Claiming the Moral High Ground

 

By Rona

 

The original call-out had been for Station 24. When Station 51 was called to join them, things had gone very bad. What had started as a call for a woman down had ended up with several victims, including some members of Station 24. The ‘woman down’ had been shot by a sniper who then proceeded to shoot several other innocent passersby, both of 24’s paramedics and their Captain. Police were in attendance and it was difficult to tell if the sniper had been apprehended or had absconded. 

A tentative all clear had been given, but the cops were taking no chances. Roy and Johnny headed towards the first victims they could see, while 36’s paramedics went towards another couple. Squad 16 was also en route and sirens could be heard from all around as dispatch had sent several ambulances, too. The paramedics quickly separated and began looking at the victims.

 As Roy knelt next to 24’s Captain -- a big, burly man called Ed Fox -- a cop beckoned to Johnny. “We’ve got another one here,” he called. “Can you come, Gage?”

 Exchanging a quick glance with Roy, Johnny quickly changed direction. This was triage and priority would be given to the most seriously injured. Behind him, Johnny could hear Cap call for yet another squad. Johnny could see eight bodies, and this one he had been called to was number nine – that he knew of.

 It was a scenario that he never got used to -- senseless shooting of innocent people going about their daily business, not harming anyone, and yet they got seriously injured and often died. Johnny abhorred guns.

 The man he had been called to attend was in critical condition. Blood was pouring out of four wounds on his chest. His skin was cold and clammy and his lips were turning blue. There was no time to waste. “Get the drug box from my partner,” Johnny instructed the cop. “This guy has to go in first.” He glanced at the cop “Hurry!” He swiftly set up the biophone, which he had been carrying and contacted Rampart.

 Although the cop hadn’t seemed to be moving quickly, he came back promptly with Roy and the drug box. “Can you manage alone?” Roy asked. “The first ambulance is here.”

 “Yeah,” Johnny answered distractedly as he grabbed a couple of IV set-ups. “Can you manage?”

 “I’ve got the guys from the engine. Do you want Chet or Marco?”

 “Naw, its fine. I’ve got Dave here to help. See you at Rampart.” He deftly got the first stick and set up the drip before turning to the other arm. “Here, hold these,” Johnny ordered. “Get the gurney over here.” He put dressings on the wounds and quickly took the victim’s blood pressure again. It was still dropping. There was no time for niceties here. If this man were to survive, Johnny had to wrap and run.

 It seemed that everyone was moving very slowly to Johnny, but he was anxious and appreciated that the attendants had had to unload the gurney and bring it over. Johnny helped move the injured man, retrieved the IV bags from the cop and headed to the ambulance. Cap met him on the way over. “How is he?”

 “Critical,” Johnny replied. “We’ve gotta move, Cap.”

 “Go!” Cap ordered and secured the ambulance doors, giving them two brisk taps. He hoped Johnny would be able to get his patient to Rampart alive.

 **********

 The pressure dressings were soaking through and the man’s blood pressure was still dropping. Johnny wished there had been time to get and inflate a MAST suit, but Brackett had instructed Johnny not to wait for that and transport immediately. Johnny knew it was going to be touch and go if this man survived. He put more dressings on the wounds and prepared an airway.

Almost on cue, the man stopped breathing. Moving quickly and surely, Johnny and the attendant exchanged places and Johnny inserted the airway, listening closely to the breath sounds to make sure he was properly situated. He turned the ambu-bag over to the attendant and contacted Rampart again. “Airway is in and ventilation is improved. Patient is still slightly cyanotic and his vitals continue to deteriorate. ETA – 2 minutes.”

“10-4, 51,” Brackett replied. He sounded grim and Johnny was not surprised. He took the man’s vitals again and as he took the pulse, it stopped.

“Damn -- cardiac arrest,” he grumbled. He snatched the biophone. “Rampart, Squad 51. The patient just arrested. Starting CPR.”

“10-4,” came the terse response.

The twisting and turning of the ambulance as it pulled into Rampart was not noticed by the busy paramedic. Johnny was startled when the doors opened, but he continued his compressions while gasping out a report. “Arrested just over a minute ago,” he gasped, climbing onto the rails and carrying on. “Blood pressure is 80/40, pulse was 100 and thready. Possible pneumothorax on right side.”

“Treatment 3,” Brackett ordered. Dixie already had the door open. Johnny continued his chest compressions. He was bloody to the elbow, sweat standing out on his forehead.

“Hold CPR,” Brackett requested and Johnny stepped back, panting, as the doctor listened carefully. “All right, resume. I want Epi in and prepare to shock.”

As he concentrated on carrying on the CPR, despite his growing exhaustion, Johnny was subliminally aware of the attendant passing the ambu-bag to a nurse and leaving. He could sense Dixie setting up the defibrillator and was prepared to step back the moment it was ready. “Charging,” Dixie warned. “Clear!” Johnny jumped back and watched the victim’s body arch off the gurney. “No conversion.”

At once, without being prompted, Johnny stepped back up and began pumping. Around him, the medical staff prepared other medications and injected them into the IV ports. Sweat dripped into Johnny’s eyes and his arms were beginning to shake. “Clear!” Dixie called, and again Johnny jumped back. “No conversion.”

Cursing under his breath, for he had no breath to spare to curse loudly even if he could have cursed in front of the nurses, Johnny again stepped up. Until Brackett called it, or the man’s heart was shocked back into rhythm, Johnny would keep going, no matter how he felt.

“Johnny, are there exit wounds?” Brackett asked. The paramedic simply shook his head. He had told the doctor this already, but he knew Brackett was just confirming things in his mind. “All right, hold CPR.” Brackett moved in and injected epinephrine directly into the man’s heart. “Charge to 400 watt seconds,” he told Dixie.

“Charging... Clear!” She zapped the victim again. The monitor showed a jump then flat line again.

“How long has it been?” Brackett asked.

“Fifteen minutes,” Dixie replied, glancing at the clock. Johnny was astonished to learn how long he’d been doing CPR. In some ways, it seemed like longer and in another way, a much shorter time.

“I’m going to call it,” Brackett declared, looking grim. “Any objections? Time of death 11.22 a.m.”

While Johnny leaned exhaustedly against the wall, he watched the nurses stop the IVs and generally tidy the body up. He wondered who the man had been and if he had any relatives. His job was over for now. Perhaps he might be required to testify if they ever found the gunman, but that was far in the future if it ever came to pass.

“Johnny, go and get washed up,” Dixie urged as she stopped by the blood-streaked young man. “Then go and have some coffee in the lounge. You look like you need it.”

“I do,” Johnny agreed hoarsely. His arms felt leaden as he straightened up and he decided a shower would be in order when he got back to the station, to loosen his muscles. He could have showered at the hospital, but his uniform was pretty clean, so there was no point borrowing scrubs when he could easily wait for a while. But a wash and coffee sounded pretty good.

The men’s room was deserted when he went in. He made use of the facilities and then crossed to the basin. His pale, sweaty, blood-streaked features looked back at him and Johnny made a face. He hated losing a patient. Resolutely, he filled the basin with water and began to scrub off the blood.

The door opening registered on his consciousness and a brief glance told him it was someone he didn’t know. He continued with his ablutions, only belatedly becoming aware that the man had stopped beside him. A man whose face was ravaged by grief and anger; a man whose control had gone.

