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Beware the Ides of March

An Emergency Story by

Mypiot
 

 

   Beware the Ides of March                                                        By Mypiot  

                                            

“So tell me, Johnny? Does Joe suspect anything?”

John Gage looked over at his former boss and mentor and shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t think so, but you never can tell with him. He’s a smart guy, and even if he had caught on, he would just play along rather than spoil the surprise. But my gut feeling is that he doesn’t have a clue.”

The young Paramedic Captain was still wearing his work uniform. He and Roy had had a late call just before the end of their shift to respond to a case of premature labour at the local farmer’s market. One hour and a healthy eight pound baby boy later, they had turned over the reins of the station to the B shift.

The early morning run had meant that Johnny wouldn’t have time to change if he wanted to get to the Burlington airport and pick up the surprise guest for Dr. Early’s birthday party at the appointed time, and get him safely tucked away and out of sight at his ranch  that was located just North of Swanton.

Johnny made the turn off the I-89 onto County Road 7 as he continued to fill in his passenger on the plans for the surprise birthday party.

“Roy and I have been really careful about who all we’ve told about the party.

So far it’s just Dr. Fellowes, Dr. Sutherland, Dixie, Joanne and you of course. We haven’t told any of the hospital or clinic staff yet. We didn’t want anyone to let something slip out by accident, or have someone act in a way that might make Doc’ suspect something was up.”

Kel Brackett sat in the passenger seat of the Land Rover and chuckled.

“Well, I think you were wise to keep the list of those in the know down to a minimum. Joe is extremely perceptive and it doesn’t take much for him to clue into stuff like that. And you sure don’t have to worry about Dixie. There’s no danger of her spilling the beans. She’s always been five or six steps ahead of us men even on her worst days. Once she digs in her heels, it’s like trying to break into Fort Knox to get her to talk.”

Johnny’s pleasant laugh filled the vehicle as he nodded his head in agreement.

“Yeah, well Roy and I really want to do this for him, not only because he’s a great guy and deserves it, but we also want to thank him for everything he’s done for the two of us in the last year.”

Johnny looked over at Kel with a look of panic.

“Not that we don’t appreciate everything you’ve done for us over the years too Doc’… it’s just…”

Kel laughed and patted Johnny on the shoulder.

“Relax Johnny… I know what you meant, and I agree.”

Johnny blew out a sigh of relief.

“Thanks for understanding Kel. I mean, when you told me last year that my days with the Fire Department were finished, I was pretty shaken up. Oh I know I had options, and of course I knew that financially I’d be fine. But being a hose jockey and a paramedic was all I ever wanted to do….well that and my horses.”

“Plus I knew that when I left, Roy would leave too, and he did need the job and the money. So when Dr. Early came over to Roy’s that afternoon last year and hooked us up with Dr. Fellowes and George Danforth … it was like manna from heaven. It set the wheels in motion for us to keep our paramedic status and get our promotions to Captain.”

“The bottom line is, that none of this;” Johnny said gesticulating to the landscape of Franklin County that they were presently driving through; “or these;” he said pointing to the Captains bars that were situated on the collar of his uniform shirt; “would have happened without his intervention in our lives. He was the impetus for the chain of events that occurred over the course of this past year that led us to where we are today.”

Kel smiled and nodded.“That’s true, and in the end it also helped him and Dixie out as well.  When he was in Baltimore over Christmas, all he could talk about was Vermont and the clinic. He’s really proud of it; especially since he had a direct hand in its inception. He considers this new clinic and the paramedic program in Franklin County his baby. I think he thinks of himself as the father and George Danforth as the mother.”

Johnny laughed at the mental image that conjured up inside of his head. “You did say inception right? Because for a moment there, I thought you were heading towards conception with that whole mother-father analogy.” Johnny giggled.

Kel playfully smacked Johnny on the arm. “Smart ass.”

Johnny stopped laughing and shook his head

“Yeah, well, you’re absolutely right. George came up with the idea, and bankrolled it all, but the day to day behind the scenes work at the clinic, and making it all run smoothly has fallen largely on Doctor Early and Dixie’s shoulders. Of course Nick… I mean Doctor Sutherland helps a lot too….they split the duties.”

Johnny stopped the Rover at the intersection while he waited for the light to change from red to green.

“You know the good Doc was supposed to come up here to semi-retire, but he can’t seem to let himself do that. He got so keyed up about this clinic, that it seems like he puts in as many hours here as he did back at Rampart…same goes for Dix. She’s decided she’s going to make sure her nursing staff is the best in the state…and she has.”

“We’ve got a cracker-jack team going on here…from the paramedics on down to the clinic staff. Even our ambulance attendants and life flight guys are great. In fact we just hired on a new paramedic team in January.”

“Really?” Kel Brackett asked in astonishment. “How did that come about?’

Johnny shrugged nonchalantly, “Well up until January, we’d had it set up so that one of us was always on call in case someone called in sick, or was injured.”

“Anyway, over the Christmas holidays poor Gibby... I mean Stephen Gibbons from C shift, came down with mono… and he was going to be out for weeks. Not only did that leave a real strain on the shifts. It also meant that if someone else came down ill or injured we’d be taxed to the limit on our man power resources.”

“So we decided we needed to try and fix that issue.  In L.A., if more than one of us went down they could just call in replacements from other stations and rotate us around. But here there were no other stations in the County…we’re it. So it just made sense to have a fourth shift, so that if one of us or even two of us were out, we’d have this fourth shift to fall back on.”

“In L.A. and the bigger cities there is a bigger pool of paramedics to call if you need a day off. But up here with just the six of us, it was always creating a problem. It seemed like we were constantly juggling around the schedules in order to accommodate someone’s needs.”

 “Anyway we now have a new D shift, which is made up of two really great guys. They’re a bit older than the rest of us; they’re in their mid-forties and their kids are older.”

“The first guy is Garret Morrison. He was originally from Hartford Connecticut. He’s forty six, married with a seventeen year old son and a fifteen year old daughter. The second guy is Jack Foulds, born right here in Swanton before he moved to Syracuse. He’s forty four and he’s got a twenty one year old daughter and twin boys who are nineteen.”

“They’re good guys…good paramedics. They used to be firefighters like us, but decided a couple years ago to become Paramedics, and get out of the smoke eating business. Plus they wanted out of the big city and into a more rural environment.”

“When they found out about our new station and clinic, they started to ask around if we were looking for anymore paramedics. The Doctor’s and the rest of us paramedics, jumped at the idea. We started to put out feelers to see if we had the funding for it.”

“We had been asking around, when all of a sudden George Danforth waltz’s in and announces that he’s been so impressed with the results and the positive feedback he’s been getting about our paramedic set up and clinic, that he was willing to provide the extra funding for the fourth shift.”

 “So by having an A, B, C, and a D shift; as long as everyone is well, there is no problem. We are able to cut out all forty eight hour shifts, and do straight twenty fours.”

“It also means that we’re always guaranteed two to three days off between shifts. Another benefit is that it allows for more flexibility if someone has something come up, where they need to switch shifts with someone.”

“Now if someone goes out sick or injured, then we simply fall back on our old three shift system that most big cities use anyway. “

Kelly Brackett was impressed.

“Wow, you guys seem to have a good handle on things up here. You should all be very proud of what you have accomplished in just eight months.”

Johnny smiled appreciatively at the compliment.

“Yeah and we’ve only actually been up and running for six months. But already there are at least seven people who are alive today because they had the medical attention on scene. A year ago none of them would have survived, because they needed emergency medical intervention immediately.”

By this time Johnny had turned into the long treed lane that led up to his house. It was the fifteenth of March, and already the scents of spring were in the air. It had been a harsh winter with many January and February snow storms that had dropped a sizeable amount of snow on Franklin County.

But March had initially come in like a lamb and the warmer sunny days had begun to melt the large snow banks.

It was during the second week of March, when mother nature turned her wrath one last time on the area with a surprise late winter storm had come barreling down from Canada, and had dropped another fourteen inches of snow on the ground.

Luckily the winter storm system had only hung around for one day, and for the past two days, the sun had been out and the temperatures had climbed back up into the low fifties, and two nights ago they had even had some overnight rain.

Johnny pulled up in front of his house and turned off the ignition. He opened the door of the Rover and pulled himself out of the drivers’ seat. As he reached around to close the door he let out with a loud groan of pain.

Immediately Kel turned toward his friend, his face full of concern.

“What’s wrong Johnny?” he said as he rushed around to check on his former paramedic.

Johnny grinned sheepishly.

“Old age I think… with all of this up and down weather, I was concerned about the amount of snow on the roof of the house and the driving sheds, so I spent all day Thursday shoveling them off.  When you have this much snow, and you get a mild spell, with rain, it tends to make the snow really heavy. Then with the added fresh snow we got last week… well I just felt better getting all that weight off the roofs.”

“But unfortunately I pulled the muscles in my shoulders while I was doing it, and I’m a tad stiff and sore today. It’s no big deal.”

Kelly Brackett rolled his eyes and snorted… “Getting old? You’re only twenty eight….just a young pup. I think Joe and I have mayonnaise in our refrigerators that is older than that,” he joked.

