Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from Emergency!, I just have a lot of fun hanging out with them. This story is strictly for fun.
Author Note: I wrote this story almost entirely to use one brief exchange between Johnny and Chet. (I bet you'll know it as soon as you see it.) And then I got a little carried away. You know how these things happen. As I said above, this story is just for fun--well, I had fun writing it. Hope you enjoy reading it.
Oh, and hey--I can't be the only person who has noticed the resemblance Captain Stanley bears to... never mind.
The Phantom, the Pigeon, and the California Bush Poodle
"I don't know how you can make a prediction like that this early in the season," Chet Kelly grumbled.
"Whaddaya mean, 'this early in the season'?" Johnny Gage retorted. "They've been stinking up the National League since spring training." Johnny didn't really care how the Dodgers were doing, but since Chet had apparently decided to take the team's fortunes personally this year, Johnny felt it was his job to argue the other side. His duty, even.
"It's not even the All-Star Break yet," Chet insisted. "They've got plenty of time to turn it around."
"They got beat by the Expos three games out of three, at home, over the weekend," Johnny reminded him. "Do the Expos have even one major league pitcher?"
Chet had plenty to say in response to this crack, but Johnny wasn't listening. He generally didn't, even when he wasn't concentrating on driving on a narrow dirt road. That was pretty much the secret of dealing with Chet: poke him once in a while, sure, but for the most part let him rattle on and never listen to him. Johnny had shared this insight with Roy only the other day--his partner had given him kind of a strange look but agreed that he knew what Johnny meant. Of course, Roy had been working with Chet for as long as Johnny had, so that was probably it.
Johnny's train of thought--not to mention Chet's tirade--were broken when a movement in the brush caught Johnny's eye. Instinctively he touched the brake and then geared down, expecting a forest creature of some sort to amble onto the road. He was looking for a raccoon, or possibly a skunk.
He certainly didn't anticipate a toy poodle, but a toy poodle was what he got. A tiny black toy poodle with one of those goofy haircuts and a bright pink ribbon in the fluffy curls on top of her head. Johnny brought the Rover to a complete stop and shut off the engine.
"What are you--" Chet groused, and broke off when Johnny backhanded his arm and pointed at the little dog. She--Johnny assumed she was a she, because of the pink--studied the two men in the Rover with the alert expression that, in a dog, could mean anything from "Timmy's down the well!" to "I wonder if I can hit these guys up for cookies?"
Chet rolled his eyes. "Real interesting, Gage, it's a dog. You rarely see one of those in LA County."
"This far out in the woods?" Johnny objected.
"There are wild dogs in the county. Feral ones, anyway. Animal Control is always picking them up."
"Yeah. Wild dogs with fancy haircuts and pink ribbons," Johnny agreed. "You hear about that a lot. The California bush poodle." He opened his door and started to step out of the truck.
"What are you doing?" Chet demanded. "You're not going to just go up to a strange dog, are you?"
Johnny glanced at Chet. "I think I can fight her off if I have to," he said sarcastically, and climbed out of the Rover. "Hi, sweetheart," he addressed the tiny dog. The poodle looked at him and wagged her tail tentatively. Johnny crouched, gave her his best smile, and coaxed, "Come on, darlin', let me help you." The poodle took a step toward his outstretched hand, hesitated, then turned and scampered into the woods. "No, dang it, come back here," Johnny exclaimed, straightening.
"Aw, come on Gage, forget it. Dog probably lives around here," Chet called.
"There isn't any here around here," Johnny called back as he started to follow the dog. "Come on, Chet, let's see where she's taking us."
"She's not taking us anywhere, Gage," Chet whined. "She belongs to someone who's camping. They're probably making supper. The last thing they want is for two firemen to come blundering into their campsite chasing their dog."
Johnny hesitated. It killed him to admit it, but Chet was kind of making sense right there. He opened his mouth, closed it, then opened it again. Before he could think of a suitable reply, the poodle came dashing out of the brush again and yapped impatiently. She really sounded like she wanted someone to follow her.
The brush wasn't heavy going but the poodle still made better time than the fireman and had to keep doubling back, bouncing and yapping. Johnny hoped she wasn't leading him to a squirrel or a toy stuck in a bush or something, because Chet would definitely never let him live that down.
