East Side Story

By Lizabeth S. Tucker

Note: Italics indicate character is speaking in Spanish.

John Gage sauntered over to where his dirty white Land Rover was parked. He stretched, hearing his joints pop. "Man, I'm gettin' too old for this."

Marco Lopez laughed. Parked next to Johnny, he was waiting for the heat to dissipate from his car through the newly opened windows. "Aren't we all?"

"So, Marco, what're your plans since we managed to get a whole weekend off as well as the remainder of today?" Johnny asked, opening his own car windows. The late morning sun beat down on the two men. They had stayed over to cover two firefighters caught in traffic. The rest of Friday, and all of Saturday and Sunday stretched before them.

"My Aunt Connie and the family are coming for a visit. Mama's cooking enough for an army. Oh," Marco slapped his forehead, "I knew I forgot something! Mama wants you to come over tomorrow, for the entire day."

"Aw, your whole family will be there. You don't want me hanging around." Johnny enjoyed visiting with Marco's family, but was still a bit shy about intruding.

"I meant to ask you earlier, but it seemed like the engine and the squad were rarely in the station at the same time during this shift. Chet has already agreed to come. Mama will have my head if you don't come as well. You know how she dotes on you."

Marco had been pleased when his mother, upon meeting the young paramedic and hearing that he no longer had close living family, had taken him into her heart and their family. She constantly asked about him, worrying about every injury and lighting candles for him at church. She prayed to Saint Florian, patron saint of firefighters, to keep all the men of Station 51 safe.

"I'd love to join the party," Johnny said with a bashful smile. After agreeing to a place and time, the two men got into their respective cars and left.

Johnny drove by Senora Lopez' house three times before he could find a space to park his car. He noticed a group of young teenage boys on the corner eyeing him as he passed by them. He slowly climbed out of the vehicle, gazing at all the cars parked around the front of the house and up and down the street. He was almost half a block away and felt lucky to get that close. When Marco's Mama had a family party, everyone came.

Johnny reached behind the seat and pulled out a gaily-wrapped gift for his hostess. He never failed to bring a little something for Rosaria Lopez. She always protested, but her smile and eager tearing of the wrapping gave her away.

He walked toward the house, surprised when one of the young men stepped in front of him. Johnny stopped. "Something I can do for you?"

"Where do you think you're going?" the boy asked nastily.

"To a party." Johnny waved toward the small house.

"I think you must be lost, hombre. That's a family party and you sure ain't related to anyone in this neighborhood." The boy, who looked about 14, was encouraged by the laughter and jibes of his friends. He moved closer to the bewildered paramedic. "I think you'd better go home." The joking smile disappeared, the boy's manner hardening.

"Look, I don't want any trouble," Johnny said, realizing that he was one misstep away from danger. He held his hand up, his other still clutching the gift.

"Too late, you found some."

Johnny found himself surrounded by the suddenly menacing group. He was shoved from behind, barely catching himself before stumbling into the apparent ringleader. Johnny's jaw clenched as he looked for an opening to escape. He didn't want to fight children, not even these boys, old beyond their years.

"Hey, Gage! When you're done playing…" Chet Kelly came out onto the front stoop, his voice trailing off as he recognized the threatening situation. He wheeled about and disappeared back into the house.

Johnny's brown eyes darted about as he tried to keep his head. He saw knives appear in the hands of a couple of the older boys and realized that he might have no choice but to fight. And that he would be at a disadvantage, not wanting to hurt them while they had no compunction about hurting him.

"Basta! What the hell is going on?" Marco came running, followed by his brother, Juan, and Chet.

As quickly as they appeared, the knives disappeared into sleeves and pockets. Johnny breathed a sigh of relief, finding that his way was no longer blocked. He carefully turned, backing to where the three men stood.

"What's wrong with you?" Juan growled in Spanish. "Are you idiots?"

"We were just funning with him," one of the boys protested.

"It didn't look like that to me," Chet muttered. "You okay, Johnny?"

"Yeah. But thanks. It was getting pretty hairy there for a few minutes." Johnny blew his breath out. "Hey, guys, let's just drop it, okay? No harm, no foul."

