Sea of Heartbreak

by Rona

It was Johnny’s least favorite kind of rescue – a water rescue. Oh, he was a good swimmer, but he hated boats. Or rather, boats hated him. He always got on a boat optimistically and almost always he turned seasick. Even the bigger boats they had been on had finished him.

They raced the squad towards the harbor where they would meet the coastguard launch that would take them out to a stricken motorboat where one of the people aboard was having a possible heart attack. He was also the only one who knew how to pilot the complicated vessel. Unfortunately, the other passengers had taken quite a bit of time to figure out how to use the radio. The outcome looked grim.

“Did you take the Dramamine?” Roy asked.

“I took it,” Johnny replied gloomily. “But it probably wasn’t soon enough.” He had taken it the moment they had jumped into the squad, but it took half an hour to start working and they would already be on the water by then.

“We can hope,” Roy suggested, but Johnny just made a face. He had plenty of experience of boats.

The Coast Guard was waiting for them and hurried over to help transfer the gear from the squad to the launch. They introduced themselves quickly, for none of them men had worked together before, and, far too quickly for Johnny’s liking, they were on the launch and heading out into the open ocean.

While Roy found the ride exhilarating, Johnny could feel the motion sickness catching up with him. Neither man spoke and Johnny tried to concentrate his mind on the rescue before them. It helped – a bit.

It didn’t take more than 15 minutes to get out to the boat, and had taken the squad 10 minutes to reach the docks, and comparatively, that was a good time. But with the man on the boat in bad shape, it was an eternity too long. Johnny wondered why they couldn’t have paramedics in the Coast Guard, too, which would save a lot of time. He resolved to think about that later.

Somehow, when picturing the boat, Johnny had thought it was a medium sized speed boat. Instead it was a small ocean liner – or that was how it seemed to the bemused paramedic. The sleek white hull glistened in the sunlight and there was a disquieting glitter from the Plexiglas on the cockpit. There must have been fifteen people standing on the large deck area at the back of the boat. They waved frantically when they saw the launch. Quickly, it nudged in closer and was secured.

As they had agreed, Roy was first up the ladder to start assessing the patient. Johnny organized the Coast Guard guys to help him get the gear on board, then he hurried to join Roy.

The man in question looked to be in his early 60s, grey haired, distinguished and stout. He wore only shorts, exposing his hairy chest and a nasty case of sunburn along with it. Almost everyone else on board was wearing a swimming costume or shorts and their host was not the only one with sunburn. He was lying on his back, his head nestled in the lap of an older woman. He looked extremely uncomfortable and was sweating profusely.

“This is Gerald Crowther,” Roy said, as Johnny knelt down by him. “He’s been having chest pains for the last hour almost and passed out just before we were called. This is Mrs. Crowther. Can you contact Rampart?” he asked.

Nodding politely to Mrs. Crowther, Johnny set up the biophone and soon was talking to Dr Brackett. Meanwhile, Roy had attached the pads to Mr. Crowther’s chest and was setting up for the transmission he knew the doctor would want. The EKG didn’t look too bad, but he needed to be treated in hospital. Roy started the IV and administered the drugs while Johnny took a few steps away and raised the HT to his lips.

“LA this is squad 51. Request an ambulance to meet us at the dock.”

“10-4, 51,” the calm voice of the dispatcher acknowledged.

As it became clear that Mr. Crowther was leaving the boat, a hubbub broke out amongst his guests. Johnny had been jostled as he first came aboard and it was clear that everyone had been having a good time and several guests were totally inebriated. There were several empty bottles of champagne visible and several glasses that contained alcohol were sitting below the brass railings around the edges of the deck.

The trouble started when one young man -- dark haired, bronzed, good looking, no doubt charming and self-assured and as drunk as a skunk -- shoved one of his fellow sailors. The other man -- slightly older, a bit chunkier and considerable more inebriated -- reeled backwards and somehow managed to topple over the railing into the water.

There was a mass shriek of horror from the ladies present and they all rushed to peer over the side at the unfortunate young man splashing in the water. None of them made any move to offer him any help. Disgustedly, Johnny tried to get through to offer him a hand.

The drunk who had started the fracas took exception. “Oi!” he cried and shoved Johnny violently aside. The paramedic stumbled, crashed into someone holding a glass and fell to the deck. He wasn’t hurt, but he stank of the whiskey that had been spilled on him.

Helping Mr. Crowther over the railing onto the waiting launch, Roy paused and looked round. “Are you all right?” he called.

“Fine,” Johnny responded and scrambled to his feet. The smell of the whiskey threatened to turn his unsettled stomach. He started to push back through the crowd. Someone had to get the drunk out of the water. Muttering, “Excuse me, excuse me,” he wormed his way to the back of the boat.

The guy in the water wasn’t hurt, which was a plus. He was, however, playing the fool, splashing water up at the people on the boat, half climbing up before falling backwards in the water again. Johnny grimaced. He didn’t have time for this. The other guests would have to get the man out on their own. He turned around to go back to Roy.

“Hey, you!” It was the drunk who had started the whole thing. “How are we getting back?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny replied politely. “I’m sure the Coast Guard has something in mind. Please excuse me; we have to get Mr. Crowther to hospital.” He started to walk again.

“Don’t talk to me like that!” the man objected, grabbing Johnny by the arm. “You’re a bloody public servant, so serve me and get us back to dry land.”

Exasperated, Johnny shot a glance at Roy, who turned and walked towards them as the Coast Guard guys settled Mr. Crowther on a bench. Taking a deep breath, Johnny summoned his most conciliatory tone. “Sir, the Coast Guard is in charge of that part of this rescue. My job as a paramedic is to see that Mr. Crowther gets to help as soon as possible.” He tugged gently on his arm to further indicate he had to leave.

The grip tightened. “Don’t cheek me!” the man spluttered. “Do you know who I am?”

“No, sir, I don’t,” Johnny replied. “And right now, my priority has to be Mr. Crowther. Now please let go of my arm.” He spoke firmly. He tugged his arm free.

“Johnny, we need to go,” Roy said from behind the drunken man.

That appeared to be the last straw. The man turned and punched Roy full in the face. The stunned paramedic, caught completely unawares, reeled backwards against the railing. However, now that he was in motion, the drunk wasn’t going to be content with just one punch. He grabbed at Roy, whirled him around, brushed off Johnny, who was attempting to help his stricken partner, and punched Roy again with considerable force; Roy staggered back, collided with someone who shoved him away, and the next moment, the bleeding paramedic was in the water.

It all happened so fast. “Roy!” Johnny cried and surged forward. His progress was hampered by the drunk yet again. He grabbed Johnny by the arm again, yanking him around. Forewarned by what had happened to Roy, Johnny ducked the punch.

There was no time for niceties. Roy was in the water and Johnny didn’t know if he was conscious or not. Mr. Crowther needed medical attention as soon as they could get him there and this idiot was preventing him from helping either one. Johnny used his weight and momentum to shove the drunk hard in the stomach and had the satisfaction of seeing him crash to the deck, taking a couple of others down with him. As Johnny dived into the water, he heard a fight break out behind him.

The situation in the water was worse than he had anticipated. Roy had collided with the drunk in the water and they were now both floating motionless. Johnny grabbed for the drunk first, although he wanted nothing more than to go to Roy. But his first duty had to be civilian victims. He just hoped that one of the Coast Guard would be on hand to help him.

Grasping the drunk, he managed to turn the semi-conscious man over and supported his chin as he struck out one handed. Mostly unaware of what was happening, the man struggled, flailing his arms wildly and kicking with his legs. The water absorbed most of the force from his kicks, but Johnny knew he would be black and blue all the same. With great relief, he reached the boat and hands reached down to take the man from him. Johnny didn’t know and didn’t care if the fight had stopped. He just had one priority – his partner!

Taking a deep breath, Johnny started swimming to where he had last seen Roy. His partner bobbed on the water about 10 feet away and he appeared to be unconscious. Johnny increased his speed as much as he could, coughing on the mouthfuls of brine that he swallowed. His throat and eyes burned from the salt.

Just before he reached Roy, a wave overtook his partner and he disappeared from view. Drawing in a deep breath, which inevitably contained some water, Johnny dived under and looked around. Roy was just a few feet away and Johnny reached for him. His hands snagged in his friend’s shirt and he bore Roy to the surface.

His first priority was to make sure Roy was breathing. He felt for a pulse, which was there, although erratic, and then placed his palm on Roy’s chest. There was no movement. “Damn it, Roy!” Johnny shouted. “You’re not going to die!” He pulled in a breath, sealed his buddy’s nose and breathed into his mouth.

Doing mouth to mouth was tough work in the best of conditions. Afloat, already breathless from one rescue and a desperate swim, Johnny quickly found himself becoming light headed. He wondered why nobody had come to help him, but didn’t have time to look round. He forced another breath, then another one and suddenly, Roy coughed. Johnny quickly turned him so that the water he had swallowed didn’t choke him.

“Easy,” Johnny soothed. “I’ve got you.” He managed to turn Roy onto his back and started to swim back towards the boat.

Luckily, he didn’t have far to go. The launch met him and willing hands pulled Roy from Johnny’s grasp. Someone else grabbed the weary paramedic’s arm and hauled him aboard.

At that moment, there was nothing Johnny wanted to do more than just sit in the bottom of the boat and catch his breath. But he couldn’t do that. He had three patients to monitor and only one other man to help. There was one man piloting the boat, one helping him and the third had stayed behind to pilot the other boat back.

Shoving his dripping hair from his face, Johnny looked first at Mr. Crowther who was resting easily for the moment. Johnny spared him a few words of comfort, assuring him they would get him to the hospital as soon as possible. He turned slightly on his knees and began to assess the drunk. The young man was still semi-conscious, groaning periodically. There was a large bump on his forehead. Johnny quickly took his vitals, jotting them down on a bit of paper he had found in the biophone. Lastly, he turned his attention to Roy, who was very groggy indeed. He quickly took Roy’s vitals, too.

The bouncing of the boat made concentrating quite hard and Johnny was feeling really queasy, too. He swallowed hard and raised the HT to his lips. “LA, squad 51. Respond another ambulance and squad to the dock to meet us. ETA...” he paused and looked at the pilot.

“Six to eight minutes,” the pilot guessed.

“ETA six to eight minutes, LA,” Johnny concluded.

“10-4, 51,” LA responded.

Lifting the biophone, Johnny contacted Rampart. “Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read me?”

“Loud and clear, 51,” Brackett responded. “What’s going on?”

“We had a situation, Rampart,” Johnny replied. “We have two new victims. Victim two is a male in his early to mid twenties. He is inebriated and has sustained a head injury. His vitals are BP 110/60, pulse 90 and respirations 24. He has probably inhaled some sea water. He is currently semi-conscious.”

“Start an IV with normal saline and monitor every 5 minutes; let me know if his LOC changes.”

“Normal saline and monitor,” Johnny repeated back, jotting it down. “Rampart, victim three is a 30 year old paramedic. He has been punched twice in the face and has had some bleeding from his nose. He has also inhaled sea water and was in respiratory arrest. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was established and he is now breathing unassisted but is very groggy. His vitals are BP 105/65, pulse 92 and respirations 25. Both he and victim two have rales. Be advised Rampart, victim three is Roy DeSoto.”

