What a Pain! - Chapter Thirty-Five

Johnny hung his head and then thumped his way slowly to the bathroom. He snatched a paper cup from the dispenser by the sink and filled it with cold water. Then, realizing that unless he wanted to soak himself and/or the carpeting, carrying a cup of water while using crutches was going to be impossible. Sir Pain paced outside the bathroom door, meowing his displeasure with Johnny's inability to hurry.

Inspiration struck, and Johnny took an empty cup with him and returned to the spare bedroom. He snatched up one of the ice bags and carried it and the cup to Mike's room. Quietly, he opened Stoker's door and eased himself over to the side of the bed. Sir Pain leaped up to the bed and stood at the foot of it, keeping his eyes steeled on his favorite human.

The white metal blinds and heavy, navy blue drapes had been drawn closed and not an ounce of moonlight shone through. Johnny put the ice bag and cup on the side table and flicked the switch on the bedside lamp. Gently, he placed a warm hand on Mike's shoulder, careful not to startle him too much. Mike's expression was a twisted mix of terror and grief as he thrashed his arms and legs, fists gripping the blankets so tightly his hands shook.

"No...I...w-won't let..." he moaned, then cried out, "G-go a-way! No! H-help mmme!"

"Stoker? Hey, it's Gage. Take it easy, man; you're okay."

Mike continued his agonized rambling. "H-help me...p-please...help mmme..."

Johnny looked around the room as if he'd find reinforcements. The only bad dreams he'd ever dealt with before were the garden variety monster-in-my-room ones that Jenny or Chris would occasionally have when he babysat. Traumatic dreams were nothing he'd ever had to manage before and certainly not with an adult...or a friend.

"Mike? You're okay, man. Can you wake up for me?" He gently shook Mike's shoulder a little more and placed his other hand to steady Stoker's flailing arm.

Gasping, Mike finally opened his eyes and blinked owlishly at Gage. His face was pale and glistened with a cold sweat.

"G...age?" he panted, "Wha? I...uh..."

"It's okay, just slow down your breathing for me here, can ya'? Here...nice and slow...take it easy..."

Deftly, Johnny snatched Mike's wrist and checked a pulse, then gently placed a hand on Mike's stomach and counted breaths. "Good...slow it down..."

Mike obediently took deeper breaths, and attempted to regain some sense of awareness. His brows furrowed in confusion.

"J-John?"

"Shh, you're okay; I'm just checkin'." John let go of Mike's wrist and leaned back as far as he could. He sucked in a quick breath himself when his back protested the movement. "Pretty nasty dream, eh?" he asked, keeping his voice calm. "Have these often?"

Mike looked away, "On-ly when I s-sleep."

Johnny frowned. "You ever tell anyone about them?"

"N-no," Mike mumbled. "I w-was ho-ping they'd j-just...go away."

Johnny turned himself as gently as he could and unscrewed the cap on the ice bag. The ice had melted just enough and he poured out the cold water into the paper cup.

"Here," he offered, "take a couple swigs."

Mike sat up and took the cup in his still shaking hands. He felt like he'd been run through the wringer and held his head in one hand as he sipped. He turned to look at the bedside clock.

"Huh, t-two o'clock. Mmmade it a lit-tle longer this t-time, " he said, disgustedly.

"Yeah...well, look. Since we're up, how about we go in the living room and talk about this?" Gage suggested.

Mike sighed. "Nnno go-ing back to s-sleep for mmme anyway, so why n-not."

E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!

The next morning found Mike asleep on the sofa and John snoozing in the recliner. They had spent the rest of the night talking about everything that had happened before, during and after the break-in. Or rather, the normally reserved Mike Stoker, had done more talking in the four hours they spent in the living room than in the entire past four days.

Wisely, Johnny had offered no advice; he simply sat and listened. Mike alternately sat, stood and paced as he confessed how he was feeling useless as a firefighter, was nervous and jumpy, and that his patience with recovery had long since run out. He looked down at the floor and quietly admitted that having someone do those horrible things to him and his friends made him angry as hell.

"Yep," said Johnny, nodding.

"Yep?" Mike asked, "j-just 'yep'"?

"Well," Gage told him, "what do you want me to say? Everything you've said sounds perfectly normal to me. Once your mortality smacks you in the face like that, your whole world gets shook up." He paused and smiled grimly, "Unfortunately...I know what you're talking about. But..it'll get better in time as long as you don't bottle it up. And uh, ya' know...we're all gonna be here for you."

Stoker raised an eyebrow and studied Gage's face, realizing what little Johnny had said did make sense.

"Huh," Mike said, slightly bewildered, "Th-thanks."

"No problem."

E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!

Saturday morning came and Roy had just returned from bringing both Mike and John to their appointments at Rampart. The guys sat on Mike's patio, sipping some iced tea before Roy went home. The subject of that night's party came up and Gage went off.

"Roy, I don't trust Kelley as far as I could throw him!" Johnny stated. "He's got somethin' up his sleeve, I just know it. He knows how that last party of his went and he's been bending over backwards to get this one right. It's unnatural...even for Chet."

