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The guys at 51's never know what the next call will bring. Over time they have all learned that, "Life comes with no guarantees, no time outs, no second chances." (This is a delayed response to Ginger S's call for stories responding to the above quotation).
When I woke up this morning, I said to myself, "Claire, this is going to be the biggest, most wonderful day of your life." After waiting and dating for too many years, I was ready to marry my best friend, Paul. We worked in the same company for some time, before we even knew each other's names. Then a sweet friendship blossomed into something more. And hey, isn't that what all the experts recommend? "Become friends first." We both work for Travel International magazine. I'm a writer and he shoots the most amazing photographs! Okay, I'm a bit biased, but we have made the cover a few times.
Well, that's how we met and became friends and today, we are going to be married! While Paul is an incredible man, our circumstances leave something to be desired. We have planned a small, intimate service at our church with a few friends from work, joined by our church family.
Our biological families – I refuse to call them our "real families" any longer - they do not approve of our relationship. There are so many reasons to choose from for their distain and rejection. There's simple economics, his family is wealthy, and mine is not. We have both left the severe structure of hyper-organized religion and now worship in a local Bible believing church. But the real deal breaker for both of them is simply, color.
Paul's skin glistens a rich mocha in the sunlight. I love his lilting Jamaican accent! His brown eyes are kind, funny and wise, in turn. Me? I'm white, with mousy brown hair and blue-green eyes. I come from a white bread, middle America farming family. While I still love my folks, I can't say that I respect them much anymore. They disagreed when I left home for college and complained when I started getting international assignments going to those "heathen foreign countries." I can still hear the tone in my mother's voice as she voiced her opinion. And, the kicker was when I ended up living in a small apartment in Los Angeles, CA. They predicted it would all "come to no good." Our wedding plans cinched it for both his parents and mine. They refused to come and be any part of our celebration. But we have worked through it together, so we are okay with it. We would rather be joined in our small church by a few friends that really love us, than have some huge catered "event" with people who disapprove of us.
Of course I was nervous as I waited to walk down the aisle. But, my good friend and Maid of Honor, Beth helped me calm down. She reminded me how much I loved Paul. I knew in my heart and mind that Beth was absolutely right. I loved Paul more than I can express and I was eager to start our life together.
I followed Beth down the aisle. I walked by myself. Paul stood at the front of the church with a huge smile on his face, as he waited for me. His simple gray suit was complimented by the white daisy on his lapel. I wore a simple mid-calf white dress with sandals. A wreath of woven flowers adorned my hair. It might sound like a "hippie" wedding, but we're both actually pretty traditional. When I reached the front of the church we joined hands and smiled at each other. There were readings from Scripture and one of our good friends from church played his guitar. Steve sang a beautiful love song he wrote, just for us. We followed the Pastor's lead, as we promised to "love, honor and cherish, 'til death do we part." We exchanged simple gold bands as a sign and a token of that love.
The rest of the time passed in a blur. It didn't matter that it was raining out, or that no one remembered to bring rice to throw when we left the church. I felt happy and grinned so much that my smile started to hurt! I was more than just happy. My body and mind were flooded with joy.
Paul and I headed for my blue VW bug. Our friends had actually tied tin cans to the back of the car! I thought they only did that in cheesy movies, but it was actually kind of fun! A few of the cars that whizzed by honked their horns and we waved. Our friends would join us at a restaurant about 15 minutes away to continue the celebration. I set my bouquet of white and yellow daisies in the backseat. Paul took off his jacket and tie and tossed them in the back of the car near the flowers. I smiled to myself knowing how much he hated getting dressed up.
I eased the car out into traffic and took the next exit for the highway. Paul and I chatted and grinned a lot at each other. "We did it babe," he exclaimed as he gave my right arm a squeeze. We are actually, finally married!"
Cars were buzzing along, over the speed limit, of course, even in the rain. I figured I better stay in the slow lane, even though we were going at a decent clip. I didn't want the silly tin cans to cause anyone else a problem. Only a couple of minutes passed when I heard a horn honking behind me. It didn't sound like a friendly beep either. I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw a black truck. He was too damn close! I sped up some. I thought I might change lanes, but there was too much traffic. I didn't understand. I was in the slow lane, why they heck was he honking like that at me?
Paul wrenched himself around in the seat trying to get a better look at what the heck was going on. I just concentrated on keeping the car on the road. Then I felt a jolt. "What the heck?" I asked Paul. "What does he think he's doing?" Then we felt another bump, only harder this time.
"Claire," Paul told me, "this guy isn't fooling around. Can you pull over?" I looked over at the side of the road, but there wasn't any shoulder, just some concrete barriers.
"What is wrong with him?" I said frantically, as the fenders met again.
"I think we have a serious problem," Paul answered. "I think I saw a black pick-up like this outside the church."
I didn't know what to make of that. We had to get out of this! I rolled down my window and tried to wave him past me. Maybe he was just pissed that I was only going the speed limit. Who knows? Maybe he just got divorced and hates married people?
I caught a glimpse of the truck out of my side mirror. Thank God, he was moving into the next lane to pass. But then I felt another jolt. IT felt like he hit us right between the bumper and rear wheel. The push sent us right towards the concrete barrier. I fought with the steering wheel to keep my bug under control. The truck moved next to us. Their window was rolled down. As they came even with my window, a guy leaned out the window and yelled out, "N***** Lover!" I felt something hit me and their truck smashed right into the side of my car.
I screamed and I'm pretty sure Paul did too. "Hold on babe," he shouted as our car started to spin and head straight for the side of the road and that concrete barrier. We slammed into it once, maybe more. I heard a horrible crunching sound, another scream and then nothing. The world around me faded to black.
The men of Station 51 had just managed to finish lunch, uninterrupted for a change, when a call came through. "Station 51, MVA with injuries, Harbor Freeway, cross street Sepulveda Blvd. Time out, 15:25."
Cap quickly replied with the usual, "KMG 365." He handed the slip of paper to Roy, who passed it off to Johnny. No directions were needed. Unfortunately there were too many accidents on this stretch of Highway 110, also known as the Harbor Freeway. The squad headed out, closely followed by Big Red. Highway accidents could mean anything from a two car fender bender with minor injuries, to a 15 car pile -up with multiple victims, with the need to triage the drivers and passengers. Regrettably, there was usually a fatality or two with the big MVAs, especially in the rain.
When 51 arrived at the scene the police were already directing traffic thru the one lane that was still open on the three lane highway. At least four cars were damaged, sitting at various angles on the right side of the road. One of them was crunched up against a side barrier. Roy and Johnny immediately started pulling equipment out of the squad. "Cap" Roy hollered over the highway noise, "I think we're gonna need another squad and at least one more ambulance."
"Okay Roy," Cap answered with a wave, as he radioed the request in. Since it was still raining some spilled gasoline wasn't that big of a concern. Cap sent Chet to pop off battery cables and then to help Roy who had approached the 2 large cars that looked like they were attached to each other by the fenders.
"What's with all the squashed tin cans all over the road back there?" Chet asked. "Some soup truck involved that we don't know about?" Roy simply shrugged his shoulders and continued his trek to the cars furthest up the road. Johnny and Marco headed for small blue car that was sandwiched up against the concrete divider.
With a closer look at the crushed car Marco said under his breath, "Madre Dios! Can anyone be alive in this wreck?"
"We gotta hope, Marco," John answered as they reached the car.
Marco could tell that the crowbar he'd grabbed wouldn't be able to get that door open. He hurried off to get the Jaws hoping someone survived the crash. Johnny approached the driver's side the car. Since the window had been down, or broken out through the crash, he was able to reach the driver. He felt underneath her bloodied brown hair for a carotid pulse and breathed a small sigh of relief. He really hadn't expected to find one.
Even though the driver of the car seemed unconscious, he still told her, "I'm John Gage. I'm a paramedic from the Los Angeles County Fire Department and I'm here to help you out." The girl's head was thrown back against the headrest and blood was coursed down her face from several wounds. She was unaware of his words.
"Hey Cap," Johnny called out, "could you grab a collar and the trauma box?" It was easy to tell that spinal precautions would need to be taken. Cap hustled the necessary equipment to the side of the car.
