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One hundred and nine people stepped onto the passenger train headed out of Washington, bound for Montreal. They were secure in the knowledge that their chosen mode of transportation would function as it was supposed to and that the rail lines they travelled on had been properly maintained … Unfortunately maintenance is only as good as the people in charge of it…
Swanton Vermont, Saturday November 3rd 1978.
The clock on the city hall bell tower had just struck noon when the white Land Rover pulled up in front of the DeSoto home on the quiet tree lined street. It was the first Saturday of November and the weather was still warm enough for the men to be wearing t-shirts. The wild geese were still hanging around the shores of Lake Champlain, and as of yet, the nights had remained so uncharacteristically mild that they hadn’t seen any hint of frost so far that autumn.
Inside the vehicle, John Gage and Roy DeSoto sat in silence just staring out the front windshield. After several moments of saying nothing, Roy looked over at his partner and sighed.
“I guess I better get inside, Jo probably has lunch ready by now.” He reached down with his hand and pulled on the door handle and shouldered open the door. He glanced over at Johnny and noticed his eyes were still gazing straight ahead.
“You sure you don’t wanna come in and stay for a while… have some lunch? The kids would love to see ya.”
Roy thought that watching his two healthy, vibrant children playing… maybe even joining in with a game of catch, would be exactly what Johnny needed right now. That was what he was going to be doing that afternoon. After the abysmal morning they had both had…they certainly needed it.
Johnny shook his head, and looked over at his partner with a sad smile.
“Naw… I’m just gonna go home…maybe go riding with Koda this afternoon. I just wanna be alone for a while … but thanks for the offer.”
Roy tried again. “How about tomorrow then? Joanne could pack us a picnic lunch and we could head down to the lakeshore for the day… just the five of us?”
Roy didn’t like the idea of his younger partner spending the next two and a half days alone. Johnny was the type of person who needed to talk things out… he needed to vent, and Roy was usually his chosen sounding board when the need arose. And this was definitely one of those times.
Johnny seemed to seriously contemplate the offer for a minute and Roy was sure he was going to accept, but at the last moment Johnny heaved a heavy and sigh and slowly shook his head no.
“I better take a rain check on that one, Roy. Dixie wants to paint the walls in the guest house, and I sorta promised her I would help her out tomorrow.” Seeing the look of dismay on Roy’s face, he immediately amended his statement.
“How about if I stop by for supper on Sunday … that is if you don’t think Jo would mind?”
Roy still wished Johnny would come inside with him now instead of fostering the images they had just left behind them for two days without talking things out with him… but he realized that this was the best offer he was going to get from his younger brother, and it was better than nothing.
“Okay, Junior,” he finally relented. “How about you drop by around eleven?”
“Good deal,” Johnny said with a smile that fell far short of being genuine.
Roy had barely hoisted himself halfway out of the vehicle’s open door when he felt Johnny’s hand on his arm. Looking back inside the Rover, Roy was met by a pair of dark mournful eyes, full of sorrow.
“Give Chris and Jen an extra big hug from their Uncle Johnny, will ya?” he almost whispered.
Roy understood the look… understood the impetus for the request. God only knew he was feeling the same thing himself. “You just make sure you show up on Sunday, and give them one in person,” he replied. Roy paused for a moment. “Are you sure you’re okay, Johnny? The offer for lunch is still open …”
Johnny turned his head and stared wordlessly out the windshield; his jaw clenched tightly, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he fought to control his emotions.
“No,” he whispered. “I just need some time alone. I just wanna grab Koda and go for a ride for a while.”
Roy reached back inside the Rover and gave his partner’s shoulder a comforting squeeze before he pulled himself out of the vehicle and closed the door. He took a step toward the sidewalk and then suddenly turned back to lean in the open window.
“Make sure you call me later on tonight, Junior, okay?”
Johnny never moved his eyes off the horizon, but nodded his head. He knew Roy was just as shook up about this morning as he was, and that Roy needed to talk things out … and that he was the only other person who probably really understood. He also knew that he needed Roy just as much… and for the same reason. But right at this moment, before he could talk about his feelings with anyone, Johnny needed the space to figure out just exactly what those feelings were.
“Yeah… okay. I promise,” Johnny answered.
He waited at the curb, watching Roy slowly plod up his walkway… the man looked as if he had aged ten years in just a few short hours. He understood the feeling well.
He watched as Roy paused outside his front door and turned to look back at Johnny, giving him a small wave.
Johnny returned the wave in kind and turned the key in the ignition. He waited until Roy had completely entered the house and closed the door before he shifted the vehicle into drive and sped off.
~ ~ ~
Roy stepped into the foyer of his home and hung his jacket on the hook beside the door. As he stepped into the living room, he noticed the absence of any sounds. There was none of the usual noise that typically filled his home on a Saturday, just before lunch. Usually at this hour, his children would be watching television or playing outside in the backyard while they waited for Joanne to make the meal.
As for Joanne, she always had the radio on, listening to the noon news report while she prepared the food. But at present, none of those sounds were apparent. The house sounded cavernous, and his footsteps seemed to echo on the hardwood floors.
Even though it was obvious that no one was home at the moment, Roy called out his wife’s name anyway. Receiving no answering call, he ambled into the kitchen, where he found a note written in Joanne’s flowery handwriting sitting in the center of the table.
The kids and I were invited out to lunch by Dixie and Joe. I made some chicken salad sandwiches for you in the refrigerator… we should be home by two.
Setting down the note, Roy walked over to the fridge and pulled out the plate of sandwiches, the jar of dill pickles and a bottle of beer. Opening the cupboard he snagged the bag of potato chips and carried them over and set them onto the table.
Roy found he had no appetite for the food, but he forced himself to eat it anyway. He knew that going without eating would only give him a headache later on. Besides, he’d have to explain to Jo later on why he hadn’t eaten, and he wasn’t ever going to tell her about this morning… ever.
Once he had consumed all the food in front of him, he made his way into the den and sat down in front of his big oak desk. Reaching into the pocket of his jeans, he withdrew his key ring and fumbled with the mass of keys until he found the one he was looking for and held it between his fingers.
He took the key and inserted it into the lock on the front of the desk and opened the top drawer. Inside, sitting on a pile of papers, sat a well-worn, brown leather journal. Roy removed the book and walked over to his leather recliner.
He had started to keep a journal during the time Johnny was recovering in the hospital after the bus hijacking incident. It had been such a stressful time for all of them … including Roy, and he found he needed some way to deal with all of his emotions. It had been the counselor who had helped Johnny and the Mills children after the kidnapping that had suggested that Roy keep a journal as a way of getting his feelings out. At the time, Roy hadn’t wanted to burden Johnny with his nightmares and his fears about Johnny’s health; Johnny had already had so much to deal with during that time.
It had worked so well for him that Roy had kept up the practice of writing his most difficult rescues down in his journal as a way of “talking” them out once he returned home each day after his shift.
Most people who worked with the two men, would not have been surprised to discover Roy kept a personal journal… after all he was the one people usually pegged as being the introspective one of the team. But that was only partially true; the truth of the matter was that Johnny was just as introspective as Roy was… probably more. The main difference between the two men was that Roy wrote his hurts down on paper and hid them between the pages of his journal, whereas Johnny tended to wear his emotions on his sleeve.
But when it came to the really big issues about life, death and spiritual matters, Johnny felt things very deeply. Johnny had the wisdom that only came from experience and intense personal pain.
The tragedies of Johnny’s youth had given him a depth and an understanding that very few people ever saw. Johnny typically held his deepest hurts close… sharing them only with Roy and occasionally Dixie and Joanne, so most people only saw the reactionary, outgoing side of the man who had become his brother.
Roy sat in the den for nearly fifteen minutes, just staring down at the book in his hands, before he slowly opened it and slid the pen out from the pen holder attached to the journal’s side and began to write.
Saturday, November 3th 1978.
It was just over a week ago that Johnny and I last talked to Gary Butler. He had stopped by the Station to show us his certificate in the advanced first aid course he had just completed. We had offered to let him hang around and eat dinner with us, but he was in a hurry to get away.
He was picking up his new suit for the Sadie Hawkins dance that was going to be held next week at the recreation center in Burlington. Gary had been blown away by the fact that Debbie Woodward, the head cheerleader, had asked him to take her to the upcoming dance.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Gary is a fine young man. But he simply wasn’t the type of boy that a head cheerleader associated with. Gary was a sixteen year old junior at the local high school, a very studious young man, who was on the debate team, as well as member of the physics club and the chess club. He was a straight A student, but he tended to be socially awkward, he was not good at athletics and was what most kids called square; so the fact that the hottest girl in school had actually asked him to take her to the dance had caused the young man both a tremendous amount of excitement as well as nervousness.
Johnny and I first met Gary seven months ago when he was a fifteen year old sophomore. He and his father had been in a minor car accident and we had transported the pair of them to the Michelle Danforth Clinic to be treated. It was a little over a week later when he showed up at the station to thank us, and to ask us how he could go about becoming a Paramedic when he graduated high school.
Ever since that day he had spent much of his spare time at the station, reading every Paramedic manual we had, asking us questions or just visiting us guys. So there was a great amount of shock and dismay when we were told last Sunday morning that Gary Butler had gone missing.He had been last seen on the Saturday afternoon by his younger sister, Amelia.
According to the thirteen year old, he had been going to meet up with Debbie Woodward at the Burlington mall to find out what she would be wearing to the dance, so he could make sure he picked out the right color corsage. But somewhere between here and Burlington, Gary disappeared without a trace. It seems he never made it to the mall to meet up with Debbie that afternoon. By eleven pm, when he had failed to contact anyone, his parents had called Ted Cooper to report him missing.All week long the Police searched every back road and ditch between Swanton and Burlington looking for any traces of the missing teen. It wasn’t until early last evening, when a hiker came across Gary’s abandoned car on the North end of the Missisquoi Nature Reserve that the Police realized they were searching in the wrong area.
Ted had stopped by the station late last night and asked if Johnny and I would join in the search this morning for the missing teen. Ted had reasoned that even though Johnny had only lived in the area for a year, he had spent a great deal of his downtime hiking and exploring in the Nature Reserve, so consequently he knew his way around inside its borders better than most of the lifelong residents.