“You tried to save his life, didn’t you?” the man accused, his voice low and raw.

“What?” Johnny asked, confused. He straightened slightly and allowed his weary, aching arms to fall to his sides. Slightly pink water dripped from his fingers to the floor.

“It was you! I saw you! You were trying to save his life! You scum! There were others more important than him!” The man’s voice had risen with every statement, until he was shouting in Johnny’s face. The next moment, he shoved the confused paramedic against the wall and followed up by vicious punches to his face and midriff.

Stunned, Johnny took several punches before his addled brain made the connection to fight back. By then it was too late. His sore arms were not as limber and quick as usual, and although he tried to throw punches, he missed his target. Meanwhile, more blows got through his feeble defense and Johnny tried to draw breath to shout for help.

It was a futile effort. Another fist to the solar plexus and he was incapable of drawing any kind of breath. Gasping uselessly, he doubled over and a knee was driven into his face. Johnny felt his nose explode and he choked on the blood that suddenly started filling his mouth and throat. A blow to the back of the neck forced him to the floor and he was kicked and battered from all sides, utterly helpless to protect himself. Darkness encroached as his starved lungs sought air and then, mercifully, he blacked out.

**********

 Rampart was absolute bedlam. Paramedics with injured patients had converged on the ER all at once it seemed to the harried staff. Cops milled around, anxious to talk to the victims. Relatives came -- frightened, tearful, some to be told good news, some to be told bad news and some to be told the worst news. The media came, alerted by listening to police and fire department scanners. And through it all, the ER staff continued to treat the patients to the best of their abilities.

“Dr Brackett.” Lieutenant Ron Crockett had worked this kind of scene before but it never got easier. He could see the head ER doctor was exhausted and there was blood here and there on his white lab coat. “Can I talk to you?”

“Sure,” Brackett agreed. He made no move to go to his office. “Talk,” he invited.

“I believe that the shooter was brought here?” Crockett asked.

“I don’t know,” Brackett replied, frowning. “Nobody said to me that we were treating the shooter. Have you a description?”

“Vague,” Crockett answered. “Young, dark-haired, male. He was brought in by Johnny Gage, according to patrolman Dave Phillips.”

“Oh, him,” Brackett said, remembering the first ‘victim’ who had arrived. “He died, I’m afraid. Johnny did everything he could to get the guy here alive, but he coded in the ambulance and nothing we did made any difference.” Brackett sighed. “His body is in the morgue.”

“Thanks,” Crockett acknowledged. “I need to speak to Gage.” He glanced around. “He about?”

“Should be,” Brackett replied. He looked around too. There were paramedics everywhere it seemed, but Johnny wasn’t in immediate sight. “Have you tried the doctors’ lounge? I’m sure Dixie said he was to go there for coffee when he was done washing. He was exhausted, so he’s probably asleep.”

“Thanks, doc.” Crockett sketched a salute and headed for the doctors’ lounge. He knocked briskly and entered. There were a couple of young doctors sitting at the table nursing coffee, a nurse rinsing her mug and a couple of paramedics sitting on the couch watching the news on TV. But no Johnny Gage. “Anyone seen Gage?” Crockett enquired and received a chorus of ‘no’ for his trouble.

Perplexed, Crockett withdrew and looked around. Of course, Gage could have gone back to Station 51, he reasoned. He nodded to himself and decided to make that his next port of call after visiting the morgue. He turned and headed briskly along the corridor towards the elevator when he saw Roy DeSoto exiting a treatment room. “Roy!”

Turning, Roy smiled wearily. “Hi, Lieutenant,” he said. “Some scene. Did you get the shooter?”

“Gage brought him in,” Crockett replied.

“Johnny only brought one person in,” Roy objected, “right at the beginning. He wasn’t back at the scene, so he couldn’t have brought the shooter in.”

“The person he brought in was the shooter,” Crockett explained patiently. “Do you know where Gage is?”

“I haven’t seen him,” Roy replied, looking around as though he expected Gage to magically materialize at his side. “He must be here somewhere. Neither of us can go back to the barn until someone brings the squad to us here.” Roy made a face. “Have you checked the doctors’ lounge?” Crockett nodded. “Well, other than that, you might have to start looking in secluded places or find which nurse is late back from her break...” Roy winked. Crockett laughed. “Anyway, excuse me, Lieutenant. I gotta go.” Roy gestured towards the men’s room. “If I see Johnny, I’ll let him know you’re looking for him,” he added as he started pushing the door open.

Something brightly colored inside the room caught Crockett’s attention and he frowned, trying to see past Roy’s body. There was something not right...

Next moment, Roy let out a shout and then was turning. “I need help in here! Get a doctor and a gurney STAT!” He whirled around again and vanished inside. In an instant, Crockett was across the corridor and following him.

On the cool lino floor, in a pool of blood, lay John Gage. It took Crockett several seconds to recognize the paramedic he had known for years, for his face was swollen and bruising and paler than Crockett had ever seen him. He stepped aside as the door opened to admit Dr Brackett and an orderly towing a gurney.

“Who...???” He knelt by the injured man as Roy turned a stricken face to him.

“Doc, its Johnny!”

**********

There was no time to waste. Brackett, Roy and the orderly quickly lifted Johnny from the floor, placing him gently on his side before racing the gurney into a treatment room. Crockett beckoned to one of the patrol men in the ER. “Seal this area. No one leaves without my say-so, apart from medical staff. I’ll be in there.” He gestured to the treatment room and collected a nod. The patrol man got on his radio as Crockett entered the treatment room.

Inside, it was controlled chaos. Roy was starting an IV, a nurse that Crockett didn’t know was taking Johnny’s blood pressure, Brackett was barking out orders for tests that Crockett didn’t understand and Dixie was on the phone ordering portable x-ray and putting an OR on stand-by.

“Broken nose,” Brackett muttered, gently feeling around the paramedic’s face. “Could be orbital fractures, too... Johnny?” he called, raising his voice. “Johnny? Can you hear me?” There was no noticeable response. “Roy, I need his clothes off.”

“Right away, doc,” Roy replied, his voice strained. He reached for his bandage scissors and began to cut away his partner’s clothing. “Look at the bruising, doc,” Roy said, as he removed the tattered remains of Johnny’s uniform shirt.

Leaning over, Brackett made a disgusted sound. He gently felt Johnny’s abdomen. His patient winced, which was a good sign. “Looks like he’s starting to come around,” Brackett commented. “His abdomen is soft, thank goodness.”

Over the course of the next few minutes, Johnny came perceptibly closer to consciousness. X-ray came and was instructed to take a full skull, chest and abdomen series. A plastic surgeon was paged to see if Johnny would need surgery once the x-rays were developed. An ophthalmologist was summoned to look at Johnny’s eyes in case there was some damage there. Brackett already knew that Johnny would need to see a dentist, because his front tooth was chipped.

Finally, muddy brown eyes opened and squinted into the bright lights above his head. Johnny groaned and started to raise his arm to block out the light, but a hand grabbed it, preventing the movement. “Oh no you don’t,” said a familiar voice. “I put a perfect IV in that arm, Junior, and you are not going to dislodge it!”

“Roy?” Johnny said, thickly. His face hurt so much he could barely think straight. He had no idea what had happened.

“Well, this is an improvement,” Brackett commented leaning over his patient. “Can you tell me your name?”