The brush thinned out abruptly and Johnny found himself joining the poodle at the top of a steep slope leading down to the river at the bottom of the ravine. At this time of year the water was pretty low, but during the rainy season the rocky shores were completely underwater, and the runoff did a real number on the ravine--Johnny could see considerable evidence of erosion, and the trees that remained were hanging on by their roots. Given another couple of million years this would be another Grand Canyon.
Johnny didn't think about the next million years, because when he arrived at the brink in the here and now, the poodle started bouncing around his feet, rushing to look over the edge and then scampering back to jump up on the fireman's legs. She was barking like she meant it, but Johnny hardly heard her. He'd already looked down the slope.
"Chet! Chet, come here quick and bring the first aid kit! And the climbing ropes from the back of the truck!" Johnny yelled. Chet appeared through the brush, empty-handed and so fast it was clear he'd been following Johnny following the dog.
"What?" Chet demanded, and then looked past Johnny down the slope. "Oh, no."
There was a body down there on the riverbank.
"Sir?" Johnny called. No response from the sprawled figure. He edged forward, took hold of a tree trunk for safety's sake, and was aware of Chet grabbing his belt as he leaned out as far as he dared. "Sir, can you hear me?"
To Johnny's considerable relief, the figure below him stirred and a reassuringly strong voice called back, "Am I glad to see you!"
"Are you hurt anywhere?" Johnny asked.
"Right leg. Ankle and knee," the voice came back.
"All right, we'll be down there to help you in a minute. You just hang tight, okay?" Johnny stepped back and turned to Chet. "We need the first aid kit, the ropes, and probably some blankets. You want me to come with you or--" Johnny glanced back down the slope at their victim.
"Why don't you stay here," Chet replied. "No telling how long he's been down there all alone. You stay here and call to me so I don't end up missing you."
"Okay," Johnny agreed. As Chet vanished back through the brush Johnny called down, "Sir? My friend is just going to get some equipment, and then I'm gonna come down there and give you a hand. Just keep still for now, all right?"
"I can manage that," the victim called back.
It took about ten minutes for Chet to return with the first aid kit, the ropes, a sleeping bag, and the gym bag he'd brought his clothes in. The clothes had been replaced by an assortment of handy items, from the waterproof matches to trail mix to Johnny's jacket.
"Good thinking, Chester B," Johnny remarked with approval.
"Yeah, well, someone has to do it," Chet replied. Johnny grinned at him.
"Okay, if you anchor me I can use a rope to get down there. As steep as it is I don't think I better try carrying the gear with me, if I fall there'll be first aid equipment all over the mountain. Once I get down there we can use the lines to bring down the gear. I'll check things out and then you can take the Rover and go find a phone to call for help."
"Sounds good," Chet replied. "Keys in the Rover?"
Johnny checked his pockets. "No, here they are." Chet took the keys. Johnny picked up one rope, wrapped it around his waist a couple of times and tied it off. "Okay, anchor me."
"Right." Chet took the coil, passed it once around a tree trunk for leverage, and nodded.
"Got it?" Johnny asked unnecessarily.
"Sure thing," Chet nodded.
"Great. Sir?" Johnny called, "I'll be down to you in a minute, okay? You just hang on."
"I'm not going anywhere," came the response.
"Sounds like he's all right," Chet remarked.
"I hope so," Johnny agreed, and started down the slope.
The hill had seemed pretty steep from their original vantage point, but after the first few steps Johnny realized it was actually worse than it looked: not only extremely steep, but equally unstable, with loose soil, protruding roots, and a slippery layer of old pine needles underfoot. Johnny watched his feet as he started down, very much aware of the absence of Roy's backup. If he turned an ankle or something...
Johnny hit the end of the rope with a jolt. Without looking up he called, "More slack!"
Chet had been watching his own feet, since the ground was equally precarious where he stood, but at Johnny's call he looked up to see how the paramedic was doing.
Mistake. No sooner had he let his concentration break than he stepped on a loose patch of dirt and pine needles, skidded, hooked his foot in a root, went down in a pile--and lost his grip on the rope.
At that same moment, Johnny leaned his entire weight on the rope to negotiate a really steep spot. When the rope went slack he had no chance at all to catch himself.
Chet raised his head, blowing pine needles off his mustache, just in time to see Johnny tumble backwards down the slope.
