The Last Farewell
By Lizabeth S. Tucker
"I'm gonna pick up some cold cuts for lunch. It's too hot to cook," Paramedic Roy DeSoto said on the way back to Station 51.
"Sounds good. Hey, get some baby Swiss cheese," his partner, John Gage, replied, his head cocked to one side. "What is that?"
"That rattle! Can't you hear it?"
"I thought you fixed that. I don't hear a thing. I still think it's the loose seeds in your gourd."
"Oh, ha ha!"
Roy drove the squad into the parking lot of Frank's Deli. "You coming in?"
"Nah, I'll look for the noise and monitor the radio." Johnny leaned over, handing Roy some dollar bills. "Don't forget the Swiss."
"I won't." Roy walked into the store, shaking his head at his partner's never ending search for the mysterious noise in the vehicle.
Johnny was sprawled sideways across the bench seat when he heard three deep, sharp retorts. His head jerked above the dash, looked around. He knew gunshots when he heard them. The dark-haired man slowly slipped out of the squad, listening for more. He didn't see anything strange, but was worried enough to reach for the radio.
"Dispatch, this is Squad 51."
"Go ahead, 51."
"Could you send a police car to Frank's Deli at 4521 State Street? I've heard gunshots, but I'm not sure…" Before Johnny could finish talking, he saw three men run out of the deli, guns in their hands. They ran for a nearby car and drove off. "Roy!" He got back on the radio. "Shots fired at the Deli, three men in a brown Ford LTD. They're heading west on State. Send another squad and an ambulance!" He flung the microphone down, ignoring Dispatch's response.
Johnny ran straight out for the deli, afraid of what he might find. He burst through the door, his heart pounding. "Roy! Roy, where are you?"
"Over here. I need our equipment. I've got two people with gunshot wounds."
"I'm on it," Johnny replied, turning on his heel. He ran back to the squad. He shoved the trauma box under his arm, took the drug box with that hand and grabbed the biophone with his other. He hurried back inside. "Where are you?"
"Behind the counter."
Johnny walked around the counter, sighing in relief at his partner's appearance. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I…they didn't…there were three men…"
"I spotted them running out. I gave Dispatch a description for the cops. What've we got?"
The two men got down to business, working on the wounds of the two store owners. The police arrived while Johnny was on the phone with Rampart, leaving Roy to ask them to wait with their questions until the patients were prepped and sent to the hospital.
Engine 51 had arrived, Captain Stanley having heard the original radio transmission to Dispatch and wanting to check on the condition of his men.
"Sir, we have to speak with your men," a detective said. "We need them to stay here."
"You'll have to wait. There are no other squads available for more than 15 to 20 minutes. I imagine that Rampart will need both men to accompany their victims. You can either follow them to the hospital or meet them back at the station."
The detective wasn't thrilled, but realized that he had no choice. "I'll meet them at your fire station."
Captain Stanley edged closer to his men. "John, was Roy hurt?"
Johnny shook his head. "No, Cap, I checked him out while we were working. He's okay."
"Good. Chet will follow you in. We'll have to stand down the squad until you're done giving the police a statement. I'll notify the Chief."
"Thanks, Cap. Roy, the ambulances are here." Johnny had requested a second ambulance upon discovering there were two victims.
After the paramedics and the victims left, Chet behind them in the squad, Marco Lopez and Mike Stoker went to clean up the medical trash. They were stopped by the detective.
"Sorry, gentlemen, but this is a crime scene. We need it as undisturbed as possible under the circumstances." He looked around at the wrappers and shrugged. "Captain, we'll be at your station shortly."
It was a weary and disheartened pair of paramedics who slowly drove back to Station 51. The Crespos had both died of their wounds, the woman before they had arrived at Rampart, her husband shortly thereafter. Chet kept silent, sitting between the two men.
Roy backed the squad into the apparatus bay, Johnny slipping out the door to allow Chet Kelly to get out. Roy continued sitting behind the steering wheel. Johnny got back into the vehicle and sat next to his partner.
"I saw it all. I couldn't do anything. I wanted to, but…"
"There was nothing you could've done. Except get yourself killed."
"I wish…" Roy rubbed his hands over his face. "I guess we'd better get inside, give our statements."
"When you're ready," Johnny said.
Roy closed his bloodshot blue eyes and sighed loudly. When he opened his eyes again, he smiled weakly at his friend. "Let's get it over with."
The two men walked into the day room, nodding at their captain seated across from two men in shiny suits, Los Angeles detectives. Chet was at the stove, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He held up the pot, receiving nods from both paramedics. Chet picked up two more mugs and filled them. He carried all three to the table, and then carried his to the couch.
"John, Roy. This is Detective Farrell and Detective Connors. They want to ask you a few questions. Would you rather do it in my office?"
Johnny looked at Roy, then shook his head. "We're good here, Cap."
"Do you mind if we record this?" Farrell, a hulking man who had the appearance of a former football player, put a tape recorder on the counter, his finger poised over the record/play buttons. Both men gave their permission.
"Let's start with why you were at Frank's Deli," Connors prompted, assuming control of the questioning.
"Uh, it was my turn to fix lunch today," Roy began. "It's been really hot today so I thought I'd fix sandwiches and get some cold salads. Frank's Deli was on our way back to the station."
"Rampart. Rampart General Hospital."
"Okay, go on."
Roy swallowed. "I went inside the store –"
Connors interrupted him. "Where was Gage?"
"I stayed outside," Johnny replied.
Johnny shrugged. "I thought I heard a rattle in the squad. I wanted to look for it."
"Did you have a radio, DeSoto?"
"No. Since Johnny was staying in the squad and was parked just outside, I didn't take the HT in with me. If we got a call, Johnny could honk to let me know."
"Okay, so Gage is outside and you're walking into the store. What did you see as you came inside?"
"Nothing." Roy sipped at his coffee. "It was really bright outside and the Deli was sorta dark because the windows were painted over. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust."
Connor nodded. "Just a few seconds? How many?"
"Maybe five? I don't really…I'm not sure."
To give Roy a chance to organize his thoughts, Connor turned his attention back to Johnny. "Did you see anything unusual outside?"
Johnny shook his head. "No. I was below the dashboard until I heard the shots."
"DeSoto, you're in the store and your eyes have adjusted to the dim interior. What do you see?"
Blue eyes losing their focus, Roy tried to see the scene again. "It was cool inside, nice. There was a radio playing, the Carpenters, I think." Roy shied away from what was coming. He felt Johnny moving closer to him in support. He released his breath shakily. "I saw two men at the counter. I thought they were paying for their purchases so I walked to the rear cold unit where the salads were stored. I didn't…I never saw…"
"Where is the counter? What's on it?" Farrell interrupted, both to obtain further information as well as to give Roy a chance to calm down.
"A cash register, little snacks like potato chips and Cheetos, flyers on sales…uh, and business cards. The counter is against the front wall, facing the store."
