessed to Susie that he was going to take her there on their first date but didn’t want to come on too strong.

“I loved our first date and wouldn’t change it for anything, because it was just you and me and the stars. There was nothing to hide behind. It allowed me to see the real you and vice versa. It was so romantic. Even though this weekend has been great the best part was the street carnival today and sharing the cotton candy. You came alive there Johnny. Your eyes were sparkling and it was genuine pleasure that lit up your face. Seeing you so happy makes me happy. I love you John Roderick Gage.” With that Susie leaned into Johnny and sealing the gap between them with her body placed her lips against his and meeting no resistance devoured her husband in a deep and sensual kiss.

The purple balloon acted as guardian as it hovered in the air, tied to the lover’s seat overlooking the pacific, while the newlyweds demonstrated their love to one another.

Chapter 2

“Good morning, good morning, good morning.” Johnny called out to his crewmates and a tired C shift, as he came bounding into the station. He was cutting it close and was hoping that the Phantom hadn’t laid a trap or water bomb for him this morning. He didn’t have time to change into another uniform.

He stood to the side of his locker and opened his door. A sproing and then a splash of water cascaded to the floor in front of his locker. Smiling to himself that he had outsmarted the Phantom for once, he quickly hung up his spare uniforms and shoved his duffle bag in before slamming the door shut and making quick time back to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee.

“How was your weekend?” Roy asked his friend, “or do I really not want to know.”

“It was great, we had a fantastic time and the suite was beautiful. The food was glorious and we danced the night away and after that you really don’t want to know.” Johnny told Roy quietly. “We stumbled upon a street fair or something. I got Chris and Jenny Bean something. It’s nothing much, so don’t worry. I’m not gonna spoil ya kids.” He added when he saw Roy about to protest. It was a standard pattern now. Johnny would buy the children something and either Roy or Joanne, sometimes even both if the gifts were too expensive, would go on about the kids being spoiled and that he didn’t have to do it.

Cap walked into the kitchen, after finishing talking to Mike, and seeing his two paramedics there and no one else, enquired about Johnny’s weekend. Johnny told him the same thing he had told Roy and recommended he take his wife to the Palais D’Or if he ever found himself in the doghouse or for a special occasion.

“Thank you, Gage. Let’s hope it’s never because I’m in the doghouse. Speaking of doghouse’s, where are Chet and Marco?” Cap asked as he leaned his tall lanky body against the kitchen counter top.

“I saw Marco and Chet out back. They were looking at something under Chet’s hood.” Johnny said as he finished his cup of coffee and went to get a refill.

“Go tell ‘em it’s time for roll call, Gage.”

Roy’s chair scraped backwards on the concrete floor as he got up from the table to make his way to the apparatus bay. Johnny abandoned his second cup idea and instead went to call his crew mates in.

Cap read out a few notices from headquarters and went to dismiss the men. Johnny cleared his throat and asked permission to say a few words. Cap nodded his head and Johnny stepped forward out of the line and thanked them all for giving Susie and him a wonderful weekend honeymoon.

“Susie and I would like to extend an invitation to you all for a cookout at the ranch on our next weekend off, which won’t be for another month. Ah, bring ya partners too and kids. It’s just our way of saying thank you.” Johnny then stepped back into line and Cap thanked Johnny for the invite and said he was looking forward to coming. This was quickly followed by four more thanks and affirmative responses. Susie was doing the same invitation at her workplace, and everyone was more than happy to come out and have a bar-b-que and ride the horses.

The morning was quiet at the station. The resupplying of the stock for Little Red had taken up some of the morning. Dixie had a day off and Carol was pleased to see the two paramedics sauntering down the hallway. Sparing the guys a few minutes from her busy schedule, she asked about Johnny’s weekend. She had heard about the gift over the last week. Johnny once again repeated what he had told the guys. He began to feel he would soon sound like a broken record before the end of his shift was over.

Back at the station all the guys had completed their chores apart from Roy and Johnny who were given the hoses to clean and hang. Roy and Johnny set about scrubbing the 200 feet of hose. They had two hoses hung up before the klaxons sounded calling them out to a woman down. Running to the squad they quickly got in and Cap handed them the call out slip. Johnny got the map and locating the street decided the best and fastest way to get there.

---***---

They pulled up to the scene and saw a woman sitting on the curbside holding her head. Blood was dribbling down her face and drops were splashing on the asphalt. A car was pulled over to the side of the road. There were scratches and a dent in its front and a bicycle with a bent front wheel lying beside the curb. As Johnny got closer with the biophone and drug box he saw the torn trousers and blood on the woman’s leg. Another woman was stammering and kept repeating she hadn’t seen the cyclist. Officer Vince Howard had his notebook out and was trying to get the drivers particulars. A group of onlookers were clustered around watching the goings on.

“Hi, I’m Johnny and this here is my partner Roy. We are paramedics with the LA County Fire Department. What’s your name? Where are you hurt?”

The dazed woman looked up and saw the most gorgeous chocolate brown eyes looking back at her with concern. The handsome face and dark hair made her heart flutter. The feeling was instant. It felt like a school girl crush but she knew better than that. She was a grown woman and had been studying at college until she dropped out. There was no way this feeling was a crush. She was deeply in love and she was sure that he loved her too given the gentleness with which he was probing her cut on her head and his soft voice. She felt like swooning in his arms.

“Um, my name’s Chloe, Chloe Patterson. My head hurts and my, um, my right leg.” To prove the point, she raised her right leg and pulled her torn and bloody trousers away. A long scratch went down her calf from just below her knee to her ankle. It wasn’t deep and once cleaned would only need a few butterfly bandages here and there.

“I need some gauze and a couple of bandages, Roy.” Johnny said as he assessed both wounds as relatively superficial. Having dressed the wounds and assessed her for any brain injury he contacted Rampart while Roy obtained her vitals.

With instructions for the lady to come in unaccompanied, the paramedics guided her to the ambulance when it arrived. To say that she was disappointed that Johnny wasn’t coming in with her was an understatement. Her face took on an unhappy countenance and she took this as a rejection of her womanly charms. Johnny tapped the back doors of the ambulance twice and it set off to Rampart. Unknown to him, their patient was sitting in the back getting angrier and angrier at his blatant nasty and uncalled for behavior to her. He’ll pay for that, she thought.

---***---

When she was laying on the gurney in treatment room 1 she asked the nurse what she knew about the dark haired paramedic called Johnny and if she knew where he worked from. The nurse, who had been sent there from the maternity ward to cover staff sickness, didn’t know that Johnny had recently got married but did know of him.

“Oh, Mr. Dreamboat, you mean. He works out of Station 51 in Carson. He’s dreamy isn’t he? I hear he’s a dreadful flirt. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind him flirting with me.” The nurse ended on a sigh as she put the butterfly bandages over the patient’s injured calf. She wasn’t looking at Chloe’s face so didn’t see the woman’s eyes become slits or her mouth settle into a thin cruel line.

Within 30 minutes, the patient had gone from full blown love to being jilted by this reckless flirt who didn’t give a damn about her heart. He left her at her time of need and abandoned her care to a stranger in the back of an ambulance. A gentleman didn’t do that. Wait until her sister, Zoe, heard about this.

“There, you’re all done,” the nurse told the patient. She then went on to list signs and symptoms of infection for the patient and told her to seek medical attention if they occurred.

Chloe couldn’t get out of there quickly enough. She thanked the nurse and made her way to the payphones to ask her mother to pick her up. She walked outside the main entrance and sat on a bench seat and waited to be collected. All the while she plotted her revenge for her dream lover jilting her. She wouldn’t tell her mother because she would insist that she go see Dr. Jacobs again and possibly go back to THAT hospital. She would never go back there. She would kill herself before then. She had tried it a couple of times before and had learned of better ways to do it from other inmates that the staff called patients, at the Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. Zoe would help her out. She would tell her about how she was feeling, and how angry she felt. Zoe would come up with a plan; she could always rely on her. No one jilted her and got away with it.

---***---

Johnny and Roy had returned to the station and went back to cleaning the hoses. An hour later saw them all done and the two men came in just in time for lunch. Mike put a sausage casserole down with buttery mashed potatoes and peas. Johnny’s mouth watered just at the look of the mounds of white fluffy mashed potatoes and deep green peas nestled together on his plate. He ladled a good couple of spoonful’s of the sausage onto his plate and bending over he inhaled deeply and smiled at what his brain told him he was going to enjoy. All the men dug in with great enthusiasm. Johnny managed to down two large glasses of milk with his meal. Then seeing everyone replete he tucked in for seconds since no one wanted anymore.

“Just where do you put it, Gage?” Chet honestly wanted to know. “I’m serious. How many hotdogs have you ever eaten in one sitting? No, hear me out,” Chet said holding his hand up to Johnny who was quickly swallowing mashed potatoes and peas. “There’s a competition outside Joe’s Diner for a hotdog eating competition. First prize is $50 bucks and all the dogs you can eat free for a year. I seriously think Johnny has a good chance of winning.” Chet explained to everyone around the table.

“Where did ya hear about this competition?” Johnny asked, thinking that Chet was pulling his leg.

Chet got up from the table and went and retrieved today’s newspaper. He was flicking through the pages until he came to what he wanted. “Here, see. I’m not pulling ya leg. I was gonna enter myself. I coulda done with the $50 bucks man, but I’m a lightweight compared to Johnny here.”

“A lightweight! You weigh more than me, Chet.” Johnny announced amazed.

“A lightweight with appetite, dummy, not weight.” Chet realized he had been had by his pigeon. His face went red and he blustered a bit causing the men to laugh around the table.

“Ah, Chet. We are working that day. I don’t think it’s my kinda thing. You only have a 10 minute eating time and the record from last year stands at 22 dogs. That’s 2.2 dogs a minute. Man, did the guy even chew?” Johnny wanted to know.

“It was a woman, Gage. She will be there defending her title. Ya could always ask her.”

“That’s alright Chet. I think I will give it a pass. Having a healthy appetite is very different from stuffing your face till ya sick.” Johnny poured another glass of milk, and drank half of it in one gulp. He settled back in his chair and let out a small belch and apologized to his crew mates. “That was a great meal, Mike. I really enjoyed it.”

“We could tell.” Cap said. “Maybe you might like to help Mike with the dishes and then we can get down to a few rope drills afterwards since the day appears to be quiet.”

“Aww, Cap. You had ta say it. Now we will get toned out to something big like a five alarm fire.” Chet whined.

Cap gave Chet a special ‘Captain’ stare which saw Chet squirm in his seat. “Just for that Chet, I’m sure you might want to check all the air bottles on Big and Little Red to make sure they are all filled up, don’t you?”

“Yeah, Cap. I’ll get right on it.”

Chet’s prophesy never came true and with the rope drills completed and log books updated the men drifted out back and started a game of hoops. Mike went back in early as he had supper to prepare. He was making his fried chicken and Johnny offered to help him as it meant he could eat it sooner and he was hungry. Both men had a cold drink before setting out the ingredients for supper. Johnny made himself a cheese and ham sandwich before starting to peel the vegetables. Within the hour all the men were back inside and Cap had left his office. He had completed a lot of paperwork and was actually in front and had the evening to sit back and watch TV or answer calls if that turned out to be the case.

Marco and Roy set up a game of chess and Chet sat on the couch with Boot. The smell of the hot chicken wafted through the air. Johnny was mashing the potatoes and Mike was setting the table. Soon all the men were sitting around the table with their mouths full of Mike’s famous chicken.

It had been an unusually quiet day. Little Red had one call out early in the day and Big Red had none at all. With dishes done the conversations drifted off as the men got comfy and more enthralled with the current crime drama on the TV. The inactivity made the lassitude encroaching over Johnny harder to fight off and eventually not even Columbo could keep Johnny awake.

Gentle soft snores soon quieted down as Johnny moved on the couch and his head fell backwards elongating his neck. His left hand rested on his chest and rose with the even rise and fall of his breathing. The occasional flash from his wedding ring was hitting Marco every now and then. Marco moved his chair around a little more and the problem was solved. He still found it amazing that his youngest brother had settled down so quickly. It suited him he thought and his wife was the perfect woman for him too. Mike went out and lowered the flag so that he could bring it in. Chet took Boot outside for his evening constitutional. Neither man noted the small blue car parked outside with feminine blue eyes glaring at them, following their every move.

---***---

As they saw the men come out they slid down in the front seat. Chloe could still see the men doing their chores; her antagonistic lover however, hadn’t shown his face. She had spoken to her sister and they had agreed upon a plan. They spent their free time away from their mother’s company, putting together everything they needed for ‘Operation Johnny’. Chloe undid the lid to the thermos flask and poured herself and her sister a cup of hot soup. Being the eldest twin, she had the say over what they did. She determined that they would wait all night if they had to. They watched the men and dog go back inside with the garage door slowly going down. Chloe pulled a blanket over her knees and absently rubbed the right as it ached a little. There was a small bruise that had come out later after she had left the hospital.

After waiting another couple of hours in the car they decided to venture outside and look at the building more closely. They were walking quietly up the side of the building and got around to the parking lot. She saw six cars lined up against the brick wall separating it from the industrial area next door and the 405 further over. They looked at the cars trying to think which one belonged to Johnny. Chloe decided that he owned the little 2 door Porsche convertible. She got her switchblade out and slashed the tires. That will teach you to mess around with me, she thought with glee. Zoe stood back against the darkness of the building and egged her on.

The sound of the klaxons going off made her jump and gasp. She wasn’t expecting that. She instantly looked around from her crouched position. No one was standing in front of her so she hadn’t been caught. She looked for Zoe, who had hidden in the dark recesses of the building. She couldn’t see her immediately. She didn’t understand why the alarm had gone off. She then heard the garage door go up and the rumbling of two distinct motors pulling out. She ran back to the front of the building, whispering her sister’s name out hopefully loudly enough for her sister to hear but not loud enough for the men to hear. It must have worked as her sister joined her as she was hiding behind the bushes. They watched as the fire trucks headed south with their lights and sirens blazing.

The garage door was coming back down. This was their chance. She grabbed her sister’s hand and the two of them ran under the door and were in the empty apparatus bay as the door slowly trundled down to the concrete floor. The smell of diesel and smoke assailed their nostrils with a faint smell of cooking fat and chicken. They quietly crept into Cap’s office first. Then the dayroom and kitchen. The smell of the fat and chicken was stronger in here.

She and Zoe split up. Zoe sat in the dayroom watching TV; this was her sister’s bag after all. Chloe went and crossed over the apparatus bay and found the latrine and locker room. She availed herself of the amenities and then went into the dorm room. There were several beds. Which one was his? She walked up and down the room trying to ‘sense’ where her ex-lover slept. Did they always keep to the same bed or sleep in whatever one was free? She went up and smelled the pillows trying to detect his scent. She thought back to this morning. He had been so close to her, she could smell his cologne and feel his body warmth. He had smelled of Old Spice. She knew it well, as she had bought it for her last boyfriend before he dumped her.

All the pillows smelled the same; freshly laundered with a faint floral scent. There were no indicators of where he slept. Frustrated she pulled back the sheets and blanket on a bed in anger. Not content she then tore all the bedding off the beds. She didn’t want anyone to know they had been there but now she didn’t care. Chloe was still so angry.
She went into the locker room next and pulled clothing, shoes, books, whatever she could get her hands on and tossed them around the room. She emptied several toilet bags and smashed the various bottled liquids on the floor spilling their contents everywhere. She was startled from her act of vandalism by Zoe, who had heard the noise over the TV. Zoe was leaning up against the door with her arms crossed against her chest. A twisted smile smeared across her face.

“I see you’re having fun without me?” Zoe then stood on fallen shampoo and conditioner bottles. The contents squirted out, under the pressure of her foot, in strong jets against the inside of lockers, against walls and benches. The two sisters delighted in the havoc and destruction they were making. The combination of all the scents permeated the air. It was overpowering and in some places pooled under the lockers and it would be very hard to clean it up. Chloe found several bottles of talc and the two sisters sprayed it around the room, laughing with wanton glee. It looked like a Richter 8 earthquake had descended on the station of 51.

With her anger now spent she looked at the devastation they had wrought on the two rooms. She looked at her watch and saw that over two hours had passed by. She was surprised with that and didn’t know where the time had gone. Had she had another blackout? They happened from time to time when she was stressed. She looked at Zoe, their smiles mirroring each other’s. They had to get out of here. What if they returned while they were still here? How would they explain their presence? They would be bound to get the police and then their mother and daddy would be informed and they would drive her and her sister back to THAT hospital themselves.

“No, no, NO. Can’t have that.” She said out loud to herself. Her hands were pulling at her hair and tears of fear slid out of her eyes. They had to get out, and get out now.

“Shhh, baby. What’s wrong?” Zoe asked.

“We gotta go. What if we get caught? We ain’t going back to that hellhole of a hospital!”

The color drained from Zoe’s face. They ran to the back door. It was locked. Chloe was too harried and suffering a deluge of too much mental stimulus and anguish to take things in. She ran to the garage door and looked for the opener. She found it and hit it. The door slowly made its way up. She ran out and without looking ran straight across the street and jumped into her car. A car horn blared as she narrowly missed being hit by it in her blind run to safety. Zoe was beside her and gasping for breath. “That was close,” she told her sister.

She and her sister were still breathing rapidly. The adrenaline was screaming through their veins. The need for tension release erupted as riotous laughter. It consumed them both. The cathartic release ebbed and they slumped back in their seats feeling drained. Both sisters were still smiling when they realized how close it had been. They loved the feel of living on the edge. They were also anticipating the reactions of the firemen when they got back. The shocked turmoil added to the sisters delusional pleasure. With her heart pounding and her hands shaking, she fumbled getting the key into the ignition. They had to get away from here. Chloe felt they were too conspicuous. She finally got the car started and pulling out into the traffic drove a block up and pulled into a customer parking lot for a drapery store. She angled the car to see the driveway of the fire station. They patiently waited for the trucks to come back.

Chapter 3

Four hours after being called out to a multistory structure fire, the engines rumbled back into the bay. Cap, Mike, and the paramedics noticed the apparatus door was up. Cap felt sure that they had put it down. He felt a shiver go across his back and down his arms. Not being superstitious, he ignored what would have Chet and Gage going on about someone walking on their grave. The squad backed in next and Johnny gave an involuntary shudder. Roy looked over and asked his partner if he was okay.

“Yeah, just felt like someone walked over my grave, is ‘all.”

Vehicle doors opened and six weary men climbed out of their vehicles.

“Oh, man. What a weird shift, nothing all day and then a three alarmer. I’m beat. I just want my bed and sleep. I’m bushed.” Chet said to anyone that would listen.

“How are your eyes, Chet?” Johnny asked as he dragged his feet towards the locker room.

“They’re fine. The saline irrigation fixed ‘em, no problem. WHAT THE HECK!”

“MI DIOS!”

“GOOD GOD!”

“WHAT THE…”

“Cap, Cap, come quick,” yelled Mike from the dorm room. All the other guys were in the locker room in states of shock. Cap was in his office writing this latest callout up in the log book.

Cap came out and hearing the raised voices of all his men from various locations didn’t know where to go to first. He decided a circuit response was best and headed to the locker room before heading into the dorm room. The smell hit him as he approached the open door to the locker room. Detritus from all the lockers were scattered over the floor. It wasn’t just the A shift lockers but B’s and C’s as well. His crew was picking up their belongings and Chet was heading out to the supply closet to retrieve the mop, bucket, shovel and brush. Johnny went to get a rubbish bin. It appeared that everything was broken, and personal effects that weren’t torn to shreds laid in the quagmire at their feet and didn’t look salvageable.

“Hold on guys. Roy, call the police and dispatch, pal. We need to be stood down for a while.”

Mike had made his way into the locker room from the dorm and saw what the other guys had walked into. “Ah, Cap. This isn’t the only room that’s been ransacked.” Mike cocked his head to the dorm and everyone followed his lead through the doorway.

They all huddled together to avoid contaminating the scene. Now that the shock had worn off, they started offering their opinion on who had done this. The general consensus was kids. Then Roy came in telling them that the kitchen and dayroom were untouched. He saw the mess of the dorm room for the first time and his mouth dropped open.

“Ya know, I don’t think it was kids. They would’ve had a field day messing up the kitchen. This doesn’t make sense.” Roy offered into the general chatter that revolved around the destruction and kids being the most probable suspects.

“Everybody into the dayroom and don’t touch anything else. Not until we get the go ahead from the police that we can.” Cap told his crew.

The men all went into the kitchen and sat at the table. Spying the coffee pot which appeared to be uninvolved in the crime scene so far, Johnny asked if anyone wanted coffee. Five yes’s resounded from around the table. Boot looked up at the mass arrival of the men and then resettled his head onto his front paws and went back to sleep. Chet looked over to the couch and admonished Boot as being a lousy watchdog. He got no response from Boot.

Johnny made a strong pot of coffee and brought the milk and sugar over to the table with six mugs and a plate of cookies. Officer Vince Howard announced himself at the back door before entering. He walked in to find six men munching on cookies and drinking coffee, sitting at the kitchen table. They all looked slightly shaken and at least 2 hours past tired. He was taken by Cap into the vandalized rooms and explained about the apparatus door being up when they returned. He drew a blank when Vince asked if he knew who would do this.

“Kids,’ stated Chet, Johnny, Marco and Mike in unison.

“I don’t think so. Why didn’t they vandalize the kitchen? Or throw flour and food all over the floor? It doesn’t seem right, but I can’t think of who would want to do this.” Roy told Vince when the officer saw that Roy hadn’t agreed with his colleagues.

“I agree. Kids would have had great fun causing havoc in the kitchen. Unless they were disturbed,” Vince said out loud. He could tell that the firemen hadn’t thought of this option as the look of thoughtful consideration settled on their faces.

“Ah, Vince, the apparatus door was up and the only other way out is through the back door in the apparatus bay. We would’ve seen them run out as we pulled up.” Johnny said. The others nodded their heads agreeing with Johnny’s statement.

“I’ll go out to the patrol car and get my camera and take photos. Has anyone touched the apparatus bay door control button?”

A collective shake of six heads answered him.

‘It may be a long shot but I’ll get a fingerprint technician out to dust the button, there may be a print there. Who was the last one to touch the control button today?” Vince asked.

“That might be me. I touched it as I went passed the door, on my way to the engine, after acknowledging the call to dispatch. It’s part of my routine.” Cap said.

Once again five heads nodded in agreement with a few murmured yeah’s to help confirm their Cap’s routine.

“We may need to take your prints to rule them out in case it’s not your print on that button.” Officer Howard told Cap.

Paling slightly but seeing the logic in it, Cap just nodded his head. He had never been fingerprinted before. In fact, the most contact he’d ever had with law enforcement had been during rescues and with Johnny’s court case earlier. Vince went and retrieved his camera. Taking several photos, he stayed while the guys cleaned the rooms, camera at the ready in case any incriminating evidence was uncovered. Nothing was. All the broken items belonged to the three 51 crews.

Dillon, the fingerprint tech arrived and lifted a print off the control button and then printed Captain Stanley’s fingertips to rule him out. He then went into the locker room and looked at the surfaces of the lockers. It was every fingerprint tech’s dream come true. He dusted several lockers and got some great prints. He then got permission from the A shift crew as he had printed their lockers and they all consented for him to go ahead and print them too to rule them out. It was hoped that the culprits hadn’t worn gloves and had a criminal record.

Chapter 4

Further down the road in a small blue car sat the culprits. They could see the activity from where they were parked. First a police car pulled up, then another one a little while later. Oh, this was way too good to be true. They felt so high with excitement now that their earlier fear of being caught was over. It had been a long wait and Chloe thought she and her sister could’ve done more damage as the fire trucks didn’t come back for ages. They watched as the two police cars drove away and a group of men returned to the building.

She thought her ex-lover would’ve been in that group. That thought made her heart flutter again. However instead of feeling the expected high she felt a feeling akin to remorse. Had she blown it with her ex-lover? Her quick temper had hijacked her common sense. Maybe she could make it up to him and he might give her a second chance.

“Oh, Zoe, you don’t think I was a bit rash do you? Maybe I shouldn’t have pulled their beds apart and destroyed their lockers.”

“He’s a no good flirt, he will only hurt your feelings like Marty did. Do you want to go through that again?” Zoe asked her sister.

“He won’t cheat on me, Zoe. I feel it in my bones. I’ll win you back, Johnny. Trust me, sweetheart. I’d never do anything so rash again.” Seeing her sister looking at her sideways through the rear view mirror she quickly added, “Just don’t hurt me by cheating or flirting on me. I don’t like being hurt, sweetheart.” Chloe said out loud as she sliced her thigh several times with her switchblade.

“Look at what you made me do, Zoe? You know that when you mention Marty’s name, I can’t help myself and have to find some way to let the emotional pain out. Why do you insist on hurting me? Get out. GET OUT of my car.” Chloe screamed at her sister. “You always spoil everything. You deliberately set about to upset me, well I won’t have it. Do you hear me? NO MORE. Now GET OUT!!!”

It took a long time for Chloe to get her equilibrium back. Zoe had been nasty to the extreme and they had fought violently inside the car. Hair pulling, biting, punching and kicking, as much as they were able to inside the small Volkswagen Beetle before Chloe finally managed to get the passenger door open and shove her sister out. She then slammed the door shut and locked it. She started up the car and pulled out of the parking lot with a screech of wheels and burning rubber. She drove erratically for a bit before turning around and parking the car several miles away. The pain from the fight started to filter through to her mind. She would have bruises and scratches over her body tomorrow, but then, so would her sister. “Serve’s her right!” Chloe said to the empty car.

“I would be so good for you, Johnny. We would have beautiful children. They would look like me and have your brown eyes.”

Chloe, having found her switchblade on the floor of the car, made several more cuts, mostly all superficial but a couple were deep and blood freely oozed from them running down her thigh and staining the blue velour of the car seat. There were older rust stained spots on the driver’s seat from earlier self-harming episodes. She could feel the warmth of the blood as it ran down her leg. She looked down and with the aid of the yellow streetlight saw the glistening of the blood. She gave out a hollow laugh. “Oh Dr. Jacobs would not be happy with you Chloe. Look at what you’ve done. You are such a naughty girl.” A strange high pitched laugh reverberated around the car.

Chloe started the car up and drove back closer to the fire station. She looked out for her sister on the way back but didn’t see her. The lights in the front part where they parked the trucks had gone out. She parked across the road where she could see the driveway to the back of the parking lot. With luck she would see her lover in the morning. She might be able to drive him home. His car was out of commission after all. She laughed again at how well her plan was coming together.

---***---

The wake up klaxons went off and six tired men roused out of their remade beds and sat in various states of tired and bone weary repose on the side of their beds. Not one of them had got up. Even the call to the latrine wasn’t enough to rouse them from their beds. Cap didn’t blame them either. He was feeling just as lethargic and world weary.
Eventually it was Marco that was the first to stand up and make his way to the latrine. The smell was still strong and even though they had cleaned up as much as they could, it still needed a thorough scrubbing. He could see areas they had missed and now shampoo and conditioner, even toothpaste had dried hard on the various surfaces. After visiting the latrine he made his way into the kitchen and put on the coffee. One by one the crew all entered and set about getting breakfast ready. Not many words were spoken and silently breakfast was put on the table. It was an act of synchronized movements that belied the bonds and depth of knowing each other that this feat could be done without any pre-planning.

Captain Hookrader was the first of the relieving shift to turn up. He saw the somberness of the crew and did a quick head count and found all men were there and no substitute sat there for any of the A shift. He thought they must have had a very bad fire or fatal rescue to account for the low mood. Cap gave Captain Hookrader a look, and the two men went into his office. The remaining five men knew exactly what was being discussed behind Cap’s door. C shift’s engineer, Paul Thames entered and looked around until he found Roy.

“Man, who did you annoy for them to slash ya tires, Roy?” Paul said.

“What? What are you talking about?” Roy asked with a puzzled look on his face. The other men just looked at Paul, thinking he was pulling a sick joke given the night they had had.

“Seriously, I’m not kidding. All your tires have been slashed, man. Go see for yourself.”

Five men scrambled out of their chairs and made a hasty retreat to the back door in the apparatus bay. Narrowly avoiding a body jam they got outside and went to examine Roy’s tires. True enough the Porsche sat there with four flat and slashed tires. Chet let out a loud whistle. Marco blessed himself and murmured a prayer in Spanish. Mike knelt down and looked at the tires and saw a smudged handprint in the dirt covering the car.

“Don’t touch it, there’s a handprint here. There may be others. I think we need to let Cap know and get the police back out here.” Mike said.

“Police back out? What are you talking about?” Paul asked.

Chet couldn’t wait to fill him in on all the gory details. Johnny went up to his shocked partner and quietly asked if he was alright. Roy just nodded absently and said he was fine when it was apparent he was anything but. Johnny led him to the picnic table and Marco went and got him a cup of sweetened coffee to help with the shock. Both Captains made their way out to the back parking lot. They surveyed the damage and, like Chet, let out a low whistle but not before Hank’s eyebrows had risen so far up his forehead he had a new hairline.

Cap went over to Roy and Johnny and spoke to Roy. “Are you alright, buddy? Do you have any idea who could’ve done this, Roy? It seems too much of a coincidence to have your tires slashed and the vandalism from last night.” Cap waited for Roy to answer but just got a shrug from Roy. “Mike’s phoning the police. It might pay for you to hang around pal.”

“Yeah, I figured that much already. I’m sorry Cap, I can’t think of anybody who would want to do this. Until this morning, I didn’t think I had an enemy in the world. How will I face the rest of the guys? All that destruction, and… and loss of their personal belongings. Some of which, can’t be replaced all because of me. From something that I’ve done, or not done. I…. I need to apologize to them.”

“Roy, it’s alright, man. The guys are cool.” Johnny said to his distraught friend. “They know that you aren’t to blame for this. You are just as much a victim, heck, if not more so, than the rest of the guys. I’ll stay with you and drive you home. We can contact the insurance company later. None of this, and I mean it, none of this is your fault so don’t start feeling guilty about it. Do you want me to phone Joanne or do you want to do it? We need to let her know you’re gonna be late.” Johnny asked his best friend. He could see the shock starting to set in and knew Roy well enough to know that he would be blaming himself and feeling guilty over what had transpired for not just himself but for all of them.

“John’s right Roy, the guys are more concerned for you. How about going into my office to phone Joanne?” Cap offered to Roy. It wasn’t much but it was the least he could do for his upset senior paramedic.

Roy went and spoke to Joanne in Cap’s office. C shift turned up in drips and drabs and A shift handed over the reins to them.

Detective Crockett arrived and greeted the paramedics who were still outside at the picnic table. He sat down and pulled out his notebook and took a statement. He informed Roy that a fingerprint technician was coming out soon having seen for himself the two sets of handprints on the car. It was obvious that the perpetrator had leaned against the car to steady themselves when they had cut the tires to shreds.
It was close to an hour and a half before they could leave the station. Johnny and Roy climbed into the Rover and made their way to Roy's home.

---***---

It had been a long wait for Chloe but it was all worth it when she saw Johnny coming out with his partner. He was driving, which she found odd as it was his car she had disabled. Maybe his friend wasn’t up to driving. He did look pale and away with the fairies. That was just like her Johnny, always looking out for his friends. He was such a considerate man.
Neither paramedic saw the little blue Beetle following them. Their minds were on more pressing issues. Johnny looked in the rear view mirror several times but didn’t really take in the car.

Chloe saw the Rover pull up outside the closed garage door in the driveway. He saw the men getting out and then two small children running and flinging themselves at Johnny. A woman followed and greeted the two men. The children were dressed in fancy dress. A little pirate and nurse greeted Johnny.

Oh my God! He’s married with children!! she thought as a new rage percolated deep in her soul. 'He’s a dreadful flirt' she remembered the nurse saying. Suddenly Johnny had gone from lover to the most detested man she had ever met. Her Marty had been seeing another woman while he was with her. How could she have been so stupid and fallen for another heel. Zoe was right all along. The thought made her sick. Zoe would laud this over her that she was right again and Chloe was wrong.