Marco looked at the paramedic, then at his still fuming brother. "You guys get out of here. Miguel, in the house."

Johnny and Chet were startled to see one of the younger boys break loose of the others and, feet dragging, head for the house. Juan followed along, berating the boy every step of the way.

Marco shook his head. "My nephew, Miguel, Juan and Toni's son."

"Problems?" Chet asked his friend as the three men walked to the house, side by side.

"He's enamored with the gangs. Miguel thinks we aren't Mexican enough. My mother, and my father before he died, worked hard to support us, to educate us, to make us Americans. Now the kids today are discovering their roots, want to be more Mexican than the people still living in Mexico."

"You were in a gang when you were a kid," Johnny said. "So was I."

"And me," chimed in Chet.

"Sure, but the gangs we were in, Mexican, Indian, or Irish, weren't as violent as the Chicano gangs of today. Do you know that the chance of a gang member being killed is 50 times greater than the rest of the population? And gang related homicides with firearms are at about 70 percent?"

"You're been doing your research," Johnny observed. "I'd imagine that Miguel isn't impressed."

"Of course not. I've been told that I've 'sold out', that I can't remember what it's like." Marco stopped in the doorway of his mother's house. "I remember all too well what happened to my people during the fifties and sixties. To Miguel, it's all ancient history."

"How old is he? Fourteen, fifteen?" Johnny asked, watching the boy sitting sullenly on the couch next to his mother while his father continued to lecture him.

"Thirteen and arrogant with it."

Chet laughed. "We all were at that age. Hell, my ol' man threatened to knock my block off daily. I thought he didn't have a clue."

Johnny smiled. "Yeah, it's a tough age. I thought I knew everything."

"You still do. And you're still wrong." Chet couldn't resist a dig at his favorite pigeon.

Johnny shoved his elbow in Chet's side, smirking when the stocky firefighter winced. "So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know what to do. Juan is ready to send him to military school."

Chet whistled. "Man, that's expensive."

"Everyone in the family would chip in, if necessary, but I don't think that's the answer. I just don't know what is."

They stood on the porch, shoulder to shoulder, unknowingly watched by Marco's mother. Her boys, as she called the men of Station 51, were looking too somber. She hustled over to where they stood. "Juanny, Chester, you should mingle. My son should not monopolize you."

Johnny grinned down at the tiny woman who ruled her family with a velvet voice and an iron will. He bent down and kissed her on the cheek, enjoying the flush that always appeared. He handed her the gift, listening to her usual protests before she sat at the table and tore through the paper.

There was a gasp, then silence. Johnny watched anxiously to see if this gift was acceptable to the beloved woman who had enfolded him in her arms and her heart. She sat staring down at the contents of the box, tears starting to run down her face.

"Mama? Mama, what is it?" Marco moved to his mother's side, puzzled. Most of his station mate's gifts were cute or humorous, never had they caused tears and silence. He also fell silent when he saw what was nestled in the box of tissue. "John," he breathed. "It is magnificent."

Rosaria Lopez held up a glass angel, delicate and iridescent. The wings were unfurled, giving the impression that the tiny angel would fly off any moment. Her face was beautiful, serene and joyful, the eyes looking up towards the heavens. There was so much detail, even to the folds in the angel's gown.

"Oh, Juanny, where did you get such a wonderful angel?"

"A friend of mine makes them." Johnny was pleased. His gift was a success.

"Such a friend," Rosaria murmured. "This friend is a woman, si?"

"Uh, yeah," Johnny replied.

"Not married?"

"Oh. No, ma'am. She's married with five children." The paramedic hid a smile. Marco's mother never gave up trying to marry off the single men of the station.

"A shame. So, this friend, this married lady, she does this by hand?"

"Yeah," Johnny enthused, "it's really kinda cool. If you want to see how it's done, I can take you to her studio."

Rosaria considered the offer, then shook her head. "I will think of it as divine magic, for this woman must be truly blessed to make something so beautiful, so delicate and holy. I must show everyone. Marco," she ordered. "Call the family in here to see this wonderful gift my Juanny has given me."

"Yes, Mama," Marco replied.