"Just take it easy here, I'm just gonna slip this collar around your neck so it stays straight, alright?" He didn't expect a response from her, but experience had taught him that people can still hear you, even if they seem "out of it."
"You have a cut or two on the side of your face and forehead, here. I'm just gonna get some bandages on this to stop the bleeding." After he was done with that, John ripped open the plastic from around a trauma blanket and arranged it around the victim's body. Even though he had not gotten a response from her yet, he told her, "We have a machine here that's gonna pop the car door open. Ya might hear some loud noise, but it's gonna be alright." He gave her a gentle reassuring pat on her arm. Marco started the machinery, and true to John's word, the car door was open in no time. While she was covered, they popped the windshield and peeled the entire piece of safety glass back.
Johnny made sure to shake out the blanket in case any stray glass or metal shards had fallen on it. After removing the blanket, he quickly glanced around what was left of the inside of the car. The passenger door was crushed practically into the middle of the car. Now able to see into the rest of the car he looked into the back and observed the horrible sight of a man's contorted body caught between the middle of the front seats and the back of the car. His neck looked broken. Johnny reflexively felt for a pulse, but wasn't surprised when he didn't feel one. He placed the yellow blanket over the body in the back of the car and moved on. Within moments, John was trying to find a way to get closer to the victim.
Somehow Johnny managed to wiggle his way into the front of the car by climbing through the space where the windshield used to be. "Now, I wantcha to just relax, miss. I'm just going to feel if you have been hurt anywhere else. He felt up and down her right arm, and everything seemed normal. When he got to the left side and touched her shoulder, she moaned. He could easily feel the dislocation. "It's alright now. I'm here to help you. My name is Johnny and I'm a paramedic. I can tell your shoulder is hurt and we're gonna take care of that. I'm just gonna check and see if you have any other injuries."
John had a hard time reaching her legs because the car had been crushed from the front too. "This steering wheel is gonna have to be pulled off, Marco. I can't see much of anything. Before you go though, could ya hand me that BP cuff?"
"Sure," came the automatic reply as the cuff and stethoscope were handed into him. He took the necessary readings and jotted them down in his notebook. Johnny felt her ribcage and suspected she might have some damage there. What caused him even more concern though was when he felt her abdomen and it was rigid. "Oh man," he said to himself, "looks like there could be some serious internal injuries."
"Hey Johnny, what have you got?" Roy asked sticking his head into the driver's side window.
"One Code F, in the back seat there," he gestured with his head. "Up here she's got a dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs, possible internal injuries, and we still have to get this steering wheel and front end outta her lap!"
"What about you?" he asked Roy surprised that he was done so quickly. "Nothing too serious and Squad 18 is on the scene, now anyway. There were a couple of guys in a pick-up who got the hell out of here just as I was heading for their truck and two cars that didn't look too badly damaged."
"What can I do to help you with her?" Roy asked.
"Marco went to get some chains and pull this bug apart. If you'd bring the backboard and the biophone, we should be okay for now." Johnny then pulled out his penlight to check her pupils. This elicited another soft groan. "Miss. Miss. Are you with me here? Could you open up your eyes for me, please? I'm Johnny Gage. I'm a paramedic and I'm here to help you." Her eyelids fluttered. "That's it. Everything's gonna be alright. See if you can stay here with me, okay?" She pried her eyelids open slowly. Pain filled her every senses.
Oh! I hurt. I have never hurt so badly in my whole life. What the heck is going on? I crawl my way up from the darkness only to have my eyes assaulted by a bright light. I slam my eyes shut again, but I hear a soft voice coax me into coming back and "staying with him." I hear someone groaning, and then I realize it is me. "You're gonna be alright" the voice tells me. "Can you open your eyes for me?" he asks. I try. And then I try again. I open my eyes and right in front of me I see a pair of warm brown eyes. They speak to me of compassion and kindness.
"Paul?" I ask.
"No ma'am. My name is Johnny," he repeats. "I'm a paramedic and I'm here to help you. You've been in a car accident."
Accident? What's going on? I call out for Paul, but get no answer. "Paul?" I cry out insistently. I can feel my heart start to race and I have a hard time catching my breath.
"Now Ma'am you gotta relax. Everything's gonna be okay. See if you can slow down your breathing." Johnny watched as she took several gasping breaths and watched as tears welled up in her eyes. "That's it." He coached her. " You're doin' fine. Can you tell me your name?"
"I'm Claire. Where's Paul!" She tried to crane her neck around to see, but something kept her from turning her head. "Is he okay?"
"Just relax Claire. Let's just worry about you right now, okay?
"What's wrong with me? I have to make sure Paul's alright!" She struggled again to look for Paul.
"It's okay. You can't turn your head right now because there's a cervical collar around neck. We want to make sure everything stays as straight as possible just in case you hurt your back or neck. Can you tell me if you are hurt anywhere?"
The question caught me by surprise. Do I hurt anywhere? God yes! I hurt everywhere! I try to think and focus my thoughts.
"My head is killing me!" She whispered softly.
"Yes," he said. "It feels like you have quite a bump on the side of your head. Anything else?"
I try to make some sense of what my body is feeling, but it's harder than I expected. I know my head hurts. And then I tried to move.
"Oh, Dear God, it hurts!"
"Tell me, Claire. Tell me what's hurtin' you. "
"My chest feels so tight, like I can't breathe." She tried to trace her left arm over her stomach, but drew back in pain.
"Easy there. You have a dislocated shoulder. Now tell me, does this hurt?" he asked as he gently palpated her stomach.
Claire drew in a sharp gasping breath. "Oh!" she murmured as the tears started to flow down her cheeks, mixing with the blood that had already dried there. Johnny took a clean 4x4 and wiped her face a bit.
"That's really tender down there, huh?" he asked. She tried to nod her head in agreement, but couldn't even do that. More tears followed the earlier ones. "We're gonna take care of you, now. It's gonna be okay. My partner here is gonna talk to the hospital, and they are gonna help us help you." John handed his pad with the vitals on it, out to Roy, as Marco and Chet wrapped the chains around the steering column of the car to wrench it off of their victim.
"These guys," he motioned to his crewmen, "are gonna get this steering wheel off of you." She glanced up to see 2 men with fire hats and heavy coats on. "Now, I'm gonna be right here with you" Johnny said, drawing her attention back to him. "They're gonna be makin' some noise, but you don't have anything to worry about. I'm right here with you," he added as he held her uninjured hand and looked into her eyes. "It's gonna be okay," he chanted as the machinery started to grind.
Outside the car Roy was busy too. "Rampart, this is Squad 51, how do you read?"
"We read you. Go ahead 51," came Dr. Brackett's reply.
"We have a female accident victim, approximately 30, with a probable dislocated shoulder, cracked ribs and severe abdominal tenderness. As of a couple of minutes ago, the vitals were BP -110/68, pulse - 60 & respirations were 10 at the time vitals were taken. She has since regained consciousness, but is presently trapped in the car. We are in the process of gaining further access to the car. Be advised the victim also has trauma to the head and face & a probable concussion."
"How soon can you get me a new set of vitals?"
"Momentarily, Rampart. Extrication should follow shortly."
"Keep me advised," Brackett responded. "Be sure to use spinal precautions when removing her from the car, 51."
The noise outside the car is so loud. I know this nice man is trying to help, but it feels like a jackhammer in my brain. My eyes start to slide closed and I am more than willing to slip back into the darkness. Maybe when I wake up, I'll realize it was all a bad dream.
"Claire," shouted Johnny over the loud noises, "stay with me darlin'. Come on. Let me see those pretty green eyes of yours. Come on. You can do it." Her eyelids fluttered back open. "Good! Good. I need you to stay with me. That way you can tell me how we're doin'.
"Fine," she muttered, "but I just want to rest, please?"
"You'll have plenty of time to rest once we get you into the hospital. We're taking you to Rampart Hospital."
Thankfully, the noise lessened as the steering wheel was slowly pulled away from her body.
"Oh!" she cried out as the darkness started to shade the sides of her vision.
"Tell me, Claire! Tell me what hurts," John said forcefully, as he carefully felt from her hips down to her feet. But she was no longer aware of his ministrations. "Roy," he called out, "I think she may have a fractured pelvis too."
"We need new vitals; we better get the anti-shock trousers too."