"Good job." Farrell was impressed. "Could you see Mr. and Mrs. Crespo?"
"Just from the corner of my eye. They were both behind the counter. I remember the register was open."
"You saw two men?"
"Yeah. I didn't see the third until I went to the back of the store. He was standing near the door to the alley."
"When did you see a gun?"
"Not until I saw the third man. He was holding it at his side. When he saw me, he called out to the other two."
"What did you do when you spotted the gun?"
"I stopped. I didn't know what to do. I turned around and started to the front."
"Why?" Connor asked.
"I think…I thought of asking what was going on. Or maybe leave. I don't really know."
"What did the one at the back say to the other two?"
Roy shrugged. "I don't know. It might've been Spanish. But the tone…he sounded frightened."
"Okay, you're walking back to the front. What happens then?"
Johnny leaned closer to his partner. "You wanna stop for a while?"
Roy tossed him a weak smile. "No. If I stop now, I don't know if I'll be able to do it later."
Farrell watched the two men, noting their closeness. It seemed partners could be as close in the fire department as they were in the police department.
"Want some water?" Johnny persisted, trying to give Roy time to regroup.
The smile was stronger. "Yeah, that'd be great."
Johnny jumped to his feet and quickly filled a glass with ice and water, sloshing it over the rim and onto his hand as well as the floor. He glanced down, then rubbed his foot over it, earning an exasperated grimace from Captain Stanley.
"Thanks, Johnny." Roy drank deeply of the refreshing water. Once finished draining half the glass, he said, "I'm ready."
"You're walking out, facing the other two men, right?"
"Yeah, one of them had turned and glared at me. Mrs. Crespo began to cry. The two men pulled guns from under their jackets…one of them, the older one, shoved his pistol in Mrs. Crespo's…in her face and…and pulled the trigger."
A couple of his crew mates gasped, unaware of what Roy had witnessed. Johnny had seen the victims and had guessed at the horror.
"Where was Mr. Crespo?" Connor saw Johnny touch Roy gently on his forearm.
"He…he was standing behind his wife, his arms around her. When…when she was shot, there was blood and…there was blood…everywhere. He tightened his grip on her as she began to fall. I…I didn't see anything more until after."
"What did you do, DeSoto?"
"I dove behind the Coke display," Roy said, frowning. His eyes dropped to the table top.
Connor could see this action bothered the paramedic, but didn't know why. He decided to move to Johnny. "You heard the shots?"
Johnny was whispering to Roy, too far away for either detective to hear the conversation.
"Mr. Gage?" Connor asked again.
"You heard the shots from outside?"
"Oh. Yeah, three of them."
"You recognized them as gunfire?"
"Yeah. I never cared for guns or hunting, but I grew up around guys with guns. I knew what the sounds were."
"You heard three shots?"
"Yeah. One, two, a pause, then the third shot."
Farrell hunched forward, taking over the questioning. "A pause between the second and third shots. Is that how you remember it, DeSoto?"
"That's right. The second was at me but it hit the bread display instead. I…I assume the third was the one that killed Mr. Crespo."
"You both agree that there were only three shots?"
"I'm pretty sure," Roy replied while Johnny nodded vigorously.
"Did you see who fired the second and third shots, DeSoto?"
"The second was by the other man at the counter. He was pointing his weapon at me when I…when I dove for c-cover."
Johnny was whispering again, only this time he was loud enough for Farrell to hear. "Roy, it wasn't your fault. You couldn't save them. If you'da tried anything, they'd have killed you. It's not your fault."
"He's right, DeSoto. You did what you could as soon as you could. I'm sorry to put you through this but we need to get these three men off the street." Farrell sat back in his chair. "You were shot at. Then what?"
"I was trying to figure out a way out but before I could do anything, I heard another shot. Then the three men ran out."
"Why didn't they shoot you?" Connors topped his fingers on the table top.
"Could they have thought he was a police officer?"
All eyes traveled to Mike Stoker. Farrell began to nod. "That might be. Or…"
Connor watched his partner thinking. "What? You've got an idea, don't you, Frank?"
"Did you fall to the ground as they shot at you?"
Roy shrugged. "Yeah. I was trying to get out of sight."
"I'd guess they thought you were dead. They didn't realize the bullet missed. Especially since it hit something soft and quiet."
The questioning went on for a bit longer, the detectives going back over the paramedics' statements, refining their observations. By the time they were done, Johnny and Roy were exhausted. It was determined that while Johnny's testimony would help put the assailants on the scene with weapons, it was Roy's testimony that would convict them of the double murders.
"You both have given thorough descriptions of the suspects, but we'll still need you to come down to the station, the police station, and look at some mug shots. When can you do that?" Connors asked, his piercing grey eyes compassionate, well aware of the toll the day was taking on the men.
"We're off duty tomorrow."
"Good. Here's my card. You work until what time?"
"Eight o'clock, depending on whether we get called out," Captain Stanley explained. "That's eight in the morning."
"I wouldn't want your job," Farrell muttered, "working a 24 hour shift. Okay, you'll need some sleep, I imagine, so why don't you meet me at the station at noon, and we can get started looking for a name to go with the shooters."
"I'll drive in with you, Roy."
"Thanks, Johnny. But I want to start earlier. I can be there at ten and catch some sleep later. That okay with you, Johnny?"
"Whenever you say, partner."
"Gentlemen," the detectives rose, shaking hands with Johnny, Roy and their Captain. "We'll have your statements typed and ready for your signatures when you arrive."
Roy got to his feet after the detectives left, moving like an old man. Johnny looked after him in concern. The other members of the station had listened in shock and growing horror at what Roy had witnessed. Roy paused in the doorway, turned back as if to speak, then shook his head and continued on.
"Roy," Hank Stanley called after him. "Why don't you call your wife after you take a shower? Use my office."
"Thanks, Cap. I think I will."
After Roy had gone, Stanley turned to Johnny. "Do I need to call in a replacement for either of you?"
Johnny frowned, looking down at the table. Finally he shook his head. "I think Roy needs to be here, to be working. I'll keep an eye on him. If I think he needs to leave, I'll let you know."
"What about you, John? Are you okay?"
The younger man didn't answer for a moment. The strain of the day was showing in his face. "Man, when I heard those shots and realized that Roy might be in the middle of it, I was never so scared in my life. And when those guys came tearing out of the deli with guns, I thought…I thought he was dead, Cap." Johnny's voice was raw with remembered fear. "I thought he was dead."
Chet, heading to the sink to rinse out his coffee cup, stopped to grip Johnny's shoulder in support. "He's okay, Gage."
"Yeah. Yeah, he is."
The next morning, Johnny drove over to Roy's house, let in by Joanne DeSoto, Roy's wife. "Hey, Jo. How's Roy doing?"
"He was very restless this morning, prowling the house. Johnny, he wouldn't tell me anything about the shooting. How bad was it?"