If it hadn't been so serious it would have looked really funny: Johnny hit the ground, bounced, and then went tumbling down the hill like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, arms and legs everywhere, the tiny black poodle bounding in his wake. Chet felt no urge whatsoever to laugh. This was partly because he had visions of himself having to deal with two injured victims at the bottom of the slope, and partly because no matter how many times Gage hurt himself, Chet never got used to it. For one thing, you never got over worrying about your shift mates. For another, Chet knew he would be absolutely miserable without Gage.
It wasn't just that the guy was the perfect pigeon for The Phantom, although he certainly was that: Gage went around the station so distracted by the voices in his head that he never noticed even the most obvious setup. But the thing about Gage was, despite having no apparent instinct for self-preservation, he seemed to possess a very accurate sense of whether something was truly worth worrying about. Sure, Gage fussed over every little thing, and would blow his stack and splutter hilariously when he got waterbombed, but he always responded in kind. Not that he succeeded very often, but despite the yelling he clearly took the pranks in the spirit in which they were intended, and as soon as something like a big fire or a complex rescue intervened it was like the slate in his head got wiped clean and he completely forgot he was mad at you. Gage couldn't hold a grudge unless he really had something to hold a grudge about, which was why Chet had finally decided teasing him about being Indian wasn't funny. Gage spluttering and fuming and grappling for words was comical and harmless. Gage detailing ancestral and more personal grievances in complete, articulate sentences just wasn't--Chet had finally realized that had to mean he was serious, and it was no fun to poke at a genuine sore spot. Chet liked to wind Gage up but he certainly didn't want to really hurt him.
Particularly not in light of the fact that his own irresistible urge to prank had made him extremely unpopular in his first couple of stations. Chet saw his shenanigans as a harmless way of releasing tension, but until Gage came along he hadn't run into very many coworkers who shared his view. Chet considered The Phantom and The Pigeon as less a prank war than a long-running theatrical performance for the amusement of the rest of 51s, and he was pretty sure Gage did too. Practically the last thing Chet wanted to do was drive his tacit co-conspirator past endurance.
The very last thing Chet wanted was for Gage to really do something bad to himself.
"Gage! John, are you okay?" he shouted, scrambling to his feet.
Fifty or sixty feet below, Johnny was vaguely aware of Chet's voice, but he was so busy trying to re-inflate his lungs that he didn't even try to pay attention. The world had gone all sort of grey and sparkly on him and his whole being was focused on the vital task of getting some air back into his system. He gasped a couple of times in a way that made him reconsider exactly how much fun fishing really was, and then the shock to his lungs wore off and he sucked in a breath. That was good. That was wonderful.
Immediate crisis dealt with, Johnny stayed where he was, curled up in a painful little ball, and did a mental inventory. Arms and legs: present and accounted for. Head: still attached, by a neck that only hurt a little. Toy poodle: standing on his rib cage, trying to lick his nose. So far, so good.
Without raising his head yet, Johnny looked around. Nothing looked wobbly, and all the trees he could see appeared solid. As far as he could tell he didn't have double vision. He stretched experimentally--no sudden jabs of pain. He sat up: no serious dizziness, at least no more than you would expect after tumbling head-over-heels like a Slinky on a long flight of stairs. Apparently he'd gotten away with this one.
"Johnny!" Chet shouted again. He must be really worried, Johnny realized--part of the sworn-enemies routine the two indulged in involved Chet never, never using Johnny's given name, let alone his nickname, unless something really frightened him. When any of his other shift mates called him "Gage," Johnny knew he was in trouble--Roy addressing him by his last name these days would indicate the world, or at least the world as Johnny understood it, was coming to an end--but Chet calling him "Johnny" meant the mustachioed prankster was scared stiff up there.
Under other circumstances Johnny might have tormented Chet a little longer, but he had more serious matters to attend to. Johnny coughed experimentally and then bawled up the hill,
"Dang it, Chet! When I said 'give me some slack,' I didn't mean all the slack!"
There was a pause, and then Chet hollered back, "Well then, next time be more specific, Gage!"
Grinning to himself, Johnny got to his feet, hanging onto a reasonably steady tree for support.
"Let me know when you're ready up there," he called. "And this time, hang on!"
Chet did, and Johnny managed to traverse the rest of the slope without incident. When he arrived on the riverbank, the victim greeted him with,
"I know I shouldn't laugh, but you looked just like Charlie Brown, when he gets knocked off the pitcher's mound!"