Both Johnny and I had grown quite fond of Gary and we quickly agreed to join in the search. And so it was that as soon as we got off shift this morning, we went home to change into our hiking clothes and boots. It was just before nine a.m. when Johnny showed up at my door in his Rover, ready to drive us both out to the search command post at the edge of the reserve.Ted had specifically kept the search teams small. There were only three main trails in the area where the car had been discovered the evening before, and since he needed to make sure the on duty Fire Department, Paramedics and Police would be available for any emergencies that cropped up throughout the day;
the three search teams were made up of off duty Emergency services personnel. Team one consisted of Ted Cooper, the Chief of Police and Larry Watson, an off duty fireman. Team two was made up of Bruce Jenkins, the fire chief and Garrett Morrison, one of the Paramedics from D shift. Team three was of course Johnny and I. Ted had explained that his other reasoning for the smaller teams made up entirely of first responders was the fact that the boy had now been missing for six days, and should it turn out that he had been the victim of foul play, or an animal attack, it would be better if John Q. Public wasn’t witness to a such a scene, or be there to trample all over any evidence.
Johnny and I both knew that Gary was an experienced outdoorsman. He and his father frequently hunted and fished, and enjoyed camping outdoors. Because of this we both secretly held out hope that he had gone for a hike and simply lost his way… or perhaps fallen and broken an ankle. The nights were warm enough that exposure would not be a huge issue. As long as he had had some water to drink and some provisions to eat, we knew he could last out here for several days. Neither one of us wanted to face the fact that there was a very real chance Gary was not alive. So at nine thirty that morning, armed with a first aid kit, canteens full of water and an HT, we all headed out to our respective trails to look for any signs of Gary.
We had been searching along the trails for just over an hour, when we first caught a whiff of an unmistakable scent that caused our hearts to sink into our stomachs … it was the smell of death.It was just off to the right of us, and the closer we got, the more nauseating the smell became. It was what we in the business refer to as a “VICKS” case.
We occasionally ran into them while doing welfare checks on elderly residents. It was the stomach turning odor of a decomposing cadaver. We called them “VICKS” cases because whenever we were confronted with such a case, many first responders would rub a dab of Vicks Vapo-rub under their noses… or a smear of Noxema, in an attempt to cover up the smell. It never really worked completely, but even a little bit of help in that regard was always welcome.We hadn’t gone very far off the trail before we found a tiny clearing where we discovered Gary’s body hanging in a tree with a rope tied around his neck and a backpack on the ground below his feet.
Six days of mild weather and the local wildlife had not been kind to the body. In fact, unless we had known who it was we were looking for, it would have taken us several moments to even identify the corpse as being that of our young friend Gary. For the first minute or so, I fought down the urge to lose my breakfast right there on the forest floor… and if the paleness of Johnny’s face was any indicator, he was having the same problem.
Johnny stood and stared at the sight before us and swore quietly under his breath. He slowly lifted the HT to his mouth and contacted Ted. After filling him in on what we found, he backed away to the edge of the clearing … this was no longer a search and rescue… this was now potentially a crime scene and we did not want to disturb any evidence.
Johnny quickly removed himself as far as he could from the scene, and I quickly followed suit. There was nothing either one of us could do now but to remain where we were until Ted arrived to take over.
Johnny looked over at me, his eyes full of pain and confusion. It was a look I had seen in those dark eyes many times before. He always reminded me of a little lost boy, and it tore at my heart. He opened his mouth and uttered a single word. “Why?”I didn’t have an answer for Johnny… I had no idea either. The truth was, I wanted to know the answer to that question just as much as he did.
Gary had seemed like such a put together young man. He had good grades, a good home life, and he knew what he wanted out of life. For the life of me I couldn’t fathom why a promising young sixteen year old boy would wander out into the middle of the bush, and hang himself.
It wasn’t until we were getting ready to head home that we finally got our answer from Ted Cooper. It seemed Gary had left a suicide note behind in his backpack, and Ted had let us “unofficially” read it. It seemed that Gary had indeed made it into Burlington that Saturday night, and had arrived at food court part of the mall, where he was to meet up with Debbie.
He had been just about to join them when he heard his date laughing and joking with several of her friends. By eavesdropping on the conversation, Gary had been horrified to discover that the only reason the fair Debbie had asked him to the dance was because she had lost a bet, and asking him to the dance had been her punishment. The further he listened the more he discovered that he was the laughing stock of the entire student body… or at least the segment of the “popular clique” that the young people all strived to emulate.
The young man’s pain and humiliation literally bled from the words scrawled across his farewell note…he had been so embarrassed by the thought of being a public joke that he had decided he couldn’t bear to face this classmates at school on the Monday morning.
I only wish that the boy had come to Johnny or me. Maybe we could have shown him that these things are only temporary, and that it is the people who do such cruel acts that come off as looking bad… not the victim. That his true friends would stick by him. But when you’re sixteen, popularity and peer approval is important, and even a case of acne seems like the end of the world. The teenage years can be such an awkward, tough time, with raging hormones, and intense feelings of fear, self-esteem issues and a longing to fit in.
In the end, knowing “why” he had taken his own life really hadn’t made either Johnny or I feel better, and I know that it will be a very long time before either one of us get the mental picture of Gary Butler’s decomposing corpse hanging in that tree out of our minds.
Roy paused in his writing, setting his pen down upon the open face of his journal. He leaned back in his chair and gazed out the window watching the birds that had gathered around the bird feeder in his back yard. He wished Joanne and the kids had been here when he had arrived home. As the father of two children, this morning had shaken him to the core of his being. He needed so badly to just hug Chris and Jenny… to hold them close and to feel the warmth of his living and vibrant children in his arms.
This morning had strengthened his resolve to make sure both of his children grew up endowed with enough self-esteem, enough confidence and support that they wouldn’t end up being another teenage statistic. He needed to make sure that neither Chris nor Jenny grew up to be another Gary… or another Debbie. He wanted to instill in them a sense of respect for everyone… to make sure that they treated everyone with kindness, courtesy and compassion.
He wished that Johnny had come in with him. The rescue had affected Johnny just as badly as it had him. Roy hated the idea of Johnny sitting at home alone brooding. He at least had his wife and children to help pull him out of his funk… Johnny had gone home to an empty house.
Roy was still sitting there, lost in thought, when he heard the front door opening. The sound of Joanne and the kids entering the house calling out his name was a soothing balm to his gloomy mood. He quickly shut his journal and slid it back into the drawer and locked it safely inside, where neither Chris nor Jenny would inadvertently get ahold of it and read any of the things he had written inside of it over the last few years… the words written inside his journal were not the kind of things he wanted his children to read about… ever.
Just like he had planned, Roy spent the better part of the next hour playing in the backyard with his kids. He reveled in how happy and healthy they were. He joined in with their laughter letting it wash away the horrific memories of that morning. They were just about to begin a game of catch when Joanne came out onto the deck, and yelled across the yard to her husband.
“Roy … there’s a telephone call for you. I think it’s Ted Cooper.
~ ~ ~
Johnny stood in the corral, curry comb in hand as he continued to brush down Koda’s coat. He took comfort in the warmth coming off of the animal as it stood in the sun munching contentedly on the pail of oats in front of him.
It was almost two, and Johnny was getting hungry. He hadn’t bothered to eat when he had arrived home almost two hours earlier. He just couldn’t stomach the idea of food… not after witnessing Gary Butler’s body hanging lifeless in a tree that morning.
He knew the vision would haunt him for a long time to come… he also knew he would never again hike down that particular trail in the nature reserve. He was sad, depressed and angry. Angry at the senseless loss of life; angry that one person could purposely hurt another so cruelly; angry that Gary hadn’t gone to someone and talked it out, rather than end his life. The last thought sent a pang of guilt through his heart. He had no real reason to be angry at the boy.
He of all people knew how cruel one person could be to another. He was living proof of that. He understood the resulting pain and feelings of hopelessness it caused. Still in all the years of tragedy and abuse, he had never once ever considered taking his own life. As a Paramedic he knew that that wasn’t always the case. It all hinged on the personality of each individual. It was a contributing factor as to why some people gave up on life and others chose to fight their way through the pain and anguish.
Roy had always told him he could be willful and stubborn … perhaps that is what had made the difference between him and Gary. Johnny had always had the determination that he was going to survive and make his parents proud. It also helped that he believed in a loving and caring God. Faith and hope in God could heal a lot of wounds. The idea that he could pray and talk to the Creator of the Universe, and that he was being heard, had been comforting to him time and time again throughout his life. Maybe that had been a factor. Maybe Gary didn’t have any faith or hope. In the end, it didn’t really matter anymore. Gary Butler was dead and there was nothing anyone could do about that now.
The one worry that had been bothering him all afternoon was, had he and Roy missed something… had there been any indication that Gary was contemplating doing something like this?
Johnny thought back to the final time he had spoken to the boy and shook his head… No, there had been no indication whatsoever. Gary had been happy… He had been excited about the upcoming dance and his date with Debbie Woodward. Gary hadn’t even known about the cruel joke Debbie and her friends had played on him.
Debbie... he sighed in disgust. He wondered if she would ever know her role in Gary’s suicide. He fought with himself over whether it would be a good thing, or a bad thing for those kids to know what damage their cruel joke had caused.
On one hand it would be a good lesson for them, about how words and actions could cause a lot of hurt and pain… on the other hand, a teenager wracked with that much guilt could very well be the cause for more suicides.
Johnny had tried to push these thoughts from his mind without much success. Either way there was nothing he could do about any of it now. Whether the kids found out about why Gary had killed himself was beyond his control. The only thing he would accomplish by worrying about it would be to tie himself up in knots. He knew better than anyone else that sometimes in life there were no satisfying answers, and that not every ending was a happy one.
He wished there was a track close by… he had an overwhelming urge to strap on his sneakers and just run… and run and run and run … until he was too exhausted to run any further. He needed to burn off all these over powering emotions churning around inside of him.
The moment Johnny had arrived home he grabbed Koda and took him out into the open pasture. Like himself, Koda was a bit of a free spirit who needed to be reined in at times… but this morning Johnny saddled him up, climbed on his back and let him cut loose. Johnny had let him run full till across the fields to burn off his nervous energy… it suited Johnny’s own mood to get out there and try to outrun his feelings.
It was just after two when he finished brushing down Koda and turned him loose in the corral. Johnny made his way into his kitchen and grabbed the plate of cold friend chicken and the Tupperware container full of potato salad from the fridge. They were all that remained of a homemade meal, courtesy of Dixie. She had used it to butter him up, so he would agree to help her paint the guest house the next day.
By the time he had finished with his meal and made himself a strong cup of coffee, Johnny was beginning to feel somewhat better about life. He was still upset about Gary, but he knew that he would, in time, put it behind him and go on.
Johnny was just sitting in his recliner trying to decide which he wanted more… a second cup of coffee, or a nap. He had just decided that a second cup of coffee might be too much caffeine in his system if he hoped to catch a nap, when his phone rang.