"About as bad as it could be, Joanne." He gave the pretty brunette a hug. "Don't worry, I'll take care of him."
"You always do. Thank you. And thank you for going with him to the police. I think he's nervous about it."
"No problem, I had to go in anyway."
Joanne led the way through the house into the kitchen. Roy was sitting at the table, speaking softly to his daughter.
"Morning, Roy. Hello, angel."
"Uncle Johnny, how 'cum you and Daddy are workin' today? We were 'posed to go to the park."
"Uh…." Caught unawares, Johnny looked to Roy for help.
"Jen, I told you that we'll do the best we can to get home and go to the park later this afternoon."
"Promise? Cross your heart?"
"I said we'd try," Roy snapped.
"Roy," his wife warned.
Jennifer's lower lip quivered at her father's curt tone. "I'm sorry, Daddy."
Roy sighed. "No, punkin, I'm the one who's sorry. Daddy's got a headache, baby. I didn't mean to snap at you. C'mere."
The six year old hopped off her chair and climbed up into her father's lap. He gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "I'll do the very best I can, Jennifer, but I can't promise. I know you don't understand, but what Daddy and your Uncle Johnny have to do is important."
"'kay, Daddy. Uncle Johnny, will you come with us to the park?"
Johnny looked to Roy for permission, receiving a nod. He grinned. "It's a date, Jennifer."
"Where's Chris?" Roy asked his wife.
"Upstairs playing Pong on our little tv. Want me to get him?"
"No. I'll see him later." Roy gave his wife her own hug and a kiss and if he held onto her longer than usual, no one mentioned it.
It took three hours of thumbing through books of mug shots before Roy found the first shooter. Once he had identified that suspect, it helped the detectives narrow down the possible accomplices.
"This wasn't a robbery. What you interrupted, DeSoto, was a shakedown. Or rather, retaliation for refusing to pay off a local gang. The Tigers are the gang and they've recently branched out into extortion and even a protection racket. It looks like the Crespos refused to pay up. We found a record of a call from Mr. Crespo complaining about threatening visits."
"Then why weren't you protecting them?" Johnny asked heatedly.
Farrell defended his department. "We were going out to see them today. The detective assigned to the case had been in court and couldn't get back to them right away. We didn't realize they were in immediate danger. No official complaint had been made as yet. Once we took his statement, protection would have been offered."
"Is Roy in danger?"
"Is my family in danger?" The two men's questions were asked almost simultaneously.
"Could they identify you?" Connors asked.
"I don't know. That doesn't answer my question. Is my family in danger?"
"It's a possibility, although they don't know who you are yet."
"And when they do?"
"We'll get you protection. I think we'll start with patrols in your neighborhood." Farrell frowned. "For the time being, your names can be kept secret, but once we go to trial, the District Attorney has to give a list of all witnesses to the attorney for the defense."
"I'll need to know when that happens." Roy turned to his partner. "I think I'll send Jo and the kids to her mother."
"Good idea," Farrell said.
"It wouldn't take much for them to find out who Roy is if they recognized the uniform as belonging to the fire department," Johnny commented. "I think you need to do more than just patrol the neighborhood. Can't you put a man on Roy's house? Just in case?"
"I'll put it to the D.A. and my boss. I can't promise anything, but I'll push for protection for you."
"For my family," Roy said. "At the station, I'll be surrounded by firemen. I should be fine there. I'm just worried about my wife and children."
"Okay. I think we should be able to arrange something."
The men finished signing their statements, giving their work schedule to the detectives so they could be found if more questions needed to be asked. As they walked outside, Roy stopped at the steps of the police station.
"Yeah." He turned to Johnny. "Am I doing the right thing?"
Roy shook his head. "No. Waiting to send my family away."
"I don't know, Roy. It'll be a while before this goes to trial. Months, maybe even a year or more. I doubt Joanne would leave you for that long." Johnny grinned. "Your wife is a very stubborn woman."
Roy chuckled. "That's one way to say it."
"C'mon, Pally, I don't know about you, but I have a date with my favorite girl and I don't wanna keep her waiting any longer than she already has been."
Less than a week later, the phone rang in the DeSoto household. Joanne, in the kitchen cleaning, picked it up. "Hello? Oh, hello, Detective Farrell. Yes, Roy's home. Just a minute and I'll get him."
She walked outside to the deck, currently being repaired by Roy and Johnny. "Roy, Detective Farrell is on the phone for you."
The two men exchanged a look before heading inside the house. Roy picked up the receiver from the counter. "DeSoto. Yes? Of course. We can come in right away. Yes, Johnny's with me. Okay."
Roy didn't speak after hanging up.
"Well?" Johnny asked.
"They've arrested the three men. Farrell wants us to identify them in a line-up."
"Yeah. Jo, can you keep the kids away from the deck. The edge is still a little wet and sticky from the sealant."
"Of course." His wife gently caressed Roy's face. "It'll be okay, honey."
"Yeah, I know. I'm just not looking forward to seeing them again, even if they can't see me."
"Well, partner, let's get going. We have lots of work left to do in the backyard," Johnny said, equally dreading the line-up.
It didn't take long. Roy knew he would always remember the faces of the three men, particularly the one who pulled the trigger of the gun aimed at Mrs. Crespo's face. Johnny was equally certain, having given his identification apart from his friend, to avoid any suspicion of being influenced by Roy's identification.
As they walked out into the sunlight, Johnny flung his arm around Roy's shoulders. "Hey, at least they're behind bars. You heard Farrell; the D.A. is going to fight releasing them on bail."
"He said the D.A. would try. It doesn't mean the rest of the gang won't come after us."
"Positive thinking, Roy. You've gotta learn positive thinking."
Roy chuckled. "You've been reading Chet's self-help books again, haven't you?"
"Hey, who knows, he might actually be onto something. Something beside my nerves."
The police car was parked in the street down two doors from the DeSoto residence. Farrell held the same concerns as Roy in regards to the gang members. He didn't want the protection removed until after the trial was over.
At first, everything was normal. If the gang had determined that Roy was a firefighter rather than a police officer, they apparently hadn't determined who he was. Taking extra precautions, such as watching his rear view mirror while driving home, Roy was beginning to think he wouldn't have to worry until the case went to trial.
Then the squad had a call in the same general area where the shooting took place. A police car was requested to meet them at the location per Captain Stanley's request.
"John, we'll be going with you, just in case," Stanley said.
Johnny flashed his captain a smile in passing. "Thanks, Cap."
Johnny kept an eye on his partner as they pulled up just a block away from the deli. Roy hesitated before climbing out of the squad, carefully surveying the surrounding area. A group of young men were loitering near the corner, watching the firefighters, but nobody came out of the old apartment building to show them to their supposed person down call. "I don't like this, Johnny."
"Me neither. I think we'd better wait for the cops to check this out."
Captain Stanley swung down from the engine, walking over to the waiting paramedics. "Roy, John. We'll wait right here until the police arrive."