“10-4, 51,” Brackett responded again. “Same as with the other patient, John. Do you have any help?”

“Uh, that’s affirmative, Rampart,” Johnny replied, keeping it as professional as he knew how. “I have one of the Coast Guard. Another squad and ambulance is meeting us at the dock.”

“Good. How about Mr. Crowther?”

“He’s stable, Rampart.” Johnny quickly read off his vitals as he gathered the two IV kits he needed. Getting a clean stick on a bouncing boat would be interesting, but he was sure he could do it. He tucked the receiver of the biophone between his head and shoulder as he ripped open a sterile wipe to clean the skin on the drunk’s arm.

“Update me with vitals on all three when you get to dock, John,” Brackett ordered him.

“10-4,” Johnny agreed and put down the phone. He asked the pilot to throttle back a bit as he got the IVs established, then sat back for a moment to catch his breath.

It didn’t take long for them to arrive at the dock. One ambulance was already waiting and Johnny could hear sirens in the distance, so he guessed the other ambulance and squad were on their way. In the meantime, he enlisted the help of the attendants to bring stretchers over and help unload the three patients. He was growing concerned; both Roy and the drunk – whose name Johnny still didn’t know – weren’t doing that well. The drunk had vomited up a remarkable amount of water and looked slightly blue around the lips. Johnny urgently needed him on oxygen. Roy was far too quiet, only responding if Johnny spoke to him from quite close.

Once everyone was off the boat, Johnny started taking vitals again. He had no sooner pumped up the BP cuff when Mr. Crowther suddenly let out a cry and clutched his chest. Johnny looked at the datascope and saw the even waves were now distorted. He grabbed for the biophone. “Rampart, this is squad 51.”

“Go ahead,” Brackett responded.

“Patching you in lead two,” Johnny cried. “He’s throwing PVCs.”

“I see it, 51. Administer 1 amp sodium bicarbonate and keep sending.” Johnny scrambled to obey him.

For the next couple of minutes, he was fully engaged on working on Mr. Crowther. As the man finally stabilized, the other squad and ambulance arrived. There was no time to waste, for any of them. Johnny hurriedly gave his fellow paramedics an update on Roy and the drunk and then he was climbing into the back of the ambulance with Mr. Crowther, the biophone and defibrillator to hand. The doors closed and moments later they peeled out of the dock area, sirens screaming.

**********

When they arrived, Johnny was riding the rails, pumping on Crowther’s chest. “He just arrested,” Johnny panted, continuing his compressions. The ambulance attendant was bagging him.

“Treatment one,” Brackett ordered and stood aside for the gurney to enter. He followed and set about intubating, ordering the tests he wanted and the defibrillator charged. “Clear!” he shouted and everyone jumped back as Crowther was shocked.

Nothing.

“Again,” Brackett ordered.

Nothing.

“Again!”

This time there was a blip. “Another amp bicarb,” Brackett snapped. “Give me adrenalin.” He took the proffered syringe and injected it directly into the heart. “Charging... Clear.”

There was a sigh of relief as the blip on the monitor settled into a normal sinus rhythm. “Good work,” Brackett praised. “Phone Cardiac Care and get someone down here right away. Good work, Johnny.”

“Thanks, doc.” Johnny was exhausted and cold. His clothing was soaked. And, he reflected as he followed Brackett out into the corridor, he had no way of getting back to the station until someone brought the squad to him.

On that sober thought, he wondered how Roy was. It had hurt his heart to leave his partner’s care to another paramedic, even though he had no choice. Shivering in the cool air, he walked down to Dixie’s desk, which was empty at the moment. While waiting wasn’t something he was particularly good at, he had no choice. He could hardly go along opening the treatment room doors and peering in, much as he wanted to. Instead, growing colder by the second, he poured a cup of coffee.

It smelt like it had been stewing there for quite some time, but Johnny didn’t care. It was warm and he cupped his hands around it and inhaled the steam. He started coughing and found he couldn’t stop.

There was a hand on his shoulder and a voice was speaking to him, but Johnny couldn’t respond. He knew he was going to be sick and he shoved away from the desk and charged towards the men’s room. He barely made it before the retching overtook him.

With it finally over, Johnny sat back and was surprised when a hand gave him a damp cloth to wipe his mouth. His throat was burning with the salty water he had vomited up and he was grateful when the hand gave him some water. “Thanks, doc,” he croaked and managed to smile slightly at Doctor Early.

“Come on, Johnny,” Early smiled. “Let’s get you checked out.” He helped the soaked and shivering paramedic to his feet and ushered him through the lobby to a room. There, he found a blanket to drape around the shivering man and gave him a thorough examination. “You seem to be fine,” Early assured him. “I am going to give you some antibiotics to deal with any bugs you may have swallowed or inhaled. Are you sure there’s any Pacific Ocean left out there?”

“It sure feels like I swallowed most of it,” Johnny agreed. “Doc, how’s Roy?”

“He’s having a CT scan at the moment,” Early replied, looking grave. “He’s severely concussed and we’re going to be keeping him for several days. It looks like he aspirated a lot of water and, as you reported at the scene, he has rales. We’re going to keep him here until we’re sure he’s not got pneumonia and till we see how the concussion resolves.”

“But he’s going to be okay?” Johnny cried.

“We’re checking to make sure he doesn’t have a bleed. We don’t think so, but we need to be sure. Either way, Roy will be a guest for a few days at least. Head injuries are tricky as you know.” Early smiled. “I’m sure Roy will be all right. Meanwhile, what are you doing? Going back to the station to shower? Showering here?”

“I don’t know,” Johnny replied. “I’ve got to phone Cap and tell him about Roy and I don’t know how I’m going to get the squad back... and I must phone Joanne!”

“Relax, Johnny, Captain Stanley and Joanne already know, Dixie told them.” Early patted him. “You need to get out of those wet clothes, or you’ll be a patient here, too.”

“I know,” Johnny agreed. “But I’ll wait till I get back to the station. There’s nothing worse than putting on wet underwear and shoes.”

“True,” Early nodded. “So you’re free to go.” He patted Johnny on the shoulder. “But come back if you don’t feel okay in a couple of days.”

“Thanks, doc,” Johnny nodded. Still clutching his blanket around his shoulders, he left the room and headed back to the desk. He immediately felt guilty, as Dixie was sitting there and someone from housekeeping was mopping up the floor. Johnny had no recollections of what had happened to his coffee, but from the looks of things, he had dropped it. Oops, he thought, flushing. “Dixie, I’m sorry,” he began as he approached.

“How are you feeling?” Dixie asked, giving him a concerned glance.

“Uh... okay, I guess,” he answered. In truth, he was cold and exhausted and he still had more than half the shift to go. “I gotta phone the station.”

“I told Captain Stanley you would once you were checked out,” Dixie told him.

Fishing – almost literally – for some change, Johnny went to the payphone and dialed the station number. “Cap, its Johnny,” he said when it was answered.

“John, how are you, pal?” Cap asked.

“I’m okay; Doc Early cleared me for duty. But, um, Cap, I don’t know if someone is bringing me the squad or if I have to go and get it.”

“Don’t worry, one of the Coast Guard boys is bringing it to Rampart. Once it gets there, come on back. Dwyer is coming in to cover for Roy. How is he?”

“He’s having a CT scan,” Johnny answered. “Doc Early says he’s badly concussed and they want to check for bleeding on the brain. It sounds like he might be coming down with pneumonia, too. Hopefully, I’ll be able to see him before I leave.”

“All right, pal, but don’t hang about too long. We need you back here and in service, sorry.”

“I understand, Cap. I’ll see you as soon as I can.” Johnny hung up and rested his head against the side of the booth. He knew he had to go back into service. There were barely enough paramedics to round right now, what with it being summer and vacation time. He sighed and straightened up, grimacing as his wet clothes released their grip on one part of his body and reasserted it on another. He hated water rescues!

As he walked back to Dixie, hoping to get another cup of coffee, two people came into the ER at about the same time. First was the Coast Guard sailor who had helped Johnny get Roy and the drunk on board. The second person was Joanne. He hardly knew who to greet first. Joanne made the decision for him, throwing herself into his arms. “Johnny! How’s Roy?” She recoiled as his wet condition filtered through her worry. “You’re soaking!” she said, her voice a mixture of accusation and worry.

“I am I little wet,” Johnny agreed and was relieved when Dixie came over. The nurse started speaking to Joanne, and although Johnny desperately wanted to listen in, he took the chance to thank the Coast Guard sailor (Johnny knew he’d known the guy’s name that morning but couldn’t bring it to mind at all) and take the squad key.

“Come on,” Joanne said, tugging Johnny’s hand. “We can see Roy.”

“I can’t stay long,” Johnny confessed, his heart heavy. “I’ve got to get back in service.” He just hoped that he would have time to shower and change before Dwyer got there. The cold was seeping into his bones. But at the moment, seeing his partner was more important than getting out of his wet clothes. He followed Joanne into the treatment room.

It was always a shock to see someone you knew in a treatment room. Roy’s face was pale and his eyes were heavily closed. A livid bruise was growing around the lump on his forehead and there was the suggestion of black eyes, too. His nose was puffy and a bandage covered a small cut across the bridge.

“Oh,” Joanne quavered and Johnny put his arm around her.

“He’s unconscious at the moment,” Joe Early said kindly. “He’s going to be in and out for the next few hours at least, but there is no bleeding in his brain. Obviously, with a concussion this severe, we’re going to be monitoring him very closely indeed. We’re going to be moving him up to ICU shortly. He’ll be there overnight at least and probably tomorrow will be moved to the neuro step-down unit. That will depend on his progress overnight, of course.” Early patted Joanne’s arm. “You can see him once he’s settled, Joanne.”

“Thank you,” Joanne murmured. She moved out of the circle of Johnny’s arm and headed over to Roy’s side. Leaning down, she gave him a kiss. “I’ll see you shortly,” she whispered and kissed his cheek again.

As the orderlies rolled the gurney out, Dixie came over. “Come on, Joanne,” she coaxed. “We’ll have a cup of coffee and then I’ll go up with you.” She led her friend out of the door, Joe Early following behind.

The noises from the corridor outside filtered faintly through the door. They made Johnny feel totally isolated. Everyone but him had a place in this drama and he didn’t like the feeling. Slowly, he walked to the door and entered the bustle of humanity. There was no one he knew. He felt invisible. It wasn’t a feeling he cared for.

Shrugging off the blanket, he left it in a damp pile on top of an empty gurney. Alone, he walked out of the ER and got into the squad.

**********

The station was empty when he got back. He stripped off his sodden uniform in the locker room and left it in a heap on the floor, his badge and nameplate carefully placed in his locker. The shower felt heavenly, the warm water streaming over his body and leaching the cold from his bones. His shivering eased and by the time he was able to peel himself out from under the hot water, Johnny was feeling warm again.

By the time Dwyer arrived, beating the engine by only a few minutes, Johnny had rinsed out his damp uniform and found a bag to stuff it into. He was nursing a newly-made cup of coffee and thinking seriously about eating something – the first time he had felt like food since hitting the water that morning.