Wearily, Johnny hoisted himself out of his lazy boy and sauntered over to the phone.
“Hullo,” he mumbled into the receiver, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. The voice coming over the line was one he knew well.
“Hello, John? This is Ted Cooper. I’m real sorry to bother you, especially after this morning, but we have a situation here and I am afraid I’m gonna need your help…”
~ ~ ~
Was a Paramedic ever truly, ‘off the clock’?
Johnny pondered the question as he drove his Rover along the dusty back roads heading north to the accident scene. He was driving as quickly as he could, while still being safe, in an effort to get there in the minimum amount of time possible.
The beauty of the late fall afternoon belied its solemnity. Despite the gorgeous autumn foliage and the warm sunshine, the day seemed to have lost its luster as far as the over-worked Paramedic was concerned. First there had been the discovery of Gary’s body that morning, and now he had been summoned to a potentially horrific accident. The only thing to be thankful for was the fact that the weather had been unusually warm this year. It could have been cold or there could have been skiffs of snow on the ground by now… or even worse, sleet. But this day the temperature was in the mid-sixties and still quite pleasant.
Johnny had already worked his regular shift until eight that morning and then he and Roy had gone straight to the nature reserve to help in the search for Gary Butler. By the time he had reached his home shortly after noon hour, he hadn’t been in the mood to eat… all he had wanted to do was get out on Koda and try and forget the dispiriting morning he had just had.
He had only been out riding for a little better than an hour before the gnawing sensation in his gut reminded him that he needed to stop and eat something. He’d barely finished his repast when the phone call from Ted had come in about a train accident just north of Swanton. So now here he was, back in uniform, staring out the windshield of his vehicle trying to mentally prepare himself for what lie ahead.
No, he thought ruefully. He didn’t suppose he was ever really off duty.
If he was being truthful with himself, he would have to concede that even if he hadn’t been called in, he still would have showed up the moment he got wind of the accident anyway; in a small town like Swanton, you always got wind of things fairly quickly. In fact, if you left the clinic with a diagnosis of pneumonia chances were, by the time you arrived home with your prescription, one of the church ladies would be standing there with a pot of chicken soup in her hand waiting for you. So he had no doubt in his mind that he would have ended up at the accident scene sooner or later anyway… and when lives hung in the balance, sooner was always better.
Besides, being a Paramedic was who he was. It was just how God had made him. He felt it in the very core of his being… it was like an overwhelmingly inherent need to intervene for the good. And his way of fulfilling that need had been to become a Paramedic.
Johnny made the final turn onto the road that would lead him to the makeshift command center. He glanced down at his watch and grimaced. It had been nearly twenty minutes since Ted had called him in. Immediately after getting the call, Johnny had slipped into his paramedic uniform and quickly phoned Seth, asking him to take care of the animals before he had headed out the door.
There was a lot hanging on his getting to the scene quickly; the victims’ golden hour was ticking away and from the way Ted had described it, the crash was in a difficult area to access.
Johnny went over the facts as he understood them in his head while he drove. All that Ted Cooper had known was that a bridge had collapsed as the passenger train that ran between Washington, DC and Montreal was crossing it and that they were calling in all available off duty personnel. There would be mass casualties involved, and even with the new Paramedic program in Swanton, there were still not many medical first responders in Franklin County … at least not enough for a major incident. They would have to call in help from surrounding areas, and that would take time.
For the critically injured, their golden hour could actually be golden minutes…mere seconds. If an artery was severed, you might literally only have a minute or two before they bled out. And sometimes no matter how fast you were, you couldn’t get to them in time to save them…. not unless you were there at the time. His years of experience had taught him not to dwell on those victims, or else you would burn out before the end of your first year on the job. At a certain point you just had to shove those very sad realities out of your head and get on with the rescue at hand.
The way he seen it, his job would more than likely end up being to provide some ‘stop gap’ measures. He would have to try and stabilize the victims before their time ran out, by using whatever means necessary. It might be staunching the flow of blood and starting an I.V. or giving them oxygen, or perhaps some form of medication and pain relief so he could buy them enough time until they could be extricated and taken to the triage area.
Ted had told him that they would need to organize rescue teams for victim extraction as well as a triage area, because the bridge crossing was in a location that made it impossible for vehicles to get to. The bridge ran over a deep river that wound its way through a heavily wooded area with no roads within a mile of the tracks.
The afternoon sun was still high in the sky when Johnny stopped his Rover in front of the road block near the end of the concession. The Sheriff approached his vehicle and stuck his head inside the window. Johnny was thankful he’d had the foresight to change into his uniform before he’d left the house, because the moment the officer came up to the Rover, a look of recognition crossed his face when he saw Johnny’s uniform….and instead of going through an interrogation of why he was there, the Sheriff simply asked, “Who’re you with?”
Johnny quickly informed him that he was a Paramedic Captain from the Franklin County Search and Rescue Station, and that Ted Cooper had directed him to report here. The officer motioned for his men to slide the barricade out of the way to let Johnny pass. Once through the road block, another officer directed him to the open field where they were setting up their command centre.
Johnny pulled the Rover into the staging area, stepped out of the vehicle and set off toward the group of officious looking men standing in the field. Beside them there was another group of men hurriedly erecting a tent intended to be a makeshift triage area for the incoming victims. As Johnny scanned the small crowd, he noticed that there was no sign of Roy yet. He knew that Roy, as well as the other off duty Paramedics from the Station would have been summoned to the scene along with him. The fact that he appeared to be the first one on the site did not surprise him in the least. His ranch was a good twenty minutes closer to the scene than Roy’s home.
He was quickly informed that the only way to the scene was by foot once they left the small lane than ran through the bush… they would have to haul the survivors up the embankment to be carried to the lane area where the victims would be loaded into the back of several four wheel drive vehicles, pick-up trucks and any other available vehicle that could handle the rough lane and fields to the triage area. From there they would be assessed by Dr. Fellowes and the other Paramedics and either sent into the clinic by ambulance, or be airlifted to Burlington.
The area was nothing more than a large open field beside a dirt road…but it was big enough to land a life flight chopper and the road was in good enough shape for the ambulances to use.
Johnny made his way over to the incident commander who had already arrived and was leaning over a large portable table with a map of the area spread out before him. He recognized him as the Franklin County Fire Chief, Bruce Jenkins.
Walking up behind him, Johnny slapped him gently on the shoulder. “Hey there Bruce, you wanna fill me in on the situation? What exactly are we dealing with?”
Chief Jenkins turned around and smiled grimly. “Hey there, John, it’s not great. It seems that the train bridge collapsed just as the passenger train was about one quarter of the way across. There were a total of seven passenger cars and one engine. I just got off the phone with the train company. According to their passenger list, there were a total of 109 passengers and seven crew; the engineer and the brakeman in the engine, the train guard, three attendants and a conductor. The chopper in the air says it appears like the engine and the first two cars have gone completely off the bridge, with two more cars over-turned on their sides on the embankment, and a third is teetering precariously on the edge. The last two cars seemed to have managed to stay upright on the tracks. I have no idea how many people were in what cars, but the company says each car is capable of holding up to 90 people.”
John puffed out his cheeks and blew out a breath of air. Rescues like this had a nasty habit of tossing a few curve balls your way. They often posed a myriad of logistical issues and problems. And the remoteness of this accident would mean it had its own unique issues. Johnny wished he knew beforehand how many of the passengers had been in the first cars…even those small details could make the difference between the failure and a successful rescue. He would need a large cache of medical supplies just in order to stabilize them enough to get them to the triage area. Unfortunately these rescues didn’t always afford them the luxury of time to figure out just exactly what he was going to need. This would be one of those times when he would have to work out the details on the fly once he got there.
“What kind of embankment are we looking at here Chief…is it wet, dry, rock, dirt…mud?” Johnny rattled off his list, knowing the stability of the embankment would be critical to their rescue efforts.
Bruce pointed to the map spread open in front of him. “In that area you’ll be dealing with an earth embankment. It’s been a dry fall, so I think we may have lucked out on that score. There may be some rock, but nothing like the bedrock cuts that are south east of here,” Bruce answered.
Johnny nodded, his brow knitted deep in thought. He pulled himself up to his full height and turned to face Bruce. “So, what is our plan of action? What manpower do we have available right now?”
The Fire Chief’s reply was cut off by the sounds of an approaching chopper that appeared overhead. The Paramedic Captain and the Chief quickly reached out to hold down the maps on the work table to keep them from flying away in the wake of the landing helicopter that was coming to rest in the field several yards away from where they were standing. Johnny recognized it as the life flight chopper that flew between the Swanton Rescue Station and the Burlington hospital.
The doors of the Chopper opened and Doctor Byron Fellowes and two Paramedics stepped out. Johnny knew the one Paramedic from Burlington. He was a medic slightly younger than himself named Richard Marshall. Johnny and his on again, off again, girlfriend, Carrie Miller, had double dated with Richard and Carrie’s roommate once or twice. Both Carrie and her roommate were nurses at the Burlington hospital’s emergency room. Although he had never met the other Paramedic walking beside Richard, Johnny assumed it was probably his partner.
Bruce waited until the three men came up before he turned back to face Johnny.
“Well, the way I see it, we’re going to have to do this in stages. We’ll have three basic groups of people. We’ll need at least two Paramedics to stay at the triage center with Dr. Fellowes. We’ll have a two way radio link here so you can keep in contact with the Doc via HTs, so he can okay you to treat on scene. We’ll need as many Paramedics as we can get on the actual scene until we know what we are dealing with. We’ve got another chopper, as well as another doctor and a team of Paramedics on their way here from Montpelier… plus all the off duty Paramedics and firefighters from Swanton. ”
Bruce paused to look Johnny in the eyes. “You and DeSoto being both Paramedic Captains, I figured one of you could stay here and help head up the triage end of things and the other could be at the scene. We’ll need at least two Paramedics to travel with the victims from the scene to the triage area as well.”
Johnny looked up and sighed in relief as he seen Colin Blackwell from C shift and Garret Morrison from D shift come running over.
“Gibby and Jack are on their way in,” Colin said as he approached the group.
“Roy should be here soon, too,” Johnny replied.
Precious seconds were ticking away so Johnny quickly volunteered to take command of the actual rescue sight, leaving Roy to handle the relatively safer job of heading up the triage area with Dr. Fellowes. Although he had never voiced it out loud as such, he had an unwritten rule that, whenever he could, he would make sure that Roy took the safer position during rescues. Contrary to what Chet used to say about him, Johnny did not willingly dice with death. But he also recognized that Roy had a lot more riding on his returning safely home each day than Johnny did. Sure he was part of their family… but he wasn’t a husband and father… at least not at this stage in his life.