"That's what we were thinking, Cap." Johnny walked slowly around the squad, his eyes on the people watching them.
The police car drove up with two officers in it. The driver stuck his head out, conversing with Stanley while the other firefighters waited. After some discussion, the officers left their vehicle, heading to the apartment building. Chet jumped out of the engine and trotted to where the paramedics stood.
"Man, I don't like this," the stocky firefighter said.
"Neither do we, Kelly."
The policemen returned, shaking their heads as they exited the building. "Captain Stanley, no one inside called the fire department. It seems to be a false alarm."
Johnny frowned. "More like a fishing expedition." He keyed the mike in the squad. "Dispatch, this is Squad 51. Is there a callback number for our run?"
"Negative, 51," came Sam's rich voice.
Johnny looked at his partner. "They know what station we work out of now."
"C'mon, men, let's go home. Roy, we need to notify the Chief and the detectives. I think you'll have to be very careful driving home."
Roy nodded. Once in the squad, he turned to Johnny as he watched the men staring back at them. "I wonder if I should go home. If they follow me…"
Johnny leaned over and gripped his friend's arm. "If you're worried, come to my place." He had a faint smile teasing at his lips. "I still have that bed chair."
As he planned, Roy broke out in laughter. "Buddy, there is no way I'm sleeping in that torture machine again."
Johnny grinned. "Hey, I resent that! That chair is a life-saver when I have unexpected company."
"Life-saver? More like life-taker. Johnny, have you ever tried to sleep in it?"
"Of course not. I have a perfectly good bed to sleep in." Johnny was pleased. Hard times and harder decisions were ahead for Roy and his family, both at home and at the station. Anything he could do to lighten the load he would do, whether playing class clown or supporting his friend in whatever he chose to do.
It didn't take long before the telephone calls began. Vicious laughter, taunting threats, obscene comments all poured through the receiver, all aimed at Roy. Johnny watched as Roy became more and more depressed. Finally the dark visage on his partner's face snapped Johnny's patience.
"That's it!" Johnny jumped to his feet the next time the phone rang, grabbing it and shouting into the receiver. "Listen, asshole, you want to come after somebody, try me! I was there, too, and I'm gonna see your three buddies put away forever. The name is Gage, John Gage. I'm in the book!"
"Gage, are you nuts?"
"John, hang up."
Johnny slammed the phone down and stood there, breathing heavily, his face contorted in rage.
Smiling, Roy walked to his side and gently rubbed the back of his friend's neck until his breathing calmed and his face relaxed. "I haven't seen you this angry in a long time."
Johnny looked around at the men staring at him in various stages of shock. He huffed. "What?"
"Johnny, you really shouldn't have done that, putting yourself out as a target."
"Roy, I just…I hate what this is doing to you and your family. I just want to…I don't know."
"Yeah, I know. You want to help, take the heat off of me."
Captain Stanley stood. "I think we'll need to tell Detective Farrell what you've done, John. Somehow, I don't think he'll be very happy about it."
Johnny shrugged. "Don't care. It's done."
"Don't mention it, Pally."
Roy and Johnny were kept busy for the rest of their shift, call after call keeping them from the station. They were now shadowed by a police car on every call. The Chief had arranged for another squad to cover the neighborhood where the gang operated, but even that squad was accompanied by a police unit, just in case. The two paramedics were as careful as possible when driving to their homes, followed by police officers who kept a close eye out for anyone who might be following them.
And so it went for another two weeks. Everyday Roy would ask his wife to take the children and leave, but since nothing had happened and the trial was still another month away, Joanne had refused. She wouldn't leave her husband until it was absolutely necessary. Even when that time came, she planned to send the children away while staying at Roy's side, a plan she hadn't revealed to him as yet.
Johnny walked outside the station and heard a soft whirr, whirr, click. He saw Roy in his sports car. "That you?"
"Yeah," Roy said, climbing out of his vehicle. "Do you have jumper cables in the Rover?"
"Nope, sorry. I loaned them to Marco. I think he's already left. C'mon, I'll give you a ride home." Johnny's lopsided grin appeared. "Maybe Joanne will take pity on a lonely bachelor and feed him."
"I think that can be arranged. Just let me warn her you're coming so she can cook extra."
The drive was pleasant, Johnny keeping the conversation away from the impending trial. Instead he talked about Chris' next outing with Indian Guides. Even after they arrived at the DeSoto house, they stood outside talking as three cars came screeching around the corner. Something flew from the passenger sides of the vehicles. One crashed through the front window of the house, another hit the corner while the third bounced against the garage. There was an immediate whoosh as Roy's house exploded into flames.
The two paramedics raced inside, knowing that Joanne and both of Roy's children were at home as it was Saturday. They pulled their shirts over their mouths, quickly searching the ground floor for the three missing people. They found no one.
"I'll go to Jen's bedroom," Johnny shouted over the noise of the fire.
Roy nodded, pointing to his son's bedroom and disappearing up the stairs, followed closely by his partner. At the top, Roy went right while Johnny turned to the left.
Johnny coughed, crouching lower to find oxygen. The house was going up like a tinderbox. He was forced to crawl, gasping for breath. He felt around the floor, searching under the bed as well as on top of it. The mattress had ignited. The heat was beginning to blister Johnny's skin. He needed to find Jennifer quickly or both of them would soon be dead.
He moved to the closet, aware that children would hide in the smallest place they could find. He tossed mounds of stuffed animals out of the closet, digging through the pile until he felt flesh instead of fur.
"Jen! Jennifer, hang on, baby, I'm gonna get you out of here." He clutched her close to his chest, trying to cover her with his body. He pulled his shirt over her face, seeking to keep the smoke out of the young girl's lungs as well as the toxic chemicals from burning plastics. Johnny stumbled to his feet, knowing he had just one chance for survival. Orientating himself, the young man rushed to where Jennifer's window faced out onto the front yard. He used his elbow to smash out the glass, unable to let go of his partner's daughter to find anything else to use.
"Gage! Down here!" The voice belonged to Officer Brown, the policeman who had followed them from the station. The other officer had chased after the suspect vehicles.
Johnny wiggled partway out of the window, ignoring the pain of glass shards digging into his stomach, having not taken the time to clear all the glass out. He lowered the unconscious child down to the officer's arms.
"Come down. The fire department's been called."
"Can't. Roy's still…cough…inside looking for…cough…his wife and son. I've gotta find them. Back away…cough, cough…from the house." With that Johnny pulled himself back inside and fought his way through the smoke and flame filled bedroom to the hallway.
Holding his hand on the wall as a guide, Johnny tried to get to Chris' bedroom. The heat was too intense, the fire too close. He felt his head spinning. The smoke was filling his lungs, the flames eating all the oxygen left in the room. He began coughing uncontrollably, his back spasming from the effort to breathe. Determined, Johnny continued on his hands and knees until he could go no further. He closed his eyes, panting, laying his head down on the smoldering carpet. "S-s-sorry," he slurred before passing out, never hearing the sirens of the approaching fire engines nor did he feel the gloved hands pulling him up from the smoldering carpet. Clean oxygen brought him around and he reached his hand up, pushing the oxygen mask off his face, gasping out his partner's name. "ROY!"