“So what happened out there, pal?” Cap asked, as they sat down to sandwiches.

Reliving the experience took the edge off Johnny’s appetite. He could still see in his mind’s eye the moment when Roy went backwards off the boat. He could still feel the momentary panic as he realized that he was one lone paramedic with three patients, each one of whom could have done with a paramedic working exclusively on them.

“Why didn’t the Coast Guard guys give you more help?” Chet asked curiously.

“Hell, Chet, I don’t know,” Johnny retorted. “I suppose I didn’t ask him for much help, but he didn’t seem to know anything about first aid or perhaps he was squeamish. I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I didn’t think about it. There was enough else going on.” He shivered slightly.

“You’ve told us about Roy,” Mike Stoker, the engineer, commented. “But what did the docs say about you?”

“Have a warm shower,” Johnny replied. He didn’t mention the episode when he puked, as the others were eating and the thought made him slightly queasy yet. “Take the antibiotics and hopefully I won’t come down with anything.”

“Isn’t there a legal limit on how many times a guy can catch pneumonia per year?” Chet piped up helpfully and grinned at the baleful look Johnny gave him.

“So have you taken them?” Stanley asked, knowing Johnny.

“Just about to,” Johnny replied round a mouthful of food. He produced the bottle and plonked it on the table in front of him while the others made comments about his disgusting manners. “Got to take them after food.” He made a face. “That could be interesting.”

“You take them and no excuses, no matter how interesting it becomes,” Stanley warned. “I don’t want you getting sick.”

“Yes, sir,” Johnny agreed dutifully. He shook one out of the bottle and swallowed it with a large mouthful of milk.

**********

The afternoon passed slowly. The squad had a couple of runs, and for once, Johnny was content to let Dwyer drive. He usually coveted the driving seat when Roy was not there, but the stress of the morning had taken it out of him, and he was tired. Station chores still had to be completed, and by the time they sat down to supper, Johnny was so exhausted that he could barely eat. He dutifully took his antibiotic and they settled down to watch a movie.

Getting up at a commercial break to go to the latrine, Johnny noticed how stiff he was getting. He was also cold again. He thought that perhaps he would take another shower and go to bed early, but the fates were against him. He had barely finished his business when the tones went off. It sounded like a big one and they dashed to their vehicles and headed out into the twilight.

The flames were leaping from the windows of the apartment building when they arrived. Crowds of residents huddled together on the other side of the street. The squad pulled over in front of them and Mike parked the engine just behind the squad. Stanley jumped from the rig and hurried over to the people. “Who’s in charge here?” he asked.

“I’m the super,” replied a tiny wizened old man. He looked as frail as if a puff of wind could blow him over. “Everyone’s out.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure,” the old man replied casually. “Mr. Petrie in three is away on business. Old Mrs. Thornton is visiting her daughter.” He glanced about the rest of the people there. “Yeah, they’re all here.”

“Petrie said he might be back tonight,” insisted one man. “We don’t know that he isn’t.”

“His car isn’t there,” the super responded.

“Wasn’t it in the shop?” the other man persisted, but Hank didn’t have time for the argument.

“John, Charlie, suit up. There might be someone in number three. Get in and out quickly.” He frowned at the two men who were still arguing and turned to another woman standing close by. “Is Mrs. Thornton visiting her daughter?” he enquired.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” the woman replied haughtily. “I mind my own business and keep myself to myself.”

Cursing the lot of them silently, Hank interrupted the super. “What number is Mrs. Thornton?” he asked.

“I told you she’s away,” the super replied, sounding offended.

“What number?” Hank snarled and hated himself instantly.

However, it had the desired effect. “Five,” the man sulked.

“John, check number five as well.”

The helmeted figure waved acknowledgment and the paramedics disappeared into the burning building. As always, Hank Stanley sent up a silent prayer for their safety, especially since he already had one man injured this shift.

***********

It was as hot as hell in the building. The concrete walls seemed to amplify the heat inwards and in seconds the paramedics were soaked in sweat. “You take three,” Johnny shouted. “I’ll do five.” Judging by the heat, there wouldn’t be time to search the two apartments working together. Dwyer gave the thumbs up and the two separated.

As was often the case with buildings like that, the locks that were fitted were flimsy affairs, designed to deter honest thieves. Most of the people who lived in that building were probably blue collar workers and didn’t earn much, or retired on a low income. Mrs. Thornton’s door yielded at the first try and Johnny quickly searched the place. It was tiny. The cupboards were barely large enough to contain the lady’s towels, pots and pans and the bathroom didn’t have a tub, only a shower that was hardly more than a hole in the floor. Wherever else she was, Mrs. Thornton wasn’t in there. Johnny quickly retraced his steps.

Dwyer wasn’t waiting for him outside number three. Concerned, Johnny stepped inside and saw at once that this apartment was the source of the blaze. The walls were blackened, the sheetrock curling off the walls in places. The smoke was dense, thick and oily and Johnny could swear he could smell it even under his mask. “Charlie!” he shouted, but his mask absorbed most of the sound.

This apartment was bigger than number 5. Johnny started to feel his way around the walls when he saw movement. With huge relief, he saw Dwyer coming towards him. “Clear!” Dwyer called and they grasped hands to run through the smoke to freedom.

They were none too soon. They had barely cleared the building when it exploded. Shrapnel rained down on them, but they kept running into the cooling spray of the hoses, wincing as bits and pieces of the building pinged off their helmets and bruised their backs.

Scared out of their wits, but also exhilarated, they stumbled to safety behind the squad and stripped off their helmets and tanks. Captain Stanley was there in moments. “Are you all right?” he asked, and they both smiled and nodded. “All right, grab something to drink, have five minutes then I need you on a hose.”

It was back breaking work and by the time the fire was knocked down and clean up done, all the men were exhausted. They headed back to the station, knowing that B shift would already be waiting for them. No last-minute runs today, thank goodness.

B shift were not the only ones waiting for them. Seated at the table alongside the firemen were two detectives. They rose as A shift trooped wearily in. “John Gage?” asked one.

“That’s me,” Johnny replied, and a jolt of fear raced through his belly.

“Mr. Gage, you are under arrest for the assault of Mr. Michael Loriston.” As a shocked Johnny looked at them open-mouth, they turned him and one clicked on the handcuffs while the other read him his rights.

Despite the protests from his friends, Johnny was led out and placed in the back of the police car and driven away.

He had no idea who Michael Loriston was.

***********

The one thing you did not get in ICU was silence. Machines beeped and huffed and chimed incessantly. No wonder patients could develop ICU psychosis. The nurses were used to it, but there was a faster turnover of nurses in ICU than any other department.

Slipping into the unit before the start of her shift, Dixie waved at the nurses, who were doing the handover from night to day and entered Roy’s cubicle. Her eyes quickly scanned to the monitors, reading the numbers there and seeing that they were pretty close to normal, before looking at her friend.

It was difficult at that moment to tell for sure if Roy was asleep or unconscious. His color was better than it had been the previous evening, but the bruising now stood out in stunning Technicolor across his eyes and his forehead. Dixie was pleased to see that he hadn’t had to be put on a ventilator, something that could happen if victims of near drowning developed secondary drowning syndrome. While Dixie knew that this could occur up to 72 hours after the initial incident, she thought it was a good sign that he had escaped thus far.

Deciding not to wake Roy – he would have been woken regularly all night – she left and headed to the desk. “Hi, Elaine,” she greeted the nurse in charge. “How’s our boy doing?”

“All things considered, not too badly,” Elaine responded. “He wasn’t very with it when we woke him, but at least he woke every time. He knows his own name, so that’s a plus.”

“And how often was John Gage up here?” Dixie asked with a knowing smile.

“Actually, we haven’t seen Johnny at all,” Elaine responded, frowning slightly. “No doubt he’ll be here within the hour and flirting with the nurses.” She grimaced. “If only I wasn’t happily married.”

“Elaine!” Dixie chided and they burst out laughing. “Well, duty calls. See you later perhaps.” She headed off to her own shift.

***********

It was a couple of hours later that Joanne DeSoto arrived. She looked tired and strained, which was no wonder at all. The nurses told her that Dr Early was with Roy at the moment and he would come out to see her as soon as he was finished. Joanne had to wait as patiently as she could – which wasn’t very – in the waiting room.

At length, although it wasn’t as long a time as it seemed to Joanne, Drs. Early and Brackett came to find her. Joe gallantly kissed her on the cheek and took her hand. “He’s doing fine,” he announced and wasn’t at all surprised when Joanne dissolved into tears. He patted her back and made soothing noises while Kel Brackett looked like he would rather be anywhere than right here at this precise moment.

When Joanne was calm again, Joe handed her a tissue from one of the boxes that littered the waiting room and continued his update. “Roy had a good night. He wasn’t easy to wake for his neuro checks, but not too difficult, either. He always knew his name, but had no idea as to the date, the president,” he ignored Kel’s muttered aside about no blame there, “or what had happened. He hasn’t developed full-blown pneumonia, thankfully. The antibiotics are doing their job there. He’ll be on them for a while yet. We intend to move him down to the neuro step-down unit this afternoon if he continues to do as well as he is right now. He looks very colorful, but rest assured nothing is broken.”

“Thank you,” Joanne cried. “He’ll be all right?”

“He’ll be just fine, but it’ll take a little time,” Joe assured her. “A few weeks off and you won’t know anything happened to him. Don’t be surprised if he’s slightly confused to begin with. The more he’s spoken to and the longer he stays awake now, the better he’ll be.” Rising, he patted her shoulder. “See you later.”

“Thank you,” Joanne repeated. The nurse came and smiled at her, indicating she could go in. Joanne didn’t hesitate.

***********

When she came out, the crew of 51s was in the waiting room. She greeted them with a smile and then frowned. Where was Johnny?

“How’s Roy?” Hank asked, cutting off the question she was about to ask. It was a question he didn’t want to answer.

“Much better this morning,” Joanne replied. “He’s even getting to eat something, although just a liquid diet to begin with. He’ll probably be moved to the neuro step-down unit this afternoon.” She looked around again and the frown came back. “Where’s Johnny?” she asked, over the murmurs of relief.

“Ah, I’m not entirely certain,” Hank answered evasively.

“He’s not been hurt has he?” Joanne gasped.

“No, he’s not been hurt. Joanne – sit down.” Hank pulled Joanne down onto a seat beside him and held her hand.

“Oh, God – he’s dead, isn’t he?” Tears formed in Joanne’s eyes.

“No! No, he’s not dead. Joanne, let me speak.” Hank swallowed. “John was arrested this morning when we got back from a run.”

“Arrested?” Joanne gaped at Hank. “What on earth for?”

“For assault,” Hank explained, although it made no more sense to him than it appeared to make to Joanne. “Someone called Michael Loriston. I called the local station, but he wasn’t taken there. They said they would track down where he was taken and call me, but we hadn’t heard anything before we left the station.”

“But it's nonsense,” Joanne protested. “Johnny wouldn’t hurt a fly! And who is this guy Loriston?”

“We don’t know,” Hank replied. “We don’t know anything, Joanne. We didn’t get the chance to ask questions. They just handcuffed Gage, read him his rights and left, ignoring everything I said.”