Ordinarily, Johnny wasn't crazy about being an object of fun for total strangers. However, he made an exception for accident victims, particularly elderly ones who had fallen down a mountain and landed with their sense of humour intact. This one, a black man who appeared to be in his late sixties, looked reassuringly alert despite his awkwardly bent right leg.
"Yes, sir," Johnny agreed with a smile as he walked over. "And here's Snoopy," he added, as the poodle hustled over to hop up and lick the older man's face. "Is this your dog?"
"She is that. My wife's, really. Nice little mutt in spite of the silly haircut."
"Smart little mutt," Johnny agreed as he crouched next to the victim. "My name is Johnny, my friend up there is Chet. Here's what we'll do: I'm going to check you out, see if you're hurt anywhere besides that leg, and then I'll stay with you and Chet is going to drive back down to the highway and call for help. Sound okay?"The victim nodded and Johnny went ahead with his examination, gently palpating the injured knee and ankle, wincing along with the victim as he assessed the damage. "Looks like that ankle is broken, sir. I'm not sure about the knee, it might just be sprained."
"Hurts like the devil," the victim remarked tensely. The poodle licked his ear.
"I know. I'm sorry there's not more I can do right now. I'm just going to check your pulse now, if that's okay." The older man nodded and remained cooperatively quiet while Johnny counted his pulse rate. "Okay if I check your respiration rate, too?" The older man nodded and Johnny proceeded with his examination. Pulse and respiration were both on the high side of normal, probably because of the pain. Johnny wished he could check the man's BP. "Can you just hang on a minute and we'll see about getting a first aid kit down here?"
"Like I said before, I don't have any other plans."
Johnny smiled encouragingly at the patient and straightened. As he did he heard Chet's voice calling from above, but a ways downriver.
"Hey, Gage? I think I might have found a better way to get the first aid kit down to you. Can you come over here and tell me what you think?"
Johnny and the poodle followed the sound of Chet's voice down the river about a hundred feet, and found himself at the bottom of a sheer granite cliff. From the point of view of lowering equipment, Chet was absolutely right: it would be easier, and probably safer for Chet, to deal with sheer granite as opposed to trying to set up a rope slide on the slope. Johnny waited while Chet retrieved the second rope, and a few minutes later the lineman lowered the first aid kit to him. Chet had wrapped the rope around so many times before tying it off that Johnny thought he was going to have to cut the rope, but after a minute of wrestling with the knot he got it free. Chet pulled the rope back up and sent down the rest of the gear he'd brought from the Rover. Johnny carried everything back to the victim, the poodle following along like she was offering to help.
"Okay, John," Chet called down. "You need anything else before I get going?" Chet didn't sound at all eager to leave.
"Hang on a minute and I'll check." Johnny searched his pockets and found his knife had stayed with him on his trip down the hill, figured he could make splints if he had to, and concluded between that and the first aid kit he was about as well prepared as possible. "I think we're okay down here, Chet. He seems to be stable, vitals are normal as far as I can tell, so--"
Unexpectedly, the victim spoke up. "Tell him to call the fire department. We need an engine crew and a couple of paramedics."
Johnny smiled. "Good thinking, sir," he commented, not bothering to mention his natural assumption that Chet would call dispatch without needing to be told.
The older man nodded. "My son was a paramedic with the LA County Fire Department," he explained.
"'Was'?" Johnny asked cautiously, mentally running through the black paramedics he knew and hoping nothing bad had happened to one of them. He couldn't imagine not hearing about anything like that--
"Yes. He isn't anymore, he was promoted to captain a little while ago," explained the victim, and Johnny's mouth dropped open in surprised delight.
"You're Stoney's dad?" Johnny demanded, the smile that broke on his face only partly for the benefit of the patient. The older man nodded, looking surprised himself. "I trained with him," Johnny explained. "We were in the first class trained out of Rampart. I'm Johnny Gage, I'm a paramedic too, with 51s. Chet up there's a lineman on our engine. Hey, Chet!" he called up the hill, "You know Cap' Stone over at 8s?"
Chet hesitated for a second before replying exactly as Johnny knew he would--you could count on Chet to say the right thing in a rescue just as surely as you could count on him to say the wrong thing at any other time: "Captain Stone? Yeah, good man. What about him?"
"This gentleman here is his dad," Johnny explained.
"Yeah? Well, we better take good care of him, then. Okay, Gage, I'll go call the cavalry."