Besides, this time he had to take the more dangerous job of working on scene simply by virtue of timing. He was there now and ready to leave immediately, ergo he could get to the train that much quicker and start treating the victims right away instead of having to wait for Roy to arrive.
With that settled in his mind, he turned to face the Chief. “Right, I’ll take Colin and Garret with me as well as Richard and…” Johnny paused to look at Richard’s partner.
The other Paramedic stuck out his hand in greeting. “Jon Gilkinson,” he answered with a smile.
Johnny grabbed the man’s hand and shook it warmly.
“I’ll leave it to Roy to help the Doc with the triage area .When they get here, tell Gibby and Jack to hang back here so they can assist the triage team. Once the guys from Montpelier arrive, they can join us at the crash site to oversee the transporting of the victims from the scene to the triage area. That way, those of us who are here now can get moving to the scene without having to wait for the others to arrive. Those people have already been waiting for medical help for over forty-five minutes as it is.”
“Sounds good,” Bruce answered. “I’ll send my boys with you to help with the extrication and securing the scene.”
“I could use a couple of your guys to help me, too,” Johnny answered. “There is going to be a lot of gear to carry and I could use a couple extra sets of hands. … and I don’t have my helmet with me either…I just came straight from the ranch.”
“You got it,” Bruce said as he turned and motioned to a couple a firemen over by one of the rigs. “Hey boys, grab an extra helmet and get over here,” he called out.
Johnny and the other Paramedics headed over to the tent to grab as much gear as they could carry, stopping only long enough to go over what medical supplies they would need with Byron. By the time they had everything loaded into three stokes, two firemen had arrived at Johnny’s side with the requested helmet.
“You guys with me?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah, Cap,” said a young red haired man who looked to be about twenty-five. “I’m Caleb Adler and this is Derek Collins,” he said, pointing to a slightly older, stocky man with sandy coloured hair.
Johnny paused to shake their hands before taking the helmet and putting it on his head. “Okay then boys… let’s saddle up,” he ordered.
And with that the group of men, grabbed the three stokes full of equipment and climbed into the back of the pick-up truck that would carry them to the drop off point.
~ ~ ~
It wasn’t the sight of the twisted steel that first caught Johnny’s attention, although the damage to the train was extensive. It was the eerie stillness all around him. There was no panic, only a few muffled sobs could be heard along with some faint hissing of steam. The sense of calm that prevailed seemed incongruous when juxtaposed against the carnage that lay strewn along the embankment in front of him.
Many of the walking wounded, clearly in shock, were just sitting on the hillside staring off into space. There were another thirty or more people who seemed to have escaped injury altogether and Johnny surmised it was they who had helped the less severely injured scramble up the bank to safety. Those who were not injured were quietly comforting the others.
Johnny’s dark eyes slowly swept over the area as he surveyed the scene. Large parts of the train were no longer recognizable.
Well, at least there were no fires, he noted in relief. “Thank-you God for small mercies,” he whispered under his breath.
The scene was pretty much as the chopper pilot had described it. Wreckage littered the ground everywhere. Twisted metal and debris had been tossed in all directions. Over half of the bridge lay in ruins in the river, hidden beneath a mound of compressed, pulverized steel that had pancaked into the shattered pilings and come to rest in the swift moving water. Nothing else about the pile of rubble looked familiar. It now resembled a piece of eclectic modern art.
There was certainly nothing to suggest that this had been the engine of the train only a short time before. It was safe to assume that anyone in the engine had died on impact.
One after the other, the first two passenger cars had slipped over the edge of the bridge with the force of several thousand tons of steel, where they then telescoped into each other, coming to rest on top of the twisted mass of steel that had been the engine. They collapsed in on themselves, crushing innocent victims inside. Johnny sighed as he glanced over at what remained of the carriages. The prospect of there being many survivors in those first two cars looked bleak.
The third and fourth cars had fared marginally better. It seemed they had, at some point in their decent, broken free of the engine and the first two cars and had pitched over onto their sides, slowing their decent somewhat. The force of the toppling cars had ripped open the sides of the carriages, spilling some of its contents along the embankment. Both cars had been heavily damaged and there were large gaping wounds along the sides of both cars. Most of the injured were trapped inside the crumpled train car. A few lucky passengers managed to escape through broken windows.
Johnny’s biggest worry was the fifth car. Like the two cars before it, it had come uncoupled from the front of the train. Although it had it freed itself from the cars in front of it, it had remained attached to the cars behind it. But unlike the first four cars, it had somehow managed to stop just short of falling over the bridge, and was now teetering precariously on the sheared off edge of the bridge, threatening to drag the other two cars over with it, should it become dislodged from its precarious perch.
From his vantage point, it appeared to Johnny as if everyone inside of the teetering car had vacated through the back door of the carriage. The problem was that the carriage was situated directly above the overturned fourth train car. Any movement or shift in the ground beneath it would undoubtedly send the rest of the train careening over the edge and into the overturned fourth car below. Stabilizing the fifth train car was going to be tricky. It would be difficult to tie off an entire passenger car without heavy equipment… and the logistics of getting that equipment into this remote area would be a nightmare.
Johnny quickly assessed the situation and immediately went to work. Turning to the Fire Chief, he gestured toward the train. “What do you think, Bruce?”
The Fire Chief eyed the train, his brow furrowing. “Ideally, Johnny, I’d like to uncouple that fifth car from the rest of the train. That way if she goes over, she won’t pull the other two cars with her. The problem is, it may just be their combined weight that is keeping that fifth car from going over in the first place…I’ll have my guys look at it as see what they think.”
Johnny nodded as he rummaged through his gear, grabbing what he thought he needed to carry with him. “Okay, Chief, it’s your call. I’m going to need a couple of your guys and the K-12. I’m not holding out much hope for anyone in the first two cars, but It’s a given that we’re going to have to cut some of the people in those overturned cars out of the wreckage.”
“You got it, John,” Bruce said as he motioned for two of his guys to assist the Paramedic Captain and his men.
Like Johnny, the other medics had been busy gathering supplies to carry over to the carnage in front of them. Johnny stood and began handing out assignments to his men.
“Garret, I want you to go around and check out the walking wounded. If there are no serious injuries, then get some of the firemen to start transporting them back to the triage area. Richard, you and your partner, Jon, grab one of the stokes and head over and get started on that third carriage. Colin, you get a start on the fourth car, while I head down and see if there is anyone left alive that mess down there,” he said, indicating the engine and the first two cars.
“I’ll join you in the fourth car as soon as I clear those first two cars.
“You got it, Cap,” the men chorused as they hurried to carry out his orders.
Johnny drew in a deep steadying breath as he made his way down the steep embankment toward the crushed remains of the front of the train. He knew before he got close to the scene that it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. The engine itself was completely submerged with just its butt end showing. The two engine crew would have died on impact.
As Paramedic Captain, he had assigned the gruesome chore of searching the first two cars for survivors to himself, but it was not a happy prospect. The twisted pile of steel was barely recognizable and as he drew closer, he saw the evidence of human remains scattered around with severed body parts interspersed amongst the wreckage. The passengers in these cars had never even stood a chance of rescue. As he scoured the twisted wreckage he was only able find three intact bodies that had been thrown clear of the cars. He couldn’t be sure if they had survived the initial crash or not. If they had, their golden hour had long since passed by, he thought grimly.
It didn’t take long for Johnny to determine that there were no lives left to save in these cars. Retrieving their corpses was one of the more ghastly aspects of their job, for which there really was no adequate training. It was the job they all hated most. That chore, however, would be left up to another team with their cadaver dogs; his focus was to save the living.
Johnny silently said a prayer for the dead before he turned away from the gruesome sight. He glanced over and saw that Richard was busy working on a middle aged man in a business suit as he was being loaded into a stokes to be readied for the short trip up the embankment to the waiting vehicles that would transport him to the triage area.
Richard’s partner, Jon, had an unconscious teenaged girl who appeared to have two broken legs. He was talking into his HT, getting treatment orders from Dr. Fellowes who was on the other end waiting at the triage area. The two Paramedics had commandeered several firemen to help them, so Johnny jogged over to the fourth car where Colin was busily treating a woman who was in the process of being cut out of the wreckage.
“What have you found so far, Colin?” Johnny shouted over the noise of the K-12.
Colin stepped away from the victim and lowered his voice as much as possible. “The front of the car is slowly being pulled into the river by the current, so we gotta move these folks out of here fast. There’s a code F under those seats over there,” he said pointing to his right. “I’ve got three critical back here and another seven who are serious. The car has accordianed in on itself and there are some other survivors closer to the front trapped behind a wall of debris. I can hear them, but I couldn’t get to them yet.”
It was at this point that Garrett joined Johnny at the fourth car. “It’s all pretty minor stuff up there Cap. The Montpelier guys have arrived so I put one of them in charge of transporting them back to triage. The other Montpelier guy went over to the other car to help Richard and Jon. They have at least a dozen victims over there. Where do you want me?”
The roaring of the K-12 came to an abrupt end as the last of the steel bar that had trapped the woman beneath her seat was cut away and the woman was freed from the wreckage.
“You go and grab a couple more of those firemen and another K-12. Then you stay back here and help Colin with these victims … I’ll take Caleb,” he said nodding to the red haired fireman with the K-12, “and go up front and free the victims up there so I can see what we’ve got.”
Without waiting for an answer, Johnny left Colin and Garret to the injured victims at the back of the train car and started to confer with Caleb about what he wanted him to do.
The helmeted figures of Johnny and Caleb retreated slowly, their voices fading away into the dark bowels of the mutilated train car. Using a flashlight, Johnny scaled the mangled mound of steel that an hour earlier had been full of happy weekend travelers. He waded through the debris as he pushed his way forward, further into the overturned carriage.
The moment he came to the wall of twisted sheet metal and other debris, he could hear the sounds of crying coming from the other side. He pounded on the metal and shouted at the top of his voice to be heard over their cries.
“Hello… I’m Captain John Gage and I am a Paramedic. I’m here with the fire department and we’re going to get you out of there… how many of you are there?”
A slightly shaky, disembodied male voice replied, “There are nine of us in here that I can see, but I think there are more trapped near the front of the car.”
Johnny ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “We’re gonna need more manpower back here. I’m gonna run back and grab some more hands while you cut an opening in this mess.” Caleb nodded and got ready to fire up the K-12.