“It must be a mistake,” Joanne insisted. “They’ll let him go when they realize that.” She looked at Hank’s face. “Won’t they?”

“I hope so,” Hank replied. “I hope so.”

***********

Sitting in a cell in a police station in Beverly Hills, Johnny was completely confused. He was still covered in soot and wore his turnout gear – except the suspenders had been taken away, as had his boots and his jacket. The air conditioning was going full blast and Johnny was frozen. The small cell had an iron bunk with a very thin mattress on it and no blanket. There was a toilet and tiny sink in the corner and light came in through a dusty, barred small window high up on one wall. All his personal possessions had been taken from him, he had been fingerprinted and photographed and shoved into the cell with the minimum of words. He had not yet been allowed a phone call, although he had no idea who he should phone. Despite his pleas, nobody had told him who Michael Loriston was.

Like Joanne, Johnny thought it was all some misunderstanding. He hadn’t assaulted anyone in his whole life. In fact, he was a lousy fighter and would avoid a fight at all costs. This just didn’t make sense and he couldn’t get any answers from anyone. In fact, when he tried to persist in asking questions, he received the impression that asking wouldn’t do him any favors.

Exhausted, but unable to sleep, Johnny curled up on his side, hugging his arms around his body to try and conserve his body heat. He was still trying to drop off when his cell door opened and the large booking sergeant came in. “On your feet. Turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

“Why?” Johnny asked warily.

“Just do as you are told. You’re meeting with your court appointed attorney if you must know.” The man’s demeanor indicated that he wouldn’t tolerate any delays and Johnny reluctantly did as he was told. Perhaps this lawyer would be able to straighten out this mess and he could go home.

His heart sank as he was led into a small, windowless grey room containing only a table and two chairs. The lawyer sitting there barely looked old enough to be out of high school, never mind qualified as a lawyer. Johnny awkwardly sat as he was told, hoping the handcuffs would be removed.

“I’m David Graham,” the lawyer said in a disinterested tone. “I’ve been appointed to represent you. Now, I suppose you want to plead not guilty to the charges?”

“I’m not guilty,” Johnny replied. “I don’t even know who I’m supposed to have assaulted. And I haven’t had a phone call.”

“You’ll get one,” the other man replied indifferently. He glanced at the cop who had escorted Johnny. “Once we’re finished here, give him his call.”

“All right,” the cop agreed.

“Now, I’ll plead not guilty if that’s what you want, but everyone says they didn’t do it when they did,” the lawyer went on.

“But I’m not guilty,” Johnny insisted. “Who is this person? When is this supposed to have happened? I was on duty all day yesterday.”

“Duty?” Graham repeated, looking Johnny up and down. “What do you do?”

“I’m a firefighter/paramedic,” Johnny responded angrily. “I’m not the kind of person who goes around assaulting others.”

“Yeah, well, we’ve heard it all before,” the cop sniggered.

“Tell it to the judge,” his lawyer suggested. “Let’s go. And don’t forget his phone call.”

It was humiliating to be cuffed to the cop while he made his call, but Johnny did his best to ignore the situation. He rang Cap, figuring his boss would be best placed to help him and discovered that Cap was not home yet. Mrs. Stanley appeared to be completely aware of the situation and took down the details Johnny gave her and promised that she would tell Hank as soon as he got back. She didn’t think he would be long, but Johnny only had a couple of minutes, and couldn’t wait for him.

To his surprise, after he had finished, he wasn’t taken back to his cell, but taken outside and put into the back of another police car. “Hey, what about my shoes and stuff?” he asked.

“Here.” A second cop chucked them onto the seat beside him and got into the front. Johnny was more than confused now – he was extremely anxious. The ride took him through unfamiliar streets and they finally pulled into a small local court house and his heart sank even further. He was taken – still in his stocking soles – into a holding cell with other handcuffed inmates and sat there for about an hour before he was called and led into the court room.

Perplexed, Johnny looked at the people there. There was no one he recognized, but that didn’t surprise him. This rich area wasn’t his part of town. A young dark haired man in a fancy suit rose. Johnny recognized the lawyer he had recently met at the police station.

The hearing was short. The dark haired man declared that Johnny had assaulted him and Johnny’s lawyer said that his client pleaded not guilty. The way he said it made it sound like Johnny was lying. Johnny opened his mouth to protest and was shocked to hear the judge announce he would be kept in the cells for two days until the hearing. He banged his gavel, rose and exited the room. Shocked rigid, Johnny had had to be yanked to his feet and it was only as he was being led away that he saw his accuser’s face for the first time.

It was the drunken young man who had caused all the trouble on the boat the day before.

***********

Arriving home at last, Hank Stanley wanted only to fall into bed. His wife was waiting for him and her news made him forget sleep again for the time being. Reaching for the phone, Hank called Barney Olsen, an ex-firefighter who was now a lawyer and had represented Johnny and Roy before, when they were falsely accused of stealing. He quickly told the lawyer everything he knew, which wasn’t much, and Barney promised to look into it. Thankful for his help, Hank finally succumbed to the siren call of sleep and went to bed.

It was afternoon when he woke and his wife told him Barney hadn’t phoned back. It was early evening when he finally did. “Hank, it doesn’t look good. Johnny has already been before a judge and has been placed in custody until his hearing in two days.”

“What?” Hank bellowed. “Already?”

“I know.” Barney sounded just as angry. “I found out who represented him and spoke to him this afternoon. He’s court- appointed, newly qualified, bone idle and completely indifferent to his client’s needs. I notified the court that I am taking over as Johnny’s attorney and I can see him tomorrow. He is being held at the court building and isn’t allowed any visitors apart from me.”

“Who’s made the complaint against him?” Hank asked. “I just can’t work that out.”

“I looked into that, too,” Barney responded. “That’s why it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Michael Liston is a stock broker. He’s the oldest son of a man who has made a lot of money out of wheeling and dealing over the years. They could probably buy the whole city of Los Angeles and not notice. It seems that Mr. Liston was out of the office yesterday, attending a drinks party on board a friend’s motor cruiser. The friend – who is really a friend of Liston’s father – had a heart attack during the party. Paramedics were called and while they were there, Liston was ‘assaulted’ by one of them – John.”

“What?!” Hank wondered if he was hearing properly.

“It gets worse,” Barney assured him grimly. “The judge is a friend of the Liston family. That is why Johnny has been denied bail and had a hearing so quickly. We need to get witnesses who saw the fracas on the boat or it comes down to Johnny versus Liston and that is something we don’t want. The law has been followed, but following procedure can lead to mistakes and we don’t want that.”

As he blindly hung up the phone, Hank was glad that he was sitting down, or he knew his knees would have given way beneath him. This was a nightmare.

**********

“Where’s Johnny?” Roy asked, late in the evening.

Joanne had managed to arrange sleepovers for their children, allowing her to stay at the hospital a bit longer and to avoid awkward questions. What a pity she couldn’t avoid awkward questions from Roy. “He’s not here,” she replied.

“Have I seen him?” Roy persisted. “I don’t remember.” He frowned and winced, clearly searching his faulty memory.

“You’re not supposed to try and remember things,” Joanne chided gently. “You’re supposed to let the memories come back if they want to.”

“But why hasn’t Johnny come?” he insisted and Joanne cursed the uncanny friendship the two men had that allowed Roy to remember what she had hoped he would forget – his partner’s unusual absence.

The trouble was, Joanne wasn’t sure what to say. Telling Roy that Johnny was injured would make him worry. Telling him that Johnny was tired would let him know that something was wrong, for sheer tiredness wouldn’t keep Johnny from Roy’s sickbed. She couldn’t say they had had a fight, for that was simply untrue and there was no use clouding things further with lies.

Her hesitation cost her. “He’s hurt, isn’t he?” Roy cried. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“He isn’t hurt,” Joanne soothed. “Roy, listen to me. Johnny’s not hurt.” She took a deep breath and tightened her grip on Roy’s hand. “Roy, Johnny was arrested this morning for assaulting someone.”

“There’s been a mistake,” Roy said, calmly. “Johnny? Never.”

Smiling, Joanne said, “That’s what everyone is saying. Still, it happened. I haven’t heard any more than that, but I’m sure someone will tell you all about the mistake tomorrow.”

As Roy fell asleep, Joanne found herself wondering why, if it had been a mistake, Johnny hadn’t come in to see Roy. Surely he wasn’t still locked up somewhere? It was a disquieting thought and one that prevented her from sleeping soundly that night.

************

The holding cells at the court house were no more inviting than the one at the police station. Most of them were large open areas surrounded by bars and housed several people at once. Johnny had been ‘lucky’ and was in a single cell. It had no windows and a harsh, uncovered bulb cast a bright light day and night. He had been stripped of the last of his clothing and given poorly fitting, threadbare cotton trousers and top in an unappetizing shade of puke green.

His protest that he required his antibiotics had almost started a full-scale argument which had only been solved by the clerk of the court going through Johnny’s pockets and finding the vial of medication. He had rung Dr Early at Rampart and had been told in no uncertain terms that it was vital that Johnny take them. Dr Early had tried to find out why Johnny was in jail and had been hung up on. However, Johnny was given his pills, although he had the sneaking suspicion that his jailers suspected they were illegal drugs, not required medication.

The meal he was given was scanty and unidentifiable. Johnny ate some of it because he had to and lay down on the bunk. The mattress was as thin and hard as in the previous cell, but at least he had a flat pillow and a single threadbare blanket to ward off the chill. It was hard to sleep with the bright light, the noises and the smells, never mind the cold. The blanket barely made any difference.

Eventually, through sheer exhaustion, he fell asleep and his dreams were populated with scenes that he wouldn’t remember when he woke, but which dragged him from sleep again and again, leaving him wrung out when morning finally came.

He only knew it was morning because something that he assumed was breakfast was shoved into his cell through the slot; a hard roll, a cup of lukewarm coffee and his antibiotic. Hardly appetizing, but Johnny managed to choke it down. Shortly after he was finished, a guard collected him and took him to the showers where he washed under cold water alongside the other inmates of the courthouse. It was not a pleasant experience. The other inmates were all hardened criminals and could see Johnny’s nervousness. The cat calls and suggestive remarks were hard to ignore. Afterwards, he was returned to his cell and left alone.

The time passed. A couple of stale sandwiches were shoved at him at lunch time and again Johnny forced himself to eat them. He dutifully took his antibiotic. It seemed they were working, for he still felt all right, although he was chilled to the bone. He hadn’t developed a cough or pneumonia.

The arrival of one of the guards chilled Johnny even further. He obediently stood to be handcuffed and shuffled along in the too-big shoes he had been issued and was ushered into a small room with the ubiquitous table and two chairs. Standing by the table was Barney Olson.

“Uncuff my client,” Barney ordered in an authoritative voice and the guard obeyed. “John, it’s good to see you again. I just wish the circumstances were different.” He shook Johnny’s hand and ushered the dazed paramedic into a seat.

“What are you doing here?” Johnny asked.

