Title: Answering the Call
Disclaimer: I do not own these characters. Emergency! is owned by Universal and Mark VII Productions. I make no profit from my imagination—only a personal joy and peace.
Summary: The call is answered…today and every day. (bad summary—sorry!) This is dedicated in memory of the 343 first responders who gave their lives—answering the call—on September 11, 2001. This is the 11th anniversary of that terrible tragedy. (REPOSTED WHEN I FOUND SO MANY GRAMMATICAL ERRORS!)
A/N: I rushed to post this story on the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks. It is meant to honor those who died that day, and those who remain...still answering the call. As I re-read after posting, I noticed my many errors. I have corrected them and reposted. Thanks to those who read and reviewed and were gracious enough to either ignore the errors or did not notice them-choosing to see only the heart behind the story! Also, all times are Pacific Time Zone-Los Angeles time. -erw
He paced the floor, coffee in hand. He'd been up for hours. It was always hard to sleep on this night…this day. His mind drifted back to that fateful day. "Has it been eleven years?" He muttered to himself. His wife, JoAnne was in the kitchen cleaning up the breakfast dishes, of which he ate none. He looked at his watch and then the phone for about the one hundredth time that morning. He willed the phone to ring.
"It's your turn, Junior." He sighed as he sipped his coffee. He didn't know when it happened. About five or six years ago he realized that they had alternated each year of who made the first call that day. And, this year, September 11, 2012, it was Johnny's turn.
When the phone rang, Johnny was angry. He wanted to spend his day off relaxing and resting. Two of his linemen had been injured a few days prior and he had been diligent in his visitation. He would visit them again today, but he planned to sleep in and catch up on his rest. He pulled his arm from his eyes and the clock told him it was 7:15am. He grumbled, "Someone better be dead." And, picked up the phone. "Hullo."
"Johnny," Roy realized he woke his friend. "…uh, get up and turn on your television." Johnny shook his head as if to shake the sleep away.
"What…Roy…what kinda…" Johnny did not have time to finish the thought...
"Just turn on your TV, dammit." Roy barked. Johnny knew something was very wrong. Roy rarely cursed and the tone in his voice sounded…almost frightened.
"Okay, Okay…" Johnny got up and walked to his TV. The images flashed immediately of smoke, debris, people running and the lines across the bottom of the screen read "South Tower at World Trade Center collapses." Johnny swallowed hard. Bile began to rise in his throat as he sought answers. "Roy, what the hell?" was all he could manage.
Roy told him what he knew as they both watched with awe at the breaking news. New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. "Where next?" Each of them silently questioned. An audible gasp rose from them both as they watched the second tower collapse at 7:28am. "Roy," Johnny whispered, "did you see that?"
Roy nodded, before he realized he was on the phone. "Yeah, Junior. I see." They agreed to call their friends and family and then meet in an hour to figure out what the hell had just happened to America, and to their fellow first-responders. Neither of them knew the legacy that day would birth.
Johnny thought of his comment before answering the phone that morning as he hung up the phone and went to shower. "A lot of someone's died today…God help us all."
Each September 11th, the two friends would call each other. It didn't matter where they were, they called. Sometimes it would be early in the day, like that first call in 2001. But, other years the call would come later due to a shift assignment, vacation day, or other temporary distraction. But, the call always came. And, it was always answered.
Cell phones had come onto the scene years ago and, though Roy was adverse to technology, he had purchased phones for JoAnne and himself. It was that phone he heard ringing now…not the house phone. He went to the bedroom and looked on his dresser. The caller ID lit up, "Chris". He loved his son and enjoyed talking to him. But, now…right now…the only person he wanted to talk with was Johnny.
"Hey, Son." Roy answered with as much spark as he could manage.
"Hey, Dad. I just wanted to call to see how you are today. I know it's a rough day 'n all." Chris offered. Roy smiled at his son's intuition and caring heart. He was not okay, and just about everyone who knew him knew that. He couldn't lie, but he could try to make things sound better than they were.
