If I Only Had A Helmet...
Glancing up worriedly as the roof above him creaked ominously, Fire-fighter/paramedic John Gage wished he had his helmet on. This building not only sounded unstable, it had collapsed in several places and it was only a matter of time – a short space of time, Johnny thought – before the rest of it followed suit. If Cap had been running the rescue, he wouldn’t have been allowed into the building without some shoring and certainly not without his helmet! The problem was, Cap wasn’t running this rescue. In fact, Cap didn’t even know about the rescue and Johnny’s helmet was sitting on its usual hook in the cab of the squad. Roy was... well, Johnny had to assume that Roy was still safely in either the corner shop he had popped into, or at the squad, wondering where on earth his trouble-magnet partner had gone.
The fact was, Johnny wondered where on earth he was, too. He had been sitting innocently in the squad, waiting for Roy to buy a gallon of milk in the corner shop, when two men had suddenly appeared at his open window. Before Johnny could say anything, one of them jammed a gun into his throat and hissed, “Don’t make a sound or I’ll blow your head off!” He had clicked off the safety to emphasize his point.
Wisely, Johnny hadn’t argued. He had slid awkwardly from his seat, submitted to having his hands bound behind him and was gagged and blindfolded for good measure. He was then shoved face down into the back of a van and the goon followed, resting the gun on his back in case he tried something.
The journey to this dilapidated, collapsing building hadn’t taken very long; perhaps 10 minutes. Still bound, Johnny had been dragged inside, tripping over debris that he couldn’t see, kept on his feet by a bruising grip on his arm. He had been pushed to the floor and the blindfold removed and Johnny saw at once why he had been brought – a third man was lying on a filthy mattress, wheezing audibly.
Goon Two had brought the drug box and oxygen with him. Johnny wondered what Roy would think when he found it was missing along with his partner and hoped that there had been a witness to see his abduction. He knew Roy would call the police, but how would they find him? He had no idea where he was and if nobody had seen him being taken... Johnny swallowed hard and didn’t allow himself to finish the thought.
“Help him,” Goon One said, gesturing towards the man on the mattress. Johnny simply looked at his captor. How was he meant to help with his hands tied and gagged?
“Untie him,” snarled Goon Two. “He can’t do anything like that.”
“Don’t try anything,” Goon One warned and untied Johnny’s hands. He stepped back and covered Johnny with his gun.
Slowly, Johnny loosened the gag and rubbed some feeling back into his numb hands. He went over to the ill man. “Can you hear me?” he asked. There was no response. “What’s his name?” Johnny asked.
“What difference does it make?” Goon One demanded.
“People react to their names,” Johnny replied. “How long has he been like this?” He reached slowly for the drug box and took out his stethoscope.
“A while,” replied Goon Two indifferently.
That appeared to be all the help Johnny was going to get. He repressed a sigh and set about collecting vitals, not that he could do anything except give oxygen. Without a doctor’s approval, he couldn’t give any drugs. Pursing his mouth at his findings, Johnny guessed that even the doctors wouldn’t be able to help this man. His blood pressure was so low that Johnny almost couldn’t get a reading. He was febrile and his lungs were extremely congested. Johnny would have placed bets that it was pneumonia, and from the readings, the man had had it for several days and was severely dehydrated and almost certainly dying. Johnny fitted the oxygen mask over the man’s nose and mouth and sat back. There was nothing more he could do.
“He needs a hospital,” Johnny reported, his tone neutral, but implying urgency nonetheless.
“Ain’t happening,” Goon One growled. “You got drugs there. Treat him.”
“I think he has pneumonia,” Johnny explained. “He needs IV antibiotics and fluids and a warm bed. I don’t have those things. There’s nothing more I can do for him.”
“I don’t want to hear that,” shouted Goon One. He brandished his gun in Johnny’s face. “Fix him.”
“Look,” Johnny retorted, “we carry some drugs to help heart conditions and some fluids, but they’re in the other box. I’m giving him oxygen, but I can’t do any more. He needs to go to the hospital.”
“And I said he ain’t goin’,” snarled the other man.
“I’m not trying to be difficult here,” Johnny replied, keeping his tone even, doing his best to diffuse the situation as he had been taught. “But I can’t help him. I’m sorry. He’s very ill and needs a doctor’s care.” He glanced up anxiously at a particularly loud creak from above. “He needs to go to hospital.”
“And I said he ain’t goin’!” Goon One bellowed. He clicked the safety off his gun. “I told you to treat him!”
“And I told you I can’t!” Johnny snapped back. “I’m not a doctor, I don’t have the drugs to help and he needs to go to a hospital!”
“Why you...!” Goon One had clearly reached the end of his very short rope. Johnny gulped nervously as the gun pointed at his head. He could see the trigger finger whitening as it took up the pressure...
“No!” Goon Two had seen the danger signs too and knocked his partner’s arm up just as the weapon discharged. The bullet flew overhead and smacked into a dilapidated wooden structure above. There was another loud creak. “We need him alive, you moron!”
“Back off!” Goon One warned, and as suddenly as that, the two of them were involved in a wrestling match for the gun, swaying back and forth and Johnny ducked, praying that if the gun went off again, he would be safely out of the firing line.
Moments later, the two burly men crashed into a crumbling support for the wooden platform above and it splintered into a million pieces. They didn’t notice. But Johnny did, as there was a sound like a squeaky door hinge and then a roar as the wooden structure succumbed to gravity and cascaded down. Instinctively, Johnny threw himself over the sick man and thought if I only had a helmet...