Johnny wasn't sure Chet had said that on purpose, but just in case--and because he'd noticed their banter seemed to make Mr. Stone feel better--he called back,
"Oh great, Chet, that's just what I need."
It took Chet a second, but he got it. "Oh, I'm sorry John, did I say the cavalry? I meant, uh... Crazy Horse. And, uh, whatever you call a troop of Sioux warriors. I'll call them. And the North-West Mounted Police. You guys used to get along okay with the North-West Mounted Police, right?"
"Have you been reading those history books with the big print and lots of pictures again?" Johnny singsonged, and Chet waved at him in mock-disgust as he turned away.
And then turned right back. "Okay, Gage, I'll stay at the highway and lead them back here, but..."
"But what, Chet?"
"Well, in case I miss the spot on the road where we have to come through the woods, we need a signal to guide me back."
"What did you have in mind?" Johnny asked suspiciously.
"Well, you've got the matches. Do you know how to send up a smoke signal?"
Johnny opened his mouth for the automatic response of, "Oh, shut up, Chet," and then he closed it. Actually, that wasn't such a bad idea. "Yeah, okay."
Chet leaned perilously over the slope and gave Johnny a look of astonishment. "'Yeah, okay'?" he repeated, in obvious quotation marks. "You mean you really know--"
"No, of course not Chet, don't be silly. I'll just start a fire and throw some green branches and stuff on it, make it smoky. It's not windy so the smoke should rise all right. You should be able to see that above the trees."
"Oh. Okay then. See you soon." Chet vanished, leaving Johnny alone with their patient.
"Okay, Mr. Stone, let's see if I can maybe immobilize that leg before I start thinking about a signal fire," Johnny suggested. The older man was definitely beginning to look a little rough, and Johnny figured it might be a good idea to keep him talking. "How long have you been down here?"
"Oh, son, I don't know." Still alert, definitely tired, maybe a little worse than that. His colour was pretty good, and Johnny hadn't found any evidence of internal injuries, although the paramedic certainly planned to keep an eye on the situation. Mostly, though, Johnny suspected the older man was feeling the effects of being shaken up by the fall and then lying out here wondering whether anyone would ever find him. If it hadn't been for his and Chet's fishing trip, and that poodle...
"Did you lose consciousness at all?"
"I don't think so."
"Do you remember where the sun was?" Johnny persisted gently as he started trimming the first sapling to make a splint. He was partly making conversation and partly gathering information that might be useful to the on-duty paramedics when they arrived. It was the same reason he'd collected pulse and respiration information earlier, on the assumption that whoever got called out would want to know if anything had changed over time.
"When I fell? Over there--" Mr. Stone gestured, indicating the sun had been just over the trees on the other side of the river. Johnny figured that meant he'd been down here for at least two and a half hours, probably closer to three. Probably felt like a whole lot longer to him. Mr. Stone rubbed the poodle's ears reflectively and then went on, "I feel like such an idiot. I should have known that slope was unstable. I was trying to take a picture--" he indicated the smashed camera near him--"of an osprey nest across the river over there. Thought if I got a little further down there wouldn't be as many trees in the way. Completely forgot to watch where I was going."
"Huh. Well, that could happen to anybody," Johnny said reassuringly, glad for the moment that Chet wasn't around to add his two cents about who exactly was most likely to experience such a mishap.
"Well, I'm darned glad you and your friend found me. My wife's in Arizona for a few days visiting her sister. I thought it'd be days before anyone even noticed I was gone. I had no idea how I was going to get out of here."
"Well, we did find you, thanks to that smart little dog," Johnny soothed. "You're going to be fine. Now, I'm going to have to straighten out your leg to apply this splint. It's gonna hurt. I'm really sorry about that."
"Not your fault," Mr. Stone replied. He clenched his teeth and sort of hissed as Johnny manipulated his leg, which made the poodle look at Johnny like she was astonished at and disappointed in him. He would have preferred it if the little mutt had growled at him. Once he got the leg immobilized, Johnny unzipped the sleeping bag and wrapped it around his patient (and his little dog, too.) Mr. Stone protested a little about giving so much trouble, but Johnny waved it off. When he re-checked the older man's pulse and respiration Johnny was relieved to find them both well within normal limits.
Actually, the person with the elevated pulse right now was Johnny himself. He'd been fine during the original crisis, but now that all they had to do was wait, he could feel himself getting antsy. Which was fine at the station, where the only people he was annoying were other firemen--they'd signed on for hazardous duty--but he didn't want to upset Stoney's dad.