“I’m representing you,” Barney said. “Hank Stanley rang me yesterday.” He made a face. “Nothing that was done was wrong, but I’m not happy that your hearing was rushed through and I’m less than happy that you have been refused bail. However, I’m not going to rock the boat over that at the moment. I’m sorry that you have to stay here for now, but it will be for the better in the end.” He eyed Johnny. “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” Johnny replied tentatively. “Better now you’re here. That other lawyer seemed to think I was guilty.”

“I imagine he probably did think so,” Barney agreed. “But never mind him. Let’s go over what happened on the boat.” Patiently, he listened, took notes and asked questions as Johnny talked. Finally, he nodded. “And you’re absolutely certain you just pushed Mr. Liston, not punched him?”

“Of course I’m sure!” Johnny retorted. “Why would I have punched him? I just needed to get past. Roy had been punched by Liston, not once but twice. I didn’t have time to think about punching Liston; my priority was getting Roy out of the water. I just pushed him.” Johnny ran his hand through his hair. “Why isn’t Liston being charged with assaulting Roy and hampering a rescue?”

“That’s a good question,” Barney nodded. “That’s something else I must look into today. All right, who else was on that boat?”

“There were lots of people,” Johnny replied, annoyed. “And most of them were drunk.” He shook his head. “There were about 15 people there, I think. I don’t who they were.” He sighed. “The only names I knew until yesterday were Mr. and Mrs. Crowther, the heart attack victim and his wife.”

“I’ll contact Rampart and ask if I can talk to Mr. Crowther, or his wife. How did you get to the boat?” Barney made notes again.

“The Coast Guard. There were three guys with us. One stayed behind to pilot the boat back, one piloted our boat and the other did what he could to help me.”

“Excellent!” Barney declared. “I’ll get in touch with them.” He put his pen down and shuffled his notes together. “John, I don’t think we’ll have any problems getting the charges dismissed tomorrow. I’m sorry I can’t get you out of here today, but don’t despair.”

“I feel better about things,” Johnny agreed. “Thanks, Barney. Uh ... I don’t know how I’ll pay your bill, but I will...”

“Don’t worry,” Barney said, packing up his briefcase. “There’ll be no bill for this.” He shook Johnny’s hand again.

Returning to his cell, Johnny found he didn’t even mind the handcuffs quite so much. He had hope now.

**********

Morning found Roy feeling much better. His head still ached, but he wasn’t as drowsy. He had hoped to go home that day, but Dr Early had reminded him that he still wasn’t out of the woods with his concussion or potential problems with secondary drowning. While it was annoying, he was still tethered to the IV pole, although he was allowed up to use the bathroom – a huge improvement over the catheter he had had.

Now that he was awake longer, Roy had time to think. Joanne had brought him a book and a couple of magazines, but his head still hurt too much to read for long periods and the TV held no allure. Roy still had no memory of the incident on the boat, but he did remember Joanne telling him that Johnny had been arrested. The fact that Johnny still hadn’t been in to see him told Roy that his partner was still incarcerated somewhere and that thought scared him. Reaching for the phone, he rang Cap. If anyone knew what was going on, it would be Cap.

“I can’t tell you much, Roy,” Cap said regretfully. “Barney isn’t seeing Johnny until this afternoon.”

“I don’t understand how it came to this,” Roy replied. “Johnny wouldn’t have hit anyone.” He sighed. “Why?”

“Roy, right now, your guess is as good as anyone else’s. If your memory was intact, I’d say it was better. Now don’t start feeling guilty,” Cap added, knowing what Roy was like. “It really isn’t your fault you have a concussion. In fact, from what Johnny told us, it’s that guy Liston’s fault. He punched you.” Cap was always disgusted at people who interfered in rescues, especially the ones who were violent towards his paramedics.

“I’m so frustrated, Cap!” Roy cried. “Johnny’s in trouble and there’s nothing I can do because I’m stuck in hospital.”

“Roy, we’re all frustrated,” sympathized Cap. “But there isn’t anything else we can do. We got Barney to help him. Now we have to trust him to do so.”

“I know,” Roy agreed, but his voice sounded hollow.

**********

After returning to his office, Barney spent the rest of the day making phone calls. By the end of it, he was highly frustrated. Of the three Coast Guard men who had accompanied the paramedics, two had gone on vacation and the other had just left on a cutter for a three day patrol. He had a promise that the man would make a radio statement to the police about what happened, but Barney really wasn’t sure if it would be admissible as evidence.

As he had expected, Mr. Crowther was unable to make a statement, due to his health. Mrs. Crowther was with him when he had phoned the hospital, but as it was Cardiac Care, he couldn’t tie up the phones, and as of yet, Mrs. Crowther hadn’t answered his request for a call-back when she got home. She was the only person he could trust to tell him who else was at the party and at the rate things were going, it could be well into the evening before he got the names and it would be morning before he was able to interview them.

The drunk who had been knocked into the sea originally was also concussed and had been so inebriated that apparently, according to the doctors, he didn’t even remember being on the boat at all. There was no help to be had from that direction.

That left only one avenue that Barney could pursue at that moment – Liston himself. Barney had his carefully worded statement that ably implied that Johnny had been rude and aggressive towards all the guests on the boat and Liston had done nothing to warrant such behavior. Liston’s lawyer was one of the sneakiest men in Los Angeles and someone that Barney didn’t know personally but detested professionally. With a sigh, he lifted the phone.

The voice on the other end of the phone had cut-glass vowels and an air of languid confidence. Barney took an instant dislike to him. “That paramedic is dangerous,” Liston insisted. “He shouldn’t be allowed to do that job. He was rude and aggressive. I am terribly bruised by his assault.”

“I trust you won’t mind showing me the bruising?” Barney asked, sounding slightly apologetic.

“I suppose not,” Liston sighed and Barney frowned, for he had hoped the bruising was just a figment of Liston’s imagination and he would say that he preferred not to show it. That complicated matters. Barney jotted a quick note.

“Did you see what happened when the first man got knocked into the water?” Barney asked.

“No, but it was probably your precious paramedic again. I could tell he resented us because we had money and were having a good time and he had to work.” The contempt was clear in Liston’s voice. “He kept telling us what to do. Arrogant, you know.”

“And can you tell me how it came about that you punched the other paramedic?” Barney asked gently.

There was an explosion of some sort of sound at the other end of the phone. Barney smiled slightly. It seemed he had touched a nerve there. “I’m not saying any more to you until we’re in court,” Liston snarled and slammed the phone down.

Well, Barney thought with satisfaction. That was revealing. He dialed another number.

**********

Slamming the phone down, Liston was shaking with rage. What a nerve! That bloody paramedic had set a lawyer onto him after all the trouble that Liston had gone to to make sure that he got a bad court-appointed one! The case didn’t look quite so clear cut. And he didn’t have any bruises to show and he was damned if he was going to take a punch or two in the hopes of getting good enough ones to show to the court the next day.

Pacing across the lavishly appointed room, Michael stopped in front of the mahogany drinks cabinet. He needed something to help him relax and think. There had to be something he could do. He poured several fingers of whiskey into a glass and drank it down straight. The spirit burned his throat on the way down, but the warmth that emanated from his stomach to the extremities of his body felt great. While he thought about what he was going to do, another three equally large whiskies found their way down his throat.

By then, he had made his decision. He grabbed his car keys and drove down to the court house. He hadn’t realized how late in the afternoon it was and the officials at the door were reluctant to let him in until he mentioned the judge’s name and he got past.

The cells area of the court house was someplace he had never been. Even on the occasions he had been arrested, he had never been placed in a cell, thanks to the power of his family name. He was quite repulsed by the smell and the people who were being held there. But once again his name pulled the right strings, and before long, he was sitting in the same room where Johnny had met with Barney earlier in the day.

When the door opened to admit Johnny, Liston was slightly taken aback to see his adversary in handcuffs, but after a moment, he was charmed by the idea. It might well be the best thing that could happen to make his idea work. He smiled. “Sit down,” he invited.

“I prefer to stand,” Johnny replied. “What do you want?” He didn’t think it was a good idea that he was speaking to the man who had charged him with assault.

“To talk to you. Perhaps we can sort this out between us.” Liston smiled again, but there was a feline, self-satisfied quality to his smile that Johnny didn’t like.

“That’s easily done,” Johnny told him. “Drop the charges.” He walked back towards the door.

“Wait a minute!” Liston couldn’t believe the arrogance of this fireman. Who did he think he was? “Don’t walk away from me!” He leapt to his feet and spun Johnny around, pinning him to the wall with an arm across his chest.

“Let go of me,” Johnny demanded, trying to keep his cool.

“There’s nothing you can do to make me let go,” Liston smirked. “If you’re nice to me, fireman, I might plead with the judge tomorrow to go easy on you. He’s a friend of the family and he’s bound to do it.”He sniggered and Johnny turned his head to avoid the stench of alcohol on Liston’s breath. “You might only serve two or three years.” He ran his hand down Johnny’s head and forced him to meet his eyes. “Somebody might take a fancy to you in jail. I hear that happens a lot.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Johnny stated. “I’m not going to jail.” He was doing everything he could not to react or try to fight back, sensing that this was what Liston wanted. “Let me go.”

For a moment, Liston just stared at Johnny in disbelief. He genuinely believed that he had made Johnny a very good offer and was stunned that the other man didn’t want to take him up on it. “I’m trying to help you, you moron!” he hissed spitefully.

“No, you’re not,” Johnny retorted. “Now, please, let go of me. Guard!”

That was the last straw. Liston let fly with his fists and Johnny went down under a multitude of blows.

**********

The members of 51’s A shift that gathered in Roy’s hospital room that night were noticeably downcast. All of them had heard the full story of what was happening to Johnny and they were in shock. Cap had heard nothing more from Barney since he had phoned to say he had spoken to Johnny and had quite a lot of work to do before the hearing the next day. Cap had warned the others not to say anything to Roy, but Roy had brought the subject up himself. It was all he could think about.

“Can’t we do something?” Roy pleaded. He felt really bad. His headache continued unabated and his guilt over not remembering the rescue was eating him from the inside out. Nothing anyone could say relieved the burden and Brackett had left orders with the nurse that if Roy didn’t settle off to sleep in a reasonable time that evening, he was to receive a sedative for his own benefit. He was recovering from a serious injury and too much stress was bad for him.

“We can’t exactly stage a jail break,” Mike commented quietly. “That wouldn’t help.”

“And Johnny isn’t allowed visitors,” Marco added despondently.

“I know how you feel, Roy,” Chet agreed. “The station isn’t the same without the pigeon.”

“We’ve done everything practical we can,” Stanley declared firmly. “I want to do something else, too, but there isn’t anything. While I know it isn’t any comfort, we have to trust that Barney is doing everything he can and wait for the good news tomorrow.” He made a valiant effort to change the subject. “So, Roy, when are you getting out of here?” he asked, clapping his hand together.

“Not soon enough!” Roy growled and Cap gave up. Before long, the nurse was chasing the men out and she deemed that Dr Brackett’s orders should be implemented and despite Roy’s protests, he was soon deep in a drugged sleep.

***********

It was all a huge misunderstanding, Liston pleaded as the guards dragged him off the unconscious prisoner at his feet. “We were just talking!” he pleaded. “He fell over, honestly. I was trying to help him. Here, have some money.” He thrust hundreds of dollars at the guards.