"I'm stuffed," Johnny groaned, sprawled on the grass. "I couldn't eat another bite."

"I never thought to live long enough to hear that," Chet commented from his own prone position next to Johnny. "Senora Lopez sure puts on a feast. I don't think I can move."

"Johnny, come play with us!"

Chet rolled to his side, watching as Elena Beruff and Lorenzo Lopez pulled on his coworker's arms. Other juvenile members of the enormous Lopez family stood nearby waiting. "Your fan club awaits, Gage."

With much protesting, Johnny allowed the children to pull him to his feet. He ruffled the seven-year-old Lorenzo's mop of dark curls before grabbing eight-year-old Elena around the waist, hefting her over his shoulder and running after the other children, growling ferociously. They all screamed, running from him, but never too far.

"They adore him." Luisa Beruff, Elena's mother and Marco's sister, pulled her chair closer to sit by Chet.

"He's one of them," Chet retorted, sitting up.

"He's comfortable with them." Luisa turned her attention to the man who was an important part of her beloved brother's life. "So, Chester, how are you?"

"Aw, please, Luisa, call me Chet."

"But Mama calls you Chester," she replied with a mischievous grin.

"Only 'cause I can't stop her," Chet muttered. His face brightened. "At least I'm not called Juanny."

"And what is wrong with Juanny?" Rosaria bustled over.

"Nothing, Mama, we were just talking."

"Chester, you must get up, rescue my Marco from his brother Juan."

"What's Juan doing?" Chet slowly pulled himself to his feet.

"Juan is teasing Marco, playing bas'etball…"

"Basketball, Mama," Luisa corrected.

"Si, bas'etball, but he won't let Marco have the ball."

"Oh, he won't? We'll see about that!" Chet went running off to the driveway and the basketball hoop.

"Such good boys," Rosaria commented.

"Yes, they are." Luisa's smile faded as she saw her nephew Miguel leaning against the house watching Johnny play with the children, a sneer on his young face. "Mama, we have to do something with Miguel. He and his friends are looking for trouble."

"I know. I saw what they did, or tried to do, to Juanny." Rosaria shook her head, dangling silver earrings tinkling. "We may have no choice but to send Miguel away if we cannot make him see that what he is doing is wrong."

"He doesn't care, Mama."

"No, I do not believe that. Miguel does not realize what his actions could lead to."

Luisa shrugged. "Perhaps."

Johnny ran to collapse at their feet. "Enough!" he cried, holding his hands up as the smaller children jumped on top of him. He tickled small bodies with abandon, finally rescued by Constancia Gutierrez, Marco's aunt. She ordered the older children to take the younger ones off the beleaguered paramedic and go find Jesus Beruff who was serving ice cream.

"Are you still alive, John?" Constancia asked, grinning.

"Barely." He tried to brush himself off and climb to his feet but she waved him back down. Looking up at the striking woman, he smiled. "So, how are you, Connie?"

"Overworked and underpaid." Constancia was a wildlife photographer who was currently specializing in creatures of the American southwest.

"Yeah, I hear that."

A comfortable silence enveloped the three women and Johnny as they watched the Lopez familia enjoy their day. Johnny never realized how the women's attention turned to him as he fell asleep under the shady tree.

"He is so skinny," Rosaria complained softly.

Connie agreed with her sister. "But that is his way, Rosie. Have you seen the amount of food he puts away? Marco says the station believes he has a tapeworm."

"Not to mention his enormous energy," Luisa chimed in.

They all smiled down at the oblivious man. Unfortunately, they were so engrossed in admiring the dark-haired sleeper that they didn't see Chet sneak up on them with a garden hose. With practiced nonchalance, he twisted the nozzle open and sprayed his pigeon with a steady stream of cold water. Johnny jumped to his feet with a scream, and then flung himself at Chet who tore out of the area with his victim just two steps behind him.

The women laughed as the children joined in the race.

The sun was finally sinking behind the surrounding hills, relieving some of the day's heat. Johnny was sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree, a small child asleep on his lap.

Connie, walking by, leaned over the relaxed man. "Let me have him, John. All the little ones are being put on mattresses in the living room. Two of the older girls will be watching them."