“John Gage,” Johnny whispered. “Rampart. Don’t know... the date.”

“Two out of three isn’t bad,” Brackett told him. “Do you remember what happened?”

“No...” Johnny began and then memory rushed back. “Yeah. Was... attacked... in the... men’s room.”

“Do you know why?” Brackett asked, seeing that Crockett was dying to come over and question Johnny himself.

“Didn’t make sense,” Johnny replied, which didn’t make much sense to his listeners. “Said... I had ... helped someone... and I ... shouldn’t.” He swallowed once, twice, then leaned over the side of the gurney and vomited what seemed to Crockett copious amounts of blood onto the floor.

“You’ll have to wait until later to question him further,” Brackett told Crockett as a nurse helped Johnny rinse his mouth and someone from housekeeping was summoned to clean the floor. “He needs complete rest for the moment.”

“I’ll order someone to keep an eye on him,” Crockett replied. “I don’t know who did this or why, but we certainly don’t want anything else happening.” He nodded to Roy and left the room.

The x-rays came back and Brackett studied them closely. He already knew Johnny’s nose was broken, but he was relieved to see that there were no fractures of the orbital bones, or a skull fracture. His ribs were intact and there was nothing untoward on the abdominal series either. Johnny had been lucky; however, that didn’t detract from the fact he had been badly beaten and possibly might be disfigured for life. Brackett went to show the x-rays to the plastics guy.

**********

The last thing Crockett really wanted to do after the long morning was question all the people who were trying to leave the ER. Yet it had to be done. They had to find Johnny’s attacker and find out why he did it, just for a start. Crockett had a suspicion that he might know the reason, but he hoped that he was wrong.

Some of the people were easy to eliminate from their enquiries. Quite a number had arrived after the estimated time of the attack. Quite a number had been there before, and although they would have had the chance to attack Johnny, they had no motive and their clean clothes gave them an alibi.

Of course, Crockett was not naive enough to assume that the person had not already got away scot free. Johnny had been undiscovered for the better part of an hour – plenty of time for the attacker to abscond. He was also determined that the nursing staff should be aware that the media was not to find out about the beating. He enlisted Dixie’s help for that and got a list of all the casualties and the relatives who had come to the hospital to be with them.

One way or another, Crockett vowed he would catch this man.

**********

“Roy?” Johnny’s whisper was the first sound the dark haired man had made for a while.

“Yes?”

“Why?” Johnny asked.

“I don’t know why,” Roy admitted, although, like Crockett, he had his suspicions. “But don’t worry; Crockett has a guard in place.” He hated to look at his partner’s swollen face, with the bruising growing more evident by the minute. Johnny was going to have terrifically black eyes by the morning and Roy knew from experience how sore and uncomfortable they would be.

“Hurts,” Johnny complained. He had said very little, mostly drifting in a light doze while he waited to see what would happen next. His pain was not as bad as it had been, thanks to a small dose of Valium to help keep him relaxed.

“I know,” Roy sympathized. He didn’t know if Johnny was going to get anything stronger, or if he was going to surgery. Either way, he would not be leaving hospital for a day or so. “Dr Brackett should be back soon.”

Moving restlessly and wincing as he did so, Johnny didn’t bother trying to open his ton-weight eyelids. “How many... casualties?” he asked. “Captain Fox? Boys from ... 24s?”

“Captain Fox is going to be okay. He lost quite a bit of blood from that shoulder wound, but it was through and through. Wilson and McGillivray are going to be fine, too, I believe. There were a couple of fatalities, too.” Roy pursed his mouth. He had not worked on the fatalities, but he thought one of them was a young woman who had been the subject of the original call. She had been several months pregnant and by all accounts, quite understandably, her husband had been distraught. Roy was glad he had not had to deal with that scene...

Suddenly, the thought struck him and he quickly turned his face away in case Johnny should open his eyes and see his expression. The husband was distraught. Could the husband have known that Johnny had treated the shooter? Did Johnny know that his patient had been the shooter? Roy opened his mouth to ask, but before he could say anything, the door opened and Brackett came in.

“Johnny, this is Dr Johnston from Maxillofacial. He’s going to take you up to the OR to fix your nose.” Brackett patted the paramedic on the shoulder. “He assures me your good looks should be safe in his hands,” he teased gently.

“Good job,” Johnny responded drowsily. He tried to crank open one eye and failed. “When?”

“No time like the present,” Johnston replied, his voice deep and firm and reassuring. He gave Roy the smile he had intended for his patient and stood aside to let the orderlies move the gurney.

“See you later,” Roy told Johnny and watched as his partner was wheeled away. He felt exhausted by the suddenness of the crisis and its abrupt ending. He glanced at Brackett, who smiled at him.

“He’ll be all right, I’m sure,” Brackett assured him.

“Yeah,” Roy agreed. “Oh no! I haven’t told Cap.” Roy dashed out of the room to phone his superior.

***********

There was no need to call Cap. Almost the first person Roy saw when he stepped from the treatment room was Captain Stanley and his boss was gazing after the gurney bearing Johnny to surgery. Quite understandably, Stanley looked shocked. The last time he had seen Johnny, his paramedic had been leaving the scene in the back of an ambulance, attending to a patient, whole and healthy. It was a far cry from the battered young man he had just seen going past.

“Roy?” Stanley saw his senior paramedic and went over to him. “What’s going on? What happened to Johnny?”

“Someone attacked him in the men’s room,” Roy explained. “He’s going to surgery to get his nose set.”

“He was attacked?! By whom?!” The expression on Stanley’s face was one that Roy seldom saw – utter fury. “Why?”

“We don’t know yet,” Roy answered. “He remembers being attacked, but Brackett didn’t want to press him and wouldn’t allow Crockett to question him just yet.” That thought triggered another with Roy and he said, “Cap, I have to speak to Crockett.”

“I’ll come with you,” Cap replied, grimly. Cap was accustomed to – although constantly surprised by – patients who took out their frustrations or anger or bad temper on his paramedics, but for Johnny to be attacked while in the toilets was something new and unwelcome.

It didn’t take them long to find Crockett and he listened attentively to Roy’s thoughts. “The female victim -- Patricia Elliott, 25, married and 5 months pregnant. I know her husband was informed by a member of staff here at the hospital, but I haven’t spoken to him yet. Thanks, Roy, I’ll look into it. How’s Gage?”

“In surgery,” Roy replied.

Nodding, Crockett made a face. “I’m holding good thoughts for him.” He patted the other man on the shoulder and went off to make enquiries.

“Come on, Roy,” Cap suggested. “Let’s get the others and grab something to eat. Maybe after that we’ll hear about Johnny and in the meantime, I’ll call in a replacement.”

“Thanks, Cap,” Roy agreed.

**********

There was no sign of Mr. Elliott in the ER. Crockett surmised that he had managed to leave before the hospital was sealed off and dispatched a patrol car to his home to find him. He was disappointed that the house was reported to be empty. He put out an APB for the man and found his car registration. Almost at once, he got a response, telling him that the car was in the hospital car park. Crockett widened his search parameters to cover the cafeteria and the morgue, but still drew a blank. Leaving officers at every door to check everyone leaving the building, Crockett lifted the lock-down he had imposed on the ER and slowly, life there returned to normal.