"Put the mask back on, Gage. We're looking for DeSoto now."
"Where…I've gotta go…lemme go…ROY!" Desperate, Johnny fought to get to his feet. For a moment as he stood in the doorway of the burning house, he thought he saw Roy near the back, his hand raised in acknowledgement before turning away and disappearing back into the smoke, but he couldn't be sure. Blackness pressed in on him, his senses reeling. Finally Johnny fell into the black hole that had been pulling on him since he found the smallest DeSoto.
Johnny could barely breathe, despite the oxygen being pumped through the mask on his face. His eyes were swollen shut. He took inventory. His elbow ached, his waist was painful. He could feel some burns on his arms and legs. What he couldn't remember was why. He could hear two women speaking and listened, hoping to get a clue.
"It's such a shame. I heard that the whole family perished, even the little girl this man tried to save."
It all came back at a rush, Roy, the house, the fire. All dead? Oh, God, no! Johnny screamed in his head, unable to make a sound through his ravaged throat, trying to get up, trying to escape the pain in his heart.
The monitors all began wailing their alarms. Soon there were people all around the stricken firefighter struggling to breathe, wanting to cry, to flee but unable to due to his injuries. He fought the hands holding him down in the bed.
"Gage! John Gage, calm down. Johnny, listen to me." Brackett's voice rose above the din. "What the hell happened here?"
"Uh, I think he might have heard Kathy…Nurse Evans," came a soft voice in reply.
"Heard Nurse Evans what?"
"She…she was talking about the fire…and the…family that died."
"Great!" Brackett barked. "We'll talk about this later. Dixie, get me…good girl. Johnny, I'm going to give you a sedative. You need to calm down. Johnny, you have to calm down. Your heart and lungs can't take this."
Johnny continued fighting until the drugs coursed through his body, dragging him into a black hole.
When Johnny fought his way back to consciousness once more, he prayed that it had all been a nightmare. One look at Dixie's tear streaked cheeks told him it was all true. "They're all…gone?"
Johnny closed his eyes, clenching his teeth to fight back the tears. He wouldn't cry, not in front of others, not now. He had no right to cry. He had no right to relieve his pain. He deserved to hurt. He had failed Roy; he had failed Joanne and Chris; he had failed his little angel, Jennifer, who was now a real angel.
"Johnny, we need to…" Brackett began.
"No," Johnny replied tersely. "Leave me alone. Just leave me alone."
"Kel, I think it would be best," Dixie said softly. "Let him grieve for a little while."
Brackett hesitated, and then nodded. "Alright. I'll be back later. Johnny, I'm sorry about Roy."
Johnny couldn't speak, nodding his head and turning his back to them. His throat was raw with the effects of the smoke inhalation as well as the unshed tears.
"Dixie, I want to keep him on oxygen. We'll need to keep a close…" Brackett's voice faded away as he and the head nurse left Johnny's room.
"Kel, I'm worried." Dixie sat on the visitor's chair in Brackett's office, her shoulders slumped.
She nodded. "He's given up. He won't see any of the guys from the station. He barely does his breathing exercises. He refuses to do most of his rehab. I thought at first he needed time, but it's been almost one week and Johnny still hardly even speaks to anyone."
"I know. I asked Sheila Madison to see him, but all Johnny does is sit there."
"Sheila's a beautiful woman as well as a good psychiatrist. Did he react to her at all?" Dixie asked. "Was there even a glimmer of the old Gage charm?"
"None." Brackett gave a deep sigh. "He's only eating because I threatened to force fed him. He's putting his health at risk."
"I don't think he cares. Kel, what do we do?"
"I don't know, Dix. I just don't know."
"Both Detective Farrell and Captain Stanley want to see Johnny. I think we should let his captain in. He's here now."
Brackett sighed noisily. "Ask Hank to come see me first. I want to explain what Johnny's condition is and what it will be if we can't get him turned around."
Dixie flashed the handsome doctor a warm smile. "Thank you, Kel."
Hank Stanley hesitated before pushing his way into his young paramedic's hospital room, nodding at the police officer posted there by Detective Farrell. Brackett's words echoed in his head. "If Gage doesn't start cooperating, his health could be seriously placed at risk. He does the barest minimum."
He stood in the doorway. John Gage had been a rebel since Stanley had first met the young man, keeping his hair just a bit longer than regulations required, and earning constant admonitions to cut it. He had always been clean shaven, not adopting the moustaches popular among firefighters. Now he was sprawled in his bed, his hair lank with ill health and lack of cleaning. There was a rough beard growing on his face, giving him a sinister look.
"John, how are you?"
Johnny slowly raised his eyes to look at his boss. There was no smile on his face. "Cap." When Stanley waited for an answer to his question, Johnny reluctantly said, "I'm alive."
"Dr. Brackett has informed me that you're refusing to cooperate."
"Don't you want to come back to work?"
"I…not without…" Johnny closed his eyes, biting his lower lip. "I don't think I can go back, Cap. Not without Roy."
"So what will you do, John?"
"I haven't decided. I might go back to riding the engines."
Stanley didn't pursue the paramedic issue, focusing instead on what Johnny did say. "Even on the engine you'll need to breathe. Can't you do what you need to do, so whatever you decide, you'll be physically able?"
"I…I guess." Johnny swallowed deeply before speaking again. "Did I miss the service?"
Stanley couldn't look Johnny in the face, unwilling to bring any more pain to the man than he was already experiencing.
"There's been no service."
"But Roy is entitled!"
"I know. There are reasons, John, ones that I can't explain to you right now."
"Where are they…where are they buried?"
"I don't really know."
"John, I promise, once you're well again, you'll find out everything you want to know. Right now you need to focus on your own health. Understand?"
Johnny grimaced. "Yes, sir. I understand."
"Good." He gently touched Johnny's shoulder. "Son, please take care of yourself. I'll be back if that's alright with you. And some of the others would like to see you -"
"No!" Johnny shouted. "No, Cap, no one else. Please. Please keep the others away. I'm begging you here, I can't face anyone else. Please, Cap?"
"Okay, John, okay. Calm down." Stanley was concerned by the flush in his paramedic's face as well as the frantic gasps for breath. "Do I need to get someone? A nurse?"
"N-no, just gimme a minute." Johnny worked carefully to calm his breathing. "Cap, promise me."
"I promise. I'll tell the others to give you some space." Captain Stanley walked to the door, stopping to look back. "But, John, you won't be able to keep them away forever."
"I know. Just do what you can."
Despite what Johnny had said, Captain Stanley went to tell the nurses of his episode. Nurse Carol Williams frowned. "Thank you, Captain. I'll check on him."
