The members of Station 51's A Shift were just arriving for duty. They found the B Shift in the common area of the station watching TV.
"Hey guys, watching the basketball game?" Johnny asked, taking a seat on the couch.
"Who isn't?" answered Steve Hill, the B Shift captain.
"Yeah, Johnny," Chet responded. "Everybody wants to see if the Lakers are gonna lose."
"What do you mean?" Roy asked.
"Oh, yeah," Johnny started. "Their star center, Jake Green, got hurt last night."
"Well, they just announced that his knee is so messed up that he won't be able to play again," Captain Hill finished.
"No way!" Johnny exclaimed.
"It's true. I heard it on the radio on the way in to work," Chet said.
"So who's winning?" Roy asked
"Lakers. I guess Jake Green wasn't as irreplaceable as everybody thought," Captain Hill replied, getting up to leave.
"Hey Steve," Captain Stanley called, joining him in the kitchen. "How'd the shift go?"
"We had a couple of calls in the Clayton block area. Both were called in as working fires, but they wound up being minor. Both were in abandoned buildings frequented by homeless folks," Hill answered.
"Anybody hurt?" Stanley asked.
"No civilians. A couple of guys from Station 48 got hurt, when a ceiling collapsed, but they'll be okay," Hill replied. "O'Brien's got some broken ribs and Brancaccio got a concussion. They'll be staying overnight for observation at Rampart," he continued.
"Do the police suspect arson?" Stanley asked, pouring some coffee for himself now.
"Yes," Hill answered. "But no leads or suspects yet."
Just then the A and B Shifts entered the kitchen, with the B Shift heading for the exit.
"I take it the Lakers won?" Hill asked.
"Yeah, 120-88," Stoker replied.
Johnny and Roy headed out to the truck bay, to check over the squad and its supplies. They were about half way done when the station's tones sounded.
"Squad 51 respond to 100 Oak Ridge Road. Possible overdose. Police also responding," boomed the voice of the LA County dispatcher.
Captain Stanley picked up the microphone and replied "10-4, Squad 51 responding, KMG-365." He then handed a slip of paper with the address to Roy who was already sitting in the squad, ready to go.
When they arrived at 100 Oak Ridge Road, Officer Vince Howard met them at the driveway.
"What've we got, Vince?" Johnny asked, getting the trauma box out of the squad's side compartment.
"Jake Green, from the Lakers. He took a bunch of pills, now he's locked himself in the bathroom," Vince answered.
Johnny and Roy followed Vince into the house where they were escorted to the second floor. Another police officer was outside the bathroom door talking.
"Mr. Green, my name is Bill Joseph. I'm with the police department," he said. "Mr. Green, please open the door. Mr. Green, we just want to help you. Please," he continued.
"Leave me alone!" came the voice from the other side of the door. "Just leave me alone and let me die!"
"Mr. Green, please," Officer Joseph tried again. "There are a lot of people who care for you out here. We don't want to see you die," he said.
"I don't care!" Green replied. "All I ever wanted to do was play basketball! It's all I know! I can't do anything else! How am I supposed to support my family?! I don't know anything else!" he shouted.
"Vince," Johnny whispered. "Do you know what he took and how much?" he asked, hoping to get some information about how to treat Green, once they got to him.
"Housekeeper thinks he took a bunch of the painkillers he had for his knee," Vince replied.
"No idea how many?" Roy interjected.
Vince was about to respond when a woman came up the stairs yelling.
"Jake! Jake!!" she cried.
An officer was following her.
"Mrs. Green, please!" he called, trying to stop her.
"Jake!" she cried, pounding on the door.
"Mrs. Green, please, calm down," Officer Joseph said, preventing her from hitting the door again.
"Mr. Green, your wife is here. She's very worried about you. Won't you please open the door now?" Officer Joseph asked.
Finally, they heard the clicking noise, as the door was unlocked. Officer Joseph went in first, to make sure it was safe.
"Okay, send in the paramedics!" he called.
Johnny and Roy went in to find the man they knew as a superstar basketball player, sitting in a tub, crying.
Officer Joseph was talking with him.
"Mr. Green, these two men are paramedics with the fire department. They are going to take good care of you now," he said before making room for Johnny.
"Hi there, my name's John, and this is my partner Roy," Johnny said, introducing himself and Roy. "I'm just going to get a set of vital signs from you. Just relax, it won't hurt a bit," he soothed, placing a blood pressure cuff around the man's arm. "Mr. Green, I was told you took some pills. I need to know what kind you took and how many. Can you do that for me?" Johnny asked.
"Codeine. The stuff they gave me for my knee," Green answered.
"How many?" Roy asked.
"Ten," he answered. "It's all I had left."
Roy called in the information to Rampart on the biophone while Johnny continued to talk to their patient.