By the time Station 51’s remaining 5 members had had something to eat, there was still no word on Johnny. Roy had no choice but to return to the station to collect Johnny’s replacement, but he had Cap’s permission to remain available from Rampart thereafter. When he got back to the barn, he was relieved to find that it was Dwyer who had come in to cover. The men had worked together regularly and got along. Dwyer was quite happy to wait at Rampart and Roy promised to phone Cap as soon as he had news.

***********

Wakening from the anesthesia was pretty horrific. Johnny’s nose was set and packed with cotton to help control the bleeding. He was getting humidified oxygen, but he had instinctively tried to inhale through his nose when he first woke and found it difficult, while so groggy, to remember to breathe through his mouth. To compound his discomfort, his eyes had swelled shut and hurt badly. Somewhere close by, he could hear a heart monitor picking up speed and Johnny realized that it was connected to him.

Luckily, someone else had noticed that too – his nurse. “Relax, Mr. Gage, you’re in recovery. You’ve just had surgery on your nose. It went very well, but your eyes are very swollen. We’ll be moving you to a room soon. Do you want a drink?”

The pitiful croak he produced didn’t sound like anything intelligible to him, but the nurse clearly understood he meant yes and gave him some ice chips. With Johnny’s predilection towards vomiting after anesthetic, the nurses were under strict instructions that he was to get very little by mouth until they were 100% certain he was not going to vomit. To aid his recovery in that direction, he had already had a dose of an anti-emetic.

The nurse was cool and efficient and soon settled Johnny back to sleep. It didn’t last long though. The pain woke him after an hour or so and he couldn’t see to find the bell. He felt along each side of the bed as best he could, but the little button proved elusive. Despite the humidified oxygen, he still felt his mouth was dreadfully dry and an attempt at shouting only produced a coughing fit, which was less than pleasant.

“Hey there,” said a familiar voice as he finally flopped back on his pillows, exhausted.

“Dix?” Johnny croaked.

“Here.” A cool hand moved the oxygen mask and fed him some ice chips. He swallowed them gratefully. “Here’s the bell,” Dixie told him, pressing it into his right hand. His left arm had an IV in it. “Do you want something for pain?” she asked.

Thankfully, Johnny nodded. He heard footsteps moving away and shortly they came back. The IV port was cleaned and then something cold entered his arm. Johnny gave an involuntary shiver.

“That should help,” Dixie told him, brushing the hair gently back from his face. “I’ve got a couple of soothing pads for your eyes, too, Johnny. I’ll just pop them on for you now and soon you’ll go to your room. I’ll stay with you till then; I’m off duty now.”

“Thanks,” he croaked and was glad when she gave him some more ice. “Roy?” he asked, when he had swallowed.

“He’s on a run right now,” Dixie told him. “He’ll probably be here within the half hour or so. Don’t worry; he can come and see you.” She busied herself taping the solution-soaked gauze pads into place and was glad that Johnny couldn’t see her face. It was a struggle keeping her sorrow out of her voice, but she knew she would never keep it off her face. It hurt her to see Johnny so bruised and battered. The swelling on his face was such that he was barely recognizable. She was assured by the doctors and by her own nursing experience that he would recover fully with no visible marks to show for his ordeal, but it was difficult to be sanguine about it when faced with such damage.

After a few minutes, Dixie realized that Johnny was asleep again. She sat down by his bed and smiled when she noticed she was still holding his hand. An attempt to withdraw her hand resulted in him clutching a bit tighter, but Dix didn’t mind. She changed her grip slightly so it was more comfortable for them both and retrieved the book she had brought with her.

A little over half an hour later, Roy came into Recovery. He smiled when he spotted Dixie reading her book and holding Johnny’s hand, but the smile faded as he got a good look at the bruised and battered face of his best friend. Hot burning anger welled up in him and, at that moment, if he had been able to put his hands on the person who had done that to Johnny, he would have taken pleasure in beating him to a pulp.

But after a second, shame burned through Roy and he felt his face grow warm. Such thoughts made him little better than the person who had done this to Johnny. Roy prided himself on his even temper and tolerant attitude. It stood him in good stead for his work and he let Johnny spout off to air the grievances they might have. He was ashamed of himself.

“Roy.” Dixie sounded pleased to see him and he summoned an unconvincing smile. “What’s wrong?” the nurse asked, and as ever, Roy was impressed by her sensitivity. He mumbled out an explanation, blushing even harder. His ears were so hot, he felt as though they might catch fire.

“We all felt like that,” Dixie admitted. “But you wouldn’t act on your anger, Roy. I know you.”

“Thanks, Dix, but I’m not sure I agree,” Roy replied. “Right then... Well, I certainly felt that I could have.” He shrugged. “I suppose, since the person isn’t here, I can’t act out. And now, I won’t act on my anger if I ever do see them. But still ... it wasn’t a nice realization.” He leaned over to assure himself Johnny was sleeping. “But how anyone could do this... to Johnny of all people! Dix, it breaks my heart.”

“Mine too,” Dix agreed. “And whatever ‘reason’ they give, it won’t excuse what they did. Just be glad that you don’t have something like this on your conscience.”

“I am,” Roy nodded. “And now I’ve got that off my chest, how is he?”

“Sore, of course,” Dix replied, looking fondly down at the sleeping paramedic. “But he’s going to be fine.” She smiled up at Roy. “Just fine.”

***********

 For the next 24 hours, almost the only thing Johnny did was sleep. The restrictions on fluids and food had prevented vomiting after the anesthetic, but Johnny was on pretty strong painkillers and they kept him asleep most of the time. Roy had come and gone a few times during the evening and had managed to exchange a few words with his partner, but after 9.30pm, the nurse had told him not to come back. Johnny had been sleeping soundly for quite a while at that point and she hoped to keep him that way over night. Roy was exhausted and knew that he needed to get some sleep. Johnny would be safe. There was a guard posted outside his door.

When Roy came to see Johnny the following afternoon, he found Crockett there, questioning his partner. Johnny’s eyes were slightly open and the bruising had, unbelievably, deepened even further. Johnny still had the oxygen mask and the head of the bed was inclined to help reduce the swelling. Roy paused in the doorway, but Johnny waved him to come in.

“Hi, Roy,” Crockett said, rising. They shook hands. “I’m just finished.”

“Any progress on finding who did this?” Roy asked.

“Not yet,” Crockett admitted. “But we have a working theory and we will catch him, whoever he is.”

“Glad to hear it,” Roy smiled, but he could sense something in Crockett’s manner that suggested that perhaps things were not quite as straightforward as Crockett was implying. “Hi, Johnny.” He grinned at his partner.

“Hi,” Johnny croaked, his voice muffled behind the oxygen mask. “Sorry I couldn’t help more,” he added to Crockett.

“You helped plenty,” Crockett told him. “I’ll see you later, Johnny.” He sketched a goodbye and left.

Sitting down by the bed, Roy looked at Johnny critically. “How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Lousy,” Johnny replied.

“Don’t feel you have to talk to me,” Roy told him. “I won’t be offended if you go off to sleep. How’s the pain?”

Raising his right hand, his left still being occupied with the IV, Johnny waggled his hand backwards and forwards for a moment. His hand dropped limply back to the covers and that alone told Roy more about how his partner felt than words could have done. There was no sign of Johnny’s chart, or Roy would have checked to see how soon he was due more pain meds. Seeing Johnny’s eyes drifting shut, Roy opted not to ask him.