Before any of them could say yes or no to the bribe, the lieutenant in charge that evening came in. He took in the scene, recognized Liston and made an instant decision. “Get that man to a hospital,” he ordered. “You come with me.” He led the sobbing Liston to his office.

It didn’t take any pressure at all to discover what Liston had done. Simply declaring him under arrest and fingerprinting him was enough. Words poured out of Liston’s mouth as he admitted falsifying the reports of assault against Johnny, admitting the assault against Roy, hindering a civil servant from performing his duty and finally assaulting Johnny.

With a gleam in his eye, the lieutenant prepared a statement that Liston signed. The man was taken away to the local station to be held overnight. With a suitably hushed tone, the lieutenant notified his superior that there was a judge who had knowing presided over a case where he knew one of the people involved. He sounded regretful as he all but whispered the name, but glee bust in bubbles in every vein in his body. His future was secured. He would be promoted within a couple of months. But there was one other thing he had to do.

He phoned the press and left them an anonymous tip.

************

They were used to prisoners in this hospital. The man was handcuffed to the gurney and the guard stood close by at all times. At the moment, the man clearly wasn’t going to be going anywhere, but still. He was obviously a violent man and better safe than sorry.

Nobody asked for his name and it wasn’t volunteered. The doctors weren’t exactly unsympathetic, but they weren’t wasting their sympathy either. This was strictly business. The nurses cut off the man’s prison uniform, looking at it in distaste and talked amongst themselves about how sad it was for a good looking man to be a criminal.

Through it all, Johnny watched from under swollen eyelids. He found it extremely odd to be nameless, especially when finding out about the patient’s mental status. In fact, it was question number one. But he wouldn’t be answering any questions at all. In fact, Johnny wouldn’t be saying anything much for weeks to come. He knew his jaw was fractured and two of his teeth had been knocked out. He was in agony and couldn’t say a word. Nobody had bothered to ask if he needed pain relief.

The ER doctor went about his work efficiently, feeling gently along Johnny’s jaw and peering into his mouth and checking the stability of the fracture and tongue. Although there was a cut under Johnny’s tongue that was bleeding persistently, his tongue had fortunately suffered no other damage.

“Get facial x-rays and I suppose we’d better check the ribs, too,” the doctor told the nurse. “And get oral and maxillofacial surgeons down here. We’re going to have to wire that jaw.” He felt Johnny’s belly again, noting the winces that suggested bruising rather than internal injury and more closely examined the surgical scar on Johnny’s belly. It was a neat piece of work, there was no doubt. “Spleenectomy?” he enquired.

Johnny nodded. He ached to tell this doctor about his medical history and to complain about the way the nurses spoke about him as though he wasn’t there. More than anything, he wanted to see some respect in the other man’s eyes. At the moment, he was being treated like dirt. His clothes had been cut off but the sheet he’d been covered with barely kept his dignity intact and had been far too slow in coming. He had never realized that being seen as a convicted prisoner meant a loss of dignity and humanity.

“You’re going to have a couple of black eyes, too,” the doctor went on impersonally. “And it looks like your nose is broken as well. Maxillofacial will look at that, too.” He glanced at the nurse. “Once x-ray has been, transfer him to the prison ward. The others can see him there.” He smiled at the guard. “We can put him in full body restraints there and you can relax a bit. The window is barred and the door locks from the outside.”

“Thanks,” the guard responded

Full body restraints! Johnny was horrified. Surely that wasn’t standard. He couldn’t bear being strapped down like that. He made an effort to sit up straighter, determined to force some words past the ghastly pain in his mouth, but the guard took his movement as the start of aggression and drew his weapon. “Stay right there!”

Frozen in place, Johnny could only look at the man. This nightmare was getting worse and worse with every moment that passed. And suddenly he knew he was going to be sick. There was no way for him to communicate his need. He leaned over the side of the gurney, hearing the click of the safety coming off the gun, and vomited on the floor.

It was probably one of the worst things Johnny had ever had to go through. The spasms though his bruised gut were painful, but opening his mouth was worse. The thought of it and the taste in his mouth made him heave again.

There were shouts and bustling all around him, but Johnny couldn’t make sense of it. His head was pounding and the pain was beyond control. Blood was dripping from his mouth and his nose as he slumped over the edge of the gurney, his right wrist held tightly to the rail, making his body twist uncomfortably. A whiff of the vomitus made him gag once more and he spiraled down into darkness.

**********

There was a huge hullabaloo going on at the court house. TV crews and reporters milled around outside, telling the nation about the scandal that had just broken in Beverly Hills. More reporters and TV crews were mobbing the gates of the judge’s home, where several policemen had arrived to take him into custody, and yet more were parked outside the palatial mansion belonging to the Liston family. This was news!

Inside, the lieutenant in charge was quietly rubbing his hands with glee and struggling to keep the satisfaction off his face. He had served enough time in the district to know that often rich families managed to get off with fines or trivial sentences because they knew the judges who presided over their cases. That wasn’t going to happen this time and he had made sure of it by tipping off the press. He had even remembered to use the payphone to do it so it wouldn’t be on the court house call log. Oh, life was sweet.

During all this gloating, it didn’t occur to the lieutenant that he ought to notify Gage’s lawyer of the fact his client had been taken to hospital. Man, the guy hadn’t looked too good when they scraped him off the floor. Still, with guys like that, you never knew. They could bounce back like cockroaches. He snapped to attention as the precinct captain walked in.

“Good job,” the captain praised. “I’ll take over now.”

That was as he had expected, but the lieutenant knew he would still be around to watch events unfold. A judge arrived in the early hours of the morning, and all the time, the press were outside, clamoring to hear all the details. Oh yes, it was incredibly satisfying.

**********

As he watched the morning news, a thrill of adrenalin shot through Roy’s belly. The cameras were still parked in front of the court house, but the reporters had more news now than they had had through the night. Now they knew the name of the man whose behavior had sparked the string of events that had culminated in the arrest of a prominent judge and had other members of the judiciary looking into possible irregularities. Roy wasn’t very interested in the judge; he was far more interested in the person who had brought the judge down – Michael Liston.

Reaching for the phone, Roy dialed Cap’s number. “Have you seen the news?” he asked.

“No,” Cap replied. He took the receiver away from his mouth and called to his wife, “Could you put the news on please?” Roy could hear sounds in the background and he waited impatiently. “I’ve got it on, Roy. What’s...?” clearly the name had just impinged on Cap’s consciousness. “My God!”

“Yeah,” Roy agreed. “Cap, they’re saying that a prisoner was hurt in a fracas with Liston. You don’t think it could have been Johnny do you?”

“They aren’t saying much about the person who was hurt,” Cap said, slowly. “I hope it wasn’t Johnny, but you have to wonder, don’t you? What was Liston doing there in the first place?”

“I wondered that, too,” Roy sighed. “Cap, what do we do? How do we find out?”

“I’ll phone Barney,” Cap decided. “I’ll get back to you as soon as I know anything, Roy. Try not to worry.”

“Hey, this is me,” Roy joked weakly. “But I’ll try.” Even as he said the words, Roy knew he would be unable to do as he had promised. He was really worried. After a moment, he phoned down to the ER, knowing that Dixie would be on duty. Perhaps Johnny had been brought in during the night.

Perhaps...

***********

When Johnny came to, he was lying on a bed in a small room. Glancing about, he saw that the window was indeed heavily barred and the slightest of movements told him that he was totally restrained. His wrists and ankles were tethered to the sides of the beds by heavy leather cuffs that were lined with sheepskin to make them more comfortable and broad straps went over his chest, pelvis, thighs and shins. His guard was still in the room with him and two other men that he hadn’t seen before were there.

“Oh good, you’re awake,” one said. “We’ve given you something to help the nausea. I’m an oral surgeon and this gentleman here is from maxillofacial. We’ve decided to work under a local anesthetic, given that you have a slight concussion. I’m going to have to give you temporary crowns for your broken teeth, but once you get out of jail, perhaps you’ll be able to afford proper ones.”

The disdain in the man’s voice, and his assumption that Johnny had already been tried and convicted, was enough to make the paramedic try to speak. But no more than an angry croak emerged before the other surgeon had taken Johnny’s jaw gently in his hand and the first injection was going in.

It was impossibly awful. While Johnny had never been a fan of the dentist, this was a thousand times worse than he had ever endured before. Despite the local anesthetic, he could still feel the tugging and pulling and twinges of pain. By the time they were finished, Johnny was exhausted from trying to escape the restraining straps. His jaws were now wired shut and he would be on a liquid diet for the next six weeks. To compound his misery, his broken nose made breathing through it difficult and he felt completely miserable. He was very grateful for the painkilling injection he was given by the maxillofacial surgeon before he finally left.

All Johnny wanted to do was sleep and forget this nightmare.

***********

It took Cap several tries to reach Barney as it transpired that both men were trying to phone each other at the same time. Barney was heading down to the court house at once and suggested that perhaps Cap could join him. There would clearly have to be another hearing and there was little doubt that Johnny’s name would be cleared, however, he would doubtless be grateful for a friendly face and perhaps some fresh clothing, if Cap could arrange that. Cap agreed that he could.

He took a quick trip to see Joanne DeSoto, and got the keys for Johnny’s apartment from her. He went to Johnny’s home and picked up some clothes for him and drove quickly to the court house. He found parking to be a problem due to the number of TV vans out front, but finally found a space about a block away. He hurried back.

It was total chaos inside. There were umpteen camera crews jostling for position and he squeezed his way between them, thankful that he had not come down in his fire captain’s uniform. It took him several minutes to locate Barney and the other man wore a worried frown.

“What’s wrong?” Cap asked.

“Johnny’s missing,” Barney replied.

***********

“Missing!” Stanley’s bellow could be heard all over the lobby of the building and several of the reporters looked interestedly in his direction.”

“Shhh!” Barney chided, and dragged Stanley over to a quieter corner so they could talk. “Keep your voice down. We don’t want this splashed all over the media.”

“I don’t understand,” Hank admitted. “How can Johnny be missing?”

“Here’s the story as I know it so far,” Barney said. “Liston came here and asked to speak to Johnny. They were left alone, as requested, and the next thing, Johnny had called out for help. This is where things get confused. Liston was arrested and admitted lying about Johnny assaulting him, admitting to assaulting Roy, preventing a civil servant from performing his duties and knowing the judge who heard Johnny’s case. Then someone tipped the media off and this circus is a result. The judge was arrested and another judge has been appointed to look into things. But when I went down to speak to Johnny, there was no trace of him.”

“Someone must know something,” Hank objected. “Don’t they keep logs and stuff?” He really had little idea of how the system worked.

“They’re supposed,” Barney agreed cynically. “But someone seems to have forgotten to do that last night. We simply don’t know where Johnny is.”

“He can’t have disappeared,” Hank declared. “Someone must know. Have you spoken to the people on duty last night?”

“They’ve gone home,” Barney answered. “None of them are answering their phones.”

“What about hospitals or other police stations?” Hank asked.

“We’re ringing them right now, but so far none of them have a John Gage.” Barney looked as worried as he sounded. “I have no idea what to do next.”