Once in Johnny's hospital room, she took his blood pressure and checked his breathing. "Johnny, you have to calm down. Your blood pressure is too elevated."
"I'm trying, Carol. Honest."
"I know. Dr. Brackett left an order for a mild tranquilizer if you needed it. I think you do."
Chet was tired of the rules. Roy and his family were dead. Gage was hurting, physically and emotionally. He had banned all his crewmates from visiting, but Chet wasn't listening any longer. He would go see his friend if he had to walk over a squadron of nurses and police officers.
With a plan in mind, Chet slipped past the nurses' station on third floor. He saw the police officer on guard outside Johnny's room at the end of the hall, speaking with his captain as well as with one of the detectives who had been at Station 51. He quickly walked to Johnny's hospital room. He peered into the room, pushing the door open just wide enough to pass through. The room was darker than the bright hallway, the shades drawn. It took a moment for Chet's eyes to adjust. When they did and he got his first look at his friend, he gasped. "Oh, Johnny. What have you done to yourself?"
The man he knew was full of life, animated even when still, or as still as he ever could be. The man in the bed looked like one of the walking dead from one of Chet's favorite horror movies. Johnny was gaunt, his Native American heritage obvious in his prominent cheekbones, now covered by rough beard. His breathing was labored.
Johnny slowly opened his drugged eyes. "Whatta you doin' here? I tol' 'em no visitors."
"Yeah, well, you know me and orders. I wanted to see you."
"You've seen me. Now go 'way."
"Nope, not a chance. What the hell are you doing to yourself?"
"What do you care?"
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Roy's dead. Joanne and Chris and…and Jennifer are all dead." He gasped for breath, continuing softly. "And I killed them."
"You didn't kill them, those bastards in the gang did. Johnny, is that what this is all about? You figure if you kill yourself, it'll make up for their deaths?"
"I'm not…killin' myself."
"Aren't you? You won't do your rehab; you just stay here and wait. What for, to die?"
Johnny just looked at him, his dark brown eyes dull. "What do you care?"
"Do you think this is what Roy would want? For you to commit suicide? It won't bring him back. It won't bring any of them back."
The paramedic didn't respond.
"Damn it, Johnny, are you going to let them win? Are you going to let them kill Roy and get away with it?"
This brought a reaction. "What do you mean?"
"You and Roy were the only witnesses against those three. With Roy dead and you killing yourself, they'll walk. Do you want that? They kill the Crespos, they kill Roy and his family and they'll get away with it."
"Fight, damn it, fight. If you want to kill yourself later, fine."
Johnny' breathing was becoming increasingly labored. He tried to raise himself up, but was too weak. He looked into Chet's blue eyes. "Help me, Chet…I can't…"
Chet jumped to Johnny's bed, hitting the call button while helping support his friend. "Slowly, slowly."
Dixie burst into the room. "What…Chet, what are you doing here? Never mind that, what's wrong?"
"Gage can't catch his breath."
"Okay, we give you some oxygen, Johnny." She put the mask on him. "Breathe in slowly. Take your time."
Chet began to back away as more help arrived.
"No, wait," Johnny said, his voice muffled. "Chet."
"Yeah?" Chet came closer.
"It wasn't your fault."
"I wasn't…" tears began to trickle down his face. "I was too slow. Even Jenny. I had her. I got her out, Chet. Too late."
"You tried to."
"No, I got her out. I gave her to the cop."
"Johnny, you never found Jennifer. She, her body, was found in her bedroom, that's what the report said."
"That's not right. I thought…I remember…"
"Johnny, Chet. Not now." Brackett was listening to Johnny's lungs, a frown on his face. "I want you to be quiet for right now, understand?"
Chet nodded. "I'll be back, Gage. Remember what I said. Doc, can I talk to you, when you're done with Gage?"
Chet paced the hallway, his mind going back over what he had been told about the fire at the DeSotos and what Johnny had told him. Before he could puzzle it out any longer, Brackett came out of the room. He stopped to give orders to Dixie and another nurse, before joining Chet.
"You wanted to talk?"
"What's wrong with him?" Chet asked.
"He feels guilty for living while Roy and his family died. He's refusing to help himself. His lungs are weak from the smoke inhalation. He needs to work on clearing them out. There's fluid buildup which concerns me."
"How is he?" Detective Farrell sat across from Captain Stanley in hospital cafeteria.
"Hurting. Grieving. Blaming himself. All for nothing."
"I've explained this to you. It's a matter of life or death, Captain. Just three more weeks."
"I said I'd go along with you on this, but only until it affects my man's health."
"Has it?" Farrell asked.
"It's starting to."
"It's essential that you stay on board with this, Captain."
Chet Kelly sat in the day room, reading the old newspapers that reported Roy DeSoto's death and the deaths of his family. Marco Lopez sat across from him, peeling eggplants for supper. Chet was muttering under his breath, flipping through the paper.
"What's with you?"
"Something Johnny told me about the fire. It doesn't jibe with the official report."
"Johnny is convinced that he got Jennifer out of the house. But Farrell's report says otherwise."
"So?" Mike Stoker asked from the couch where he was reading today's newspaper.
"I can't believe that Johnny would make that big a mistake. He gave Roy's kid to the officer trailing after him. I wanna talk to that guy."
"So let's see if he's still on the protection team." Stoker nodded at the phone, but Chet didn't move.
"He isn't. I already checked. His name is Officer Brown, Officer Kurt Brown. I think we need some help finding him."
"That leaves two choices, calling Farrell or asking a friendly police face for help."
"I wouldn't call Farrell. He either won't help or can't help. And the friendliest face I know is…"
"Who was called to the house on the fire call?"
Marco joined in the conversation. "Station 41. I think Johnny was pulled out by Briscoe and Sanderson."
"I want to talk to them as well."
"What about Cap?" Stoker asked.
Chet spoke, "I don't want to involve Cap. He's been acting really strange since this all happened, haven't you noticed?"
"It's your funeral, Chet."
The three men arranged to meet at The Wide Awake Diner for breakfast once they got off duty. Paramedics Jake Briscoe and Saul Sanderson would be meeting them there.
Chet sipped at his coffee, nervously tapping his fingers on the formica table top.
"Chet, calm down." Marco gave his order to the waitress. "A Spanish omelete, another cup of coffee and a small orange juice. Mike?"
"Two eggs over easy, sausage and hash browns. And raisin toast. I'll take a large orange juice and a glass of water."
Marco, sitting in the booth next to his hose partner, nudged Chet in the side.
"Give the lady your order."
"Oh. Sorry. Uh, let me have French toast with bacon on the side. A large glass of milk."
The waitress left, passing by Vince Howard in his brown sheriff's uniform. He stopped by the firefighters' table.
"Hello, Vince. Join us for breakfast?"
"Sorry, guys, I'm on duty. Your officer is off duty, on administrative leave."