"I know how you must feel, man," Johnny told him. "Ever since I was a little kid I knew I was going to be a fireman. I never thought about anything else. But there's got to be other options for you. Teaching, coaching, going back to school…" Johnny offered, hoping to make the man feel better.
The ambulance crew arrived just then and Johnny and Roy placed Green onto the gurney. They had started an IV and oxygen just prior to the ambulance crew's arrival. Johnny rode in with Green to Rampart and Roy followed in the squad.
After Roy radioed that they were back in service, he and Johnny headed back to the squad. After driving for a while Roy finally broke the silence.
"Did you mean what you said back there?" he asked.
"Huh?" Johnny replied, confused.
"About always wanting to be a fireman," Roy said.
Johnny thought a moment.
"Yeah, I guess so. Or at least since somewhere back in elementary school when I realized I couldn't ride horses and fight cowboys for a living on the reservation," Johnny said with a gleam in his eyes.
"What about you?" Johnny asked.
"No, I kind of fell into this by accident," Roy started. "I was in college, getting a degree to teach history when a buddy of mine got me to join the campus volunteer fire department. I took the civil service test for the county in my senior year, just before graduation, as a fluke," Roy recalled.
"So you've got something to fall back on just in case," Johnny started to say, but was interrupted by the radio tones.
"LA station 51, station 48, engine 115. Man trapped, 1525 Evergreen Street. Cross street Clayton Avenue," the dispatcher announced.
Johnny picked up the radio mike and acknowledged the call as Roy flipped on the lights and siren. A short time later they arrived at the scene. Roy parked the squad near 51's engine. The two got out and started to get their gear when Captain Stanley approached.
"We saw the roof start to collapse as we pulled up," he finished.
"How reliable are the reports?" Roy asked, obviously wary about entering the building.
"Very," replied Stanley. "LAPD saw the guy when he darted inside. They got to the front door when the ceiling came down. No one saw him come out. We've heard the guy calling for help."
"Were the cops hurt?" Johnny asked.
"Yeah, 48's taking care of them. One's real bad, head injury," Captain Stanley told them.
Johnny started getting some equipment out of the squad. Captain Stanley saw what he was doing.
"That place is a mess. There's no way to find your way around, especially without any lighting," he started.
"How about we go in with lifelines. We'll bring our own lights and the handy talkies," Johnny said, watching Roy getting his rope and equipment as well.
"Just what I was thinking," Stanley answered.
Johnny and Roy each had ropes tied to their belts as they cautiously entered the building. Some bracing had already been done prior to their arrival. They carefully made their way over, under and around the debris, continually heading toward the voice that was yelling for help. They had to dodge falling plaster and furnishings here and there but were making steady progress when Roy yelled out. Johnny turned to see Roy fall to the floor, grasping at his leg and ankle.
"Roy! What happened? Are you all right?" Johnny cried out as he made it back to his partner's side.
"I stepped through a floorboard. I think I broke my ankle," Roy managed through gritted teeth.
Johnny helped Roy as he gingerly extracted his foot from the hole in the floor.
"I gotta get you out of here," Johnny said,
"No, I'm okay. Go get the victim. Call the engine, let them know what happened and I'll try to get out on my own," Roy said, pulling out the handy talkie and giving it to Johnny.
"You sure?" Johnny asked.
"I'm fine. Go," Roy said waving Johnny off.
Johnny called the engine. Chet and Marco would follow the lines in to help Roy. He called out to the trapped man trying to relocate him. His call was answered and soon Johnny was making his way through the building again. He found the man a short time later. His legs were pinned under some rubble.
"Are you hurt?" Johnny asked, starting to clear the debris.
"I don't think so," he answered. "I just can't get out from under all this."
"Okay, I think we can get you out of this without too much of a problem," Johnny said, continuing to clear wood and plaster from on top of the man. A few minutes later and Johnny was helping the man to stand up. He took out the handy talkie and spoke into it. "HT 51 to engine 51. Cap, I got him and we're on our way out."
"Thanks, man. I didn't think I'd ever get out of here," the man said to Johnny.
"All part of the job. Now let's really get out of here," Johnny said, starting to follow the rope back the way he had come.
They had just about reached the part of the building where Johnny had left Roy when they heard the rumbling. Johnny saw the ceiling start to collapse.
"Get down!" he yelled, lunging at the man, pushing him out of the way.
A huge chunk of plaster and some wood beams crashed down onto Johnny, crushing him to the floor. The man just stood and stared at the pile of rubble, noting the arms and legs poking through. Then he ran. He followed the ropes, knowing that that they led the way out. Then he saw the firemen. One was limping, being helped along by two others. They heard him approach and turned. The man saw an opening in the wall leading to the outside and ran to it.
"Johnny!" Roy yelled, knowing something was amiss.
Chet and Marco eased Roy to the floor and headed in the direction they had seen the man come from.
"Oh God, Johnny!" Marco yelled upon seeing the pile of rubble with Johnny under it.