She saw the children then go to the other man. Then each child got picked up by a man each and got swung around in the air before being carried into the house. The woman ruffled Johnny’s hair and then turned around and followed the friend with the little boy in his arms into the house. Johnny led the way. Chloe felt the tightening of her throat and felt the heat of bile make its way up her throat. She wretched open the car door and vomited onto the road. Not being able to take anymore shocks, and needing to tell Zoe what she had discovered, she headed off home. The screech of tires caused several people to look out their windows on this normally quiet street.

Chapter 5

“I can’t believe I fell for another low down, opportunistic, deceiving, lothario. When will I learn? He’s no better than Marty. I sure can pick ‘em.” Chloe was pacing Zoe’s bedroom floor. She had been in there for a good ten minutes ranting about what she had learned. Zoe was initially very cool towards her sister. She hadn’t forgiven her for being thrown out of the car several miles from home. Chloe did some initial groveling, got her sister’s forgiveness and then launched into what she had seen.

“You couldn’t have known what he was like. Now that you do what are ya gonna do about it?” Zoe was sprawled across her bed and watched her sister as she paced back and forth. She was filing her nails, trying to even them up as they had got broken in their cat fight yesterday.

“I don’t know yet. I have a few ideas. This is what I think we could do.” Chloe then sat down on the edge of Zoe’s bed and listed in great detail her plans to get back at her ex-lover. Zoe loved the ideas and promised her she would help anyway she could. Their conversation was cut short when their mother called out for Chloe to get herself downstairs now as she was running late for her outpatient therapy appointment.

“Ughh, you don’t know how lucky you are. I wish I could’ve fooled all the doctors like you did. Dr. Jacobs saw right through me. I’m not an actress like you, kiddo” Chloe squeezed her sister’s foot before getting up and going to the door. She turned around as Zoe called her name. Zoe pointed to her sisters torn and blood smeared clothes and suggested she clean herself up before Mommy Dearest saw the state she was in. She then wished her good luck and told her she would be here to hear what happened when she came back.

Chloe, now in fresh clothes, made her way down the stairs and grumbled under her breath that she couldn’t wait to move out. The twins had talked about it often enough but neither twin was working and they both needed to be working to support the rent and utility bills. Sometimes life just wasn’t fair. Maybe if they worked hard on buttering up daddy he could pay their rent. After all their parents were loaded and could afford it. Heck they had paid for private hospitals and shrinks and outpatient therapy, like she was going to now. She wished again, and not for the last time that she was more like Zoe who had learned to fool them all. Everyone thought Zoe was sane but she knew different. Zoe was just as crazy as she. Zoe should be taking mood stabilizing drugs too. Not just her. Well that wasn’t true, as Chloe had stopped taking them a little while ago and the only one who knew was Zoe. Zoe promised not to tell their parents. Ever since she had stopped taking her mood pills, as her mother called them, she had seen things so much clearer. She always hated how they fogged her brain up.

They had been separated when they had their first psychotic episode and subsequent breakdown. Dr. Jacobs was their doctor and wouldn’t tell either twin where the other one was. He was fascinated by the twin’s unusually strong bond, almost psychic he had told their parents. He was just about right except that it wasn’t almost but 100% definitely psychic. They knew what each other was thinking, going to do, even say. They often said the same words together. Their bond was amazing.

Dr. Jacobs had split them up in the psychiatric hospital as he thought it would help them to recover better. Zoe was deemed well quicker than Chloe. It was only after Zoe was discharged that she was allowed to see her sister. Zoe would come on visiting days and the pair of them would sit under the tree communing psychically for hours until Zoe had to go.

Chloe was older by twenty minutes. She had the more dominant personality but was more introverted. Zoe was a social butterfly and more outgoing but was a follower more than a leader. They complimented each other. Where one was weak the other was strong. Together, they often joked, they made one superhuman. They were invincible. However it wasn’t kryptonite that was their Achilles heel, it was their mental health. They were both cursed with a weak mental fiber as their mother would say.

Stomping down the stairs making her displeasure known, Chloe cursed her mother’s interfering ways. She stopped grumbling her displeasure when she saw the look on her mother’s face. One day I’m going to wipe that look off your face, you stupid woman. I don’t know how or why daddy puts up with you, Chloe thought. Mother and daughter walked silently to the garage and got into the Mercedes that still smelled new.

Her daddy’s latest ‘weekend’ toy sat next to her mother’s car. Daddy worked so hard he deserved his toys but he never had time to use them. It was like the Harley Davidson motorbike, and the 78 foot cabin cruiser down at the marina, now he had a new Lotus sitting next to his other cars. She loved the Ferrari the best and would often pester her daddy to take her out in it. It was a two seater convertible, like the Lotus and she loved it when it was just her and daddy driving through downtown L.A. with the top down. She loved it even more when they were cruising down the PCH. Nobody came between her and her Daddy. Not even Zoe.

All too soon her mother was pulling up outside Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA. “I’ll drop you off here, I’ll find a carpark and then make my way in to wait for you and then we can do some shopping when you’re finished. Just you and me. We’ll make it a mother/daughter day. It will just be our secret.” Her mother told her while she tapped her nose.

“Yeah, sure.” Chloe got out and slammed the car door, making her mother wince. She proceeded up the steep concrete steps that led into the building. She looked up at the large metal words looming over the entranceway. Stewart and Lynda Resnick sure had big ego’s if the size of their names on the building was anything to go by. Dragging her feet, she made it over to the elevators while the air conditioned coolness touched her skin and replaced the sunkissed warmth with cool machine pumped air. An hour later she was walking briskly out of the building. Her mother was struggling to keep up.

“Chloe, will you slow down! You don’t even know where the car is parked. I know you are only too happy that your session is over but show some degree of maturity and decorum.” The mother sternly told her daughter. Having realized that she did indeed not know where the car was, she slowed her steps and allowed her mother to lead them to where it was.

They drove to Rodeo Drive and shopped till they dropped. Chloe made sure she picked the most expensive items and of course the shoes and handbags had to go with the outfits too. Money was no problem and when people knew who they were, they fawned over them. Chloe and Zoe weren’t too sure why. They realized it had something to do with who their daddy was. They just knew he was a producer or director, something like that at Universal Studios. The family had been to several big production movies that were smash hits as stated by the press. Her daddy had been heavily involved in their making and he was highly sought after.

Some of the glitzy parties they had attended had big movie stars in them and she knew them by sight. They were different in real life to what she saw on the big screen. Towards the end of the evenings they would be drunk or suspiciously high. Sometimes even both. It always made her laugh how their press secretaries put it down to food poisoning when photos appeared in low grade tabloids. The paparazzi who were welcomed at the beginning were shunned at the end as they were always trying to get the most incriminating of photos. It was a very phony world. Plastic platitudes would come out and phony smiles and hugs abounded but the relief on the faces couldn’t be covered up with make up as hugs were broken and kisses ended. Chloe was glad this wasn’t her world. How her daddy survived in this world or wanted to even be a part of it eluded both her and Zoe. Pulling up at their mansion in Bel Air, waiting for the electronic gates to open, Chloe turned around and looked at her mother. If you looked closely enough you could see where the plastic surgeon’s knife and been. Her mother was just as plastic and phony as everybody else in this crazy place.

“Esperanza, can you get the boxes out of the car please. They are all to go to Chloe’s room, apart from the ones with the red ribbon, they are mine. Be careful how you hang them up. I don’t want to see any wrinkles.” Her mother was good at giving out orders to the staff. Heck, she was good at giving out orders to her and Zoe, not to mention daddy.
Chloe ran upstairs to Zoe’s room but Zoe was not there. Maybe the indoor pool, Chloe thought. When that proved empty she thought maybe the outdoor pool. She ran outside and down the steps till she got to the pool house. There was no sign of her sister there either. She went to the tennis court, the maze and fountain garden and finally guest house. Zoe was nowhere to be seen. She couldn’t be far; she didn’t drive and said she was broke after having to get a taxi last night to bring her home. Chloe walked back up to the three story mansion and proceeded to look in the likeliest rooms.

“There you are. I’ve been looking for you everywhere.” Chloe said as she entered her sister’s en suite bathroom.

“Well now you’re found me. What do you want? Have fun with Dr. Jacobs and mommy dearest afterwards.” Zoe said sarcastically.

“Zoe, don’t be like that. You know I’ve got no choice in these matters. I was thinking. Why don’t we move out and live in an apartment together. Daddy can pay the rent and things and we can have a great time. Just think we will be free from mother.”

“We have been down this road before. Daddy won’t buy into it because of what Dr. Jacobs tells him. You need to fool Dr. Jacobs before we can even think of moving out. I’m not gonna move out and leave you at the mercy of mother without any support. So wherever you are, is where I am! We could always move out to the guest house. We could ask mother and daddy tonight over dinner. What do you think? Look, I know it’s not what you want but it’s a start. Once they see how well we cope, they will hopefully let us move into a downtown condo or one by the marina would be great. Well whaddya think?”

“I think it’s brilliant. Daddy can never really say no to me, so I’ll ask tonight over supper, after he’s had a few drinks and feeling mellow.” Chloe laughed and smiled at her sister. Zoe was smart, there was no denying that. She sat back on the edge of her sister’s spa bath and watched as Zoe methodically cut her thighs. Just like Chloe had done the night before. She could feel the pain of the cuts as if they were happening again to her now. There was a vicarious thrill about watching it being done. It was another one of their little secret bonds. They often watched each other cut. It felt delicious, and the secrecy added to the high.

Chapter 6

“Thank you, Johnny, for bringing Roy home. I can’t believe what’s happened.” Joanne said as she collected her little nurse AKA Jennifer, from his embrace. “Come along you limpet, let your Uncle Johnny get his breath back.” Now you two run along and continue playing dress ups. Your parents need to talk to Uncle Johnny without little ears around. Now scoot.”

Joanne patted Chris’s bottom as they ran hollering down the hallway back to his room where they had amassed all their old clothes and costumes. They were having a make believe day and had already been a dragon, an astronaut, a fairy, a shepherdess like Little Bo Peep, although Chris refused to be a sheep. Chris liked being a pirate but Jenny wanted to be something else. Chris was helping her choose by using his sword to pick up various clothing.

“So tell me in detail what happened, from start to finish.” Jo said as she put two cooked breakfasts in front of them.

Roy started telling Jo everything from the moment they had returned from the 3 alarm fire to the latest discovery in the parking lot this morning. Johnny added his two cents in as well in-between mouthfuls of fried egg and bacon. He was waving a piece of buttered toast around as he got more excited about the unfolding of events. A few crumbs landed in his coffee and then sank to the bottom as they became coffee logged. Johnny never noticed.

Roy finished relating all that had happened and then started to eat his lukewarm meal. Johnny then took over answering Joanne’s questions, letting his pal eat his breakfast. By the end of the reciting of events, Jo was feeling just as disquieted as Roy and concerned for the well being both physically and mentally for her husband.

Johnny sensing this reassured Jo that he would keep his eyes opened and be his brother’s bodyguard if he had to. “I may be skinny but I’m tough, don’t forget.” Jo was slightly appeased that Johnny would look out for Roy but she knew that he always would because that was the type of friendship that they had. She would expect nothing less.

“Besides with the skills you are getting from Susie’s judo classes, we will be able to lick the floor with any tire slashing vandal.” Johnny told his worried guests hoping to ease the tension around the table. It worked; he saw the first true smile of Roy since this whole nightmare had started.

“What does Susie say about this?” Joanne asked Johnny.

“Um, I haven’t told her yet. She had an early morning surgery lined up on a prize colt with a hernia. She had to be at the Hospital at 8, I’ll tell her later today when she gets home. Speaking of which, I better go. I’ve a few chores to do on my own ‘honey-do list’. Who knew that a honey-do list could happen after eleven days of being married?” Johnny told the De Soto’s.

“Speaking of which, how is married life treating you, Johnny? Is it what you thought it would be like?” Jo asked.

Johnny blushed a bright red and said he loved everything about being married. With his left hand splayed across his chest and his wedding ring bright on his ring finger he said softly “It’s not marriage itself, but the person you’re married too that makes it so wonderful.” He then gave a happy and contented sigh and his face took on a dreamy look and both the De Soto’s laughed at a Johnny they thought they would never see, a thoroughly besotted and happily married man.

“In the words of Dr. Brackett, ‘get out of here hose jockey’” Roy said as Johnny got up from the table. He had a lot of things to do back at the ranch and he wanted to cook a nice meal for Susie before she hit the books studying for those exams that were less than a year away now.

Susie had lots of ambition. She saw becoming a full partner and heading up a Veterinarian Hospital specializing in equine disorders and surgery as only the first step. She wanted to build a reputation as an equine surgeon of repute. Her and Johnny had talked about their future and had agreed on many things. They thought they might be successful within say 10 years. Good things took time. They had lots of time and patience. Johnny would do whatever he could to support her, cooking meals was a small way of showing her this.
Waving goodbye to his friends, but not before going upstairs to Chris’s room to give a pirate and a ‘drunken floosy’ their goodbye hugs and kisses. Curious as to what Jenny was now, he asked Jenny Bean what she was.

“I’m Malibu Barbie” Jenny told him as if he was stupid for not knowing. She had a short red dress on with a feather boa draped over her tiny shoulders and large gimmicky sunglasses. She clutched a white handbag and tottered unsteadily around in a pair of her mother’s old high heel shoes. An overly large sunhat sat more over her face than on it and she had to keep pulling it up off her sunglasses so she could see.

“Oh, I see. How silly of me not to have known. Would Malibu Barbie and a scary pirate like their photo taken?”

Both children agreed and while Johnny went to retrieve his camera out of his Rover, Chris asked his mommy to draw a scary beard and scar on his face. Joanne complied and with a felt tip marker colored his face in. He looked like a very bad and scary pirate and was very pleased with his new look. The children posed for several photos and gave Johnny warm, wet slobbery kisses as he went to leave.

With a wave and a toot he finally drove away with plans of making a photo album of the De Soto’s since he had known them. He would give it to them for Christmas. He added it to his honey-do list. When they went shopping for their own wedding photo album he would get Susie to help him select an appropriate one for the De Soto’s family album. He had lots of photos to choose from that he had never shown to Roy and Joanne, so it would be a surprise for them all.

---***---

Dennis was at the ranch seeing to the horses when Johnny pulled up and parked the Rover outside the barn. “Howdy Johnny, you’re home late. Was it a big fire?” Dennis asked as Johnny got out and ambled over to him. Pretty Owl was frolicking in the field and Red Cloud was sniffing Dennis’s pockets. Dennis removed a few sugar cubes for the horse and was rewarded with a few whiffles as soft lips nuzzled his palm. Red Cloud’s nostrils flared out and warm breath swept across his skin. Big brown eyes with a ring of blue tinged whites stared at him as Dennis stroked down the horses strong proud face. Having had the sugar he went over to answer Pretty Owls’ neighing. Dennis turned around and looked at Johnny. He was surreptitiously checking him over for any injuries. Seeing none and Johnny looking happy but slightly tired waited for Johnny to answer.

“We had a three alarmer but that’s not what caused me to be late. It’s what happened at the station while we were at the fire.” Johnny told Dennis everything that had transpired over a cup of coffee on the porch. To say that Dennis was shocked was an understatement.

The two men then started to clear the outlaying pastures. Making sure that there were no obstacles in the fields, Johnny started to mow the grass and weeds back. Dennis collected the clippings. It was hard going and both men were working up a sweat. They worked for another hour before going back to the house to down a few cold ones. Having fixed some sandwiches, they made their way back to the pasture. They continued on until 5 pm. Surveying the pasture they could see the progress they had made. At least an acre had been cleared and the newly cut grass was laid open to the sky for the first time in years.

“Tomorrow we can start to dig the posts holes. It will look great when it’s all done. Expanding the corral is a great idea. If you need any help, all you need to do is ask.” Dennis said as he wiped the sweat of his brow with his scrunched up shirt. His undershirt clung to his body and sweat had matted his chest hair as well as plastering the hair at the nape of his neck and his brow.

Johnny was in much the same state, except he was stripped down to his bare skin apart from a pair of cut off jean's. He was stretching out his lower back and then looked at his palms. Blisters had formed over his callouses from the continual friction from the lawn mower. Fine dust and dirt particles made his skin look browner than what it was. He needed a shower and then he would start to get supper ready. Dennis declined the invitation to stay for supper, as he thought the lovebirds might like a quiet night together. Susie drove up as Dennis was declining the offer. She then insisted as she was getting grocery bags out of the car.

Dennis and Johnny helped to carry the bags inside. The plates and some sandwich fixings were still out on the bench. Putting the plates in the dishwasher, Susie put the kettle on to make them all a fresh cup of coffee. Johnny stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist as he leaned in and kissed the side of her neck and smelled her hair. It smelled of green apples. His hand lifted her raven hair away and he nibbled on her earlobe before kissing her neck once more then released her so she could turn around in his arms. They kissed deeply and broke off with a smile and deep breath.

Dennis made a loud noise to announce his arrival after having a brief wash. “I’m making us a fresh pot of coffee. Johnny’s just gonna go have a quick shower, would you like one Uncle. I can get you fresh towels and you can use the mud room shower.”

“Nah, I’m good. A cup of coffee though is what I really need.” He helped Susie put the groceries away while the coffee was being made.

Johnny excused himself and went upstairs to shower and change into clean clothes. Susie made the coffee and found some cookies and placed them on the sitting room table along with the coffee pot and a mug for Johnny. When Johnny came down feeling like a new man his coffee was poured by Susie and a couple of cookies placed on a plate beside his mug. Johnny smiled his thanks to his wife and sat beside her on the couch. He then told her what had happened to Roy’s car and at the station. Susie was instantly alarmed. She had got to know the De Soto’s really well and couldn’t imagine anyone getting angry at Roy. He was such a placid and easygoing guy. The only time she had seen him riled up was with all that business with Chip.

“Hey, Uncle Denny, have you contacted Big Dave?”

“Of course, why didn’t I think of that earlier? May I use your phone?”

Johnny just nodded his head and looked at Susie for an explanation as he had no idea what was going on.

“Uncle Denny and Dave became best buddies during the Korean War. Uncle Denny saved Dave’s life, not once but twice. Every year they get together and remember the good ol’ days. Uncle Denny is godfather to Dave’s children.”

“That’s nice, but why is that so important now?” Johnny asked with a bemused look on his face.

“You’ll see. If it goes as I hope it will, Roy won’t be out of pocket by much, fingers crossed.”

“Yeah. We phoned a couple of tire shops and mechanics at his place this morning and the quotes for new or retreaded tires were unbelievable. Roy thought he might have to dip into the children’s college fund to get his car back on the road. I’m picking him up for work for the next shift at least. Who’s this Big Dave guy?”

“You know him. He owns Dave’s Tire Emporium. You’ve seen the ads on TV. That’s Big Dave. Uncle Denny gave Big Dave the starting up money for his business. He turned down a partnership with him but gets perks instead.” Susie finished saying while she watched her husband’s face change from ignorance to knowing to finally full understanding.

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No. Let’s just wait and see what Uncle Denny can do. They’ve been talking a while, I hope it’s good news.”

A short while later Uncle Dennis’s hand was waving Johnny over to the phone. “Dave wants to know the tire sizes. Do you know them?”

“Uh, yeah. I’ve got ‘em written down on a piece of paper in my jeans. Hold on, I’ll just go find ‘em.” Johnny then went into the laundry and rummaged through the clothes until he found what he was looking for and removed the scrunched up piece of paper with the required information on it. He returned to the sitting room and gave Dennis the piece of paper. Dennis told Big Dave the measurements and waited on the phone while Dave went to investigate. A short while later with everything sorted out the call was disconnected with plans made to meet up and have a few drinks and reminisce in a week’s time.

“You better phone Roy and tell him that if he’s launched an insurance claim for his tires that he may like to cancel it. When he asks why, tell him Dave from Dave’s Tire Emporium, is putting four tires on for free, since Roy is family now.” Seeing Johnny’s confusion about family, Dennis went on to say “Well he’s your brother isn’t he, which makes him my nephew-in-law, or something like that, so he comes under the family perks scheme. Tell him that his car will be ready tomorrow afternoon.” Dennis laughed and slapped Johnny on the back to help break the shock Johnny was in.

“Oh, that’s good news. Now they won’t have to break into the kid’s college fund after all. Johnny, why are you standing there with your mouth open? Don’t you think it would be a good idea to let Roy know his problem is solved?” Susie said with a gentle smile on her face.

“Uh, yeah, yeah. You’re right. I’ll phone him now. He won’t believe it you know. Heck, I don’t believe it and I saw it happen.”

Johnny went and dialed Roy’s number and soon was talking to Roy and telling him the good news and that Big Dave was going to the station tomorrow personally and was gonna replace all four tires with brand new ones for free as he was family. Roy took some convincing and both paramedics talked through shocked acceptance until they realized it was really happening and that they had the sweetest batch of lemonade from a basketful of lemons that life had thrown at Roy. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow and take you to the station so you can drive your car home …… Yeah, hold on, I’ll get him.” Johnny then called Dennis over to the phone so that Roy could thank him personally.

Johnny then went into the kitchen to start making supper for everyone. His cooking repertoire had steadily increased and Susie was also teaching him some more European dishes. Between Mama Lopez and Susie, Johnny’s cooking was starting to rival that of even Mike’s. He also was a tidy cook and didn’t make half the mess now when left alone in the kitchen. He had told Susie about his attempt to make some fancy meal at the station with oysters and had ended up turning everything green.

An hour later the three sat down to stir fried vegetables, rice and steamed fish with a sweet soy sauce. Conversation stopped as everyone ate greedily as the food tasted lovely.
Dennis cleaned the kitchen with Susie’s help and the dishes were done, while Johnny went to settle the horses for the night. Sotkazi had made an appearance earlier and having been fed and pampered for a short while left to start his nocturnal adventures. He returned an hour later and dropped a dead field mouse in front of Susie’s feet. She wasn’t overly pleased with the gift but Sotkazi was only doing what was natural for him. She rewarded the black cat with a few strokes and picked up the dead mouse by its tail and deposited it in the outdoor rubbish.

Dennis went home later that evening having sat and talked with Johnny and watched a bit of TV with him. Susie had retired to the den to study for a couple of hours.
Johnny took her in a cup of herbal tea which she drank only after 6 PM foregoing coffee due to its stimulant traits. She was trying to get Johnny to cut back on his coffee consumption which had climbed right back up there after his recovery from his illness and during the trial. She would keep trying as she thought it was only a matter of finding the right herbal tea.

At 10 PM the couple retired to bed. Susie had work in the morning and Johnny and Dennis were going to be digging post holes and maybe putting some posts in. It was going to be another long, hard day’s work tomorrow.

Chapter 7

Joanne had made a rich fruit cake laced with enough brandy to sink a ship or in this case a Korean War vet, banana bread and cookies and taken them to Big Dave personally as a way of saying thank you and as a small token of their gratitude. Chris and Jenny had drawn their version of Big Dave standing outside his Emporium as seen on TV. Roy’s Porsche was next to Big Dave with the words ‘Thank You’ written in red crayon across the top of the picture.

Big Dave accepted the baked goods saying his wife and family would really enjoy it as his wife wasn’t a cook. The pictures would go on the wall of his office as it wasn’t everyday he received such heartwarming pictures. An idea struck him and he asked Joanne if it would be alright to use the pictures in his next TV ad campaign. Joanne gave her consent and asked if he wanted to see the artists as they were both in the car. She had just picked Chris up from school and was taking them back home via this detour. Big Dave introduced himself to the two small blond haired, blue eyed children and his initial idea coalesced into a bigger plan. He smiled to himself and shaking the hand of Joanne and waving goodbye to the children went inside and phoned his advertising agency.

---***---

The A shift crew arrived to work within 30 minutes of each other. Mike beat Cap by 2 minutes and Chet was four minutes behind Johnny who was the second to last to arrive.
Roy’s car sat in its usual spot and was sporting four brand new tires. Roy couldn’t express his gratitude enough to his partner and his Uncle-in-law. He had brought some cookies in as a thank you and Johnny put them in his locker to take home and share with his wife and Dennis. The third batch was for all of them to have at the station throughout the day.
No sooner had Roy taken them into the kitchen and put them on the counter than the klaxons sounded for Squad 51 to go to a woman in distress call. The B shift paramedics went to answer it but Roy and Johnny, seeing as there was only 15 minutes left of the B shift, took the call. It was the first of many call outs that day. Supplies were collected in several snatches over the course of the day as time allowed as their HT went off continuously while they dropped patients off at Rampart.

Food was wolfed down at a fast food hamburger establishment. It wasn’t until getting onto 3PM that the squad and Big Red met up at a call out for a multi vehicle pile-up on the 405. They worked side by side for several hours till the victims were freed and treated. Tow trucks arrived, spilled fuel and oil was washed down, broken glass and car parts were swept up and the freeway was declared open again and the flow of cars soon took over the lanes.

The paramedics escorted their last two victims to Rampart in separate ambulances. They handed over the patients, both of them with moderate but not serious injuries. They trudged to the doctor’s lounge and poured themselves a cup of coffee before taking residence on the couch. It was their 10th call out from the morning and they had been to Rampart 13 times today. The last few visits to the hospital courtesy of the pile-up. They were waiting for their crew mate to drive the squad over to Rampart. They were hoping that they would take their time. Both paramedics were content to just have a bit of downtime. Having finished his coffee and with his stomach rumbling, Johnny made a trip to the hospital cafeteria to get a sandwich. Roy wasn’t hungry and declined the offer of Johnny buying him a snack.

Johnny just made it back as Marco was walking down the corridor looking for his two friends. Spying Marco, Johnny called out for him to wait up. Together they entered the doctor’s lounge and roused Roy up from the couch as he had fallen into a light doze. The three men then climbed into the squad and made it back to the station.

“You owe me Gage.” Chet said as Johnny climbed out of the squad, closing the door after Marco had gotten out.

“What are ya talking about, Chet? I don’t owe ya anything.”

“I did ya chore since you weren’t here to do it. If we were to wait for you we would’ve starved. So what ya cooking for supper?”

“I got KP duty! Oh, man. What we got in the fridge and cupboards?” Johnny ran into the kitchen, narrowly missing Roy, and started frantically opening up the cupboards before going to the refrigerator. He found some cold cuts left over from lunch which they hadn’t been there for. There was a random collection of vegetables including onions, tomatoes and bell peppers. An idea came to mind and he went looking for certain other ingredients and found what he was looking for. Six men sat around the table eating homemade pizzas and fries. Johnny felt quite pleased with himself that he had concocted a meal with very little warning. His standard fare of hotdogs and burgers just another part of his standbys.

---***---

“Zoe! That’s absolutely brilliant. You’re right, his wife and children are innocent in this and the wife needs to be told what a cad she’s married to. Come on, we can send an anonymous letter to her. I know where they live. We can drop it off. How I wish we could be there to see her face as she reads it.”

The sisters scurried into their daddy’s study and put a piece of paper into the typewriter that his secretary used when he worked from home. Zoe dictated the letter while Chloe pecked at the keys bringing to life their plan. She then slipped the folded paper into an envelope and leaving the envelope unmarked put it into her dungarees pocket. Zoe ran ahead and waited for her sister in her car. Chloe was grabbing her car keys when her mother walked in.

“What are you doing?”

“You know what it’s like, things to do, place’s to go. Don’t wait up. We’ll be back much later tonight.”

Chloe was saying all this as she was walking out towards the back door. She slammed the door as she left still talking. Her mother missed the last sentence as the door banged shut. She watched her daughter head over to the garage from the kitchen window. She was waving the keys in the air and skipping in happiness as she approached the car.
The mother turned and made her way into the family room and poured herself a large vodka and tonic. The house was very quiet with only her in it. The staff were all under strict orders to be quiet and stay out of the way as much as possible. It was moments like these that Mrs. Patterson regretted her edicts. She was lonely. Her family didn’t need her anymore and she was trying to get their attention by buying them gifts like clothes and expensive toys. Her husband had money but it was really Ida Patterson that was extremely wealthy.

She sighed into her drink as she thought what she could do to keep her husband from straying with his newest secretary. She knew that they were having an affair. She covered the pain up with alcohol and pills. Her attempts at staying young had given her eyes a slanted almost catlike appearance. If she had anymore face lifts her neck skin would be on her forehead. She toasted a photograph of herself when she was in her twenties and had her whole life ahead of her. Now in her late forties and hitting her big 5-0 in only 18 months, she felt more than old. She downed her drink in a few mouthfuls and made herself another one, this time with less tonic and more vodka. She gave up on the tonic on the following three drinks.

She stumbled up into the master bedroom which took in almost half of the second floor and collapsed on the extra-large king size bed. Tears poured down her face, her mascara ran into her ears and she curled herself into a ball and cried for the girl she had once been and for the woman she now was. She reached into her bedside drawer and took a handful of sleeping pills. She really didn’t care if she awoke tomorrow or not. In many ways she had a lot in common with Chloe, she thought bitterly to herself. Her last conscious thoughts centered on her other daughter Zoe. Oh, Zoe. I’m so sorry for everything. She then fell into a drug and alcohol induced sleep.

---***---
“There, that’s his house. Quick, get down.”

Both sisters scootered down in their seats. Chloe whispered to her sister how the woman at the window pulling the curtains was the missus.

“Why are you whispering?” Zoe asked her sister in a loud voice.

“Oh, yeah. It’s not like she can hear us from here, but she can see us.”

Zoe peered over and seeing the curtains now pulled over all the front windows, she sat up straighter in the car. Chloe followed her lead. The sun was settling in the rainbow painted sky. Within 20 minutes it would be dark enough for the letter to go into the box or under the front door. Johnny’s car wasn’t in the driveway, so the girls felt confident that he wasn’t there.

“We could knock on the door and leave the envelope on the porch. She will get it then.”

“And she may get us as well. No, I think it’s best slipped under the front door.” Chloe instructed her sister. She had to put her sister in her place. In the pecking order, Chloe will always be number 1.

The sisters waited until dusk turned to night and then slipped out and approached the split story house. Zoe looked over her shoulder several times to ensure they weren’t being watched. Chloe slid the envelope under the door. It sat just inside and was plain for anyone to see. It was Chris that saw it first and gave it to his mommy. Joanne’s face paled and tears came to her eyes as she read the obscene anonymous letter. She stuffed the letter into her pocket and quickly wiped her face and pinched her cheeks to help put on a rosy and happy demeanor. She told the children to go and watch TV. They had one hour of viewing before going to bed. She went into the kitchen and slumped into a chair and took the note out again and read it. Who could do such a thing? What sick person was out there? Was there a link between this and the tires? Joanne wondered.

She picked up the phone and phoned Roy. It was earlier than their usual time but he had to know what lies someone was spreading about him. If it’s one thing that Joanne knew about her husband it was his undying loyalty and deep and abiding love of her and their children.

“Station 51, firefighter Kelly speaking.”

“Chet, it’s Joanne. Is Roy available?”

“Hang on; I’ll get him for you.”

Five men looked at Chet to see who he wanted. Chet held the phone out towards Roy and summoned him to the phone, “It’s Joanne,” was all he said.

Roy took the phone from Chet and greeted his wife with a warm hello and asked if everything was alright.

“Oh, Roy. Someone slipped a nasty letter under the door and Chris found it and it says and I quote, ‘Your husband had an affair and he’s nothing but a flirting Casanova that can’t be trusted. He’s always looking for a bit on the side. We think it’s only fair that you know what type of man you’re married to. You and the children deserve better.’”

“WHAT! Jo, it’s not true. I would never do anything like that to you or the children. You’re my life... I…I, hold on. I’m gonna change phones.” Roy looked over to Captain Stanley. “Cap, can I use the phone in your office, please, it’s important.”