The world went dark.
Exiting the corner shop, Roy crossed over to the squad, whistling slightly as he juggled the cold milk between his hands. He had the door open and one hip inside when he realized Johnny wasn’t in the squad. Slightly surprised, but not concerned, for the HT still lay on the seat, he put the milk beside it and got back out. He walked around the squad, half-expecting to find Johnny sitting on the back bumper, but there was no sign of him. Unease awoke in his gut and he circled round to the passenger side of the squad and outright alarm flared at the sight of the open compartment doors. He gazed blankly at the spaces where the drug box and oxygen should be and then he was reaching for the radio and summoning help.
Gazing around him, waiting for the police to arrive, Roy could only wonder what on earth his partner had gotten himself into this time and hope that wherever he was, he was unhurt.
Engine 51 arrived only moments after the police. Captain Stanley stood beside Roy as his senior paramedic gave Detective Ron Crockett the few scanty details that he knew: when he had gone into the store, Johnny was sitting in the squad. When he came out, Johnny, the drug box and the oxygen had gone. It wasn’t exactly much to go on, but Roy had quickly scouted the area while he waited for help to come and he knew Johnny wasn’t anywhere close by.
“You’re sure he didn’t go to help someone?” Crockett asked.
“If he had gone to help someone of his own accord, he’d have taken the biophone with him,” Roy insisted. “We can’t treat without a doctor’s permission.”
“Thanks, Roy.” Crockett turned away and began to give instructions to the cops with him. One turned away and began to talk to the people who were standing watching and another began to dust the squad for prints. Roy sighed.
“There are no signs of violence, Roy,” Cap reminded his man, putting his hand on Roy’s shoulder for support.
“I know, Cap,” Roy agreed. “But that doesn’t mean Johnny went with them willingly. He would’ve taken the biophone if he’d been given a choice. How is it that someone sitting innocently in a squad can just disappear like that?”
“I wish I knew,” Cap replied, with feeling. “Roy, you’re out of service until the cops are finished with the squad. I have no idea how long that will be, but once it’s released, go back to the station and we’ll decide where to go from there. Hopefully, Johnny will be found before long.” He gave Roy a slight shake. “This isn’t your fault, Roy.”
“I know,” Roy admitted, “but it sure feels like it is.”
Shaking his head, Cap was about to say something when his HT squawked. “Engine 51, Squad 34, building collapse, possible injuries, one twenty one Weston Avenue, 1-2-1 Weston Avenue. Time out 10.45.”
“Engine 51, KMG 365,” Cap responded. He looked at Roy. “Keep in touch via the HT, Roy.” He turned and jogged to the engine.
Roy watched as they drove away, suddenly feeling very alone.
In the collapsed building at 121 Weston Ave, Johnny lifted his aching head and coughed painfully. The air was full of dust particles and he choked as they irritated his lungs. For a moment, he couldn’t think where he was, then he remembered and strained to get up. Pain shot down his back and legs and he gave up the attempt immediately. He was trapped beneath debris. As he glanced around, Johnny guessed that the most of the building that had surrounded him earlier was now lying across his back and legs. Vaguely, he wondered where the two goons were, but he could do nothing for them even if he knew. The victim he had been kidnapped to help lay beneath him and Johnny felt for a pulse, but there was nothing. The man that Johnny had tried to protect had gone.
“Help!” Johnny cried. He had no idea if there was anyone close by, but he had no option but to try. Help would come no other way. “Help!” He only succeeded in stirring up the dust and he subsided, choking and coughing, battling to keep the impending nausea at bay. He failed, and vomited helplessly into the debris and could only be thankful that he was pinned face down. At least he wouldn’t aspirate. The thought was cold comfort.
To try and distract himself, Johnny took a mental inventory of his injuries. He had clearly been whacked on the head. He raised his right hand slowly and carefully and felt around his skull, wincing as his fingers came into contact with a large gash on the back. It was still bleeding slightly. Well, all right, he was most likely concussed. He would have to try and stay awake.
His right arm was working just fine, but his left was agony to move. After probing, Johnny couldn’t decide if it was a broken humorous, a dislocated shoulder, severe bruising or all three. Every nerve ending in his body seemed to be screaming at him and isolating just one area was beyond him.
A pile of rubble and roof supports covered him, pinning him in place. There was no point in trying to explore further; if his back was broken, he would do more harm than good and he could feel his legs. They throbbed with pain and Johnny suspected they were broken. He just hoped that the pressure that was holding him down was not creating compartment syndrome or... Johnny cut himself off sternly. The situation was bad enough without thinking about all the problems he could have. Sometimes, too much knowledge was a curse.
It took only a few minutes to reach the collapsed building. Cap took one look at it and knew that they would need more than one crew to work on it. He reached for the mic and called in reinforcements. He glanced around. “Chet, try and find out who called this in,” he ordered. “I don’t want to send anyone in there unless we’re sure there’s someone inside.”
“Cap!” It was Mike. “There’s a van over there, under the wall.”
“Come on,” Cap urged and they hurried over. The van was partially collapsed, with large chunks of masonry on the roof. It was immediately clear that there was no one in the cab, but it was impossible to tell if there was anyone in the interior. Banging and shouting brought no response, but that meant nothing. “Get a pry bar and the K-12,” Cap ordered. “Marco, you help Mike. Chet, let’s you and I go and see what we can see inside.”
The sound of the sirens had penetrated the building, but Johnny wasn’t sure if they had stopped there or gone on past. He was increasingly drowsy and struggling to stay awake. The stench of his vomit threatened to make him heave again, but if he turned his head the other way, he was looking down at the dead man’s face.