"Come on, let's get digging!" Chet ordered unnecessarily, as Marco had already begun. "HT 51 to engine 51," he called into his handy talkie. "We have another man down. And be advised that the original victim is no longer in the building."
Roy had been slowly making his way back towards the commotion. He'd found an old iron floor lamp and was using it as a cane. He almost collapsed at the sight before him.
"Johnny?" he gasped.
"He's alive," announced Chet, to reassure Roy and Marco as well as himself.
Roy, now oblivious to the pain in his ankle, crawled over and started digging as well. As they were uncovering Johnny, Roy began to assess his injuries. He was worried about the bump and gash they found on his head. When they finally got him completely uncovered Roy took in the seriousness of the injuries. Johnny's back was covered in blood. He quickly tore part of his shirt away and saw bone below the gash along his lower spine. His right leg was also bleeding. A compound fracture, with bone ends poking out near his shin. They heard rumbling again.
"Roy?" Chet said tentatively.
Roy looked around quickly.
"Over there. That piece of plywood. We need to use it as a backboard to carry him out of here," he ordered.
Marco was already getting it before Roy finished the sentence. He placed it next to Johnny.
"No, up here, at his head," Roy started. "I want to keep him in line. We'll slide him up this way," he finished, gesturing to help Chet and Marco understand.
Then as quickly and as carefully as they could, they slid Johnny onto the makeshift backboard. Chet and Marco lifted him up and started to head back the way they came. Roy grabbed his lamp and hobbled after them.
They made their way to the opening in the wall the man had escaped from and called for help. Captain Stanley and Stoker were there in seconds. Chet and Marco carefully passed Johnny on the plywood out through the opening. Several members of station 48 were there to help, too. Chet then helped Roy climb out the opening, before he and Marco made their exit as well. They weren't more than 20 feet away from the building when another collapse occurred. They all looked at each other, knowing but not saying how close they'd cut it.
Roy collapsed down next to his partner and started to take his pulse and respiration.
"Cap, I need the trauma box and the biophone!" Roy ordered.
Stanley was about to go get the equipment when he saw Stoker returning with it. Mike placed it next to Roy and opened everything up for him. Roy got out the equipment he needed and then gave orders to the rest of the crew.
"Chet, Marco, I need you to apply a bandage to his leg and splint it in place as best you can. Mike, you can get me a cervical collar. Cap, I need some bandages for his head and back after we cut his uniform off," Roy rattled off as he got out the BP cuff to finish gathering Johnny's vital signs.
"Roy, do you need the backboard, too?" Stoker asked.
"No. I don't want to move him any more than I have to. We'll leave him on the plywood," Roy answered.
Roy was checking Johnny's pupils when Johnny emitted a low painful moan.
"Johnny? Johnny, can you hear me?" Roy asked.
"Roy?" Johnny rasped, opening his eyes. He sucked in a breath and gritted his teeth as his attempt to turn his head toward Roy failed miserably and painfully.
"Don't move, Johnny. Don't move. Can you tell me where you hurt?" he asked.
"My back is killing me. My head. My shoulder. Oh, man," he managed before another wave of pain overcame him. Roy's heart wrenched as he watched his best friend's eyes squeeze shut in an effort to block the pain.
"Just take it easy. We're going to take good care of you," Roy soothed as he picked up the biophone.
"Rampart, this is squad 51. How do you read?" he spoke.
"Squad 51 this is Rampart, go ahead." Roy recognized Dr. Brackett's voice on the other end.
"Rampart we have a 30 year old male, victim of a building collapse. He is conscious at this time. He has a compound fracture of the right lower leg, a deep bleeding wound on his lower back, a head injury and a possible dislocated shoulder. He also has several other smaller wounds and abrasions throughout his body. Vital signs are BP 110 over 70, pulse 100 and respiration 20. Pupils are equal and reactive. We are taking spinal precautions at this time," he recited.
"10-4, 51. Start IV D5W TKO and O2. Transport as soon as possible," Brackett ordered.
"10-4, Rampart, we'll be enroute to your location shortly," Roy informed them. He hung up the biophone and set about getting the IV kit together. Stoker had since applied the cervical collar to Johnny and was getting the oxygen mask on him now.
"Roy?" Johnny called, with a slight tremble to his voice.
"Yeah, Johnny. I'm right here," Roy answered, swabbing down Johnny's arm for the IV.
"Roy, did I hear you say I have a compound fracture?" he asked tentatively.
Roy knew what Johnny was implying. Johnny didn't mention his leg when Roy asked him where he was hurting. Roy knew what that meant. He hesitated, not knowing how to tell Johnny.
"Roy?" Johnny called again, this time with fear in his voice.
"Yeah, Johnny. Looks like the fibula. Chet and Marco are doing a great job splinting it up for us," he said quietly.
Johnny closed his eyes.
"I can't feel it," he whispered.