Cap, as well as all the other men had heard the one sided conversation and held no doubt it was important. “Sure, pal. If you need to go home, let me know. I’m sure I can get a replacement for you.”

“Thanks, Cap. I’ll let you know.” Roy walked very quickly to Caps office and picked up the phone. Johnny hearing his friend’s voice hung up the phone.

The men sat in the dayroom, giving their friend some privacy. Johnny was concerned for his two friends. Whatever was going on it didn’t sound good. He absently was biting his fingernail. A little nervous habit he had that he wasn’t even aware of but those that knew him well, did. Roy came back into the dayroom looking relieved and puzzled at the same time.

“Are you okay, pally?” Johnny enquired while removing his well bitten fingernail away from his mouth.

“Yeah. You wouldn’t believe what was put under the front door at home.” Roy then went on to tell the guys what had caused Jo to phone up. He ended by saying that Jo was disgusted, not with him but with whoever was spreading these vicious and hurtful lies. She knew her man and found the letter to be ludicrous and laughable in the extreme.

“Roy, you need to be careful, man. It looks like someone is out to get you. You and your family can always come and stay at our place until we find the culprit.” Johnny offered to his friend.

“Thanks Junior, but I think we will be fine. Whoever it is will hopefully get bored and go away.”

“You wish. My cousin’s girlfriend’s sister had some wacko stalker that did similar things and in the end she had to move to another state and change her name and just about sever all family ties. She only phones her family now. She hasn’t seen them in years.” Chet said into the room that was bonded together in quiet concern and anxiety for their comrade.

“That’s really helpful, Kelly. I’m sure Roy’s gonna sleep real well tonight after hearing that, ya twit!” Cap said while shaking his head. Sometimes Chet could be a real doofus, Cap thought.

Marco got up and made a fresh pot of coffee and got Joanne’s cookies out of the cupboard. He put the plate in the middle of the table and Johnny went and poured himself a tall glass of milk and offered to pour one for anybody else. He had no takers. He sat back at the table with the milk container and his drink. He then dunked his cookie in his glass, allowing enough time for the milk to penetrate it before he ate it. He chomped away happily. Joanne had made several different types and right now he was munching on a raisin oat. He was eyeing up a peanut butter snap next.

Marco brought the coffee pot over with the mugs and sugar. The remaining men made themselves coffee, including Johnny and chose a cookie to also dunk.
A splat and curse was heard coming from Chet’s direction. The men looked over to see Chet wiping his shirt and trying to hide the mess on the table. His cookie had disintegrated just before he got it to his mouth and fallen in his coffee, spraying coffee everywhere.

“Oh, that’s so gross, man.” Johnny said as he wiped some stray coffee droplets off his arm.

“It’s not like I did it on purpose, Gage.” Chet got up and poured his coffee down the sink as he didn’t like drinking coffee with floating cookie bits in it. He went to sit back down to refill his cup when the klaxons went off.

Chapter 8

“Squad 51, in place of squad 16, woman down. 1189 Bel Air Road, one one eight nine Bel Air Drive. Please note that you will be met at the gate of the property.” Sam Lanier’s voice announced before the silence was broken by two chairs scrapping back from the table.

Johnny and Roy ran to their squad. It was out of their call out area so time was of the essence. Johnny was looking at the street map of L.A. “Let’s hope it’s not life threatening as it’s a long way from here. Go left at Vine onto Maple.” Johnny continued to give directions and eventually they pulled up to the address where a servant was there to open the gate as they approached.

“Go straight down to the main house, you can’t miss it. Gordon will meet you at the main entrance.” The maid said. She stayed behind to let the ambulance in.

Roy steered the squad down the lit driveway with tall palms on either side. They passed a house which was substantial in its own right. There was no man standing at the entranceway and the house was in relative darkness apart from the outside lights which highlighted certain parts of the house. As they rounded the sweeping bend they saw a three story mansion built in a Spanish style with wrought iron balconies and lights on in just about every room. The view was amazing and they could see the city lights of Los Angeles spread out before them as they pulled up to the front of the house. A man stepped out from the wide double front doors and ushered them in.

“It’s the mistress of the house. She appears to have got herself into a spot of bother.” Gordon said.

He took them up to the master bedroom and stood aside to let them in. A man was crouched over the woman’s body. He was clasping her closely to his chest and tears were streaming down his face. He kept repeating her name.

"Ida, Ida, Ida, please wake up honey. IDA, don’t do this to me!!” He then shook her to try and rouse her for the twentieth time. Each attempt brought the same response – nothing. Her limp arm flounced on the bed and her head hung back lax in the man’s embrace, her hair was disheveled and swung with each shake the man inflicted on the unresponsive woman. One of her high heels was partially off her foot and the other was on the floor. Her manicured foot was painted the same color as her fingernails, Johnny noted, a deep plummy red.

“Sir, sir, you need to let us get to her so we can help her. Please let go and move back. Sir, can you hear me.” Johnny asked the extremely distraught man. Johnny looked at Roy and the partners communicated without words.

“Sir, please let us take over, we’ll be real careful. We will do everything we can to help her. Please.” Roy said as he grabbed the man by the shoulder and started to turn him around to face him. He had to break the trance the man seemed to be in.

It was as if the man had just woken up from a bad dream. He gasped and jerked his body away from Roy and looked at the once beautiful face of his wife. Her lips were now blue and her skin was cold. Her body was heavy and slightly stiff. There was vomit from her mouth and nose and across the thick gold silk quilted coverlet. “No, no, NO. It’s too late. She’s… she’s dead!” The man broke down in heart breaking sobs and clutched his wife even tighter to his chest. He was rocking them both on the bed. His head bowed close to hers talking to her quietly as if his words were not meant to be heard by anybody else.

The scene was one of the worst that the paramedics had had to deal with in a very long time. Johnny was kneeling on the bed and had the woman’s wrist in his hand. He noted the coldness of the skin and the whiteness that accompanied death. There was no pulse and he shook his head to Roy. He swept the hair away from the woman’s face and saw the blue lips and half closed glazed eyes that didn’t react to light. He climbed off the bed, removing himself from the man’s world of grief. He felt like an interloper in a very private moment.

By law, they had to call it in and await the police before they could go.

Roy set up the biophone in the woman’s dressing room. He too felt like an intruder in this man’s worst moment of his life. He was looking around the room when his eyes came across family photos in crystal frames. They showed happier times. One photo depicted a mother kneeling down with her arms around the shoulders of two beautiful blonde haired girls. He looked closer and saw they were identical twins. There were more photos of the girls together and by themselves as they got older. A posed family portrait hung on the wall. The man was a younger version of the one that sat destroyed on the bed rocking his dead wife. The woman was young. In fact she looked the same age in all the photos. Everybody else had aged but her. Plastic surgery, Roy thought correctly.

He called Cedars-Sinai Hospital on the biophone and got Dr. Preston on the other end. “Cedars-Sinai, this is squad 51 in place of squad 16 calling. This is a FYI only; we have a deceased female, age approximately 38 to 40. Cause of death unknown but possible aspiration and suffocation from ingestion of toxins. Strong smell of alcohol and some partially digested white tablets in the vomit. It’s a Code F from a possible suicide. We will await the police to arrive before leaving.”

“Squad 51, is there anybody else requiring treatment at the scene?” Dr. Preston asked.

“Cedars-Sinai, it appears her husband is suffering from severe shock. My partner’s trying to get him to release the victim so he can take his vitals. Hold on Cedars-Sinai.”

Johnny had walked in and informed Roy that the butler had contacted the family’s personal physician and he was coming to see to the husband. And pronounce on the wife. “It’s a bad scene man.” Johnny said shaking his head. He looked back out to the master bedroom and his eyes watered as he saw the complete and utter heartbreak of the husband. The anguished cries could be heard in the walk-in-dressing room.

Johnny looked around and saw the same photos Roy had seen earlier. He passed over them quickly then did a double take. He walked up to one of the later photos and picked it up. He scrutinized it and then looked up to the ceiling before recognition settled his look of concentration. He replaced the photo and went back to the horrible scene acting out on the bed. There really was nothing he could do now but make sure the husband didn’t lose it completely. Although that was already debatable.

Roy relayed the news about the physician coming and that the police were on their way. He signed off and packed the biophone up. He left the dressing room and stood next to his partner. Johnny stood with his hands in his pockets and his head bowed. His shoulders were slumped and his eyes, when he looked at his partner, lacked their sparkle. Roy looked over at the man on the bed. The scene hadn’t changed. He still held his cold dead wife and rocked back and forth on the bed, while his tears fell into her hair. It seemed to take an interminable time for the police to arrive. Finally Gordon, the butler, escorted them up to the master bedroom where they saw for themselves the sad scene that had been played out before the reluctant witnesses.

The paramedics gave their names and statements and told them that the physician was coming. They made their way down the wide sweeping curved white marble staircase with a deep rich red patterned carpet. An ornate golden balustrade straddled the stairway. Another maid met them at the bottom and guided them out of the house. They walked down the steps and on to the first landing then the next set of steps before finally getting to their squad. The police car was pulled up behind the squad.

Roy started up Little Red and putting her in gear, drove up to the gates where the maid from earlier pushed a series of buttons and the black gates opened up allowing them out. As they were leaving a late model red Corvette came screeching around the corner and pulled up to the gates.

“What’s the bet that’s the Dr.?” Roy said as he changed gear.

Johnny didn’t answer. His mind was miles away. Roy didn’t really expect an answer as he had read Johnny’s body language. He was closed in on himself. His arms hugged his chest and he was as close to the door as possible.

“Roy, did you see the photos on her dresser. One of those girls looked like that victim on that car vs bike on Melrose Drive we went to last week, do you remember?” Johnny asked out of the blue.

“I remember the call out, but you were more involved with the patient than me. I can’t really recall her. You could be right, and if you are then it’s a small world.”

No more words were spoken on the long drive back to the station.

“How was the call? Was it a fancy smancy Hollywood mansion?” Chet asked.

“Chet, not right now okay. It wasn’t a good call.” Johnny said as he got out of the squad.

Chet looked over to Roy for an answer.

“If it will get you off our backs, yes it was a fancy smancy mansion, but tonight there’s a whole lot of heartache, grief and tears going on in that house. A woman that looked like she had everything decided to kill herself and tore the heart out of her husband in doing so. What’s more her two daughters have yet to learn they don’t have a mother anymore. Happy now? You got your answer.” Roy slammed his door and joined Johnny outside. Expecting Johnny to be sitting on the picnic table, instead the table was empty as was the hood of his Rover. He looked up and saw the silhouette of his partner sitting atop the hose tower.

Climbing slowly he made his way beside his partner and they sat in mutual silence with their own thoughts swirling around in their heads. The passing traffic on the 405 didn’t register, nor did the stars in the sky or the sudden light spilling out from the apparatus bay back door. A short time later Cap sat next to the two paramedics.

“Hear it was a bad one. You wanna talk about it?” Cap asked his men.

“You had to be there. Or more to the point, you wish you weren’t there. I think I will never forget the pain of the husband nor him cradling her cold dead body in his arms. That scene will stay with me for a long time." Johnny shivered and put his hands up and covered his face. His head drooped in desolation. Roy put his arm out and consoled his friend. The moment showed the sacred bond between the two friends.

"Do I need to organise counseling for you two?" Cap said into the heavy silence.

“No, I think we will be okay Cap. Time and going home to our wives should help ease the pain.” Roy said as he turned to look at Cap. The streetlights and car lights from the 405 cast Roy in an odd shade of orange. His eyes glittered where the light reflected off them.

“Okay. I’ll hold you to that. But if I see that you aren’t doing too well, then I will order you to go see the psychologist at HQ. Before you say anything, I and the brass know that the paramedics face more tragedy than regular firemen and God knows we see enough.” Cap said.

Johnny was more in shadow and when he turned his head to acknowledge he had heard Cap, his dark eyes held no color and just appeared as empty pits. For a minute Johnny’s head resembled a skull. All that was missing was a cloak and scythe and the Grim Reaper would be sitting with them. Cap shuddered at the thought. He hoped it wasn’t an omen.

“Don’t be too long out here guys. You’ve had a busy day and we still have several hours to go before our shift is finished. My door is always open if you ever want to talk about tonight or anything else.” Cap got up and his knees creaked. “Next time, pick the picnic table okay. My knees aren’t as young as they used to be.” Cap slowly climbed down the hose tower and made his way inside.

It was another twenty minutes before the paramedics made it inside. The rest of the crew was in various states of getting ready for bed. Chet came up to Roy and Johnny and apologized for his needling them. He could see from Johnny’s face that things hadn’t gone well and yet he continued to provoke his pigeon. With his apology accepted, the paramedics started to get ready for bed when the klaxons sounded. Everyone stopped what they were doing to hear the call. Four men scrambled back into their turnouts and rushed to the engine. They had a dumpster fire to put out. Roy and Johnny continued to prepare for bed when they realized the call wasn’t for them. Side by side they walked into the dorm room and laid out their turnouts over their boots. Roy sat on the side of his bed deep in thought and Johnny climbed in only to start itching a little while later.

“I’ll kill him.” Johnny groused. He jumped out of bed and continued to scratch his arms and legs.

“Tell ya what. Why don’t you go have a quick rinse under the shower and I will change your sheets.” Roy offered his partner.

“Thanks pal.” Johnny was stripping off his undershirt as he made his way into the shower. A short while later Roy heard the water running and then the noise of water being displaced as Johnny got underneath the shower head.

Roy removed Chet’s bedding and got the clean sheets from Chet’s bed and put them on his own bed. He then carefully removed Johnny’s sheets and placed them on Chet’s bed. Then he did something he had never done before. He went into Chet’s locker and found the itching powder. He went back and sprinkled more onto Chet’s sheets and then replaced the powder back in the locker and finished making Chet’s bed.

Johnny came back into the dorm room. His skin was very red from where he had washed it vigorously while relieving the itch. He was wearing fresh underwear and no singlet. Seeing his bed freshly made and Roy perspiring a bit he thanked his partner and then settled into bed and flung the arm over his eyes.

“You’re welcome Junior. By the way, if you happen to wake up when the guys get back, try to stay awake. It might be worth your while.” Was all Roy said before he turned off the light and then climbed into bed and waited. He had too much on his mind and he wanted to see his prank play out.

‘I don’t think I will be asleep anytime soon.” Johnny said to his friend.

They both knew they would be awake reliving their last call out and trying to come to terms with what they had seen. If squad 16 was available would she still be alive now? Had their extra-long journey caused her to die? Was she already dead when she was found? Why would a young woman who had everything want to kill herself? Both men were talking about it in the security of the surrounding darkness when the apparatus door started to go up, heralding the arrival of the engine. The loud rumble stopped and then doors opened and closed. Footsteps followed and muffled voices became louder as they made their way back into the dorm. The smell of smoke and rubbish came in with them.

“Chet go have a shower buddy, and that’s an order.” Cap said. “You stink to high heaven.”

“It wasn’t my fault Cap. Someone had thrown a rotten cabbage into the dumpster and it missed. I didn’t fall on it deliberately.”

“Regardless of the who’s and why’s, go and have a shower now and don’t come back in until you smell of roses and lavender. Got it?” Cap said again. It was obvious that this was not the first time this conversation had been had.

“Sure Cap. I got it.” Chet mumbled to himself as he trudged his stinky way into the latrine. He saw water on the bottom of the shower stall and felt some residual heat and steam. Then he remembered he had played a prank on his pigeon today. He had got the dorms and with the paramedics out, he had put his ‘phantom’ into action. He had missed Johnny getting itchy, which he regretted but not as much as playing a prank on his pigeon when he was down. He felt true remorse for that. He would apologize to Johnny in the morning.
Having finally scrubbed himself clean and lathering himself up several times until he couldn’t smell the rotten cabbage anymore but only the lifebuoy soap he had used. The water was starting to run cold. It had taken a long time to get rid of the smell.

Back in the dorm room, Roy looked over at his partner, Johnny turned his head towards his friend and lifted his arm away from his eyes. Roy smiled and mouthed the words ‘any minute now’ and nodded his head at Chet’s bed. Chet came in and turned off the light to the dorm room. He made his way over to his bed wearing nothing but his boxers.

The bed squeaked under his weight and then Chet fumbled around in the dark until his eyes adjusted to the darkness and set his bunker pants up again ready to go if need be. He pulled back his blankets and climbed into bed. Soon he was wriggling and scratching. He turned onto his side and found he was now feeling very itchy. He turned the other way and with each move his bed would squeak.

“Chet, will you quit moving and go to sleep. You’re like a Mexican jumping bean, no offense Marco.” Cap said out loud.

“None taken, Cap.” Marco replied while looking over at his friend and watching him continue to squirm. “What is wrong with you?”

Chet finally worked it out. He was itchy all over and he had coated his whole body in it as he had turned from side to side like a rotisserie chicken. “GAGE! Why you, you … I’m gonna get you for this!”

Chet got up scratching his skin raw and ran into the bathroom where the shower went back on and then a scream echoed through the dorm as Chet jumped under cold water. He had used up all the hot water earlier. Cap, giving up on getting to sleep anytime soon, turned on his desk light and peering over the brick divider asked Johnny what he had done. Johnny shrugged his shoulders and said he hadn’t done anything. Roy then cleared his throat and confessed to Cap and Johnny what he had done as payback to Chet, as Johnny had fallen victim to Chet’s same prank earlier when they had gone to bed.

Seeing this as only fair but having an image to uphold, Cap groaned and then looked up to the ceiling beseeching God as to why he had to work with twits. He caught Roy’s eye and gave him a wink. Johnny saw it too and smirked hoping his arm across his face hid it from his captain.

One cold and semi wet Chet re-entered the dorm after a very quick shower. He was cold and tired. All he wanted to do was go to bed and sleep. He then realized that he couldn’t get back into his bed as it was riddled with itching powder. It was late and he didn’t have the energy to remake his bed. He went further down the dorm, stopping to pick up his turnout gear. He put the gear at the end of a spare bed and climbed into bed and turned over, pummeled the pillow a few times and then put his head down to sleep.
Five very surprised men watched as Chet settled into a new bed and got comfortable enough to go to sleep.

“Okay, did anybody else find that weird or is it just me?” Roy asked everyone.

“Maybe the pod people have taken over his body and that’s not really Chet.” Marco put out there.”

“Maybe, I heard Roy’s confession and he got the ‘Phantom’ fair and square. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry Johnny. I forgot about the prank and if I had remembered I would’ve put ya bed right. Never let it be said that the ‘Phantom’ picks on his pigeon when he’s down. Good night Johnny, goodnight guys.”

‘Goodnight Chet and thanks.” said Johnny.

After a series of good night's went out to everybody the quietness settled into gentle snores from six men. Even though they didn’t think they would sleep both Johnny and Roy drifted off not long after the good night's were said. They had had a very busy day and it had ended on one of their worst runs ever.

Chapter 9

“There’s not much milk left. If we want our usual coffee, then Johnny you will have to go without a glass of milk, sorry pal.” Cap said as he brought the milk container over to the table.

There had been no more call outs through the night. Although tired and looking forward to their two days off, both Johnny and Roy knew a lot of their last run would be visiting them over the next few days. It took time and the busyness of life to wash away, or at least water down, the imprint of such runs.

“That’s Okay, Cap. I can forgo the milk. Guess we better tell B shift so they can get some through the day.”

Chet had been reading the paper and called out to get everyone’s attention. “Didn’t you guys get called out to a fancy address in Bel Air? Number 1189 Bel Air Drive wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, so what?” Johnny replied while pouring himself and Roy a cup of coffee. Roy was making toast and turned around at the mention of the address.

What’s Chet up to now? Roy thought as he placed the toast on the table with Marco’s Spanish eggs and bacon.

“Heck, you didn’t say it was Mrs. Ida Patterson’s house you went to.”

“We didn’t find out her name, she was dead when we got their and apart from her husband calling her Ida we weren’t gonna interrupt him for all the sordid details to just make your day.” Johnny was still feeling upset about the call and had pictured himself in that man’s place and his emotions were still raw. His words came out harsh and biting.

“That’s not what I meant. It’s here in the paper. Front page news” Chet tapped the paper with his hand.

“Here, give me that.” Johnny said and snatched the paper away from Chet and quickly located the story. It wasn’t hard to miss it was the only story on the front page. Photos of the Bel Air mansion, both from the ground and air, showed the glory of the house, which looked different at night, and the size of all the buildings. The property had to be worth millions.

Johnny started to read out loud for the benefit of Roy, about their patient last night. “Mrs. Ida Patterson, 48, was found dead by her husband, Mr. Frank Patterson, movie director of blockbusters such as ‘Last Night is Forever’, ‘The Key’ and ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’, in their Bel Air mansion last night, September 6th. Mrs. Patterson was the sole heiress to the Graham’s Fortune which was founded on Texas oil and petroleum products. She had an estimated wealth of over $1.8 billion dollars.” With that statement a few whistles were heard around the table. Johnny looked over to Roy at the mention of the money. It explained the overstated opulence of the house.

“Mr. Patterson was not available for comment today. He is reported as being devastated at the sudden loss of his wife, he and his family are currently staying at an undisclosed address with friends and have requested privacy at this very sad time. Sources have implied that the funeral will be a private affair and invitation only for a few close friends. Emergency services were called out to their address at approximately 8 PM last night. Police are not looking for anyone else in connection with the untimely death. It is believed that Mrs. Patterson committed suicide. Friends of the family strongly deny this as the deceased was a staunch Catholic and she had often been heard to describe suicide as a cardinal sin.”
“The L.A. County Medical Examiner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, has released a statement that ‘until all the facts were in, he was not going to be making any premature announcements and that there was a due process to be observed regardless of the celebrity of the deceased.’”

“There’s a whole lot more but I don’t think we need to go over it right now. No doubt it will be in the papers for the next few days, not to mention the TV news and radio. I, for one, won’t be following it up. It was sad yesterday and it will be sad tomorrow. I don’t need to be reminded of the husband’s heartbreak.” Johnny folded the paper and gave it back to Chet, who left it unopened and said no more. The food was ready and it was time to eat and focus on pleasanter things. They had all seen enough of death to know that some things shouldn’t be rehashed.

The conversation quickly changed onto other topics. Roy was going to be popping over to see Johnny later this morning and help with some post holes. Dennis had things to attend to in town so was unable to help today and the job would be done quicker with an extra man on hand. Marco offered to help too as he had no plans today and said he would bring lunch over, and then help afterwards. Johnny quickly accepted his offer. His hands were still slightly sore from a few days back and although the blisters had popped and the dry skin had come off, the newer pinker skin was still slightly tender.

The men said goodbye when all of B shift turned up and their shift was over. Arrangements were confirmed and then six cars headed off in various directions. Johnny had his radio on and was singing along to an Earth, Wind and Fire song. Having warbled his way through that and several other various artist’s songs the news came on and as he predicted, Ida Patterson’s death was the leading news on the radio. He didn’t want to hear it. He turned the radio off and concentrated on the traffic up ahead. The traffic light had been green a fair while and he felt pretty confident that it would be red by the time he got there.

Waiting at the lights, his mind drifted to Ida Patterson. What would make a woman who was a billionaire and had everything and certainly didn’t have to worry about anything, want to kill herself? It must be true, money doesn’t make you happy. I don’t have money and yet I’m very happy, he thought to himself as the light changed to green and he continued on his way home in silence as he forgot to turn the radio back on and instead thought of his lovely wife with her sparkling violet eyes and alabaster skin. He wouldn’t see her until sometime this evening. She was running the late surgery and wouldn’t be home until after 8 at the earliest.

Sotkazi was waiting for Johnny by the back door, his continual meowing and clawing at the door let Johnny know that his furry friend was hungry and wanted his food. As soon as the door was open, Sotkazi rushed inside and sat by the fridge, mewling his displeasure at being kept waiting. “Okay, boy. Hold ya horses. Johnny put his car keys on the hook just inside the back door. He went to open the fridge door to retrieve Sotkazi’s food but was hampered by the cat as he didn’t move to allow the door to open much. “Move ya dumb cat! I can’t get ya food out if you don’t move. Get outta there! Oi, stop that.” Johnny bent down and picked the cat up under its tummy as Sotkazi had stepped closer into the fridge and his little black nose was sniffing a bowl of leftovers. “Ughh, you can’t eat that. Now cut it out, Sotkazi.” Johnny kept the cat under his arm until he had managed to get the cat food out and closed the refrigerator door. Once closed, he put the cat back down and then getting a spoon; put a few heaped spoonfuls of the canned cat meat into the cat bowl and some fresh water in the other.

“There ya go puss, enjoy ya breakfast.” Sotkazi gave a hard nudge to Johnny’s hand with his head and then put his head into the bowl and wolfed down his food. His enthusiasm was so great that he was pushing the bowl in his greed and he was stealthily walking to keep his head in the bowl. Johnny went to put the bowl back onto the food mat and received a low gutteral growl from Sotkazi for his trouble. Having demolished most of his food and a sniff or two of water, Sotkazi stuck his tail in the air and walked off.

Sotkazi sat in the sitting room where the sunlight was streaming in and hitting the floor on a slanted angle. Licking his paws and running them over his ears, Sotkazi continued to groom himself in the warmth of the sun before curling up to snooze in the middle of the room. He would do this ritual only when he was in the mood. He would then follow the sun around the room and when he had enough he would go outside and chase birds or explore new territories, sometimes like the other night, he would bring back trophies and gifts to his master or mistress.

Coming back down the stairs, having changed into his working clothes, Johnny saw Sotkazi curled in the middle of the floor. The sun highlighted his bluish black fur and made it almost difficult to see due to the glare coming off the furry coat. “You’re a mad cat, ya know that don’t you.” Johnny told Sotkazi, who opened his eyes, gave him a green stare and then closed them again as there wasn’t anything of interest to keep them open for.

Three hours later Roy turned up and saw Johnny digging holes in the furthest paddock from the house. Johnny had his back to Roy and had worked up quite a sweat. He had stripped down to just his cut offs and his shirt was slung over the adjoining railings to where he was working. His body glistened with perspiration and his skin was bronzing up in the sun.

“Ya sure picked a warm day to be doing this type of manual labor. Have you been drinking enough?” Roy called out to Johnny as he approached from the fenced paddock where the horses were munching on grass and flicking irritating flies away with their long chestnut tails.

“Yeah, I did a sun dance before ya came and it looks like the Great Spirits answered my request.” Johnny said as he looked at his friend climbing over the fence and continued walking towards him. Pretty Owl was walking over in case Roy had a carrot or apple for her. Seeing him move away from her reach, she neighed and snorted. She couldn’t smell anything enticing and wandered back over to Red Cloud, who nuzzled her neck and then turned and went to the water trough. Pretty Owl followed and the two horses drank in companionable silence.

Roy complimented Johnny on the accomplishment of what he had done so far in a short space of time. Johnny was pressing his hands onto the thighs of his cutoffs and Roy noticed blood on the jeans when Johnny removed his hands.

“Your hands are bleeding. Let’s see how bad they are.”

“Cut it out Roy, it’s just a little blood that’s all. You don’t need to be mother henning me.”

“Is that even a word, Junior? Mother henning, humph. Now let me see, as a paramedic and a friend, what it is you are trying to hide. I don’t want you not being able to work cos ya hands are injured, and having Brice sitting in the squad with me next shift. So hand over ya hands.”

“Oh, very funny, Roy.” However, Johnny did as he was asked and Roy took a sharp breath in.

“Johnny, these hands are raw. You can’t keep digging, let alone working with hands like these. We need to put some antibiotic ointment on them and bandage them up. No more heavy working for you and I mean it! There’s no rush to get this paddock fenced. It will still be here in a month’s time, a year’s time even. Let go back to the house and get you straightened out.”

Johnny protested but Roy won out and the two men went back inside the house. Johnny very gingerly washed his hands and really saw for the first time how bad they were. Heck, he may not be able to go to work in two days’ time. Roy added some disinfectant to the water and Johnny hissed as it touched the raw skin where his callouses had once been.

“Sorry about that.” A smiling Roy said once Johnny had stopped flinging his hands in the air.

“Yeah, you look real sorry and all.” Johnny remarked to an unrepentant Roy. Roy slowly lowered Johnny’s hands over the sink and cupping the water poured it over the injured hands. When Johnny adjusted to the temperature and sting of the disinfectant, he lowered his hands into the sink until they were totally encased.

“Where do you keep the ointments?”

“Second drawer, on the left.” Johnny said nodding his head to his left to further emphasize his point.

Roy and Johnny were sitting on the porch with a cup of coffee each. Johnny was cradling the coffee in his bandaged hands. His fingers were slightly swollen and moving them pulled the skin below which sent a protest to his brain in the form of pain signals. Johnny was out of commission and could only look at the paddock and see a job half finished. It irritated him no end. His nervous energy wanted it done so he could move onto the next project. Roy was right though. There was no rush. It was part of Susie’s and his 10 year plan. Building a second corral could wait at least until his hands were well and truly healed. It was in these musings that Marco turned up bearing food. All thoughts of corrals forgotten and thoughts of delicious hot Mexican food took precedence.

“Mi amigo, what have you done to yourself in the less than four hours since I saw you last?” Marco wanted to know.

“Blisters.” Johnny tried to downplay the injury.

“He’s rubbed his skin raw on his palms. They might have started out as blisters but now he’s lucky to have any tissue left at all. He’s banned from any more work. I’m not having Brice on Sunday as a partner.”

Marco laughed and Johnny looked shame faced. Marco and Roy carried the food into the kitchen and Johnny poured Marco a cup of coffee but managed to spill more on the bench than into the cup.

“Here, let me do that. Why don’t you go set the table or better yet, sit down and let us see to things?” Marco said as he took the coffee pot off Johnny and set it back on the base.
With Johnny now sitting at the table and Marco and Roy preparing the food in the kitchen, Johnny glanced over and saw that Sotkazi had moved from where he had been this morning and was now further around in the sitting room and still in the sunlight. He had finished off his food and had drunk more water.

“Could you top up the cat’s water bowl for me? It’s over by the back door there.”

Roy filled the dish and went back to bring the food out. The three men sat down at the table and ate a tasty lunch and followed it with a cold beer from the fridge. With the lunch finished and the mess cleaned up, the three men went out back into the second paddock and Johnny acted as overseer and directed the two men on how to make a corral fence, post holes and all. Marco and Roy quickly worked up a sweat, Marco stripped down to his work pants and Roy, not blessed with skin that tanned kept his undershirt and hat on. He could still feel his skin around the back of his neck and on his arms burning. Johnny pulled out a tube of sun block and gave it to Roy to lather all over his exposed skin.

“You look after me, I look after you. Do you want any, Marco?” Johnny asked indicating the sun cream.

“No, I’m good. But I sure could use a drink. This is hard work.”

“I’ll be back in a bit.” Johnny went back to the house and brought out a pitcher of lemonade he had made earlier for the guys. He set it on the picnic table under the large willow standing proud at the side of the house. He gave a loud whistle, getting his friends attention, as well as the horses and all of them came towards him. While his friends were making their way to the picnic table, Johnny went into the barn and filled a bucket with carrots to give to the horses. He carried the bucket out cradling it against his chest and then tipped the carrots over the fence for the horses to eat. They were gone in short order.

By the end of the day a good portion of the posts were now in. Several holes had been dug and the posts would go in tomorrow with the help of Dennis. It would be several weeks before this paddock would be finished and used as a second corral. Johnny promised Roy he would not work on the corral the next day. He would have a day of rest and hopefully his hands would be better for work on Sunday. He waved Marco and Roy off as they went down the gravel driveway. There were a few potholes that needed to be filled in. He looked at his hands and decided to do the potholes another day. If he was brutally honest with himself, his hands really did hurt.

Susie arrived later that night and flopped on the couch next to Johnny. She saw the bandages on his hands which were slightly dirty and wet from tending to the horses and cooking dinner. She undid the bandages to see what damage Johnny was downplaying from her and saw the red, raw areas where his callouses used to be.