“You’re sure you don’t mind me staying here for a couple of days until Joe’s party? “ Kelly asked.

Now it was Johnny’s turn to roll his eyes.

“Doc’ it was my idea in the first place. Besides we can’t have a birthday party for Dr. Early without inviting his closest and dearest friends.”

“It’s kind of neat having a friend whose birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day. Chet would be green with envy…pardon the pun… if he found out. I think good ole’ Chester B Kelly likes St. Paddy’s day more than he does Christmas.”

“So where’s your partner in crime today?’ Dr. Brackett asked Johnny as they made their way up the steps of Johnny’s front porch.

Johnny opened the door and ushered his friend inside.

“Oh, it’s Saturday morning, so he’ll be at the local arena this morning. Chris is on the local pee wee hockey team, and they have a practice every Saturday morning, before their evening game. Since Roy and I are off today, he decided to go and watch Chris’ practice.”

Kel nodded as he pulled his arms out of the sleeves of his coat.

“I’m surprised you aren’t there.” Kel said.

Johnny laughed.

“Usually I am …  I’m kind of an assistant coach of sorts when I have the time, so I’m there a lot, but since I was driving into Burlington to pick you up at the airport, Roy filled in at the arena this morning… Just between you and me; I think he used it as an excuse to get out of his honey-do list this week.”

“Roy usually spends his Saturday mornings off at home catching up on chores or spending time with Jenny. But he never misses any of Chris’s games if he’s off. Usually he spends some daddy time with Jen during the day and then he has his time with Chris in the evening… they go out for pizza after the game, just the two of them.”

“What! You mean to say that Uncle Johnny doesn’t join in on boy’s night out too?” Kel questioned

“Sometimes yes, sometimes no;” Johnny answered. “We play it by ear… It all works out.”

Sometimes it’s just Uncle Johnny with the kids alone or I may have them individually.

Sometimes it’s just daddy and his kids…or daddy and mommy and the kids. Sometimes it’s all of us together. I usually keep the kids overnight on Joanne and Roy’s date nights. We adjust our plans  for whatever happens to be going on.”

“Sometimes I have a date on those Saturday nights…or sometimes I’m just tired… like I said, we just play it by ear.”

Johnny looked up at the clock. “Well Doc’ it’s only eleven o’clock, so we got plenty of time before lunch, if you want to get your stuff unpacked or grab a quick shower.”

“That would be great Johnny,” Kel answered. ”I worked the night shift and didn’t get off until seven this morning. I brought my suitcase to the hospital and went right to the airport from there. A hot shower and something to eat sounds really good right about now.”

Johnny picked up the suitcase and started to lead the way upstairs. The two men had barely made it to the top step when the telephone started ringing.

“I’ll just go and grab the phone on the extension in my bedroom… that door on the left is yours Doc.” Johnny called back as he headed into his room to answer the phone.

Kelly Brackett had just nicely set his suitcase down on the bed, and opened it up so he could unpack his clothes when Johnny came bursting into the bedroom like a bat out of hell. His face was pale and his eyes were full of fear.

“Doc… I gotta go.” He said frantically.

“What’s the matter Johnny?” Kel asked worriedly

“There’s been a horrible accident. The roof of the arena gave way under the weight of all the ice and snow about five minutes ago. It’s completely collapsed…Roy and the others were still inside at the time....”

Kel grabbed Johnny’s arm and steered him out the bedroom door.

“Let’s go…” he commanded, and the two men took off towards the staircase.

To Johnny, the time it took for him to get from his ranch to the arena parking lot seemed like an eternity. He knew that Dr. Brackett had been talking to him the entire ride into Swanton, but looking back on it, Johnny couldn’t remember a single word of the conversation.

His mind had been so pre-occupied with worry about what he was going to find once he got to the scene of the building collapse. Each scenario he pictured was worse than the one before.

 As soon as he turned onto the street where the arena was located, Johnny could see the sea of flashing emergency lights. There was a makeshift road block set up to keep the curious away from the carnage that had been only a short time before, the town’s arena.

 

Ted Cooper, the Police Chief recognized Johnny’s Rover and immediately motioned his officers to move the saw horse they were using as a road block aside and let him pass through.

As Johnny pulled into the area of the parking lot that had been cleared for emergency vehicles, he immediately noticed Jack Foulds from D shift and Colin Blackwell from C shift’s vehicles parked nearby. Obviously both men had also been located and summoned to the scene.

The first person he saw was Colin, who was working on a group of boys Johnny immediately recognized as being part of the hockey team. He was relieved to see that it appeared as if the majority of the boys had escaped the building relatively unscathed and appeared to be ‘walking wounded’ only.

Johnny frantically scanned the group looking for either Roy or Chris DeSoto. His heart sunk into his gut, when he didn’t see either of the faces he was hoping to find.

Johnny scanned the mass of faces until he was finally able to locate Jason Doyle from B shift. He and Tim Blake were the two paramedics who were actually on duty today. Both men were busy working on extricating another victim from the rubble.

Johnny leapt out of the Rover, and after hastily introducing Dr. Brackett to Ted Cooper, he went over to the back of his Rover and slipped into his hiking coat, grabbed his heavy work gloves and headed toward the pile of debris that used to be the arena.

Kelly Brackett made his way over to Colin and the group of young boys to offer his professional assistance.

Johnny was about half way over to the scene when he noticed Roy’s station wagon sitting in the parking lot.

Please God… let them both be okay.”  He prayed silently as he hurried across the rest of the parking lot.

He was almost there when he heard a familiar voice calling out to him from off to his right.

“Hey Junior… we’re over here.”

To John Gage the sound of Roy’s voice calling out to him sounded like a chorus of angels singing down from heaven.

He turned around and saw both Roy and Chris sitting on the bumper of one of the fire engines. From his vantage point, Johnny was able to ascertain that their injuries seemed minor. Both Chris and Roy were sitting upright with a blanket wrapped around their shoulders, and for that he gave a silent prayer to the almighty… his second in as many minutes, only this time it was in gratitude for answered prayer.

 

Johnny made a beeline towards his injured family members. As he drew near, he could see Jack Foulds working on putting a splint onto Chris’s left wrist. The boy was sitting in his father’s lap, and although he looked a bit too pale, he seemed to be alright other than the wrist injury.

Roy had a large bandage taped over what Johnny could only surmise was a gash on his forehead. Like his son, Roy’s complexion was extremely pale, and he looked a bit dazed.

“Thank God you’re both alive.” Johnny said in obvious relief.  “I was so worried; … you can’t imagine the terrible things that were running through my head on the way in here. What’s the damage Jack … besides the obvious?” he asked.

Jack kept on working without looking up.

“Well Cap, patient one has a large gash on his forehead over his left eye that is going to need some stitches, and a probable mild concussion. Young Mr. DeSoto here; is the proud owner of a fractured left wrist. Other than that, they appear to be in pretty good shape.”

Roy looked up at Johnny, who was more than a little pale himself right now, and spoke. “Luckily practice had ended about twenty minutes before the collapse and most of the boys were out of the change room and standing around inside the vestibule waiting for their folks to pick them up.”

“The roof collapsed in sections, with the vestibule being the last place to come down, so the majority of everyone had a chance to get outside. We only got hit with flying debris rather than having the roof come down directly on top of us.”

“Is there anyone still missing inside?” Johnny asked.

Roy shook his head sadly.

“Yeah, Coach Dean, Murray the caretaker, and three of the boys.”

“Who?” Johnny asked grimly.

“Neil Irvine, Ian Monroe, and Roger Beatty,” Roy answered. “I think that’s Coach Dean they’re bringing out now.”

By this time Brackett had come over and was examining Roy and Chris himself.

“Hey Doc … some reunion huh?” Roy said with a sardonic grin.

“Yeah…well from what I hear it could have been a heck of a lot worse.”

Kelly turned to Johnny and Jack.

“As soon as they get that man out, I’m going to go in with him to the clinic. They’ve got a small bus coming to escort the rest of the wounded to the clinic. I’ll take one of the paramedics with me in the ambulance and at least one should escort the rest in with the bus.”

It was at that point in the conversation, that one of the firemen came up behind Johnny.

“Hey John?” he called out.

Johnny turned around, and raised his eyebrows in question. “Yeah… what is it Larry?”

“They’ve just about got coach out… looks like some broken ribs and a busted up knee. They can hear at least two of the other boys crying in the debris, but the opening is pretty small… we can’t quite fit in the space, but we were thinking that you may just be able to squeeze your scrawny butt in there and give us some idea on the boys condition and what the stability of the area looks like from inside.”

Johnny nodded and turned back to Roy.

“Well Pally, I guess Jack here is going to have to ride in with you guys… it looks like I got a date with a crawl space.”

He glanced down at Chris and smiled.

“Don’t you worry sport; I’m going to do everything I can to get your friends out safely okay?”

Roy slid Chris off his knees and stood up and put the blanket around Chris’s shoulders.

“I’m okay guys. I can stick around and lend a hand too.” He said.

Dr. Brackett quickly intervened by putting his hand on Roy’s shoulder and forcing him back down onto the bumper of the fire engine.