“Neither do I!” Hank admitted. Why did it always happen to Gage he wondered.

***********

A short time later, Hank found himself with Barney in the judges’ chambers. The silver-haired man in front of him looked tired. “I would like to get this over and done with,” Judge Cole admitted, “but until Mr. Gage turns up, there is nothing I can do. Our biggest problem is that if he has somehow absconded, a warrant will need to be issued for his arrest.”

“Let me tell you,” Hank said, his teeth gritted in an effort to keep his temper, “John Gage is not the type of man to abscond from custody, especially when he was wrongfully arrested!”

“I don’t doubt Mr. Gage’s integrity,” the judge soothed. “I’m just telling you what could happen. I have sent officers to question the night staff and we will get to the bottom of this.” He sighed. “I would like to be able to make a statement to the press to get rid of them, but that won’t be possible until the legal tangles are sorted out.”

Thoughtfully, Hank gazed out of the window. “Liston admits to assault John,” he mused aloud. “If he had assaulted him last night, wouldn’t John have been taken to a hospital? Which one would that be?”

“It would be Mercy Central hospital,” the judge replied. “But they say they don’t have a John Gage registered.”

Crestfallen, Cap slumped down in his seat. He might have known it wouldn’t be as easy as that.

Slowly, Barney lifted his head. “If John was taken in as a prisoner, would his name have been given? Did you ask if they had any prisoners there?”

“You’re right, they probably wouldn’t have given a name,” the judge admitted. “I’ll phone them...”

“Tell them we’re coming over,” Barney interrupted. “We can see for ourselves if it’s Johnny or not.” He glanced at Hank for confirmation and received a nod. Doing something was better than waiting. They rose to their feet as the judge reached for the phone.

***********

It didn’t take long to get to the hospital, but it seemed to take an age before they were finally, grudgingly, allowed to go to the prison ward. There, they had another argument with a tired-looking cop who kept saying it was more than his job was worth to let them see the prisoner. It took them almost an hour to persuade him to ring the court house and get direct orders to let them in.

The room was dimly lit and the figure strapped to the bed was in shadow. “John?” Cap said, but there was no answering stirring. Hope, which had taken residence in his heart, started to fade. “John?” Cap stepped a bit closer and a gasp was ripped from his throat.

His junior paramedic was barely recognizable. His face was lump and swollen, with two black eyes and a broken nose. Blood stained his lips and splattered on his bare chest. He was strapped to the bed, his wrists and ankles also restrained. He was breathing with obvious difficulty through his mouth.

Whirling, Hank yelled, “Get a doctor in here now! Get these restraints off!”

“I’m not doing that,” the cop responded, crossing his arms across his chest. Hank could sense another ‘jobsworth’ speech coming on and acted to prevent it.

“I’m not asking, I’m telling!” he declared in his most authoritative voice. “Get someone in here right now. If I have to call the court house again, you’ll be very sorry about it.”

“Was that a threat?” the cop blustered, clearly intimidated.

“No, it was a promise,” Hank told him darkly. He turned to the lawyer. “Barney, I want him taken from here to Rampart where I know he’ll get the best care. Can you arrange that?”

“Right away,” Barney approved. He gave the cop a disgusted look. “Get those restraints off him now. And get the doctor.”

Things started moving more quickly at that point. The doctor who arrived was young and over- worked and clearly not interested in the man in the prison ward. “Of course he’s going to have some difficulty breathing,” he told Hank in a patronizing tone. “He’s got a broken nose and jaw.”

“He should have roused by now with all the noise in here,” Hank said worriedly, for Johnny had barely twitched.

“We sedated him,” the doctor replied. “It’s easiest with these people. Keep them sedated and restrained and we don’t run into any problems.”

“Isn’t it dangerous to unnecessarily sedate patients with a concussion?”

“Are you a doctor?” the doctor asked with a sneer.

“No,” Hank replied. “I’m a fire station captain with two paramedics working under me – one of whom is this man.”

“He came in wearing handcuffs. We have a standard procedure for dealing with prisoners and this is it. Like it or not, I do as I’m told.” He shrugged. “So sue me. I followed hospital procedure and I’m covered.”

While Hank subsumed the desire to throttle the young doctor where he stood, Barney came back into the room. “Papers are on their way over from the court authorizing you to take John to Rampart,” he said. “I’ve phoned Dr Brackett and he has a couple of paramedics coming, too and is on stand-by for his arrival.” He cast a look at the doctor and ignored him. “The judge will speak to John once Dr Brackett gives the okay.”

“Thank you, Barney,” Hank replied fervently. He crossed back to Johnny’s bedside and put his hand on the young man’s arm. “It’s almost over, John,” he assured him quietly.

************

Of course, it took longer for the papers allowing Johnny’s transfer to Rampart to arrive than it did for the ambulance, paramedics and eventual journey combined. Hank had been outraged to discover that John had been left no clothing at all and bullied the nursing staff into providing at least a hospital gown. Mercy General was a small hospital doing the best it could, but there was no excuse, in Hank’s mind, for the treatment they appeared to routinely give to prisoners. He watched as Johnny’s sleeping form was loaded into the ambulance and he joined Barney in the car to follow.

Dr Brackett was waiting for them at the ER entrance when the ambulance pulled in. Barney dropped Hank off and went to park the car. Hank followed the stretcher as paramedic Jay Parker gave the update. “He’s still deeply sedated,” Parker reported. “His pulse is 68, respirations 22 and BP 100/60. His breathing is improved with the oxygen.”

“Thanks, Jay,” Brackett said, and beckoned Hank to come into the room with him. Like anything would have kept him out. “What can you tell me, Hank?” he asked, as he leaned over Johnny for his first close look.

“It seems Johnny was assaulted last night at the court house,” Hank explained. “He was taken to Mercy General where they treated him for a broken nose and jaw. He was heavily sedated and completely restrained, as that is SOP for them there. I was also told he probably has a slight concussion.”

Gently, Brackett moved Johnny’s swollen lips apart and peered into his mouth as best he could. He felt all round the swollen face and over the nose and peered into the deeply bruised eyes. “I want a CT scan,” he announced to the nurse. “Get the oral and maxillofacial surgeons down here so they can look at the work that’s been done. I’m not happy with those temporary crowns.” He glanced at Hank. “I spoke to Mercy before you got here.” Brackett’s mouth twitched. “They have given Johnny enough sedation to keep him out for the rest of the day. We’ll deal with his mouth while he’s still out, after his CT scan, and then we’ll move him to ICU.”

“ICU?” Hank echoed. “Is he that bad?”

“This much sedation on top of a head injury is not great,” Brackett replied, choosing his words carefully. “Johnny has a broken nose and jaw, so breathing is going to be tricky initially until his nose settles and clears and sedation, as you know, usually represses the respiration rate. At the moment, Johnny’s rate is still fairly high, but now we’ve got him on oxygen, he is breathing more easily and his rate is dropping. We need to keep on top of it. I fully expect Johnny to make a full recovery, but enough has happened to him in the last few days and he has a few rough weeks ahead of him, too. He needs time to rest and recover.”

“He needs to speak to the judge as soon as he can, too,” Hank explained. “His name needs to be formally cleared.”

“Obviously, that’s going to have to wait until he’s awake,” Brackett replied. “If Johnny is up to doing that, I see no problems. And the sooner this is over and done with and Johnny can put it behind him the better.” He turned as the orderlies came in and nodded to them. “Be gentle with him,” he instructed gruffly. “Hank, I’ll see you back here in about an hour?”

“Yes, all right.” Hank felt exhausted, although a glance at his watch showed it was early afternoon. “I’ll go and see Roy.”

“Good idea,” Brackett said dryly as they exited the room. Barney was waiting for him with the other members of 51’s A shift. “He’s been phoning every five minutes and Dixie is ready to murder him.” They smiled at each other and Brackett headed off to follow Johnny to CT and Hank went over to brief the men waiting for him.

**********

In the end, he told the whole story to them in Roy’s room, saving him from having to repeat himself. Roy didn’t look very well and Hank could well believe that the strain and worry were having a bad effect on his concussion. Roy’s propensity for taking the blame on to himself wouldn’t be helping either. Joanne was already there when they arrived and clutched Roy’s hand throughout, giving and receiving comfort.

“That’s criminal!” Joanne exclaimed when Hank finished. “How could that hospital treat anyone like that?”

“Much as I hate to say it,” Barney spoke up, “there are some criminals who behave so badly and are so dangerous that the hospital is probably justified in taking that action with a lot of people. However, I do think they need to find out more about their patients first and the officers who go with the prisoners need to speak up and tell the circumstances of their injuries. In defense of the officer with John, he had not seen anything that had gone on and was simply sent along to the hospital in the back of the patrol car and told to stay there till someone relieved him. It’s not that uncommon.”

“But it’s not right!” Joanne objected.

“I didn’t say it was,” Barney agreed mildly. “And it is something I will bring up at the enquiry into this matter, believe me.”

“So what’s the legal position now?” Roy asked. He was reclining heavily on his pillows, his face pale. His headache was worse than ever.

“Legally, John is still in custody, but the charges against him will be dropped as soon as the judge can talk to him. I will be instigating charges against Michael Liston on both your and John’s behalf for the assaults on you both. I will also be insisting that there is an enquiry into the allegations of the judge who heard John’s case not dismissing himself and we’ll see what happens from there. There will almost certainly be a trial for illegal imprisonment. John will undoubtedly get some form of compensation for all this. At the very least, all his medical bills and loss of earnings will be covered and more if I can get it. And I will get more.”

“Good!” Chet said fiercely. Nobody commented, but there were smiles all round.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Roy said softly.

“No, it shouldn’t,” Hank agreed. “But it did, so we all have to deal with it and move on. There’s no point in wondering if we could have done something that might have changed the circumstances. We couldn’t. None of us are to blame for this – it all lies at the door of Michael Liston. Let’s hope that he gets his just deserts over this.”

“Amen,” Marco said fervently.

***********

There was something beeping and it was annoying him. Drowsily, he reached out an arm to shut his alarm clock off, but weirdly, his arm didn’t really want to work very well. That was slightly worrying. There appeared to be something on his face and his face hurt. I’ve had another accident, Johnny thought tiredly. Cap’s gonna kill me.

With a gargantuan effort, Johnny managed to crank one eyelid open slightly. The room he was in was immediately familiar to him. It was ICU. What on earth had he done this time to earn himself a bed here? With an effort, he opened the other eye. Both eyes seemed to weigh several tons each. Johnny looked for the call button. His face was getting very sore indeed.

A nurse came in before he found the button. “Hello there,” she smiled. She took his wrist and started to take his pulse, although Johnny wondered why she bothered, because the heart monitor was doing the annoying beeping. He started to open his mouth to ask why he was there, but the simple act caused agony to shoot through his whole face and a strangled scream emerged through his barely parted lips.

“Easy, easy,” the nurse soothed. She half turned away, still holding his wrist, and shouted, “Susie, bring Mr. Gage’s pain medication.” She turned back. “It’ll be here in a moment, just keep breathing.” She continued to coach him until the other nurse arrived, blessedly quickly, with the promised relief.