Johnny turned back to the mound of metal and shouted to the trapped passengers. “We’re going to cut you out of there but before we can start I need you to get as far back from this wall of debris as you can.”
He paused for a moment as the crying on the other side quieted down. After a brief pause he heard the male voice call back, “Okay … I’ll get everyone back. But please hurry up; some of those people look like they are hurt pretty badly.”
Johnny nodded to Caleb to get ready as he answered the disembodied male voice. “We’ll get there as quick as we can. Give us a shout when everyone is out of the way.”
It was less than a minute later when the voice shouted back that everybody was safely away from the edge of the steel wall of debris.
Johnny made short work of retreating back outside and rounding up some more help. By the time he had returned, Caleb had just about cut away enough debris so that Johnny could get into the front of the train car. Johnny nodded his thanks to the firefighter as the man grabbed the K-12 and headed back outside to see where he was needed next.
Just as Johnny had been told, there were nine people in the area in front of him, four of whom were trapped further back under a heavy pile of broken glass, crushed seats and pieces of metal.
The other five appeared to have been on the ‘lucky’ side of the car at the time of the crash. Their seats had basically remained intact and had provided them with a measure of protection. The five of them were just sitting there bewildered, hesitating and afraid to move. They were made up of four men and a woman, and for the most part, their injuries appeared to be non-life threatening, and they were relatively ambulatory. Two of the men were clearly dazed and confused and there was little doubt that they had concussions. One of them had an obvious broken nose.
Johnny gave the small group a cursory exam and determined that all but the woman would be able to walk out on their own. The third man’s only injuries were a broken hand as well as a four inch laceration on his left bicep which Johnny bound up for him. The final male was a young man in his twenties who introduced himself as the “voice” he had been talking to. He was cradling an obviously broken arm and he was sporting a nasty gash on his cheek.
The lone woman of the group of five was still crying. She looked to be the worst of the conscious victims. From what Johnny could see, she had dislocated her shoulder and had probable broken ribs on her right side.
Further back in the car there were the other four victims who had were lying under some debris, unmoving. Although he couldn’t get a close look at them, it appeared that they had been sitting on the ‘unlucky’ side of the train. When the train had flipped onto its side, it had catapulted them out of their seats and onto the floor, pelting them with falling debris.
Johnny needed to get the mobile victims out of the area so he would be able to move the overturned seats out of the way in order to get to the more serious cases. He quickly stabilized the injured woman’s shoulder as best he could before easing her into the stokes, and with the assistance of the other two firemen, he gently slid the stokes over the seats and into the waiting hands of several more firefighters.
As he handed her over he told the closet fireman, “Get her to the paramedic from Montpelier at the top of the embankment, make sure you tell him she has a dislocated shoulder and probable broken ribs…then send somebody back in with another stokes. Any available spare hands that you find would be appreciated too; there are four people in here who won’t be coming out under their own steam.
Johnny turned to the four men still waiting to get out of the car and smiled. “Since you four seem to have use of your legs, I am going to send you out with the firemen when they come back. They’ll take you to another Paramedic waiting at the top of the hill, and he’ll get you into a vehicle and escort you to the triage area where they’ll get you all fixed up.
Not wanting to wait any longer to get to the four unconscious victims, Johnny started over to where they were lying. He was hampered somewhat by all the twisted wreckage and overturned seats strewn about, blocking his way.
Gingerly he began feeling around the pieces of jagged metal and broken glass, moving them off to the side. He shifted several overturned seats out of the way, which revealed one of the partially caved in emergency exits. Johnny used both of his gloved hands to shove at the exit door. The jagged side of the train car gave under the pressure from Johnny’s push, the metal creaking as the door swung open and the outside world appeared before their eyes. At Johnny’s urging, the small group of injured men hobbled past him and slipped outside towards a group of waiting firefighters and safety. As they turned back to look at Johnny one final time, he gave them a thumbs up gesture.
Now that he had a clear pathway, Johnny made his way over to the four unconscious victims pinned underneath the wreckage. As soon as he got up close to them his heart sank. As he neared the bodies it became painfully obvious that all four of them were dead… and they had been dead for at least half an hour. Now that he could see their faces it was clear that at least two of them had died on impact.
Johnny sat back on his heels. He could feel the perspiration beading on his forehead. He looked down sadly at the bodies. Two of the dead were teenagers… perhaps no more than sixteen. As he looked down upon the lifeless teens, Gary Butlers face flashed before his eyes, and sent a shudder through his body. So many bright futures had been cut short far too soon this day.
Now thoroughly discouraged he began to sift through the debris, looking under other overturned seats, making sure he wasn’t overlooking any victims. From what he could tell, he was about three quarters of the way down the carriage.
The final section of the car had partially come to rest in the river and was beginning to fill with water. He remembered what Colin had told him when he had first come over to the car, about the swift moving current slowly pulling the car further into the river. With a rising sense of urgency, Johnny made his way toward the back of the train that was slowly filling with water. Ten feet behind him, sitting beside the now open emergency exit, a young firefighter, no more than twenty years of age appeared asking Johnny if he needed any more help.
Johnny pointed over to the four bodies and simply said, “Code F’s… all four of them. Just hang out there while I make sure there is no one left in this last part of the train that hasn’t been submerged yet.”
At first there appeared to be no one there, but as he began to shift the debris, he heard a small whimper off to his left. By now the area he was in was so caved in that he literally had to crawl on his hands and knees to get to the other side of the train where he’d heard the small cry. He quickly crawled over and moved aside a flat sheet of metal, revealing a tiny pair of dark, terror-filled eyes peering up at him through the wreckage. It was a small, dark haired boy who appeared to be about two years old. He was encased in the arms of his dead mother. The child himself looked a bit banged up, but he had been largely protected by his mother’s body. Unfortunately both the child and the corpse were pinned beneath debris, to the point where Johnny couldn’t quite reach him. Beside them lay a man who looked like he was probably the child’s grandfather.
Johnny slipped off the glove from his right hand and reached for the man’s wrist, heaving a sigh of relief when he found a faint, but very present pulse. The old man was pinned too, but he was merely being held down by his seat which Johnny was sure he could move himself if he could get the right leverage.
Working on his knees made it difficult; his center of gravity was altered which meant he had to work at an awkward angle, and there was definitely only room for one man in the space. Johnny looked down and tried to comfort the child as convincingly as he could.
He was just about to grab the seat and heave it off the old man when he was overcome with a growing conviction that something wasn’t right.
He twisted around and found he was able to look up through a shattered window at the partially suspended fifth car looming over the carriage he was working in. It didn’t appear to be moving, but Johnny couldn’t shake the feeling that something was amiss.
Johnny’s personal motto had always been that when instinct contradicts the data before you, instinct was always his choice. And right now instinct was telling him he needed to get himself and his two victims out of there now because the car overhead was about to come crashing down on them.
“I’ve got two survivors here,” he yelled back to the young fireman. “I’ve got a small child about two years of age and an older man about seventy five years old. Both victims are currently trapped under debris…I’m gonna need the K-12 to free the child. But I think I can get the older man out just by moving a seat or two.”
“I’ll call for a stokes and get the K-12, Cap,” the young man said and he momentarily disappeared.
Johnny paused to reassure the child again before he started to tug on the seat that was pinning the old man down. He barely began to work when once again the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Johnny’s instincts were screaming at him to hi-tail it out of there fast.
He was now positive that something wasn’t right and he alone seemed aware of it. He had no time to lose, and he began to almost frantically tug on the seat.
He had almost moved the seat out of the way, when two things happened simultaneously. First he caught a slight motion out of the window above him. Secondly the old man gasped and his body stiffened. Johnny quickly reached down and groaned when he realized the man had just quit breathing.
The young firefighter appeared back at the open emergency exit door and crawled over to Johnny bringing the K-12 with him.
“The Chief says that fifth car is becoming increasingly unstable… he says we gotta get out of here soon.”
Johnny knew he was almost out of time. He could almost taste the danger, but there was no way he was prepared to leave without that baby boy who was looking at him, begging for him pick him up and get him out of there. He had to give it a shot…it was his job to try.
He had given a brief thought to starting CPR on the old man, but quickly abandoned the idea. Saving the old man would have been a slim hope at best, considering they were over a mile away from triage and he would have to survive the long bumpy ride on the narrow lane in the back of a pick-up, but Johnny still hated to give up without a fight. Even worse, he hated having to play God with peoples’ lives, but he had no right to sacrifice the boy who only had minor injuries, so he could try and revive the old man, who likely wouldn’t have made it anyway…and sadly, he was only going to have time to save one of them. It was one of the sad realities of his job.
“How much time do you think we have?” The young fireman asked.
“Not enough,” Johnny sighed dismally as he grabbed the K-12 and began carefully cutting the boy free.
As he was cutting, Johnny began cursing the time he had wasted getting over to the four dead bodies. It was time he could have used to try and get the old man out…get him some oxygen and an IV…maybe buy him the time he had needed. But at the time he hadn’t even known the boy and the old man were there. But still he cursed the situation.
In hindsight he wished he had checked this part of train first. Maybe left searching the first two cars to somebody else… responded differently… quicker. But you only realize the advantages of doing those things in hindsight. The one thing hindsight gives you, is all the facts … that is unfortunately something the immediate moment doesn’t always readily provide. Hindsight may be 20/20, but the present gives you significantly less than that. Right now he’d be happy if God would just give him enough time to save this little boy’s life at least.
“How’s it coming?” the young fireman asked.
“I’m working on it,” Johnny replied. “Just one last piece and I’ll have him,” Johnny shouted back, cursing the fact that he was still balancing awkwardly on his knees.
With a sigh of relief, Johnny felt the final chunk of steel fall away. He quickly shut off the K-12, tossing it back toward the emergency exit. He reached in and snatched up the small boy into his arms, knocking himself off balance in the process, sending him backwards. Instinctively Johnny reached out to grab hold of something to stop his fall.
Regrettably the first thing his hand came in contact with was a shard of sheet metal that sliced painfully into his right hand. Johnny recovered his balance with some difficulty and turned to the young firefighter intending to hand off the child into his arms, so they could all get out of there ASAP.
Then he heard it…it wasn’t very loud at first, but the sound was unmistakable and it felt like ice water running through Johnny’s veins. He looked up just in time to see the fifth train car begin to teeter forward slowly. “Damn… I knew it,” he said as he saw it start to slide forward.
His dark eyes widened as far as was physically possible…”GET OUT NOW!” he yelled to young firefighter at the exit as he scrambled back on his hands and knees, cradling the boy under one arm like a football. He had almost made it to the exit when he heard the first crunching and grinding sounds.