Johnny carefully lifted the five-year-old boy into Connie's waiting arms. He leaned back against the tree, lazily listening to the rise and fall of the conversations around him. Since Marco and Rosaria had begun to supplement his meager high school Spanish, he could now understand much of what he heard and guess at the rest.

"Miguel, are you out of your mind? Tio Juan will kill you!"

"Mind your own business." Miguel switched to Spanish. "I have no interest in this American get-together."

The unknown girl also began speaking in Spanish. "You are an American."

"Mexican-American," the boy returned proudly.

Johnny realized that this was Juan's son, Miguel, the one the Lopez' were so worried about. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the conversation coming from behind him.

"Where are you going? And what exactly are you planning to do?"

"Nothing big. We will go to the strip mall and hang out at the Mercado."

"I heard Tio Juan say some of the boys had knives. Miguelito, you do not have a knife, do you?"

"What if I do? They were not going to hurt anyone."

"Oh, Miguel, you know better…oh, look."

"What? Oh, him? That is just one of Tio Marco's Anglo friends. He cannot understand what we say if we continue in Spanish. They think English is the only language."

Johnny blessed the fact that he didn't practice his Spanish at the party, still uncertain of his grammar. With luck, he might hear something important that could help keep Miguel out of trouble.

"What were you going to say before you saw this gringo?"

"Saying…oh, I know. Miguel, that store owner warned your friends last time that he did not want gangs hanging about his shop. He vowed to call the police next time."

"And say what?" Miguel asked. "That some kids were standing outside his store? Even the police would laugh at him. There is no law…"

"There is!" the girl declared. "We learned about it in Civics class. It is called…loitering. There are laws against loitering in Los Angeles."

"I am going. You keep your mouth shut, chica. If anyone asks about me, you do not know anything, understand?"

The girl sighed, apparently agreeing as she soon walked around the tree, passing by Johnny's lax form. Johnny peered out from under his eyelashes as Miguel slipped off into the dusk.

The paramedic pulled his lanky body off the ground, wincing at the creaking of his bones. He really was getting old. He scanned the yard, looking for Marco. He spotted Chet and loped over to his station mate. "Hey, Chet, have you seen Marco?"

"Over there by the barbeque, why?"

"Something's up. C'mon, let's get him." Johnny continued working his way through the crowd until he reached Marco's side.

"Marco, Miguel's taking off. I think, from what I overheard, that he might be hooking up with the gang. They could be heading for trouble." Johnny explained what he had heard. "I thought we could head over and, I don't know, head off any trouble. At least get Miguel out if it goes bad."

"Good idea. Let's go. We won't tell Mama and Juan. Chet, you need to stay here."

"What? But…"

"I know, amigo, but if Mama realizes that all three of us are gone, she'll get worried. If you're here, you can cover for us."

"Okay, but I'm not happy," Chet replied sullenly.

"Kelly, that crushes me as I'm sure you know." Johnny slapped the feisty Irishman on the shoulder. "Remember, nobody is to know where we are."

"Got it, Gage, I'm not dumb, ya know."

Johnny barely got his mouth open before Marco gave him 'The Look'. He and Chet stared at Marco in wonder.

"Man, that was pure Cap," Johnny exclaimed.

"How did you learn to do that?" Chet asked.

Marco grinned. "I've been practicing."

Johnny and Marco walked the six blocks to the small neighborhood shops. It didn't take them long to see the large and noisy group of kids standing outside the corner grocery. A man in a white apron was standing in the doorway, yelling and gesturing at the gang. Johnny recognized some of the same boys who had accosted him near the house.

"Looks like the trouble is already starting. Where's Miguel?" Johnny looked around the crowd, trying to spot Marco's nephew.

"There." Marco laid his hand on Johnny's arm, pointing with his other hand to the back of the group.

"Let's see if we can cut him out of the herd." Johnny started forward, keeping his eye on Miguel and the increasingly volatile situation. He began moving to the left, motioning to Marco to go to the right.