John immediately got the new numbers, and Roy reported all the findings back to Rampart. "Let's get her out of here and then establish the IVs." With help from Chet and Marco, Claire was eased out of the car and onto the backboard; from there they applied the MAST suit.
Ever one with a photographer's eye for detail, without even realizing it, Johnny noticed clear, broken safety glass, and shards of amber colored glass. He noticed a handful of white and yellow daisies had partially fallen from the seat to the floor. Something didn't seem quite right to him, but he dismissed those thoughts in favor of more immediate medical attention for the victim.
"Rampart said to patch her in Johnny," Roy told him. "They want to get a reading." John nodded his agreement.
Once the required IVs, monitoring equipment and oxygen were in place, they headed for the waiting ambulance. The rain had stopped and the sun glinted off the broken glass on the ground. The small blue car was squashed and ripped apart. An unexpected black streak marked the side of the bug, but this thought was quickly dismissed by those who noticed it.
They loaded Claire into the ambulance, and Roy gave it the standard two slaps on the back of the rig to signal the driver that everything was loaded. The loud sound of the sirens made Claire's head ache even worse. She squinted her eyes in pain. She tried to cover her face, but she couldn't move. "What….?" she mumbled.
"Hey there again, Claire." Her eyes slid open slightly and she tried to identify the voice. "You were in an accident and are on the way to Rampart. They're gonna take good care of you. Let me just get some new readings on you," the brown eyed man said. He took her blood pressure and seemed concerned with the results. He then gently grasped her wrist and took her pulse too. "Your numbers are still lookin' kind of low here. How are you feelin'?"
"Like I've been hit by a ….truck," she replied, finishing the statement with a faraway look in her eyes.
"Claire. Claire! Are you still with me here?"
"Yeah," she said vaguely. "It hurts...ummm, everywhere."
"I understand, but once you get to Rampart they'll fix you right up!" Johnny said encouragingly.
"I'm thinking that there's only so much a doctor can fix," she said, as she started slipping back into the darkness of her own mind.
"We're gonna be there in just a few minutes. Hold on, okay?" he encouraged. "It's always better when you can tell the docs what's wrong and what's hurtin'."
"You know what…." She told him trying to read his nametag, "….John, sometimes things can't be fixed."
With that, she closed her eyes and a machine started screaming at him. "Damn! She's in V-Fib!" He knocked on the window to the driver. "Pull over!"
"51," squawked the biophone, "patient is in V-Fib. Defibrillate immediately!"
"10-4 Rampart," John said into the phone as he started to charge the equipment. Roy opened the back door of the ambulance. With a quick look at the scope he knew why the ambulance was pulled over.
He counted for Johnny, "One, two, three …four"
"Clear," responded John as he shocked Claire's heart. "No response. Hit it again, Roy." As he waited the seconds for the count to begin he muttered, "Come on Claire, don't do this!"
"….four," said Roy, breaking through Johnny's thoughts.
"Clear!" and the second shock was given. "Damn. No conversion." He picked up the bio-phone to report in.
"Do not, I repeat, do not start CPR, 51. Her chest is already compromised," came Brackett's instructions. "Administer epinephrine, IV push."
Roy readied the shot as John gave him clear access to her heart. Roy drove the needle home and quickly depressed the plunger. Within seconds John was reporting back to the hospital, "Rampart, we have sinus rhythm."
Shortly thereafter the ambulance backed into Rampart Emergency. They were met at the doors by ER Head Nurse, Dixie McCall. "Bring her into one, Johnny." He nodded his agreement as he helped guide the gurney into place.
Dr. Brackett greeted them at the door with a nod. "John," he asked, "anything additional?"
"No, doc," Johnny said, while transferring the IV bags. "You know we got the conversion after two shocks and the epi."
Brackett nodded, then reeled of the number of tests he wanted done. "Get me a new set of vitals and get X-ray in here stat! We have an OR on stand-by."
Somewhat reluctant to leave this particular victim, Johnny hung around a bit, to see if there was anything else he could help with. His concentration was broken when Roy stuck his head in the door. "Ready to go, partner?"
"Sure, Roy, sure." Johnny answered as he followed his partner out of the room. Roy made them available and they got in the squad and headed back to the station. Johnny sat pensively starring out the window. "I wonder if she'll make it?"
"Looks like she had some pretty serious injuries, but she's young, and that's in her favor," Roy replied.
"Yeah," Johnny nodded distractedly and said nothing else the rest of the ride. He was equally as quiet when they got back to the station, and even during dinner.
"What's wrong with him?" asked Chet. "Did the girl die?"
"Not that I know of Brackett said he would call and let us know her progress," Roy replied. Johnny seemed unaware of the conversation.
With only one minor call for the engine, the men watched a little TV and turned in at a reasonable hour. At that point Roy would have welcomed a call out, but it was an unusually quiet evening.
John went to bed early. By the time the others came to the dorm, he was in bed with his bunker pants at his side and his arm flung over his eyes. But it didn't look to Roy like Johnny was resting comfortably. After some uncomfortable dreams and tossing and turning, Johnny gave up. He slipped on his bunkers and headed out to the kitchen. Even though Roy was asleep, the slight noise woke him up and he joined Johnny in the kitchen.
Johnny sat at the table with a glass of milk in front of him. He glances over and saw Roy. "Oh man. Sorry for waking you up."
"That's okay, partner. I could use a drink too." After he poured himself a glass he sat down. He watched Johnny sort of staring off into space. Roy let a few minutes pass and said, "Say, Johnny, what's goin' on with you?"
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"You have been out of it even since our last serious run. What's up?"
Johnny took a deep breath. "It really bothered me Roy. A couple of folks ready to start a new life together and now it won't ever happen."
"What are you talking about?"
"The last accident. I think those folks were just married."
"What? Why would ya say that?"
Johnny was quiet for a moment or two and remembered Dixie cutting the blood soaked dress off Claire's body in the emergency room. He shook his head to dispel the memory. "Ya know. I've been thinkin' about it a lot. She wore sort of a long white dress, there were a fistful of wilted daisies in the back seat and I bet those flat tin cans all over the road were from the back of their car. I think," he paused, "I think they just got married."
"Oh boy," Roy responded, with little else to say. "And the guy died? That's awful!"
"Yeah, it is. But that's not all that's gettin' to me Roy. Something wasn't right at the scene."
"What do you mean, not right?"
"Well, when I first went up to the car she had this bleeding wound on the left side of her face, and some other cuts too."
"That could have come from her hitting the window."
"Yeah, yeah, it could have. But there wasn't much broken safety glass or clear glass on that side at all."
"So what are you saying?" Roy asked.
"I'm not sure yet. I've been trying to piece it all together in my mind…There were these pieces of glass that fell out when we popped the door. And I think they were on her dress too. But there was so much blood on everything."
"You know how head wounds bleed, Johnny."
"I know. I know. And you're right. But this glass, it was like, brown or something," he added, as he shook his head. "It just doesn't make sense."
"…and I feel like there's somethin' else, just out of my reach. I don't know," John said with a shake of his shaggy head.
Roy put his arm around Johnny's shoulder, "Let's try this sleeping thing again, okay partner."
"Ok," John replied as he took the glasses and gave them a quick rinse and headed back for bed.
Shortly before the men were ready to leave, B shift was already in the kitchen drinking coffee, Cap called to his paramedics, "Roy and John, could you come in here a minute?" The men looked at each other, wondering if something was wrong. When they entered the office they were surprised to see Lt. Crockett there.
"Hi, Lt." both men said in unison.
"What's going on?" asked Johnny.
"You remember the accident on 110 yesterday?" the police officer asked, as he took out his pad.
"I wish I could forget it," Johnny said quietly.
"What was that pal?" the Cap wanted to know.
"I just mean, that the accident has really been on my mind."
"How so?" Crockett questioned.
"Maybe you could just tell us why you are here first, Lt, and then we can talk about what's on Johnny's mind," Roy suggested.
"Well," he began, "a number of witnesses who were further back on the highway feel that the accident wasn't really an accident."
"What do you mean by that?" John demanded. Roy rested his hand on Johnny's shoulder.
Crockett was surprised by the vehement reaction of the usually laid back Gage. "The call really got to Johnny, Lt." Roy informed the men.