In a final act of desperation, Johnny made a frantic leap towards the open emergency exit, the small boy still in his arms, just as several thousand tons of passenger carriage slid forward and crashed into the fourth train car with an impact that split open the side of the fifth car, sending its contents crashing into the river.
~ ~ ~
Why did Johnny do things like this to him?
Roy knew that his partner didn’t do it to antagonize him, but he was still annoyed. He had arrived at the staging area fully expecting to meet up with his partner, but when he checked in at the command center, he had been informed that Johnny had already left.
Bruce had explained to Roy that they had decided that one of the Paramedic Captains should remain at the command center and help head up the triage area with Dr. Fellowes and the other should go to the scene. And, Johnny being Johnny, he had volunteered to take the more dangerous of the two tasks without even consulting Roy first.
Johnny was notorious for doing that. And that was what had annoyed Roy the most. He had been the Senior Paramedic for so long back in Los Angeles that a part of him still felt like he should have been the one to decide who did what.
Besides, he was more than capable of handling the dangerous tasks. But in Johnny’s mind it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the one to go. The only reason Roy never got into it with him about it was because he knew the reason why Johnny did it.
It wasn’t because he had a hero complex, nor was he an adrenaline junkie. He did it out of fear. Fear of losing Roy … fear of having to tell Joanne and the kids that Roy had died…fear of having to bury one more person he loved.
Roy didn’t like it, nor did he encourage it. In fact he went out of his way to try and prevent it. But he also realized that there was no point in trying to change his partner… because those fears were too deeply ingrained in his soul.
The only exception to the rule were those times when they were called out to a water rescue. That was the one area where Johnny willingly conceded that Roy was the better man for the job. Johnny had never made any secret out of the fact that he hated water rescues. He also acknowledged that Roy was the stronger swimmer of the two them. Much in the same way Roy was usually content to let Johnny take the lead in climbing rescues. That boy had the balance of a mountain goat; he also had brass cajonies when it came to dealing with heights.
Roy chided himself for his annoyance and decided to cut Johnny some slack, mainly because in this instance, Johnny had been somewhat justified in his decision to go ahead without waiting to discuss it with him. In their line of work, expediency was their byword and Johnny had arrived on the scene first.
But Roy also knew that even if they had arrived at exactly the same time, Johnny would have somehow tried to find a way to wheedle his way into taking the more dangerous task.
Besides, there would be no sense in confronting Johnny or getting into an argument with him over it, because he knew that no matter what he did or said, he wasn’t going to ever change Johnny…it would be like trying to stop the sun from rising each morning.
Johnny was Johnny, and that was just a fact of life. And like everything else in life, you had to take the good with the bad. And that meant that he might as well just accept the fact that his younger partner was not only precocious when it came to rescue work, but he was also susceptible to acting on impulse. Not to mention the fact that he could be extremely belligerent when he felt like he was justified in doing something. So Roy did what he usually ended up doing when dealing with Johnny. He heaved a heavy sigh of resignation, and headed over to the triage area.
~ ~ ~
At first the going was relatively easy, nothing too complicated or serious. Most of the initial victims were the walking wounded … minor concussions, lacerations, broken hands or ankles and shock. But he had heard from one of the Montpelier Paramedics that the scene was pretty bad. The number of fatalities was high, and there had been a large number of serious and critical victims that they were going to have to cut out of the wreckage.
After the first initial group, the more seriously injured began to arrive and over the next hour, Roy’s patients moved through briskly. By the time the second hour had passed by, Roy had been dismayed at the human carnage. The life flight helicopters had been going non-stop. He himself had just loaded a young mother who was on her way to Burlington hospital. He hadn’t had the heart to tell her that in all probability, she was going to lose her right arm below the elbow.
Several times during the evening he had paused to wonder about his partner. He had heard the number of code F’s was discouraging and that the sight was pretty gruesome. Roy looked around and was relieved to see that for the moment, there was no one waiting for him to treat. But he knew the respite would be short lived, the trucks carrying the wounded were arriving at fifteen minute intervals. Sadly the injuries were getting graver as time went on.
Roy took advantage of the lull in activity to head over to the Red Cross truck and grab himself a cup of coffee, and a sandwich. He made his way back over to the triage tent, rolling his neck from side to side trying work the kinks out. As he approached his work area he glanced down at the ground. It was littered with bits of garbage that had been hastily tossed away as he had worked on all the various victims that had appeared before him.
Draining the last of his coffee from the Styrofoam cup, he knelt down and started to gather up all the discarded remnants of his earlier patients. He knew it was an exercise in futility; that when the next batch of victims arrived, everything would be strewn about in the flurry of activity in the rush to stabilize the victims. But the mundane chore was a welcome distraction from the long fatiguing hours.
He had just finished tidying up his work area when two more pick-up trucks drove into the makeshift treatment tent. Roy made his way over to the first truck, while Byron Fellowes ran to the second one. Roy’s vehicle was carrying three male victims. From all appearances they did not seem to be too badly injured.
The first male had a nasty gash across one cheek and his left arm was fractured. The second male had a deep cut on his bicep and a broken hand. The third man was lying down, his head was bound, his pupils were dilated and he was decidedly green around the gills. Probable concussion, Roy decided.
He had just motioned for one of the nurses on scene to help him guide the injured over to the cots, when he caught sight of the Montpelier paramedic who had ridden in on the other truck walk somberly up to the Fire Chief and begin talking to him.
Roy watched as the colour drained out of Bruce Jenkins’ face and his head drop in defeat. Slowly the Fire Chief’s gaze returned to meet the Paramedic’s and he said something back to the man, who simply nodded sadly and walked away. A minute later Roy watched as Bruce walked behind the fire engine and angrily threw his helmet across the grass before he dropped dejectedly onto the running board of the engine.
Roy’s felt his stomach constrict into a tight ball … something was dreadfully wrong. He quickly turned to his three patients and decided they were stable enough that he could take a moment to find out what had happened. He strode over to the Montpelier medic and grabbed him by the arm.
“What’s going on?” he half asked, half ordered, the young man.
The young Paramedic looked up with pain filled eyes and shook his head sadly.
“The worst… there was a… there was a shift in the wreckage and one of the Paramedics on scene was killed… it was horrible… it happened so fast.”
Roy felt his heart drop into his stomach at the news. A terrible feeling of foreboding passed over him, causing a shiver to run down his spine.
“Do they… do you know who it was?” Roy asked, dreading what the answer might be.
The young Paramedic faltered for a moment. “No, Captain… I don’t really know anyone other than the group of us that flew in from Montpelier… but I heard one of the other paramedics say that his name was John something or other… I think his last name started with a G.”
Roy staggered back as if he had been physically pushed.
“Are you sure that was the name?” he asked, hoping that he had heard the man wrong … that the man hadn’t just said his partner’s name.
“Yes, sir,” the young man confirmed, “they said his name was John.”
Hearing it a second time finally made it sink in, and for a long moment neither man said anything.
Finally Roy looked up, his eyes filled with pain. “Thank you,” he said, his voice barely an anguished whisper. He turned numbly back to his patients and went to work treating them. The entire time he was merely working on autopilot, existing within his own thoughts. The weight of the realization that Johnny had been killed settled into his soul, crushing him with a punishing weight of sorrow.
~ ~ ~
Eventually, everybody dies. Time didn’t care how much you loved them or how much you needed them … sooner or later you will end up losing those you love the most… or they will end up losing you. Either way nothing lasts forever. Roy knew these truths about life, but somehow he had always pictured him and Johnny as a couple of gray haired old men, sitting on some river bank fishing, arguing about something mundane, or spending long hours having one of their quiet talks, before their time came. It broke his heart to realize that now that would never happen.
He had spent two soul searching, bitter hours treating victims since the news had arrived, and still no more information had been made available to him. Several of the nurses had tried to engage him in some casual talk, but Roy wasn’t in the mood for idle conversation. Their gestures had been well meant, but they had fallen flat.
Why hadn’t one of their guys been the ones to transport the victims back to the triage? Roy supposed it was because they were unwilling to leave the scene without Johnny’s body. Consequently, each time a new bunch of victims has arrived at the triage station, it had been one of the Montpelier guys who had accompanied them… neither of whom would recognize Johnny so Roy could confirm that the dead Paramedic was indeed his partner. The Swanton and Burlington guys were all still tied up at the scene. And for now the transport was for the living only… the dead could wait.
The mood in the triage area was depressing. Word of the death of one of their own had spread like wildfire. The details were still sketchy. All they knew was that the train car that had been hanging dangerously over the edge of the bridge had given way and fallen into one of the overturned cars on the embankment, killing a Paramedic whose name they thought was John.
The minute that word had come down about the Paramedic’s death, Bruce Jenkins had left for the scene, and thus far, he hadn’t returned.
Roy was heartsick, he was doing his best to hold it together, but inside he was inconsolable. As the sun began to set, the colder November air began to drop into the forty degree range. It seemed to Roy as if the dampness had blanketed his very soul, but he didn’t mind… the coldness matched his mood. Everything felt cold to him now. As the night air settled into his bones he knew that come daylight he was going to be stiff and sore…hell, he was sore now. His back hurt, his neck hurt… but most of all his heart hurt. Johnny had been his brother in a way he would never be able to put into words … words just weren’t good enough.
Roy still couldn’t make his mind believe that Johnny was really gone. There had to have been some kind of mistake. It wasn’t like Johnny … he had the best instincts of anyone he had ever met. He really did have a sixth sense about these things.
Johnny’s mind always worked quickly and clearly in a crisis situation. It had always been one of his strong suits. It must have happened at lightning speed for him to have been caught off guard.
Roy knew from experience how fragile their safety could be in these types of rescues; situations could deteriorate in seconds … sometimes quicker than a man could react… even a man as agile as Johnny.
Roy felt his mind heading into areas he usually preferred to avoid. But at the moment he couldn’t prevent himself from pondering those uncomfortable questions that one tended to think about at times like these. Namely, did Johnny know what was happening to him as he died? It was the age old question every first responder asked themselves when one of their own perished. They secretly battled within themselves. Would you rather know, so you could breathe out a prayer as you prepared to meet God, or would it be better to never know what hit you?
Johnny had always been the more spiritual of the two of them, although Roy had become more of a believer since meeting Johnny. Theirs was the kind of profession that was conducive to making believers and praying men out of the most hardened cynic. And Johnny had always been living proof that miracles happened. He held the department record for narrow escapes … at least he had up until today.