He never could decide what caused the incident. One minute the kids were kidding around, pushing the market owner's buttons. The next, there were yells of anger. The crowd surged toward the storefront, moving toward the shouting man. Johnny's steps quickened. He could still see Miguel, confused by the quick descent into anger. "Miguel? Come here."

"Johnny! Watch out!"

Marco's shout broke Johnny's focus on Miguel and he half-turned, puzzled. He saw an older boy, close to 17, standing by his side. The boy was holding a gun tightly clenched in his hands.

"You should have stayed out of this, fireman!"

"Jorge, don't!" Miguel started forward, his eyes wide with shock.

Johnny felt a sharp burning in his side at the same moment he heard two quick retorts. Gunfire! He looked toward Miguel, then back at Marco. "Get down!" He called out, motioning down with his hand.

The yells now became screams of fear as everyone tried to run in different directions. There was another retort, then the sound of breaking glass as the businessman fell back into his shop, a surprised look on his face and a growing patch of blood on his chest. Johnny lost sight of the shooter and prayed that the boy wouldn't fire again. He tried to push his way through the panicked kids, but found he could hardly move and breathe at the same time. He began to fall to his knees, his head spinning. The sounds became muffled, his breathing loud in his ears.

"Johnny? Johnny! Hang on, I've got you."

Johnny knew it was Marco whose hand was under his head. What he didn't know was how he wound up flat on his back. "That man…shot…"

"I know, Johnny. He's being taken care of. Just stay still, okay? Miguel, get your ass over here!"

Johnny winced. Marco obviously wasn't practicing just 'The Look' of their captain. It was obvious that he had also been practicing 'The Yell'.

"Tio Marco, I…I didn't…" Miguel was on the verge of tears.

"Right now, Miguel, I don't really care what you did or didn't do. My friend has a bullet in him. That man over there also has a bullet in him. I can't help both people. You're going to help me, understand?"

"I can't, I don't know how."

"You'll learn. Now, give me your hand. Miguel, give me your hand! Good. You'll press here on Johnny's side. Harder. Don't worry about his pain. You have to stop the bleeding."

"Where…where are you going?"

"To help the other victim of your so-called friends." Marco leaned down until he could be clearly seen by Johnny. "Hey," he said in a softer tone. "Miguel is gonna keep pressure on your wound. Don't move, okay? Help's on the way."


Marco hurried to where the market owner lay sprawled among the broken glass of his storefront window. As he did a primary assessment of the man's wound and applied pressure, the firefighter could hear sirens in the distance and closed his eyes in relief. He needed paramedics and he needed them now. Marco's training was basic first aid and what he had picked up by helping Johnny and his paramedic partner, Roy DeSoto. It was nowhere near the level of care that the two wounded men needed.

A police officer came into the storefront, carefully stepping over the shattered glass fragments. "What's going on…Marco?"

Marco looked up and sighed in relief. "Vince! Am I glad that you're here. I've got two gunshot victims. We're going to need two ambulances and paramedics."

Vince Howard knelt beside Marco. "They're on their way. Where's the other vic?"

Marco pointed with his chin, his hands still involved in keeping blood inside the victim's body. "Over there. It's Johnny."

"Gage? Damn. How bad are they?"

"This guy? Real bad, I think, but I don't know about Johnny. My nephew is helping with his wound." Before Marco could continue, other police officers crowded into the store, followed by a paramedic he barely knew, lugging the drug box and biophone.

Marco gave a succinct description of what happened, partly to Vince and partly to the paramedic whose nametag read Frank Collins. He was asked to back away and did so, his legs trembling in delayed reaction. Swallowing deeply, he made his way out of the store and walked to where his nephew stood, helplessly watching the other paramedic work on John Gage.

"I'm so sorry, Tio Marco. I didn't know Jorge had a gun. Honest!" Tears were sliding down Miguel's face. He was no longer the tough gangster. Now he was a 13-year-old child, afraid that his uncle's friend might die and it would be all his fault.

Marco wrapped his arms around his nephew, struggling to keep back his words of anger and fear. There would be time for that later. He uttered a soft prayer that both men would live.

"Tio Marco, is he gonna die?"