"Admin? Why?" Chet asked.
"Good question and one I haven't been able to get answered. In fact, I was warned off."
"Detective Frank Farrell."
Marco had been humoring Chet, but now he wondered if the feisty Irishman didn't have a good reason for his suspicions.
"Here's Brown's home address. Don't tell anyone where you got it, okay? And give Johnny my condolences about Roy."
"Thanks, Vince, we will."
Just as their food was being delivered, Briscoe and Sanderson walked into the diner. They gave their own orders for breakfast and slid into the large circular booth.
"Okay, guys, what's up?" Brisco asked.
"Yeah, it has to be something important for Kelly to pay for breakfast," Sanderson chimed in, his pale blond hair shimmering in the sunlight.
"It's about the DeSoto fire."
Both men turned serious. "That was a bad one."
"Where did you find everyone?" Chet asked after swallowing a mouthful of French toast dripping with syrup.
"Well, we found Gage on the second floor, just past the staircase toward the right."
"And the bodies?"
Sanderson and Briscoe exchanged glances. Neither man spoke.
"We've talked about this to each other, but we were told to keep out mouths shut to anyone else."
"Let me guess," Stoker said. "By Detective Farrell."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Look, I can understand that he doesn't want to blow his case against the arsonists, but this involves John Gage. We need to know what went on to help him through this. So, please, tell us what you know."
"Okay, but it goes nowhere else, got it, Kelly?"
"No problem, Jake."
"Good." The men were silent as the waitress brought the paramedics' food, not speaking until she refilled all their coffee cups.
"We never saw anyone except Gage." Briscoe grimaced. "Not DeSoto, not his family. Just Gage."
That blunt statement caught the Station 51 men by surprise. "How can that be? You should've searched for them, for their bodies if nothing else." Marco was beginning to get a bad feeling.
"Before we could continue searching, Farrell arrived and took over. His men were the only ones inside. They claimed to have found the bodies and that we weren't needed. Jake argued, but…they threatened to arrest us if we tried to get back inside. Claimed it was a crime scene and since no one else was alive, paramedics weren't needed."
"Did you see a little girl, about six years old, blond hair? She might have been with a police officer?"
Both men shrugged, before Jake continued speaking. "No, but there was a police officer with some minor burns who wouldn't let us near his car. I think there might have been someone inside it, but I couldn't say for sure."
"This is getting really Twilight Zone," Stoker commented.
Intrigued now, Chet was accompanied by both Marco and Stoker to Officer Brown's house. Chet knocked on the door. Brown appeared, but didn't invite them inside.
"Hello, Officer Brown. I'm Chet Kelly. This is Marco Lopez and Michael Stoker. We work with John Gage and Roy DeSoto at Station 51."
"Yeah, I recognized you. What can I do for you?"
"Did you help Johnny remove Jennifer DeSoto from the house?"
"If you have any questions, I'd recommend that you contact Detective Farrell." Brown started to close the door, but Chet stopped him with his foot shoved inside.
"Johnny is going through hell and you people could help. What I want to know is what the big cover-up is about."
"Remove your foot, Mr. Kelly, or I'll have to arrest you. Like I said, call Farrell." With that he closed the front door of his house.
"What the hell is going on?" Chet murmured.
"And what do we do about it?"
"Gentlemen, Detective Farrell called me yesterday. He said that you three have been going around town, bothering witnesses to the fire at Roy's house." Captain Stanley stood in his office, staring at the his three crew members. "Is that true?"
"Cap, something's going on. They've lied to Johnny, they've lied to us. We want to know what the hell is going on!"
"Chet, you have to stop this. It's important that you back off on this. The trial is in just a few more weeks. Then everything will be cleared up"
"And what about Johnny? He's talking about quitting, not just the paramedic program, but the fire department."
"I promise you that won't happen. At least, I'm going to do everything I can to keep him from doing anything so rash. Will you drop this?"
The mutinous look on Chet's face gave Stanley his answer. "Don't make me bring the Chief in on this, Kelly. Back off, just until the trial is over."
Chet flung the door open on Stanley's office so hard it banged against the wall. Marco and Stoker were more polite about it, but no less annoyed. Captain Stanley stood watching as the men disappeared into the dorm room. He pinched the bridge of his nose before walking across the office to quietly close his door. "I'll be lucky if I have a crew left once this damned trial ends."
"Johnny, are you okay?" Dixie McCall had accompanied John Gage to the courthouse, still concerned about his health. He had finally begun his rehab, but was still suffering from weakness of his lungs due to fluid buildup. He was also still sporting his beard, although he had allowed it to be trimmed. His hair was still longer than regulation length as he hadn't allowed it to be cut since the fire.
"Yeah, I guess."
"You look pretty sharp with that fur on your face. It gives you a whole different look. Are you planning to keep it when you go back to work?"
Johnny didn't respond, spotting the international symbol for men's public restroom. "Dix, I'm going to wash my face off." He nodded at the small men's room down the hall from the court room. "I'll be out in a minute." Hampered by the cast on his right arm for the elbow broken by hitting out at the window, he used his left hand to turn on the water faucet, splashing the water onto his face. He was shaky, nervous about the testimony.
When he looked up, Johnny saw a face in the mirror standing behind him. "Sorry, didn't mean to block you." He moved away from the sink only to fall back when the swarthy man pulled a knife on him. The knife sliced toward his waist before Johnny could grab the man's wrist. He flung himself backwards just in time. They struggled in silence before Johnny used his cast as a weapon, slamming it repeatedly against his attacker's skull. The man fell unconscious at Johnny's feet. He stumbled to the bathroom door, calling for help.
Dixie and Johnny's police officer escort came running. While the police officer took charge of the attacker, Dixie fussed over the weary paramedic.
"Your cast is broken. We need to take you back to Rampart."
"John Gage, you need –"
"No, Dixie. I have to testify. I have to. I owe Roy this much. I failed him and his family during the fire. I can't fail him again. The cast can wait."
"And the wide cracks?"
A pale copy of his usual charming grin appeared. "You'll patch me up until I'm done testifying. I'm sure there's a first aid kit somewhere in the building."
Dixie grumbled, but knew what this appearance at the court meant to Johnny. She ordered one of the court bailiffs to find the first aid kit and wrapped the gauze tightly around the cast. "This will help, but keep your movements as slow as possible. It's close to falling apart. How's the pain?"
Johnny sat on a bench in the hallway. He hissed. "Hurts like hell."
"Are you sure you don't want to go to Rampart right now? Ask for a delay?"
"No more delays. I need to get this over with."
"He had a knife. How did you avoid being cut?"
"Quick reflexes, Dix." He watched her finish off the wrapping. "Done?"
"This is as much as I can do with what I have. As soon as you're done, we going to Rampart. Understand?"
"Yes, mom." That earned him a dirty look, so Johnny leaned forward and kissed the blonde nurse on the cheek. "Thank you, Dixie. It…it means a lot to me, your being here."