Who, being a fireman's father, had a pretty good idea how his rescuer was feeling.
"Waiting is always the hardest part," he remarked. When Johnny glanced his way he added, "I remember the night Ben was born. I must've worn a hole in the floor of that hospital waiting room, pacing. It's always easier to be doing something."
Johnny smiled. "You're not kidding. I was just sitting here trying to remember which station is likely to get called out for this. Probably 16s or 45s--I'm actually hoping for 45s, my partner is pulling an overtime shift there, which is why he's not here…" Johnny felt himself splutter to a stop and checked his watch. Chet had been gone for less than twenty minutes. "I better start that fire," he mumbled, although he figured it would take another hour at least for anyone to reach them.
"You said you work out of station 51? I know some of my son's colleagues--who's your captain?"
"I think I've met him. Real tall fellow, soft-spoken, kind of puts you in mind of Abraham Lincoln?"
Johnny had a sudden vision of Cap, with a chin beard, wearing a top hat instead of a fireman's helmet, and nearly choked trying not to laugh. He just hoped the next time he saw his captain he wouldn't burst into helpless giggles. Mind you, it wasn't like there was anything wrong with telling someone he reminded you of Abraham Lincoln. In fact, now that Johnny thought about it, there really was no downside whatsoever to being compared to Abraham Lincoln, as long as the person who did it didn't immediately offer you theatre tickets…
"Yep," Johnny managed. "That's the guy."
"Ben thinks a lot of him." Mr. Stone remarked.
"We do too," Johnny agreed, sobering as he thought about how grateful he'd be to hear Cap's voice right now. Or Roy's. Or really, any other fireman's. He remembered back on the ranch, when he was a kid, how upset horses could get if they were isolated from the rest of the herd. And dogs got weird when they were lonely. Apparently firemen were also a social species: on a rescue like this you'd normally have the squad and the engine called out together, which meant half a dozen guys to offer ideas and assistance and make sure the victim and the rescuers all got out of the situation safely. Sure, the squad often went on solo runs, but even at that there were two paramedics, plus a cop, generally, and then the ambulance attendants and of course Rampart on the Biophone. But on any kind of a complex rescue you needed the engine crew, too. Johnny was not digging this all-by-himself stuff.
So far there was really nothing to worry about, which Johnny admitted to himself was why he was worried. When he had something to worry about, he worried less--or at least, if something was happening that needed to be dealt with, he had a lot less time for unproductive "what if what if" thoughts. It was just… things could go south in an awful hurry if they started to, and a guy alone with no equipment and no backup might end up helpless to do anything. And the fact this was Stoney's dad made the stakes higher.
Or… well, no, maybe it didn't, at that. Johnny had to admit to himself that he probably wasn't any more worried than usual on that account. It was just... he hated to lose a patient any time, but what killed him were the ones where you were talking to the person before things went bad. Johnny knew it wasn't just him--that time the whole crew had worked together on a heart attack victim, when old Captain Robertson was covering for Cap Stanley's vacation, and the guy went into full arrest and they couldn't get him back… The guy hadn't seemed that bad when they arrived, but he'd gotten steadily worse, to the point where by the time the ambulance got there he was really too unstable to transport, and then they had to anyway because he was crashing so hard, and despite doing CPR all the way to the hospital they'd still lost him.
Old Robertson had acted like it was his and Roy's fault the patient had died. Logic indicated that was ridiculous: if they'd fired the poor man into the ambulance and gone charging off to Rampart he probably would have gone into full arrest before they got out of the driveway. Roy had lost some sleep over the captain's accusation, but Johnny hadn't. Johnny was just as quick as Roy was to blame himself when things didn't go right, but he was much less inclined than his partner to let someone else put the blame on him, at least not if it was someone he didn't respect or trust. Robertson had made a bad enough impression on Johnny that shift the paramedic didn't care what the old man thought of him. Not then, anyway, although they kind of came to an understanding later. Now, if Cap Stanley, or one of the docs at Rampart, or Roy had thought Johnny screwed up, that would have… that would have been really, really bad, but Johnny had to have some faith in a person before he let them wreck his faith in himself.
His faith in himself was another matter entirely.