"I don't know, Miguelito. I honestly don't know." Marco heard shouting and saw his best friend, Chet Kelly, running up the street.

"Marco! What's going on? Marco?" Chet came to an abrupt stop when he saw who the paramedic was working on. "Johnny?"

Marco quickly told him what had occurred and watched his friend's face go from shocked to angry. Chet glared at Miguel who shrank back into his uncle's embrace.

"Guns? You had guns?"

Miguel shook his head. "Not me. Only Jorge. I mean, I didn't know he had a gun, but…"

"Who is Jorge?" Vince asked, his notebook out and pen in hand.

Miguel's inbred reluctance to snitch warred with his guilt over what had happened. He bit his lip. So softly that Vince almost missed it, Miguel replied. "Jorge Menendez."

"Where does Jorge live?"

"On the next street."

Vince was careful in questioning the boy, doing his best to calm the child down. As the questioning continued, Miguel's voice became stronger. Chet and Marco watched as Johnny was lifted onto the stretcher and put into the back of the ambulance. Chet asked where Johnny and the storeowner, Mr. Franco, were to be transported.

"Rampart Hospital," Paramedic Jim McGuire replied. "Hey, isn't this Johnny Gage from 51?"

"Yeah. It is." Chet waited until both the ambulances left with their patients before turning to Marco. "Let's get the car and follow them."

"We need to call Roy," Marco said. "Vince, can Miguel go home for now?"

Vince frowned. "Yeah. The detectives might want to talk to him later, so let me know his address and phone number, as well as the name of his parents."

"Am I…will I be arrested?" Miguel asked as his uncle wrote the required information down for the officer.

"I don't know, son. Did you know what was going to happen?"

"No. We were just gonna hang out, have some…fun."

Marco's hand tightened on Miguel's shoulder. "And bother Mr. Franco, knowing that he didn't want all you hanging about. Right?"

Miguel hung his head, shrugging. "Yeah, but…"

"Like you did with Johnny earlier?"

"What's this?" Vince looked from Miguel to Marco to a grim Chet. "What happened earlier?"

"Some of Miguel's buddies accosted Johnny on the street in front of the house, I spotted a couple of knives but nobody was hurt." Chet explained.

"Why weren't we called?"

"You know Johnny, he didn't want to get anybody in trouble so we dropped it." Chet threw his hands up. "Vince, we need to get to the hospital. You know where we'll be if you need any more information. C'mon, Marco, Miguel. Man, I really don't want to explain this to Roy."

The two men walked back to the house, Miguel between them. They could see members of the Lopez family standing out in the front yard and on the porch as they got closer to the house. When they saw Miguel with them, Juan and Toni came running.

"Que pasa, Miguel? Marco?" Juan asked, seeing blood on his son's shirt and pants, even more on his brother's clothes.

Toni gasped, adding her own questions. "Is someone hurt? What happened?"

Miguel ran to his mother, enveloped in her arms as he began to sob his heart out.

Marco held his hands up to stop the questions flung at him. "Let's do this inside so I only have to tell it once. Chet and I have to go to the hospital."

Everyone followed the weary men inside. Rosaria pushed through to the front of the group, looking behind Chet. "Marco? What is Juanny? Did he have to stay to help?" At her son's grim expression, she clutched at her throat. "Chester?"

"Ma'am, why don't you sit down here." Chet helped the trembling woman to a chair, the other family members grouping around her. "Marco, I'll go use the phone in the kitchen to call Roy."

Marco nodded in acknowledgement. "There was a shooting at the corner market. Johnny and Mr. Franco, the market owner, were both shot."

"Oh, no. How badly?" Constancia dropped to the arm of the chair beside her sister.

"We really don't know right now. That's why Chet and I are going to the hospital, to try and find out."

Juan frowned. "Miguel, why were you with your Tio Marco?"

Miguel took a deep breath, resolved to tell everything. "I was with my friends outside the store. We were messin' around when Tio Marco and his friend came to get me. Jorge pulled a gun and shot at Mr. Gage."

"Jorge? That bum? What the hell were you doing with him? I told you to stay away from him, didn't I!" Juan shouted, relieved that his son was okay but appalled by the boy's participation in the shooting.