There had been no sounds from behind him and despite craning his neck – which just caused pain to shoot down his injured left arm – Johnny could see nothing but mounds of debris. He could only surmise that the two goons were buried and he had no idea if they were alive or dead.
“Hello! Fire Department! Is there anybody in here?”
The sudden familiar voice startled Johnny and he feared he might not be able to find his voice. “Here!” he cried. “Cap, I’m here!” He dragged his right arm up and waved with as much energy as he could muster. “Cap! Over here!” In his excitement at being found – and fear that they would neither hear nor see him – Johnny forgot his injuries and tried to push himself up with his left arm. Immediately, agonizing pain shot down his arm, across his back and down his legs. His arm collapsed beneath him and a scream tore from his throat.
“Over there!” Cap pointed. “Chet, did it...”
“...sound like Johnny? Sure did!” Chet replied, already starting to pick his way across the debris.
“Slow down,” Cap admonished, although he was moving pretty quickly himself. It seemed miraculous that they had been called out to a rescue and had found Johnny. He lifted the HT to his lips. “LA, Engine 51. Notify sheriff’s department that Paramedic Gage has been found.” He heard the acknowledgement, and pressed the button again. “Engine 51 to HT 51. Roy, we’ve found Johnny.”
“Is he all right?” Roy asked, waving at Crockett.
“I don’t know yet. He’s in this collapsed building. Squad 34 hasn't arrived yet and we’re just making our way over to Johnny.” Cap slipped and almost fell, saved by Chet’s swift reactions. He nodded his thanks.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Roy promised and hurried to meet Crockett halfway.
For a few moments, Johnny wondered if he was hallucinating when Cap and Chet materialized out of the gloom. “How did you know where to find me?” he gasped, craning his neck uncomfortably to look up at them. The effort hurt, and he dropped his head back down, groaning.
“Easy, pal,” Cap admonished. “Are you hurt? What about this guy under you?” He felt for a pulse, but like Johnny, came up empty.
“Yeah,” Johnny admitted reluctantly. He had no idea what he looked like, but he felt filthy and knew that at the least, he was coated in dust. Lying, besides being a bad idea, was not an option. Cap had a disconcerting habit of seeing right through him. “My left arm – it’s probably broken, maybe a dislocated shoulder.” He paused to cough dryly. “And my back and legs hurt. I don’t know how bad it is.”
By now, Cap was crouching awkwardly in the debris. He eyed his man closely, seeing the fatigue and the squint that told him Johnny had a killer headache. He was also assessing how easy – or otherwise – it was going to be to extract Johnny. It certainly wasn’t going to be quick. Johnny’s torso disappeared into a pile of rubble and there was no discernible sign of his feet. “What happened?” he asked.
Speaking quickly, Johnny related his morning from the moment the two goons appeared at the squad window. He was understandably vague about how long he had been unconscious, but Cap was reassured by the detail he provided of his kidnapping and the subsequent events. “Chet, take a look and see if you can find those other guys.”
“Be careful,” Johnny warned. “They’ve got a gun.” The arrival of his crewmates had made him feel temporarily better, but now his injuries were catching up with him. Johnny was an experienced rescue man and he knew that it would not be an easy job to extract him, even from the limited view he had of the debris field. “Cap, is Roy all right?”
“He’s fine, John,” Cap reassured him. “He’ll be here as soon as he can. Now, let’s worry about you and getting you out of here.” He gently patted the injured paramedic on the shoulder and stood up to shake the cramps out of his legs. Chet was picking his way carefully over the rubble and Cap watched as he crouched down, felt through the debris, then shook his head. Turning his back, Cap raised his HT to his lips. “Mike, I need airbags, portapowers...”
The area was a hive of activity when Roy arrived. He got out of the patrol car that had brought him – the squad still being a crime scene – and waved to the cop before hurrying over to the engine, where Mike was standing. “Mike?”
“Inside, Roy,” Mike replied. “Squad 34 arrived a minute ago and have gone in. Cap’s with him. Johnny’s hurt and trapped pretty good.”
“Thanks,” Roy threw over his shoulder as he hurried inside. It had only occurred to him on the drive over that Johnny had the drug box and it might not have survived the collapse. He was relieved there was another squad there.
The sight of the inside of the building stopped Roy dead in his tracks. He couldn’t imagine how Johnny had survived the collapse, but he was extremely grateful that he had. He picked his way refully across the rubble to the knot of fire-fighters clustered around their trapped colleague. “Johnny!” He crouched down to get a closer look.
His partner was pale, crusted in dust, but alive. He cracked a weary smile for Roy, but his partner wasn’t fooled. Johnny was hurting. Roy glanced at the other medics. “How’s he doing?”
“His vitals are a bit high,” Alex Deacon replied, “but not bad considering. He’s got a gash on the back of his head, a probable broken humorous with a dislocated shoulder and he says his back and legs hurt, but obviously we can’t get to them yet. Oh,” Alex concluded, “he’s already puked once and warned us he might again.”
“Thanks,” Roy said, smiling briefly at the attempt at humor. He could see where dust had been pushed over the vomitus. He took Johnny’s dusty fingers in his own.
“Rampart, this is squad 34.” Don Peterson, the other paramedic was on the biophone.
“Go ahead, 34,” Dr Brackett replied.