He’d been sitting there for about 10 minutes, watching as Johnny dozed, when the door opened and Crockett beckoned to him. Intrigued, Roy rose silently and went outside. Johnny slept on, oblivious.

“I thought you’d like to be brought up to date,” Crockett told him as they drew a step or two away from the door. “It seems as though Mr. Elliott, husband of the young pregnant woman victim was Johnny’s assailant. John didn’t give me a really detailed description, but what he did say matches our suspect. Elliott has not been seen since he was told of his wife’s death. His car was in the public lot here and has since been impounded. He has not returned to his home, nor have his parents -- or his late wife’s -- seen him or heard from him. He was not in the ER when we closed it down yesterday after the incident was discovered and he was not spotted leaving the hospital. There is, obviously, an APB out on him, but we have to be realistic – he might still be hiding somewhere in this hospital.”

“You think he might go after Johnny again?” Roy asked.

“Yes.” Crockett’s voice was grim. “I take it you haven’t watched the news today?” As Roy shook his head, Crockett explained. “Someone phoned one of the news stations last night. He said he was claiming the moral high ground in his treatment of the paramedic who tried to save the life of the gunman. He said that he would have killed the gunman had he not died when he did, and on behalf of the other victims, he was going to make sure that Firefighter/Paramedic John Gage did not have the chance to save other worthless people.”

“Oh God!” Roy breathed, appalled. He glanced at the door to Johnny’s room with the guard posted outside. Was that enough protection he wondered to himself? “Have you told...?”

“John? Not yet. The hospital? Of course. Restrictions to John’s room are tighter than ever. No orderlies are to go in unless accompanied by a doctor. There are no male nurses on this floor and only a handful throughout the hospital. Only certain doctors have access. You, of course. Your shift mates, but warn them they’ll need identification.” Crockett sighed. “It seems that Elliott belongs to some sort of extreme religious group. They don’t seem very Christian to me, but what do I know? Anyway, it seems that they believe that only the righteous should receive medical treatment and everyone else should be left to die.” Crockett rolled his eyes. “As you may guess, the righteous are the members of this group.”

“I suppose they don’t like the fact that Johnny is an Indian, either,” Roy spat, as furious as he could remember being.

“Probably not,” Crockett agreed. “They likely think I’m one of the damned, too.” He shook his head. “But don’t worry, Roy. I won’t let him get to Johnny.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant,” Roy replied. “I’ll phone the guys from the nurses’ station and let them know. I think Cap is intending coming down later on.” He took a step and stopped. “Do you want me to tell Johnny?”

“When you think he’s up to it. Maybe you’d better talk to Dr Brackett, too. He might advise against it.”

“Thanks again,” Roy nodded. He went to the nurses’ station and asked to use the phone. He rang Cap, who in turn was going to phone the rest of A shift. Then he took five minutes to compose himself before he went back in to see Johnny.

**********

Later that evening, Roy and Cap told Johnny. By then, Johnny had had something to eat for the first time since the beating. It had been soup, easy to swallow; not requiring chewing and Johnny had enjoyed it to a point. His sense of taste seemed to have diminished, but the maxillofacial surgeon had assured him it would return and getting the packing out of his nose the following day would help everything immensely. So Johnny had been feeling pretty positive about things – until then.

He gazed at Roy. “Is that what’s been wrong with you all afternoon?” he asked. He hated how nasal his voice sounded and how the packing in his nose made him sound like he had a bad cold, distorting his words.

“I was trying to keep it from you,” Roy replied. “Brackett didn’t want you to know at once.”

“I thought it was my face that upset you,” Johnny told him. “I don’t know how it looks, but it feels like crap.” And that, Johnny reflected, is an understatement!

“It is pretty bad, pal,” Cap told him sympathy in his voice. “But it’s swelling and bruising and we all know that once that goes...” He shrugged. “The nurses don’t seem to be put off.”

“They’re paid to be nice to me,” Johnny jibed. He tried to grin, but it hurt too much. “This guy...”

“Joe Elliott,” Roy supplied.

“I don’t understand him,” Johnny complained.

“Nor do we,” Cap agreed fervently. “It doesn’t actually matter at this point, but you didn’t know the guy was the gunman when you were called to treat him. And even if you had, it wouldn’t have made any difference. You would still have tried as hard to save his life.”

“Yes, I would,” Johnny agreed. A life was a life, to him. It made no difference if it was a gunman, a drug addict or someone having a heart attack. He would always do his best. He may hate what the person stood for or did, but that did not affect the quality of care he provided.

“Don’t worry, John,” Cap told him. “We’ll keep you safe.”

“Thanks,” Johnny replied, genuinely grateful. It didn’t make him feel any better. Knowing that someone hated him enough to do him harm, or even kill him, was an unsettling thought. Johnny knew that he was in no fit state to defend himself, should the worst happen.

**********

It was only thanks to the sedative that Brackett all but forced on him that Johnny slept the night through. The thought that someone might be trying to kill him, or at the very least do him more harm, was very disturbing and Johnny had been unable to sleep initially.

That morning, Dr Johnston came and took the packing out of Johnny’s nose. There was some bleeding, but it stopped pretty quickly. “It looks good so far, John,” Johnston told him, after peering into his nose. “Nothing needs cauterized, but if there’s more bleeding, ring for the nurse at once, all right?” His patient nodded. “And above all, keep your fingers out of it.”

“I’m not in the habit of picking my nose,” Johnny informed him coolly. He couldn’t keep up the pretence of being offended, however. The notion tickled his fancy. “I have enough bad habits without that one,” he concluded and laughed. The surgeon laughed, too.

However, the next visitor was not as welcome. The ophthalmologist had been in before to peer into Johnny’s eyes. The swelling was down a bit and Johnny could see things more clearly, but he didn’t like having his eyelids pulled back and a light shone into them. It was very uncomfortable and he could see the afterimage for ages. This time, it seemed that his eyes looked sore and had a possible infection. Drops were ordered for during the day and soothing pads were also ordered for overnight.

“Oh no!” Johnny protested. He was just starting to feel the benefits of having the packing removed and losing the oxygen mask, although he had the sneaking suspicion that that would be only temporary.

“Mr. Gage,” the ophthalmologist said sternly, “your eyes have sustained some damage from the assault and I’m sure that you don’t want anything worse to happen to them.”

“I don’t,” Johnny agreed. “But I don’t want to be unable to see either.” He wondered if someone had told this doctor that some mad man was out to do him harm, but he wasn’t able to bring himself to say anything as it seemed so melodramatic.

“Well, if your eyes respond as well to the drops and pads as I hope, it should only be for this one night,” the man assured him. “We don’t want an infection going, now do we?” Gritting his teeth against the patronizing tone, Johnny agreed that he didn’t.

Now that the packing was out of his nose, Johnny was allowed to progress onto solid foods. He still found the food bland, but didn’t know if that was because it was hospital food or if his sense of taste was still slightly impaired. He resolved to ask Roy to sneak in a malt. He hoped that by the following day, he would be allowed to get up and hopefully get home the day after. He was bored and restless and sleeping in a fairly upright position was not very comfortable.