“Not so fast Roy, you’re a victim right now and you’re not going anywhere until you’ve been treated and cleared for duty by Joe or myself.”

Johnny looked over and grinned.

“It’s not so much fun when you’re on the receiving end is it Pally?” he joked.

Johnny glanced in the direction of Jason and Tim who were in the process of bringing the coach over to the triage area in a stokes. He looked back at Roy, the smile was gone from his face and he was all business.

“Look Roy, you need to go in and get checked over and get that gash stitched up, and Chris is going to need you when it comes time to set that wrist and get it casted. You also need to call Jo and let her know you guys are alive. She’s going to hear about this soon, if she hasn’t already.”

“As soon as we get the others out, I’ll swing by the clinic and see how you’re doing okay?

Johnny turned his gaze back toward Kelly Brackett.

“Oh and Doc? Make sure you say surprise when you come face to face with Joe at the clinic,” he grinned.

 

And without another word he trotted off to where the other rescuers were waiting for him at the site of the flattened wreckage.

Johnny arrived at the pile of rubble that was all that remained of the arena; he approached Ted Cooper and the Fire Chief Bruce Jenkins as the two men appraised the scene before them.

“Okay Bruce, fill me in on the situation here… what exactly am I gonna be dealing with?”

Johnny queried.

“Pretty much, what you see is what you get. We can hear at least two of the missing boys, but we’ve been unable at this time to ascertain exactly where they are or what condition they’re in.”

“Unfortunately the only viable way in is through this small opening in the debris… and it’s only viable if you can squeeze inside; and even then it’ll be a tight fit… even for you.”

Johnny took a moment as he surveyed the ruins of the building that lay before him. The entire building had been decimated. The collapse had set off a chain reaction in the structure of the older building, and the entire thing had fallen in on itself, leaving behind a veritable wasteland of twisted metal girders, shattered lumber and sheetrock, and piles of massive support beams that had been literally sheared off, by the weight of the ice and snow.

“Well, John? What do you think? Should we venture in now, or wait and see if we can enlarge this entrance, and stabilize it? “asked Bruce.

Johnny frowned in consternation and his voice was grim.

“My biggest concern is the stability of the entire scene Bruce… What would you say the temperature is right now?” Johnny continued speaking without waiting to hear Bruce’s to answer.  

      

 “My guess would be that it’s sitting at close to fifty degrees … and the surface temps will be even higher than that when you factor in all this bright sunshine, beaming down on all the exposed metal laying around.”

“Now there are literally tonnes of snow and ice mixed in with the rest of this wreckage, and some of this debris will no doubt be resting on it. My biggest concern is that as the sun begins to melt this ice and snow, it will further de-stabilize an already precarious situation… whatever we do, we’ll have to do it fast. I really don’t think those boys have time for us to wait and try to enlarge this opening.”

Johnny knelt down at the small opening and peered inside. As he stuck his head in the first few inches, he clearly heard a faint cry of help from one of the small boys trapped somewhere underneath all the destruction.

At that instant all worries about how dangerous this undertaking was going to be, fled from his mind, and he was instantly focused on getting the trapped and injured out, no-matter what the possible cost to his own safety.

Johnny looked back at Ted and Bruce and held his hand out.

“Can I borrow your helmet Bruce, and if you have an HT, I’ll take that in with me too. I don’t think I’ll have the space for anything other than that. If you have a rope, I’ll tie that around my waist. You can always use it to tie any supplies I may need onto the end so I can haul it in later.”

As he was securing the helmet to his head, Johnny reached back toward Jason Doyle and held out his hand.

“Hand me some kerlix, some gauze pads and some tape will you? I can at least shove those into my coat pocket.”

Jason nodded and ran back to quickly retrieve the items for his Cap.

After getting himself situated with the requested items, Johnny lowered himself down onto his stomach, as he carefully squeezed his thin frame into the dubious opening that lay before him.

Once inside, Johnny was relieved to discover that he wasn’t in total darkness, as small shafts of light filtered through the rubble. Slowly he hauled his body forward an inch at a time; stopping every few feet to call out to the boys listening for their reply; and in this way, he was able to follow the sounds of their voices, until ten minutes after he had entered the remnants of the building, he was able to locate the three missing children.

“I told you it was Mr. Gage Neil,” said Roger Beatty’s relieved voice, as Johnny entered into what had once been the boys’ locker room.

The area opened up before Johnny into a space that was large enough to allow him not only to enter inside, but to actually sit up fairly comfortably as well.

It had been the boys good fortune that they had all been in the locker room at the time of the collapse; because by some miracle of God, it had been the only part of the building that been spared being flattened. The metal lockers had actually prevented the heavier debris from falling on the boys, and crushing them to death.

Although all three of the boys were covered with various cuts and bruises, only one of them seemed to have any serious injuries. It became almost immediately obvious to Johnny that Ian Monroe had suffered a broken leg when a piece of sheetrock had landed on his left leg.

“Hey boys… what do you say we get you patched up a bit, and get you guys outta here.”

Johnny asked as cheerfully as he could, while he pulled his long lanky form the rest of the way inside the locker room.

“Please hurry,” said Neil.

 At eight years old, Neil Irvine was the youngest player on the team, and clearly he was the most frightened of the three boys.

Thankfully Ian’s fracture, appeared to be a clean break, and with some minor improvisation, and the use of the supplies he had shoved into his pockets, Johnny was quickly able to splint the injured limb, and do some basic bandaging up of the more serious cuts.

Johnny reached in to the other pocket of his Anorak for his handy talkie and called out to the rescuers waiting on the outside.

“This is John; I’ve got all three boys with me. Ian Monroe has what appears to be a fracture of the left tibia; other than that it looks like we’re just dealing with cuts and bruises. I’m going to get the boys to follow the rope back out to you one at a time. I’ll come out last with Ian so I can hold onto the injured limb and help keep it stable on our way back out.”

Once he had relayed the message to the rescuers, he readied Roger for the journey. At twelve, he was the oldest of the three boys, and he hoped he would be a calming influence on young Neil, who was clearly a bit too frightened to take the lead.

Johnny took his helmet off and secured it as tightly as he could to Neil’s head.

“Okay, here’s the plan,” Johnny explained to the boys.

“Roger here is going to go out first. I want you to keep one hand on this rope and follow it. It leads to the only opening out of here. Now it’s kinda small so you’ll have to crawl, but I made it in okay, so you guys shouldn’t have any problems with it.”

“Now Neil, I want you to follow Roger out… just like I told him, I want you to keep one hand on the rope at all times. Ian and I will be right behind you okay?”

All three boys solemnly nodded their heads in unison.

“Here, guys, I want you to zip up your coats and wear your gloves okay? They’ll help protect your hands from the debris.” Johnny added as an afterthought.

Roger Beatty turned to Neil and put on his bravest smile.

“Okay Neil, here I go,… remember, follow the leader okay?”

And with that he disappeared into the tunnel that lead out to the outside world.

Neil dutifully followed Roger into the opening among the wreckage. Once his feet had disappeared inside the passage, Johnny picked up Ian and carried him over.

“Okay Ian, now we’re going to do this as a team okay. I want you to let me do most of the work. Now I’m going to untie this rope from my waist and tie it around yours. Then all I want you to do is use it to pull yourself forward along the tunnel. I’m going to be right here behind you holding onto your leg and helping you forward as much as I can okay?’

Ian nodded. “I’m ready Mr. Gage. I just wanna get outta here.”

“Good man,” Johnny said as he ruffled the boys’ hair.

Getting back out was a long and arduous chore for Ian and Johnny. It was when they were about a quarter of the way back, that Johnny caught a glimpse of some bright green material off to his right.

Looking over through the shattered beams and broken sheetrock, Johnny quickly realized he was looking at the body of Murray Jones, the arena’s caretaker. One look and Johnny knew Murray had suffered injuries that were incompatible with life… the open eyed, glassy stare left no doubt about the fact that the man was dead… even if Johnny hadn’t seen the peace of steel girder sticking out of dead man’s chest.

Not wanting to draw Ian’s attention to the corpse that lay fifteen feet away in the twisted rubble, Johnny said nothing, but kept pressing forward.

It was in this way that nearly forty minutes after he had entered the building, John Gage and Ian Monroe finally slid through the tiny opening to freedom.

Immediately Jason and Tim grabbed Ian and placed him on the waiting stretcher, as they rushed him over to the waiting ambulance where Roger and Neil already sat waiting with the ambulance attendant.

Johnny stood up, and brushed himself off. It felt good to be able to stand and stretch out his stiff, aching muscles. He knew his already sore shoulder would be even stiffer by that evening.

Once the boys were well out of earshot, he took Ted and Bruce aside.

“I found Murray Jones on the way back out.”

At the questioning glance of the police Chief, Johnny just sadly shook his head.

“Code F,” he said sadly.

Ted heaved a heavy sigh of resignation.

“Okay, Thanks John. I’ll track down and notify the next of kin.”

Bruce walked over to Larry who was standing near the demolished remnants of the arena.

“What about Murray’s body Chief?” Larry asked. “You gonna send someone in for body retrieval?”

Bruce shook his head.