“Rampart, we have a paramedic trapped in a building collapse.” Don proceeded to give the known details of Johnny’s condition and added, “At this time, we don’t know how long it will take to extricate. Also, Rampart, we have three Code Fs. Be advised, Rampart, the victim is John Gage.”
“10-4, 34,” Brackett replied. “Start an IV of Ringers. Splint the arm, and have a MAST suit standing by. Monitor vitals every five minutes and contact me when you know how long it will take to extract. Transport as soon as possible.”
“10-4, Rampart. Ringers, MAST suit and monitor every five minutes.” Don glanced at Alex to make sure his partner had gotten all that. Alex was already reaching for the IV set-up.
Seeing that the others had things under control, Roy concentrated on his partner. “What happened?” he asked. “How did you get here?”
Speaking slowly, Johnny related the tale once more. He had long since given up trying to look up at people; the strain on his neck was too much to bear. “I wish I knew why it’s always me who ends up in these situations,” he concluded.
“Just bad luck, I suppose,” Roy agreed.
“Either that, or someone’s got it in for me,” Johnny mumbled. “Someone’s cursed me to have an interesting life and if I ever meet them...” He let the sentence trail off. He couldn’t think what he would do. His head hurt so much that thinking was hard work. “Roy...”
“I know,” Roy soothed, for he did know. The quaver in Johnny’s voice was undetectable to the other paramedics, but Roy heard it loud and clear. Neither of them knew what Johnny would be facing when he was extracted. Pervious good fortune in similar situations meant they could hope, but years of experience told them that Johnny could crash within seconds of extraction and they might not get him back. It was something neither of them wanted to say. “I’m right here,” Roy went on, offering the only comfort he could – his presence.
“Thanks, Pally,” Johnny whispered.
Staying awake was the hardest thing Johnny thought he had ever had to do. The pain exhausted him and the frustration of not being able to see what was happening as hands pushed and prodded and touched him made everything worse. It had taken all his self-control not to scream as his arm was splinted and the c-collar being fitted round his neck induced another bout of vomiting. His golden hour was rapidly ticking away and Johnny knew that his colleagues were as worried as he was.
The firefighters had been shifting the rubble that had covered Johnny, moving methodically and carefully. It wasn’t a fast job and that frustrated the rescuers as much as it did the victim. Portapowers had been used to start lifting a beam that appeared to pin him and airbags were slid in to help support it. It was too massive to be lifted completely clear and would have to be cut. Mike was waiting patiently with the K-12, but they wanted it lifted just an inch or so more, so that the vibrations from the saw would not add to Johnny’s woes more than could be helped.
34’s paramedics had made an attempt to pull the dead man out from underneath Johnny, but he was too tightly wedged. They had covered his face with a blanket, which made things slightly more bearable, but Johnny was only too aware of the body beneath his stiffening with the onset of rigor mortis. The coroner was standing by, but Johnny didn’t know – or care, for that matter – if the other two corpses had been removed.
“Ready?” Cap asked, suddenly appearing by Roy’s side.
“As ready as we’re going to be,” Alex agreed. He glanced at the MAST suit beside him. “Don, let Brackett know we’re about to extricate.” Don nodded and picked up the biophone.
“Johnny?” Roy leaned down to look into his partner’s face. “Are you ready?”
“Just do it already,” Johnny groaned. His reserves had long since been used up and he wanted this over, however it ended.
Raising his head, Roy nodded to Cap. Cap nodded to Mike and the K-12 roared into life. Johnny winced, although he knew he was in no danger from the big saw. Still, the noise alone was enough to shred what remained of his nerves, and when the first vibrations coursed through his body, he couldn’t suppress a groan. All his aches and pains flared into new life and he couldn’t stop himself crying out.
“Easy, Johnny,” Roy soothed. “Take it easy.” He squeezed his partner’s right hand and Johnny clutched back, hanging onto Roy like a lifeline.
The beam splintered and Johnny let out an incoherent cry and went limp. Both Roy and Alex fumbled for a pulse, their hands colliding on Johnny’s wrist. Roy backed off first, knowing that he wasn’t running this rescue, but it was the hardest thing he’d ever done. Johnny was more than his partner – he was Roy’s best friend and Roy wasn’t sure how he would cope if Johnny died.
“He’s okay,” Alex assured Roy. “He’s just fainted.”
Almost at the same moment, Chet called out, “He’s clear!”
There was no more time to lose. Johnny was lifted carefully from the debris and the MAST suit was fitted and inflated and then he was strapped to a backboard before being carried carefully over the debris field towards the waiting ambulance. Roy spared a swift backward glance at his shift-mates who had to stay to retrieve the bodies of the three other men. “I’ll call,” he shouted back, unnecessarily. Cap waved an acknowledgement and they continued the grim task of body retrieval. But none of them was giving the task their full attention. All of them were hoping that Johnny’s injuries were not life threatening.
There was no question that Roy was going in the ambulance. Alex didn’t even suggest that he stay behind. Instead, he up-dated Rampart that they were on their way, took a new set of vitals and reported them, all the while watching Roy hovering over his unconscious partner. “His vitals are good, Roy,” Alex assured him.
“And when the pressure of the suit comes off?” Roy asked, quietly. Then he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Alex, that was uncalled for.”
“Hey, we’re all worried about him,” Alex replied, letting Roy know he wasn’t offended by the other man’s comment. “But Johnny’s strong and Rampart is the best.”
Smiling weakly, Roy tried to think of something to say, but his attention was immediately distracted by Johnny, who groaned and opened his eyes. “Roy?” he whispered, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask he wore.