And so the day passed. Roy promised to bring in the requested malt and mentally made a note to ask one of the other guys to bring in some ice cream. If that didn’t tempt his partner’s appetite, he didn’t know what would. He already knew that Joanne had been over to Johnny’s and had stocked the freezer with meals and made sure he had the basics in the cupboards. She knew what Johnny’s bachelor habits were as far as shopping went.

It was, of course, Chet who brought the ice cream. He cracked endless raccoon jokes and Johnny would have rolled his eyes if it hadn’t been so painful to do so. Luckily, Marco had come with Chet and he diluted Chet’s high spirits to a more manageable level. When his friends left, Johnny was feeling much better, having enjoyed the tasty dairy treat. It seemed that his taste buds were well on the way back to normality.

His mood soured when the door opened and the nurse came in with the dreaded eye pads, about 2 hours before Johnny was expecting them. “But it’s still early,” he protested. “I wanted to watch some TV.”

“Sorry,” the nurse replied, not sounding in the least sorry. “I have my orders and I’m carrying them out.” She carefully squeezed the drops into Johnny’s eyes and then placed the solution-soaked patches over them. Rather than simply tape them down, the nurse wound gauze around his head several times. Johnny thought he must look rather like a mummy. When she was done, she placed the oxygen mask over his face again. “You need this when you’re sleeping,” she told him before he could protest. “Do you want a sedative?”

“No, thanks,” Johnny replied, sulkily. He listened to the sounds of the nurse retreating and then the door closing told him he was alone.

It was going to be a long night.

**********

The tones went off and Johnny had thrown the covers back and was starting to get up before his sleep-muddled brain caught up with his body. It wasn’t the tones, but it was connected – it was the fire alarm!

Cursing the bandages around his head, Johnny started fumbling with them so that he could see what he was doing and where he was going. He had no idea of the time, but it felt like the middle of the night. This might be a false alarm, but he wanted to be prepared if the hospital should require to be evacuated.

“Leave those bandages alone!” snapped a female voice close at hand. He flinched, not having heard the nurse come in. The side of the bed was let down and the nurse practically pulled Johnny from the bed. “Come on!” she exclaimed and he stumbled blindly after her.

The noise from the fire alarm was even worse in the corridors. Johnny could sense that there were a lot of people milling about and he was jostled as he was led a short distance. “Wait there,” the nurse told him. She vanished before he could muster any protest.

Moments later, a hand touched his arm. “Come on,” a male voice said.

“Who...?” Johnny began.

“I’m your guard,” replied the unseen man. “Let’s get out of here.” He tugged on Johnny’s arm and, with no other option, Johnny followed. He would have preferred to be told where he was going and to go there at a slightly slower pace, as he was bare foot and only clad in a hospital gown which was flapping at the back. Johnny didn’t know when he had last felt so vulnerable.

A door opened and a blast of cooler air hit the paramedic, making him shiver. They were in a stairwell, which made sense if there was a fire. Elevators would be dangerous. He put out his hand cautiously to feel for the wall or a hand rail and a hand grabbed his, twisted it behind his back and a handcuff closed on his wrist. Even as he struggled to break free, his other hand was also locked behind him. “What are you doing?” he cried.

The shove he received as an answer threw him heavily against the wall of the stairwell. His head clashed off the wall and it took all his strength to keep his feet. “You helped that killer instead of my wife and because of you she’s dead!” hissed the voice. Elliott’s breath was sour. “You’re going to pay for your sin. I set the hospital on fire and you aren’t going to get out. Your guard was very helpful in providing his handcuffs for my use.”

“You’re mad!” Johnny exclaimed, which perhaps was not the best thing to say. He kicked out, hoping that he would manage to drive the man away, but he missed. Elliott dodged the blow easily and gave Johnny another shove against the wall.

“Think what you want,” he snarled and hooked his foot around Johnny’s heel, yanking the paramedic’s feet out from underneath him and dumping him on the cold concrete of the floor.

Even as he fought furiously, Johnny could see that Elliott had planned this out thoroughly. He had rope of some kind to hand and bound Johnny’s feet. He dragged the squirming paramedic over to the banisters and bound his handcuffed hands to the metal struts, winding the rope around Johnny’s waist for good measure.

“You’re a murderer,” Elliott told Johnny as he knelt, panting, next to the helpless man. “You’re as much a murderer as the man who shot my wife!”

“You’re not any better!” Johnny exclaimed, as he fought the ropes and steel that kept him captive. “You’re going to murder me!”

“I am cleansing the world of your evil,” Elliott intoned. With a chill, Johnny knew he had been right; this man was mad. There would be no talking his way out of this one.

“My job is to save lives!” he cried, unable to passively accept his fate. “I don’t ask questions before I do that. I treat everyone, just the same.”

“You tried to save that murderer and ignored my wife!” Elliott argued.

“Someone else tried to save your wife,” Johnny argued back. “She wasn’t ignored. All the people at the scene were treated. All of them!”

“But he shouldn’t have been,” Elliott screamed. He coughed on a sudden waft of smoke that eddied up the stairwell. The fire alarms were still shrieking and the noise was horrific. “You should have left him to die!”

Exhaustion swept over Johnny as the futility of the conversation struck home anew. “And yet you claim the moral high ground,” he jibed. “Your so-called Christian attitude involves beating me and now trying to murder me. What if some innocent person dies in this fire you’ve set? How does that fall in with your morality?”

“You scum!” Elliott screamed. He grabbed Johnny around the throat and started to squeeze.

**********

When the tones had gone off, Station 51 had listened in stunned disbelief to the address. All of C shift knew that Johnny was in the hospital and the circumstances of him being there. Of course, this might be a false alarm, but it seemed altogether far too much of a coincidence for any of them to believe.

There was enough smoke showing to tell the arriving fire crews that this was not a false alarm. The parking lot was filled with nurses and patients and the unhelpful but ever-present media. The police were arriving at the same time as the fire engines.

Ignoring the waiting media, the fire crews prepared to go inside. Rescue squads were sent in first to help evacuate. The Battalion chief quickly found someone from the hospital who could tell him how the evacuation was going. Firefighters dragging hoses disappeared inside the building.

It was Dr Brackett who found Lieutenant Crockett talking to the Battalion chief. “Detective! John Gage is missing!”

***********

“Hey, you!” The shout echoed up the smoky stairwell as the rescue men from Station 51’s C shift headed up.

Above them, the man they could see straightened up enough for them to realize that the bundle of clothing on the floor was a person. As the man started to run, Charlie Dwyer realized that the person was tied to the railings of the stairway. They flew up the stairs, Charlie stopping by Gage’s side, and Hathaway, his current partner, carrying on after the fleeing suspect.

A quick glance told Dwyer all he needed to know. He lifted the HT to his lips. “HT51 to Engine 51. Cap, I’ve got Gage here in the stairwell. He’s been choked. I need a stokes and bolt cutters.” He glanced round to see the floor number and quickly gave that. He then set about freeing his unconscious colleague as far as he could.

Back up wasn’t long in arriving and Johnny was quickly loaded into the stokes and transported outside. By then, the small fire that Elliott had started was out and the hospital personnel were starting to shepherd their charges back inside. Dwyer was quickly dispatched to the ER with Gage.

The first order of business was getting rid of the bandages around Johnny’s eyes. Brackett knew that the paramedic would be disoriented enough without being unable to see. Dixie quickly set up an IV and Dwyer put an oxygen mask on. Once that was done, Brackett let him go and Dwyer said he would phone Roy and Captain Stanley.