“Not now… the site is just far too unstable. The debris has already started to shift in places due to the melting ice and snow… Until we can remove some of this wreckage, they’ll be no attempt to extricate the body.”

Reluctantly, Johnny was inclined to agree with the Chief. It simply wasn’t worth risking another life, to try and rescue a corpse.

Johnny looked at the carnage that lay before him, and thought sadly about the dead man’s family.

He had always gotten along well with Murray Jones on those few occasions when he had spoken to him, when he was filling in for Coach Dean. He didn’t know much about the man. All he really knew was that he was in his early fifties and had two grown boys and that his wife was the church organist.

As much as his heart wanted to go in there and bring his body out so it could be removed and cleaned up before any news people arrived with their ghoulish crews, hoping to get exclusive pictures of the poor unfortunate mans’ broken body; so they could splash pictures across the front pages of their newspapers and television screens with little regard for the victims’ families; he knew it was just too unsafe to risk it at this point.

Johnny made his way over toward the ambulance to where they were just getting ready to take off with their passengers.

“You wanna ride along with us Cap?” asked Jason. “We just got word that Doc’ Early says Roy has a mild concussion and they’re keeping him there for twenty four hours for observation.”

Johnny shook his head.

“Naw,” I got my Rover here. I’ll just drive it on over in a little while. I’m gonna hang around a bit longer and see if they need any help here, ….but you can give Roy a message for me if you like.”

“Sure thing Cap, what is it?” Jason asked

Johnny grinned at Jason and winked.

“Tell him I’ll stop by the gift shop before I come visit him and bring him a colouring book. Make sure that you tell him that I said that surviving a building falling down around his ears entitles him to the big box of crayons.”

Tim and Jason giggled.

Back in the fall, Roy had come down with a case of chicken pox that he had caught from his daughter Jenny. He’d been sent home mid-shift, and Jason had come in as his replacement. He and Johnny had been playfully kidding Roy about not having had them as a child.

As Roy had been heading out the door, Johnny had promised to bring him by some ice-cream after work, if he promised to be a good boy for Joanne. It was then that Roy had good naturedly turned around and told Johnny, that when he was a little boy, his father would bring him home a colouring book and crayons whenever he’d been sick.

Obviously, Johnny had remembered the conversation. The funny thing was, Jason had no doubt in his mind that Captain Gage would make good on his promise, and show up with the promised items at his partner’s bedside.

All three men were still chuckling as Johnny closed the ambulance doors and gave it the customary two slaps.

Johnny walked back over to the Fire Chief, and asked him if he wanted him to stick around.

“No, John… thanks anyway, but there’s no more rescue work left here. Why don’t you go on and catch up with Roy and his son.”

Johnny nodded in acknowledgement and was just about to head to his Rover when out of the crowd Dean Nelson’s wife Lillian came screaming across the parking lot.

“Anna! Where’s my Anna?”

Ted Cooper grabbed the distraught woman by the arms and tried to restrain her.

“Lillian…  Calm down….It alright. We got Dean out. He’s got some injuries, but he’ll be fine. They took him over to the clinic over an hour ago.

“No!” the woman cried out… “You don’t understand…my Anna was with him today. She went with him to watch the boys practice….she has such a crush on the Beatty boy….where is my little Anna?” she wailed again.

Johnny immediately turned back towards the pile of ruins and pulled on his heavy gloves.

He knew that even as unstable as the structure was, he was about to once more; enter into the proverbial lion’s den.

Johnny turned back to face Lillian; “How old is Anna?” he asked.

“She’s eleven,” Lillian said tearfully.

“Do you remember what she was wearing today?” Johnny continued on with his questioning of the distraught mother.

“Yes,” Lillian sniffed. “She was wearing blue jeans, and her bright pink ski jacket. It has a matching mittens, hat and scarf set to go with it. She wanted to show it off in front of Roger.”

Johnny nodded and hastened over to where Bruce Jenkins was still conversing with Larry, leaving Mrs. Nelson in Tom Cooper’s capable hands.

There wasn’t much hope of finding the girl alive; that much he knew. He’d been inside that pile of destruction, and there weren’t that many places she could have been and survived.

There had been no other indications of life inside the remnants of the building that lay in front of him… but then again, he hadn’t been listening for anyone else other than the three missing boys either. He’d been so focused on their cries that he could have missed Anna’s cries. 

Even if she had cried out, he could have easily mistaken them for the boys…or a misplaced echo inside all the twisted steel.

Either way he had to go back inside the rubble and at least give it a try.

Johnny approached the Fire Chief and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Bruce, we still have an eleven year old girl trapped somewhere inside.”

“Anna Nelson, the coach’s daughter, is still somewhere inside this mess… I’m gonna go back in and see if I can find her.”

Bruce shook his head doubtfully, “Sorry John, but I can’t in good conscience let you go back in there. The sun is wreaking havoc with what little stability we have left. This pile of debris is shifting and degrading minute by minute now.”

Johnny seemed to be considering Bruce’s words as he glanced around at the carnage. His eyes stopped to rest for a long moment, on the sagging structure that was all that remained of the arena roof, as if he were mentally sizing up the odds of his survival should he venture back inside.

Johnny hesitated briefly before he finally squared his shoulders and turned to face the Fire Chief.

“Bruce,” he said quietly. “What would you want me to do if that was your Melissa trapped inside there?”

Johnny knew it was dirty pool, but he also knew that come Hell or high water, he was going to go in after Anna Nelson… at least he was going to give the old college try anyway.

“Damn it John, that’s not fair.” Bruce said angrily, glaring at the young Paramedic Captain.

Johnny stared right back defiantly into Bruce’s eyes; the firm set of his jaw was unwavering.

“There’s nothing fair about any of this Bruce…” he replied mordantly.

“Fair is for games… not life remember?  Now I’m going in there again and find that little girl, with or without your blessing… or do you want to be the one to go over there to that distraught mother and tell her that you’ve decided that we’re going to leave her child inside this mess without even trying to find her?”

Bruce’s mouth was set in a frown and he threw his helmet on the ground in frustration, and gave it a swift kick across the ground.

“Damn you Gage; if you go in there and get yourself killed, DeSoto’s going to have my guts for garters.”

 Finally after a few moments of frantic pacing he turned back to Johnny.

“You just make sure get your scrawny ass in there and search PDQ and then get the hell back out of there again…” the Fire Chief exclaimed in exasperation.

Johnny gave Bruce’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze as his face broke into a small grin; “If you’re done kicking the shit out of your helmet, I’ll borrow it again,” Johnny smirked as he buttoned up his Anorak.

Bruce rolled his eyes disgustedly while he bent over and picked up the helmet and handed it over to Johnny.

Before Bruce could change his mind; Johnny got down on his belly in front of the tiny crawl space. He looked back into the concerned faces of Bruce and Larry.

 In an effort to lighten the mood for both him and the group of onlookers, he flashed his famous crooked grin and tossed them a wink and he said;

“Once more into the breach dear friends,” as he hoisted himself back into the abyss of twisted steel and shattered lumber one more time.

Once inside he looked around for a possible passage or side route he could squeeze into. He saw no point or advantage in taking the same course that he had earlier, when he had gone in to find the boys.

After all if Anna had been in the vicinity of that pathway, he surely would have spotted her. The only thing that was down that way was the dead body of Murray Jones.

Johnny’s eyes searched around the area. He could tell that there was absolutely no point in veering off to his right. That entire section had been flattened like a pancake. It had taken the brunt of the collapse.

 There would have been no chance of anyone surviving in that area, no matter how small they were. If Anna was there, she was beyond his help, and her little body would not be accessible until they had a crane lift up some of those steel girders and mounds of sheet metal.

Since up ahead was where he had already been to find the boys, and to his right was not feasible. The process of elimination meant he needed to veer left.

Looking around he seen a likely candidate for a clear passage in that direction; but as he started to head in that direction, his gut instincts kicked in, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to go back up the passage he had used earlier before he made the turn left.

Johnny had always gone on instinct all through his entire life, and it had never failed him yet, so instead of heading down the obvious passage to his left; he kept on the same course he had travelled an hour earlier.

Ten minutes later, Johnny had made it back to the point in the passage where he could once more see Murray Jones’s body. As he looked over at the corpse, he couldn’t help but reflect on the strange dichotomy of emotions that constantly ran through his mind, every time he saw a dead body.

There was always that overwhelming set of diametrically opposed thoughts that ran through his mind. There was the part of him that always felt the keen sense of sadness at the loss of life; but there was also the ineluctable reasoning part of his brain that had been medically trained.

 It was that side of his thought process skills that couldn’t help but run through all the indicators of the so called twenty six stages of death they had been taught to recognize… especially when handling welfare checks.

Looking over at Murray Jones he was, as usual, filled with the sadness and futility over the loss of the life of someone he knew, albeit casually. But he also couldn’t help but go over the obvious indicators of rigor mortis.

He could literally picture the words written on the pages of the handbook he’d been given to study all those years ago.

Primary flaccidity…the somatic stage of death, The first hour where the muscles of the body begin to relax,…. the muscles in the face loose tension, and the body flattens out over the areas in which it comes in contact with on the surface on which it rests….Peristalsis of the bowels…. Of course the snow and ice would affect the rate of rigor….