"I know," Roy answered, gently squeezing Johnny's hand before inserting the IV.
The ambulance crew brought the gurney over and gave questioning looks when they saw Johnny's prone form being taped down to the piece of plywood.
"It works," was all Roy said as he watched them lift Johnny onto the stretcher and place him into the ambulance. Captain Stanley helped him climb into the back to sit next to his partner. Captain Stanley closed the doors and pounded on the back to let the driver know they were clear to go.
Dixie and Brackett were waiting at the ambulance entrance to the ER. They waited patiently as the ambulance slowly backed up. The rear door opened up and Dixie was shocked to see Roy scrambling out the back, almost falling as his feet touched the ground. She saw the pain on Roy's face, as he had to put weight on his injured ankle to prevent the fall.
"Roy? What's going on? Where's Johnny?" she asked, not understanding why Roy would be taking care of a patient if he himself was injured.
"He's right here," Roy answered solemnly as the ambulance attendants pulled out the stretcher from the back of the ambulance.
Dixie and Brackett fully understood now as Brackett took a closer look at their patient.
"Let's get him into 2," Brackett ordered, starting to pull the stretcher along himself. "Dix, why don't you take Roy into 4."
Joe Early was waiting for them in the treatment room and helped Brackett and the ambulance attendant transfer Johnny and his makeshift backboard onto the exam table. As Early helped transfer the IV and O2 tubes he finally realized who the patient was.
"Is that Johnny?" he gasped.
"Yeah," Brackett answered as he crouched down near Johnny's head.
"Johnny? Can you hear me?" Brackett asked. "Johnny? You with us?"
Johnny slowly opened his eyes and let out a groan.
"Yeah," he said slowly. "At least the top half of me is."
Brackett managed a half smile for Johnny before shooting a concerned look towards Early.
"X-ray's waiting outside whenever we're ready, Kel," Early told him.
"All right. Johnny? We're going to start checking you out, okay? Let us know if anything hurts," he told Johnny in quiet tones.
Brackett took out his penlight and started his exam with Johnny's pupils. Early had begun on the other end, unwrapping the bandages on Johnny's broken leg. Between the two of them they checked Johnny's injuries and removed some of the bandages to get better looks at the wounds without too many painful hisses from Johnny. Early was removing the bandage from Johnny's lower back when Johnny spoke up.
"Doc?" he called tentatively.
"Yes, Johnny," Early answered.
"My back… Will I … Is it?" he said, struggling with the words, trying to deny the possibilities.
Early crouched down next to the table so that he was in Johnny's line of sight. Johnny was still secured to the plywood, so he couldn't move his head around.
"I don't know yet, Johnny. We still have to take the x-rays and run some tests," he said softly. "Let's focus on what we can take care of now, all right?"
Johnny closed his eyes, understanding. The door to the treatment room opened and Brackett ushered in the x-ray techs and their equipment. Brackett gave them instructions about what they needed x-rays of.
"Johnny, hang tight, all right? We'll be right back," Brackett said to Johnny. "Carol, let us know if you need us. We'll be in 4," he addressed the nurse in the room.
Early and Brackett headed to the room Roy had been taken to. They walked in as Dixie was applying a second ice pack to Roy's ankle.
"How's Johnny?" Roy asked immediately.
"He's stable for now. X-ray's in with him now. We'll know more after we see the pictures," Brackett answered.
"His back?" Roy asked tentatively.
"Too early to tell, Roy," Early replied.
Roy nodded silently.
"That was quite the unusual way to immobilize him, Roy," Brackett remarked, crossing his arms across his chest.
"A ceiling collapsed on him," he started. "More of it was ready to come down on the rest of us too." I saw his back…" Roy paused a second, swallowed. "I saw the bones showing in the wound. We grabbed a piece of plywood that was nearby and put him on it. I didn't want to risk further injury to it by jostling him around any more," he continued.
Brackett, Early and Dixie were listening intently. They nodded, urging Roy to continue.
"So when it was time to start treating him, I figured he was fine where he was. I didn't want to move him anymore, so I just taped him down, as is," he finished, unsure of how they would respond to his unorthodox method.
"You did a good job, Roy," Early said, noting Roy's apprehension.
Just then one of the x-ray techs peeked in.
"All set, Docs," he said and quickly left.
"We'll keep you up to date Roy," Brackett said before leaving with Early.
As they reentered Johnny's treatment room Brackett questioned Carol.
"How are his vitals?" he asked.
Carol answered as she hung a new IV. "His leg started to bleed when they maneuvered it for the x-ray. We got it under control quickly, but his pressure dropped. Current vitals are BP 90 over 60, pulse 120 and respiration 24."
"Sounds like he's getting a little shocky," Early remarked. "I'll call the orthopedists and have them meet us up in the OR."
"Has the blood work come back yet?" Brackett asked as he reexamined the wound on Johnny's spine.