"It's been eleven years, Son. I guess it gets a little easier to handle as time passes." Roy tried. But, he shuddered as he could clearly recall the images of that day and the fact that 343 First Responders and thousands more died as those buildings collapsed. And, then Roy answered his son's yet-to-be-asked next question. "Haven't talked with Johnny yet."
"I'm sure he'll call, Dad. It's his turn right." Chris kinda teased. Everyone had come to know a pattern had developed over the years and that Roy and Johnny alternated making that first call to each other on September 11th of whatever year it happened to be.
"Yes, it's his turn." The corners of Roy's mouth turned upward in a slight smile. Father and Son shared a few more moments and then, the call was ended. Roy pushed the "end" button on the phone and returned it to its previous spot on the dresser. He heard JoAnne come into the room.
"He hasn't called yet, huh?" She asked in passing. Roy shook his head as she breezed from the room.
"No, he hasn't called yet." Roy thought as he sat on the side of the bed.
The remaining members of Station 51's A-crew gathered at their former Captain's house. Hank Stanley had retired as Battalion Chief and he was home when the men came. They just all seemed to gravitate to the familiar. First Mike Stoker arrived. He'd been crying, but no one commented. Cap opened the door and then opened his arms to embrace the broken man before him. "God, Cap…so many…there were so many." Was all Mike could get out before collapsing onto the couch and blindly staring at the television, which Cap had muted.
Marco came and brought enchiladas. His mother's way of dealing with grief and mourning was to cook…and, boy, could she cook. Marco brought enough food for an army, but none of them had an appetite.
Not even John Gage, who came with his best friend Roy. They lingered at the car when they noticed Mike and Marco's vehicles. They instinctively came…so, it seemed, did everyone else they knew. As they walked up to the door it was opened and three men stood in front of them. All had red faces and eyes to show their grief at the events of that day. They all lost brothers that day…they all came together to grieve and mourn their lost brothers. It was all they knew to do.
Roy looked at his watch again. He felt like taking the damn thing off since it only served to agitate him more and more with each passing hour. "Why haven't you called, Johnny?" He ruminated aloud. "Maybe he thinks it's my turn." He thought. He reached to pick up the phone, but before he could pick it up, it rang. He answered. "DeSoto residence."
"Hi, Daddy." Jennifer DeSoto cooed. "You doin' okay?" Roy smiled, more brightly than any other time that day. His daughter was teaching at an elementary school and, during a break, she called her Father.
"It's a hard day, Hon." He couldn't lie to his daughter either. And, he answered the unasked question again, "Uncle Johnny hasn't called yet." His children had called his partner "uncle" from nearly their first meeting. Jenny never outgrew the sentiment.
"I'm sure he'll call soon, Daddy. I've got to get back to my first-graders now. Give Mom and hug for me. See you soon. Love you!" She prattled and hung up. Roy looked at the phone as he set it back on the table and thought it might never ring again.
They were all thinking about the firefighters they knew who'd died. There was Tim Duntley…he died of a monkey virus that almost took the lives of Johnny and Brackett as well. A few other names rolled off their lips as they remembered the brave men who died in brush fires, of smoke inhalation, and building collapses. They all trailed off, not saying the name that was on everyone's mind. The doorbell rang and Cap got up to answer it.
"I thought you might all be here." Came the, almost sparkling voice of Dixie McCall. She strode in and hugged each man as they rose to greet her. "I bet you're all thinkin' of Chet, huh?" That was it. That was the name that no one could bring himself to say.
"I think of him every day." Marco muttered and all hung their heads as they remembered their friend and fellow firefighter who had died in an explosion about ten years prior to the World Trade Center collapse.
"Me, too." Cap acquiesced. "I wonder how we will feel about this day ten or eleven years from now?" It was a question no one answered, and he did not expect one. He sat down in his chair and they shared a companionable silence.
It was the wee hours of the next day and the four men and one nurse knew they had nowhere else they would feel comfortable, safe, or understood. They were right where they needed to be, and none had the desire to leave just yet.
It was nearly lunchtime. Roy was mowing the lawn when the phone rang. JoAnne raced to answer. "DeSoto's."