"Why don't you go on with your story," Cap suggested, trying to defuse any upset feelings in the room.
"It seems that the two in the blue Volkswagon bug were on their way to a reception. They had been married about 20 minutes earlier."
"Oh my," responded Cap as he dragged his hand down his face. "Just married? What a shame! But you said some witnesses thought it wasn't an accident?"
"Yes. The only problem is they were several car lengths back and we can't be sure of what they think they saw because of the distance and the rain. How did the call seem to you guys?"
Glancing down at Johnny, knowing he was shaken to have his feelings about the two being married confirmed, Roy decided to go first. "When we arrived on the scene I went up the road and John went down towards the bug. There were 3 vehicles on my end. One was a black pick-up truck that left the scene before I could make it to them to see if they had any injuries."
"A black truck, you said," Crockett interrupted. "Did you happen to see the license plate at all, Roy? It could be important."
"Nah, I don't think so," DeSoto shook his head. "All I remember is that it had a CA. plate…wait a sec. I'm pretty sure the first letter of the plate was an A. But what I remember more is that it had one of those nasty bumper sticker about Jane Fonda on it. I didn't give it a second thought, really. Then I proceeded…"
"One second please Roy," Crockett stopped him. "Did you get close enough to see the driver of the car?"
Roy let out a sigh. "Okay. Let me think back…No. I remember only gettin' as far as the bumper. There was a white guy driving, and he had a passenger. As I got closer they burned rubber and got out of there fast. That's it."
"Okay, sorry to have interrupted you, go ahead."
"After the truck left, I went to the other two cars that had hit each other. In one car there was a driver with a concussion. His passenger had a broken arm, I believe. But by then Squad 18 was on the scene and relieved me to go help Johnny."
Roy glanced down at his partner and saw that he looked pale and diaphoretic. "Easy there, Junior," Roy reassured John as he sat down next to him and started rubbing his back in small circles. "Are you okay? Do you feel like you are gonna pass out?"
John shook his head slightly, and decided not to do that certain action again. "No. I'm okay. Do you think I could have a glass of water though?" Roy left the room quick to comply with the request.
"Hey, what's going on in there?" Chet asked, with a cross between curiosity and concern.
"Nothin'" Roy replied. "It's about the accident yesterday. Who knows?" he shrugged, "maybe Crockett will want to talk to you two, if you hang around long enough."
"Actually, we were just leaving," Chet told him. Marco nodded his head in agreement and just waved good-bye.
Mike sat at the table, sipping his coffee with the crew from B shift. "I think I'll just wait here for you guys to get through."
Roy glanced at Mike and bobbed his head with the implied thanks and show of solidarity.
"Here you go Johnny," Roy said as he gave him the cup. He grasped the cup gratefully, took a few sips and consciously worked on calming down his breathing. When he looked up again, all eyes were on him.
"I knew there was something wrong!" Johnny said with determination. "I just can't put it all together. I had figured out they were just married." Crockett raised his eyebrows in interest to that revelation. John caught the look and replied defensively, "She wore a white dress and there was… like a bouquet of flowers on the backseat of the car. Oh! And I forgot to tell you Roy, she had this wreath of daisies thru her hair. Of course, by the time we got there some had fallen out and others had blood on them." John could see it in his mind's eye, the clean white daisies splattered with the red drops of blood all over them.
"Hey pal, take it easy," Cap said supportively. "Sometimes there are calls that just get to you more than others. It happens to all of us, right Lt.?" Crockett nodded his head in agreement.
"I'm sorry," Johnny told the other men as he sighed. "I didn't mean to bite anyone's head off. For some reason I just can't get these pictures out of my brain, the bloody daisies, the different colors of broken glass, the…"
"Hold up a minute, John" Crockett interrupted. "What do you mean different colors of glass?"
"Well, after Marco popped the door I shook out the blanket, you know, to cover up the body in the back, and there wasn't much safety glass in the door or on the blanket. I think the window must have been down. There was a different colored glass inside the car and some of it fell out when Marco got the door open. I only noticed it for a sec, It was sort of amber or brown colored. I don't see how that can be of much help," Johnny said as he sadly shook his head. "I'm sorry I can't help you out more," John added as he and Roy started to leave the office.
"Well, if anything else comes to mind, give me a call, okay?" Crockett concluded as he shook both Roy and Johnny's hands. "I want to do everything I can to stop a race war before it happens!" Both men turned back around and looked at the police officer.
"What are ya talkin' about, Lt? What race war?" John asked.
"Didn't you notice it?"
"She's white and he was black. His family disapproved of the wedding and blames her and the whole white race, I think. And his family is well connected, if you know what I mean. I can already feel the pressure starting to build. The Mayor's office will want immediate answers, because it makes the city look bad. The Chief of Police want answers so the department won't look bad. I hope they don't come looking this far down the line for people to blame."
"Do you really think it could come to that?" Cap asked, suddenly more concerned.
"It's hard to tell. I can tell you I think it's good that DeSoto went to the other cars, and Gage went to this one."
"Why?" Johnny asked.
"Not to be crass Gage, but because you are part Indian."
"What!" Johnny hollered. "What are you talking about? Since when has that ever mattered except for some practical jokes that were in very poor taste? I didn't even notice they were different colors. All our victims still bleed red!" he added emphatically, heading into full rant mode. "And I guess it's a good thing Lopez was the one helpin' me out then, since he's Hispanic, huh?"
"Hey, I know where you are coming from Gage, more than you think I might," responded Crockett. "Do you think it's some mistake they put a black man in charge of this investigation, hmmm? Maybe it would have come to me anyway. I'd like to believe so, because I am good at what I do. The same way all of you are. I don't like this any more than any of you, but after the race riots the bigwigs now throw around words like, 'racial tension' and things like that."
"Geez, Crockett," Johnny whistled. "Why don't you tell us how you really feel?" he added with the ghost of a smile.
"Uhhhh….let's just keep that part of this little conversation between us, okay?" he said sheepishly. "I probably shouldn't have spouted off that way, but it bugs me too. Look, I know you guys are professionals, one of the best teams in the county and that does matter. I'll do everything I can to keep this thing contained. Just do what you always do when you write up your runs, but this time, be as specific as possible. Mention all the things we discussed and anything else that comes to mind. And if you think of something you think might be important, please, call me." Crockett hands each of the men his card.
"Okay," said Johnny, suddenly feeling very tired as he pushed his chair back. "Will do." Roy patted John on the shoulder as they both left the room.
When they got to the day room, both men were surprised to find Mike sitting there by himself, reading the paper and sipping a cup of coffee. He looked up from the paper and told the two men, "Why don't you guys sit down and I'll get ya a cup of coffee? You look like you could use it." After placing a mug in front of each man, he sat down in his own seat and just sort of waited to see what the paramedic team might say.
"Hey Mike, where are the rest of the guys from B shift? I know we were busy talkin' but I don't think we missed the tones," Roy observed as he took a sip from his steaming mug.
"Nah, they all got stuck going out to do fire inspections," he grinned. "Better them than us." An awkward silence filled the room. "Hey Johnny, you doin' okay there, man?"
"I guess," he answered after a long pause. He raked his fingers through his shaggy dark hair, something both men knew he only did when he was really stressed or frustrated.
"Wanta talk about it?" Mike asked quietly.
"I don't know…it's just this last MVA run has me all tied up in knots. Did you know that there were 2 victims in that little bug that hit the wall?" Mike shook his head yes. "They had just been married less than half-an-hour and he was dead at the scene."
"Oh man. That's rough!" Mike agreed.
"Oh it gets better," John said, warming up, "it seems that because she's white and he was black that there's this great big uproar about it being a race thing." The three men just shook their heads in varying degrees of disbelief. "And who knows if she will even make it? She was in a bad way when we left the ER last night."
"Oh," Mike interjected, "Doctor Brackett called when you were in with Crockett and Cap. I didn't think it would be a good idea to interrupt." Both men looked at Mike, eager for the news. "Just give me a sec. I wanta make sure I get it all right. Okay…Brackett said that she made it through emergency surgery and something about her spleen. I guess you'd know something about that, huh Johnny," Mike said trying to lighten the atmosphere. It didn't work. "Okay. Sorry about that. He said she was in ICU and it has been touch and go, but she did make it through the night."