"Juanito? I think Miguel has had a big enough scare. Let's talk about this later." Toni laid her hand on her husband's arm, her other still curved around her son's shaking shoulders.

"Si, now we go to the hospital, to see if my Juanny is well." Rosaria Lopez got to her feet only to have her son stop her.

"Mama, let Chet and I go to Rampart and check on Johnny. We'll call as soon as we know something. Okay? It might be quite a while before we find anything out."

Rosaria stubbornly went to find her purse. "I am going. Juanny was hurt trying to protect my grandson. I must see if he will recover. The rest of you will stay here. Luisa, Toni, you will make certain that the food is eaten or packed to be taken home with whoever wants it."

Marco threw his hands up in frustration, well aware that once his mother made a decision to do something, nothing would deter her. Chet reentered the living room.

"Did you call Roy?"

"Yeah, as well as Cap. He'll call Mike and meet us at Rampart."

"How'd Roy take it?"

"About as well as you could expect. Joanne is coming with him after they drop the kids off at Cap's place for his wife to watch. You ready?"

"Yeah, except for Mama. She's coming with us." Marco shrugged at Chet's raised eyebrows. "You try and talk her out of it."

"No way, not me. She's your mother."

"I'm coming, too." Miguel sniffed, wiping his nose on his sleeve.

"No, you are not." Juan said.

"I've gotta, Mr. Gage…Johnny got hurt 'cause of me."

Marco knelt down in front of his nephew. "Miguelito. I promise you that I'll call as soon as we know something. Johnny won't be able to see anyone for quite a while. Once he can have visitors, I will personally come get you and take you to see him. Okay?"

Miguel kicked at the carpet, then nodded, lapsing into Spanish. "I didn't mean it, Tio Marco, papa. I didn't know Jorge had a gun."

"I know, hijo. We will talk about this later, as your Mama has said." Juan shook his brother's hand. "Call us."

"I will."

The family watched as Chet and Marco ushered Rosaria into Marco's car, driving off into the dusk of what started out to be a happy day.

Marco, Chet, and Rosaria walked into an overwhelmingly busy Emergency room. They sat Rosaria down in the waiting area and went in search of information. Increasingly frustrated by the lack of familiar faces and refusal by the nurses they found to give information to non-family members, Chet threatened to start peeking into the treatment rooms. Before he could begin to follow through, Roy, Joanne and Captain Stanley came running in the entrance.

"Chet! Where is he?" Roy called.

"I have no friggin' idea. Nobody will tell us anything!" Moustache bristling, Chet slammed his fist into the palm of his hand.

"Okay, calm down." Stanley turned his fierce firefighter around and marched him to the waiting area. "We'll find who is in charge and get some information. Roy? See if Ms. McCall is on duty."

Roy, happy to be given a task, headed off to the check-in desk. Joanne, spotting Rosaria, went to sit by the woman's side. Marco appeared from the doctor's lounge, shaking his head at Chet's questioning look.

"No sign of anyone we know. Maybe they're off duty."

"Not everyone," came a deep voice from behind them. As one the Station 51 firefighters turned to see Dr. Kelly Brackett standing there.

"Man, where did you come from, doc?" Chet exclaimed. "I looked everywhere!"

Kel smiled. "I'm like your phantom, I'm everywhere. What are you guys doing in here? I thought it was your scheduled days off."

"It was, Dr. Brackett, but there was a shooting near Marco's mother's place and…well, Johnny was one of the victims."

"Johnny? Whew, I hadn't heard. How is he?"

"Well, that's just it. We don't know." Stanley replied, only to be interrupted by Chet.

"Nobody will tell us anything! It's like Johnny disappeared into thin air."

"Why don't you wait here and I'll see what I can find out." Brackett strode purposely back down the hall, heading to the nurses' station.

"Hey, guys, how's John?" Mike Stoker, the last member of their crew, appeared in the hallway.

"Brackett's finding out for us. Why don't we get out of the way, go sit down?" Stanley ushered his crew to the waiting room, realized that they would take up all the available seats and changed direction. "Roy, we found Brackett."