"I-I'm starting to g-get a little nnnervous about this, you guys," Mike added. "I mmmight say some-thing to him...t-tell him mmmy blood p-pressure can't take any s-surprises."

"I dunno, he's really put a lot of effort into this," Roy told them. "Ya' know, he's even had his mom in to clean the place."

"Mother Kelley? Gawd, that place will be cleaner than a hotel at a maid's convention!" Johnny slapped a hand on his forehead then rubbed his face as the hand traveled down to his chin. He pointed an angry finger at Roy and Mike. "There's definitely something up. Chet gets bonkers when he thinks his mom is overdue for an inspection; there's no way he'd invite her in unless he had an ulterior motive!"

"Well, I guess we're just going to have to wait until tonight and find out," Roy surmised. "I'll be back to pick you guys up a little before six."

E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!

Later that afternoon, Chet was at the table, going over his plans, each item highlighted with a scribbled bullet-point dot. Exactly forty-five minutes before the guys got there, he'd go get the food from Hulatino's. He'd get all the snacks out on the bar and haul in the cooler from the garage to fill with the ice cubes he'd spent the last week making. He'd show them the new TV and turn on the game. All that would be left after that was to wait for the extra "party guests" from Ronnie to show.

"Come to think of it", Chet said aloud to the empty house, "Ronnie never told me who he was sending; just that it was three of his finest. Maybe I'd better call him again."

Ronnie Samuelson had his hand in the "entertainment business" for many years, but he wasn't exactly a fine upstanding citizen. Station 51 had responded to a small kitchen fire at Ronnie's club two years ago and Chet had become acquainted with Samuelson then. Kelley was assisting Ronnie with some O2, and grumbled that the paramedics got all the good stuff when Johnny and Roy were kept busy helping the beautiful "female escorts" who worked there.

Chet called three times, but when there was still no answer at Babes in Boyland. Tiny, niggling doubts began worming their way into Chet's brain and it was beginning to annoy him.

"Knock it off, Kelley, everything's fine," he growled to himself as he hung up. "I'll just try him again later."

He forced the stray thoughts from his head, grabbed his keys and went to fetch the food.

E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!E!

A few minutes before six, Roy arrived with John and Mike. Roy stood behind Johnny as he and his crutches tackled the front steps.

"Roy, this isn't *oof* right...*ugh*...Chet's doing too...*oof*...much," Johnny puffed and panted as he made his way up the four concrete steps.

Roy rolled his eyes, having heard this particular diatribe for the entire trip over. "Look, Junior, we're here now, so let's just go in and enjoy the game. I'll try to keep Chet from getting too out of hand."

"Y-Yeah, not possible, but thanks," Johnny grumbled. "Whoa!" he whooped and nearly fell backwards, but was caught and anchored by DeSoto's shoulder. He glanced back at his partner, "Sorry, pally."

"No sweat. You okay?"

"Yeah, let's get this over with."

Chet greeted his guests heartily- a little TOO heartily for Gage when Chet slapped him on the back, to which Johnny responded with a loud groan and a snarled "Che-et!"

Mike and Roy headed for the bar and the food. Roy loaded his plate with the mysterious Hulatino's food and piled another plate high for his partner, who was lowering himself into the nearest chair. With a mighty "whoof" of a sigh, Johnny decided he was comfortable there and wasn't going to move again, come hell or high water.

Chet busied himself setting up TV trays and grabbing drinks for everyone. The next doorbell ring brought Marco, and every few minutes, Chet's eyes would dart up to the fire-plug shaped clock on the wall. Johnny noticed, but kept his suspicions to himself.

The crew was duly impressed with Chet's new television and they all admitted that, odd or not, the food from Hulatino's was pretty good. Roy kept himself to one beer and Chet indulged in the first of only two. Mike and Johnny were forbidden until they were completely healed but Lopez had no such limitations on alcohol. Gage pouted and licked his lips as Marco happily poured out a frosty Stroh's into a tall glass and drank it with abandon.

"What a week! I'm going to really enjoy this!" Marco enthused.

The game had barely begun when the phone rang. It was Cap calling to say he wasn't able to make the party. His wife's best friend made a surprise visit from Arizona and was insisting she take them out to dinner. Chet grimaced. Things were starting to waver from the plan. First no answer from Ronnie and now Cap wasn't coming...Kelley was starting to second-guess things.

Like they had planned, Mike moved his chair closer to Johnny's and when Chet was nearby, he'd whisper to Gage and they'd giggle. Now and again, Gage would pat Mike's hand and smile sweetly. Marco went back to the bar and fetched a soda for Johnny and another beer for himself. Chet was beginning to sweat. Gage and Stoker weren't backing off the way he thought they would. Roy and Marco weren't acting as if anything was abnormal...maybe the party guests weren't such a good idea.

Lost in thought, Chet was startled when the doorbell rang. Too late.

"You expectin' someone else, Chet?" Johnny inquired.