"Thank God," Johnny murmured. "Maybe I'll stop by there on the way home."
"Ah, no," Mike informed him. "Brackett thought that you might want to do that and he told me to let you know that, quote, 'we're going to keep her under for a few days to let her body heal. So there is no sense in hurrying over here, hose jockey.'"
Johnny grinned at that. "Okay, then I guess we should head home and to bed. I feel like I could sleep for a week!"
"I'll take care of the cups. Why don't you guys head out? I'll see you for next shift in a couple of days."
"Thanks a lot, Mike," Roy answered. "Appreciate it." With that the two men went out to their cars, bid each other good-bye and headed home.
When Johnny got home to his ranch, he was pleased to see that the neighbor who watched the animals while he was on shift had already turned the horses out into the corral. While he wanted to go over and greet them, he was just too tired. The horses looked up expectantly when they heard his rover in the gravel drive. "Hey, darlin's. I'll be out to see you later." With that he headed into the house and thought aloud, "I know I should probably eat somethin', but I'm just not into it. I just want to go to sleep and forget about all this."
Johnny took the time for a hot shower, to relax his tense muscles and then went to bed. Getting to sleep was another issue entirely. When sleep finally did come, it was anything but restful. John tossed and turned, plagued by the snapshots in his mind, of all that he had done and seen over the past 24 hours. And the questions he had to ask himself managed to weave themselves into his dreams too. "Did you do everything you could? Are you sure? Was he still alive when you got to the car? Why didn't you try to reach him?" Around and around the thoughts went until Johnny startled awake and decided to just give up trying to sleep for now.
He dragged himself downstairs and knew that the only way to salvage the day would be coffee – strong, piping hot coffee! He took his mug outside to front porch and plopped down bonelessly in his favorite rocking chair. The sun was high in the sky and a warm light breeze blew across the pasture land. Johnny sat for a good half hour, as he just let the peace of his homestead help him unwind. Coffee though, would not satisfy the growls that came from his stomach. "Haven't had much to eat in the last 24 hours, have you Gage?" he said to himself. "Let's see if there's anything to eat around here." He scrounged around in the fridge and found some eggs and back behind a couple bottles of beer there was some cheese. "So, it has a little green mold on it." He shrugged. "Just cut that off and whip yourself up an omelette. Yeah. That sounds tasty. I wonder if there's any bread. Nuts! Nothin' in the bread drawer…wait a minute, what was it Joann told me last month? Oh yeah, 'if you freeze your bread, all you have to do is drop it in the toaster when you want some. No more stale bread!' Boy! That Joann is somethin' special. Ya gotta love her!"
So, Johnny made himself breakfast and enjoyed it. Then he cleaned up the kitchen a little bit and slipped on his boots as he headed out to greet "the ladies," his two horses. Before he got to the paddock, a mangy looking, black dog came out of the barn to see what the horses were fussing about. "Come 'ere Soot," Johnny called the dog, as he patted his thigh. The dog happily obliged his best friend by placing his front paws on the pro-offered spot and stretching, so Johnny could give him more than just a casual petting, but a complete tummy rub too. "Miss me boy?" The dog whined in response. "I missed you too, but I know Charlie came over and fed you, so don't think you're gonna trick me into another meal of kibble, buster!" The dog ignored the humorous threat and joined his master as they headed down to the horse corral.
As soon as Soot got closer he started barking for the horses' attention. "You are such a ham, Soot! The girls knew we were here when you first came from the barn. Hey Ember," he said as he greeted the coal black horse with a singed coat. "How are you today, beautiful?" Ember gently nuzzled the side of Johnny's neck and waited for him to lavish some attention on her. He was happy to comply and glad Ember was rescued from a canyon fire and ended up at home with him. It had been a close thing," he remembered. They were going to put her down, but Johnny was determined to try and save the wild mustang. He succeeded far beyond the vet and park services' wildest expectations. Soot came to him in a similar fashion, a lone rescue from an old warehouse fire. With a good part of his fur singed or burned he was not a dog anyone would adopt out of the pound. And Johnny knew it. There would also be some medical expenses involved too. But John figured the dog was a survivor, just like he was. So Soot joined the homestead.
Letting him know she was waiting her turn, Isicola Tate (Free Wind, in Lakota), a spotted appaloosa, snorted and pushed her way to the front of the fence and sniffed at Johnny's pockets. They both knew when he came down from the house, to expect a carrot or some sort of treat, besides a great brushing. "And how are you today, hopa (beautiful)?" he said as he stroked her forelock and her nose. He gave them each a hug and their treat as he headed in to muck out the stable. After that he gave each of the girls a long brushing and plenty of affection. "Maybe we will do some riding tomorrow, girls," he told the fillies. He missed them when he was at work, and the feeling was mutual. He filled their food and water troughs with enough to last until the next morning.
It was early evening when he latched the barn door and Soot joined him up at the house. "I know how you feel about bathes, Soot, but I've gotta take a shower!" After a refreshing shower and clean clothes Johnny felt better than he had in days. "Okay Soot, let's see what there is to eat!" He opened to fridge door and moved things around a bit. "Not much. I better go shopping tomorrow, but for now, a cold one would be great." He popped the top off the beer bottle and settled down on the couch. Soot sat right next to him, eager for his chance at affection too. Johnny sipped his beer and stroked the dog absentmindedly. The setting sun cast a few beams thorough the big windows in his living room. As he finished the beer the sun glinted off the glass bottle. Johnny starred, captivated by the color that radiated from the bottle.
"Oh my gosh!" Johnny hollered as he jumped up off the couch and headed for the phone. He didn't even here Soot's slightly disgruntled sounds from being disturbed from his lovely nap. John dialed the number he knew by heart. He waited as it rung. "Come on! Come on! Be home!"
"Hello?" answered the pleasant female voice.
"Hi Johnny how….."
But he interrupted her. "Sorry to be rude Jo, but I gotta talk to Roy right away! Is he there?"
"Sure, I'll go get him," she said slightly confused. Usually Johnny was pretty personable.
While Johnny fidgeted on the other end of the photo Roy was just getting out of the shower.
Johnny heard the extension being picked up. "Roy? Is that you?" he said with urgency in his voice.
Roy immediately reacted to that tone. "What's wrong, Johnny? Are you okay?"
"BEER!" Johnny practically shouted into the receiver.
"Are you okay?" Roy asked with concern.
"Beer, Roy, it's beer," he responded excitedly.
"So beer is the answer, John. What was the question?" Roy asked his confused friend.
"The glass, Roy! The glass! The glass that we found in the car. The amber colored glass! It's the same color as a beer bottle when it's broken!"
"Okay," Roy answered with some reservation. "How many of those beers have you had this afternoon?"
"ROY!" Johnny shouted in exasperation. "Okay, I'm sorry," he said taking a deep breath. "I've only had one. I came in from taking care of the girls and was just relaxing on the couch with a beer. A sunbeam hit the bottle and I realized that it's the exact some color of shattered glass that I saw in the car and on the ground at the scene."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely, Roy! I don't know how a broken beer bottle got inside the car and fell out at the accident scene, but it was there," John assured him. "And I have a hard time believing that a woman who just got married, was 'knockin' back a cold one' on the way to their reception."
"Ya got me there. I can't imagine it either. So, do you think you better call Crockett? I think you should. After all, he wanted to know if we remembered anything." Roy replied.
"Have you thought of anything else, Roy?
"There's not much more for me to think about. I had the easy ones. One peels out before I even get there and the 2 others had minor injuries."
With his brain going into overdrive, Johnny asked his buddy, "Roy," I don't know about you, but sometimes silly little things from a call stick with me, like the color of somebody's rug or a how many people are watching outside a fire, ya know? Ya see it and just more on and it's no big deal."
His partner nodded, but then remembering John couldn't "see" his response, so he answered tentatively, "Yeah? So?"
"Well, think back to the whole scene and to that little blue crushed bug, okay? Did you notice any other colors on it?"
"Do you mean like a decoration or something?" Roy asked, not knowing what he friend was looking for.
"I don't wanta put any ideas in your head, Roy…."
"Pfft! Too late for that," came Roy's reply.
"Funny Roy. Very funny. Come on now. I'm trying to be serious!"