Although Johnny’s vitals were improving, Brackett was concerned that he had not yet regained consciousness. He was just deciding to intubate when Johnny moaned and moved his head. “Johnny?” Brackett leaned in close, glad the dreadful noise from the fire alarm was now just a memory. “Can you hear me?” There was another moan and a cough and then Johnny was leaning over, retching and choking on the smoke lingering in his throat.

Relief swept over Brackett and he exchanged a glance with Dixie. She quickly offered the injured man a drink and he sipped and swallowed gingerly. Brackett was relieved to see the water go down, even though it appeared to be very painful for Johnny to swallow. “How do you feel?” he asked Johnny as he set about examining him

Squinting against the lights, Johnny thought about it. “Killer ... headache,” he croaked. “Throat ... sore.” He swallowed again in obvious discomfort. He held his hands up, Dixie catching his right arm with the IV in it. They bore a couple of welts. “My ... wrists.”

“All right, Johnny,” Brackett assured him. “You don’t need to speak any more. In fact, it would be better if you didn’t. You can breathe okay?”

Gingerly, Johnny nodded his head, which felt as though it might actually fall off his neck. He had to swallow again and recognized the taste of smoke on his tongue. His mouth was as dry as a bone. Swallowing was hell on earth and his head was throbbing. Suddenly, he remembered what had happened and sat up abruptly. Dixie caught him before he could swing his legs round.

“Easy, tiger,” she soothed. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“He... tried... to... kill... me,” Johnny croaked painfully. Sitting up had not been pleasant and Johnny suddenly knew that he was going to throw up, but his voice had gone and he didn’t know how to tell Dixie...

He needn’t have worried. Dixie was an experienced nurse and recognized the sudden pallor, repeated swallowing and the wild look in his eyes. She whipped up an emesis basin and held it under Johnny’s chin. It was a ghastly experience for Johnny, the pain in his throat was almost unbearable. By the time it was over, involuntary tears were running down his face and he was gasping for breath.

Handing the emesis basin to another nurse, Dix turned her attention to settling her patient and making him as comfortable as she could. She washed Johnny’s face and gave him a small sip of water to rinse his mouth, then some ice chips to suck on. Then she discreetly took another set of vitals.

Seeing that Johnny was now calmer again, Brackett resumed his examination, feeling around Johnny’s head for bumps and finding a couple and looking down his throat. “You have bumped your head, but I don’t think you have a concussion,” Brackett told him. “We’ll get a couple of pictures to be sure and pictures of your throat. Johnny, your throat is badly bruised and swelling. You must tell us if breathing or swallowing gets more difficult. You won’t be left alone, I promise.” He glanced at the vitals Dix gave him. “You need to keep the oxygen mask on, Johnny. Would you like something for pain?”

Exhaustion swept over Johnny. He shivered and nodded. He knew if his throat swelled any further, he would have to be intubated and put on the ventilator. It wasn’t a prospect he looked forward to, but at the moment, drawing air took all his concentration. He shivered again as the adrenalin coursing through his body began to leech away. Dix noticed and brought him a blanket from the warmer. He snuggled under it gratefully.

“Where is he?” Johnny mouthed as the warmth soothed his aching body.

“I don’t know,” Dixie admitted. She was cleaning the welts on his wrists and putting on soothing antibiotic cream. “We won’t let anything happen to you, Johnny.”

“He ... set ... the ... fire,” Johnny croaked, forcing the words past the constriction in his throat. “To ... kill ... me.”

“No more talking,” Brackett warned him, as Johnny coughed dryly. He came over and gave Johnny a shot into his IV. “This should make you more relaxed.”

Relaxed? Johnny wondered how the doctor thought he could relax with a madman still loose in the hospital somewhere. After all, he had already set one fire; what was to stop him setting another? He looked worriedly at Dix who smiled at him reassuringly.

A noise at the door had Johnny flinching violently, but it was just the portable x-ray machine. Outside, the hospital appeared to be in total chaos, which was hardly surprising. Johnny hoped that nobody had been hurt. He turned his attention to the x-ray technician.

“I’ll be right outside the whole time, Johnny,” Dixie told him and Johnny nodded. He respected the nurse’s ability to look after herself and others but he doubted that she would be able to stop Elliott if he was determined to get into the treatment room.

***********

Outside in the corridor, Dixie saw Crockett coming towards her. She smiled, but didn’t move from the door. She didn’t know if she had ever seen Johnny so shaken. “Any news?” she asked as the detective approached.

“Hathaway lost him,” Crockett reported. “We’re letting the patients back in floor by floor and searching each floor first.” He sighed. “Not ideal from any point of view, I know.”

“No,” Dixie agreed. She cast a glance towards the exit door, even though she couldn’t see it from where she was standing. It was 3am, and although the night was warm, the patients didn’t need to be kept outside.

“I need to talk to John,” Crockett said.

“He can’t speak right now,” Dixie replied. “Elliott tried to choke him and his throat is very swollen.”

Frowning, Crockett asked, “Is he hurt other than that?”

“A couple of bumps on the head and some weals on his wrists from the handcuffs. Kel doesn’t think there’s a concussion, but he’s taking x-rays to be sure.” She had hardly finished speaking when the door behind her opened and the machine was pushed out. “Come on in for a minute,” she invited. “Johnny might be able to answer some yes or no questions and you might be able to put his mind at rest.”

They found the paramedic half asleep on the exam table. His throat was already showing signs of the bruising to come and Crockett was incensed that he had been unable to prevent this second attack. In his mind, it was unforgivable and he was going to make sure that John Gage was at no further risk.

“John?” Crockett said, quietly, not wanting to startle the injured man.

All the same, Johnny flinched. He blinked blearily at Crockett through half-open eyes – the best he could manage. His mouth opened but not even a croak emerged. Crockett winced. “Did you see who did this to you?” he asked.

Slowly, Johnny shook his head. Again he opened his mouth, but this time he remembered and pointed to his eyes. Crockett had no idea what he meant. The detective glanced at Dixie to see if she could help with this puzzle. She could. “I forgot; Johnny had his eyes bandaged to give the drops time to work.”

Pursing his lips, Crockett fought back a curse. “Did his voice sound familiar to you?” he asked this time and got a definite no. Well, that was no good, he thought. This was going nowhere. “I’ll come back and speak to you later, John,” he proposed and started to turn.

A hand grabbed his arm, and he looked down at Johnny. The paramedic seemed more alert and now that he had Crockett’s attention, he looked at Dixie and made writing motions – carefully, as the IV was in that arm. Dixie got his meaning at once and fetched a notepad and pen.

Even for Johnny, his handwriting was horrific, but Crockett was used to reading dreadful scribbles – his own chiefly – and he was able to understand what Johnny wrote.

He told me he was going to kill me because I didn’t save his wife. He said that I should have left the gunman to die, and to make me pay for my sin he was burning down the hospital. It was when I said he was no better than me and where were his Christian morals that he started to choke me. I don’t know what happened after that. I must have blacked out.

“And he definitely mentioned his wife?” Crockett demanded excitedly.

Vigorously, Johnny nodded. He grabbed the pen again. He said that we shouldn’t have tried to save the gunman, just his wife. And he said he got the handcuffs from my guard. Is he all right?