“Right here, Junior,” Roy replied. “You’re doing fine.”
“Roy...” Johnny swallowed. He squinted at his partner. “...sick...”
“Turn him!” Roy cried, grabbing the mask and pulling it off. They barely accomplished the maneuver before Johnny was heaving weakly and helplessly. Roy wiped his mouth and tried a smile. Johnny didn’t look convinced by it, but Roy didn’t know if that meant his smile had looked as artificial as it had felt or if Johnny was simply too miserable to respond. “We’ll soon be at Rampart.”
The handover to the ER staff went smoothly, Alex hanging the IV on a pole, changing the oxygen to the room’s supply and updating Brackett on Johnny’s status. The injured paramedic was semi-conscious, groaning occasionally, his eyes at half-mast. Roy stood resolutely at his partner’s side and Brackett made no effort to chase him outside. They had all been worrying over Johnny for the past hour and a bit, and Brackett knew that Roy had been worrying about him before that. He said nothing.
“Get a new set of vitals, Dix,” Brackett ordered. “Full bloods, type and cross match to stand by if needed. Alert an OR. Start him on antibiotics.” He leaned over his patient. “Johnny? Can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” came the tired whisper. Johnny sounded hoarse.
“We’ll soon have you settled, Johnny,” Brackett assured him. “Where do you hurt?”
Sighing, for he wanted nothing more than to simply sleep till he felt better, Johnny triggered a bout of coughing. When he had regained control, he replied, “Arm, head... dunno. Ache all over, doc.”
“I’ll give you something for the pain when we know what’s going on, all right?” Brackett patted his shoulder and fought to keep the worry off his face. “Hang in there.” He started listening to Johnny’s chest.
The door opened and x-ray came in. “Full skull, spine, left arm, pelvis and legs,” Brackett ordered. “We’ll be back in a moment, Johnny.” He took Roy by the arm and steered him outside and into the doctor’s lounge. “Sit down, Roy,” he ordered.
“How’s he doing, doc?” Roy asked, accepting the coffee that Brackett gave him, but making no move to drink it.
“Better than I expected,” Brackett admitted. “Of course, when we take off the MAST suit, we might see something completely different. I want to see the x-rays first.” He tapped the side of the mug Roy held and the paramedic obediently took a sip. “What happened? How did Johnny end up in a building collapse without a helmet?”
Talking quietly, sipping the coffee, Roy told the story as Johnny had told it to him. The coffee warmed away the cold knot of fear which had been growing in his belly and he knew that telling the story would help Brackett with treating Johnny.
“Johnny has the most incredible luck,” Brackett commented. “Both good and bad!” They both laughed. “Finish that coffee and then you can come back,” he allowed. “X-ray should be done and we’ll see what the next step is.”
“Thanks, doc,” Roy mumbled. He took another sip as Brackett left the lounge and within a few minutes felt more ready to face whatever news Brackett had for him.
The x-rays were on the light box and Brackett was peering at them intently when Roy went back in. Dixie was washing Johnny’s face gently, chatting away to him as she did so. Johnny turned his head minutely as Roy entered. He still looked pale, but the fluids were doing their job and he looked a lot less shocky. “Hi,” Roy offered, not sure what to say. Dix moved away to give them some privacy.
The oxygen mask was fogging with each breath Johnny took. He was still immobilized on the backboard, the collar around his neck and the MAST suit... Roy didn’t like to think about that. He knew too well the kind of injuries that might appear once the suit was removed. “How’re you doin’?” he asked.
“Still hurts,” Johnny mumbled.
“Haven’t they given you anything?” Roy asked.
“Dunno,” Johnny breathed. His brow wrinkled in a frown as he tried to remember. “Oh... yeah. Wasn’t enough,” he concluded. He scowled again as Roy laughed.
“They can’t give you too much,” Roy reminded him. “You’ve got a probable concussion.”
“Wish... I’d had my helmet on,” Johnny sighed.
“I wish it, too,” Roy agreed. “But I never thought I’d hear you say it,” he teased. The corner of Johnny’s mouth quirked under the mask.
At length, Brackett came over. “Good news, Johnny. Your x-rays look fine. Your legs aren’t broken and there’s no skull fracture. You do have a moderate concussion and as well as your broken arm, the collar bone on that side is broken. We’re going to take you up to surgery in a minute to set your shoulder and arm, but in the meantime, we can free you from these restraints.” He glanced at Roy. “Want to help?”
“Sure, doc.” Roy took off the C-collar while Brackett prepared to remove the MAST suit. Dixie freed Johnny from the backboard. Roy was distinctly apprehensive about the suit coming off, terrified that Johnny would collapse and bleed out. He trusted Brackett’s judgment, but couldn’t help worrying. However, nothing happened. Johnny groaned and rolled his head slightly as the pressure began to reduce, but that was it.
Now that Johnny was free of the suit, Brackett was able to make a thorough examination of his legs, seeing the numerous cuts, bruises and abrasions that marred the bronzed skin. With Roy’s help, he rolled Johnny onto his right side and examined his back and head. It was clear that Johnny’s back was going to be badly bruised and his head would need stitches.
“Everything looks good, Johnny,” Brackett assured him. “How do you feel?”
“Sore,” Johnny complained. He had endured the examination with very few sounds to display his pain, but he was beyond being stoic now. He needed something for the pain that was shooting through his left arm and shoulder. “Doc, its agony.”
“We’re going to take you up to surgery now,” Brackett promised him. “I’ll give you something for the pain to help you relax.” He gave Johnny a shot of Valium and the orderlies arrived to take him to theatre.