“Stop it,” Johnny said out loud to himself.

 Sometimes medical knowledge was as much of a curse as it was a blessing. It was wonderful when it allowed him to save a life, but he detested the part where his brain functioned clinically…it just seemed so cold and unfeeling.

Even though he knew it was a necessary reaction that allowed him to disconnect from the horrors of what he saw every day so he could function at his job; it was at moments like this where it just felt almost sacrilegious to have those thoughts enter into his mind…however unbidden and instinctive they were.

Sighing Johnny reached his hand forward so he could propel himself further along the passage, when something made him stop…something drew his attention to the left. Without any hesitation, or pausing to question his instincts Johnny looked around for a way to worm his way to the left.

Something told him, he wasn’t far away from where the missing girl was lying. Scanning the broken bits of sheetrock and lumber, he discovered a tiny alley that ran in the direction he desired.

This pathway through the rubble took a circuitous route through the devastation. He could hear the shattered beams and bits of metal shifting and groaning as they settled all around him.

He wasn’t frightened, nor was he without fear. His senses were heightened, and his face was taught with a look of fierce determination and a need to find Anna Nelson … and soon. He was almost there… he could feel it.

Johnny forged on ahead, and he soon discovered that the wreckage wasn’t as compact in this area as it had been back where he had just come from. It was also serendipitous that this particular area appeared to be close to the south end of the vestibule… if the young girl had been waiting for Roger to come out of the boys locker room, it would be a logical assumption, that she would have been sitting somewhere in the vestibule.

Johnny soon came to a fork in the passageway before him; one way turned further to the left, and the other to his right.

Johnny looked about and tried to decipher which way would be the correct route for him to take …  for some odd reason he decided to randomly call out the missing child’s name.

“Anna? Anna can you hear me?”

Johnny could have cried with joy when just off to his immediate left he heard a faint, plaintive whimper.  He shifted his body around until he was facing the direction of the cry. Johnny continued edging along the left passage, easing himself forward.

 About six feet into the passage, he found an opening that was large enough for his body to squeeze into.  As he entered into the area, Johnny caught a glimpse of daylight slicing its way through the gloom and twisted metal. Once again he called out the child’s name.

He almost jumped out of his skin, when he heard the whimpering cry again; only this time it sounded like she was right over his shoulder.

He snapped his head around abruptly, and was rewarded with the sight of some slight movement coming from under a sheet of intact plywood. He gently picked up the sheet and slid it sideways. Underneath it was revealed Anna’s bright pink ski jacket, and her small frightened face.

Anna’s eyes were glazed and she had a nasty hematoma above her right eye. Johnny wasn’t too sure how much the child was processing at the moment. She was clearly suffering from a head injury. Johnny only hoped it was only a concussion and not a closed head injury. He used a section of plywood and fashioned a makeshift back board.

Johnny reached into his pocket and removed his HT.

“I found her Bruce. We’re in the South West section. She’s alive but she’s got a nasty head injury. I’ve fashioned a makeshift back board and secured her to it as best I can with a roll of kerlix… I’m going to slowly start to back her out of here and…”

It was just at that moment that Johnny felt the hair on the back of his neck prick up.  He shoved the HT back in his pocket and instinctively threw his body over top of Anna to protect her, from what he somehow sensed was coming next.

It was only seconds later that his instincts were proven correct, and he heard the timbers and bits of metal start to groan and with one final sigh, the last of the melted and rotting ice gave way. It came toward the helpless victims with a terrifying rushing sound; and within a brief matter of seconds a fresh pile of debris was raining down upon Johnny and Anna.

Outside the building, Bruce Jenkins heard the first ominous sounds of the building as it entered into its final death throes.

He quickly picked up his HT and was just about to shout out a warning to Gage, when the rest of the structure gave up its last tenuous hold on stability, and it came hurtling down with a deafening roar, plunging head long into the two helpless souls, still trapped within its depths.

“Shit,” Bruce exclaimed.

He turned back towards the Engine and yelled over to Larry and his fellow linesman Elliott… “Get on the radio and get those paramedics back over here… tell them there’s been a second collapse at the arena site and that we have a child and a paramedic still trapped inside that need rescuing, and medical aid.”

Bruce turned back to the scene that sat before his eyes and sighed. “I sure as hell hope they need rescuing … Gage, you better not be dead."

He looked at the HT in his hand and pressed the button…”Gage, are you there? Answer me John.” he asked hopefully.    

Sadly the only answer the Fire Chief got back was one of empty static coming from the HT’s speaker.

                                                            ~ ~ ~

Back at the Michelle Danforth Memorial Clinic, Paramedics, Jason Doyle and Tim Blake were sitting in the small kitchen sipping on their coffee, while chatting with Jack Foulds.

“So where’s Colin? I was sure I saw him on the scene?” asked Tim

“He went back home…he’s on duty next shift and he still had some work to do around his house, so as soon as the boys were safe, he took off… which is what I’m about to do as soon as I get something to eat from the sub shop across the street… see you guys later.” Jack waved and he took his leave of the two B shift paramedics.

“Well Jay, are we heading back now too? We’re all restocked and ready to go.” asked Tim

Jason grinned. “Not yet, we have a message for Captain DeSoto from his partner; remember…the crayons?” he chuckled.

“You’re not really going to tell him are you?” Tim asked incredulously.

“Are you kidding? I can’t wait to see the look on his face when I tell him?” Jason giggled.

“Are you coming?” he asked as he headed out the lounge door towards the ward where the four mens’ beds were located.

The Danforth clinic was much larger than most other rural clinics; largely due to the fact that George W. Danforth III had pour millions of dollars into making sure it was.

It housed a dozen beds that were set up into three, four bed wards. One for men, one for women, and one for children… but each could be rearranged and modified quickly should the need arise.

Anyone needing more serious care would be airlifted to the Burlington hospital which was forty five minutes away.

Currently Roy Desoto was in the men’s’ ward, while Ian Monroe was situated in the children’s ward. Dean Nelson had been transferred into Burlington. All of the others had been treated and released.

Chris had initially been with Roy in men’s ward. But he had been sent home sporting a cast on his wrist, with Joanne and Jenny a half hour earlier, once Joanne had been convinced that Roy would be fine and that his staying overnight for observation was merely a precaution.

Roy’s face flushed in embarrassment, while Dixie, Joe and Kel laughed as Jason dutifully delivered Johnny’s message to his partner.

“He said that surviving a building collapsing down around your ears entitles you to the big box of crayons…” Jason laughingly finished.

Roy was just about to reply, when the HT in Tim’s hand suddenly came to life.

Franklin County Search and Rescue One… report to the Swanton Arena Collapse…there’s been a second collapse with a child and a paramedic  trapped inside…time out 13:38…”

Suddenly the room fell silent as the realization hit Jason and Tim.  

                         

“What the hell? … Everyone was out when we left; the scene had been cleared of all victims.” Jason said.

“Captain Gage was the only paramedic left on the scene when we left…” Tim added quietly.

In one electrifying moment, Roy’s room erupted in a flurry of activity, with everyone making a mad dash towards the door of the ward room.

The two paramedics dashed out the door, with Kelly Brackett close on their heels.

“I’m going with them Joe,” Brackett yelled over his shoulder as the three men rushed out the emergency exit.

 

Back in the ward, Roy sat starring slack jawed and in shock. As suddenly as all the noise and confusion had started, it was over, and Roy found himself all alone in the room.  What the hell had just happened here? He wondered. But more importantly; what had happened back at the collapse site… and was Johnny alright?

Joe and Dixie had rushed out of Roy’s room with the others and were now back at the base station trying to glean more information over the radio… they had momentarily forgotten about Roy in the frenzied shock and aftermath of this sudden turn of events.

This had given Roy all the opportunity he’d needed to slip out of his bed and grab his clothes out of the locker in his room. Being John Gage’s partner over the past eight years had certainly taught him a trick or two about subterfuge and going AWOL from medical institutions.

The collapse site was only a few blocks away; Swanton was not a very big place; and even if he had to walk, he knew it wouldn’t take him long to get to the scene.

He had been able to avoid detection and had made it out to the parking lot, when Jack Foulds car pulled up beside him.

Without asking any questions, Jack looked over at Roy.

“I heard about it at the sub shop… need a lift back to the site Cap?” Jack asked.

Roy nodded his head and jumped in the passenger seat.

“Thanks Jack, I owe ya one.”  Roy answered gratefully, as the car sped off out of the Clinic parking lot.

Back in the arena parking lot there was an atmosphere of carefully organized chaos, as the rescue effort got underway.

The Fire Chief had been conferring with both the paramedic rescue team as well as Kelly Brackett. The underlying sense of urgency had spurred them on to quickly set up their individual “zones”.

Kelly Brackett would stay with the rescue squad-ambulance and set up a triage area, while Tim and Jason being the only other medico’s on site would each head up one of the rescue teams.

Jason Doyle, the Fire Chief and the linesman Elliott Byers would make up one team, while the second rescue team was comprised of Tim Blake, Larry Watson the other linesman and Myles Cordick the fire stations Engineer.