"John Gage." The second bailiff called Johnny's name.
The paramedic took a deep breath, coughing slightly with the effort, and got to his feet. Dixie stopped him, squeezing his hand in support. "Good luck, Johnny."
The questioning was draining on a man already exhausted by day to day living with overwhelming guilt. He forced himself to not glare at the defendents, fighting back his anger at what they and their fellow gang members had done. The grilling by the defense attorneys, each defendant having their own, was equally difficult. Despite their every effort to shake his identification, Johnny was steadfast. He put the three men at the deli, guns in their hands. What he couldn't do was state which ones did the actual shooting. Finally it was done. The judge called a recess for lunch, then would resume with one final witness for the prosecution.
Johnny slowly got to his feet, clutching the edge of the witness box as the room spun around him. The court emptied slowly, no one paying attention to the dark-haired man. He carefully stepped down, pausing as he struggled to keep his balance.
He could see Dixie pushing through the crowd and smiled at her. He took another step, but his knees buckled. The floor rushed up to meet him and he knew no more.
Johnny tried to get up only to have a hand on his chest pushing him back down.
"Whoa, Johnny, settle down."
It took him a moment to realize that he was in Rampart and the owner of the voice ordering him to stay down belonged to Dr. Joe Early. "What happened?"
"What do you remember?"
"Uh, testifying. I was in court. I finished testifying and started to leave." His forehead crinkled in thought. "I did finish, right?"
"Yes, Johnny, you finished." Dixie's voice came from his left hand side.
"So, what happened?"
"Apparantly the pain from your broken elbow in the busted cast, along with low blood sugar from not eating before the trial, caused you to pass out."
"I fainted? Ah, man. I can't believe it."
"John, if you're up to it, we have a surprise for you."
"I don't think I can take much more today, Doc. My head is pounding."
"Your head had a close encounter with the floor. You'll have a nasty bruise just above your left eye by tonight," Early explained. "Now that we've redone your cast and I can see that you're in otherwise good condition, I'll have Dixie get something for that headache. Hang in there, Johnny."
"'kay, Doc. Thanks." Johnny keep his eyes shut against the bright lights in the treatment room until Dixie returned with some pills for his headache. He swallowed the water in the small paper cup, washing the pills down.
Dixie turned the lights down. "Better?"
"Yeah, 'ppreciate it." He hesitated. "Dix?"
"This…surprise. Is it good?"
"When my headache dies down, maybe I'd like to see it. Is that okay?"
"Okay, Johnny. See if you can sleep for a while. No one will bother you. The guard is on the door, just in case."
Dixie slipped outside the room, shaking her head at the light brownish-haired man waiting outside. "He's not really ready for surprises, good or bad."
"I didn't know. Nobody told me that he'd been hurt. If I'd have known, I would've come immediately."
"I know you would." Dixie smiled. "You know, I think you might be just what the doctor ordered. Go on in, but be gentle. He's had a rough few weeks."
"Thanks." He didn't hesitate, pushing his way through the treatment room door. He took his own survey and winced. Johnny's arm was flung over his eyes as he dozed. The burns on his hands and along side his right ear were still healing, shiny and pinkish. The fresh cast shone in the faint lighting in the room.
Johnny could feel someone watching him. Drowsy and lightheaded, he slowly opened his brown eyes. The one face he wanted to see again, but knew he never would, was smiling down at him. "Roy?"
"Yeah, it's me."
"Nope, alive and well." Roy took Johnny's hand in his to show that he was real. "My death? That was Detective Farrell's idea. To keep the gang from making any more attempts on my family."
Johnny blinked rapidly, but the tears so long suppressed were falling. "Joanne? And Chris? And Jennifer? They're all…alive?"
"Yes, Johnny, we're all just fine."
Roy pulled up a stool to sit at Johnny's side. "I thought you knew. Farrell never told me that the only one who was let in on the scheme was Captain Stanley."
"He had to in order to keep the department happy. Otherwise, I would've been out of a job by the time the trial was over."
Johnny pushed himself up with his good arm, assisted by Roy. "Give me a minute. I…I don't think I understand. Why wasn't I told?"
"I don't know, Johnny. I never realized until I testified that you didn't know we were all still alive and in protective custody. I don't understand what Farrell's reasoning was." Roy gently pointed at the various injuries. "How are you doing?"
Johnny's grin was bright enough to light most of Southern California. "Better and better, Roy, better and better."
A barbeque was being held at the newly renovated DeSoto house. Johnny, just released from the tender mercies of Rampart and rehabilitation, was sitting on the deck, watching the DeSoto children playing with Captain Stanley's youngest daughter. He was absently rubbing his elbow. Roy sat down next to him, two beer bottles in his hand.
"Yeah." Johnny grabbed one of the beers and drank deeply. He held the bottle up, tipping it to his partner. "Thanks for the beer."
"You're welcome." They sat together for a while longer, enjoying the cool night air, no words needing to be spoken.
"Hey, Gage! You wanna play a little touch football?" Chet Kelly stood in the DeSoto yard, tossing a Nerf football up and down in his hand.
Flexing his arm, Johnny shook his head. "Nah, Kelly. My arm's still a little stiff. I'll sit this one out. 'side, I know you, touch will turn into tackle before you know it. I don't wanna break any bones and delay my return to work."
"I'll second that," Roy said, eager to get rid of his parade of temporary partners. Looking at Chet, Roy remembered what Farrell had told him during their last meeting together, shortly after the three shooters were convicted of murder. "Did you know that Chet was investigating what happened?"
"Seems you told Chet that you had rescued Jennifer from the house, which I haven't thanked you for yet by the way."
"No thanks necessary."
"Well, your story differed from Farrell's and the one in the newspaper."
"So? I could've been hallucinating."
"Yeah, you could've been, but Chet believed you and began pushing for answers. He looked up Officer Brown, he talked to the paramedics who found you in the house. He was becoming an enormous pain in Farrell's backside."
"Good. I still haven't forgiven him for keeping the truth from me." Johnny drank some more beer from the bottle, smiling as he watched his adversary chase around the yard, closely followed by Marco and the children. "Chet did that?"
"Yep, he certainly did."
"Well, well, well. That was nice of ol' Chester B., wasn't it?'
"I thought so."
Another long stretch of comfortable silence passed before Roy spoke again. "What will you do about it?"
"Nothing." Johnny flashed a lopsided grin at his friend. "Absolutely nothing. It would screw up our normal annoying relationship."
"True, very true. The world as we know it might end."
"My thoughts exactly."
The medical stuff is always tricky for me, despite my best efforts at internet research. Anything wrong, mea culpa and apologies.
Disclaimer: Ah, well, I don't own them, not even one of them. I'm not all that certain that I could afford Johnny, the medical bills would be horrendous, even with fire department insurance coverage! No monies are made on this, Universal, so don't sue me. It's all in fun, honest.