"Great. I found Morton. Between the two of them, we should be able to get some information." Roy glanced around and came to the same conclusion his captain did. He gestured against the wall, still near where his wife and Marco's mother sat. The men all leaned against the wall and waited for news.

It wasn't long before both Brackett and Morton returned. They saw each other and smiled. The waiting men got to their feet, braced for the worse and hoping for the best.

Dr. Morton began. "Okay, Gage is in surgery to get the bullet out. It was a .22 and there shouldn't be too much damage. The bullet entered his side and clipped a rib, that's why it didn't go all the way through. Baring unforeseen complications, and this is John Gage we're talking about, he should be out of surgery and in recovery within the hour."

Dr. Brackett continued. "He won't be awake from the anesthesia until later tonight. He might go right from that into real sleep, so you could go home and come back to see him tomorrow." Even as Brackett said that, he knew it was useless. These men wouldn't leave until they all had seen Johnny Gage for themselves.

"That's all right, doc, we'll stick around." Chet said.

"Yeah, we don't have anything else to do. We'll wait." Mike Stoker added.

Marco grimaced. "Since it was my family's fault that he's here, I'm not going anywhere until I can see him."

"Now, Marco, that's not true," said Joanne softly. "Between what Chet and your mother told us, it could've happened even if Miguel wasn't involved. It's not like he had a gun and shot Johnny."

"We wouldn't have been at that store if Miguel hadn't taken off."

"And if Gage hadn't overheard Miguel, it might've been the kid in surgery," Chet commented, having cooled off on the trip to the hospital, more so since hearing that coworker was going to make it. "Nobody would want that, especially Gage."

"Enough!" Rosaria Lopez ordered. "We are filling the hospital up. This is true, doctors, Juanny will be well?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"We believe so."

"Good. Then we are not all needed here. Marco, you and Chet will take me back to my house. Captain Stanley and Michael will come with you. There is still plenty of food left over. Roy…"

"I'm staying here," Roy interrupted before he received his marching orders from the tiny woman.

"Of course you are. Juanny is your friend. Joanne, you will come with one of us."

"Oh, Mrs. Lopez, I…"

"Rosaria, dear. And you will come with me. We will pick some food out and you will bring it back here for Roy." Rosaria eyed the two amused doctors. "And for these gentlemen. They look as if they could use some good food." She clapped her hands and, with some laughter and good-natured smiles, her orders were followed.

"You should've seen it, Johnny. Everybody was jumping to her commands." Roy was describing the evening's happenings to his partner, resting in a hospital bed the day after his surgery. As Brackett had guessed, Johnny had never actually regained consciousness, smoothly making the transition to sleep. Roy had checked on his partner's well being, then went home with his wife.

"I certainly wouldn't want to get her mad at me by not doing what she wanted. Wish I could've seen Brackett's and Morton's faces when she said she'd send them food."

"Brackett loved it. Morton said he had to hide to keep some of the other doctors and nurses from stealing his food."

Johnny chuckled, then clutched at his side. "Damn."

"Still hurt bad?"

"Not really. It just pulls when I move wrong. Dixie said the store owner is doing okay. I'm glad." Johnny sipped some more water, grimacing at the flat taste. "How's Miguel?"

"He's pretty upset. Marco said Juan is thinking seriously about the military school idea."

"Oh, man, I wish he'd wait on that. I think Miguel learned his lesson."

"Johnny, I swear…"


Roy wasn't as willing to forgive the young man as his partner was, but knew it was useless to argue with Johnny. His partner tended to see the sunny side of life and of people. "Nothing."

"Hey, how come I didn't get any food?" With that, Johnny was off on a rant about greedy partners and friends who forgot all about their poor, injured coworker who was starving in the hospital.

Roy smiled, sitting back and watching his friend, his warm blue eyes sparkling. He'd break it to him later that Rosaria Lopez was cooking up a fresh batch of food for her Juanny. Leftovers weren't good enough for her adopted son, although Marco said that they seemed to be good enough for her real sons. Since he was smiling at the time he related this to Roy, the paramedic knew Marco didn't resent the fact.

The End

December 2003