Anyway, what bothered Johnny about that run was just the fact the guy had died, period. He and his wife had seemed like really nice people, both of them trying to be brave for each other even though they were obviously scared. Johnny wasn't sure the patient had been conscious enough, when he crashed, to know what was happening to him, but the paramedic had lost some sleep remembering how distraught the wife had been.
And the other thing that had kept him up was remembering the looks on Chet and Marco's faces, not like they blamed him or Roy, more that they couldn't believe they'd lost the guy. He was right there. They were talking to him. He couldn't just die like that. Rule number one or not, you never got over being upset about losing a patient after you'd interacted with them personally.
Which come to think of it was probably why Robertson had taken it so badly himself. Maybe instead of getting angry and defensive like he had, Johnny should have gotten the old captain to talk about how it felt to try your hardest to help someone and then lose them anyway...
Now, how had he gotten to thinking about that?
Johnny glanced up from the fire he'd finally gotten going and assessed Mr. Stone's appearance again. Still looked tired but alert, no sign of any distress, thank goodness. There was no reason to fear anything going wrong. Help would be along any time now. Johnny dropped a few more evergreen branches on the fire and admired the column of smoke that rose into the sky.
And then, in the distance, he heard sirens.
At first he wasn't sure, but the poodle perked up too, and the sirens gradually got louder, interspersed with what Johnny thought was the most beautiful sound in the world, the one that meant "help is on the way": the honking bray of a fire engine's air horn. Coming up that little dirt road there wouldn't be any traffic, so there was no reason to use the horn. For a second Johnny was puzzled about that, and then he got it: the air horn wasn't for traffic. It was for him. The engineer, or maybe the captain, was making sure Johnny knew they were nearly there, not just cops or an ambulance but the fire department, and in a minute he wouldn't be all alone with the patient.
There were a lot of things Johnny loved about being a fireman. A lot of the time, number one on the list was other firemen.
Which was definitely something he was never going to say out loud to anybody.
When he looked over at Mr. Stone he saw the older man was listening to the sirens too.
"Sounds pretty good--even if it's not the cavalry."
"Cavalry wore blue," Johnny pointed out. "I like red better."
"Can't argue with you."
There wasn't much to do except wait for the rescue crew to arrive. At least, Mr. Stone waited. Johnny found himself on his feet and he and the poodle paced. After a few minutes that felt longer than they probably were, the poodle started barking and went up the slope like a fluffy little rocket. Johnny envied her energy. A moment later a familiar and very welcome voice called,
"How you doing down there, Junior?"
Johnny burst into a giant grin of relief. "Hey, Roy. We're doing good." Over his shoulder he explained to Mr. Stone, "It's 45s. That's my partner, Roy DeSoto. We'll have you out of here in a minute, after the captain gets here and has a look at things--" It had just crossed Johnny's mind to think, "Man, I hope Stoney's not pulling overtime with 45s or anything..." when the on-duty captain walked out from behind Roy, carrying the poodle under his arm.
Johnny hadn't realized Captain Stanley was covering for someone at 45s, too.
"Hey, Cap!" he called happily. The shift captains at 45s were all perfectly good guys, but it had been a long tense wait and Johnny was extremely grateful to hand things off to his own captain.
"Hey, John. What've you got?"
"Victim of a fall. Broken ankle and a pretty badly sprained knee. He's in considerable pain from those but doesn't seem to have any other injuries. He's alert and oriented."
"And very glad to see you!" Mr. Stone contributed.
"Well, hello George," Cap responded, not quite in his talking-to-civilians-at-a-scene voice, which implied the person he was addressing was a reasonably bright five-year-old. Johnny could see where most people would find that tone reassuring in a crisis but he'd always wondered a little why nobody ever seemed to take offense. Now he wondered whether he was the only person who had never seen the resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. At the moment, Cap was speaking as if Mr. Stone was a sensible grownup who understood what was going on--in other words, Cap was talking to him like he was a fireman, too. The extension of professional courtesy made Johnny smile to himself.
"Johnny here taking good care of you?" Cap asked, handing the poodle to Chet and edging forward.
"Watch yourself, Cap!" Johnny called involuntarily as the eroded dirt started to slide. Cap took an unhurried step backward to solid ground.
"Thanks, John. How on earth did you get down there, pal?"
"Mostly bouncing," Johnny admitted. "Chet found a place where we could lower the first aid gear. It might be safest if Roy just rappels from there. Oh, and I don't think there's any point in sending the Biophone down, I can't imagine we'd get any reception with these cliffs. We should probably just set up a relay with the handie-talkie."