“Oh, Johnny. These must hurt. There’s no need to rush and get that corral done. We both know it’s gonna be a while before it will be used to its full potential. With your horse breeding knowledge and skills from your upbringing and my penchant for equine health, I think the future ‘Gage’s Stud Farm and Equine Health Center’ with a horse hospital facility will be a success but not if we stumble at the first block. We have years before it will be up and running. I must admit your enthusiasm and boundless energy you give to everything you do makes me love you more.” Susie emphasized the ‘everything’ with a wink and raised her eyebrows a couple of times. The innuendo wasn’t hard to miss.

“Everything?”

“Everything!”

“Wanna experience my boundless enthusiasm again?”

“I thought you’d never ask. Lead on, McDuff.” Susie laughed as Johnny pulled her up from the couch and carried her up the stairs to their bedroom. Raw hands forgotten for the moment.

Chapter 10

“I can’t believe the old bat did that. To think she had the audacity to go on about me being mentally ill and she goes and kills herself. What a hypocrite. She was nothing but a two faced liar. Wonder how she’s enjoying purgatory? She will never enter heaven now. Father Mullins was shocked beyond belief. Did you see him? He didn’t know what to say. How many times did he stand at the pulpit going on about cardinal sins and the abhorrence of suicide? Now, one of his main benefactors and staunch parishioners has gone and done herself in. If that’s not a slap in the face to the Catholic Church, I don’t know what is.” Chloe was telling Zoe repeatedly. She was like a broken record. Zoe sat back and let her sister rant on, hopefully she would get it out of her system soon and then she might be able to get a word in edgewise sometime. It had been a couple of days now and still Chloe was nowhere near being finished with her diatribe.

Chloe had been on a roll ever since her father had pulled them close to his chest and told them the news. By the time Chloe had driven the blue Beetle home that night there were paparazzi outside the house, making getting through the gates difficult. Police cars and the Coroner’s wagon were parked outside their main entrance to the house. Every room was lit up. It looked like a circus.

Servants had red eyes and were openly crying and consoling each other. Gordon, the butler, approached and suggested that Mr. Patterson would be down soon and maybe it would be best if they were alone and out of prying ears. The news was not good and he wanted to protect the family from the gossip that would be hitting the papers in the morning. Although he worked with the other servants and knew them well, money always had a way of loosening lips. What was kept out of the servant’s purview the better for everyone, he thought.

When the body had been removed and the Coroner’s wagon left with a police car. The family waited in the downstairs library waiting for the lead detective to get their statements. Once they were obtained, Mr. Patterson requested that the police wait while they packed some clothes and leave the house. He went and phoned his lawyer, Mr. Jack Williams and was immediately offered the use of his holiday home in Malibu, away from the paparazzi and journalistic vultures that had already descended on the property. His friend would meet them at the police station in Bel Air and bring them back to his house that night and then take them to the holiday home when they were ready. The police agreed to transport the family in the blacked out windows of their cruisers. The family would hopefully slip out of their house undetected and manage to escape the paparazzi lens and journalist’s microphones. It was such a nightmare.

It had been two days now and the sisters were getting cabin fever. Their daddy was seeing to the funeral arrangements. It was going to be a private affair and only the closest friends and family would attend. The body hadn’t been released by the coroner yet and until then the family waited in limbo. Mrs. Patterson’s lawyer had been to the house and instructed the husband as to who needed to be at the reading of the will. Mr. Patterson wasn’t surprised to hear the names mentioned.

Chloe sat in the guest bedroom overlooking the Pacific Ocean and golden sands of Malibu beach. The homes were all worth a bundle and only the wealthy lived here with their status symbols of wealth parked in the driveway or built into the sides of cliffs or the foreshore. Zoe had waited patiently for her sister to let her talk.

“You don’t need to do that now.” Zoe told Chloe, as Chloe dragged the razor blade over her arm. “Mommy dearest has gone and it’s just us and daddy. We have him all to ourselves now. We don’t need to move out now because mommy’s not alive anymore. It will always just be me and you, I promised you that where you are, I am and I meant it. I will never leave you, sis. I bet you haven’t even thought of mother’s will. She was wealthier than daddy. We are bound to get lots of money. Didn’t you see what they said in the papers? She was worth billions of dollars. We don’t have to work, we can buy our own house if we want to and nobody can stop us. Everything has worked out beautifully. We couldn’t ask for more.”

Chloe stopped slicing her arm. The sting was a welcome relief to the pain inside. She couldn’t put her finger on what the pain was. She didn’t think she was upset that her mother was dead, she was definitely angry with her. How many times had she been berated by her mother when she had tried to kill herself, Chloe couldn’t remember, it was too many times. Chloe kept thinking of her mother’s speeches about going to Hell for all of damnation and never getting into Heaven and being reunited forever with dead relatives, what a joke. Well enjoy Hell now mother. I think the jokes on you, Chloe chortled to herself. She wouldn’t share that with Zoe.

Zoe was fluctuating between being sad and then happy that her mother was dead. It was a bit too confusing and Chloe had to be careful what she said in case she caught Zoe in a sad moment. She kept her most secret thoughts to herself and hoped her sister couldn’t read her mind. She always seemed to know her deepest, darkest, and most horrible secrets and never judged her for them. This however was different, their mother was dead and there was no coming back from that. In a way, their mother had won. She had played her hand well. You weren’t meant to speak ill of the dead and if you did, you were the one that society looked down upon. It was like their mother was still dictating things and forever would. Damn the woman to Hell! Chloe thought again and again.

“I can see you don’t want me around, big sis. I can read your mind like it’s my own. I’m off to the beach. You can’t come out looking like that, with blood dripping down your arms and besides the salt water will sting all your cuts. I’ll catch up with you later when you do want me around.” Chloe watched Zoe go into the wardrobe before she left for the beach. Right now, nothing was right and she didn’t know what to do. Zoe was putting dark sunglasses on and a wide brimmed sunhat to disguise herself before slipping out the side door getting away from her father unnoticed.

---***---

Frank Patterson had aged a lifetime in just a few days. He had bags under his eyes and his skin was sallow. He wasn’t eating or sleeping. He was however, drinking and drinking a lot. He was racked with guilt and mental anguish. His wife hadn’t left a suicide note but he knew that he was the reason why she had killed herself. He wasn’t very discreet in his affairs and now it had cost him the one woman he really did love. He hadn’t realized just how much until she wasn’t there anymore. If only he could turn back time. His life and family were in a shambles. He had been ignoring his family the last couple of days. In his alcohol imbued haze he entered his daughters room to find Chloe self-harming.

“Oh Chloe, darling. I’m so sorry. Please don’t do that. Your mother would be so upset to see the pain she’s caused you. Please stop cutting your beautiful skin." He took the razor blade away and placed it on the bedside table. “I’ll get Dr. Woodside, to fix up the wounds and maybe Dr. Jacobs, too eh. I think it might be all too much for you. I think I need to get you some help. Please forgive me for not looking after my girl better. You always were the more delicate and fragile of the two.” The father then wrapped a tissue around the cuts. They would leave very fine lines when they healed.

He went looking for some band aids or gauze to wrap the wounds up in. He found some in the bathroom and proceeded to fix his daughters arm up. He brought her into the sitting room and placed her on the couch. He then phoned both doctors offices and spoke to them directly. Dr. Woodside would come and suture the cuts and give an injection of antibiotics to prevent any infection. Dr. Jacobs arranged a house call later that day. He gave the Drs. the address where they were staying and then poured himself a drink.

She was always compliant for her daddy and would do whatever he asked. She wasn’t too pleased about his mentioning Dr. Jacobs, but she couldn’t deny that she did need him as she looked down to her cut arm and thighs. Her daddy had seen all the cuts as she was wearing a pair of white shorts and her thighs were a mess. What Daddy didn’t know was that Zoe’s were too but she hid them under skirts and jeans. Zoe hardly ever wore shorts. Zoe was very clever.

Later that afternoon, feeling more mellow and relaxed, as the medication Dr. Jacobs had injected into her arm, scrambled her brain, Chloe sat in a zombie like state looking out the window to the sea beyond. She sat there in quiet reverie as her disconnected thoughts drifted in her head as randomly as the clouds in the sky.

Seagulls flitted across the blue horizon, crying out for food and squabbling on the sands when they found a tasty morsel. Waves crashed against the shore and then got dragged back tumbling the sand grains in their wake. Children were laughing and parents admonishing their children for running away from them or going too far out in the waves. Sandcastles were built and then destroyed by the little hands that had made them. Shells picked up as trophies or mementos, only to be abandoned when something else caught their fancy. Somewhere out there amongst all that happy humanity was Zoe. Zoe who had promised her sister she would never leave her. Zoe’s life was so wrapped up with her sister’s that Chloe felt Zoe couldn’t live without her. Chloe had made sure that Zoe would always be dependent on her, that’s what big sisters were for anyway, and Zoe was such a faithful follower.

Dr. Jacobs and the father talked for a while and it was decided that the Dr. would pay daily visits to the house to check on Chloe. If she wasn’t coping they would put her back in the hospital as an impatient. Neither man knew if Chloe would be up to attending her mother’s funeral. Close friends of the family knew of Chloe’s condition and wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t there. However, would it be beneficial for Chloe to attend the funeral or not was what had both men in a quandary. Chloe didn’t handle death well. The Dr. had identified the lack of closure in dealing with a family member’s death earlier had been a major part of Chloe’s illness. It was decided to see how she was coping the day before the funeral.

Chapter 11

“Can you believe this?” Johnny was saying to Roy. It was their second day of a forty eight hour shift. Johnny was holding his wet shirt away from his body. The phantom had struck again. Johnny was running very low on clean shirts and his patience was as thin as his shirt material.

“It’s nothing to get worked up about.” As soon as he said it, Roy wished he could take it back. One thing Johnny appeared to be totally ignorant about himself was his little rants, and times when he did get worked up over things that weren’t that important. Oh, boy, I’m in for it now. I’m going to hear about it all day. Roy dropped his head down towards his chest and his shoulders slumped. He looked like a man who knew he was defeated in battle.Johnny finished getting changed. Roy looked up when he didn’t hear the usual comeback. Seeing his partner had accepted what he said and looking calmer, Roy relaxed slightly. His comments had registered somewhere inside that Gage brain that was still an enigma to him after all this time. If only he would settle like this every time he went off on a rant, Roy thought.

“Ya right, Roy. Life is too short and a wet shirt is really quite trivial. There are far worse things out there happening to people now or yesterday, ya know what I mean.”

“Yeah, yeah I do.” Roy slapped Johnny on the back to show he understood where Johnny was coming from and more to the point who he was thinking of in reference to the point he made. He too had still been thinking of the suicide call and the husband’s blatant grief.

“I’m gonna be in your neighborhood tomorrow. I’ve gotta get some supplies for the fence and my supplier is out. If ya not doing anything do ya wanna come for a drive?”

“Sounds good. Do you wanna come back to my place afterwards? We could sit out on the deck and down a few. It’s the day of the commercial shoot for Big Dave’s Tire Emporium so we would have the house to ourselves.” Roy suggested.

Johnny pretended to give it serious thought. “You’re on. So this commercial thing is a go then?”

“It’s only one ad. We thought it might be fun and the kids are so excited. They’ve been practicing their lines every spare minute. The money will go into their college fund.”

“Any idea when the ad will be on TV?”

“A couple of weeks I think. No doubt we will have two very impatient children wanting to know when it’s on. I have a funny feeling that the kids asking 'are we there yet?' is going to pale into insignificance after this ad is shot, and turn into 'is it on yet?'” Both Johnny and Roy laughed at the very real likelihood of that happening.

“Well, I won’t be at your place until mid morning. By the time I see to the animals and all. One thing about the hands it sure does slow down doing things.” Johnny looked at his hands. They were healing but any further hard work like digging would break the newly healed skin. Even his work gloves hurt and carrying the heavier pieces of equipment made him notice his palms.

Dr. Brackett had shaken his head over the state of Johnny’s palms but passed him fit for work as long as he looked after his hands and let Roy take the lead in any heavy lifting or taxing demands on his hands. So far he had done well. Their shift hadn’t been too hard though, and he had been sensible and kept the bandages on to help pad the wounds against any friction.

A call out to a woman down got the paramedics going to Rampart for the first time that day. Dixie greeted Roy with a sultry hello and ordered him into Room 3 with the patient, a middle aged woman with a head injury. She fell off the top of a step ladder cleaning her outside windows and the concrete pavement wasn’t very forgiving to her head. The woman had come around in the ambulance and had promptly thrown up on Roy’s shoes. When Roy had finished handing over he went into the men’s room to clean the mess off his shoes. There were some parts of his job he never got used to. This part certainly wasn’t in the recruitment brochure, that’s for sure.

Johnny entered the ER corridor a short time later. Not seeing Roy anywhere he wandered up to Dixie’s desk and said good morning to her. Dixie who had her back to Johnny and was looking for something in her file drawer, jumped a mile and gave out a small scream. “Johnny, you scared me half to death. Don’t do that to a woman my age. I could’ve collapsed and needed mouth to mouth by a tall, dark haired and handsome paramedic.” Dixie winked at Johnny, watching him blush a riotous red color.

“Dixie, all these years of unrequited love and all I had to do to get you to fall at my feet was scare the living daylights outta ya. Now you tell me when it’s too late, as I’m a happily married man.” Johnny had his hand spread out across his chest. His bandages were very white against his tanned skin and his wedding ring was also very prominent as it was still so new but Dixie was getting used to it now even if it still took her by surprise at times.

Johnny asked if Roy was still in with the patient. Dixie was about to say she didn’t know when she saw Roy come down the corridor walking a bit oddly. As he got nearer a slight squelching could be heard. Both Dixie and Johnny looked down to Roy’s shoes but there was nothing to really see. However as he moved into the nurse’s station to get a coffee the squelching started up again and little bubbles came to the top of his shoe and then burst. But what really gave it away was he had no socks on.
Johnny pointedly looked at the sockless feet in shoes and then looked at Roy, waiting for an explanation.

Roy sighed and told them what happened. He asked to use the phone and spoke to Joanne and asked her to bring his spare shoes to work as he had to dry these ones out. While Roy was on the phone, Johnny glimpsed a stray newspaper left behind by someone on the base station desk. He saw the picture of Ida Patterson and looked sad. Dixie noticed the change in Johnny’s demeanor. Johnny started telling Dixie about how they had to respond to the call out to Squad 16 district the other day. There had been a large fire in a downtown block of shops and several companies had been called to the four alarm fire. It meant that they had ended up covering call outs for squad 16. Dixie hadn’t been aware that Roy and Johnny had been the paramedics sent to that Rescue. She thought it would’ve been another Station. Due to the location Cedars-Sinai was squad 16’s base. All correspondence, via the biophone, had gone through to them.

Johnny noticed the headline. It was a spurious attention seeking one liner used to raise sales. It simply said ‘MURDERED?’ “It makes me sick!” Johnny said while picking up the paper and tossing it in the bin.

“I suppose it’s quite common for celebrity deaths. Rumors and innuendo, not to mention conspiracy theories start flying around and somewhere in all that the truth gets lost or distorted. This is just another way the newspaper gets to make money out of something very sad, I suppose. Are you and Roy doing okay?” Dixie asked as she put her hand on Johnny’s arm to let him know she was there for him.

“Yeah. It was one of the worst calls we’ve had in a long time. It was seeing the emotional pain of the husband that made it so hard. Normally there are other distractions or priorities and you can divorce yourself from the emotions but this time there was nowhere to hide. We had to stay there and be witnesses to a man as his life fell apart and we couldn’t do a damn thing. That is what is so hard about this job at times.” Johnny was looking at his coffee and realized he didn’t really want it. He had just poured it out of habit.
Roy had finished his call to Joanne and heard the last bit of Johnny’s speech. He was feeling the same way.

“You got that right, Junior. I suppose we better head back to the barn. C’mon Johnny.”

As they were going Dr. Brackett saw them just at the end of the corridor. He called out their names but they kept on walking. Heads down and talking quietly to each other. Brackett watched them go, his greeting unanswered. He turned around to see Dixie also watching the two departing paramedics. Her face in thoughtful repose.

“What’s up with those two hose jockeys? Anyone would think they had to drive green firetrucks.” Brackett said.

“You know, those two must be two of the most sensitive men I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Somehow though, in their line of work not only is it an attribute but it’s a curse too. I hope their souls mend.” Dixie then got up and made her way to the stationery cupboard. She needed more staples.

Dr Brackett was left at the nurse’s station more bewildered than before. Maybe he might find out what was going on and then again maybe not. It was a busy morning in the ED and when you were busy, plans to find out had a habit of disappearing only to resurface when you were relaxing at home several hours later, when it was too late and didn’t really matter. Dr Brackett picked up his next clipboard and went to the waiting room to call a 26 year old lady with a history of a painful right wrist from a fall last night after drinking too much.

Chapter 12

Johnny and Roy were about to tell Dixie and Dr. Early what had happened at their last rescue when they got called out to a child fallen over a cliff. Johnny answered the handi talkie and both paramedics were soon dashing for the squad. 10 minutes later they pulled up a dirt track leading to a steep slope scarred with deep craggy crevices were several landslides had eroded the rock face and an abundance of scree at the base of the cliff made walking on it treacherous.

The 10 year old girl had been digging for shark’s teeth and dinosaur bones with her brother. She had been standing on a weak precipice at the bottom of the cliff, just above the scree slope. She had then taken a long and dangerous ride down the steep build-up of loose stones till she reached the base. A lot of the stones and rocks had kept coming down long after she had stopped and had half buried her. She lay motionless at the bottom of the steep incline. Judging from the angle of her right arm, she had two broken bones at least. Johnny was pretty sure there wasn’t meant to be a bend between the elbow and wrist. Her legs weren’t visible under all the stones.

Roy and Johnny talked between themselves for a bit and it was decided that Johnny would go down as he was lighter of foot. Johnny donned his thick leather climbing belt and threaded the rope through the carabiner and with the men from the station acting as his support; he slowly climbed down the 100 feet to the victim. He was making his ascent about forty feet to the left of the little girl so that the loose scree wouldn’t cause her anymore injury as it tumbled down in his wake. At one stage his footing met a lot of loose scree that afforded him no purchase and he lost his footing and landed flat on his face with a pain around his left eye, cheek and lip. He slid for about 15 feet before the men above got a grip and stopped his rapid descent down to the bottom. He still had a good 50 feet to go before he got to the base and he was planning on doing it standing up.
He gathered his wits about him and did a quick assessment before getting up slowly and carefully. Nothing felt broken, but he was definitely bruised and his face smarted. He felt his left eye swelling up and he gingerly touched it and felt it was puffy, bleeding and he knew from experience most likely closing up. He shook his head to clear the cobwebs and raised his hand to acknowledge he was okay. Roy was calling out from the top of the cliff. Hank stood next to Roy peering over at his junior paramedic. Johnny looked up and waved he was okay.

"I don’t know what his definition is of okay, but it sure ain’t the same as mine. Make sure he gets checked out at Rampart, pal.”

“Sure thing, Cap.” You’re not getting outta this one as easy, Johnny, Roy thought. He knew his friend would balk at getting seen at Rampart but seeing how it was Captain’s orders, Johnny had already lost the battle.

Johnny made his way down the rest of the slope with only a minor stumble. He reached the girl and quickly assessed her. She was unconscious and apart from several bruises and scrapes which he was also sporting, looked like it was only a broken right arm and a head injury. He couldn’t rule out spinal or neck injuries at this stage. She had a pulse and was breathing without any difficulty. He called for the stokes, backboard, and trauma box. He gave Roy the girl’s pulse and respirations over the handi talkie and Roy relayed them to Rampart.

Soon all the requested equipment was down as well as Roy and Chet. Carefully removing the scree from the girl’s legs they applied the c-collar and then making sure there were no broken legs they log rolled her onto the backboard and strapped her down. Her abdomen was soft and not rigid or distended. Blood pressure and pupil responses were taken and relayed to Rampart. No parental consent was available and no policeman was on scene. The girl was quickly loaded into the stokes and transported to the top and into the waiting ambulance.

When Johnny was topside the true extent of his earlier face plant into the scree was evident. He had bruising over the left side of his face, and a few deep scratch marks down his face where it had been gorged by sharp rocks. His left eye was just about closed and was going purplish black. He had a very impressive black eye.

“How you doing, Gage? Are you alright cos you sure don’t look it? Make sure you get checked out at Rampart before coming back. Let me know if I need to get a replacement in.” Cap patted Johnny on the shoulder and saw him wince slightly. “’N get your arm seen to as well.”

Roy had seen the wince too and realized maybe Johnny was hurt more than he was letting on. “You wanna ride in with her?”

“Yeah, I think that’s a good idea. We located the parents yet?” Johnny asked as he loaded the biophone into the back of the ambulance before climbing in.

“No, the brother’s getting a ride in with me to the hospital. I think he’s a bit disappointed that we don’t drive Big Red.” Roy and Johnny both laughed at this and Johnny put his hand to his head and his laughter petered out quickly as his face hurt. The ambulance and squad pulled away and the guys finished putting the ropes back in Big Red before setting off back to the barn.

---***---

Chet was pestering Cap to make a stop at a convenience store as he felt like some candy. He even promised to get the guys a couple of family packs of candy. Cap relented as he could just fancy a candy or two tonight in front of the TV. Several people stopped and stared as Big Red pulled up in the parking lot taking up 3 car spaces while Chet jumped out and ran into the corner store and came out a few minutes later having bought out what looked like most of the store’s candy. The impromptu show and tell came to an end and Mike got back into the engine and started it up but not before giving the air horn a blast as he promised the little kids and adults alike that had congregated around his beloved Big Red while waiting for Chet.

Several little hands and a few big ones waved as the engine pulled back out into the traffic. Chet was going through his bag of goodies and found what he was looking for and opened up his favorite bag of candy. He then offered the bag to Marco. Chet looked like a chipmunk with his bulging cheeks and his jaw working up and down munching on the Tootsie Rolls. He had that many in his mouth that he had to slurp to swallow. Marco gave him a sideways look.

“Wha’ it’s the only way to eat ‘em,” Chet managed to elucidate relatively clearly around the wad of masticated toffees in his mouth. He went back to chewing and slurping to his hearts delight.

“And you have the audacity to go on about Johnny’s table manners, which are nothing like yours. You are in a class all of your own, my friend.” Marco said as he turned away from watching Chet chew with his mouth open and slurp loudly. He was starting to feel slightly nauseated and no longer wanted any candy.

He passed the bag of candies through to Cap and sat back in his chair, slightly holding his stomach. Chet was oblivious to his friend’s discomfit or that he was the cause of it. He peeled another couple of Tootsie rolls and popped them into his mouth. He was wishing he had bought another couple of bags so he could snack on them throughout the shift and maybe on his way home if any were left. The way he was going they would be all gone before they got back to the station.

---***---

“Room four, Johnny. Then come and see me straight after, Tiger.” Dixie instructed Johnny as he was helping to steer the stretcher with the little girl on it. Dr. Early was in the room waiting for his patient. Johnny helped to transfer her onto the examination table all the while updating Joe as to the young girl’s condition. She hadn’t regained consciousness but her vital signs had remained stable throughout and her pupils remained equal and reactive to light. Her abdomen was soft and not distended.

Dr. Early saw Johnny’s face and let out a low whistle. "Looks like you have a date with Dr. Morton." Johnny’s face fell. Dr. Early laughed at the childlike pout Johnny was managing to pull off.

“Yeah, Cap ordered I get checked out too, looks like I can’t escape this one. Do you need me in here still Doc?” Johnny asked hopefully, trying to delay being seen by Morton or any Dr. really for that matter.

“No, Johnny. I’m all set up. I think you’re got a blind date waiting for you behind door number two.”

“Geeze, thanks Doc, I don’t remember Dr. Morton being in the ‘Mystery Date’ Game, but I suppose he’s does qualify as the ‘dud date’.” Everybody in the room laughed apart from Johnny as he knew it would hurt his face. He left room 4, and went up to the nurse’s station. “I’m all yours, Dix.”

“Come with me, Tiger and let’s get you cleaned up before Dr. Brackett sees you.”

Johnny perked up immediately when he found out who was going to see him. He followed Dixie into room 3 and sat on the table swinging his legs while Dixie set about getting a bowl filled with warm water and disinfectant ready.

“We managed to locate the parents of the little girl. The mother should be here soon. Do you think you can lie down for me, Johnny, I’m not that tall?”

“Oh yeah, sorry Dix.” Johnny rearranged himself so that he was lying on the table with his feet crossed over at the ankles and his arms crossed over his chest. Johnny hissed as the disinfectant made contact with the raw skin. “Have you and Roy been to the same school of torture?” Johnny asked as the sting had just starting to ebb away before she dabbed another area and started the pain up all over again.

“What’s Roy got to do with this?” Dixie asked.

“He used disinfectant on my ruptured blisters,” Johnny waved his bandaged hands in the air to show what he meant, “and it hurt something awful, just like you’re doing to me now.” Dixie noticed Johnny wince as he moved his right arm.

“It looks like I need to look at your shoulder and hands too, the bandages are filthy. Do your hands hurt Johnny?”

“Uh uh. They’re a lot better than they were before.”

Kel walked into the room and peered down at Johnny. He looked up with his one good eye and saw Brackett shake his head at the hapless paramedic lying on the table. Dr Brackett wanted to know what had happened and how bad the pain was. Johnny hammed up the dramatics of how he had gotten the injuries and downplayed the pain. Kel wasn’t fooled but didn’t let on. It was almost a synchronized dance between the two. Kel took over cleaning and then dressing the wound. Dixie was undoing the bandages on Johnny’s hands and Kel looked at how they were healing. He was pleased with the results of those at least.

The eye itself was unscathed. There was swelling of the eyelid but it would be down in a few days. In the meantime Johnny was going to be sporting a shiner. His right deltoid was pulled again and his arm rested in a broad arm sling. Dixie was paged to the nurse’s station and left Kel to finish off Johnny’s cares. When she returned to give Johnny his tetanus shot he had an eyepatch on and butterfly bandages down his cheek.

“It looks like you got into a cat fight. It’s gonna be pretty sore for a few days. Did Kel give you a prescription for any pain relief or antibiotics?”

“I’ve got pain relief at home and I have a back pocket prescription for antibiotic ointment if I need it.”

“That’s good.” Dixie was putting a band aid over the injection site and patted him on his good shoulder to signal that they were finished.

While she removed the dressing tray, Johnny sat up on the side of the exam table and offered to buy his favorite nurse a coffee. The friends left the room with Johnny joking that she was his seeing-eye friend, “I can’t quite call ya a dog,” he joked.

“You could call me Polly, because you look like a pirate, Scarface has nothing on you.” Dixie joked as they approached the nurse’s station.

Roy and Dr Brackett were waiting for their friends at the nurse’s station. “Well, hose jockey; I wanna see you back here in two days’ time. Earlier if your eye gets worse or the wounds get infected. Your shoulder just needs to be rested for a day or two. If I’m happy with your progress you can go back to work on the 13th.” Kel said.

“Okay Doc. Dixie, shall we?” Johnny extended his arm and Dixie graciously hooked her arm in his and together Johnny escorted Dixie to her chair behind her desk and then poured them each a cup of over brewed and lukewarm coffee. Both their faces screwed up on the first mouthful.

“I promised you a cup of coffee and this certainly doesn’t qualify as that. How about you and Dr. Brackett, if you’re free, come over to the ranch where I will make you a proper coffee and you can both take the horses out for a ride.”

“You’re on.” Kel and Dixie said at the same time. Days off were bandied about until one came up where they were all off and had no plans. It was the same day as the thank you cook out for the honeymoon weekend. Invitations to Dixie and Dr. Brackett to stay for the evening festivities were issued and accepted. Joe Early, who had left his exam room, was approaching just at that time and enquired as to what was accepted. He too, was offered an invite but had to decline as he had a prior arrangement to be entertaining patrons with his piano playing, at his friend’s jazz club in Century City.

“How’s the girl?” Johnny enquired.

“The mother’s in with her now. The girl is awake and complaining of only a slight headache. She’s more upset that she has lost her archeological findings and wants to go back to find them. Apparently she had found a shark’s tooth in the cliff wall. She has to wait a few days before she can go back to the cliff face as we’re keeping her overnight at least. Somehow, though, I don’t think her mother will let her go back to the cliffs.”

With plans set and Johnny on sick leave for the remainder of the shift and then two days off, the paramedics made their farewells and headed back to the squad. Johnny didn’t want Susie phoned at work for what he considered a minor injury all up and would surprise her when she got home tonight.

---***---

To say that Susie was not pleased to find out her husband was injured was an understatement. Maybe Johnny should’ve heeded Roy’s advice. He wouldn’t be getting the third degree now. Susie’s violet eyes were iridescent and her pupils had zoned in on him and had taken in the black eyepatch, the dark mottled bruising on his left profile, the white arm sling and butterfly dressings over his face.

“I kissed my husband goodbye two days ago and come home to a pirate in the sitting room! Next time you get hurt, and I don’t care how big or small it is, you phone me and let me know. I don’t want to come in unprepared and find you hurt and in pain. Promise me you will tell me. And I’m not talking about those promises you give to Roy, or Dixie, or whoever, where you say you’ll tell them when you hurt yourself but never do! I’m your wife. I’ve invested my heart in you, you loveable brave fool. I want a Husband’s and Lover’s promise. I want it from your heart.” Susie said as she cupped his face gently especially on his left side and looked intently into his right eye. Her face only a few inches away from her husband’s, waiting for his answer.

“I’m sorry. I thought because it was so minor and would be healed up in a couple of days it wasn’t serious enough to pull you away from your work to tell you. You would find out soon enough.”

“Johnny, work is just that, work. You, however, you are my life. I would let you know if I got injured at work but was okay. I’m sure you wouldn’t like to walk in and find me looking like a buccaneer on the couch without being pre warned.”

The image of Susie in a low cut white blouse and black leather bodice with a ruffled skirt on and swashbuckling her way across a boat deck in black leather boots entered Johnny’s mind and a lascivious grin spread across his face. Susie reading him correctly laughed and the atmosphere was broken as she gently lowered her lips onto his and kissed him. Their words were replaced with kisses. Their conversation consumed them and their argument took them to new heights as they resolved their differences.

Chapter 13

The next day was Ida Patterson’s funeral. Dr. Jacob and Mr. Patterson had deemed Chloe too unwell to attend. Esperanza, the housekeeper from their Bel Air address was asked to babysit Chloe and Dr. Jacob’s had left a strong sedative for the housekeeper to give to Chloe if she got too upset.

Chloe overheard the plan and between her and Zoe came up with another one. Zoe had to go to the funeral. One had to keep up appearances, especially since it was a big celebrity funeral. TV cameras, newspaper journalists and photographers would be there. Every one of the mourner’s, or hangers on as Chloe called them, would be there hoping to get their 15 minutes of fame at their mother’s expense. Chloe was glad she wasn’t going, being around sycophants like that made her want to throw up, or worse still tell them what she thought of them. Zoe was much more tolerant of people like that and wouldn’t embarrass their daddy.

Chloe watched the cars pull away from the Malibu hideout. Jack Williams was taking them in his car. The lawyer’s wife and children were in another car that was following. For reasons Chloe couldn’t understand they had hired specialist bodyguard drivers to take them to the funeral. Jack had boasted that the drivers had once worked for a former President of the United States and could get them away from any threat in very short order without endangering innocent driver’s or pedestrians. The paparazzi, he boasted, didn’t stand a chance.

Mr. Patterson thought it was a bit over the top but knew his friend had organized it because he cared and only wanted to help and do the best he could for him and his family.
With the entourage gone and the small housekeeper eyeing her warily, Chloe put the twin’s plan in action. She smiled at the housekeeper.