"Oh, uh, yeah. I have some new neighbors and I thought maybe they'd wanna come over for the game. You guys don't mind, do you?"

Chet peeked through the filmy side curtains of the door and yelped when he saw the party guests Ronnie had sent. Three of them stood at the door; one was tapping an impatient foot, another was looking at the imitation-grass doormat and the third appeared to be appraising Chet's house with a critical eye. The doorbell rang again.

"Kelley, aren't you going to let your neighbors in?" Marco asked, taking a gulp from the beer in his glass.

"S-Sure, uh...just a sec..." Chet squeezed himself out of the barely opened door and stood there, facing the three guests.

"Hey baby, love the 'stache! You're cute!" the first one told him in a deeper voice than Chet expected.

"You Chet Kelley?" the second one asked. "Let us in, baby, we don't have all night!"

"Yeah," the third one said, "we can only stay an hour or so. Ronnie's got us back on stage at nine."

"S-stage?" Chet squeaked. He wasn't expecting the guests to be quite like...this and looked around, hoping none of his real neighbors would see.

"Baby, don't you know who you have standing on your front porch?" the first one asked. "We are the LaBella Trio. Let us in and we'll introduce ourselves properly."

They moved Chet aside and sashayed inside the house. The crew looked up intending to greet the neighbors. When he saw them, Marco spewed his mouthful of beer into his lap. Roy stopped eating mid-nacho and sat there, mouth agape. Mike, who had been on his way back from the bathroom, stood in the doorway, bug-eyed and silent.

The first guest spoke, "Which one of you hot little numbers is Johnny Gage?"

"Uh...I...wha..." Johnny sputtered out.

"I'm looking for Mikey Stoker," the second one added, waving one end of a long feather boa in Stoker's direction.

Stoker turned abruptly and headed back toward the bathroom.

"Not so fast, hot stuff," she said, taking Mike's arm in hers, "we got a date for a little while."

The third one made a beeline for Lopez.

"Ooh, I bet you're Marco; you are one hot tamale!" Marco was swiftly lassoed with a long strand of pearls and pulled closer.

The guests were all dressed in sequined formal-wear including high heels and long, manicured nails. Their perfectly coiffed hairdos were all piled up on the tops of their heads and they were rather aggressive...and suspiciously masculine.

The one with her arms wrapped around Johnny's shoulders leaned in and caressed his cheek.

"Oh, I really have a thing for firemen, Johnny Gage. My name is Lucy Morals; have you ever caught my act?"

"Uhh...act? Um, n-no..." spluttered the flustered firefighter.

The second one snuggled up to a still-standing Stoker. "Baby, I'm a dream come true for you. My name is Amanda Playwith. You're gonna wanna get to know me better", she purred.

The third one sat in Marco's lap, pressed her cheek to his and told him her name was Anita Margarita. Lopez, stunned speechless, noticed a hint of five o'clock shadow on his leech, er, lady. Anita looked up, her eyes landing on a very red-faced Chet.

"Baby, you have a tape player? Here's our tunes." She got up and walked over to the stereo system near the bar and popped in an 8-track tape. "C'mon girls, let's show them what we've got!"

Lucy, Amanda and Anita stood shoulder to shoulder facing the north wall of Chet's living room. Music started to play and they turned around and began swaying and gyrating to "R-E-S-P-E-C-T".

Johnny sunk back into his chair, clawing at the armrests as if he could climb away from the spectacle before him. Marco gulped the rest of his beer and hurriedly poured another. Mike could feel the heat rising in his face; he looked around for Chet who appeared to be moving, inch by inch for the door. Just as Chet got within three feet of his escape, Roy, with arms folded across his chest, moved in between him and the exit.

The guests strutted around the small living room and sang to each of the guys in turn. Then, at the high point of the song and without warning, Anita, Amanda and Lucy tore their dresses off and kept dancing, now clad only in neon colored Speedos and bikini tops with their high heels and hairy chests!

It was more than Johnny could take.

"Sto-op! Stop, stop, stop, stop, STOP!" he yelled.

Lucy Morals, in silver heels, stomped over to the stereo and yanked the 8-track out.

"Baby, WHAT is your problem?" she/he demanded. "Ronnie said you asked us to be here. If that's not the case, then we're gonna split. We have a show later on anyway."

Amanda stood before Mike. "Yeah, hot stuff, what gives?"

Johnny sucked in a breath between his gritted teeth, "Chet, do you know what they're talking about?"

Kelley turned around and faced his coworkers. "Uh, i-it, it wasn't...I mean, they weren't...they just..."

Hurriedly, he grabbed the dancers' gowns from the floor, and gave them back. "I, uh, how about you go on back to the theater. I'll, uh, I'll call Ronnie later, okay? Thanks, girls, um, guys, uh, I mean...aw, you'd better just go."

"Well!" Amanda Playwith huffed, "this is the last private gig I take. Ronnie can go suck a lemon!"

The three entertainers snatched their gowns from Chet and left, leaving a trail of glitter, feathers and sequins behind on the rug.

All that remained were four angry men...and Chet.