"Okay Johnny. Give me a sec….alright… the rain was letting up and I was glad, hoping there wouldn't be any more accidents. 18s came just a few minutes after I began to assess the victims with me. Brice told me that I was 'cleared to go assist my partner' now that he and Bellingham had arrived." John snorted softly into the phone. "I came down to see what you might need. You were with a female victim. There was apparent head trauma, but you already had that bandaged. She had a collar on and you were continuing with your initial assessment of the girl. Had you checked the guy by that time?"
"Yes," John responded tersely. "He was dead." There was a long pause over the phone line. "Oh man Roy, I'm sorry. I have been asking myself a bunch of questions like that every since the accident and every time I try to lay down and sleep. So yeah, as soon as I got clear access to the car thru the windshield…"
"You fit through the windshield of that crumpled bread box?"
"Yeah. So? I had to get better access to the victim," John told Roy, as if it was nothing at all.
"Okay," Roy continued. "Let me get back into it. You were inside with the woman, having already determined that the male passenger was dead…
Johnny was glad Roy couldn't see his vigorous arm movements letting him to "hurry up and get on with it."
"…Marco and Chet were getting ready to pull the steering wheel back, and when they did you realized she probably had a broken pelvis along with her other injuries. We got her out of the car w/ the guys help, got her on the backboard, then the MAST suit and packaged into the ambulance."
"Right," Johnny replied. "But after you gave the ambulance the two slaps, as you turned around, what did you see?"
"Ummmmmmm…. I looked over and saw Big Red, I saw 18 finishing up with their victims, just waiting for the next ambulance…. Mike, Chet and Marco were cleaning up and taking the equipment away from the squashed bug…It's a shame too, because Joann always thought those cars were 'cute'"
"Right, right. It was a mess, still pinned against the concrete on one side and crushed in on the driver's side."
"Do you think it was hit on the driver's side by somethin'?"
"It must have been. Didn't Marco have to pop the door with the Jaws?"
"Yeah, he did," Johnny replied encouraging Roy to continue. "What else?"
"When I was there the coroner hadn't come yet. I guess I looked at it for a sec. and thought. how sad it is when anyone dies, especially when they are young. And now, knowing they just got married makes it even sadder."
"But did you look at the car, Roy? What did it look like?"
"I don't know what you are fishin' for Junior. Why don't you just come out and say it?" Roy said, getting a bit aggravated.
"I'm not tryin' to getcha mad, Pally. I just wanta see if you remember something that I think I might've seen. But I don't wanta make ya think you saw it. Do you see what I 'm gettin' at?"
"Yeah,okay," Roy replied, his anger dissipated, "that makes sense. I went over to the car to pick up the trash and gather up the equipment. The car was squashed like one of those tin cars in the road. It was light blue, the bumpers were smashed and it had this ugly black streak all down the side of it. Don't know what that was from. One of the other cars, I guess."
"Yes!" John agreed quietly. "Yes, I thought I saw that too, but I wasn't sure. Ya know what Roy? I think we should write down everything we remember, right now, and then ask to meet with Cap and Crockett all together. That way we only have to tell somethin' once, and we cover our tails w/ Cap being there."
"That's a good idea Johnny. Why don't we see if we can meet them tomorrow? Do you want to see if they can all come here, since you're further out?"
"Sure, if you don't mind. You got Crockett's number?"
"I'll take care of it. You better get writing!"
"Yeah, you too Pally. Thanks a lot! See you tomorrow."
"I'll ask them over for the afternoon. Why don't you come at lunchtime?"
"Great!" Johnny answered, always glad to get a free meal out of the deal.
That night Johnny called out for pizza and labored on his account of things, putting in every detail he could remember. When he finally finished, he fell into bed and had the first sound sleep in a while.
Now that Johnny had a decent night's sleep behind him, he looked forward to meeting with the other men. He showed up, as invited to a delicious lunch with Roy and Joann. Since it was a school day, the kids weren't home and the meeting was set for 1 PM. After lunch, Johnny started pacing. So much so that Roy felt he had to try and calm him down. "Johnny. Johnny!" he called at his partner, "John! Will you please stop pacing? You're wearin' a hole in my carpet!"
"What? Oh, sorry Roy. I'm just nervous, that's all."
"Really, I never could have guessed," Roy responded, hoping to help break the mood his buddy was in. It didn't work.
"I don't know Roy. I'm back to seeing all those pictures in my head again. What if I'm wrong? And what if the guy could have been saved if I would have gotten to him sooner?"
"Oh, I see. So, you were just standing around with your hands in your pockets?"
"No," John replied confused.
"Well, then you were taking care of the lady…I mean victim because she was cute?"
"Of course not! What are you…? Okay. I gotcha now. You're right. I was taking care of the victim I could reach. That's all I could do, right?"
"Right, Junior. You know it in here," Roy said pointing to Johnny's heart, "what the truth is. Don't let this second guessing get to you. If you don't get it under control now, Crockett will just see you are upset and he won't really believe you. You know that, right?"
Johnny nodded his head yes, in response. "Thanks, Pally," he added as he took his glass of ice tea out to the back deck for some fresh air. "I'll be fine." With that he closed the door behind himself, sat in one of the lounge chairs and worked on meditating some and getting his breathing and heart rate under control. "Dear God," he prayed. "If this was done on purpose, I pray that you will help the police catch whoever is responsible. Please help me get all the details right and help no more people get hurt. Please comfort the family and friends of the victims. Amen."
Shortly afterward Joann came out on the deck to tell a much calmer Johnny that Cap and Lt. Crockett had arrived. "Thanks a lot Joann, for lunch and everything."
The four men sat together in the living room unsure of where to start. "So, gentlemen, I guess you thought of something else you wanted to report?" asked the Lt.
"Yes," Johnny responded quickly. "Roy and I talked about it together, but we didn't 'convince each other' of anything, if you know what I mean." He went on to present the entire story, exactly how he remembered it. He told about the revelation about the beer glass shards at the scene and how he asked Roy pointed questions, but didn't tell Roy what his impressions were until after he had figured it out for himself.
"And you Roy? Do you agree with how Johnny explained things? Did he say anything to influence you 'remember' what you think you remember?"
Johnny bristled at this, but Cap just laid a calming hand on his knee. "Actually," Roy told the Lt., "my partner was a real pain in the butt about it! He wouldn't tell me what he was after. He just kept asking me questions about what I observed…things like that. I remembered what I saw all on my own. It wasn't until after I remarked on the markings on the car that John said anything."
"I wasn't even sure about what I saw, so I didn't say anything until Roy confirmed my impressions," Johnny told the police officer. "Here, we even wrote it all out for you, Lt. and for you Cap. We wrote these things up separately and didn't compare notes or anything except for when we first talked."
"Well, I must say, John and Roy, that this is very helpful," Crockett said reviewing the papers, "and I'm impressed. It will give us a good place to start. I even believe it will further our investigation significantly. And I hope you didn't take anything I said personally, fellas. I have to make sure of the facts, and just the facts. I'm glad you are both so observant and were on the scene."
"Thanks a lot, Lt." Roy responded, "that means a lot to us." Johnny nodded in agreement. Both men shook his hand and Roy saw him to the door.
"Well, guys… I don't know what to say," Cap told them, "except that I'm damn proud of you for working all this out on your own! I hope you are both happy are paramedics, because I think you would make pretty good detectives too." Both men beamed at the positive words from their Captain.
"I hope it's okay that we had you come too, Cap," Johnny told his boss. "We wanted to keep you up to date on what was going on."
"That and it was a whole lot easier to talk to Crockett with you here, Cap! Thanks for coming!"
"Definitely easier!" agreed Johnny, glad that he was able to smile about things again.
Johnny wasn't quite sure why his path led him to Rampart. Maybe it was just because he was on auto-pilot after being on shift. Maybe he wasn't ready to head home. Whatever the reason, Johnny found himself entering the hospital between the familiar ER doors looking for Dixie, the paramedic's friend and font for all information regarding Rampart.
Johnny never made it the desk, when a figure appears at his elbow. "What are you doing back here, hose jockey?" Brackett asked when he saw Johnny in the hallway.
"Whoa Doc! Whatcha tryin' to do? Drum up more business by givin' me a heart attack," he grinned.