“Esperanza, do you think it would be okay if we just sat on the beach and surrounded ourselves with the sounds of happiness and everyday life. It’s been so stuffy being in this house all the time and not being allowed out. We could take a picnic lunch and just get away from these sad thoughts for a while.” Chloe mustered up a tear to fall conveniently down her cheek.

Esperanza felt sorry for this young and troubled woman standing waiflike in front of her. They were burying her mother today and she couldn’t attend. Her heart went out to the young woman and she quickly agreed to prepare a light meal and thermos of coffee. Knowing Esperanza didn’t drink coffee; Chloe offered to do the thermos’s and made one of tea especially for Esperanza.

Sitting on a blanket spread out over the warm sands of the Malibu beach, outside the holiday home and shaded by the umbrella, Esperanza and Chloe laid out their picnic. Chloe poured them both their respective drinks and slipped half her sedation pill into Esperanza’s tea and then laced it with an extra teaspoon of sugar to hide the taste. Esperanza took a mouthful of tea, found it tasted awful but not wanting to hurt the sad looking young woman beside her drank it down but offered to make her own next time as Chloe obviously wasn’t good at making tea or having to do things for herself. The servants or her late mother had always done it.

Chloe feigned tiredness as she saw Esperanza’s eyes take on a fuzzy hazed look. She mimicked the housekeepers clumsy co-ordination and accused the housekeeper of doping her before pretending to lapse into a sedated slumber. Esperanza wasn’t far behind her and her body fell back on to the blanket and her breathing evened out into slow regular breaths. Satisfied that Esperanza was sedated, Chloe got up and put the next part of the plan into action.

---***---

Roy turned up at Johnny’s house since Johnny wasn’t able to drive as he had to rest his arm. With Roy driving Johnny’s Rover they went to the timber merchant close to Roy’s house and Johnny got the posts he needed to finish off the new corral. As planned, they went back to Roy’s house and made their way inside. Roy had seen the green Dodge Charger parked two doors from his house but gave it no more thought. Johnny was telling Roy that he was right, and that Johnny should have listened to him about telling Susie.
It wasn’t often that Johnny admitted Roy was right about marital situations, maybe now his naive partner might just heed his advice in the future. It sounded like Johnny had got the third degree, although going by the smudge of a love bite on his neck which wasn’t there the day before, it looked like they had made up.

Chloe watched as the Rover pulled up the drive and Johnny got out of the passenger side. Oh, it looks like the wife did him over pretty good. He’s all scratched down his face and what a shiner. That will teach you for cheating on your wife and children. Guess she didn’t take the letter too kindly. He doesn’t look so gorgeous now. He’s gonna still look handsome but in a rugged type of way. That’s if he scars. He may not scar at all. Some of my cuts don’t leave any scars he might be the same, Chloe thought. No wife and children came out to greet him this time. Little Missus left and took the kiddies, did she? Chloe thought as she watched Johnny walk up to the house with Roy following. They went around the back and she lost sight of them. She waited patiently in the car. She hoped his friend wouldn’t stay long, she had plans and they didn’t include the friend. After waiting for 45 minutes she decided to go ahead with the plan anyway. She had backup with her if she needed it. The friend was an inconvenience but she could manage him.
She got out of the car and headed down the driveway and walked up to the front door. She put her finger on the front doorbell and kept it on. Roy went to answer thinking that the bell must be stuck as no one would leave their finger on the bell that long. He opened the door to be met by a pair of blue eyes that widened in surprise.

“Where’s Johnny? I’ve come to see Johnny.” Chloe then barged into the house and looked around the room, not seeing Johnny anywhere. She clutched her handbag closer to her body feeling suddenly vulnerable. Why didn’t Johnny answer his own front door? Chloe wondered.

“Excuse me, Miss. Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”

Johnny hearing his name came in from the back deck through the open patio door and entered the sitting room. His eyes adjusted to the change in light and he saw a young woman that looked vaguely familiar. Then it hit him. “You’re the girl involved in that car accident a few weeks ago on Melrose.” Seeing the pleased look on the woman’s face he went on, “your mother was Mrs. Ida Patterson wasn’t she? We tried to help her but it was too late. She was already gone when we got there. We’re so sorry.”

The light in the girl’s eyes went out and became mere slits. “What do you mean, you tried to save her? Why would you want to do that? Do you hate me that much? Oh, Johnny! I know that our relationship wasn’t for very long but to treat me with such disdain and hatred is just downright unforgiveable. I was all prepared to forgive you and we could’ve gone off together and started our lives over. Zoe doesn’t think we can but I know you will never cheat on me. I keep telling her that you are not like Marty.”

Johnny wasn’t budging anywhere with this strange and obviously mentally ill young woman standing in the middle of Roy’s sitting room. She had dressings on her left arm and scars from previous cuts on her right arm and both thighs. Johnny spared his partner a quick glance and saw that Roy had taken in the same things he had. The question now was how to resolve this situation so that no one got hurt and hopefully before Jo and the kids got home.

“Uh, Miss, I….I think there’s a bit of a, um, a… a misunderstanding. I really think you should go now and we can forget all about this.” Johnny tried to get the young woman to leave and bring an end to this.

“No, it’s you who doesn’t understand. You are coming with me and that’s the end of it. Don’t make me resort to doing anything drastic. Now, I will give you one more chance to come with me again or I will be forced to do something I promised myself would only be done if there was no alternative.”

Johnny looked at Roy and the look on Roy’s face mirrored his of complete and utter bafflement. Seeing Johnny not moving towards her in acceptance and instead seeing his refusal, Chloe reached into her handbag and pulled out a gun and taking the safety off she aimed it at Roy. “You really should’ve come with me the first time I asked you nicely. Now you give me no option."

A moment before Chloe pulled the trigger, Johnny jumped in front of his best friend and with his good arm outstretched, pushed him to the ground with him following. Roy’s head hit the side table and stunned him. He was momentarily dazed before he passed out. Johnny wasn't moving and lay still and silent on top of his pal. Blood poured freely from the left side of his head where the bullet had creased him. The mirror above the side table was shattered into a thousand pieces and lay across the carpet and on top of the unconscious Johnny. The bullet having scraped along Johnny’s skull hit the mirror and caused it to shatter in concentric circles. Chloe dropped the gun back into her handbag. She knelt down next to her Johnny and felt for a pulse at his neck. She found one and breathed a sigh of relief. All she had to do was get him into the housekeeper’s car. It was slightly more complicated now that he was unconscious. She went out the back patio door and looked for anything to help her. She saw the wheelbarrow and an idea came to mind.

She dragged Johnny to the back patio door and onto the deck. She had the wheel barrow next to the deck and with a bit of maneuvering she rolled him into the barrow and then went back in and checked on Roy. He was still out to the count. She drove her car up and parked it behind the Rover. She wheeled Johnny up to the passenger side and with a lot of effort dragged him into the front seat and when she had herself behind the wheel and gathered her thoughts, she started up the car and pulled out of the driveway burning rubber as she sped away. The next door neighbor’s curtain twitched at the sudden noise and she saw the green Charger speed away. She noted the license plate as having been married to a policeman for forty years had taught her a thing or two.

Chloe went to the prearranged meeting place. It was a closed down amusement park that she and her sister had gone to when they were only little but it had become a victim to falling visitors and eventually creditors forced the gates to close for good. The Pacific Ocean Park at Santa Monica was a poor facsimile to what it once had been. The twins had spent many a happy hour here as children. They loved the house of mirrors the best.

Several buildings had been victims to suspicious fires and vandals had broken a lot of the attractions and buildings that were still standing. Sea breezes carried with it the smell of seaweed drying on the rocks at low tide. Rotten refuse littering the boardwalk and abandoned pier added to the miasma. A carcass of a dead rat or cat added to the stench and even Chloe came close to throwing up. Johnny still hadn’t regained consciousness and Chloe thought there was no way she could take him into the rendezvous building alone. Zoe wouldn’t be able to get away for some time yet, and even with Zoe’s help she doubted that they could get him into the Mirror Maze.

Getting angry that their plan wasn’t as easy as they thought she slapped Johnny on the face and yelled at him to wake up. He stirred briefly, groaned and then resumed a stillness that was unsettling. Feeling he was doing it on purpose she opened her door and stormed over to his side and violently pulled his door open and pulled him out by grabbing his right arm. It was awkward as it was still in the sling. She wrenched that off and grabbed him again by the arm. Johnny fell to the ground in an unceremonious heap. His left temple continued to bleed down the side of his face. What with his scratched face and swollen left eye hidden behind an eye patch there was nothing about this man to set her heart aflutter when she looked at him. She grabbed him by the hands and started to drag his unconscious body the two hundred feet to the House of Mirrors.

It was hard going and she had to stop quite a few times to get her breath. There was a trail of Johnny’s blood from the car to where they currently stood. Little pools of blood showed where they had rested; the pools were getting slightly bigger with every rest stop as she needed more and more time to get her strength back. Some of the wounds on her arm started to bleed from the physical exertion and stress she was putting on her skin. She was so hyped up she hadn’t noticed and continued to drag her prize into the darkened confines of a rundown, half burnt out relic of a sideshow building.

Johnny started to come around during the latest rest period. His head hurt and he could feel the warmth and stickiness of blood down his face. Was he at work? Had he got hurt? Where was Roy? What was the call out? He was rescuing a little girl at the bottom of a mountain of scree wasn’t he? Why could he smell blood and seaweed and something else that wasn’t right? Sharp jolts of pain, like thunderbolts, centered in his head when Chloe started to pull him further down the boardwalk; his head banging on the loose upraised wooden planks sent out paroxysms of pain causing him to faint dead away.

Chloe was heaving with the effort now and sweat had broken out. She thought she was fit but realized she wasn’t as fit as she thought. It took time but she got her ex-lover in the mirror maze. She left him in the middle of the room. The mirrors in here were intact to a degree. Some were smashed or cracked but still functional. It just distorted your face or body more. She sat against one of the mirrors and waited. Waited for Zoe to come and her ex-lover to wake up. It was a long wait for both to happen but they eventually did.

---***---

Joanne saw Johnny’s Rover parked in the driveway and parked her station wagon on the road. “Okay kids, you’ve had a long and exciting day. I think Daddy and Uncle Johnny would love to hear all about it and then it’s a snack and doing your homework, young man.” Joanne was busy undoing Jenny’s seat belt and Chris was already out of the car.

“Aw, Mom, do I have to do homework,” Chris pouted.

“I’ll have no arguments Chris. Now go inside. Come along Jenny. Let’s go see Daddy and Uncle Johnny.”

Jenny was practically running up the footpath calling out for her two favorite men in the whole wide world. She overtook Chris who was dawdling as he was still pouting.

“Come along Chris. You don’t want Jenny to beat you at telling Daddy and Uncle Johnny all about your day?”

Chris did want to be the first to tell them so he started to walk up the path a little quicker. A shriek from Jenny who had just entered the house startled both Chris and Jo, who ran into the house to see what had happened.

“Roy! Oh my God, Roy. Open your eyes honey. Roy!”

Jenny was crying at seeing her Daddy on the ground with blood on his head and the broken mirror all around him. Chris joined in with Jenny and stood by his sister, all thoughts of beating her to telling Daddy and Uncle Johnny about their day gone. Roy groaned and his hand came up to the side of his head and he slowly opened his eyes and blearily looked at red fingers. It was a moment before he realized it was blood and another moment before he realized it was his own. He gingerly went to sit up pushing himself up with his right elbow. Jo grabbed him around the shoulders and helped him into a more upright position.

“Roy, are you ok? What happened?” Then realizing that Johnny’s Rover was still in the driveway but that they hadn’t seen him and there would be no way that Johnny would leave Roy lying unconscious in the sitting room, Jo asked, “Where’s Johnny?”

Roy looked at her blankly. His head hurt, the room was spinning and he felt sick. A convulsive swallow followed by several more in quick succession alerted Jo to Roy’s condition.

“Chris go get the wastepaper basket, now.”

Little feet ran into the kitchen and returned carrying a wastepaper basket which was thrust under Roy’s chin in time for the first vomit. Two more followed in less than five minutes. When he was feeling safe enough to talk without throwing up, a raspy voice sent the first sparks of fear down Joanne. “Johnny’s not here? Where is he then? Did he go with the woman with the gun?”

Joanne fearing that there may be a seriously injured or even worse a dead Johnny in the house somewhere, rang for a squad and police to come to her house. She took the children next door and briefly explained what was happening and asked if they could stay there and she would get them later. Running back from the neighbors, Jo spotted the wheelbarrow and seeing it was out of place went up to take it back to the garden shed when she saw blood inside the metal rim. Her skin turned cold and her heart lurched inside her chest. There was a lot of blood inside the barrow.

She went back inside and saw Roy was unconscious again. She put him in the recovery position and then did a quick look in every room of the house, feeling more confidant now that Johnny wasn’t lying injured or dead somewhere in the house but scared that he was somewhere with a woman with a gun and bleeding, needing help. She saw bloody drag marks from her sitting room out to her back door. Jo went back to Roy. The wound was still openly dribbling blood and it looked like Roy had set it to bleeding again when he touched it. Jo went and got a clean dish cloth and placed it against his head. Roy stirred and briefly looked at his wife and saw the fear and adrenaline dictating her actions. Her hands were shaking and her face was white.

“What happened Roy? Can you tell me?”

Roy’s eyes glazed over and his body slumped, relaxed, as he once again lost consciousness.

In the distance the sound of sirens could be heard. It was the sweetest sound that Jo had heard in ages. She cradled her husband to her breast and smoothed his hair down, while she waited for the paramedics from 24 to come into her house.

Chapter 14

The funeral was over. Only a few had gone to the internment and supported the grieving family and relatives. The wake was a respectful gathering of friends and family talking in hushed tones while soft orchestral music played in the background. A large portrait of Ida Patterson sat at the entrance to the ballroom and flowers in cascading bouquets stood on either side on plinths. Similar flowers and photos of Ida in her many duties as patron, mother, wife and friend were placed around the room. People talked about how shocking it all was and so untimely. “Who would’ve thought?” echoed around the room as tongues loosened with the imbibing of free alcohol. Eventually everyone left in drips and drabs until only a few people remained. The cars came up to the back door of the hotel and a repeat performance of everyone getting into the cars as they had done at the Malibu house replayed itself.

The ride back was quiet. The mood in the car one of relieved tension now that the funeral was over but the reality of what they had all just gone through playing in their minds, and sagging their bodies down. Some paparazzi had stayed to the end and tried to follow the cars as not one paparazzo knew where the Patterson’s were staying. Seeing that they had a tail of four or more paparazzi, the drivers put their expertise to the test and true to the lawyer’s word lost the paparazzi without incident. Mr. Patterson realized that his friend had been right to hire such expensive and skilled drivers. With a few detours made and positive checks that no paparazzi were on their trail they pulled into the driveway of the Malibu house and slowly got out and made their way inside.

“I’ll go check on Chloe. I won’t be long.” Frank Patterson said to everyone in the room.

He came back a short while later and scanned the room, not seeing Chloe or the housekeeper anywhere he went back into the sitting room and asked if anyone had seen Chloe. He received several blanks looks. A thorough search was mounted and everyone set about looking for the two missing woman. Kathy, the wife of his lawyer friend, noted that Esperanza’s car was missing. It was thought that the women had gone somewhere to maybe help take Chloe’s mind off things although that wasn’t the plan. The thought calmed everyone’s nerves until the youngest daughter of the lawyer came in from the beach and said that the housekeeper was asleep on the beach and she couldn’t wake her. Everybody ran outside and were soon standing around the beach umbrella watching Mr. Patterson try to wake his housekeeper.

Esperanza woke up slowly. She was groggy and her brain felt sluggish. She squinted into the bright sun that had moved in the sky from when she and Chloe had first come out here. She looked around and saw the detritus of their picnic where most of it laid untouched. She looked at Mr. Patterson and simply said “She drugged me.”

The two men helped walk Esperanza into the house and settle her on one of the couches. They phoned Dr. Jacobs and informed him what had happened and asked about if they should do anything for the housekeeper who wasn’t used to such heavy sedation medicine. The doctor advised if the lady in question was still groggy four hours after ingestion that they should seek medical attention to be on the safe side since he knew nothing of this woman’s medical history. Wanting to avoid a scandal they then phoned Dr. Woodside and he agreed for them to bring the housekeeper into his private clinic in Bel Air. Esperanza was ensconced into the back seat of Jack Williams’ car and the trip was made into Bel Air. Mr. Patterson was still concerned for the whereabouts of his daughter and thought that maybe she might be at their Bel Air residence. He told his friend he was going to go to his home to look for Chloe and would phone him later and touch base about the housekeeper.

With the pandemonium now sorted and everything at a calmer and more sedate level, Zoe took the opportunity to leave the house under the guise of looking for her sister. No one asked where she was going or enquired what she was doing. She slipped out and got onto the road and stuck her thumb out. Since she couldn’t drive she would hitch a ride into Santa Monica. From there she would walk the couple of miles to the abandoned fun house. The fun and games were just about to start.

---***---

“Rampart, this is squad 24, how do you read?” JC said into the biophone. He had written down Roy’s vitals and Reyboy was dressing the wound on the head. The two paramedics out of 24’s worked like a well-oiled machine. They hadn’t been paramedics as long as Roy and Johnny, but as partners went, they worked smoothly and knew what the other was gonna request before they even said it.

“Squad 24, this is Rampart, go ahead.” Said Dr. Morton who was standing by the base station when the call came in.

“Rampart we have a male age approximate 30, he has sustained a laceration to the left side of his head and is currently unconscious. Wife reports he was briefly conscious before passing out. He was talking and answering questions appropriately. It is unknown the length of time patient was unconscious before his wife found him. His pupils are reactive to light but sluggish. Patient had vomited three times. Vitals are blood pressure 130/80, pulse 87, and respirations 18. Rampart be aware that patient is Roy De Soto.” JC finished the call and awaited orders.

Reyboy was ready with the IV cannula; he was just awaiting the order. He had the tourniquet around Roy’s arm and was wiping his inner elbow to site the needle.

“Squad 24, insert IV, Commence 1 liter Normal Saline TKO. Repeat neuro obs every fifteen minutes, use spinal precaution and bring patient in as soon as possible. What is your ETA 24?” Morton asked.

JC repeated the instructions back to Morton and Reyboy hearing the order for the IV, inserted it while JC was still reciting the rest of the orders.

“The ambulance is here, ETA 20 minutes. Squad 24 out.” JC put the biophone down and went to the squad to get the back board and c-collar.

The c-collar was applied. Roy was log rolled onto the back board and then loaded on to the stretcher and his bag of fluid tucked by his side. He was wheeled out to the ambulance and with lights and sirens blaring taken to Rampart Hospital.
Jo looked at the blood stains in the carpet and the bloody dish cloth on the floor that she had used. The wastepaper basket was under the table where Reyboy had put it so it wouldn’t get knocked. The smell coming from it was quite strong. Jo picked it up and the soiled dish cloth and took them into the laundry. She emptied the basket, rinsed it and then filled it with cold water and put the dish cloth in it to soak. She would deal with the carpet later. Right now she had to get her children and go to Rampart. Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door.

Who could that be? Jo thought as she made her way to the front door.

She opened it to see a policeman standing on her porch and his patrol car parked in front of her house on the street. “Hello, Ma’am. I’m Officer Vince Howard. I believe you called for the police?”

“Oh, um, yes. Yes officer I did.” Jo stated strongly having got her wits back in working order after being temporarily shocked at seeing a policeman at her door. “Please come in. Although I don’t know what I can tell you. Roy knows more than me but he’s gone to the hospital.”

“Why don’t you start with what you do know and we will take it from there. Firstly, though I have a few questions. Could you tell me your name and contact details.”

Vince was shocked to realize he was at Roy’s house and that the incident involved both Roy and Johnny. Jo showed Vince the wheelbarrow and the trail of blood she had seen when she explored the house. There were more drag marks in blood going from the patio door to across the wooden deck, where they stopped abruptly and deep impressions in the flower bed matched the size and dimensions of the wheel from the wheelbarrow. Vince did a quick look through of the De Soto’s house with his gun drawn in case Johnny and or the culprit was still in the house. The house was empty of any other persons. Jo had told Vince this but he still went ahead and did his own search, it was standard procedure he told her.

Vince got onto his radio and contacted dispatch and informed them what had happened and that he needed further assistance and the fingerprint boys. He then requested Jo to leave the house as it was now a crime scene. She asked if she could use the phone before leaving and quickly phoned Susie’s work and spoke to Nellie, who promised that another vet would go out to relieve Susie at her farm appointment so she could get over to Rampart ED as soon as possible. Captain Stanley was next, and she told him what had happened to Roy and that Johnny had disappeared and it looked like he might be injured.

Captain Stanley offered for them to take the children. Emily and he would come to the hospital and retrieve the children from there and put them up for the night if need be, and he would inform the other men of A shift. She thanked him and then rang off. Jo was about to head into the children’s rooms to get their sleeping gear when Vince stopped her and reminded her about it being a crime scene and he or another policeman would meet her in the hospital to get her full statement. Vince stayed behind and watched Jo cut across the lawn to the neighbor’s to collect the children. She didn’t realize that she wore Roy’s blood on her blouse and Johnny’s blood on the knees of her jeans where she had knelt in it while cradling her husband in her arms.

Chris and Jenny were sitting quietly on the couch. The neighbor, Mrs. Cruddick, had given them a popsicle each and turned the TV from daytime soaps on to the cartoons, hoping to keep them entertained and their minds off what was happening back at their house. Jo knocked on the neighbor’s door 35 minutes after dropping them off. She thanked her neighbor profusely. Mrs. Cruddick had been a godsend on more than one occasion, each time it had involved Roy being injured, and she had stepped in as a babysitter so Jo could go to the hospital. Mrs. Cruddick was a policeman’s widow so she knew what it was like to get those dreaded phone calls in the middle of the night and being stuck for a babysitter.

“Do you need to change dear?” Mrs. Cruddick enquired, looking at the blood on Jo’s clothes.

Jo took stock of her appearance for the first time since she had walked into the nightmare in her house. “Oh, I guess I do but I’m not allowed back into my house. It’s been treated as a crime scene.”

“I would offer you something of mine to wear but my clothes would be too short, too big and too old for you I’m afraid.” Mrs. Cruddick said. She was 75 years old, 5 foot tall and a size 18. Jo was 5 foot 7, size 6 and only 29.

“That’s alright. I think I can get a pair of scrubs at the hospital to change into. Roy does it all the time. I’ve had to wash them enough times. No doubt the police will be knocking on your door wanting to know if you heard or saw anything. I’m so sorry for the inconvenience of it all. I will take the kiddies now, as I need to get to the hospital and I have friends coming to pick them up. Thank you Mary for helping out and stepping into the breach, as they say.”

“That’s quite alright dear. I did see a green car pull away from your house earlier, tires screeching, made an awful noise. I got the license plate, I’ll go tell the policeman, you never know it might be related then again it might not. I hope that young man of yours is going to be fine and is home sooner rather than later. Let’s go get the kiddiewinks. I think they will be pleased to see you.”

The two woman entered the sitting room and saw Chris and Jenny paying scant attention to the TV and licking the popsicle off their hands as the ice melted as they really didn’t want it but had said yes to be polite. Thank goodness it was lemonade popsicles, Jo thought as she saw little droplets on Mrs. Cruddick’s cream carpet.

“Thank Mrs. Cruddick, children for the popsicles and for looking after you.” Jo instructed her two quiet children.

With thanks said and hugs given out by Mrs. Cruddick to all three De Sotos, the family hopped into the car and drove to Rampart. Vince was on the porch awaiting the reinforcements and waved to the family as they left to go to the hospital. Jo had been impatient to get there but there were things that had to be attended to first. Jo saw Mrs. Cruddick making her way over to Vince as she was driving down the road.

Jo didn’t really have any experience of crime and police involvement so she was learning as she went. It was never portrayed like this on TV crime drama shows. I could write for Adam-12 and do a much better job at making it realistic just on what I’ve been through today, Jo mused to herself as she negotiated her station wagon through the traffic to Rampart Hospital. She found an empty parking space in the middle of the parking lot. With Jo in the center, the three of them linked hands and made their way into the Emergency Department at Rampart.

Jo was getting curious looks from strangers and she couldn’t think why. It wasn’t until she entered the corridor and saw Dixie’s mouth open that she remembered the state of her clothes. The Stanley’s, Mike, and Marco were standing in front of Dixie and turned to see what had caught her attention. They saw the state of Jo’s clothes, which depicted her proximity to the trauma that she and the children had walked into today. Dixie left the group and approached Jo. “Roy’s in room 2. He woke up about ten minutes ago and is asking for you and the children. He’s going to be alright. Dr. Morton and Dr. Early are in with him. How about we get you cleaned up first and into some scrubs before you go see him. The police are taking a statement from him so he won’t be free for a little while yet. Maybe Jenny and Chris would like a chocolate malt at the cafeteria?”

“Can we, Mom?” both children chorused. Hearing that their daddy was going to be fine, the children’s mood lifted and not wanting to upset them anymore than they had been already, Jo opened her purse to get the money out for the malts.

“My treat, put your money away Jo.” Dixie said and took the children up to the family of 51 where Mrs. Stanley took them under her wing. When Emily Stanley heard of the plans to get milkshakes from the cafeteria, she offered to take them.

Dixie took Jo into the staff showers where she got her a pair of scrubs, towel and wash cloth. She gave her a paper patient’s property bag to put her soiled clothes into. Dixie left Jo alone to wash and change while she went back to the nurse’s station. Chet had now joined the group and was asking questions to which nobody had any answers to.

“Has someone phoned Susie?” Chet asked.

“Jo phoned her work. She’s out doing a stable call. They are gonna send someone out there to relieve her. Apparently it’s a long way out.” Cap relayed what Jo had told him during their phone call earlier. He then checked his pocket for loose change to use the payphone down the corridor. “I’ll go phone her work as it’s been a while, maybe they have managed to relieve her. I’ll just go find out.” Before he left Dixie directed the group away from the nurse’s station and into the doctor’s lounge.

Hank went in one direction and the crew went in another. Dixie would direct the women when they returned from the showers and cafeteria respectively. Her mind wondered to the whereabouts of Johnny and if he was hurt. So far the reports were very sketchy and Roy couldn’t offer anymore that a woman and a gun and something about ex-lovers. Nothing made sense. Roy said there was something familiar about her but he couldn’t remember. He had done well to remember what he had so far considering he had a concussion.

It was while Dixie was in contemplation mode that Jo walked up to the desk and broke Dixie’s reverie with a small cough.

“Sorry Dixie, I didn’t mean to startle you. Where is everyone? And can I see Roy now?”

Dixie relayed where everyone was and she would go check on Roy and see if the policeman was finished. Jo stayed by the desk while Dixie got off her stool and went into room 2.
She came out and approached Jo. “The policeman wants to talk to you and get your statement. Roy is going to be admitted for observation overnight at least. I’m just going to organize a room for him now. Would you like a cup of coffee or do you want to sit in the doctor’s lounge with the rest of the gang?” Dixie asked Jo.

“I’ll take that coffee. Everybody will have questions about what happened and I still need to process it myself. Besides from here I can see when the policeman leaves and he will just have to wait a bit before I give my statement. I’m going in to see my husband before talking to a policeman.” The mettle of what makes a good fireman’s wife was starting to come through. Jo was getting her second wind. She had been put through a lot since she had come home.

Dixie poured her a coffee and Hank came sauntering down the corridor. He stopped at the desk to enquire how Jo was holding up. His hand rested on her shoulder and he gave it a light squeeze. His protective streak came out. He saw the wives of his crew as an extension of his crew and therefore their welfare was his responsibility as well. With the men in the doctor’s lounge he could ask more personal questions and not put Jo into an awkward position by having to bluff her way in front of the other men. Jo stepped into the caring embrace and Hank put his arms around her giving her a fatherly hug as his way of comforting her. Her hair was wet and smelt of green apples. Dixie had lent her shampoo and conditioner from her locker.

“I’ll be okay. Let’s just say I wasn’t expecting to walk into a crime scene.” Jo gave out a nervous laugh and Hank gave her another hug and said if she wanted to talk about it they could go sit somewhere private and she could say whatever was on her mind.

“In all honesty, It’s not me or Roy I’m worried about. I know Roy is going to be fine. It’s Johnny that I’m concerned about. The bloody drag marks going from the sitting room to the deck and the amount of blood in the wheelbarrow is what scares me. I think Johnny has been shot and I don’t know how bad or if he’s even alive. It’s all so terrible, it doesn’t bare thinking about but I can’t make my mind leave the possible scenarios for long before it returns to them adding more gory details that I can really do without.”

“Drag marks? Johnny’s been shot? Wheelbarrow? What are you talking about?” Hank asked with concern cloaking his words.

Jo realized that apart from herself nobody really knew what had happened and she was only surmising based on the evidence at her house. “Maybe we should go into the doctor’s lounge and I’ll tell all of you what I know so far. Dixie, will you come get me when the policeman leaves Roy’s room?”

“Sure.” Dixie watched as Hank and Jo walked into the doctor’s lounge. His arm around her shoulders.

Chapter 15

“Well it’s about time you got here! I had to drag him all the way in from the front gates. I could’ve done with your help.” Chloe said to her sister as she entered the semi darkened room. Splinters of light nudged their way into the room from weathered holes in the roof. Rotten boards and roofing tiles lay on the floor along with other signs of decay and vandalism. Their reflections were working overtime trying to bounce off the dirty mirrors or showed distorted faces among the shattered mirrors that were still clinging to the walls.

“I had to find the right time to leave. I couldn’t just go as soon as we got back. Daddy couldn’t find you and with the car gone and the housekeeper doped out on the beach and all that jazz it wasn’t easy to leave. I had to hitchhike here and then walk the last few miles. So just be thankful that I’m finally here and not still stuck at the Malibu house.”
Chloe settled down. Her anger dissipated as Zoe talked.

“How’s he doing?” Zoe nodded her head towards Johnny who lay unmoving on the floor.

He was awake and staring at the girls. At least he thought he was. Their reflections were everywhere in the room and he was having difficulty focusing on them. The images kept blurring and their voices were fading in and out. He knew he had a concussion; he had the mother of all headaches pounding away, especially behind his eyes. Pity his left eye was out of commission. His right eye was scanning the room, he was in some place with lots of mirrors and now his tormentor had back up. Oh happy days, he thought sarcastically. He quickly dropped that thought as someone came up and turned his head to the right and peered at the graze from the bullet wound on his left temple closely. One of his tormentors was staring intently into the bullet wound and then turned his head and looked at him and smiled showing perfect white teeth that turned into a sneer.

“You shot him, Chloe.”

“I wasn’t aiming for him, Zoe, I was aiming for his friend and he jumped in the way. How was I to know he was gonna do that?”

“You shouldn’t have taken the gun with you.”

Johnny listened to the two women yell at each other. It hurt his head and he wanted to tell them to shut up but didn’t want to provoke their ire. He had come to one conclusion though. The second woman was just as sick as the other. Seeing no good outcome at this stage Johnny started to pray to the Great Spirit. He thought of Susie and sent out love messages to her, just in case he didn’t survive and just in case she could pick up on them.

“Well now that you have him, what are you going to do with him?” Zoe asked Chloe.

“I think it’s time to play don’t you?”

Johnny felt fingers touch his face and run down his scratched cheek. “It feels good doesn’t it?”

“What do you mean?” Johnny said in a low voice, trying to keep his voice calm so as not to upset his kidnappers.

“This. Where the skin parts and the flesh is opened and what lies beneath comes into view. The blood pooling at the wound and then running down your skin. The pain cascading through your body. The release of the emotional pain through the physical. It so addictive it ought to be prohibited. Not many people understand that but I think you do. My sister and I do it all the time, don’t we Zoe?” Chloe got up from the floor and went to grab a shard of broken mirror lying on the floor across the room.

“Yes.” A breathy voice answered from behind his head. Seeing what her sister had found and knowing what she was going to do she begged to be the one to do it.