"Hey, JoAnne, it's Mike Stoker. Is Roy around?" The voice was calm and soothing. Mike had always been very reserved and quiet. JoAnne smiled with recognition.
"Mike! It's so good to hear from you. Where are you now?" She asked. Mike had moved away from Los Angeles the year following the attacks. He retired from the Fire Department and went into politics.
"I'm in Seattle right now. Just thought I'd call and see how everyone's doin'…" He trailed off. "Uh…I talked with Marco and Cap already. They both said they were just hanging out with family today. But, I can't reach Johnny. I was hopin' he and Roy had talked today." John Gage always seemed to feel things more deeply than most. The guys all felt the need to take care of Johnny, guard his feelings, protect him from pain. Most of the time, they failed miserably. But, Johnny always seemed to bounce back. This was different. Something more happened to John Gage on September 11, 2001, than any of the men knew, and he was not sharing with anyone.
"No, Johnny hasn't called yet, Mike." JoAnne shared. "Roy's a nervous wreck. He was pacing the house all morning. I finally sent him out to mow the lawn…puts his pacing to good use." She tried to joke. It worked when Mike chuckled. "You want me to get him so you can talk with him?" She offered.
"No…just tell him I called. And, have him call me when he hears from Johnny if you would." Mike gave some alternate numbers to call to reach him later and hung up the phone. JoAnne sighed audibly.
"John Gage, wherever you are, you better call your Best Friend and Brother very soon!" She breathed and added a prayer that he was safe and really would call soon.
A year after the attacks, Roy called Johnny on the morning of September 11th to check in. Johnny was sitting at his desk in the Captain's office at HIS station and was wrapping up paperwork from the previous shift.
"Rough one?" Roy asked as he diverted the reason behind the call. Johnny grinned.
"I think it was my turn to call you, huh Pally?" Johnny quipped with a bit of sadness behind the joke. Roy nodded.
"You can call me next year…how you doin', Junior?" Both knew the answer to that question, but Johnny answered anyway.
"It's a rough day for all of us, Roy. Sometimes, I think 'wow, it's been a year'. And, other times I think, 'WOW, it's been a year!' It just doesn't seem like its been that long ago and some people are already back to status quo like nothin' ever happened…like 343 firemen, policemen, and paramedics didn't die along with over 1000 other people a year ago today." Johnny was frustrated and Roy could hear it. Something about that day bothered Johnny unlike any of the others…something he had yet to share with anyone.
"They remember, Junior. Hell, there are soldiers out there fighting now because of what happened that day…puttin' their lives on the line, too." Roy reminded his Friend.
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Johnny muttered. They talked a few more minutes and then Johnny said he had to finish his reports before the shift ended. "I'll call you next year…" He summed.
"Promise me something, Johnny…" Roy beseeched. Johnny raised an eyebrow.
"That when you call next year, you will tell me what has you so bothered by this one." Roy asked. The line was quiet and Roy thought Johnny had hung up the phone. Then he heard a deep sigh followed by,
"One day, Roy…one day." With that, his friend hung up the phone.
Johnny did make that call the next year, but he did not share the deep, nagging secret until now…
Roy almost tripped running to the phone. It was nearly dinner time and he was sure that this call had to be Johnny. He answered the phone, breathless. "Hello!" He nearly yelled.
There was a moment of silence on the phone. "What'd you do, run to the phone?" Johnny quipped. Roy's smile grew…a true smile. His Friend, His Brother was safe.
"Yeah, I did. I've been waiting for your call all day. Did you forget that it's your turn?" Roy asked. He could hear noises in the background of Johnny's call as he awaited the answer.
"No, I didn't forget. None of us will ever forget, will we, Roy?" Johnny was melancholy and Roy instantly wanted to be by his Friend's side to comfort him.
"No, none of us will." Now distracted by the extraneous background noise, Roy asked. "Where are you, Johnny?" There was silence for a moment and the answer caused Roy to fall onto the couch.