But there would be no more miracles for Roy… not now that Johnny was dead. Roy looked up into the starlit night and shivered. God how he hated November. It was his least favorite month of the year.
November had become such an introspective and weary month for Roy. It was the month in which he grew another year older. As he aged it became more of a somber reminder of time passing by. Then there were the financial worries that tended to creep in. Winter was coming and that meant the days were shorter and the lights were on longer. Furnaces would be turned on, pushing the heating and electricity bills skyward. There would be winter boots and coats to purchase… and then there would be Christmas presents to buy. November was always the month when Roy started to worry about these things.
It had always been a somber month in history as well. Each year they would be reminded of the loss of life as Veteran’s Day rolled around. Each year the survivors from the two World Wars grew fewer in number, and those who were still alive were older, fatter and had less hair.
Then there would be all the shows about the John F. Kennedy assassination, as the anniversary of his murder rolled around. The television would air the clips of the motorcade, replaying them over and over again showing the exact moment the President had been shot. Then would come the man on the street interviews about, where were you when you heard the news about JFK?
And now, on top of all of that, November would always be known as the month his little brother had been killed.
It had been a lousy day from the start. It began with the discovery of Gary Butlers’ body and it would end with the death of John Gage…God, how he hated November.
~ ~ ~
Things were finally beginning to wind down at the triage area. Word had just come through that the next group coming in would be the last of the survivors. Roy was still pondering the fate of his best friend when Byron called over to him, “DeSoto, I need you over here … we got a couple more coming in.” The last four surviving victims had just arrived. A young college student with a broken collar bone, humerus and a possible concussion, was placed on the cot in front of him. Roy did his best to shove his pain down below the surface as he began taking the young man’s vitals.
~ ~ ~
It had been a long hard day… one that he was sure was never going to end. So many people had died today. So many families would be getting a phone call that would forever change their lives as they were informed that their loved one, or in some cases, several loved ones would not be coming home. But even worse had been the fact that one of their own had paid the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. When one of the team died, it cut just a little deeper. It was like losing a member of your extended family… and it was a reminder that next time, it could be you.
Slowly he made his way over to the canteen and grabbed a hot cup of coffee, being careful not to use his injured limb. The deep rich brew tasted like ambrosia to his caffeine-starved body, and he drank down the entire draught in three large gulps, holding out the empty cup for a refill.
He stood looking around the triage area until his eyes came to rest on the person he had been searching for. As he approached wearily from behind he could see the Paramedic was crouched over, taking his patients’ blood pressure. He saw the man withdraw his pen and start to record his findings, only to pause when he realized his pen was out of ink. He could hear him muttering under his breath as he scribbled furiously on the paper, trying to coax just a little more ink from the writing instrument. The weary man stepped forward and gently rested his uninjured hand on the Paramedic’s shoulder, while using his bandaged hand to pull out his own pen from his right shirt pocket.
“Here, ya wanna borrow mine?” he asked as held out the pen to his friend.
~ ~ ~
Roy busied himself with taking his patients vitals so he could relay them to Dr. Fellowes before getting his treatment orders. A disconcerting silence filled the air around him at the thought that from here on in, the only bodies coming in would be those of the dead, and that one of those bodies would be his partner’s. He swallowed heavily and blinked back the moisture that was pooling in his eyes. He pulled out his pen and started to write down the man’s blood pressure readings, cursing under his breath when he discovered his pen had run out of ink.
“Great, can this day from hell possibly get any worse?” Roy muttered in frustration as he shook the pen down and scribbled with it on the pad of paper in hopes that he could shake out just enough ink for this last patient. He was just about to toss the pen onto the ground in disgust when he felt a warm hand rest lightly on his shoulder. Before he could turn around to see who the owner of the hand was, a second bandaged hand caked with dirt and dried blood slid into his field of vision holding out a familiar green pen.
“Here, ya wanna borrow mine?” said a voice that he knew as well as he knew his own.
The sound of that voice … that very present and alive voice, flowed over him like a soothing cool drink of fresh spring water on a hot, dry day. It was a voice he thought he would never hear again.
Roy quickly stood up and turned around, coming face to face with his partner… his best friend… his brother.
He wasn’t sure how it happened that Johnny was there beside him and frankly, at that moment he didn’t care. The only thing that mattered to him was the fact that once again, he had gotten his miracle... Johnny hadn’t been killed.
He sent up a silent word of thanks to God as his heart leapt for joy. It was the part of his heart that just a short time ago, he had been sure was lost to him forever and now, in a single split second, it had been restored.
The relief at seeing Johnny standing there produced its own, and much unexpected, reaction as Roy sprang forward, grabbed hold of the dark haired man’s shoulders and pulled him into an excited hug.
“JOHNNY … YOU’RE ALIVE!”
Roy’s grip tightened on Johnny’s shoulders as he pulled him closer into the hug. It was almost as if he was afraid that if he let Johnny go, the moment would turn out to be nothing but a dream and that the minute he let go, his partner would vanish into thin air.
Johnny struggled halfheartedly before he finally gave in and returned the hug.
Roy pulled back and looked at his partner in disbelief … it was real. There was his partner standing in front of him, his eyes filled with a mixture of amusement and confusion. Roy’s own eyes filled with tears, as he just stood there grinning.
“Uh … yeah, Roy… I’m alive,” Johnny answered, not quite understanding what all the commotion was about. He was completely unaware of the anguish Roy had been through over the last several hours.
Roy released Johnny as he remembered his patient. He pulled himself together and returned to his task. But every few moments he would turn back to make sure Johnny was still standing beside him.
Johnny, for his part, stood in silence wondering what the story was behind the sudden and unexpected outburst from his normally level headed partner. After a while he decided that Roy had everything under control with the victim and didn’t need his help, so he made his way over to an empty cot and wearily lowered himself onto it. From time to time he caught Roy glancing over in his direction.
Roy quickly readied his patient for the ambulance ride into the clinic. For the last five minutes he had been surreptitiously scrutinizing his partner. One of the first things he noticed was the fact that somewhere during the course of the day, Johnny had obviously sustained some kind of injury to his right hand. It was also clear that he was dead on his feet. Roy grimaced at the thought… poor choice of words.
Johnny’s shirt was pulled askew and torn in several places and it was also covered in blood. Roy wasn’t sure how much of the blood was Johnny’s own from the hand injury and how much of it was from the victims he had treated.
He also noted that Johnny was very pale, his posture bowed in weariness. In fact Johnny looked as tired as he had felt. Although right at that moment Roy felt lighter than air. The weight that had been lifted off his shoulders when he had discovered his partner was alive had driven away all the earlier fatigue.
Roy looked up and caught Johnny looking back at him. He nodded his head toward the hand injury. “You hurt anywhere else?” he asked, as he and an ambulance attendant loaded his victim onto the gurney.
“No, just my hand,” Johnny answered tiredly.
As soon as the patient was situated on the gurney, Johnny rose and came over to stand next to him. Roy hoped the two of them would soon be released. It was almost one in the morning and it had been a hellishly long day for the two of them. They had come straight off of their twenty-four hour shift and went directly to the search area that morning. After the discovery of Gary Butler’s body they had barely had a chance to go home and eat before they had been called in to the accident site. Both men were beyond exhausted and more than ready to go home. As far as Roy was concerned, their job was over… the rest would be up to the coroner and the accident investigators.
“So, Pally, you wanna head over and see if they’re ready to let us go now?” Johnny asked.
“Not just yet … I still have one last patient to take care of,” Roy quietly answered.
Johnny looked around questioningly. The last of the victims had all been loaded into the waiting ambulances and they were currently pulling out of the triage area on their way to either the Burlington hospital or the clinic in Swanton.
Johnny turned to face his partner in obvious confusion. “Am I missing something here, Roy? Everyone has gone. The only thing left to do here is the clean-up.”
Roy shook his head at how clueless his partner could be sometimes. He grabbed him by the shoulders and steered him over to the nearest cot and forced him onto it. “Sit … lemme take a look at your hand, Junior.”
Johnny sighed and rolled his eyes. “Roy, I already looked at it. It just needs some stitching up. I can swing by the clinic on my way home and get someone to do the necessaries there.”
“Uh huh,” Roy said disinterestedly. “Let me see it Johnny.”
Johnny heaved an even deeper sigh of exasperation. “I think I can tell when something just needs a few stitches… I am a Paramedic too, Roy.”
Roy ignored his protests. “Then you know how much we Paramedics hate it when patients try to self-diagnose.”
Johnny gave a snort of disgust and held out his injured hand. He watched Roy as he carefully unbound the hand and examined it. He couldn’t help but notice that Roy was taking great pains to be extra careful as he examined the gash on his hand.
“This is more than just a little gash, Junior. It’s going to need more than a couple stiches… it also needs to be cleaned properly. I might as well grab a set of vitals on you before I clean this up, seeing as how you are now officially my patient,” Roy said quietly.
Johnny wasn’t quite sure why, but Roy seemed to be almost spooked about something. It was then he recalled the unusual greeting he had received earlier, and figured they had to be somehow connected.
“So, you wanna explain to me what that big welcome home was all about a few minutes ago?” he ventured.
Roy didn’t answer him, opting instead to maintain a discreet silence as he continued to work, his eyes not meeting Johnny’s.
Suddenly Johnny’s eyes widened, as the light came on in his head and the picture became clearer.
“You thought the Paramedic that was killed was me?” It was more of a confirmation than an actual question.
Roy suddenly became intensely interested in the dial on the BP cuff and shrugged his shoulders. “The only information they told us, was that a Paramedic had been killed and that his name was John.”
Johnny shook his head sadly. “Yeah… it was Jon Gilkinson, one of the newer Paramedics from Burlington. I never really knew him, but I know his partner, Richard. Carrie and I have double dated with him once or twice.”
Roy nodded his head but never looked up. “Yeah, well they didn’t give us a last name. I had no idea there were two of you at the scene with the same first name…and it was just a lousy coincidence that both your sir names start with a G.”
Johnny’s penetrating gaze softened and his eyes filled with compassion. He raised his good hand and gave Roy’s forearm a gentle squeeze. “Sorry, I should have sent word back with one of the Montpelier guys. The thought never even crossed my mind that you would have jumped to that conclusion.”
This time Roy did look up at his partner as he shrugged his shoulders a second time. “Yeah, well you had a lot of other things to think about … I heard it was a hectic scene.”
Johnny huffed, released Roy’s arm and sat back tiredly. “That,” he said, “is a huge understatement.”
Now that he looked closely, Johnny could see the haggard look on Roy’s face… the emotional strain of the day clearly visible. He felt bad for all the unnecessary worry Roy had had to suffer. “Still,” Johnny continued regretfully, “I should have remembered that you were back here and that word of the other Jon’s death would have reached you … sorry,” he said again.