“See ya, Pally,” Johnny slurred.
“See ya,” Roy echoed, watching as they took his partner away.
Time ticked past very slowly indeed. Roy couldn’t go back to work until either the squad was released by the police or the department found a spare vehicle. Then there was the question of a replacement partner. Roy knew he should have phoned the station by now, but he couldn’t make the effort to do so. His mind was in a spin, going over the events of the day. In some respects, remarkably little time had passed since he had returned to the squad to find Johnny missing – but in other respects, the time had slipped away from them and they had been lucky that Johnny’s injuries had not been life threatening after all.
The paramedic looked up to see Captain Stanley peering around the door of the doctors’ lounge. “Hey, Cap.”
“How’s John?” Cap asked, coming in. He had shed his turn-out coat, but was still dirty and dusty, so Roy knew that they had not yet returned to the station. His guilt over not calling in faded.
“In surgery for his arm and shoulder,” Roy replied. “He’s broken his collarbone, too, but his legs and back are okay. It looks like he’s going to be fine.”
“Good, good,” Cap murmured. “John said something to me about ‘compartment syndrome’?”
“He doesn’t have it, so far as I know,” Roy replied. “Dr Brackett was pretty sure it wasn’t present. Obviously, they’ll keep an eye on him, but it seems to be fine. Just cuts and bruises and a moderate concussion. He’ll need stitches in his head.” Roy sighed. “He was so lucky.”
“Sure was, pal,” Cap agreed. He looked beat. “Roy, the station is being stood down for 2 hours to allow us to clean up and eat. I suspect the police might want to talk to us, too. I haven’t heard anything about the squad yet, so you hang on here and I’ll call when I know what’s happening. Oh, and you’ll need a new drug box. Chet found yours and it’s flattened.”
“I’ll let Dixie know,” Roy promised. He was glad he hadn’t seen the flattened drug box. Just thinking about it was a reminder of how close he had come to losing his best friend.
After Cap left, Roy was alone again for a while. He stared into the cup of coffee that Dixie had poured for him. It was stone cold; untouched. He wasn’t sure he had wanted it and he couldn’t summon up enough energy to pour another one to see if it tempted him. He just wanted to hear about Johnny. The surgery seemed to be taking an inordinate amount of time. Roy knew that it might not be a straight forward procedure and that his time perception was distorted by his worry, but still...
At long last, the door opened to admit Dr Brackett and the orthopedic surgeon, Dr Jones. Brackett smiled and swiftly made introductions. “This is Roy DeSoto, Johnny’s next of kin and paramedic partner.”
“Mr. DeSoto, we reduced your partner’s dislocated shoulder and it went back comparatively easily, given how long it had been displaced. I inserted a wire into his collarbone to pull the broken ends together and I’ll remove it in a few weeks. The break of the humerus was not as serious as we’d feared and there was no need to use plates or wires. There was no brachial artery involvement. Obviously, your friend is going to be extremely sore for a while, but we’ll keep on top of his pain management. Kelly, here, has briefed me on Mr. Gage’s quirks about not asking for pain killers.” He smiled.
At this point, Brackett took up the narrative. “I put eight stitches into the back of Johnny’s head. We washed the wound out thoroughly because it was full of debris. As you know, I started him on antibiotics in the hopes we can stave off infection. His lungs are still sounding a bit congested, which isn’t to be wondered at, so as soon as he’s over the anesthesia, we’ll start him on breathing treatments.”
“His legs?” Roy asked.
“Bruised, badly bruised, as I’d expected, but no signs of compartment syndrome,” Brackett assured him. “We’ll keep an eye out for it, of course. He’s going to be as sore as hell, Roy, and as stiff as an old horse to boot, but he had full range of movement and sensation.” Brackett shook his head and made a rueful noise. “Your partner really does have nine lives, I swear it!”
Despite the old joke, Roy grinned. “He sure does,” he agreed.
Roy was still in the doctors’ lounge, waiting for word that he could see Johnny, when Lt. Crockett arrived. He looked grim and Roy blanched. Now what? He didn’t think his nerves could stand up to much more this day!
"How’s Gage?” Crockett asked, sitting down opposite Roy.
"He’s going to be fine,” Roy replied.
“Good.” Crockett drew a deep breath and sighed heavily. “The squad is clean of any prints but yours and Gage’s,” he began. “It’s been released back to the fire department. Your guys retrieved the bodies and they were taken to the morgue for identification and autopsy, not that there’s much doubt as to the causes of death. However, we have identified at least one of the men.”
“I guess that’s not good news,” Roy ventured. He was understandably puzzled.
“No.” Again Crockett sighed and Roy had the impression he was gearing himself up to deliver bad news. He wasn’t wrong. “Roy, the dead man under Gage was called Jake Capaldi.” He searched Roy’s face for recognition of the surname and found none. “Capaldi’s father is a notorious gangster that the LAPD has been after for many years. He’s slippery and we’ve never managed to pin anything on him.”
“What does that have to do with Johnny?” Roy asked.
“It might be nothing,” Crockett replied. “But it might be something. Capaldi senior is – was – very protective of Capaldi junior. Right now, we don’t know why Johnny was with him and we don’t know how Capaldi came to die. If we don’t know, neither does Capaldi senior. He might well try to find out from Johnny.”
“Johnny’s in danger?” Roy gasped, feeling the blood draining from his face once again.