"Good idea, pal," Cap agreed. Two "pals" in consecutive sentences was pretty high praise from Cap. "Chet, you show us where we can lower the gear. Johnny, handle the guide line, okay? Roy, you and Paul send the gear down in the Stokes and then rappel down. I'll handle the Biophone from up here."
"Right, Cap," Roy said, and he and the paramedic from 45s got started.
It took about half an hour to get Mr. Stone all packaged up for transport and then haul him topside. Roy and the other on-duty paramedic went up next and Johnny followed. By the time he got to the top of the cliff, the shot of painkiller Rampart had authorized was definitely kicking in and Mr. Stone looked pretty cheerful as he waited for the firemen to carry him out to the ambulance. Cap came over to check on him, the two men exchanged a few words--slightly loopy ones, in the case of Mr. Stone--and then the captain turned back to the crew. Mr. Stone caught Johnny's eye and mumbled,
"Fourscore and seven years ago--"
"Everything okay, John?" Cap asked Johnny, his attention drawn by the muffled explosion of Johnny trying to stifle a giggle.
"Just fine, Cap," Johnny replied, trying to keep a straight face. Chet glanced at him and Johnny mouthed, "Tell you later."
"Good," Cap said. "Can you and Chet look after George's dog for now?"
"Happy to, Cap," Chet responded, shoving the poodle into Johnny's arms. She promptly tried to climb up the paramedic's chest and lick his chin.
"I'll call Stoney and let him know you're okay," Johnny told his patient, who honestly didn't look very worried about it.
"Tell him he has nice friends," the older man said sleepily. "And thank you."
"Glad to help," Johnny replied.
"So, Gage, how was your second day off?" Chet asked as Johnny walked into the locker room two days after the rescue.
"Not bad," Johnny replied. After the excitement he and Chet had agreed they didn't much want to go fishing after all, so they'd just gone home. "I was pretty stiff when I woke up but a hot shower fixed me up. I spent the rest of the day hanging around the house watching TV with Mitzi."
"'Mitzi'?" Marco asked, in quotation marks, and Mike looked interested. "Who's she?"
"Captain Stone's dad's poodle," Johnny explained.
Chet smirked. "Probably the best date Gage has had in years."
"Oh, shut up Chet," Johnny muttered, then explained, "Well, Stoney was on duty and then he wanted to visit his father. They kept him at Rampart overnight for observation. And of course Mrs. Stone went right to the hospital when she got in from Arizona, and I was pretty sure Mitzi wouldn't want to be alone all day so I said I'd keep her."
"Your landlady didn't mind?" Roy asked.
"Mind a hero visiting me for a few hours? Of course not. Anyway, Mitzi was pretty quiet and I put her under my coat when I took her outside."
"So your landlady didn't mind because she didn't find out," Roy diagnosed.
"I've been meaning to mention something, Gage," Chet spoke up again. Johnny turned back to the shorter fireman and Chet said seriously, "I really think you owe my mother an apology."
"My mother. That smoke signal you sent up? I really don't appreciate what it said about my mother."
Johnny raised his eyebrows, for once finding words when he needed them. "Chet, Chet, you read it all wrong. That smoke signal said, 'Mrs. Kelly is a really nice lady, and it's too bad her son is such a goofball. And a terrible cook. And--'"
"A terrible cook? At least I try something new once in a while--"
"Which is only good if you don't mess it up--"
Roy, Mike, and Marco eased to their feet and sneaked out of the locker room. Neither Johnny nor Chet noticed. As they joined Cap out by the engine, Marco sighed.
"You'd think an experience like that would bring them together," the sentimental lineman remarked. Mike nodded silently. Roy winced.
"Marco. Think about it a minute. Do we really want those two on the same side?" Marco and Mike gave him identical looks of horror, and Cap added one of amusement as he raised his voice in the direction of the locker room:
"Roll call in five, gentlemen."
"Okay, Cap," Chet called back. "We'll be out before you can recite the Gettysburg Address!" There was a muffled giggle from Johnny.
"Do I want to know what that means?" Cap asked Roy.
"I have no idea, but probably not."
"That's what I thought," Cap sighed. "Twits."
"Maybe you could trade them for trained poodles," Mike murmured.
"Don't tempt me."