According to Gage’s last communication with Bruce, he and the girl were located in the South-West section of the debris in what was once the vestibule of the arena. So each rescue team took up position in that vicinity, with Jason’s team more to the South; while Tim and his team focused their rescue effort more to the West.

Jack Foulds pulled into the parking lot and stopped alongside the fire engine. Kelly Brackett looked back and as much as it exasperated him to see Roy DeSoto step out of the vehicle; it didn’t entirely surprise him.

“Does Joe know you’ve escaped Roy? Because if he hasn’t you at least need to radio in and confirm that you’re here… although I’m sure he already knows that.” Brackett said wryly.

Roy at least had the good graces to look slightly abashed.

Kelly Brackett just shook his head. He knew that trying to keep Gage and DeSoto apart when one of them was injured or trapped, would be the ultimate definition of an exercise in futility. Those two were joined at the hip…or so it seemed sometimes.

The doctor pointed to the back of the ambulance.

“I’m not even going to try and argue with you Roy, but there is no way I’m letting you help with the rescue efforts…and before you start your protests, let me just warn you that you are not cleared medically for duty…Captain or no Captain, and if I have to I’ll call Joe and get him to make it official.”

“Now I want you to take easy, you do have a mild concussion and I don’t want you running around. Now you can just climb in the back of the rescue vehicle and help me get the triage area set up, and then you’re going to sit there and rest until we get Johnny and the girl out…and then all three of you are heading straight back to the clinic. Do I make myself clear?” The good doctor said.

The tone of Brackett’s voice left Roy with no doubt whatsoever that this was the best offer he was going to get, and if he was being completely honest with himself, he did have to admit, he was still fighting off a killer headache. So in the end he just nodded his head and followed the doctor over to the triage area.

Once Roy and Brackett had everything as ready as they could possibly make it, Roy sat on the running board of the rescue vehicle not saying a word. His gaze was fixed on the two rescue teams. His body may have been here with Brackett, but his heart was with the group of rescue men currently digging at the huge mass of rubble on the other end of the parking lot.

While he was sitting there feeling utterly useless, Roy felt a hand rest upon his shoulder.

“They’ll get him out Roy,” Kel said quietly.

“Alive?” Roy asked

“Yes, Roy… alive; I believe that with all my heart. I’ve never known a time where Johnny’s resolve to survive all the various challenges life has thrown his way, hasn’t carried him through a situation that would have been the death of anyone else.” The doctor answered.

“Just keep the faith Roy… just keep the faith.”

Inside the remnants of the Swanton Coliseum and Recreation Centre; the only sounds that could be heard, were the trickling sounds of water from the quickly melting ice and snow along with the creaking and groaning of debris as it slowly settled.

In the midst all of that destruction, Johnny Gage slowly began to return to consciousness; and with the return of awareness, came the blinding pain that enveloped the entire upper right half of his body.

The force of the second collapse had shoved his upper body into the remains of one of the steel girders, and he was now wedged in as tight as a drum by some force from behind that he was unable to see from his vantage point.

The sharp stabbing pains in his right shoulder, chest and arm were pulsing through his body in perfect synchronization with this heartbeat, to the point of being almost unbearable.

He lay there dazed and confused. He had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there. Well it’s some kind of building collapse that much is obvious, he reasoned out.

Along with his other discomforts; he was wet and cold, and his head felt like it was literally splitting in two. So much so, that he actually lifted his uninjured left arm and felt the top of his head just to make sure there wasn’t a fire axe imbedded in his skull.

The edge of his hand brushed up against an object that was hard plastic, and he instantly recognized it as a helmet. Well I obviously started out with a helmet on… for all the good it did me this time… he thought sardonically.

His hair felt wet against his scalp, and he wasn’t sure whether it was water or blood until he lowered his hand and seen the red stain on his glove.

Body part by body part, Johnny took inventory of just exactly what injuries he had besides his obvious head injury and the upper right half of his body.

He had already ascertained that his left arm and hand were okay. Next he tried moving his legs. They not only appeared to be pain free and in working order, but unencumbered as well.

 Okay let’s go over my list of assets, Johnny mused.

My left arm and my lower body are intact and in working order... on the liabilities side, I think my right arm, shoulder and clavicle are injured…and there was a good chance his sternum was injured as well…shit.

Not to mention, his memory was circumspect at the moment, and he was pinned by what he could only surmise was a beam of some sort.

The fact that he was sporting a head injury meant that he was also processing things slowly as well. It took him a few moments to realize that his field of vision was obstructed by several bits of sheet rock fragments. With his still gloved left hand he shoved the remains of the mutilated sheet rock off of his body.

The ensuing cloud of dust that it raised sent his body into paroxysms of torturous coughing and choking that resulted in fresh waves of pain searing through his upper right body. He couldn’t have prevented the involuntary cry of pain from escaping his lips even if he had wanted to.

Johnny struggled to catch his breath, while he tried to regain his equilibrium. When he had finally regained some semblance of composure he slowly opened his eyes.

His now unobstructed view was met with the sight of eleven year old Anna Nelson’s bright pink winter jacket.

It all came flooding back, like a huge rushing wave of awareness, as Johnny’s addled mind slid all the pieces of the puzzle back into place.

He remembered where he was, and what he had been trying to do before the second building collapse had taken him down.

Other things began to focus in with more clarity too now that his mental rolodex had sorted out all the index cards and placed them back into their proper sequence inside his head.

Johnny focused all his attention towards Anna’s body, as he began to scrutinize her condition as best he could from where he was. He was somewhat relieved to take note of the fact that even though she was unconscious; she appeared to be breathing normally.

Immediately his own pain and discomfort was shoved to the back of his mind as he tried to figure out what he could do in his present state for the welfare of Anna.

As he shifted his gaze around, his eyes fell upon the body of Murray Jones. It too had been shifted by the rubble in the last collapse and it was now lying on its side about fifteen feet behind Anna’s body.

The dead man stared up at him benevolently through unseeing eyes, making him briefly shudder. He was glad that unless Anna woke up and turned around, Murray’s body wouldn’t be in her direct field of vision.

Once again, Johnny began his internal monologue with himself.

Okay Johnny, think… take stock of this situation.

The entire upper right portion of his body had been shoved into the steel girder, and was been held in place in a vice like grip by what he figured was a beam or something of that nature.

He looked around as best he could; considering he was limited as to how much he could actually move without passing out from the pain.

Between the pain and being pinned, his movements were pretty well relegated to ahead and slightly to his right.

Turning his head to the left was a fresh experience in torture that he wasn’t anxious to put himself through unless it was absolutely necessary … and then there was the whole issue of the fire axe that he was still convinced was lodged in his cranium, causing his head to throb mercilessly.

Thankfully apart from the unrelenting throbbing, some minor blurred vision and some slight nausea, he was doing not too badly in that respect. Which was good…throwing up and lying in his own vomitus wasn’t something he wanted to add to his current list of complaints

There was no way he was going to be able to move to get over to Anna, so for now he just had to hope and pray that she held on and that she didn’t have a subdural hematoma. Either way he had no way of helping her.

He was pinned himself and had no way to get himself free...

He was relieved to see that his attempt to shield her body had been somewhat successful as she appeared to have escaped any further injury, and she was still strapped to the makeshift backboard he’d had her on.

His next big concern came at him slowly as he began to realize he was actually getting wetter… His mind was still a bit sluggish and it took him a moment to pinpoint the source of the moisture slowly seeping into his clothes.

Shit, I’m lying on a huge sheet of ice and snow. Now I can add another concern to the list; … Hypothermia.

Damn … this day just keeps on getting better and better. He thought to himself bitterly.

Slipping his hand into his coat packet, he hoped that perhaps maybe the HT had survived in working condition. He was thwarted once again when all he pulled out was a handful of shattered plastic casing that had once been a working piece of equipment.

He sighed heavily… Well that just makes this a red letter day all round.

He tossed the useless HT aside and reached in his pocket again. He pulled his hand out and found the last of the roll of kerlix sitting there.

If I could just somehow get myself free, maybe I could fashion myself some kind of sling and get over to Anna.

Who was he kidding? He was wedged in there too tight, and he was too injured to do anything about it.

 Johnny had always felt that there was nothing more incongruous than when a rescuer; through fault of their own; but simply because he had lain is ass on the line to save another; ended up needing to be rescued himself.

He heaved a sigh of resignation and glanced at his watch. It read just after two thirty in the afternoon. He took note of the miniature windows on the face of the time piece that showed the month and day… March fifteenth.

What was it again about that date?

He fished around in his sluggish mind to produce the answer… after several frustrating minutes it finally hit him…

Today was the Ides of March….Beware the Ides of March!

 

No shit!  He thought miserably.

Damn I hate irony; probably not as much a good ole’ Julius did… but right at this moment he hated it all the same.

So basically here he was; pinned inside a collapsed building with a small victim just out of reach and in desperate need of care…not to put too fine a point on it; but they were both in need of immediate medical intervention.

Now THIS was the epitome of frustration. He silently mused.

He knew what the problem was and he knew what to do about it…Hell, it was what he was trained for; unfortunately he was helpless to do anything about it at this particular point in time.