“We’re putting a man on the door of his room,” Crockett assured him. “I’ll be speaking to Johnny as soon as Brackett gives the okay. Capaldi senior will have to identify his son’s body and we’ll know more once the autopsy results are in. We’re playing it safe here, Roy. Johnny might not be in any danger at all, but don’t worry; we’ll keep him safe.”
It was all over the news. Johnny was sick of the nurses telling him that as they brought his pain meds, meals, took his vitals... He really couldn’t care less that it was headline news that he had managed to get kidnapped and stuck in a collapsed building. In actual fact, Johnny just wanted to be left alone to nurse his incredibly sore arm in peace.
Of course, peace was exactly what he didn’t get. The police had called to get a statement, with Crockett explaining who the dead man had been, which certainly made clear to Johnny why he had been kidnapped. He was glad to hear there was a guard at his door. Then there was a revolving door of firefighters visiting, never mind the unending parade of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and respiratory therapists. They appeared to have conflicting aims, these medical personnel. The nurses wanted him to be comfortable, with his pain well under control. The respiratory therapists wanted him to breathe deeply and cough a lot, which hurt like hell and the physiotherapists wanted him to do passive movement exercises, which hurt to such a degree that Johnny couldn’t find a word bad enough.
But all in all, on this third day in Rampart, Johnny decided he oughtn’t to complain too much. After all, they appeared to have kept pneumonia at bay and he really didn’t want his muscles seizing up. It was just a bit hard to remember to be grateful when he was being bugged yet again. He glanced up from the paper he had ostensibly been reading when the door opened to admit Roy. Roy was pushing a wheelchair.
“Tell me you’ve come to spring me,” Johnny begged.
“Nope, not yet,” Roy replied, parking the chair and setting the brake. “Brackett wants you over the worst of the concussion first. No, Dixie thought you might like some fresh air, so we’re going down to the courtyard.”
“Great!” Johnny responded. He would have preferred to be going home – although it seemed he might be going ‘home’ to the DeSotos’ first, just until he got on his feet. He threw back the covers enthusiastically.
“Whoa!” Roy chided. “Wait a minute, Junior. Let me help you.” He eased Johnny to his feet and helped him slip a robe up his right arm and around his shoulders. Johnny had his own pajamas to wear, thanks to Roy, and he was more than grateful that he didn’t have to go out wearing just a hospital gown gaping at the back. They set off and Johnny’s guard followed them.
The fresh air felt marvelous after being inside for a few days. Johnny leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes, smiling slightly. “Will you be all right if I go and get some coffee?” Roy asked, also smiling.
“Sure thing, Pally,” Johnny replied and kept his eyes closed as the footsteps receded. There was relative silence. The courtyard was seldom busy, as the canteen was not right next to it. People preferred to just go to the canteen, rather than tote coffee and so on out to the courtyard.
Something hard and round was suddenly pressed against Johnny’s neck. “If you value your life, don’t move or make a sound,” a low voice growled directly in his ear.
Shocked rigid, Johnny obeyed. His eyes were covered by a cloth and a bit of duct tape went over his mouth. His right hand was tied to the arm of the wheelchair and it began to move. Johnny could not believe it. He was being kidnapped for the second time in three days!
When Roy came out a few minutes later, he couldn’t believe his eyes. Johnny’s guard – Roy realized he had no idea of the man’s name – was just stirring back to consciousness. Of Johnny, there was no sign. It was all horribly reminiscent of the scene a few days previously.
It was only later that Roy realized that he had dropped the coffee he was carrying. He had no awareness of it as he knelt by the injured officer and found the welt above his ear that had likely been caused by a gun butt. He had no recollection of running back inside and raising the alarm, watching in a detached manner as Dr Joe Early superintended the removal of the injured man to the ER. Even his interview with Crockett was hazy in later recollection.
“You didn’t notice anyone in the area?” Crockett asked, clearly frustrated.
“It’s a big hospital,” Roy replied, equally frustrated. “There were lots of people going around!” He cast his memory back, but no one person stuck out. “I’m sorry, but I didn’t see anyone.” He looked at the grim expression on Crockett’s face. “What do we do now?”
“I don’t know,” Crockett replied.
The similarities just kept coming, Johnny thought wildly. He had been rolled away and then pushed up a slope of some kind into what seemed to him to be a van. The door had shut behind him and the vehicle started moving. The gun was taken away from his neck, but his ankles were tied. This was all so horribly familiar and Johnny was sweating anxiously. He couldn’t see any happy outcome to this excursion. Last time, he had been lucky; this time, he doubted if he would be so fortunate.
Again, the journey didn’t last long. Johnny could guess where they were going and he thought he knew why. Capaldi clearly wanted to see him and somehow Johnny didn’t think he was being invited for cocktails. The van stopped and the wheelchair was rolled down the slope again. It seemed to Johnny that they were inside a building and he tried to make sense of the few sounds that he heard as he was pushed down a wooden floor.
Later, Johnny couldn’t decide if it took a long time or only a few moments for him to reach his destination. His mouth was so dry he could barely swallow and he sat there helplessly, alone, for several moments before someone spoke, making him jump.
“So this is Mr. Gage.” The voice was deep and melodic – the kind of voice you ought to be able to trust, Johnny thought. He wished he could trust the speaker. “Remove his gag.”
The warning wasn’t enough, and Johnny let out a yelp as the gag was ripped off his face. It felt like half his flesh had been ripped off along with the tape! He licked his sticky lips, but his mouth was dry and it didn’t help. However, a moment later, a glass was placed against his lips and he sipped cautiously. It was deliciously cold water.
“What do you want?” Johnny asked.