“Okay Zoe but don’t hurt him too much.”

“Oh, I’m not gonna do him, I want to do you. He’s your trophy after all.” Zoe took the glass from Chloe and kissed Chloe’s arm. She then ran the glass over the site where she had kissed it. She then kissed higher up and followed with another cut. Chloe hissed with the pain. Several more hisses and murmurings between the sisters bounced off the mirrors and Johnny felt sick with the thought of what these two sisters were doing.

“Thank you, sis.” Chloe placed her bloody hand gently up against her sister’s face and ran her fingers down her cheek, leaving a bloody trail in their wake.

“You’re welcome Chloe, anytime.”

“It’s my turn now. Give me the glass, Zoe.”

Zoe complied and then asked Chloe to do her. Chloe repeated the same ritual that Zoe had done to her just before. She kissed her sisters arm and went to cut it. Zoe pulled her arm away. “Not my arm. Only my thighs.”

Chloe knelt down and kissed her sister’s thigh and then cut it with the glass. A hiss followed with another kissing sound, then a hiss and so it went on. Johnny couldn’t look and no matter where he looked he was surrounded by images of his tormentors. He closed his eye, wishing he had a patch over his right eye also. He found the whole scenario sickening and worse than being tortured as his memory and imagination would be a greater tormentor than what these sisters could physically do to him he thought.

“Oh God, that feels so good.” Zoe said aloud.

A wave of nausea racked through Johnny’s body and he turned on his side and brought up some beer smelling emesis with macerated potato chips. It was definitely better going down than coming up Johnny thought before succumbing to the sweetness of oblivion once more as the pain from his head took him away.

Zoe looked at her bleeding thigh and put her fingers in the wide gaping holes in her skin and let the blood wet her fingers. She placed them on her sister’s face and ran them down her cheek. “There, now we are equal. Let this be our war paint and let the battle commence. Now it’s time to see to the enemy don’t you think?” Zoe proffered to her sister.
“Where shall we start? I want to see his reaction while you cut him.”

The sisters went up to Johnny’s prostrate body and knelt beside him. “How dare he be unconscious, wake up you lying, cheating, two-timing, no good flirt?” Chloe kicked him in his back but Johnny didn’t wake.

“Right, we wait until he wakes and then we show him how good it feels to be cut.” Chloe said as she stood up tall and proud. Blood ran down her arm and her right hand where the sharp edges of the mirrored glass sliced into her palms making the glass slippery and harder to hold. Her fingers curled around the glass in a firmer grasp to counteract the slipping and cut in deeper. In her attempt to control her hold on the glass she gave it a strong almost convulsive contraction and then found the glass falling from her unresponsive fingers.

“Damn!!!” Chloe yelled into the room.

“What? What’s wrong?” Zoe asked her beloved sister.

“I can’t move my fingers. I can’t feel them either. I think I’ve cut the nerves and tendons in my right hand.”

“Show me!”

Chloe raised her arm up to her sister for her inspection. Chloe couldn’t feel her sister’s touch. She looked at her hand and it didn’t feel attached to her anymore. The fingers wouldn’t respond. She tried to make a fist but nothing happened.”

“Straighten them out.” Zoe demanded.

“I’M TRYING.” Chloe yelled back at her sister.

“You’ve cut right through your palm and all your fingers. It looks really deep, Chloe. Will you still be able to cut your ex-lover boy over there when he wakes up with your other hand?” Zoe asked concerned for her sister.

“I …I don’t know. My left hand is weak as you know from previous nerve damage. I’ll give it a good try though.” Chloe ended on a laugh and shaky breath.

Johnny had woken during this and heard their plans. He could’ve checked his kidnapper’s hand but decided he was in no fit state to do so. His head was swimming and his eyesight was blurred and warped into double vision. He was battling with further nausea and thought he was going to be sick again. He thought it best to feign still being unconscious. While the sisters were preoccupied with each other they left him alone. If he had to pretend to be unconscious throughout then that is what he’d do. It wasn’t that hard. The concussion, pain and now blood loss were taking their toll.

His concussion though made it hard to concentrate. He was trying to work things out in his muddled brain. In case he could make a run for it he needed to get as much information as to his whereabouts as possible. The few times he had opened his right eye to check on his kidnappers the worse he felt. Dizzying images moving in the mirrors with distorted faces and bodies all around him made his nausea and vertigo akin to his bouts of seasickness. He was pretty sure he must be looking green by now. He knew he was by the sea. Was he on a boat? If so what was it with all the dirty mirrors? It didn't make sense. The sea gulls crying outside and the pungent air of burnt wood, sea brine, rotting vegetation and at times strong waves of something very dead wafted past his nostrils and made him want to gag. Breathing through his mouth didn’t help. Johnny drifted off into unconsciousness again thinking he was being held captive on a boat and feeling seasick right down to his toenails.

“I think you need help for your hand, Chloe.” Zoe told her sister as she cradled her sister’s hand in her own.

“Fiddlesticks. What would you know?” Chloe pulled her hand away and held it against her chest. She looked at her reflection in the mirrors and saw blood running down her body. Her sister was looking back at her and wore a frown on her face. Her displeasure at being belittled evident for Chloe to see. The two sisters stood glaring at each other, neither one wanting to be the first to give in.

---***---

Frank Patterson made his way into the gates of his house. A few paparazzi were clustered outside, their cameras clicking as he drove into the grounds and the gates closing behind him. He pulled up by the front door. He hadn’t been in the house since the night his wife killed herself. It felt like a lifetime ago but was only five days ago. He felt tired and his body was weary and heavy. He wished he could turn the clock back. If he could, how far back would he turn it? Too much water had passed under the bridge he couldn’t turn it back five days let alone six years when the first cracks in the marriage had started.

He climbed the steps to his front door. That was a thought. Was it his front door? His wife owned this house and the ones in the Hamptons and Aspen. He did own the log cabin where the family would go when they had ‘roughed’ it a few times. The cabin was very rustic and he loved it. Mind you, he was the only one that did. The women in his family preferred the luxuries and comforts that money afforded.

As Frank looked around at the grounds he didn’t see the housekeeper’s car anywhere. It might be in the garage or around the back so he proceeded to the front door and using his key opened the door and went to the alarm and turned it off. He called out and got no response. He searched the house, grounds, and all the outbuildings and came up empty. He went back into the main house and went to the one room he hadn’t been in since that fateful night.

The master bedroom was empty. The bedspread remained crumpled where he had knelt on it, hugging his dead wife to his chest. A shiver ran down his back and he whispered the words, “Be happy in Heaven Ida. You were my everything and I love you and miss you my darling. Please forgive me for not being the husband you wanted or deserved. You were a good woman Ida, and now I have lost you to the forgiving arms of God and the caresses from the wings of the angels as they cocoon you in your time of healing. Be one with the light and may unconditional love be yours forever. Rest in peace my love.”

Frank walked to his study and picked up the phone. He called the Malibu house and got Verity, the daughter of his lawyer. She informed him that Chloe hadn’t turned up. She didn’t want to upset him anymore than he was already so she tried to keep everything all upbeat and positive. He appreciated her efforts and then rang off saying he had to talk to her father. He asked her that if her father phoned her could she please pass on that he wanted to talk to him and that he was at the Bel Air residence.

Frank then phoned Dr. Woodside’s clinic. Esperanza was going to be fine. She was more alert now and by tomorrow all traces of the drug would be gone. They were going to keep her in overnight. Mr. Patterson requested the bill be sent to him. He would also be paying Esperanza hush money to stop her from going to the papers about Chloe. He and Ida had had to do that quite often in the past. It wasn’t easy having one daughter with mental illness. It put a huge strain on the family.

Frank asked on the off chance if Mr. Williams was still there. He was pleasantly delighted to find out he was. He spoke to his friend and they agreed that it may be best to alert the police to look for his missing daughter and the housekeeper’s car. The lawyer knew a high ranking officer in law enforcement and offered to contact him and set the ball in motion. Frank appreciated the offer but declined saying he would do it if he just gave him the name of his friend. The lawyer said he would get his friend to phone him as all phone calls into the station were recorded and could get leaked to the press by less scrupulous officers. This was another debt he owed his friend.

Lieutenant Crockett phoned Mr. Patterson. He had just received a phone call from his friend Jack Williams, who had told him that his services were required and, could he phone this number and help out a friend of his? Lieutenant Crockett arranged to meet up with Mr. Patterson at his Bel Air house as he needed photos of Chloe for the APB.

Chapter 16

Jo had finished telling the gathered crew of 51 what she had been able to put together so far about the events of the day with Roy and Johnny, although she did admit to a few fanciful leaps as she was only surmising it was Johnny’s blood trailing through her house and out the back patio door and in the wheelbarrow. All the men were equally upset when they heard what Jo had seen and what Roy had said. They shared the same views as Jo. Johnny had been hurt and possibly kidnapped. It didn’t bare thinking about Johnny’s body being dumped somewhere. Surely the kidnapper would leave a dead body behind at the house and get away as soon as possible. Therefore they all agreed Johnny was alive when he was taken from the house. The question was, was he still alive?

The door to the lounge opened and Dixie had Emily and the two De Soto children with her. The children went up to their mother and clung to her legs. Jo gave them a big hug and checked with Dixie if Roy was up to a couple of little visitors that needed to go have dinner and then go to bed soon.

“I’ll go check.”

Dixie returned and holding the door open told the De Soto family that a certain man in room 2 wanted to see them very much. The kids were off the chair like a rocket and Jo had to call out their names to make them stop running. She took their hands as they walked into room 2 where a very tired, but all in one piece, father and husband sat reclined on an exam table with the policeman to one side. The children saw the policeman and immediately became scared. Little Jenny started to cry thinking they were taking her daddy to prison. Dixie asked the policeman to leave the room so that the children could settle down.

Having seen that Roy was more alert and lucid, it wasn’t only the children that calmed down. Jo gave a huge sigh of relief at her man looking more like himself. The children were sitting on the bed and Roy was giving them a big cuddle and a hug, as best he could with a line in his arm. After a few minutes Jo extricated her limpet children from the grasp they had of their daddy and took them back out to Emily were they were having a sleep over that night. Jo would be over later with Hank. She kissed the children goodnight and watched as they walked out towards the parking lot, holding Emily’s hands.

“They are good kids you and Roy have raised there, Jo.” Hank told her as he saw her wipe a surreptitious tear from her eye.

“Thanks Hank.”

They both saw the policeman make a beeline for them. “Well I suppose it’s my turn for the Spanish inquisition now,” Jo laughed as she saw the policeman pull a notebook out of his shirt pocket. Jo was offered Dr. Brackett’s office, by Dixie, and together the policeman and Jo went and gave her statement. Twenty minutes later she was coming out of the office and went into the doctor’s lounge and retrieved her brown paper bag with her soiled clothes. She handed them to the policeman and he gave her a receipt for the clothes. They were now evidence. Dixie told Jo that Roy was in room 327 with the rest of the men apart from Captain Stanley who was waiting for her and Susie who was on her way in.

“Hank, do you want to stay here waiting for Susie, or do you wanna come up and see Roy for a bit?” Jo asked.

“I saw Roy briefly before he went up. I’ll stay here for Susie to…” he stopped as loud clumping sounds got louder and louder and then stopped outside the door to the doctor’s lounge and then opened just as quickly before the clumping noises resumed. Three clumping noises later and a whirlwind of a woman with raven hair tied back showing an elegant alabaster neck with two little love bites down close to her collarbone and green scrubs finished off with a pair of industrial sized black work boots with manure and straw entrenched in the tread. Susie had come straight from the stables where she had been fixing a colt with mud fever.

“Any news on Johnny? How’s Roy, Jo? Are you okay?” The questions tumbled out of Susie with barely a gap in-between.

“Why don’t you sit down with me over here and I’ll tell you all that I know so far.’ Jo led Susie over to the couch and Hank made them all a cup of coffee. Dixie who hadn’t heard the whole story chose that time to have her meal break.

“I wish it could be better news but so far Roy and I are fine. We don’t know anything yet about Johnny. He wasn’t in the house but his Rover, with the posts in the back, is in our driveway. Roy said that they had got the posts and were having a drink out the back when a woman came to the house wanting Johnny. She took a gun out and went to shoot Roy and Johnny jumped in front. That’s all that Roy can remember.”

Susie let out a gasp and her hands flew up to cover her mouth. She visibly paled and Jo went to steady her thinking she was going to faint.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Just a bit of a shock of course. So we don’t know where Johnny is, or if he’s hurt, and who this mad woman is?” Susie said out loud to her friends that were there to give her comfort and support.

“The police are looking for the car. It appears that Roy and Jo’s neighbor saw the car and got the license plate number. She went over to tell Vince all she knew.” Jo told Susie. Susie wide violet eyes continued to look at Jo. “There’s a bit more you need to know.” Jo then told Susie what she had seen at the house she tried to downplay the blood trail and blood in the wheelbarrow to allay her friend’s fears. Susie listened and felt as if her heart was trying to beat icy cold blood around her body. Her chest felt heavy and ached with a pain only love and fear could give rise to.

Dixie hadn’t heard the whole story and now her concern for her favorite paramedic coalesced into one of dread. She couldn’t imagine a world without Johnny in it. She prayed that her Tiger was fine and uninjured. She looked at Susie and saw the same dread mirrored in her eyes.

“He’s going to be okay, you have to believe that.” Dixie said as she sat on the other side of Susie and grasped her cold hand, squeezing it, trying to give her unbridled strength.

“Is that everything that is known so far?” Susie asked.

Everybody looked at each other and nodded their heads. Seeing the affirmations, Susie took a few deep and calming breaths. Her shoulders pulled back and she sat up straighter.

“Right, what do we do next?”

“We wait.” Said Hank. The others nodded their agreement.

“I don’t think so. My husband is out there somewhere and someone must know something. Sitting here is not an option. Where’s Vince? I’ll start with him!” Susie pallor was replaced with a slight rosy flush and her eyes had a determined set to them.

You go girl, thought Dixie as she saw the resolve transform the woman sitting by her side. It was then that Dixie realized why she liked this woman so much. She reminded her of herself when she was younger. Full of verve, determination and completely head strong. She also kept her head in moments of crisis. She reminded her of the great head nurse she had worked under during the Korean War when she was a wet behind the ears nurse.

Jo could relate to Susie’s statement. If it was Roy instead of Johnny, she would want to be out there doing all she could to find her beloved. She squeezed Susie’s hand again. “Susie, what can I do to help?”

“Let’s go see Roy. He may know something that could help us find Johnny.”

The group got up and left the doctor’s lounge. Dixie looked at her watch and said she would try to pop up later if work allowed and see Roy, right now she had to get back to work. Hank led the two women to the elevators and pressed the up button. They entered and with the third floor button depressed they rode up in silence thinking of what had happened and more importantly what to do next. Chet, Marco and Mike were still in the room. Roy was fighting a monster headache and drowsiness. He didn’t want to succumb to the call of a concussive sleep. He wanted to hear that his best friend had been found. All the heads turned as the door opened and Jo walked in followed by Susie and Captain Stanley. Jo went up to Roy and kissed him on his forehead. Susie went and stood on the other side.

“How are you Roy?” Susie asked. She was assessing Roy for injuries and he looked relatively well. A bit pale with a dressing on his left temple and a spreading bruise covering his left side and extending close to his eye. It made Susie think of Johnny and his eyepatch. Icicles of pain stabbed at her heart. Oh Johnny, where are you? Are you okay? Susie’s thoughts were interrupted by Roy talking to her.

“What, sorry, my mind was elsewhere? What did you say?”

“The woman, she was familiar. I think we rescued her. Johnny dealt with her more than me. Cap, is there any chance of retrieving the log book from the Station? I keep getting images of her but I can’t put her in context to where I saw her. It’s just sitting out of my grasp.”

Everyone turned to look at Cap. Hope shone out from Susie’s eyes. Jo was there backing up Roy and Susie. The men in the room also looked at him hopefully.

“You know that it’s against policy for the log books to leave the station but I think in this instance we can overlook that. The collective sighs in the room dissolved some of the tension that had grown into a palpable entity. The concern everyone held for Johnny was growing with every passing minute.

“Right, I’ll drive you,” Susie said. “We’ll be back soon.” She walked up to Hank and took his arm in hers and led him out of the room.

“Like I said before, that’s one chick not to get on the wrong side of. I can’t see Johnny winning any argument they have.” Chet said into the room as the tornado known as Susie Gage swept Hank out before he had a chance to blink.

“You got that right.” Mike said. The others in the room nodded their heads and smiled at the thought of Johnny perpetually losing out to his strong willed wife.

Chapter 17

Lieutenant Crockett had spent the last hour talking to Frank Patterson in his Bel Air mansion. He voiced his concerns about his daughter and her mental instability and how her mother’s suicide had made her more volatile and unpredictable. He then related all that had happened while they were at the funeral. “I need your help to find my daughter, please. I have the license plate number and description of the car she used to get away. Can you keep this low key? Our family has been through enough these last few weeks. I don’t want any more media attention or policemen talking to the papers for a quick buck. And before you deny it, we both know it happens.”

“I need to put this into the system; once it’s in I can’t stop what happens then. I appreciate the sensitivity of this situation; however, I can’t find her alone. L.A. is a big place. An APB will go out for the car and your daughter. Once again thank you for the photo. Do you know where she might be? Is there any place that has a special meaning for her? Any friends she might go to? Anything at all that can help us find her? It just might help to bring this to a quick conclusion."

Frank wrote out a list of their other homes in the states, her friends that he knew of and places where she liked to go. It wasn’t a very big list. Lieutenant Crockett thanked the distraught man and made his way out and headed back to the police station. He had to enter this into the system and put out an APB. He would then start going through the list and contacting agencies out of state to check the other homes in the Hamptons and Aspen. It was going to be a long night.

Frank sat on the master bed and drank himself into what would normally have been an alcohol fueled slumber, except thoughts of his late wife denied him the peace he was looking for. He cried himself awake. Hot tears coursed down his face and ran into his ears. His sobs grew louder as his grief consumed him and shattered his soul into little bits.
Here, alone in what used to be their bedroom, he didn’t have to be strong. He didn’t have to put a smile on his face and be what everyone wanted him to be. Here he could just be the man who had lost his wife. A man who’s life had imploded on him. His life was gone. Somehow it was all so tempting to just end it all. Alone with his maudlin thoughts and inconsolable grief, the man became just as lost as his daughter, Chloe.

He pulled the pillow that his wife would rest her head on at night and inhaled deeply. No traces of her scent remained. It was gone, just like her. Hot tears that hadn’t stopped continued as his thoughts desperately tried to grab at memories, happy memories of their life together, and failed. His grief was blocking his memory retrieval and he couldn’t think of the last time they had laughed together or been happy. He was sure they had been but his mind couldn’t locate what he so desperately wanted. Fear gripped him, would he ever be able to remember their happy times together ever again. That thought appalled him.

Frank Patterson laid curled on the master bed looking out through the main window and watched as the night sky descended over the horizon. Sleep was eluding him and would do so for many a night to come. His grief a constant companion like his shadow was never far away. Sometimes he would see it stretched out in front of him in an endless eternity, other times it compressed his soul and crushed his heart so badly that he thought he would never be able to breathe without pain again.

He went to pull the coverlet over himself to keep warm against his cold thoughts, only to find it had been removed. He remembered that his Ida had vomited over it and it would have been either Esperanza or another servant that would have taken it off the bed. Now he just lay on the bed, arms curled tightly around his chest hugging himself with his knees bent up covering his lower abdomen, subconsciously protecting his vulnerability, looking at the early evening sky.

He looked over at the phone willing it to ring and have his family or that detective Crockett on the other end, telling him everything was okay. He so desperately needed to hear his daughter’s voice. To know that she was alright and then convince her to come back to him and then get her the help she so desperately needed. He had to protect his family and try to keep them all together and safe.
He had been drinking and realized he couldn’t drive back to the Malibu hideout. He should phone them and let them know what was happening. He didn’t have the energy to phone right now. No doubt his friend would tell the family that is where he was when he went to his Malibu home tonight, when he had done whatever he had to do. He was a good friend, Jack Williams and a very clever lawyer. Knowing Jack he would have a contract drawn up for Esperanza to sign effectively stopping her from going to the press or talking to anyone about what had happened to her by his sick daughter. There would be a monetary figure mentioned in there and it would be a pretty impressive figure. Money talked at the end of the day.

---***---

“For God’s sake Chloe, you need a doctor. The longer you wait to get the nerves and tendons reattached the slimmer the chance of their working or something.” Zoe was saying for the hundredth time since Chloe had cut her hand deeply.

“It can wait. I haven’t even started with my ex yet. He needs to be punished for what he did to me. You’ll have to do it, Zoe. My hands are out of commission.”

Johnny had been awake for a little while, he had slept fitfully on and off since he had been brought to this place. His groaning had woken him up at one stage and his nausea and vomiting two other times. He heard the sisters arguing back and forth and wondered if they ever stopped. He had come close to having Chloe cut him when she saw his eye open but he pretended to be unconscious again and it was Zoe that pulled her back from what Johnny could make out. His head was pounding and he kept zoning in and out. It made it difficult to follow.

He looked at the mirrors and saw the women moving frantically back and forth. He couldn’t make out where they were in relation to him. He couldn’t make out where he was in relation to the room. He was cold and his limbs felt heavy and numb. Hypothermia, he thought before he lapsed into unconsciousness again.

“We have to do something. Everyone will be looking for us. Daddy could even have the police involved now. What are we going to do, Chloe?”

“Don’t rush me. I need to think. I’m, I’m feeling dizzy. I need to sit down for a bit.” Chloe leaned against the wall and slid down it. The broken glass of the mirrored wall slicing along her back leaving a nine inch deep cut. Blood poured from the wound. Chloe could feel the warm stickiness of the blood as it cascaded down her back. She wasn’t going to tell Zoe about this. She felt her shorts getting wet, and was thankful that the room was dark as Zoe wouldn’t be able to see her present state. She gave a shiver partly from the deliciousness of the pain and hiding the injury from her sister and partly from the cold leeching into her body.

“Oh, for crying out loud. I didn’t come here to sit and watch you do nothing. We could’ve done the cutting at home. What I want to know is, is what are you going to do with him?” Zoe was yelling at her sister.

“Fine, just to keep you happy I’ll show you what I plan to do with him.” Chloe fumbled around in her handbag and pulled out the gun she had used earlier. “There, what do you think of that, then?”

“A gun! You’re gonna shoot him? That’s your big plan? What about having some fun with him, first? He’s not that bad looking. Then shoot him, when he’s served his purpose, get my drift?” Zoe said to Chloe in a low voice.

“Ohhh. Oh Zoe, that’s wicked but I love it. We could both have a turn, don’t you think?”

Zoe just smiled at her sister in a sick and twisted way. “Once again, I bow to your superiority.”

Johnny was still out of it and hadn’t heard the latest plan. Chloe went to move over to Johnny. The first move sent a wave of deep burning pain like she had never felt before across her back. She let out a yell and then fainted dead away.

---***---

“Thank you Hank, I really appreciate you doing this. I know that we are breaking all sorts of rules here but if it helps us find Johnny then rules are made to be broken.” Susie said as she drove the car back to the hospital.

Hank had the log book covering the squad’s runs for the last month resting on his lap. The B shift paramedics and Captain agreed to the book leaving the station and would be telling no one of its trip to Rampart. “I just hope Roy finds what he’s looking for and we find Johnny sooner rather than later. Preferably not badly hurt as well.” Hank gave Susie a small reassuring squeeze on the arm nearest to him as she drove deftly back to the hospital.

“I hope so too, Hank.” Susie turned and smiled at Hank. The first smile he had seen since all this had started. She was a striking woman and even under duress she held her cool and gave off a calm determination that he greatly admired. Silence settled in the car as Susie swung it into Rampart’s parking lot.

Five minutes later Roy was going through the log book and then stopping every now and then, putting himself back to that call to see if that was the one ringing his bell. He was halfway through when he came to the call out for a woman down – car vs cyclist on Melrose. He stopped and looked at Susie and Hank standing next to him.

“This one, this woman was the one that came into our house today and kidnapped Johnny. Chloe Patterson.”

“Chloe Patterson, she’s the daughter of that billionairess that you went to in Bel Air. The suicide, remember, maybe you’re getting confused, Roy. It’s been in all the papers and on the TV news.” Chet offered once he heard Roy’s accusation. He wanted his pigeon found like everybody else. But he thought Roy’s concussion was adding to his confusion and desperation to find his friend and had just latched onto the nearest thing that was still hot news and was on the radio, TV and newspaper everywhere you went.

“No, it’s her. I’m positive. Johnny said something about not being able to save her mother and she got really angry with him. I remember now. That’s when she got the gun out, I think. She wanted to know why we wanted to hurt her and try and save her mother. She never denied it was her mother.” Roy said into the quiet room.

“That’s great Roy. Thank you, now we have a name and an address. We should be able to find Johnny real soon. I’ll go call Vince.” Captain Stanley gave Roy’s shoulder a firm shake and looked pleased that they had something to go on. He had the log book in his hand and kept the page open with his finger as he left the room to make an urgent phone call.

Jo gave Roy a kiss and squeezed his hand. “You’ve done well today, love. I’m so proud of you.”

Susie’s eyes were looking bright and watery. She leaned up to Roy and gently kissed him on his cheek, mindful of his sore head. “Thank you” she whispered gently into his ear. “Thank you for saving my husband.”

Marco’s stomach chose that moment to let out a loud growl. The tension in the room eased as everybody laughed at Marco and Chet made a comment that he was hungry too. Plans were made to go have dinner when Cap came back and then if it was okay wait at Cap’s house for word on Johnny. Jo was going to drive Cap back home as Emily had taken the car with the De Soto children, leaving Hank stranded at the hospital.

Cap reentered the room and was excited beyond belief. “You won’t believe this but there’s already an APB out for Chloe Patterson and the getaway car. I’ve just been talking to Vince and then got put through to Detective Crockett. Seems your neighbor, Roy, saw the getaway car and got the license plate and Crockett got a call from Mr. Patterson about his daughter and the car. All the cops are out there looking for her. Lieutenant Crockett is on his way over here to get a statement from you Roy. Now that it involves kidnapping and injuries, they are stepping up the urgency. We have to wait here for Crockett.”

Everybody was stunned. Marco’s growling stomach reminded them that no one had eaten for some time. The smell of the food cart delivering meals to the patients made everyone feel hungry and their mouths started to salivate. “How about we all go to the cafeteria and grab a meal while we wait. Jo do you want to come too or do you want us to bring something back for you?” Hank asked.

“Go and have a proper meal, honey. I’ll be fine here, besides Crockett will be here soon and there’s nowhere for him to sit.” Roy laughed lightly then put his hand up to his left side of his face and rubbed his sore head. “I‘ll be fine, now go and eat all of you.”

The group went to the hospital cafeteria where they saw Dixie and Kel having a meal together. Dixie looked up and waved then over. “I thought you all would’ve been gone by now. Any word on Johnny and how’s Roy holding up?” Dixie asked Hank and Susie.

The rest of the group was lining up to get food. Hank explained what was happening so far. Dixie insisted that they come back and sit with them. They pulled the tables either side of them to their table making a long table and waited for their friends to join them. Over plates of chicken casserole with mashed potato and green beans or tuna bake the story was gone over again. This time with a bit more detail and with others putting their opinions in. Susie was very quiet throughout. She had a sick feeling in her gut that Johnny was hurt but okay for now. She felt that time was against them though. For reasons she couldn’t fathom she knew Johnny’s life was in danger more so now than before. Feeling the bile rise up her throat, she quickly scrambled out of her seat and ran to the ladies’ room.

“I’ll go.” Said Jo. She got up and followed her friend to the bathroom at a sedate pace. Giving her friend time to be sick without an audience she hoped. When she entered the washroom, two other women were in there, so much for no audience, Jo thought. Knocking on the stall door where the noises were emanating from, she called out Susie’s name. A few minutes later, the toilet flushed and Susie emerged with bloodshot eyes and a pale face.

“He’s in danger, Jo. I can feel it in my bones. Call it woman’s intuition or a hunch, but I know it as sure as I know you’re standing there. I know he’s hurt, but it’s almost like he’s telling me telepathically. We have to find him and soon, real soon, before it’s too late.” Susie’s bottom lip started to quiver and she bit it to stop the telltale signs of a woman on the edge of losing it. She had to be strong. She could do this. She would crumble later if she had to, but right now she had to remain strong for Johnny.

“Oh, Susie. He will be fine, you’ll see. I’ve been where you are before with Roy getting hurt. It’s the not knowing that plays havoc with your mind. You imagine all sorts of nasty and horrible things.” Jo had her arms wrapped around Susie and was comforting her as much as she could.

“No Jo. I know that Johnny’s hurt and that soon she will kill him if things don’t go her way. I can sense it almost as if I’m in the room with Johnny and her. The cops have to find him soon.” Susie grabbed her stomach again and starting swallowing convulsively. She pushed against Jo and ran back into the stall and starting heaving with the dry retching. There was nothing left in her stomach to come up.

Jo went over and wet some paper towels and came back to her friend kneeling on the tiled floor. She pressed the towels over her friend’s forehead and rubbed her back. When the heaving had subsided and Susie trusted herself to leave the stall she went over to the basin and ran cold water over her hands before splashing it over her face. Jo offered her comb from her handbag to Susie who ran it through her raven locks and the curls bounced back into life. She straightened her back and pulled her scrub top down and looking at Jo in the mirror smiled and said she would be ok. The two women left the washroom and made their way back to the table. Everyone looked to see if Susie was ok, but it was Dixie that broke the tension by saying that it was perfectly normal for her to be feeling sick, she would be if the shoe was on her foot. Everyone around the table agreed and Susie smiled and picked up her glass of milk and took a shaky mouthful before thanking everyone for their understanding and then picked up her fork to eat her lukewarm dinner.

The eating resumed and general chatter started up again. Jo started telling everyone about the commercial that Chris and Jenny had been involved in that day. Chris was playing Big Dave and Jenny was a customer. Both were playing the parts as adults and it looked real good from what she had seen. The kids had a great time and Big Dave turned up at the shoot and had a guest appearance as a customer at the end.

The meals were finished, Dixie and Kel excused themselves as they had to get back to work but not before they promised to come up later and see Roy if work allowed. Eventually the troop went back to Roy’s room where Crockett was just coming out.

“Ah, just the people I was looking for. Shall we go into the waiting room, if it’s free?” Crockett said.

“I’ll just go see Roy briefly, and meet up with you soon.” Jo said as the rest went to the waiting room and Jo slipped into Roy’s room.

“What’s going on, Detective?” Hank asked.

“Roy has confirmed that the woman that came to his house earlier today was Miss Chloe Patterson. Unfortunately I can’t tell you much at this stage as it’s an ongoing investigation but what I can tell you is that she is mentally unstable and her father holds great concern for her safety. There was already an APB out on the car from a policeman that was called to the De Soto house. The neighbor saw a car speeding away and got the license plate. Her late husband was a cop.” He smiled brightly as if that explained everything. Maybe it did but right now everyone in the room wanted to know more about this Chloe person and what was being done to find Johnny.

“I’m gonna go back and talk to Mr. Patterson. He might be able to shed some light on events now that we have some more information. Ah, before I forget, do any of you recognize her. This is Chloe Patterson.”

Crockett pulled out a photo of Chloe taken at her high school graduation. A pretty blonde with blue eyes smiled back at the camera. The photo was passed around, but nobody recognized the young woman smiling at them.

“Trust Gage to be kidnapped by a looker. Are you sure he was kidnapped? …. I suppose if you’re gonna be kidnapped, you might as well have an attractive woman take ya hostage, even if she’s a looney tune.” Chet said into the room.

“CHET!!!” Everyone, but Susie and Crockett, yelled at the stocky fireman.