“So, what did happen anyway?” Roy asked as he began to re-bandage Johnny’s hand.
Johnny yawned as he watched Roy work. “When the train car slipped off the edge of the bridge, it was headed straight for me. I barely escaped with my life. I had a small boy in my arms at the time, too.” Johnny shuddered at the how close he himself had come to death.
“I tell ya, Roy, I didn’t think it was possible to leap that far… but I did. From what Colin told me, they all saw the car heading over the edge. The other Jon had just carried his patient up the embankment and was on his way back to the scene when it came crashing over. He saw it sliding over and was running back up the hill, trying to avoid being hit by debris, when he lost his footing and fell back down the embankment. The train came right down on top of him…he never had a chance.”
Johnny paused, trying to steady his voice. The site of the dead body of their comrade had hit everyone at the scene hard. The anguish on Richard Marshall’s face as he had watched his partner’s body be crushed underneath the falling train car would haunt his dreams for some time to come.
Johnny took a deep, cleansing breath before continuing on with his story. “Anyway, after that we were one man down and I had to step in and take over for the other Jon, helping Richard treat the victims that were still trapped inside the third car.”
Johnny paused and shook his head. “Man, Roy. It was a really bad scene…really bad. I mean I didn’t know the guy, but it’s always tough when one of our own gets killed like that… especially when it affects someone you know personally.
And then we couldn’t even stop to process what had gone down because there were still so many victims who needed us…I gotta tell ya, I don’t know how Richard managed to keep it together enough to continue on.”
“I know the feeling,” Roy answered quietly.
The two men sat in silence, both of them lost in their own private thoughts.
Each man paused to say a prayer for their fallen comrade and the grief stricken partner he had left behind.
On his end of things, Roy was burdened with a strange dichotomy of conflicting emotions. It was a combination of grief, relief and guilt.
He was feeling the grief they all felt at the loss of Jon Gilkinson; they were all brothers in arms and the loss of one of their own was never easy. But at present the predominate emotion running through him was one of immense relief that it hadn’t been his partner that had been killed. And it was that relief that was responsible for the feelings of guilt. After all…one of their own had died… and here his strongest feelings were ones of relief and happiness that Johnny was alive. It was a guilt born of the pure unadulterated joy he was feeling at being able to sit here treating his partner’s hand wound, instead of planning his funeral.
Sensing his partner’s mood, Johnny stood up and gave Roy a reassuring smile. “Well, anyway, as you can see, I am perfectly fine.”
Roy reached over and held up Johnny’s injured hand skeptically.
Johnny just shrugged his shoulders, his expression innocent. “Well, maybe not perfectly fine… but almost.” He reached over and grabbed his pen out of Roy’s shirt pocket. “If you’re through with my pen, I’ll take it back now,” he said as he put the pen back in his pocket and began to walk away.
Roy ran to catch up to Johnny, grabbing his arm to halt his stride. “Where do you think you’re going, Junior?” he asked accusingly.
Johnny paused to face his friend. “Well, since this isn’t officially our shift, and there is nothing left here for us to do, I figured I would get into my Rover and drive over to the clinic and get my hand stitched up. After that, I plan on going home and taking a long hot shower before I crash in my bed for at least twelve hours of uninterrupted sleep.”
Roy shook his head and pointed to Johnny’s bandaged hand. “There’s absolutely no way I’m going to let you drive anywhere, Johnny. You can’t handle a stick shift with that hand.”
Johnny shook his head defiantly. “There is no way I am going to leave my Rover sitting out here unattended in this field, Roy… I promise, I’ll take it easy when I am driving,” he said, his keys now dangling in his left hand.
Roy was still feeling unnerved over having gone most of the evening thinking he had lost Johnny, and he would be damned if he was going to let him take any unnecessary risks now. But he could also see the belligerent streak in his younger partner rearing its ugly head.
He was still trying to figure out how to keep Johnny from driving when Colin arrived on the scene to save the day.
“Hey there, Cap,” their station-mate said as he came up next to them. “Looks like you’re gonna be out of commission as far as using your stick shift goes for a little while.”
Johnny shot the man an angry glare, while Roy smiled at his willful younger brother smugly.
Before Johnny could answer him, Colin continued on with his train of thought. “Anyway, I was wondering if you wanted me to drive the Rover over to your place? Since Garret and I drove here together, I figured if you wanted me to, I could drive your truck back as far as your place and Garret could follow behind me and then take me the rest of the way into Swanton from there.”
Without even giving Johnny a chance to decline, Roy reached over and snatched the keys from Johnny’s hand and tossed them over to Colin. “Thanks, Colin, that will give me a chance to take him into the clinic to get his hand stitched up… I’ll see to it that he gets home afterward.”
Colin took the keys and gave his Captains a small wave as he jogged over to Garrett to inform him of the plan.
Roy was still grinning as he grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and guided him over to his car. “Come on, Junior… the quicker you get that hand stitched up, the quicker you can get your hot shower.”
Johnny knew when he was beat, and so he allowed Roy to shove him into the passenger seat without any further argument.
~ ~ ~
It was just breaking dawn when Roy stepped into the treatment room at the Swanton Clinic. Johnny had been the reluctant recipient of fourteen stitches in his hand, but thankfully there had been no muscle or tendon damage. He was currently waiting for the nurse to return to administer a tetanus shot before he could leave.
When Roy entered the room he saw Johnny sitting on a stool next to the counter, with his elbow propped up on the counter, his chin resting in his good hand, his eyes closed. His injured hand was bound in a heavy bandage, and his arm was in a sling to help protect his hand.
Roy stood watching his slumbering friend for a few moments before he cleared his throat loudly in an effort to get his weary partner’s attention. “You just about ready to go, Junior?”
Johnny opened his bleary eyes and grinned at him wearily. “Just as soon as the nurse arrives to give me my tetanus shot,” he replied.
Roy nodded his head in understanding, but said nothing. Johnny was just about to let his eyes slide closed again when he heard Roy nervously clear his throat for a second time.
Johnny raised his eyebrows in question as he looked back at his friend. “You tryin’ to say something, Pally?”
“I was just wondering if you wanted to come back to my place for some breakfast before I take you home. I just got off the phone with Jo, and she said she’ll have the bacon and eggs along with some good strong hot coffee waiting for us when we get there. That is unless you have to be home right away.”
He didn’t. Seth would be at his ranch to look after the horses and Suka. Johnny paid him to take care of things when he was at work or off sick. He had already made arrangements with Seth before he had left for the accident scene the day before.
And as much a Johnny was tempted turn down Roy’s generous offer, the only thing he really wanted to do was head home and crash, Johnny sensed some inner turmoil in his partner and that Roy needed him to be close by right now.
Roy watched as Johnny looked at him appraisingly. He shifted uncomfortably under the scrutinizing gaze. He had hoped Johnny would agree to come home with him. The events of the past twenty four hours had left him feeling off balance, and he wasn’t quite ready to let Johnny out of his sight just yet. And even though he hadn’t said as much to his partner, as he stood there exposed to Johnny’s penetrating stare, he slowly came to the realization that he didn’t need to tell his partner what he was feeling…Johnny already knew.
Roy raised his head and their eyes met in an unspoken understanding.
Johnny gave his head a slight nod in acknowledgement and then his features creased into a mischievous smile. “Do I get hash browns and a hot shower too, if I say yes?”
~ ~ ~
Roy closed the cover of his journal and set his pen aside as he glanced up from his lazy boy. He counted off the chimes from the grandfather clock as it struck eight. It was hard to believe that it had only been twenty four hours since they had left the station after their last shift. So much had happened in just that one day.
It had started off dismally with the discovery of Gary Butler’s body, and had ended with the death of one of their own. And as much as Roy had been shaken by those brief hours when he had thought it was Johnny who had been killed, he knew that Johnny would be the one who would struggle to put all the images he had seen to rest. But Roy had no doubt that Johnny would deal with it in time… he always did.
It had taken several cups of coffee, along with a little judicious application of some Baileys Irish Crème added in to the last cup, to get Johnny to open up a bit and talk about what he had been through the day before.
He had finally given in and told Roy about the mangled and dismembered bodies of the victims in the first two cars, and then later the horrific death of Jon Gilkinson. But the event that seemed to bother Johnny the most was the fact that he had had to abandon any attempts at CPR on the old man. Johnny had hated the fact that he had been left no choice about having to choose the boy over his grandfather. And as much as he knew he had made the right choice, it still bothered him that he had had to do it.
Thankfully the young boy had come through without any serious injury. But it saddened Johnny that the youngster would never get to know either his grandfather or his mother. Johnny had asked at the hospital, and had been somewhat relieved to hear that they had been able to locate the toddler’s father, and that at least he had some family left to care for him.
Roy had promised to drive Johnny home after breakfast, but as their little mutual-therapy session had dragged on, Roy could see that Johnny was sinking deeper and deeper into the sofa, and that he was only half hearing his words. He was completely exhausted and he had been fighting hard to keep his eyes open. It hadn’t taken very long before Johnny had settled his head on the armrest of the couch and slipped into the Land of Nod.
Roy had momentarily entertained the thought of waking him up and taking him home as he had promised, but right now he liked the reassurance he got from watching the steady rise and fall of his chest, and his soft snores. So rather than wake him as he had agreed to, he pulled the afghan off the back of the sofa and covered Johnny up and left him sleeping in peace.
As he sat there, Roy could feel his own eyes getting heavier now that he had a full belly and his family all together under one roof. Pulling the arm that released the footrest on his recliner, Roy settled back and thought once more about everything Johnny had told him he had been through at the scene.
Between the death of the old man, Gary’s suicide, and the impending funeral for Jon Gilkinson, he figured Johnny would have a few somber moments over the next week or so. He decided that maybe what he needed to do was plan a family dinner party for just a small group of their friends…something a little more cheerful, that celebrated life.
Perhaps he would even call and invite Chet to come from Boston. It really wasn’t that big of a trip by plane. He certainly knew that a visit from Chet would cheer Johnny up … as well as aggravate him. The one thing you could be certain of when you put Johnny and Chet together…there would be plenty of light-hearted distraction.
Roy pushed his chair back into the full reclining position, tossed his journal onto the side table beside him, and closed his eyes. Yes, he thought the first thing tomorrow morning he would make the call to Chet.
And with that thought running through his head, Roy laid his head back and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of Johnny’s snores as he fell into a peaceful sleep.
Published to Site 07/05/13
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