"Yes. Everything looks good," Early said holding the recently received paperwork in his hand.
Brackett crouched down next to Johnny again.
"Johnny? Johnny?" he called quietly.
Johnny opened his eyes. Brackett noted the glassy appearance of them. Saw the effort used to open them.
"Johnny. We're going to take you up to the OR now. We're going to have the orthopedists take care of your leg fracture. We need to get it stabilized to control the bleeding," Brackett explained.
"I understand," Johnny managed to say between gritted teeth. "X-ray's?" he asked.
Brackett understood. "Not yet. Just hang in, Johnny. We're gonna do our best for you," he soothed, lightly patting Johnny's arm.
Johnny closed his eyes again, assenting. Before long he was on his way to the OR. Brackett made his way back to Roy. Roy was having his ankle wrapped in an ace bandage and soft cast by Dr. Morton when Brackett entered the treatment room. Roy looked up expectantly.
"He's on his way to the OR now. We need to stabilize that leg fracture to get the bleeding under control," Brackett began, answering Roy's unasked questions. "It's still too early to tell about his back," he continued. "How about you?" he asked, pointing to Roy's ankle.
"Just a bad sprain and a couple of stitches," Morton answered for him. "We'll get him some crutches and some pain meds and he'll be on his way."
"Good," Brackett responded. "I'll check in with you later if I have any more news about Johnny."
A little while later Dixie held the door open for Roy so he could make his way to the waiting room. He stopped short in the hallway when he heard someone calling his name.
Roy turned to see Joanne running towards him.
"Joanne, what are you doing here?" he asked. "Did Captain Stanley call you?"
"No. It was all over the news," she began as they started heading down the hall. "They said a police officer was killed and that two paramedics were injured – I saw you getting into the ambulance," she said.
Roy stopped. "The police officer died?"
"Yes, that's what they said on TV," she replied. "Where's Johnny?" she said suddenly, looking around.
"Let's sit down first, and I'll tell you," Roy said tiredly.
They made it to the waiting room, where after propping up his ankle, Roy related what had happened and told her what he knew about Johnny's condition.
Later the rest of station 51's membership joined them.
"How's Johnny" Captain Stanley asked.
"He's in surgery now, stabilizing his leg, stopping the bleeding. They don't know about his back yet," Roy stated.
"His back?" Stoker asked.
Roy bowed his head. He hadn't told them about Johnny's paralysis. He took a deep breath.
"He had a bad gash on his back," he began. "He told me he couldn't feel his legs. He might be…he might be paralyzed," he finished with a tremor in his voice.
Joanne took Roy's hand in hers and gave a gentle squeeze, hoping to give support to her husband.
"Oh, man," Chet said, sinking slowly into a chair. The others followed suit.
About two and a half hours later Brackett entered the waiting room, finding Roy asleep against Joanne's shoulder, the stress and painkillers having taken their toll. The rest of the shift had to get back to the station for the rest of their shift. Joanne gently nudged Roy. He sat up carefully and looked at Brackett expectantly.
"How is he?" he asked.
Brackett sat down on a chair across from them.
"The orthopedists are doing a good job with his leg. No complications there," he started. "I called in Dr. O'Leary, she's a neurosurgeon, when I got the x-rays back. She's already started to treat Johnny, cleaning out some of the debris imbedded in the wound," he continued.
"And?" Roy asked tentatively, seeing the troubled look on Brackett's face.
"One of the discs was punctured by a nail. It caused the vertebrae to pinch together. That and the nature of the wound, the localized swelling and debris, put pressure on the spinal cord. That's why he's paralyzed," he explained.
"Can it be repaired? Is the paralysis permanent?" Joanne asked.
Brackett took a deep breath.
"We don't know," he began. "There has been excellent work done lately to repair discs, but whether the cord depression will alleviate once the pressure is off and the swelling is down is unpredictable."
"What about his other injuries?" Roy asked, wanting to change the subject. Wanting to erase the image of Johnny in a wheelchair from his thoughts.
"Like I already said, his leg should heal nicely. I put 10 stitches on that cut on his forehead. Looks like only a mild concussion there. The same orthopedists will set his shoulder. Just like you thought, it is dislocated," Brackett replied.
"When do you think we'll be able to see him?" Roy asked.
"It's probably going to be a while yet, Roy. Even longer until Johnny's awake and coherent enough to talk to," Brackett answered.
Joanne and Roy nodded solemnly.
"Look, you two. Go home. Rest up, especially you, Roy," Brackett instructed. "I'll have someone call you when he wakes up."
Roy was about to comment when Brackett continued.
"He won't wake up alone, Roy," Brackett said. "You know he's got family here, too."
Roy nodded in agreement. Brackett rose and offered Roy a hand up.
"Thanks, Doc, for everything," Roy said before letting Joanne lead him out.