One thing he knew for certain…quitting or giving up wasn’t an option. Not that he was naive about how perilous his situation was.  He knew he was definitely in trouble here.

Still…he mused. It was just like the old Greek Epictetus said, “Something’s are within your power to control… and some things are not. And for certain, Mother Nature and acts of God were not in his power to control… but he did believe in the power of prayer, and in making supplications to the one who actually WAS in control.

He knew life was a package deal. If you’re born…then someday you’re going to die. From the very moment that you draw your first breath, you begin on this path called life that would one day end in death.

 Everyone was on God’s divine time clock and it just kept on ticking away; day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute… The big question was, how long did each one of them have?

For Johnny’s parents, the length of their days had barely reached thirty years. His father was thirty one and his mother was only twenty nine when they died. For Murray Jones, his clock had wound down this morning… and still the clock kept on ticking away and life would go chuffing along without so much as a backward glance.

And so here he was now… instead of being safe at home with Kelly Brackett, planning a surprise birthday party for Joe Early, he was now in a battle to survive until he was rescued.

As is often the case in life, there are the plans that you make; and then there is the way that life actually unfolds. And quite often the two of them are in complete opposition to what you originally had in mind for your life. The fact that he was now in Vermont and not back in L.A. was a perfect example of that.

He knew that in the end, all his will power meant nothing if God had decided that today was his day to die…if that was indeed God’s decision for him, there’d be no point in making any plans for tomorrow. But somehow…deep inside, Johnny knew that today was not his day to die, nor was it Anna’s. If it had been, they’d already be gone.

He knew his destiny was not in his hands, and for now he could do nothing more than what he already had; and that was to send out a silent prayer to God.

Somehow he knew he’d live to see another day. And he knew this because he had put his life into the hands of a power far greater than his own.

Johnny had been in tight spots before… not these exact circumstances, but spots just as tight, and each time he had asked for help from the almighty and it had been granted.

So Johnny held on to his resolve… he was going to survive this too… he just knew he would.

He had always… time and time again, escaped death… He’d escaped the seemingly in-escapable, and survived insurmountable odds.

It had been that way his entire life; starting at the age of ten when he alone had survived the accident that had taken his parents’ lives.

Johnny knew there had to be a reason, and he was positive he knew what that reason was.

Johnny believed it was because there were still lives that he had yet to save. His life’s work wasn’t over yet…he still needed to be there so that he would be able to intervene for the good.

Perhaps the next life he would help to save would be the life of child who would grow up to find the cure for cancer… or maybe become the next Mozart. He’d never know…but he knew he still had work to do on this earth.

Johnny had told Chet once, that it had been circumstance that had put him in the right place at the right time to meet Roy DeSoto and sign up for the paramedic program; but lately he had been taking a different point of view.

Ever since he had escaped those kidnappers on the bus two years earlier, he had come to realize, that this was his calling… his purpose for being here on earth. It was why he’d been spared time and time again. He no longer believed in coincidence.

Coincidence could only carry you so far, before you had to concede that you were only a small part of a bigger, grander, master plan… the master’s plan.

There were bigger forces at work in his life than his mere mortal desires. He knew each of his past experiences, each injury, each tragedy, each brush with death and twist of fate in his life had been molding him into who he was today.

It had given him an insight and empathy for all human suffering that many others didn’t seem to naturally have. He had a natural intuitiveness and perception that often defied logic…it not only defied explanation from those around him… but from himself as well.

He knew he was meant to be here, just like he knew he was meant to meet Roy. Their unique connection and special relationship was a God given gift… kind of a special dispensation to balance out the hurts he had suffered in his life.

And he did feel blessed. He had much to be grateful for.

He was still lying there pondering his life, when he heard a sound that was music to his ears… he heard human voices and the sounds of debris being moved.

He also became aware of several small shafts of sunlight filtering down through the various breaks in the rubble.

Johnny gathered up all the strength he could muster and shouted out for help.

 His body’s reaction was immediate; a knife-like stab of pain lanced through his skull, which sent him spiraling down into darkness, as his eyes rolled up into his head and he passed out.

 Up above him, the rescue teams had slowly begun to remove the debris, working frantically to dig Johnny and Anna out of the rubble… but over the noise of the rescue efforts Tim Blake had heard Johnny’s shout

                                                         ~ ~ ~

He was wet…he was cold…he was in excruciating pain… Slowly his dark eyes opened.

Okay; mental note to self… yelling is bad. Johnny thought to himself.

He looked over towards Anna, and was relieved to see she was still breathing, but her eyes were still closed.

Johnny saw that he still held the partial roll of kerlix in his hand. He wished he could free himself from this girder so he could use it to fashion a sling for his shoulder and arm.    It was one of the skills he had, that he was better at than either Roy or the Doc’s.

Both Johnny and Roy had their own individual strengths and weaknesses….As far as medical skills and knowledge they were an even match.

But there was no doubt, Johnny’s fingers were better at rope tying, and bandaging. Roy had more patience with argumentative victim’s relatives, and rubber-neckers.

Johnny was the better navigator, Roy was the better driver.

 Johnny was fearless when it came to heights, and he was as sure footed as a mountain goat on cliffs. But Johnny was horrible when it came to boats… he got hopelessly seasick, and Roy was definitely the better swimmer of the two of them… Put Roy on a water rescue and watch him shine.

Roy was much better at filling out all the paperwork end of things too…well okay…that part fell under Johnny’s personal axiom; “if you get too good at any job it becomes yours for life.”  

He had to confess that he was bad at the paperwork “by design” he chuckled.

But as far as his skill with Kerlix, Johnny was a master. Even Brackett had told Johnny he was the King of wrapping a figure eight brace when immobilizing a shoulder injury.

In fact it never ceased to amaze Roy how uncommonly adept Johnny was when it came to wrapping an injured limb.  Yet any time he tried to wrap a Christmas or birthday gift it came out looking like a disastrous mess.

Johnny looked at the bandage that was slowly soaking up the water and sighed… Irony….yep he hated that word today.

The snow that lay around him had now soaked right through his Anorak, and the ice had become slushy… He was also acutely aware that his legs, which were closest to the melting ice; were beginning to go numb with the cold.

He was shivering violently which was not doing much to help the pain level. At least Anna was up high and dry and out of the wet and cold.

He mentally forced himself to go through the stages of Hypothermia, just to try and keep himself awake.

When the body temperature drops below ninety degrees, the vital organs start to shut down…  He didn’t think he was that bad yet.

The body had mechanisms to divert blood flow away from the outside part of your skin where it exchanges temperature with the outside environment, to below a layer of fat that every human has. Yeah…he was past that part for sure.

He was well past the goose bumps stage.

Goose bumps were kind of the body’s way to lift the hairs on your body to create loft, which in theory creates a space for warm air…which worked well enough for birds and animals with fur…but was a bit pathetic and woefully inadequate for humans…since humans don’t actually have fur…it didn’t actually create too much “loft”.

Johnny raised the fingers on his left hand to his neck and took his carotid pulse…slow and weak…shit.

He was still at the violent shivering stage…. moderate hypothermia…he was certainly sleepy, but the hypothermia could be aided by his head injury…

He knew how the cold affected the electrical impulses that make the heart beat…which made a hypothermic victim’s heart beat very delicate.

Next step, weak irregular heart beat…shivering stops… unconsciousness….WHITE DEATH.

Okay, this probably wasn’t the best idea for a diversionary tactic. Think about something else, Johnny, he told himself.

He looked up and took note that the shafts of sunlight had now moved…the afternoon was waning.

He began to wonder how long he’d been in this mess. He could still hear the rescue teams, but was disheartened when he realized that they were digging in the wrong area. They were too far to his right….whatever direction right was.

Ah to Hell with this… I gotta yell, I gotta let them know they’re digging in the wrong place.

Steeling himself, Johnny took a deep breath and yelled out once more.

“I’M OVER TO YOUR LEFT…I’M OVER HERE…WE’RE BOTH OVER HERE!!!!”

Just before losing consciousness, Johnny was sure he heard Tim’s voice shout back…”Hang on Cap…we’re coming for you.”

The next moment of awareness for Johnny, was of hearing Roy’s voice… but for some reason it sounded like he was yelling down from the other end of a long tunnel…

“We got ya, Junior. You just hang in there, you’re gonna be okay.” Roy was saying.

Johnny was cognizant to the fact that he was now swathed in several layers of blankets and he had an IV running in his left arm. He felt the swaying of the stokes as his body was being transported across what he figured was the arena parking lot.

He tried to speak, but he came to the quick realization that he must have been given some kind of strong medication, because the message center part of his temporal lobe that told his mouth to form the words he wanted to say to Roy, just wasn’t co-operating.

The next thing he knew he was being loaded onto the life flight helicopter, and both Roy and Doctor Brackett were climbing in after him… he was also vaguely aware that Jason Doyle and Anna Nelson were also on board.

The doors to the chopper were closed and he felt it gradually lift off the ground.

Roy was still talking to him, but it was getting harder and harder to make sense of the words coming out of his mouth.