“He’s fine,” Crockett replied. “John, you’ve made me a happy man. Do you think you’d recognize his voice again?” Again, Johnny nodded. Crockett grinned in satisfaction. “We’ve got him!” he declared. “Do me a favor, John, and sign this. Dix, will you witness it?” As soon as Elliott was caught – and he would be caught, Crockett knew – they had a witness statement placing him at the scene of the crime and admitting it. He took the signed and witnessed paper and left.

Exhausted by all that had happened, Johnny lay back on the exam table and closed his eyes. The brief excitement had made him feel better, but now that it was over, his aches and pains were coming back in full force, albeit slightly muted by whatever Brackett had given him before.

“How’s your breathing?” Dixie asked, brushing the hair back off his face. “Is it worse?”

She never got an answer to her question. The treatment room door burst open and Elliott walked in.

***********

Johnny would have sworn that he had no idea what Elliott looked like, but he would have been wrong. The brief glimpse he had had of the man just before the first attack had been clearer than he remembered and he knew at once who this man was. He pushed the blanket off his legs and swung upright.

“You can’t come in here!” Dixie exclaimed, moving forwards. She clearly had no idea who he was and his possibly identity had escaped her.

“Dix, no!” Johnny croaked, but the words barely made it past the oxygen mask. He pulled it off and jumped to his feet. The IV was ripped from his arm, but he barely noticed. He pushed his body in front of Dixie.

It was only then that the penny dropped. Dixie looked around for a possible weapon, but there was nothing within reach. She reached for Johnny’s arm and clutched it, both to reassure and to gain reassurance. Johnny didn’t look at her. His full attention was on the madman in front of them. There would be no talking him around this time.

“You just won’t die, will you?” Elliott asked, his tone surprisingly conversational. “What will it take to kill you?”

“Your wife’s death had nothing to do with Johnny,” Dixie protested.

“Shut up!” Elliott shouted. Foam gathered at the corners of his mouth and he was sweating profusely. “You know nothing, woman!” He drew his hand from his pocket and he was holding a long blade. “But this should work, fireman. Now come over here.”

“No.” Johnny knew the word wouldn’t carry, but he had to say it. He shook his head. He was going to have to fight this man again and he knew all too well that he was in no fit state to do so. His legs were already trembling beneath him. All he could hope was that Dixie would be able to escape unhurt. Perhaps he might get a slight advantage by making the first move.

As Johnny gathered himself, Elliott lunged at him. Johnny pushed Dixie back with the arm she held, even as he moved to block and intercept his attacker. The two men collided head on and both staggered, but it was Johnny who came off worst. He stumbled, lost his balance and slipped to the floor.

With a bellow of triumph that was heard outside in the corridor, Elliott jumped on him, the knife flashing in the bright lights of the exam table. Johnny flung up his arms for protection, knowing that left him vulnerable in other areas, but also knowing that this was a fight he could not win.

The body that landed on top of him was exceptionally heavy. Breath was forced from his body as the knife slashed along both of Johnny’s forearms. There was cursing and the sound of blows and shouting in both male and female voices and Johnny lay there, feeling pulped as the heavy body rolled over and over him and then was suddenly gone. But he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move and the pain in his arms was overwhelming.

Once more, he fell into waiting darkness.

***********

As Elliott lunged for Johnny, the treatment room door opened and Roy DeSoto came in. He took in what was happening immediately and rugby tackled Johnny’s assailant. They both landed on top of the hapless paramedic, but Roy had no time to worry about that. He was intent on not allowing this lunatic to further injure his friend. He forced Elliott away from Johnny, which unfortunately involved rolling over his partner, but there was nothing Roy could do about that. Dixie darted past him and threw open the door, yelling loudly for help.

Help came immediately. Brackett and Crockett raced into the room, Crockett arriving fractionally before Brackett. Another uniformed officer followed behind, as did Dr Joe Early, who had been standing at the nurse’s station. Brackett dived for Johnny and Early paused long enough to check that Dixie was okay before he followed suit. Crockett and the cop grabbed for the fighters.

The cops knew tricks that Roy would never have to learn. One quick, wicked twist of the arm and Elliott was disarmed and before he knew it, he was handcuffed and dragged from the room, still kicking and swearing. Dixie, while thinking a dose of the vapors would be very satisfying, refused to allow herself such a feminine wile and went over to where Roy was half-lying on the floor, panting.

“How’s Johnny?” Roy asked, squinting past the nurse.

Not knowing the answer, Dixie glanced over her shoulder. “We’ll know in a minute,” she replied. “Are you hurt?”

“I’ve got a bit of a cut on my hand,” Roy replied dismissively. He pushed more upright and wiped a shaking hand across his forehead. “It’s nothing.”

“We’ll decide that,” Joe declared. “Let’s get you and Johnny into another treatment room and have a look at you both.” He helped Brackett lift Johnny onto the gurney and Dix helped Roy to his feet and they went into the room next door.

Some oxygen soon brought Johnny round. His arms would require stitches, but he had been very lucky. The wounds were long but not too deep. He was going to be badly bruised, but had sustained no further serious injury. His hospital stay would be prolonged by a few days, but after the first assault that night, nobody had expected otherwise. Roy had a deep cut across the palm of his right hand, which he had received by grabbing the blade of the knife.

The two doctors were just finishing up the stitching when Crockett came in. “It’s over, John,” he told the groggy paramedic. “He’s confessed to everything. It may not even go to trial if he pleads guilty.” He smiled. “You can really relax now. He’s on his way downtown and won’t get bail.”

Johnny’s eyes closed for a moment before he flashed Crockett a weak smile of thanks. A faint tremor ran through his body and Dixie went to the warmer for another blanket. Relief could bring on shock symptoms, too and they did not want him to take a turn for the worse.

“We’ll get you to a room, Johnny,” Brackett told him. “I’ll give you something to help you sleep. Roy, I think you ought to stay, too and get some sleep. We’ll lend you some scrubs.”

Opening his mouth to protest, Roy caught the nod Brackett sent towards his partner. Johnny was pale under the bruising. He was completely wiped out and Roy knew at once what Brackett wanted. The partners would be together and if Johnny needed him, Roy would be on hand. “All right,” he agreed, trying to sound grudging. From the look Johnny shot in his direction, and the faint smile that accompanied it, Johnny knew what was going on and appreciated it.

***********

It was 6 weeks before Johnny made it back to work. The injuries to his arms healed well, but he had had a nasty eye infection that resolutely refused to respond to antibiotics that kept him out. His nose had healed well and the dreadful bruising and swelling had all resolved. There was nothing to show on his face of the ordeal he had been through.

Elliott’s capture had been quite a sensation and the media had followed the story closely. He had pleaded guilty to the assault and attempted murder of John Gage and deliberate fire-raising. Psychiatric reports had been ordered and it was still unclear at that point if he would serve time in prison or in a secure unit. Either way, it would be a very long time indeed before he would even be considered for parole or release.

On his first morning back at the station, Johnny cautiously opened the door to his locker, standing well clear. “Chet!” he yelled.

“He didn’t get you,” Roy pointed out, noticing that neither Johnny nor the floor were wet.

“That’s the point, Roy!” Johnny exclaimed in exasperation as he went to search for the Irishman. “Why didn’t he get me???”

*****End*****

 

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