Although his brain seemed very foggy, and was getting foggier now he’d had the medication, Johnny now remembered the broken jaw. However, he was puzzled, as he was sure he hadn’t been in Rampart before. He had been somewhere else, with unpleasant doctors and nurses, strapped naked to a bed with barely a sheet to cover his modesty. He glanced down at himself. A sheet was pulled up to his waist and he was wearing a hospital gown.

The questions he wanted to ask beat around his aching head. The nurse smiled at him. “Dr Brackett is coming to talk to you if you can stay awake,” she told him. “You’re in ICU because you were quite heavily sedated, but you should be able to move to an ordinary room fairly soon, I think.” She lifted a glass with a straw in it and guided it gently through his bruised lips after moving the oxygen mask. It took a moment to figure out sipping, but the water felt wonderfully cool sliding down his parched throat.

“Johnny.” The voice was deep, rich and familiar and Johnny turned his heavy eyes to the doctor who was smiling at him. That was good news all on its own. “Did you get your painkiller?” He had a quick look at the chart, even as the nurse verbally confirmed he had. “Good. If I give you a pad and pen, could you write?” Johnny gave a single careful nod. The pad was brought from Brackett’s pocket. “Do you remember what happened?”

Slowly Johnny wrote the answer, sketching in the few details he was clear about regarding the assault and more about the ghastly treatment he had had at the hospital. Then he wrote a question: How did I get here?

Smiling, Brackett filled him in with that. “You were very heavily sedated,” Brackett went on. “When I got you here, we did a CT scan. Whoever wired your jaw did a decent job, but the dentist left quite a bit to be desired.” Johnny gave a single emphatic nod. “One of our oral surgeons replaced the temporary crowns, so there shouldn’t be any problems when you come to get the permanent ones in. Sorry if you’re really sore. You’ve had your jaw wired twice in about 12 hours.”

At least I wasn’t awake for this one, Johnny wrote. That’s a plus.

“’I suppose your next question is when can you go home?” Brackett suggested. “Well, it’ll be a few days until we see how you’re getting on with a liquid diet. You can’t afford to drop any weight, Johnny, and if necessary I’ll anchor a subclavian line and give you alimentary feeding.”

Even though he sighed heavily, Johnny could see the sense in that. Broken bones needed good nutrition to heal and there was a limit to how much soup one man could tolerate when he had an appetite and metabolism like Johnny’s. The last thing he needed was his jaw to take a long time to heal. He hated being unable to speak. He leaned back against the pillows, only now realizing that he was sleeping in a reclining position. That made sense, he thought. It would help reduce the swelling in his face.

“You sleep some more,” Brackett said. “When you wake up, we’ll see how you’re doing and move you to another room. And yes,” he added as the bruised eyes open, “Roy will be there for a day or so anyway.” He squeezed Johnny’s foot. “Get some sleep, hose jockey.”

**********

It was the next morning before Johnny was moved out of ICU. He could breathe more easily and was down to only a nasal cannula and Brackett assured him that he would be able to lose it probably the next day.

The partners were glad to see each other. They ‘talked’ as best they could, with Johnny’s handwriting getting progressively less legible with every note. They had barely finished their catch-up when Joanne came in. She swooped down on Johnny, hugged him and gently kissed his swollen cheek. “Oh, Johnny, your poor face!” she exclaimed, looking down at the bruises and black eyes. “Does it hurt dreadfully?”

Shamelessly, Johnny gave a solemn nod, but Roy quickly put in his two cents worth. “Not when he gets his painkillers regularly,” he contradicted. Johnny shot him a narrow eyed glare, but the black eyes kind of spoiled the effect. Roy was oblivious to it anyway. “You’re only the latest in a long line of women who have come in here and kissed him this morning,” he continued. “It’s been a regular revolving door of nurses.”

“Ignore him, Johnny,” Joanne advised. “He’s just jealous. None of the nurses kiss him.” She fixed her husband with an eagle eyed glare. “At least, they’d better not be.”

A strangled sound escaped Johnny, which worried Joanne until she realized that he was trying not to laugh as it hurt so much.

Joanne was only the first of Johnny’s visitors that day. Shortly after the DeSotos had headed off to the canteen – Roy was doing more walking in preparation to going home the following day – Dr Brackett arrived with Barney, a police officer and a judge in tow.

It was left to Barney to explain what was going on. Johnny agreed to ‘speak’ to the cop and judge and wrote his answers in his best writing, which still looked rather like a spider had walked through an ink blot. By the time he had answered the questions asked by both men, he was exhausted and his hand was cramping. It was worth it, though, to be told that he was innocent of all charges and that his good name and reputation were unsullied. Both the judge and the cop shook his hand and thanked him before taking their leave. Brackett checked Johnny didn’t need any more pain relief (he didn’t) and also left.

“Do you have any questions?” Barney asked.

Nodding, Johnny slowly wrote them down. What happens now?

“Now, we have to wait and see if you are called as a witness. Liston has pleaded guilty to everything he was charged with and he’ll be going to jail for quite some time to come. Where you might be called is as a witness at the trial of the judge who sat at your hearing. I don’t think it’s likely, as you weren’t aware that you were being shafted, but Liston did confess that to you.” Barney waited while all that sank in.

Do I have to press charges?

Having been warned that Johnny would probably ask this, Barney wasn’t surprised. “Oh yes,” he replied firmly. “You’ve got to. Liston cannot possibly be allowed to walk away from this. It’s far too big. The charges are staying, my friend.” There was another pause while Johnny digested that.

How did I get ‘lost'?

“Ah, the wondrous slight-of-hand that manages to misplace prisoners.” Barney gave a little gleeful smile that surprised Johnny. “Therein lies a tale. You were rescued by the lieutenant on duty that night. Liston was terrified, having been caught red-handed and spilled his guts, if you pardon the expression, right away. You were taken in a patrol car to the hospital and left there with one guard. Meanwhile, the lieutenant was so tickled at discovering that Liston could bring down a judge that he forgot to fill out the logbook. He alerted his superior, but he also took the time to alert the media, too. It might all have worked out very nicely for him -- he had caught Liston in the act, had proof of corruption -- and might well have been promoted. Unfortunately, he forgot that the pay phone he used to call the media has a camera trained on it for security purposes. Liston wasn’t the only one caught red-handed. Our favorite lieutenant has been busted back to a simple patrolman and probably won’t even be trusted to see kiddies across the road.” Barney couldn’t help himself -- he sniggered.

There was a poetic justice to it, Johnny had to admit. He didn’t think it was all that funny though.

His thoughts must have shown nakedly on his face, for Barney said, “The media are camped outside the hospital as we speak, John, and nobody is allowed to say how you are unless a certain code word is used. You are being lauded as the ‘heroic fireman who risked his life to expose injustice’. It has a nice ring, don’t you think?” He grinned as Johnny shook his head. “Anyway, someone let slip to the media that the person who tipped them off managed to lose a vital witness, albeit temporarily, and they are now besieging him, too, oozing with false sympathy for his downfall.” He smiled. “’Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall’,” he quoted.

Sobering, Barney said, “When Liston is found guilty, we’re going to be going after him for damages, John. Don’t shake your head at me. Just listen. We’ll ask for your medical costs and then there will be a substantial amount for impugning your good name and the pain and suffering you have endured. I’ll handle all that. We’re also talking to the board at Mercy General, where you were first taken, and asking them to look at their policy regarding how they handle prisoners. I will be mentioning to them that you could sue because of the way they treated you, an innocent man.” He raised his hand as a frown crossed John’s face. “We won’t do it, but they need to have a think about it. Don’t you agree?”

Remembering being strapped to that bed, Johnny nodded with more vigor than he intended and winced. They certainly did need to change their policy. He closed his eyes for a moment.

“John, if there’s nothing more, I’ll leave you to rest. You take care.” Barney rose and shook his client’s hand. “I hope you heal soon.”

Alone, Johnny closed his eyes and thought about all that Barney had said. He wasn’t worried about asking for compensation, although any money he did get would be useful. He hoped he wouldn’t have to go to court, but he supposed that wouldn’t be for a few more weeks anyway, given that he couldn’t take right now. And that police lieutenant... He drifted off to sleep.

When he woke up, Cap was in the room, chatting quietly with Roy and Joanne. Seeing Johnny was awake, he went over and clapped a hand on Johnny’s shoulder. “It’s good to see you back with us, John,” he said, sincerely. “And I’m glad to hear from Barney that you are a free man again.”

Thanks to you, Cap, for contacting him, Johnny wrote. He thrust out his hand and Cap shook it solemnly.

That was the last serious moment of the day. The crew came for a visit and they all watched the TV news – the first time John had seen it – and Chet cracked jokes about Gage being famous, although he was careful not to make any of them funny, since Johnny couldn’t laugh.

When everyone had gone and it was just he and Roy, Johnny was wiped out. But it was a good wiped out. For the first time in days, he felt as though things were going right again.

**********

Roy was sent home next morning. Johnny missed his company, but after a few days, he was allowed to leave and, as was often the case, went to the DeSotos. He had company and Joanne was a great cook, even if everything did have to be liquidized. He was able to rest and eat and keep his strength up and at the end of six weeks, a repeat x-ray was taken and he was given twilight sedation to have the wiring removed from his jaws.

With grateful thanks to his friends, he moved back into his own apartment. He slowly learned to eat proper food again and was delighted when after just a couple of weeks, he was able to tuck into a cheeseburger and not really notice. He still had to get his teeth seen to, but that was another story. His jaw had to be fully back to normal before he got his teeth seen to.

As Barney had predicted, Liston didn’t have to go to trial. He had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years for assaulting Johnny and another 5 for assaulting Roy. He received 5 years for hindering the paramedics and another 5 for corruption. He was to serve at least 15 years before he could be considered for parole. Barney had made a plea for compensation and Johnny was awarded his medical expenses, which were considerable, and a further $500,000 for the pain and suffering he had endured. Roy was granted his medical expenses and $200,000.

The following week, the judge went on trial. He was also found guilty and had to pay all his victims compensation. Johnny found himself richer by a further $100,000.

It was all rather mind-boggling. While Roy and Joanne paid off their mortgage, set up college funds for their kids and had a fabulous vacation, Johnny looked around for just the right place and bought himself a nice house with a bit of land where he could keep a horse.

There was no question of either of the paramedics giving up work. John had had several sessions with the department psychologist about what had happened to him, and when he had returned to work, he was his usual self. Roy had consulted his own psychologist – Joanne – who had set him straight on many things, and who had also helped Johnny without realizing.

A couple of days before Johnny was due to start back to work, A shift held a celebratory barbeque on the beach and brought all their families and girlfriends along. It was a beautiful day and they had a great time.

At one point, Roy saw Johnny standing gazing out to sea. He walked over and draped his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Thinking?” he asked.

“Yeah, about how all this has turned out. All that money – for you as well as me. Weird, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. “ Roy looked out to sea, too. “It isn’t a sea of heartbreak, as I had first thought. Mr. Crowther recovered well, did you know?”

“No.” Johnny turned to look at Roy. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Together, they turned and walked back to the others.

*****End*****

Sea of Heartbreak sung by Johnny Cash.

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