The only thing he cared about right now, was the fact that he was out of the arena, he was wrapped in warm blankets and on his way to a medical facility… and Roy was there. And that was just fine by Johnny… for right at that moment in time, that was all he needed.

He slowly let his eyes slide shut, content in the knowledge that everything was going to be okay.

                                                        ~~~

He could hear the sounds of a heart monitor; the air was filled the antiseptic scent that screamed out, hospital. And he was trussed up like a Christmas turkey.

Those were the first things that ran through Johnny’s mind as he lay there with his eyes closed.

He stayed in that pleasant state of drug induced nirvana for several moments, while he tried to decide if it was worth the effort to open his eyes, or should he just let himself slip back into the land of nod, where everything was warm, pleasant and blissfully pain free.

He had just decided to opt for more drug induced slumber, when he heard the familiar sound of Roy’s soft snores. That was all the incentive his battered body needed to force his eyelids open. It took a monumental effort on his part, but eventually he succeeded.

He lay there for nearly five minutes just watching his partner and big brother sleep.

 The room was dark and quiet…Funny, Johnny thought groggily… Roy’s wearing pyjamas and a robe? That’s new. Usually he was in his street clothes during these all night vigils.

He looked around the hospital room… he was in a semi private room in what he could only guess was probably the Burlington hospital. He’d never been past the emergency room area of this particular hospital. Nor had he ever been a patient here.

Well that wasn’t strictly true; he’d been up in the children’s ward once when he picked up Carrie Miller, the nurse he frequently dated, after work. But he had never actually had a thorough tour of the place, other than the whistle stop tour of the E.R. that Byron Fellowes had given them on their first visit to Vermont almost ten months earlier.

Almost as if he were aware that he was being watched, Roy shifted restlessly on the chair and opened his eyes. He was immediately out of his chair and at Johnny’s bedside.

“How are ya doing Junior?” he asked; as he offered him a drink of water.

Johnny’s voice was still quite raspy even after the sip of cool water.

“Um….I’m not too sure….maybe you should tell me… What’s the damage?”

Roy pulled the chair up next to the bed and sat down.

“Broken right scapula, humerus, clavicle, and a hairline fracture of the sternum…you’re also in the early stages of pneumonia. You were suffering from moderate hypothermia when you first came in…but now you’re temperature is just under 102.”

Johnny sighed painfully. His lungs had always been his Achilles heel; even as a child he’d had a tendency towards lung infections.

But it seemed as if his proclivity for developing pneumonia, along with other respiratory ailments had increased exponentially ever since he’d lost his spleen after being run down by a drunk driver a few years earlier.

He turned his attention back to his pyjama-clad brother.

“What about you? How come you’re in your jammies bro? That’s a little bit casual … even for you.”

“I’m in here for observation… I got a minor concussion out of the deal yesterday

too…remember?” Roy said as he gently patted Johnny’s free left hand.

Johnny shook his head slightly… he didn’t actually remember a whole hell of a lot about yesterday. In fact it was almost ten minutes before his eyes opened wide in fear and he grabbed Roy’s hand with his left one.

“Anna?” he suddenly asked frantically.

Roy squeezed his hand and stood up beside him.

“She’s got a depressed skull fracture; Joe Early operated on her. She’s currently up in the ICU in a coma. It’s a bit too early to tell yet what her outcome is going to be.”

Johnny closed his eyes.

“She was right there Roy…not ten feet away and I couldn’t do a damn thing to help her.”

Johnny whispered sadly.

“Hey…none of that Junior.” Roy admonished.

“That skull fracture happened long before you even arrived on the scene, and if it hadn’t been for you calling out like you did… they might never have found her at all until it was too late. No guilt okay? You don’t control Mother Nature… and you’re not in charge of arena maintenance or making sure the roof is cleared off.”

“Now, how about you go back to sleep… I’ll be here when you wake up again…I promise.” Roy said soothingly.

Johnny nodded his head and allowed the overwhelming pull of sleep to claim him once more.

                                                          ~   ~   ~ 

It was early in the afternoon of March seventeenth, and Byron Fellowes was just approaching room 318, when he heard a burst of laughter coming from out of the room.

Upon opening the door, he found Johnny Gage surrounded by a large group of his friends and family, which included the DeSoto family, Doctors Early and Brackett as well as Dixie McCall,  both the A, and C shifts of the Franklin County Rescue Station, and a few other nurses, he couldn’t place.

Sitting on the bedside table beside John Gage, was a large birthday cake that Dixie was in the process of carving up and handing around to everyone on small paper plates.

Johnny was sitting up in bed and he was wearing a party hat that was adorned with bright green shamrocks all over it.

He was still using the nasal cannula for some oxygen support, and he was still getting his antibiotics by I.V. while he continued to slowly recover from the pneumonia. He was also the proud owner of an awkward shoulder Spica cast, while his fractured bones healed.

Bryon smiled as he pushed his way inside the injured man’s room.

“You know you’re more than slightly over the limit for allowed visitors in here?” he joked playfully.

“Careful Byron; or I won’t let you have a piece of my birthday cake.” Joe answered back.

Byron laughed out loud.

“I’m on duty this afternoon anyway, so they’ll be very little partying for me…I just came up to tell you that Anna Nelson came out of her coma this morning. She’s got a long road of physical therapy ahead of her, but given time, the expectation is that she should recover fully.”

Johnny was especially pleased to hear the good news, and his face broke out into a huge grin.

“Well alright,” he exclaimed happily. “That’s great news doc.”

“I’d thought that would cheer you up a bit,” Byron said.

Roy looked on as Johnny picked up his plastic fork in his left hand and stabbed clumsily at his piece of cake trying to spear a piece onto the utensil. He continued on in this way for several minutes before Joanne’s maternal instincts kicked in and she took the fork out of Johnny’s hand.

“Here, let me help you with that Johnny.”  She said.

Joanne opened up one of the paper napkins and spread it out over Johnny’s cast, before she secured a piece of cake onto his fork and handed it back to him.

“Thanks Jo,” Johnny said gratefully before he smiled and shoved the forkful of cake into his mouth and happily chewed on it.

As soon as Johnny, (with Joanne’s help,) had finished the last bite of his cake, Roy reached down beside the bed and produced a gift wrapped package and set it down onto the tray in front of Johnny.

Johnny looked up in confusion…”Uh, Roy? It’s not my birthday…it’s the doc’s. He’s the one who gets the gifts today.”

Roy just grinned and shoved the gift closer to his injured friend.

“Consider this a get well gift then,” he replied, throwing a wink in Joanne’s direction.

After struggling with the paper for what seemed like forever, he finally managed to get the gift free. The moment he laid eyes on it he began to giggle.

He was soon joined by the other guests when they looked over and seen a thick Disney colouring book and a box of sixty four Crayola crayons sitting on the tray in front of Johnny.

“Hey!” Johnny exclaimed happily. “You got me the big box of crayons….thanks Roy.” At which point the room filled up with gales of laughter.

 

It was over an hour later and all of the guests had left… all but Roy.

Kelly Brackett had just said his good byes to Johnny and the Desoto’s before heading back with Joe Early to his condo; he was planning on treating the birthday boy to an evening on the town, before he had to leave for Baltimore the next morning.

Dixie decided to go back to Swanton with Roy and Joanne so she could put on her “glad rags” before she joined the two doctors at the local jazz club later that evening.

Joanne and Dixie had gone down to the cafeteria for a cup of tea while they waited for Roy and Johnny to say good bye to each other in private.

Johnny had been a bit depressed over his spoiled plans for Joe Early’s surprise party, and Roy was hesitant about leaving him alone all evening to brood about it.

The two women had just finished their tea, and were about to head out to the car to wait for Roy, when Joanne realized she had left her sweater up in Johnny’s room.

They walked back over to the elevator and pushed the up arrow. Once inside Joanne hit the button for the third floor and waited for the elevator to take her back up to Johnny’s floor so she could retrieve the forgotten sweater.

They were just about to open the door to Johnny’s room, when they heard what sounded like arguing coming from inside.

“For heaven’s sake Johnny…what difference does it make what colour I use?” Roy’s exasperated voice came drifting out from behind the closed door.

Carefully the women opened the hospital room’s door just a crack and peaked curiously inside; the sight that met their eyes caused both women to giggle.

There was Johnny with the blue crayon in his left hand doing his best to colour, while Roy held the colouring book steady with his own left hand.

Roy held a green crayon is his right hand, and it was soon clear to both women that he was trying his best to help Johnny colour his picture.

 Roy’s face was the very essence of the longsuffering friend trying to placate his sick buddy.

“Roooy, everybody knows that Pluto’s dog collar is red…not green…sheesh.”  Johnny said giving Roy an impatient glare.

Silently the two women closed the door and stepped back into the hall.

“What do you say Dix? One more cup of tea before we go?” Joanne giggled.

“With the way those two are carrying on, I’m guessing we’ll have time for some pie too” Dixie answered.

Still giggling the two women made their way back toward the elevators, while Johnny’s voice could still be heard drifting back out into the hallway…

“Come on Roy…who doesn’t know that Mickey’s pants are red….”

 

                                                       The End

 

 Posted to site 03/04/12     

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