Johnny woke up slowly. It was hard to open is eyes. Something didn't feel right, he decided. He tried to roll over only to find he couldn't when pain washed through his upper body, and only his upper body, he realized. His eyes flew open then, and he remembered. He took several deep breaths through gritted teeth.
And then Dixie appeared.
"Good morning, sleepy head," she said with a smile, pushing the hair off his forehead. "How do you feel?"
Johnny looked at her, caught her eye.
"I still can't feel my legs," he said, fear obvious in his voice.
Dixie took his hand and held it.
"I know. I know," she said softly, acknowledging both his statement and his fear.
"Is it permanent?" he asked tentatively.
"We don't know yet," she started. "One of the discs is punctured and there's a lot of pressure and swelling on your spinal cord," she finished.
Johnny closed his eyes tight, trying to hold back the tears.
"What the hell am I supposed to do now?" he whispered to himself, turning his head away from Dixie.
"I'm going to call Roy. Let him know you're awake," she said, patting his good shoulder before leaving.
Three hours later Roy entered the room, carefully making his way to Johnny's bedside. He took in the sight of his partner and best friend, who appeared to be asleep. Johnny was lying on his left side, carefully propped up and padded. His right arm was bound to his chest, preventing the shoulder from moving. His right leg was also carefully propped up. Roy saw the special bracing they had on it that immobilized the leg, but allowed access to its bandages. He saw the stitches on Johnny's forehead Brackett had told him about. He also saw that they'd attached a morphine pump up to Johnny's IV line. Roy smiled at that, knowing that at least Johnny's pain will be easily relieved. Roy sat down carefully, trying not to waken Johnny and trying not to jar his ankle too much. Not long after, Joe Early came in. He nodded silently to Roy, also not wanting to wake up Johnny. Roy watched as Early checked the chart, checked the bandages and then checked for a Babinski reflex on Johnny's feet. Roy also saw that there was no response to the test. Early left and then came back with another chair and a pillow for Roy to prop up his foot. Roy smiled and mouthed his thanks.
Johnny opened his eyes to see his partner and best friend, Roy, sitting at his bedside.
"Hi," he said, quietly.
"Hi yourself," Roy answered. "How do you feel?"
Johnny didn't reply
"Sorry it took me so long to get here," Roy began. "Joanne and I had to wait for the kids to get home from school so she could drive me here."
"Sure, no problem," Johnny replied, again quietly.
Dixie had told Roy that Johnny hadn't taken the news of his condition well, despite their efforts to convince him that it might not be a permanent condition. Roy wasn't sure what to say to Johnny.
"Look, Johnny," he started. "They're gonna do their best. They all think you've got a good chance."
"But what if I don't?" Johnny said, dejectedly. "What the hell am I supposed to do?"
"Come on, let's think positively," Roy began before Johnny cut him off.
"Easy for you to say, Roy," Johnny said, closing his eyes. "You at least have another career to fall back on."
"Johnny, you're jumping the gun here," Roy said, trying to get Johnny off the negative track he was on.
"But what if I'm not, Roy? Huh?" he asked. "I now know EXACTLY how Jake Green felt last night. I've got nothing Roy! No college degree, no other job training. The only things on my resume are firefighter and paramedic. And last I checked, physical fitness and agility were requirements for those jobs!" Johnny practically shouted.
Roy was about to rebut Johnny's remarks when Johnny tried to turn away from him. Johnny cried out as the pain lanced through his back and shoulder.
"Johnny?" Roy called, concerned.
"Just leave me alone," Johnny said, crying softly as he pressed the button on the morphine pump.
"But," Roy started.
"Please, Roy. Just leave me alone," he repeated, closing his eyes and thus, himself, off to Roy.
Roy stood, grabbing his crutches.
"We're not done talking about this," he said in a definitive voice before leaving the room.
Roy was making his way down the hall when Lt. Crockett of LAPD met him.
"Lt. Crockett, what are you doing here?" Roy asked.
"I came to talk with Johnny and you," he replied.
"About what?" Roy asked.
"Why don't we find somewhere to sit down," Crockett responded, ushering Roy into a nearby lounge.
"So what's up?" Roy asked.
"I was hoping to get a better description of the guy Johnny rescued from the building last night," Crockett replied.
He sensed Roy's confusion.
"You haven't seen the news then?" Crockett asked.
"No, why?" Roy asked.
"Those two police officers saw the guy go into the building because they were chasing him," he began. "He is the arson suspect in the Clayton Block fires. And now we think he set this morning's fire on Tompkins Street," Crockett said.
"Wait, I heard something about that on the radio on the way over. There were 3 kids killed in that one, right?" Roy remarked.
"Yeah, which makes him responsible for 3 fires, 4 deaths, including one of a police officer, and 8 injuries to firefighters," Crockett listed.
Roy looked up.
"Four guys from station 12 were injured in this morning's fire," he explained.