"I'm in New York, Roy. I came last night and I have been walking around the Ground Zero monuments all morning. It's surreal. What we saw that day…what's here now. I have met a few Firemen and we all shared our feelings about that day. I told them all about you and the guys." He was referring to the A-shift crew of Station 51 who came together at a new station in the early 70's and became a family. "Told them how we all got together at Cap's house that night and didn't leave until we had to go back on shift." They both recalled that night again…it was like it was yesterday.
Johnny described the fountains to his Friend and Brother. He read some of the names aloud as his fingers lighly grazed over the names-as if carressing them. They shared the moment like they were standing side-by-side and not thousands of miles away from one another. There was an uncomfortable silence, not familiar to the two men, which Johnny broke.
"Uh, Roy…" He sputtered. He took a deep breath. "You asked me once if I would tell you why this bothered me so much. Today, talking with the NYFD guys…well, I guess now is the time to tell you." Roy waited for Johnny to continue. When he didn't, Roy coaxed him.
"Well, it's just that…" He choked back the anguish. "Roy…I don't know if I told you or not…I don't remember telling you…" He paused, gathering his thoughts. "…A friend of mine got assigned as Captain of a Ladder Truck Company the summer of 2001. He wanted me to come out a visit for a long time and I finally made arrangements...got the plane tickets and everything. He set it up with the Chief for me to ride along and serve on the truck right alongside him." Roy was still stuck in the 'summer of 2001', so he could not see where Johnny was going with this, exactly.
"Did he die that day, Johnny?" Roy asked, his voice lowering to a whisper.
"Yeah, he did, Roy. But, that's not all…I was supposed to be with him that day. I was supposed to be riding with him on that truck the day this place turned to 'ground zero.'" Johnny wiped his eyes. It was the first he'd told anyone who actually knew him. He'd shared with the FDNY guys he met earlier in the day, but until now, Roy did not know. "I cancelled the trip last minute when a couple of my linemen received some minor injuries in that chemical spill on the south side." Roy remembered. Johnny had visited his men every day in the hospital even though they were all in shock over the events that happened a few days later on September 11th. "I was supposed to die that day, Roy. I shoulda been there with Dave and his men…" Johnny's voice trailed off as Roy finally realized what had his Friend so upset.
"Johnny...Johnny! Can you hear me?" There was static and he was not sure Johnny was still on the line.
"I'm here." Johnny whispered through tears he refused to let flow.
"Listen to me, John Roderick Gage." Roy's voice was serious as if he were disciplining a child. "I am sorry about your friend…sorry about all who died that day…but, YOU were not meant to die, Johnny. You were not supposed to die…God shined on you my Friend. He was there that day…on those planes, in those buildings…He was with the families and friends who mourned the lost. And, Johnny, He was with you…protecting you…allowing you to live another day…another year…hell, another eleven years, so far." Roy encouraged the best he could. He was reeling the news that he could have lost Johnny that day if he had made that trip. He didn't know if he could have survived that loss himself.
"I know, Roy…it's just..." He couldn't find the words.
"I know, Junior…But, I'm glad you didn't make that trip…and, I know my family is glad…your men are glad…you need to be glad, too!" Roy urged.
"You're right." Johnny allowed.
"I'm always right, Junior, remember?" Roy quipped. Johnny smiled and Roy could tell even though he could not see his Friend. "You gonna be okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be okay. I'm gonna go back to the hotel in a while and my flight leaves tomorrow afternoon. I will come by and see you when I get back to LA." Johnny promised. They made plans for dinner the following evening and both teased about their pending retirements, but neither was ready just yet to hang up their boots.
"Someday…" Johnny said.
"Yeah, someday." Roy agreed. There was silence again, and it was Johnny who again broke it.
"Hey, Roy…" He began.
"…I love you, man." Johnny sighed.
"I know, Johnny. I love you, too." Roy looked up to the sky and silently thanked God for his Friend and 3000 miles away, Johnny did the same as he pushed "end" on his cell phone and walked North past the new construction and mournful tourists.
They both would live another day to answer the call of those in danger…and, they were both very thankful!
A/N: Check out Randolph Mantooth's photos of the FDNY Memorial Fire Truck in a youtube video commemorating the September 11th tragedy… FOR THE 343