Chet realizing what he had just said and who he had said it in front of, visibly blushed and quickly tried to stammer out an apology to Susie. Susie walked up to Chet, took the picture out of his hand and looked at the photo. She slowly lifted her head to look up to Chet.

“If I ever hear you say something so demeaning and derogatory about my husband again I will have great delight doing a ‘coochee mama’ on you so that you will never have children and will always talk in a high pitched voice. Kapesch!” Susie said in a low voice with an unmistakable undernote of promise and menace in equal measure. “You are walking a very fine line, Chester B Kelly!”

Susie looked at the photo again, and not recognizing the young woman passed it over to Mike to look at. She then went and stood by the wall next to the water cooler. Her arms folded across her chest. She was worried about her husband and angry at Chet. She didn’t need his inane comments right now. She looked over at Chet and shook her head. She was trying to work him out. He had a heart of gold and a mouth that operated without engaging his brain at times. She felt very tired. It had been a long day and it wasn’t going to be over anytime soon.

With Crockett having brought everyone up to speed and no one being able to shed any more light on the situation, he made his farewells with a promise to be in touch.
Hank advised him to contact him at his home as everybody was going there that he was aware of. He gave Crockett his home phone number and address.

Crockett met Jo in the hallway and he showed her the photo of Chloe but it too drew a blank with her. He went over to the elevators and made his way back to the station. Jo entered the waiting room and saw a tired and drained looking Susie huddled in on herself. Hank was walking over to her and turned to look at who was entering the room.
“How’s Roy?” He enquired.

“He’s sleeping. He told Detective Crockett all that he knew before the nurse gave him his evening meds including pain relief and he’s gone a bit dozy on it. I’ve left him to get a good sleep. What’s the latest here?”

“We’re all going back to my place to wait. I’ll need a lift back, any takers?”

“You’re welcome to come with me.” Jo said and Susie also offered as did everybody else.

“Thank you Jo, that’s very kind of you, and guys I appreciate the offer, but I think I might just keep Susie company since she doesn’t know where I live.”

The group headed out to the elevator and weren’t that far behind Crockett in leaving the hospital. Susie had to do a detour as Hank returned the log book to the station. He told B shift Captain that it had been successful and they now had a name of the kidnapper.

Chapter 18

Eventually all the crew and wives were sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee and waiting for news. Jo went upstairs and checked on her two children who were sleeping soundly in the spare room. It wasn’t their normal bedtime but they had been up extra early to get to the recording studio and they hadn’t slept much the night before due to their excitement. Thank God for small mercies Jo thought as she kissed her children on their heads and tucked the blankets up close to their chins. She quietly left the room and made her way downstairs where Emily was pouring Hank a coffee. She held the pot up to Jo, who nodded her head and said “that would be lovely, thank you, Emily.”

Jo sat next to Susie and gave her hand a squeeze under the table. The two women looked at each other and shared a smile. “He’ll be okay, Susie. You just have to believe that.” Jo said quietly into her friend’s ear.

Susie looked back and gave a small nod, “I can’t shake the feeling of impending pain and hurt surrounding Johnny. There are moments I swear he’s trying to talk to me and say everything’s okay, then I get these awful feelings of dread and despair. Honestly I feel like I’m on some twisted roller coaster ride."

A plate of sandwiches and biscuits was placed on the table by Hank and all the men started to eat. The womenfolk just watched as the food quickly disappeared in record time.

“You’re not at the station now, guys. You don’t need to eat so fast, you’ll get indigestion.” Emily said as Chet and Hank let out a burp.

“Sorry, Miss Emily.” Chet said as he wiped crumbs off his moustache. Hank was patting his stomach and had to undo his top pant button to help relieve the pressure.

“Why don’t we go looking for Johnny ourselves. This waiting is doing my head in.” Chet said an hour after a subdued quietness had settled into the room.

“We don’t know what the car is like, do we.” Said Marco.

“Yes we do, or at least we will after I phone my neighbor.” Jo said. “She saw it and the license plate.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Marco added when Jo looked around to see what people thought.

Jo was quickly on the phone and talking to Mrs. Cruddick. Everyone was listening to the one sided conversation. It was sounding like Mrs. Cruddick was worth her weight in gold.
Jo hung up the phone and gave out a big sigh. “Not only do I have the license plate but also a very good description of the car.” Jo then told everyone what she had learned from her neighbor.

Emily stayed behind and offered to look after the children. It was decided that groups of two in a car would head out and do a grid formation looking for the car. It was agreed that they would phone Emily every hour to touch base. They started from a set point and would fan out to the outer regions of L.A. County if they had too. They would reconvene back at the house at midnight. Hank and Susie went in her car, Mike and Jo in his, Chet and Marco in Marco’s car. With a copy of the license plate and car description and strong flash lights the three cars headed out and started their search.

---***---

“I’ve got to get you help, Chloe. What good is a dead sister to me? What would become of me? I love you too much to let you go.” Zoe said to Chloe.

Blood had pooled around where Chloe had been propped up against the wall. She was now lying on the floor looking at herself and her sister in the mirrors.Their reflections were getting harder to see. The night sky and shimmering moonlight didn't afford enough illumination to see their images looking back at them clearly. She was having difficulty keeping track of where everyone was, just like Johnny had been having ever since she had brought him here. Her head was spinning and she was feeling very weak. She had lost a lot of blood over the last few days with all the cutting she had been doing. Zoe had lost blood too but it never seemed to get her as tired or weak as Chloe.

“In my handbag, Zoe, is a torch. It's getting dark. Use it to help you when the time comes. I haven’t got the energy to ‘play’ with him. You can if you want, but when you’re finished do me a favor and shoot him for me, sis. I can’t move my right hand; you’ll have to do it for me. It will be just as good for me even if I’m not doing it personally.” Chloe begged her sister. Her voice was weak and fading on her.

“Okay, but just so you know, I’m only doing this for you.” Zoe retrieved the torch from her sisters handbag and crawled over to Johnny. She was having difficulty seeing him so she turned on the torch and aimed it at his body. The cast off light was dimming and a faint yellowish glare was emitted from the torch. “The batteries are flat, did you bring any spares?"

Chloe shook her head in the negative and slumped a bit more to her left.

"My God, he’s got a love bite on his neck. It can’t be from his wife not after she scratched his face for his infidelity. It must be from one of his girlfriends.” Zoe said to Chloe.

Johnny felt hands pulling at his clothes. Tearing his shirt away from his body. He pretended to still be unconscious. Hands grabbed at his body in angry fury. He felt pressure over his shoulders as they were grabbed and his upper body and he was shaken violently. His head rolling from side to side. “How do I know he’s not carrying some filthy disease. He could give me something and then Daddy will be disappointed in me. I don’t wanna ‘play’ with him. Where’s the gun?”

Zoe saw the gun on the floor. It took her a long time to get it as it was the third image that turned out to be real. These mirrors were doing her head in.

She aimed the gun at Johnny’s body and closing her eyes put both hands on the trigger as it was harder to pull than she thought and brought her fingers back until the trigger was against the gun and a loud bang echoed wildly in the room, and a scream followed the bang.

Zoe collapsed back against the wall from the recoil of the gun and the shock of actually shooting someone. She sat there looking at her sister and Johnny. Or was it their reflection, it was so hard to tell. Blood flowed freely from both of them she thought before she laid herself on the floor and reached out to her sister before closing her eyes. She didn’t want to see the destruction she had brought on the man that had jilted her sister.

Apart from the slow rising and falling of the chests in the room, there was no other movement or noise. It was like they were all in a black hole and time had stopped for them while outside life went on.

---***---

Three hours had gone by and Emily was answering the phone and relaying to the callers that the car hadn’t been found yet by the others. She was marking off on a map the areas they had covered. So far they had covered thirty square miles with no luck. Each team was now venturing further out. There was one hour left before they had decided to come back and call it quits for the night.

Susie didn’t want to stop looking. So far they were the northern most team. They had just done the Marina Del Rey and were once again northbound on Lincoln Boulevard heading towards Santa Monica. They had agreed to go as far as Santa Monica then on to Culver City and come back on the 405 then 110 to Carson. For a reason Susie didn’t understand, her heart started beating faster as they neared Ocean Park in Santa Monica. Feeling jittery she pulled the car over and looked at Hank.

“He’s here, somewhere. Don’t ask me how I know, I just do. We need the other teams here, Hank. Please just trust me on this. Call it woman’s intuition or a soulmate connection, heck, I don’t know but I know I’m right.” Susie said to Hank as she tried to still the shaking of her hands.

“Okay, I believe you. I’m an old married man and I’ve had enough experience from Emily having this woman’s intuition or mother’s intuition to know she’s right more often than wrong. Let’s find the nearest phone and tell Emily then we can get the teams out here. We need a meeting point. How about the old amusement park – POP, it’s abandoned now but everybody knows where it is.” Hank suggested.

“Sounds good to me, and thank you Hank for believing in me and this feeling I’ve got. It’s almost as if I can feel Johnny calling out to me. Like an SOS beacon. Let’s find that phone.” Susie drove a little further down Lincoln Boulevard until she spotted a gas station and pulled in to top up the gas tank and ask where the nearest pay phones were. The man behind the counter directed her to a bank of phones two blocks down. She paid him and after a quick restroom stop they headed off and phoned Emily and requested that the other teams came out to meet them.

“Oh my God. That’s the car. Isn’t that the car?” Susie said as they approached the chained entrance to the Pacific Ocean Park.

Hank got the piece of paper attached to the dashboard and looked at the number Jo had written down for each car. He read the license plate out loud and Susie looked at the car and followed the numbers and letters as he read them out.

“It’s a match!” Susie exclaimed with joy. She went to get out of the car and go find her husband, when she felt a strong big calloused hand clasp around her upper arm.
She turned to look at Hank who was looking at her with fatherly concern in his eyes.

“We can’t go in Susie, it’s too dangerous. She’s got a gun remember, and she could get spooked and shoot Johnny again if we surprise her. We need to phone the police and the fire department for a squad. We wait here for back up. In fact, we need to move the car away in case she comes out and sees us.”

Susie saw the logic in everything Hank said and reluctantly started up the car and reversed into a darkened corner before doing a U turn and went back to the pay phones. Susie was talking to emergency services and was requesting the police, ambulance and a squad to the park with no lights and sirens. She had to explain the situation twice over and the supervisor agreed no lights and sirens.

Hank was on the other phone talking to a fellow detective that was sharing Crockett’s office. He picked up the phone and being aware of what Crockett was working on, he quickly jotted the details down and promised to pass it on to the detective straight away. Detective Crockett was at home and was about to get awakened with a phone call from his colleague. Hank then phoned Emily and told her they had found the car but were waiting for police back up. They drove back up to the Park but stopped a couple of hundred feet shy of the entrance. From here they had a good view of the car and the entrance. They could also see any cars coming. They waited for their friends and the emergency services to come.

The squad got there first and pulled up next to Susie’s car, as Hank waved them over. He quickly filled them in and they too sat there waiting in the dark for the police to arrive and secure the scene. They didn’t have long to wait. The police cars, all three of them, arrived in a convoy with no lights or sirens and pulled up behind the squad. Hank explained to the police what had transpired that day. The police were aware of it as it had been handed over in their roll call that evening. The license plate number was called in and confirmation came back that it was indeed the car in question. Two cops sidled up to the car and peered inside. Blood was visible on the passenger seat and across the headrest. There was also blood on the asphalt by the passenger car door. Flash lights showed drag marks leading into the park with little pools of blood every so often.

“It’s like Hansel and Gretel, instead of a breadcrumb trail, we’ve got a blood trail. You couldn’t get better than this.” One of the cops said to his partner.

“Keep it quiet, partner, that’s the victim’s wife over there.”

Both cops turned their heads to see if she had heard what had been said. She wasn’t looking at them as a car had just turned up and Mike and Jo were getting out.

Jo was hugging Susie and had draped a blanket, from Mike’s car, on her. Both women were wearing scrubs which didn’t offer much warmth against the midnight coolness of the sea air. Susie seeing Jo shiver and rub her bare arms, opened the blanket and invited Jo to share it with her. Jo stepped into the woolen warmth. The two women now huddled together under the blanket.

“Tell me, was this your woman’s intuition?” Jo asked Susie.

“Partly."

“You and Johnny are linked in more ways than one. It’s like you are one half of a whole.” Jo said as she looked at her friend with admiration in her eyes. Out of the whole of L.A County you found the car.”

“Actually I felt it was Santa Monica, it was Hank who suggested we meet at POP as everyone knew where it was. So effectively Hank found Johnny. I just hope it’s not too late as I’ve got this awful feeling inside that things aren’t good. I sure hope to God, that I’m not right about that.” Susie said to her friend in a quiet voice.

Marco and Chet were the last to arrive. They parked further down and walked up to the huddled masses. They looked over and saw the car and five cops with their flashlights out following a trail of what looked like a fine line of mud stretched over the boardwalk. The timbers groaned under the cop’s weight and some planks had gone completely making the journey following the blood trail a bit dicey in areas.

Their progress was slow going. They stopped short of a building about two hundred feet in. It was too dark to see what it used to be from the gates. It looked like it had been partially burnt down. The sixth cop got a radio message from one of the party of five. Everyone’s ears were straining to hear what was coming over the police handi talky. Mike made out the words blood trail and House of Mirrors.

With everyone’s attention focused two hundred feet down the abandoned boardwalk of the Pacific Ocean Park, it came as a bit of a surprise when another car pulled up and Detective Crockett got out and walked up to the sixth cop and demanded to know what was happening. Once briefed he took over the scene as senior cop on site and turned to see who else was huddled further over by the squad and ambulance. His jaw dropped when he made out Hank and Mike from Station 51.

“Hank, would you care to explain to me how you happen to be here?” Crockett demanded.

“We formed a search party and WE found Johnny; never underestimate a wife’s sixth sense.” Hank said. “And before you say anything, we haven’t touched the car or gone exploring. We found the car and then went back and called you from the payphone down the road.” Hank said before Crockett could wrongly accuse them of interfering in a crime scene.

“Just stay outta the way. We don’t know what we might find in there. I will keep you posted.” Crockett said before he went back to the sixth cop and started talking to him.

Everybody watched as the cops separated and fanned out around the building. Two cops went to the left, two to the right and one at the main door. Two cops returned and held a very quiet conversation. The three cops then carefully entered the building with the dimmest setting of one flash light. All three cops had their guns drawn and held out in front.
It was a tense few minutes when suddenly the radio in the cop’s hand crackled to life.

“This is Adam 16, scene secured. Request urgent assistance by the paramedics and ambulance attendants. We have a male and a female down. Gunshot to the male and heavy blood loss from wounds on the female. Both victims are unconscious. Please proceed with care as some boards are unsafe, to the House of Mirrors.”

“10-4. Paramedics are on their way in now.Ambulances will be called. Over.”

All the vehicles turned their lights on hoping to help guide the rescue workers to the site safely without them becoming another victim. It was a tense wait outside for the family of 51. Crockett and the sixth policeman had joined the others inside the Mirror House. Susie wanted to run inside but knew that she wouldn’t be allowed. Jo sensing Susie’s distress, put her arms around her and held her tightly beside her.

Hank came and stood behind Jo and Susie and put his arms around both women. Mike and Marco came up and stood on either side with Chet standing in front of the women. They had effectively made a shield protecting Susie from what could be her and their worst nightmare. It felt like an eternity but finally a body was brought out on a stretcher. Two bags of fluid were being held up high by a cop and an oxygen mask covered the lower portion of the victim’s face.

They were too far away to see who it was. The ambulance attendants were lifting the stretcher over some of the uneven boards. It was a slow procession until they were out on to the asphalt. As they loaded the victim up her blonde hair was visible and a sigh of relief worked its way through the tight group as they realized it wasn’t Johnny but possibly his kidnapper.

A second ambulance had been called but hadn’t arrived yet. In the need to get Johnny to the hospital it was decided to put him on a backboard and carry him out to the asphalt. Then when the ambulance came it would be a quick transfer onto a stretcher and then to hospital. As Johnny was brought out, Susie let out a cry and went to run to her husband. Her friends stood firm and tight around her, protecting her as best they could. A policeman was holding a bag of fluid up, an oxygen mask was settled over Johnny’s mouth and nose. He had a c-collar on, his right leg was in a splint and his head was bandaged. Blood had seeped through the bandage. In the streetlight and headlights of the vehicles his skin had a ghastly glow and sheen to it.

Johnny moaned and went to move his head but found it held in place. He partially opened his eye and seeing stars above him in the night sky and feeling a stronger breeze on his skin he felt he wasn’t in that room anymore. But where was he now, and more importantly where were his tormentors? He struggled against the restraints thinking he had been moved to somewhere else while he was unconscious and trussed up so that he was at their mercies and unable to escape.

His heart was beating wildly; his chest was heaving as his breathing became more frantic. His hands clenched against the restraints and his arms were tensing against the board. His left knee was lifting off the board before the straps stopped his movement. His right leg was sending flares of blinding light and burning pain to his brain. Every nerve and fiber of his being was protesting at this moment in time. He thought of his Susie weeping over his grave. He thought of their short life together and all that they wouldn’t have. He let out a loud call for Susie before the darkness swamped him again.

Susie dropped the blanket from her shoulders and brought her hand up and went to push Chet aside. She felt a restraining hand clamp forcibly down on her shoulder.

"We have to let them do their job, Susie, as much as we want to be by his side right now, we have to give them space to do their job and stabilise Johnny. Hold on a bit longer. OK."

Susie spun round and looked up to Hank, " I wont be in the way. By me staying here it will take longer to stabilise him. You heard his last word. It was my name on a scream. He knows I'm here. He's been tortured enough tonight without me torturing him more by withholding my stabilising presence from him. I wont be long." With that Susie pulled her arm away from Hank's grasp and slid out from the embrace of her friends and went to her husband's side.

Susie knelt by Johnny on the ground and grabbed his left arm and bent towards his ear and whispered that she was here, he was okay now, everything will be alright, it was over and he was safe. Throughout all of her whispered reassurances Johnny never stirred.

Susie got up and went to walk over to Hank but he was already making his way over to her and saw Johnny for the first time since he was put on sick leave from two days prior. The change was dramatic. Bruising had settled on his face and his skin looked pale and clammy. He heard the paramedic giving Johnny’s vitals over the biophone. Hank wasn’t a paramedic but even he knew that a blood pressure of 80 systolic and a pulse of 127 wasn’t good. The continual shivers coursing through his paramedic showed he was more than just cold. Hank guessed that his paramedic was hypothermic and shocky.

He took Susie gently by the shoulders and pulled her back into his embrace. “We need to let them do their job, Susie. We’ve got him now and that’s good; really good news.”

Chapter 19

The ambulance with Johnny in it drove swiftly to Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. The trip was short and for that the following cars driven by the concerned friends and wife of Johnny were eternally grateful. Finding parking spaces wherever they could they rushed into the main entrance and got directed to the emergency room. Susie was first up to the desk and giving her name and enquiring about her husband. They were directed to take a seat and that a doctor would be with them soon.

They sat in nervous anticipation. It was in this environment that a man in his early fifties came in and looked around and sat in a chair away from everybody else. He looked the worse for wear and a strong smell of alcohol wafted from him with every exhale. He had dark circles under his eyes and they were bloodshot. Chet gave the man a hard stare and it wasn’t until Marco jabbed him not so subtly in the ribs that Chet broke his unwavering glare. He turned to Marco and gave a slight nod to get him to go outside the room. When Chet and Marco were safely outside and the door closed to the waiting room. Marco asked why he was staring at that man.

“Don’t you know who he is?” Chet asked his friend.

“Apart from a man that’s been drinking and looks like he hasn’t slept in a year, I’ve no idea who he is.”

“THAT’S Frank Patterson. He must be the father of the chick that caused all this, oh man! How screwed up is this. They must’ve brought her here too. I woulda thought that they’d take her to a padded cell. We should tell Cap, don’t ya think?”

“Dios mio! Are you sure, my friend?”

“Yeah, his picture has been in all the papers, mind you he looks pretty haggard now. He’s had a rough few days I guess.”

“Well, you can’t go in there and talk about him to Cap or the others, he’s bound to find out we are talking about him. I say we just go back inside and pretend we don’t know who he is. He’s going through a lotta pain too, don’t forget. He’s lost his wife and now his daughter has gone loco. That’s a bad bag, man.”

“Yeah, I suppose ya right. We better go back in.”

“How about we get coffee for everybody? It won’t look so suspicious then.”

The two men wandered down the corridor until they located an instant drink machine. The coffees were greatly welcomed and most of the group continued to sit and wait. Chet and Susie were pacing back and forth.

“What could be taking them so long?” Susie was saying.

“We’ll find out soon enough, Susie.” Jo said. “Why don’t you come and sit down and rest for a bit. It’s been a long day.”

The door opened and a doctor that looked just as tired as the occupants in the room, asked for a Mrs. Gage.

“I’m she, please tell me about Johnny. How is he? Is he gonna be okay?”

“He has a pretty bad concussion from a significant head injury. It looks like a bullet has creased his skull right along here.” The doctor ran his finger along his temple on his left side. “He was very lucky as another inch and he wouldn’t be with us. He has a gunshot wound to his right thigh and the x-ray shows it had lodged in his pelvis. There has been a serious amount of blood loss and damage. We are going to have to go in and remove the bullet and repair the damage. Once again he was very lucky as the bullet missed his femoral artery but it did nick his femoral vein and we are replacing the blood loss as we speak. He has several abrasions and some damage to his left eye. He is able to see out of this eye, I don’t believe there will be any long term damage to his sight.”
“In a way we can be thankful for the hypothermia as it helped to decrease the blood loss to a degree. We are slowly warming him up. He is in serious condition but I’m hopeful that he will make a full recovery. His age and level of fitness are other factors in his favor. We will be taking him to the operating room very soon.”

“Oh, he is getting very distressed when he mentions a Chloe and Zoe. Do you know where we can reach them? It might help to settle him down.”

“Chloe was the woman who kidnapped him, and I believe shot him. I don’t know who Zoe is.”

There was an audible gasp from the man sitting in the far corner. “Zoe! Oh, my God. Excuse me, I’m so very sorry for interrupting but I’m Mr. Patterson, my daughter Chloe is the woman in question. I am so very, very, sorry for what has happened to your friend and husband. Please if there is anything I can do, please do not hesitate to ask. I never thought this would happen. I’m still trying to work it out myself.” Mr. Patterson said.

Susie cast her violet eyes at the man now standing in the middle of the room. She looked him up and down and her initial urge to go and hit and yell at him was swayed by the broken man she saw standing in front of her. He looked old and just as stressed and worried as the rest of them. He too was a victim in this. Sure he may not have gunshot wounds but he, like them, was worried just as much as the rest of them.

“There is something you should know though. Zoe died six years ago in a motor vehicle accident. Chloe and Zoe were identical twins. Chloe never accepted her sister’s death. She has fought with mental illness ever since. It would appear that Chloe is having another psychotic break, and given the amount of stress in her life lately it has been too much for her to handle. Her doctor and I thought we had it under control but she gave us the slip yesterday. I am once again truly sorry for what has happened. My late wife and I had thought she was slowly getting better. How wrong could we, er, I be.” Frank Patterson sat down, looking like an empty shell of a man.

He’s no more to blame than Chloe is really, Susie thought. Mental illness wreaked havoc on so many people’s lives. Obviously Chloe was seriously ill and like any parent, you only wanted to protect your child. There was such a stigma attached to mental illness that her heart went out to this man sitting forlornly in front of her. Susie went up to him and rested her hand on his shoulder, waiting. Eventually he raised his head to see who stood in front of him. His tear filled eyes fixed on hers and she quietly told him that she hoped his daughter would be alright in the long run.

“I think I have to accept that she will never be alright. I think Chloe will be spending the rest of her days in a secure psychiatric facility somehow. She is too ill and dangerous to other innocent people to have on the streets as they say.” He gave a small smile and the tears that had been threatening to fall slowly cascaded down his cheeks and dropped to the floor.

“I’m so sorry for all your losses.” Susie said before she turned to the doctor and asked if she could see her husband now.

“Yes, just try not to upset him, he’s still very weak and we need to keep him calm.”

Susie looked at Hank and Jo and invited them to join her. The trio and the doctor left the room to go see Johnny. A nurse looked up to see who had entered the room. She was taking Johnny’s recordings. Susie noted that Johnny still looked pale. A heating blanket was on top of the sheet covering his body, trying to warm him up and resolve the hypothermia. A unit of blood was dripping into his arm and a liter of saline ran into the other. The oxygen mask misted over as his chest fell. His breathing was a welcoming sight. Susie had feared that she would never see his chest rising and falling ever again at one stage of this traumatic day.

The machine attached to him gave out his pulse via the heart monitor. The nurse was writing down his latest recordings on his chart. The doctor asked what they were and she relayed them to him. His blood pressure was slowly rising at 91/58 and his pulse was slowly coming back down to normal at 103. His temperature was 94.9 Fahrenheit.
His face had been cleaned and new butterfly bandages were reapplied to the scratches on his face. A new eye patch was also over his left eye. His clothes sat beside the exam table. They had been cut off him and Susie saw the blood that had soaked his jeans and shirt from the gunshots. A catheter bag was attached to the side of the table and was collecting concentrated urine. On the lightbox on the wall sat Johnny’s x-ray showing the bullet lodged in his pelvis.

Susie took a shuddering breath and approached Johnny’s side and grasped his hand, mindful of the IV site. She bent down and brushing his dark hair from his forehead she kissed him and then whispered his name into his ear. He responded by slowly opening his eye and one soft chocolate brown eye swept over to her and then focused as he became more alert. He gave a lazy lopsided smile back and gripped her hand. His voice croaked as he called out her name. His mouth was dry and his tongue came out to moisten his lips behind the mask. It made no difference. The high flow oxygen had dried out his airway passages and he wasn’t allowed any water.

“Shhh, don’t try to speak. It’s over Johnny, it’s all over and you’re gonna be fine. They’re gonna take you up to surgery soon but we will all be waiting. Everybody’s here. Don’t you worry any. Roy’s fine. He has a slight concussion and should be out tomorrow or the next day. You just focus on yourself.” Susie said quietly while stroking his hand and resting her other hand on his forehead. She felt the coolness that was his skin and looked to make sure the heating blanket was on and covering his body still.

Hank and Jo went to the other side and Jo took his other hand, Johnny turned his head and as his drug hazed eye settled and focused on his friends on his other side his smile remained as his eye slid into peaceful slumber.

The door to the room opened and two orderlies came in with an OR trolley. Johnny didn’t stir as they banged their way in to take him up to surgery. Susie, Jo and Hank left the room so they could do their job. They stood outside and found their friends outside waiting for them in the corridor. A doctor entered the waiting room to get Mr. Patterson as he could see his daughter before she too went up to the OR.

As Johnny was being wheeled out, Mr. Patterson saw his daughter’s victim for the first time and the state he was in. He didn’t know that his facial injuries were mainly from Johnny’s line of work. He saw the friends move to allow the gurney to make its way to the elevators. He heard Johnny’s friends call out words of encouragement and saw the looks of shock on their faces as they saw Johnny for the first time since his daughter had kidnapped him. Mr. Patterson felt sick to his stomach that his daughter had done this and wanted nothing more than for the ground to open up and swallow him at this point of time.

Chapter 20

The doctor led Mr. Patterson into the examination room where his daughter lay handcuffed to the gurney. Frank Patterson was surprised to see his daughter in this predicament. A black policeman stood back from the gurney and was guarding his daughter. He then realized his daughter was under arrest.

Detective Crockett had phoned him later that evening informing him that he had important news regarding his daughter and would be at his house in twenty minutes. Frank had quickly down a couple of cups of coffee and waited for the Detective to turn up. He sat watching the monitor and buzzed him straight through when he approached the gates.
Detective Crockett wasted no time bringing Mr. Patterson up to date on his daughter. Frank Patterson was appalled at the extent of Chloe’s nefarious actions and as he listened to Detective Crockett reveal all that had happened, he knew his baby was lost to him. He thanked the Detective for his prompt and discreet work and then accompanied him into the unmarked police car where Crockett drove him to the hospital where his daughter was being treated.

Now he was listening to the surgeon rattle off on his daughter’s injuries. She needed to have extensive and delicate work done to return function back to her right hand. The surgeon was saying something about the tendons having retracted up into her wrist or forearm when severed, a bit like a stretched rubber band recoiling back on itself when the tension was released. He was also going to close up the cuts on her right arm, thigh and back. Her right arm was bandaged as was her thigh from where she had self-harmed earlier that evening. She was slightly propped onto her side and a large pressure dressing was over her back where blood was seeping out in several places.

She looked at her father and called out for him to take them home. Her head swiveled between her father on one side and to the same point on the other side of the gurney.
“Daddy, I don’t like it here. I can’t move my arms.” To stress the point, Chloe tried to move her arms but the side rails and soft restraint on her right arm and handcuffs on the left impaired any movement. “Please take us home, daddy,” she whined.

“Daddy will take you home in a few days, darling. Right now you have to go to surgery and get the damaged nerves and tendons repaired in your hand. The doctors also need to stitch up all your cuts, sweetheart. I’ll be here when you come out of the OR, OK?” Frank Patterson bent over the railings and kissed his daughter, her skin was cool to the touch and he saw a heating blanket was covering her body. The IV fluid bags were just about empty and a bag of blood was now being hung up to go next through his daughters IV line.
The father gave consent for the operation, and soon she too was being wheeled up to the OR. The father watched the elevator take his daughter away and he went to the payphones by the front doors and phoned his friend, Jack Williams, his lawyer to inform him of what had happened and requested he come to Providence Saint John’s Health Center as soon as he could with several waivers.

The father had damage control to do. Given the extent of the injuries to the young man now in the OR, and his friend in the other hospital it was going to be an expensive night. He didn’t care though as he would do anything to protect his beloved daughter. He went upstairs and located the OR family waiting room. He opened the door to see familiar faces look up to see who entered. He was met with stares from the man’s wife and friends. They were all still there. It was close to 1.30 in the morning and judging by the coffee cups they too were feeling the effects of the day. He walked in and took a chair away from everybody. It was Susie that asked how his daughter was doing and how was he holding up. She invited him to come sit with them but he politely declined. He was very impressed with the compassion this young woman with the striking violet eyes and skin that looked like smooth cream colored silk showed towards him and his daughter. She appeared to be genuinely concerned.

It was a long wait for both families. Chet fell asleep, then Marco and Mike. Hank sat propping up Jo who had fallen against him when she couldn’t keep her eyes open anymore. She had been up since forever with the children to get them to the commercial shoot. It all seemed like a very long time ago she thought as she finally nodded off. Hank looked over at Susie and she returned the look. Both were looking tired and were fighting back the yawns.

Susie whispered to Hank that he might as well join the others and get whatever sleep he could as she would wake him when there was any news. Much as Hank didn’t want to, he too eventually fell asleep, leaving only Susie and Frank Patterson awake in the room. She stood up to get another coffee and offered to get one for Mr. Patterson. He accepted and soon both were sipping machine dispensed coffee. It was hot and brown but apart from that any semblance to coffee ended there. Having drunk there disappointing coffee, Frank enquired what it was that her husband did as he hadn’t worked out how his daughter had met her husband.

“He’s a paramedic firefighter out of Station 51 in Carson. I believe he assisted your daughter when she was knocked off her bike a few weeks ago.”

Recollection showed on Mr. Patterson’s face. Then another realization thundered into his head and he paled and shook with shock as he asked if it was their station that had responded to his wife’s emergency call as he knew it was a station from Carson as he had phoned the operator back when no squad had arrived after ten minutes from his first call and had been informed that the nearest squad was already dispatched but was coming from Carson.

When Susie confirmed that it was indeed her husband and his partner that had arrived that fateful night she remembered what Johnny had told her about the level of grief and heartbreak this man had portrayed on the bed that night. Susie went up to him and hugged him and relayed her deepest condolences to the man. They stood hugging each other for a long time.