"So how can we help?" Roy asked.
"You guys saw him up close, especially Johnny, from what I understand," Crockett said. "We need to get any information we can get about this guy to stop him."
"Well, I only saw him for a brief moment," Roy said. "The only thing I can tell you is that he was white and wearing a white tee shirt. Johnny would be able to help you more, I think."
"Okay, Roy. Thanks for your help. I'll see if I can talk to Johnny now," Crockett said, turning to go.
Roy grabbed his arm, stopping him.
"I don't think right now would be a good idea. He's not feeling too well," Roy said, hoping he didn't have to go into a detailed explanation.
Crockett paused, recalling the information he'd received about Johnny's injuries.
"Sure. You tell him to give me a call later, when he's up to it," he told Roy.
Two hours later Roy saw Crockett leaving Johnny's room.
"Was Johnny able to help you?" Roy asked.
"Yes. He gave a great description," Crockett said, but then paused. "Roy you better go talk to him though. I didn't know he didn't know about the guy being the arson suspect. He seems shook up, now."
Roy immediately went to Johnny's room. He found the IV pole and morphine pump lying on the floor along with Johnny's dinner tray and other items that had been in Johnny's reach. Roy ducked in time to miss being hit with the plastic water pitcher. Roy called down the hall for a nurse.
"Johnny?! What's going on?!" Roy yelled, carefully approaching the bed.
Johnny looked at him with tear swelled eyes.
"Looks like Jake Green had the right idea after all," he said quietly.
"What?" Roy asked, not sure if he heard right, hoping he was mistaken.
"I killed those kids!" he shouted.
"What!!??" Roy asked, incredulous.
"I saved that son of a bitch! Not just once, either. No, I pushed him out of way of that falling ceiling. Getting myself crippled! And THEN, he goes and burns down a house killing 3 innocent kids!" Johnny said, self-hatred in his voice.
"Johnny, you didn't know!" Roy admonished. "None of us did. You were doing your job. You did what your instincts told you to do by pushing him out of the way!"
"Yeah, my instincts. My instincts told me to save a murderer and end my career," he said. "So like I said this afternoon. What the hell am I supposed to do now?"
"You can get off this self pitying horse of yours and get back to the land of the living," Roy shouted at Johnny, simultaneously knowing he had to, yet regretting the harsh words at the same time.
Johnny shut himself out again and Roy left quietly as the nurse who'd been waiting outside the door listening made her way in to clean up the mess and restore Johnny's IV's.
Later in the evening Roy found Early in the doctor's lounge.
"Doc, I'm worried about Johnny," Roy said.
"He's stable, Roy," Early started to say.
"No, not physically," Roy said, cutting Early off. "He won't talk to me. Or anyone for that matter. He won't eat. He won't cooperate with the nurses…. I'm worried. I saw him after Lt. Crockett talked to him. He's blaming himself for those three kids because he unknowingly rescued the arsonist," Roy continued.
"You think we should send a counselor in to see him?" Early asked.
"I think so. Especially since he told me how well he's relating to Jake Green," Roy said, looking to see if Early understood his meaning.
Early nodded his head. He did understand.
"I'll handle it Roy," he said.
"Thanks, Doc," Roy said. "I guess I better get going. Joanne's supposed to pick me up in a little while."
"I'll let you know how things turn out," Early said, showing Roy to the door.
The next two days were similar. Johnny refused to talk to anyone, even Roy. Most of the staff understood, thinking that it was a natural response to finding out that you'd be paralyzed. They expected him to improve over time with acceptance of the fate. Some, like Roy, Early and the counselor Early sent to see him, saw the true cause. Roy was affected most of all by Johnny's silence, feeling rejected by his best friend. Nothing he said or offered made any impact or brought any response.
Roy was watching TV at home when something caught his eye. Jake Green, the former basketball star, was talking about the arsons. Roy turned the volume up and listened to Green talk at a news conference.
"I'm doing this because I want to stop this murderer," Green said. "Because this man not only killed and injured good people by his actions, but he did so even when they were trying to help him!"
Roy was immediately enthralled by the man's speech and continued to listen.
"Last week my career as a professional basketball player was cut short. I received a career ending injury to my knee," he continued. "The next night I tried to kill myself because I didn't think there was anything else I could do with my life. I have no college education, no other job skills. But then my wife showed up, and the police showed up and the paramedics showed up. They all tried to convince me that I should live. One of those paramedics, he told me that there were always other options, he even named a few. His few words to me, though seemingly insignificant if you saw them on paper, they showed me that hope exists, if you're willing to see it. That paramedic is one of this, this bastard's victims. He is lying in a hospital bed today, not knowing whether or not he will walk again. For him, I am putting up this reward money to catch this murderer."
Roy continued to watch as reporters started to ask Green more questions. Then he got an idea.