"You guys bring us more than enough business as it is," Brackett replied, looking into the half filled waiting room.
"What can I tell ya Doc? You are just a popular guy! Actually Doc," he said, pulling Brackett over to the side. "I was wondering how the girl from the MVA a few days ago is doing?"
"Well, she seems to be holding her own, but she's still in ICU. Aren't you breaking Rule #1, John?" Kel asked part teasing, part serious.
"Ha!" John laughed softly. "Rule #1 was blown out of the water when they started asking me," he said, dramatically putting his hands to his chest, "if I was giving preferential care because of the victim's color. Hell!" he continued with some anger, "I never even noticed."
"I know Johnny," Brackett said, patting him on the shoulder. "That's just one of the things that makes you a pretty amazing paramedic and friend."
Johnny glanced back at Brackett wondering if there was going to be some sort of punch line or not.
Catching the disbelieving look, Kel told him, "You must know, after all this time, how much I really respect what you guys do! Those early days of doubt passed years ago. And, don't let it get around, but I think you are a pretty decent guy. I understand you and Roy were instrumental in helping the police with their investigation into the accident, too."
"Yeah. What do they say, Doc? The devil's in the details? It was just a bunch of small impressions that sort of pointed to something being not quite right…That reminds me, I haven't heard any more from Lt. Crockett, have you?
"Well, I know he is certainly eager to talk to the young lady in question. He will probably be around later in the week."
"So, has she shown any signs of waking up yet?" he asked.
"Not yet. Unlike when one of you guys gets injured, there's no family to gather round and support her. I understand her minister has been in to see her, but I never spoke with him."
"I know I'm not family, but would it be okay for me to go and sit with her for a few minutes. I really think that when ya have company, rootin' for you to come out of it, you do it quicker than without that encouragement, prodding and bad jokes," Johnny told him with a classic Gage grin.
"Well, you would know more about that than I would, Johnny. You have certainly been in here enough!"
"Ah Doc, knock it off! You know it's one of the hazards of the job."
"Yeah, yeah, I know Hose Jockey," Brackett agreed. Then the doctor sobered some and added, "I guess if would be okay if you want to go in and sit with her for a little bit. In case you were wondering, YES, I do know that you like to come and visit some of the folks you have helped on calls." Johnny glances away and blushed a bit.
"Oh, and John, I thought you would like to know that we did an autopsy of the young man in the car. He was killed instantly. His neck was broken. It's not public knowledge yet, so keep it to yourselves, okay?"
"Thanks, Dr. Brackett. I appreciate you tellin' me. I know I did everything I could, but it's nice to have some outside confirmation." They shook hands and Johnny went up ICU.
The charge nurse tried to give Johnny some grief about going into Claire Rogers' room, but all he had to do was mention that he was cleared by Dr. Brackett and it was smooth sailing. He entered the room tentatively. Now that he was here, he was sort of at a loss about what to say or do. He looked at her mending body with a medical eye. She was still hooked up to a ventilator, heart monitor and a slew of other pieces of machinery. Tubes, wires and monitors, all a part of a thrilling stay in ICU. "Fortunately, she's not aware of all this yet," he said to himself.
Taking a clue from Roy's fairly frequent vigils, he pulled up the hard plastic chair and sat near her side. He gently laid his hand on top of her good arm. "Hi Claire," he said quietly. "I realize you don't know me, but my name is Johnny…You were in a car accident, but the doctors say you are doing well and are going to get better… You might not know this, but Rampart, that's where you are, Rampart Hospital. Rampart is one of the best hospitals around," he rambled. "The doctors are really good. I know they've always managed to fix me up…Folks like to tease me about how much I visit here, not just as a paramedic either.
"Whenever I'm in the hospital, my friends encourage me to get better and think good thoughts. I think prayers help too," he stopped talking for a few minutes, then began again. "I hear that your minister was here to visit. That must mean that a lot of friends are prayin' for you to get better." He sat for a couple of more minutes then decided he should be going. "You get better real soon, okay Claire. Bye for now."
Johnny put the chair in the corner and quietly left the room. He thanked the nurse on his way out. As he stood there, he glanced up and saw that the waiting room was full, as usual, but there were a some fairly young people in the group too.
One of the young black man separated himself from the group and approached Johnny. "Excuse me," he said as he tapped Johnny on the shoulder. "Could I talk to you for a minute?"
"Yeah. I guess," Johnny said with reserve. "What's up?"
"Well, we were just wondering if you saw Claire Rogers."
"Yes, I did."
"Why what? What are you asking me?" Johnny wanted to know.
"Ummmmmm… I'm sorry. I did this all wrong. My name is Steve and these two are Beth, she has the red hair and Annie has the long blonde hair. We were at the wedding and are friends of the bride and groom…uhhhh… were friends of the groom? Even after a few days, it all seems pretty unreal to like be getting married one second and BAM! You are dead the next!"
"Great way to put it, Steve," Beth chided him. "Don't worry. He really is harmless." She smirked and Steve looked mortified. The girls just each patted him on the back.
"I'm sorry man. Let me try this one more time. We are Claire's friends. She is in Intensive Care. They'll only let family in, but her family disowned her for 'daring' to get married without their blessing – you know, someone like me, a black man. So, it's like the friends from the church are her family. But they still won't let us in."
"All we want to do," Annie explained in a quiet, soft voice, "is sit with her and let her know we are there. Let her know she is loved. She probably doesn't know about Paul yet. Do you think she does?"
"Probably not," answered Johnny.
"Do you mind if I ask you," Beth said with a small smile, "how do you know Beth? You don't look like a farmer, so I'm guessing you aren't family…"
Johnny laughed. "Are you kidding! Her folks wouldn't like me either, I'm half Lakota Indian!"
"Now it's my turn to start again," he told them. "My name is John Gage and I'm a firefighter/paramedic for the county. I was with Claire at the scene of the accident."
"Oh, so you got to see…" Steve asked falteringly.
"Yes," John answered briskly. "It was a close call and I just wanted to see how Claire was doing now."
"Steve," Beth said as she slapped the man on the side of the arm, "you are about as tactful as a bull in a china shop. Geez! Please excuse him. He suffers from terminal foot in mouth disease."
Johnny smiled at as he patted the man's shoulder. "It's okay. We all do it. Of course, the women would think it never happens to them," he added with a grin, "but we know differently, right?"
"So why did they let you in?" Steve asked, willing to charge in anywhere to get the answers he wanted.
"Obviously, it's who you know," said the young blonde with a shake in of her head. Tears started to well up in her eyes and silently slide down her face. "I'm sorry, Mr. Gage. It's just that our Church Family have all been taking turns sitting out here since the accident, hoping to find out anything more than 'she's holding her own.'"
"Wow. That must be rough on all of you," he replied, obviously moved by a pretty woman's tears, but he thought he could tell the difference by now between a woman who just cried to get what she wanted and one who was honestly upset. "Go figure," he thought to himself." Gettin' older does have its benefits. Who woulda known?"
"I'll tell you what, why don't you guys, and gals, give me a little bit of time and I'll see what I can do to help out. Okay?"
The small group nodded in agreement and Johnny strode out of the room, as a man with purpose.
Johnny headed straight for the ER. While he could plead his case, well, Claire's friend's case, to the head of the ICU or someone in administration, he knew he would have better luck talking to people who he knew, and who knew him. He made a bee line for Dixie McCall.
Fortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of traffic in and out of the ER right now, so she didn't look completely bogged down.
"Hey Dixie!" he called from a little way down the hall.
She waited until he reached her desk to reply. "Hey, what are you doing here stranger, in civvies, no less? I thought you were off shift and heading home for some sleep. You had a lot of runs last night."
"We sure did!" he agreed. "The accident that everybody is still making such a fuss about…well, it's been on my mind a lot, and so has the girl. So…"
"So, you thought you would stop in to see how she was doing," Dixie interrupted him.
"Yeah," he said, not quite looking Dixie in the eyes.
"Hey Johnny, don't look away from me," she told him seriously. "I know all about the 'don't get involved with the patient beyond their immediate care rule.' I could have written the darn thing. But there are some that just slip around our walls and defenses and we can't help caring more about them, and wanting them to get better." He glanced up and saw the sincerity in her eyes and grinned.