“You are the paramedic brought to attend to my late son?” Capaldi asked. He was eyeing his ‘guest’ dubiously. This man, with his too-long hair and slender build was not how he envisioned paramedics to look.
“Yes,” Johnny replied. He resisted the temptation to rush into an explanation he hadn’t been asked to give. He had not gone voluntarily and he had been called too late. He regretted the man’s death, but there was nothing he could have done.
“How was he... when you got there?”
To someone with use of all five senses, the question might have sounded brutally matter-of-fact, but Johnny detected a quiver in the voice and remembered the dead young man was this man’s son. “He was in a bad way,” Johnny replied, truthfully. “He probably had pneumonia. His temperature was very high and his lungs were congested. He was very, very ill. I’m sorry.”
There was silence for a time. Johnny squirmed uncomfortably. He was overdue for pain meds and his arm and shoulder were beginning to ache. At last, Capaldi broke the silence. “He was killed by a bit of falling masonry,” he said, his voice clogged with tears. “But the doctors also told me he was unlikely to have lived. Help arrived too late. My son’s... associates... were too wary to summon help. My son had been running with the wrong crowd and I had not seen him for almost a year.”
“I’m sorry,” Johnny repeated. (He wondered fleetingly how a gangster could possibly run with the wrong crowd.) The stitches on his head ached at the thought of falling masonry and he realized again how lucky he had been. He knew he had received only a glancing blow and wondered if the object that had hit him had killed Capaldi junior.
“Mr. Gage, I want to thank you for trying to help my son. I am sorry for bringing you here like this. Although you know who I am, you cannot actually say you saw me and therefore cannot prove that I brought you here. I do, of course, have a watertight alibi for this time. I will return you to the hospital at once and here is something for your time and effort.” A hand stuffed an item into the front of his pajamas.
“I don’t want your money,” Johnny told him.
“Nevertheless, you have it,” Capaldi replied. “Good bye, Mr. Gage.”
Another strip of duct tape was slapped over Johnny’s mouth and the wheelchair was turned and he began the journey to retrace his steps. Johnny was very aware of the packet of money against his chest. He knew the money was to buy his silence. If he had had a free hand, he would have thrown it to the four winds. He strained to move his left arm high enough to do just that, but the pain beat him back and a restraining hand further restricted him.
Throughout the next few minutes, Johnny fully expected the van to pull over and he would be dumped somewhere, a knife between his ribs if he was lucky, or a shot to the head, but more likely, he suspected he would be abandoned somewhere that nobody would find him until he was nothing more than a skeleton tied into a wheelchair. The butterflies rioting in his stomach threatened to make him sick with anxiety.
Exiting from the van was horrible. Johnny was wound so tightly that he began to wonder if he would embarrass himself and faint from terror. He was still convinced that he would be killed, not simply returned to the hospital unscathed.
There was a sudden shout and then Johnny felt a violent push to the wheelchair which began to speed across the ground at an alarming speed for someone who could not see and was completely helpless. There was more shouting and a gun went off somewhere nearby and Johnny flinched. He seemed to be picking up speed and his terror of being shot was surpassed by the terror of crashing.
The sudden cessation of forward movement almost caused the feared accident. The chair swung violently around, he jerked sideways and would have fallen out, if not for the bonds that kept him prisoner. The chair rocked sickeningly on its wheels and Johnny swallowed frantically. He felt that he wasn’t getting enough air and inhaled sharply through his nose.
“Got him!” a voice shouted right in his ear and Johnny flinched once again. “I’ve got him!”
“Get out of the way, you idiot!” shouted another, irate, voice that Johnny knew very well. He felt an overwhelming relief. Dr Brackett was there and he was safe. He slumped over.
Furious, yet perversely grateful, Brackett shoved away the idiot police officer who had stopped Johnny’s wheelchair crashing head on into a wall yet appeared to be unaware that he ought to be helping the paramedic get free from his bonds. “Johnny?” he asked, gently easing the duct tape off his friend’s mouth. “Are you all right?”
Gasping loudly through his mouth, Johnny could not do anything but nod. Moments later, Roy’s calming voice spoke in his ear and cool, capable hands were untying his legs and his arm and removing the blindfold. He squinted into the too-bright light and found a shaky grin for his saviors before fainting dead away.
“I can’t believe I fainted,” Johnny grumbled, for the umpteenth time. His unexpected trip had left him shaken but unhurt, but his fainting episode, while perfectly understandable, had earned him an extra two days at ‘Hotel’ Rampart.
Valiantly, Roy resisted rolling his eyes. “Well, I can’t believe you managed to get kidnapped twice within a couple of days,” he retorted, “but you did!”
“Gee, thanks, Roy,” Johnny snapped. However, he wasn’t really angry and grinned at his friend, who grinned back at him. As Capaldi had said, he had an airtight alibi for the hour or so that Johnny had been missing. The kidnappers had managed to get away scot-free. Johnny had handed the money over to the police, but it wasn’t evidence of anything. It looked, yet again, as though Capaldi had got away with a bit of wrong-doing. Crockett had advised Johnny that the money would most likely be returned to him in due course and that he might as well enjoy it. There was $10,000 there. Despite his distaste, Johnny was slowly coming around to that way of thinking, urged on by his friends. However, he had decided that half should go to charity.
“I’ll be back to collect you tomorrow,” Roy said, as he rose to go. He paused half in and half out the door. “Provided you don’t faint again before then,” he teased and made a hasty exit as Johnny searched for something to throw at his grinning pal.
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