Roy sat in Johnny's room later that day. He tried to make small talk with Johnny, but still received no response. He checked his watch and turned on the TV. He made sure the volume was loud enough for Johnny to hear. It was Jake Green's news conference being replayed on the news. Roy watched Johnny for a response. He saw Johnny take an interest, minutely turning his head toward the set. Then when it was over, Roy went to the door. He opened it up and Jake Green walked in. Green walked around to the side of the bed Johnny was facing and sat down.
"Hello Mr. Gage," Green said quietly.
Johnny didn't know what to think of his presence, didn't know what to say.
"Hello," he managed.
"I just wanted to come by and thank you. For everything you said to me that night. I was upset, not thinking right," Green said.
"It was nothing, just trying to help," Johnny said quietly.
"Well you did. I talked with a counselor later that night. She helped me realize that there's more to life than playing basketball," he said with a chuckle. "The next day I called the local community college and got a catalog. There are a lot of neat things to study. And they said that if I helped coach their basketball team, I might be able to get some tuition assistance."
"That's great," Johnny said, with a genuine smile. "I'm glad to hear it."
"And when I heard you got hurt," he began.
"I saw the news conference," Johnny said, eyeing Roy.
"Well, I also remembered you saying that you always wanted to be a fireman. And I heard about your injury. I wanted to tell you that, well, hey, if I can change careers unexpectedly, anybody can," he said, with a bit of a hinting tone to his voice.
Johnny smiled, thinking about his own situation. He looked up to Green.
"Thanks. I'll try," he said.
"Good. I'll keep in touch with you, see how you're doing," Green said as Roy showed him to the door.
After the door closed, Roy looked back at Johnny, wondering if this visit had truly worked the way that he'd hoped it would.
"Roy?" Johnny called. "Roy, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I've been such a jerk, especially to you," he said.
"Johnny, it's okay," Roy said.
"No, Roy, it's not. You're my best friend and I treated you like shit. You were trying to help me and all I did was shut you out," Johnny said, voice full of regret. "And you stuck by me anyway."
"Like you said, I'm your best friend. That's what I'm supposed to do," Roy said sitting down next to Johnny.
"Thanks, Roy. And I am sorry," Johnny said. "I'm sure, with your help, of course, IF I had to, I could find something to do that doesn't require working legs."
"That's the way to think about it," Roy said with a generous smile. Then he got serious. "How about those kids? Still think you're to blame?" he asked tentatively.
Johnny took a deep breath.
"Only a little," he said, and continued when he saw Roy open his mouth to say something about it. "That's all I've been thinking about. What if I DID know this guy was the arsonist when we were in that building? Would I have just left him there? I don't think I could do that to anybody. I don't know. I guess I just have to keep remembering that HE left me for dead. HE lit that fire. HE killed those kids."
"That's right," Roy answered.
Their attention was grabbed by the TV set again, at the mention of Jake Green's name.
"The Clayton Block arsonist has been apprehended," the news anchor reported. "On a tip brought by the lure of the reward money offered by former Lakers star Jake Green, LAPD has arrested a man….."
Roy turned the set off.
"See, all because you helped Jake Green see an alternative future," Roy said.
Roy got up and headed for the door.
"I'll see you tomorrow. Joanne's probably waiting for me outside," Roy said.
"Yeah, see ya, Roy," Johnny said. "Thanks again, partner."
"It's what I do," he said before closing the door.
The ringing of the phone awakened Roy at 3AM.
"Oh, man, who's calling at this hour?" he said reaching for the phone. "Hello?" he said sleepily.
"Johnny? It's 3AM, Johnny, can't this wait?" Roy said, just a little bit irritated
"Roy, my leg hurts," Johnny said.
"So call a nurse," Roy replied absently.
"Roy, I said my leg hurts," Johnny said, a little more insistently.
Then it sunk in. Roy was sitting straight up.
"Joanne! Wake up! Joanne!" he yelled, shaking her.
"Roy, it's 3AM, this better be good," she said sleepily.
"Johnny's on the phone, he said his leg hurts," he told her excitedly.
"Tell him to call a nurse," she said and rolled over under the blanket.
Author's notes- Part of this story comes from my own fears about what I would do if I got hurt and couldn't do my job as a police officer anymore. Yeah, I've got a couple of teaching degrees to fall back on, but I don't want to do that anymore. This also comes about the reason I do like the job I'm in. A couple of years back while directing traffic I was approached by a woman who asked me my name. When I told her (confirmed it, really) she asked if I remembered her. I didn't. She then told me that the year before she wanted to commit suicide. She remembered me being in the room and talking briefly with her. (I then recalled her, and it WAS a brief conversation, because I soon stepped aside for the medics). She then thanked me for being there for that short time, that is helped to know that people, even complete strangers were willing to help her. And then she walked away. I'll always remember that. To this day, I can't remember her name. But every time the shit flies and I think "I hate this job" I think of her and remember why I took this job in the first place.