“I can’t imagine the pain you must have gone through and no doubt still are going through. I don’t know how I’d be if it was my Johnny that was gone. I thought I was going to be a widow after only a few weeks of marriage. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to burden you. You have been through so much pain this last week. Please accept my apology.”

“I’ll accept yours if you accept mine for the heartache and stress my family have brought on you and your husband, and his friends. They look like they care very much for your husband.”

“They’re all very close. They have to be as their lives depend on each other. But the friendship at 51’s goes further than that. It’s more like a family. When one is hurt they all hurt in their own way from what I can make out. Jo, that’s the lady sleeping against the Captain’s shoulder is the wife to my husband’s paramedic partner. He’s in Rampart with a concussion from when your daughter … oh, I’m sorry. You don’t need to hear that. You have enough on your plate.”

“It’s okay, really. I’ve been informed by Detective Crockett about what happened today, well as much as he knew really. Can you tell me what you know and please don’t spare me the details. I’m a big boy now and can handle the truth. It will help me decide what I need to do to help my daughter!”

Susie told Frank, all that she knew, as related to her by Jo and Roy. She left nothing out, including the blood trail in her friend’s house and the use of the wheelbarrow.
He told her about the drugging of the housekeeper and how she had stolen her car. “That’s how we found her. Jo’s neighbor saw the car and got the license plate and make. We formed search party teams of two and went out last night looking for the car. It was actually Hank and I that found it and called the emergency services. It was the longest wait of my life knowing or hoping at least that Johnny was in the amusement park somewhere and was hurt. I don’t ever want to live through something like that again. It was agony.”

Frank Patterson reached over had held Susie’s clenched fists and gave them a squeeze. “Thank you for sharing that with me. I know it couldn’t have been easy. You have helped me make a decision about my daughter. She is too sick to stand trial. No doubt charges will be laid, if they haven’t been already and the judge or defense lawyer will request a psych evaluation. I can tell you now she will fail it. She’s very sick, and has been for a long time. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Jacobs, has been working with her for years ever since Zoe died, and he has diagnosed her as a paranoid schizophrenic. She suffers from delusions and gets very angry when we try to enforce reality on her that doesn’t match her ‘reality’. It’s all very tiring. My wife tried so hard to help her.”
“Chloe has tried to kill herself in the past and that’s one thing I don’t understand, Ida, my late wife, was a staunch Catholic. She was always so angry when Chloe tried to commit suicide, she used to tell her that she would go to purgatory and never get into Heaven to see her sister, and then Ida goes and commits suicide. With her religious beliefs she has denied herself eternal happiness and being reunited with our daughter. Try as I might, I can’t get my head around that.”

Seeing the man’s struggle with not only his grief but his belief that his wife was in purgatory, Susie took his hand and returned the support he had given her moments ago.
“I believe that we all go to Heaven, not sure about Hitler and the like, but as for your wife and daughter, I think they are reunited in Heaven. A loving God wouldn’t punish his child when they were suffering enough to take their own life. The God I believe in is all about forgiveness and loving one another. He would not turn his back on one of his children that desperately needed him, and suicides are desperate children of his flock, don’t you think?”

Mr. Patterson burst into tears and his harsh bitter sobs shattered the quietness of the small OR waiting room. Several people woke up and seeing who was crying and Susie comforting him decided to give the man some privacy and what was left of his dignity. They pretended to still be asleep and eventually most of them did go back to sleep.
Susie suggested they both go for a walk, thereby affording him some privacy and a shoulder to cry on. She knew about grief, having lost her whole family when she was nine.
Susie rummaged around in her handbag and produced a pen and used the back of the utility bill envelope to write a quick note saying that they had stepped out for some fresh air. She saw Hank close his eyes as she got up from her chair and knew that he was awake and had heard her offer to the distraught man that was struggling to control his sobbing. The door closed gently behind them. Chet propped himself up and looked at Hank who didn’t have to pretend anymore to be asleep now that the man had left the room.

“Man, she’s one great chick. Who would’ve thought she could be so compassionate to the perp’s father. I dunno if I could be.” Chet said to Hank.

“You gotta hand it to her, she’s a very caring and understanding woman. There’s not many women out there like that. I only know of five. My wife, Emily’s mother, my mother, Jo here and Susie. You can’t go wrong if you get yourself a woman like that Chet. When you find one, don’t let her go.” Hank glanced down at Jo and his arm tightened around her narrow frame.

“Yeah, Nellie’s like that. She’s a great chick too.” Chet smiled as he thought of his girlfriend. He had been going out with her for several months now and he was thinking about asking her to move in with him. Not only were they well suited but they had a lot of things in common and a lot of fun doing those things together. They had met each other’s parents and it seemed they had passed muster. The only fly in the ointment was Nellie wasn’t keen to be known as Nellie Kelly on the one occasion they had talked about marriage. She was very keen to keep using her maiden name if they got married she told him. He suggested they hyphenate their names should they get married as Nellie Kenworth-Kelly sounded like a strong name. Nellie had just smiled and no more was said. Chet thought he might just mention it again as he was pretty sure he might have just found his Miss Right.

“Any word on Gage yet.” Chet asked as he sat up and looked at his watch.

“It’s too soon, I think. He’s only been in there for an hour or so. It gonna be a long night. Thank God we’re not working today.” Hank said as Chet gave out a big yawn, showing off his tonsils, and a stretch. The door opened and a tall, thin man with sharp green eyes, wearing jeans, a lightweight sweater and loafers entered. He looked around and not seeing who he was looking for left the room. The initials J.A.W embossed on his black leather briefcase caught the attention of Chet.

“That was odd.” He said as he stood up to get a cup of water from the cooler. “Wonder what that was all about?”

Hank just shrugged his shoulders, causing Jo to murmur something about Roy and then followed it with a soft snore. The man came back into the room and sat down. He crossed his legs and smiled at the two men who were awake. His briefcase tucked in beside his chair.

Frank Patterson returned with Susie walking beside him. They entered the waiting room and Jack seeing his friend stood up and called out his name and hugged his friend to his chest as he got nearer. Frank introduced him to Susie and then excused himself from the room with his lawyer following. They found a quiet alcove further down from the waiting room and talked in hushed tones.

Jack opened his briefcase and the two men reviewed several clauses and agreed on a figure that they thought would be judiciously proportionate to the pain and suffering and loss of income and emotional pain for the two paramedics and their wives. They also had waiver forms for everyone in the waiting room and cash checks were made out to each friend to acknowledge their pain and suffering as witnessed by Frank yesterday evening and today.

The two men went back into the OR waiting room and approached Hank and Susie. Frank introduced his friend to Hank and suggested that it might be a good idea if everybody was awake as there was a matter that needed to be addressed and it concerned everyone here. One by one the room’s occupants that were still sleeping were awakened and their first words were various comments about Johnny’s welfare. When their attention had been garnered and they were all focused on the two men standing in front of them, Frank Patterson introduced his friend to the collective audience. Jack took over the floor and explained why he was there.

“It is my understanding that as civil servants you are bound by not only a confidentiality clause in your contract but by your honor code. I’m asking you to not break that contract or code as there would be a lot of people in the media who would be very interested in what has transpired here in the last 24 hours.” Jack said, he was about to continue when Hank stepped in.

“Gentlemen, we are, as you say, civil servants and employed by the state of California. We are bound by our employment contract to not reveal anything of what we see to the media at any time. If you are intimating what I think you are, we do not need to sign a contract to satisfy your celebrity client’s right to privacy and silence on our part. We have our own code of conduct which stipulates the ban of going to the media regarding rescues and any victims we come across in the line of our work. I understand that your life is lived trying to avoid the paparazzi and telephoto lenses but I can assure you that not one of my men would risk losing his job and respect from his fellow brotherhood by going to the media.” Hank was standing ramrod straight and his neck veins were bulging, a sure sign to those that knew him well, that he was angry at what he saw as a slur of his men and the department.

“Please, I did not mean to insult you but merely confirm what I already knew. The lawyer in me can never assume anything. However, Mr. Patterson has recognized that you have all suffered emotional pain and suffering as two of your family lie injured, to put it bluntly through the hands of his mentally ill daughter. It is his wish to address this pain and suffering with monetary compensation. Please before you say anything, we are aware that as government employees you are not allowed to receive money for what is perceived as ‘just doing your job’. Are we correct in that code of conduct and employment clause also?” Jack Williams asked Hank.

Hank and the rest of the men silently nodded their heads. Jack pulled out of his briefcase several envelopes. “This is not a bribe, I think we have already established you are honor and contractually bound to say nothing of these events to the media. These checks are to acknowledge that your pain and suffering has been witnessed by my client and he wishes to help you financially should you need counselling in the future. We feel that as this pain and suffering happened out of working hours and the injuries received to your family are not work related that you are all entitled to pecuniary compensation. If you choose to take the money then we need you to sign a waiver form from seeking further pecuniary damages from my client for emotional pain and suffering. We believe that the amount on the checks are a true representation of your entitlement. We will let you talk about this in private. When you have reached a decision please let me know. My client and I will be just outside.” The two men then left the shocked occupants in the room to discuss the offer.

Chet was the first one to break the silence. “I say we go for it. The guy is talking sense. We can’t take it to court, we can’t blab it to the papers or TV and make money out of it, and let’s face it, we’ve all been affected by what’s happened to Johnny and Roy. Whaddya think guys?”

Cap spoke up next. “I dunno men, we may need to run this pass headquarters. It could be deemed a bribe and accepting money from a victim’s family for just doing our job. I would need to talk to them and find out their stance on this.”

“I can tell ya now what their stance will be, it will be a big fat NO!” Chet told his friends.

The rest of the men, even Jo and Susie, nodded their heads in agreement. It was Jo who helped decide matters for everyone. “I agree with the lawyer and Mr. Patterson. It has been a nightmare for everyone and two of our family lie injured. We are still waiting to hear about Johnny. I know my Roy is going to be okay, but there was a period when I didn’t know. That was a painful and worrying time. The injuries they received were in their own private time and not during work doing a rescue. They weren’t on a call out, heck they were in a private house. I for one will have no compunctions taking the money. For one thing I’ve got two traumatized children that saw their daddy unconscious and bleeding. I’ve also got to get a new carpet as there’s blood from one end of the house to the other.”
“I really don’t see what your dilemma is. Your work contract only forbids you accepting monetary reward from thankful clients for rescuing them. Today the people needing rescuing were our own. Nobody else. We could if we wanted to, bring a lawsuit of such magnitude to Mr. Patterson and his daughter that it would make headline news throughout the state, let alone all of USA. He knew of her illness and didn’t protect the public sufficiently from it. He has admitted it to us in no uncertain terms earlier tonight. I don’t think you even need to go to headquarters about it as this is a private matter between an honorable man trying to do what is right for the victims of his mentally ill daughter’s actions. By turning it down, you are insulting his honor.”

“I agree with Jo.” Said Chet, Mike and Marco were also nodding their heads.

“Susie, what do you think. After all you and Johnny are the ones who have suffered the most. You also know the man a bit more than we do. You had that private walk earlier. What do you think we should do?” Hank asked.

Susie got up and started pacing the room. “Part of me says no, don’t take the money. These things happen and it’s only because he is wealthy that we are even having this conversation. If he wasn’t so financially secure would we even be thinking of suing him and destroying his life with lawsuits and going for damages. I don’t think so. That is not the type of people we are, as individuals or as a family.”
“However, Jo has made some valid points and yes he is an honorable man. I also get the impression that this is how he’s handled situations like this before. If we accept the offer it does not lessen us or our character, and it does not lessen him. I think we need to accept the money, sign the agreement that we won’t go for more and put this behind us. He needs closure on this and so many other things which we can’t bring about for him, but we can on this. You can’t tell me that you haven’t been going through your own version of emotional pain and suffering since you got the phone call about Roy and Johnny. It’s plain to see that you are all as much victims as Roy and Johnny, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. I, like Jo, will accept the money and help to give him some peace of mind and closure.”

Susie sat down and looked over at Jo and saw her nod her head in acceptance. Both women than looked over to Hank, along with the rest of the men.

“Is this how you all feel?” Hank asked. Every head nodded in the room. “Do we inform HQ?” Hank asked of his men. Murmurings and mumbles went back and forth and the general consensus was that no, they wouldn’t, it was a private affair and not work related. “I’ll go find them then.” Hank said as he got off the couch and went for the door.

“How much do you think we are gonna get?” Chet asked.

“I dunno. A couple of thousand maybe, five at the most.” Marco ventured.

Mike thought about five thousand too and Chet rubbed his hands together with what he could do with five thousand. Man what a wedding that would be. Where did that come from? Chet thought. Before he could answer himself the door opened and the three men walked back in.

Using the coffee table in the corner of the room, cups and magazines were cleared away and the lawyer opened his briefcase and removed the waiver agreement contracts. He told them their rights as if they were his clients and answered their questions. When all was done and everybody was on the same page. He got each one to sign the form and then gave them a sealed envelope. Jo was the second to last. Frank Patterson personally handed the check to Jo and apologized for his daughter’s actions again before Jo took him in his arms and hugged him. She, like Susie, saw the brokenhearted father and widower standing before her trying to get through this while trying to hold onto his dignity and protect his privacy.

Susie was the last one to sign the waiver and receive a check. She hugged Frank and reminded him of the standing invitation she had extended to him to go out horseback riding on their ranch. He promised that sometime in the future when things had settled down he would come out and take her up on that offer. They had talked about all sorts of things in that private walk they had had earlier. He had asked a lot of questions about her and her husband.

The lawyer sat next to his friend in the small waiting room. The family of 51 sat back in their chairs and out of politeness chose not to look at the checks. They had no idea how much they had just received and secretly all of them were eager to know, but societal norms stopped them from tearing open the envelopes and finding out in front of the man whose money it was.

Chet excused himself to go to the washroom. In reality he didn’t need to go but his curiosity was more than he could handle. Marco clicked on to what Chet had worked out and he too excused himself to go to the washroom. Then Mike got up and finally Hank. Loud whoops of joy echoed down the corridor. Susie and Jo could make out Chet’s cheer, then Marco yelling in Spanish and even Mike and Hank added to the cacophony coming from the men’s washroom.

Mr. Williams and Frank Patterson looked at each other and smiled. They had had a secret bet to see how long it would be before curiosity won out and who would give in first. Frank won the bet for the time but neither man got the person right. Frank had gone for the Captain and Jack had picked the Latino man whose eyes had taken everything in and had missed nothing.

Susie and Jo didn’t know what to do as it was obvious what was going on in the washroom. Just how much was on these checks? Frank as if reading the unease of the women, leaned over in his chair and quietly told them that although the checks for the men were generous indeed they paled in comparison to what theirs were. He then intimated that there was a slight difference between their two checks due to the injuries and suffering and protracted torment that Mr. Gage had been through at the hands of his daughter. The discrepancy was not a slight on the injuries sustained by Mr. De Soto by his daughter but a reflection to the less serious nature of the injuries and the length of time that he had been subjected to his daughter. Both women nodded their heads in understanding.

“We would recommend that you drop a decimal point if your friends ask how much you received.” Frank saw their mouths drop when the significance of his last comment registered home. Susie hands started to shake as she realized her handbag held a check for what she thought might be $100,000.00 dollars. If the guys had got $5,000.00 than she could quite happily tell them that they had received $10,000.00 dollars. Jo was thinking the same thing. Both women paled at the thought of so much money. They looked at each other and mouthed the words one hundred thousand dollars. They sat back in their chairs feeling excited and overawed at the same time. Their hands instinctively tightened over their handbags.

Hank had wanted to tell HQ when he saw the size of the check but he was talked out of it by all the men. When they men came back into the room, their faces were bright and very animated. They tried to act cool and calm but their effect was blown when Chet went up to the two men and vigorously shook their hands, thanking them profusely. Marco was next, then Cap and finally Mike. The men sat back down and the quietness of the room descended once again as all, but two men from Bel Air, pondered what they could do with the money.

It was another hour and a half before the door opened and Chloe’s surgeon entered the room. He asked for Mr. Patterson and he and his friend got up and left the room. Talking could be heard from the corridor getting fainter and fainter as they walked to the recovery room.

“Man, can you believe the amounts on those checks?” Chet said as soon as the coast was clear.

“Ay, caramba!! I just can’t believe it. Dios Mio!” Marco pulled out the check again and was looking at it as if the numbers would fade away. He muttered quietly to himself in Spanish and replaced the check into his wallet and looking up to the ceiling he offered a prayer of thanks for the check and one of healing and protection for his two friends.
Jo was dying to see the words one hundred thousand dollars written on her check. She excused herself and went to the ladies room where she legitimately went to the toilet while opening the check. What she saw would have made her wet her pants with the shock alone. Her heart was doing pitter patters in her chest and she felt her face redden as she realized just what this check could do for her family. New carpet was on the agenda. Never in her wildest dreams did she ever, ever think that something like this could happen to her and Roy. It was like winning the state lottery.

She made her way back into the waiting room and signaled for Susie to get her handbag and come back to the washroom with her. She instructed Susie to go to the toilet as she would wet her pants if she didn’t when she looked at her check. Susie looked at her friend and humored her.

“Jo, don’t you think this is a bit over the top, we both know our checks are for a hundred thousand.”

“Just do it, remember you got more than us so be prepared ok?”

Susie did as she was asked and Jo heard a loud gasp and then a cough followed by silence. The toilet flushed and a stall door opened and a very pale Susie came out holding the check in her trembling hand.

“It’s… it’s… have you seen…. Oh my God!... I can’t believe it. It’s for two million dollars. Two Million Dollars… TWO MILLION DOLLARS!!! Can you believe that. What…. What was yours for?” Susie asked her friend.

“One million dollars, ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!, there we were mouthing the words one hundred thousand cause we thought the guys got five thousand and we were holding checks making us millionaires. Oh, I’m gonna be sick.” Jo rushed to the stall and promptly threw up. The reality of it hit her again as she realized they were millionaires.

“Oh, Jo. This, this is so unreal.” Susie said as she handed her friend a wet paper towel and helped her up from kneeling in front of the toilet. “Wait till our husbands find out. I hope they won’t be angry. I thought, like the guys, that it would only be a couple of thousand, ten at the most. This is so much more than that and it somehow seems so vulgar. I feel like we are profiteering from this man’s pain.”

Jo looked at Susie and agreed. “We can always donate to the firemen’s widows and children fund. How about we see what our husbands say first when we tell them. Speaking of which maybe we should be getting back in case there’s any word.” The two friends walked back slowly to the waiting room. The men looked up and shared a knowing smile. They knew what had happened in the washroom. They had all done it now. The women were just hoping that there expressions of surprise and saying the amounts aloud hadn’t traveled into the waiting room. Jo wondered to herself, if they had been told to drop a decimal point, then could that mean that the guys had received fifty thousand?

It was Chet that answered Jo’s query. “So did you bag fifty thou as well?”

“Chet, have some decorum. It’s not polite to ask how much people got. I would imagine that they got more than that considering their husbands are injured. If they want to share the figure with us I suggest they will do so after telling their husbands first don’t you?” Cap told Chet and his men, thereby taking the stress off the women to answer Chet’s probing.

“Thank you Hank. I couldn’t have put it better myself.” Susie said.

"Er, yeah, Sorry 'bout that." Chet mumbled looking a bit embarrassed at his social faux pas.

"That's alright. No hard feelings." Susie added on with her hand outstretched.There was something she wanted to tell him personally and this offered the perfect opportunity.
Chet stood up to shake her hand when Susie pulled him into a hug. She whispered into his ear so that only he could hear, “By the way Nellie thinks that Kenworth-Kelly has a lovely sound to it.” Chet blushed and Susie released him and both sat back down again and waited for word on Johnny. It was another hour before Johnny’s surgeon walked through the door and asked for Mrs. Gage.

Chapter 21

Johnny had a miserable recovery. He was pale with an inner green tinge. He had woken up and promptly started throwing up and it hadn’t stopped. It was partly his Indian heritage to blame and just a combination of the drugs mucking around his system. Having gone through every anti-emetic drug that he could safely have, a nasogastric tube was inserted and green bile flowed freely down the tube. It wouldn’t be for another day before Johnny lost that green tinge that didn’t do a thing for him. He was in too much pain and nausea and his concussion contributed to him not being up to too much on day one post op. Day two he was more alert, still in pain but the nausea was finally abating. His blood results showed he was anemic and he was having a blood transfusion. He kept falling asleep and had yet to be told about the check and Chloe and Zoe.

Susie had managed to get emergency leave from work and her colleagues were covering her appointments. She was sitting beside Johnny’s bed holding his hand. Johnny was sleeping lightly. Sleep was the best thing for him right now. He was still getting oxygen but with a nasal cannula and not a mask. The doctor had explained that hopefully once his iron levels increased, the oxygen would be stopped. The only set back had been a post op fever and that was being treated with IV antibiotics. The drain in his wound was slowing down and looked like it might be removed tomorrow. Even though an occasional groan or whimper came out when he went to move his leg, it had been given favorable reports by his surgeon for a complete recovery and return to full function with some intense physical therapy.

Susie’s daydreams were interrupted by a knock on the door. She looked up to find Mr. Patterson standing in the doorway. “May I come in?” He enquired as he poked his head through the door.

“Mr. Patterson, please do.” Susie stood up and went to shake his hand. Pulling another chair over to hers they sat down and Mr. Patterson got his first close up look of the man that his daughter had tried to kill.

“Oh my, I remember your husband. He was very kind to me the night my Ida died. I remember him letting me hold my wife when he could have so easily taken her away from me. He was the one that wiped the vomit off her face.” His voice broke on the memory and silent tears made their way down his face.

“How are you doing? How’s Chloe?” Susie asked but the answer was delayed as Johnny chose that moment to open his right eye, he was still wearing the eye patch over his left eye.
He saw his beautiful wife sitting by his bed and then a man that he didn’t recognize at first. His forehead scrunched up in concentration as he tried to place him.

“Johnny. How are you feeling, sweetheart? This is Mr. Patterson, Chloe’s father.” Susie said.

Recognition removed his furrowed brows. “Chloe and Zoe. How are they? Chloe, she ….” Susie got up and brought a glass of water over to Johnny. He gratefully swallowed it, hoping to moisten his mouth and help his croaky voice. A moment later the water was coming back up the nasogastric tube. “Sorry, did Zoe get help for Chloe. She hurt her hand. She said she was going to get help before she shot me. How are they, are they going to be okay?” Johnny asked their father.

“Johnny there’s somethings you need to know.” Susie started to say but Frank interrupted.

“Please, let me tell him. Mr. Gage, firstly let me apologize for what has happened to you. I can’t express enough how deeply sorry I am that this occurred to you and your friend. I went to see him yesterday. You have a very good partner there, he spoke very highly of you, but I digress. The truth of the matter is that Zoe was my daughter. She was born twenty minutes after Chloe, 23 years ago. On their seventeenth birthday they got a car each. Zoe died on her seventeenth birthday when the car she was driving lost control and she died instantly as it went over a ravine and burst into flames. Chloe was following in her car and saw it happen. We lost both our daughters that day. Zoe to a car accident, and Chloe to mental illness.”
“She didn’t handle the death well and took up self-harming and tried to commit suicide several times. She has been hospitalized and received electro convulsive shock therapy, and so many different anti-psychotic drugs that a zombie used to sit at the dinner table drooling into her soup.” Frank Patterson shivered as he remembered those dark days. “Finally we found a psychiatrist that made a connection with Chloe and appeared to get through to the fantasy world she lived in. Chloe got better for a while then she went to university to study psychology and had a nervous breakdown. Zoe was back in her life again and a diagnosis of schizophrenia with paranoia tendencies was mentioned for the first time. Ever since then it has been a roller coaster ride between being an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital and taking her to her psychiatric outpatient appointments.”
“We, that’s her late mother and I, thought she was getting better. When she was having outpatient appointments it was to keep her on an even keel. It meant she was doing well and all this time she was plotting ways to destroy you. She wrote it all down in her diary. Did you ever get your car tires slashed and your beds at the station stripped and your belongings in the lockers thrown around. That was Chloe, she wrote it all in the diary.”

Johnny’s mouth opened as he remembered that event and how they had put it down to kids, well he and all the guys had apart from Roy. Try as he might he couldn’t remember what Roy thought back then. His concussion was making retrieving memories a little bit hard, like trying to drive through fog at night with your high beams on.

“She had intended to kill you. She would’ve succeeded too if it hadn’t been for your wife and Captain finding you. I am truly sorry, Mr. Gage. Chloe won’t be going to trial for what she did to you and your friend. She has no concept of reality as we know it. A psychiatrist has already ordered her to be committed to a psychiatric hospital, it looks like it will be a permanent home for her. That’s one of the perks of having money, getting your daughter put away for the rest of her life, as she can’t be in the world that you and I share. Do you know that she is one of the richest women in the world and she can’t even buy herself an ice cream” He gave a bitter laugh.
“I suppose one good thing about all this is that she can’t hurt anyone else anymore, including herself. The surgical repair was a limited success. She has minimal use of her right hand and her left arm is weak from multiple cuts and tendon repairs.”
“I’m sorry to have burdened you with my worries but you deserve to know why this happened. Your wife has told me of your plans for the ranch. I hope that they come to fruition for you one day. The money should help, I trust. In the meantime, if the offer still stands to let an old son from Kentucky go horseback riding, I’d be honored.” Frank saw the look of confusion on Johnny’s face.
“I think I should go now. It looks like you have a lot to take on board. Here’s my business card. My personal phone number is on the back. Take care Mr. Gage and get well soon. I would say it was a pleasure to meet you but maybe another time when we have got over this. Your wife is an exceptional woman. My Ida was like that. Don’t ever take it for granted, like I did. It’s been one of my biggest regrets. I’ll see myself out. They are taking Chloe to the psychiatric hospital today. She’s going to be in their secure wing. I’m going up to see her now before they transfer her out. Thank you for letting me talk to you. Have a good day to you both.” Frank Patterson then got up and left the room.

“What’s he talking about? What money? And Zoe really didn’t exist at all, she’s really dead?” Johnny asked.

Susie sat there and explained everything to Johnny ending with Mr. Patterson’s monetary offer and then she got the check out of her bag and showed it to him. “Jo and Roy got a check too, theirs is for one million dollars. Jo told Roy yesterday and they are going to the bank today. All the guys have already banked theirs. They got fifty thousand. Jo and Roy know we got two million, but the guys don’t. I’m pretty sure Hank knows we got a lot more than fifty thousand. We don’t have to bank it if you don’t want to but it helped Mr. Patterson get closure. What do you want to do about it?”

She handed Johnny the check and he looked at the two and all the zeros after it. “It’s really real isn’t it?”

“Yep, it’s really real. We could use it for the ranch. Our ten year plan would now be a one year plan. We could even have children earlier now if we wanted.”

“If I turn it down, would you hate me and if I accept it would you think less of me?” Johnny asked his Susie.

“I could never hate you or think less of you. Whatever we do, we do it together. Right now it lives in my handbag until I get home then I’ll put it in the safe until we know what we are gonna do with it, okay?”

“Okay.”

Johnny eyes were starting to drop and Susie stroked his hair away from his forehead while she gentled him to sleep. When he was snoring softly and his left arm up over his bad eye in his favored position, Susie left the room to phone Jo to check up on Roy. Next time Johnny awoke she could give him an update.

Johnny had expressed earlier about wanting to transfer to Rampart as he was on the other side of town and it was a long trek for his friends to come and visit. Susie had spoken to Johnny’s surgeon about this and he was going to contact his counterpart at Rampart. Susie saw Johnny’s vascular surgeon coming towards her in the corridor. He was smiling at her and when he caught up to her he informed her that Johnny had been accepted by his colleague at Rampart and that a Dr. Kel Brackett was coming over in the ambulance later today at the end of his shift to personally escort her husband to the other hospital.

Later that evening a knock on the door announced the arrival of one Kel Brackett. “Well you really know how to get yourself in a pickle, don’t you? You’re not safe to leave alone for one minute. How are you feeling my friend?”

“I feel fine, completely fine. Even better when I get to Rampart. Where’s the orderlies?”

“They will be here soon. Just hold your horses.” Kel then went up and examined Johnny’s surgical wound and checked his circulation of his foot. I requested that you get given some pain relief before we set off to help with any bumps in the road. Your surgeon is charting it and then once that’s on board we will look at getting you over to Rampart.”

The nurse came in a short time later, and injected some analgesia and a touch of diazepam into Johnny’s IV port. He felt the coolness as it entered and then the cold saline flush as it raced up his arm. Soon he was in la la land. As he was transferred onto the stretcher and wheeled out to the ambulance bay his eyes slowly closed and didn’t open again until he had been in Rampart Hospital for four hours. Susie was still beside his bed and looking more tired than Johnny.

“Go Home, honey. Better yet, go and stay at Jo and Roy’s. It’s a shorter drive and they would love to see you. I’m just gonna sleep the night away and I’d sleep better knowing that you are tucked up as well. Go give ‘em a call, then come back and I’ll give ya a goodnight kiss.” Johnny said around a large yawn.

The next day Roy, Jo and Susie entered Johnny’s room together. Roy and Johnny gave each other a quick once over to see how badly they were hurt. Satisfied that each was going to make it, the conversation quickly went to Johnny’s nightmarish time as a hostage. “I could’ve sworn there were two of ‘em. But then again I was having real trouble focusing and the mirrors made it look as if there were thirty of me. I spent most of my time either unconscious or pretending to be unconscious as the dizziness and warped reflections did my head in.”
“I met her father yesterday. He’s a very nice man. I felt sorry for him. He’s lost everything. His wife and daughters. I’m glad it’s not going to trial I wouldn’t want to be involved in anything so public. I just hope Chloe gets the help that she needs. Some people have a hard road in life, and hers ain’t gonna be easy.” Johnny was gingerly moving on to his side to relieve the pressure on his back and buttocks. His tailbone was getting very sore. Susie was beside him in an instant helping to place pillows behind him and protect his bad leg.

“Speaking of which, what are ya gonna do with the check, Johnny?” Roy asked his friend.

“Did you really bank yours Roy?”

“Yep. As Jo said, it can put our kids through college and ensure a better life for them and if anything happens to me, I know that my wife and kids are gonna be looked after.”

Johnny looked at Susie and reached his hand out to hers. “Well, what he says makes sense to me. Whaddya think? Shall we, Mrs. Gage? We can use some for the Stud, Stables and Equine Center, and put the rest aside for our future children’s education.”

“Sounds like a good idea to me.”

---***---

Meanwhile in the secure wing at a private psychiatric hospital, new resident Chloe Patterson sat up in her bed looking out to the formal gardens and water feature outside. There were bars on her windows, her door was locked and she was the only occupant in the room. Her mirror was a highly polished square sheet of stainless steel screwed into the wall. All her water faucets were state of the art electronic heat sensors. Water came out from a small spout in the wall. Her shower was the same except there were several spouts jutting out about an inch from the ceiling. Chloe had walked around her suite very slowly checking everything out.

Her rooms were tastefully appointed. It looked like a suite in a five star hotel. The only difference was that everything that you could use to cut yourself with was screwed into the wall or simply wasn’t there. Recording cameras were placed strategically around the rooms and bathroom. There would be no privacy for Chloe anymore.

“Daddy doesn’t love us anymore Zoe. He’s put us in here to rot for ever and ever. You’ll keep your promise, won’t you? Where I am, you’ll be?”

“Yes, my darling sister. I will never leave you, now shush and get some sleep. You look tired and it’s been a hard few days. I’ll be here when you wake up. It’s not like I can go anywhere, the door’s locked.”

Chloe settled down to sleep. She had been started on new anti-psychotic drugs and the side effects were increased sleepiness. Soon she was sleeping soundly.

If anyone had been monitoring the cameras of Chloe’s room they would’ve seen the rocking chair gently rocking back and forth as Zoe sat and watched over her sister while she slept.

The End.