"You got me, Dix. I know we aren't supposed to really 'care', but if we don't care about the people we help, in some way, what good are we? They could have one of the robots on TV do our jobs, you know?"
"Well, I don't know if there will ever be robot medical personnel. You know how much patients complain about our cold hands? Imagine what they would say to a robot's hand," she grinned at him.
"Hey Dix, can I buy you a cup of coffee? I have a problem I could use your expert help on."
"Sure. Carol, I'm taking my break in the cafeteria with Johnny here. Can you cover for me?"
"No problem, Dix," came the reply.
"Okay," Dixie told Johnny as they settled down at one of the small tables on the patio, "tell me what the problem is."
"The girl who was in the accident, Claire Rogers… did you know that her own family disowned her because she was marrying someone who wasn't white?" He saw the look of shock on Dixie's face.
"I thought it was just his parents that didn't want them to get married."
"No, from what her friends told me both families hated the idea of an inter-racial marriage. I gotta tell ya Dix, it even hurts here," he said quietly pointing to his own chest. "I know what it's like to be rejected because of your race. I'm sure they would have had their struggles as a couple and so would their kids, but to deny love to a child, any child - because of race is just plain wrong!"
"You'll get no argument from me, Johnny," she said, placing a reassuring hand on his arm. They each took a sip from their coffee, to regain a little perspective.
"What I was thinkin' Dix, was if she has no family who will see her or care about her, but she has a "church family" that loves her and wants to be with her, shouldn't they be allowed too?
"I mean, after all, everybody lets the guys stay with me when I'm stuck…." Dixie just gave him "the look" and Johnny immediately changed his wording, "I mean, when I'm a patient here the guys, not only from 51s, but from other stations are allowed to visit if it's not too bad, right?"
"Right," she agreed.
"So I don't think this should be any different, do you?" he told her, working up a head of steam. "And she doesn't even know that her husband of less than an hour, is dead yet. I mean, I would hate to not know about something like that!"
"I know, Johnny. The first thing you do is ask about Roy, and you are the first one on his mind too. Well, after Joann, of course."
"So, what do you say, Dix? Don't we all benefit when we have our families, real or otherwise, around us when things get bad?"
"You make a good point, Johnny. Now, am I just the warm up and you are going to go find the hospital administrator on the 5th floor, and tell him all about your idea?"
Well, no," he waffled. "I was hopin' you could help me out. I mean, who needs to talk to the administrator? What does he know anyway?" He leaned in a little closer and softly asked, "do you think Brackett would understand? Would he be willing to help out?"
"I think he just might. Now who gets to tell him the good news, you or I?"
"I guess it's not fair to stick you with it," he said, hoping she would volunteer to do it anyway. But no offers were forthcoming. "Do ya think you could come talk to him with me, Dix?"
"I think I could do that, Johnny. Let's go find him!"
The two cornered Dr. Brackett inside his office. I don't know, John, Dixie. The rules are there for a reason. Besides, it's not even my department," Brackett answered the determined duo.
"Oh come off of it Kel. You know the girl is in guarded, but stable condition. We checked before coming to see you."
"It really does help when there's somebody there encouraging you," Johnny added. "And as you had no problem pointing out, 'I would know!'"
"I'll see what I can do, hose jockey! Now why don't you head home and get some sleep. You look beat."
"Yup. Will do. I just have a quick stop to make a quick stop."
Upstairs outside of ICU
"Hey man!" Steve said approaching Johnny. "I wondered if we were gonna hear from you again. I thought you might have bailed."
"He may have thought that," replied one of the girls, 'but we didn't."
"I don't bail!" Johnny answered emphatically.
"Sorry man. No offense, okay? We have just been getting the run around for days now."
"It's okay," John said, calming down some. "I hear ya. Hospitals can seem pretty overwhelming sometimes." The three nodded in agreement. "So here's the scoop. I talked to some friends who have been very understanding in the past when I was stuck in here." He looked around, half expecting Dixie to hear his statement, but the coast was clear. "See, I don't have a family, either and the other fire fighters are my family. It's sort of the same thing. Claire doesn't have family around, so you guys are like her church family, right?" The three nodded in agreement. "So, they just have to work out the details and someone should be up in a little while to talk to you about it."
"Awesome, man!" Steve exclaimed.
"Thanks so much," the girls added as they each gave Johnny a hug.
"It means a lot to us to be able to be there for her, especially since Paul is gone," Beth added with tears welling up in her eyes.
"It's all such a horrible tragedy!" Annie said. "We were all so shocked to see that stupid truck runnin' so close behind them. I swear, it looked like they practically hit, or something. It was so hard to tell, in the rain, but it looked pretty bad. And then to see the car spin out." Now both girls were crying in earnest.
Steve put an arm around each one of them and hugged them. "Come on now. We need to be strong for Claire, right?"
The girls nodded in agreement and worked on composing themselves.
"Did any of you talk to the cops about the accident?"
"We wanted to at the time, but we were all pretty shaken up. Some cop took our names, but we never heard back from him."
"Do you remember what the police officer's name was? Or what he looked like?"
"He was some old white guy, must have been in his 40's or something," Steve told Johnny.
Johnny just wanted to roll his eyes at the statement about 40 being so old. Now that he was closer and closer to the big 3-0, 40 didn't look so old anymore. But more importantly than that, these guys had seen the accident and hadn't talked to the police yet. "You really gotta tell the cops what you saw," Johnny told them.
"Well, the guy we talked to didn't really care much about what we had to say. He mumbled something about traffic, rain and idiot drivers, but we know what we saw," Beth explained to Johnny.
"I'll tell you what … I helped you guys out, now could you help the cops out, please?"
"As long as we get to talk to somebody else," Steve chimed in.
Gage pulled out his wallet and looked for a card. "I can do ya one better than that," he told them, brandishing a business card. "I happen to have the number for the guy who's in charge of the whole investigation. How about I call him and ask him to come down here and talk to you, okay?"
The trio nodded.
"Boy they sure nod a lot," John thought to himself as he headed for the phone.
Within minutes, John was back and able to tell Claire's friends that Lt. Crockett, would be down later in the day to speak to them all.
"We really appreciate your help, Mr. Gage," Annie told him.
"That's fine. I'm glad if anything helps, but call me Johnny, okay?"
The nodded again, in unison. John just shook his head to himself. "Now, if you guys don't mind, I'm gonna hit the road and then hit the hay. It's been a long day and an even longer night."
"Thanks so much for your help, Johnny!" said Steve as he extended his hand. Johnny shook it.
"It's all good. You guys just hang in. I'm sure Claire will be waking up real soon! So long," he said, waving good bye to the three, hoping everything would work out for them, and for Claire.
About a week later, Johnny stopped by to see how Claire was doing. She was conscious, off the ventilator and definitely on the mend. She was in a regular room, surrounded by a bunch of her friends. Johnny felt a bit uncomfortable, even though the people were welcoming, so he kept his visit brief. That was the last time he saw Claire before she headed out of Rampart for a long stint in rehab.
A couple of years later, Johnny roamed the local department store as he looked for a special gift for Joann and Roy's wedding anniversary. He had already planned to watch the kids at the ranch for the weekend, but he wanted to give them something special in addition to that.
He passed a book display as a title jumped out at him, From Bride to Widow in a Day – Defeating ALL Racism in America Today by Claire Rogers, with a forward by Coretta Scott King. He picked up the book and looked at the author's photo on the back cover. He recognized her name and the warm gaze he remembered in her blue-green eyes.
"Good for her," he thought as he added the book to his small pile of purchases. "This is one book I definitely want to read!"
Lakota words and translations come from a neat site called Lakota Speakster. The site gives the phonetic pronunciations of hundreds of words. It also has some phrases spoken in Lakota, so you can actually hear a bit about what the language sounds like. From that site:
English /Lakota /Pronunciation
Beautiful / HOPA/ ghoh - pah
Free / ISICOLA/ ee - shee - choh – lah
Wind / TATE/ dah – Day
I understand that it's important to say, that while I love the guys of 51 and the rest of the cast, I don't own them. I wouldn't mind if I did, but I don't. No profits from this story, etc., etc. etc.
Published to site 02/03/12
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