Mike tried to keep his voice quiet so that the others wouldn't over hear his phone conversation, but try as he might his voice kept rising. "Mindy, I don't see why I have to take him. I have a job too you know! So what if I'm off half the time, I can't baby-sit him when I am on duty. What am I supposed to do with him?"
He leaned his head against the wall as he listened to his sister talk some more. "This is crazy. Why can't Mom and Dad just find someone to take care of him for a few days? We both know where he should be anyway Don't try and make me feel guilty! NO!"
Chet and Johnny tried not to fall over each other as they leaned by the doorway of the captain's office. Johnny let out a yell when Chet stepped on his foot.
"Gage, hush," whispered Chet. "He'll hear us."
"What are you two doing?"
Johnny and Chet whirled around and found themselves facing their Captain, with an amused Roy and Marco standing behind him.
"Uh, Stoker sounds pretty upset. We were just wondering if he's alright," stammered Chet.
Johnny gave a guilty smile and shrugged his shoulders. "I was wonder who he's talking to?"
"He's talking to his sister," declared Marco.
"How do you know?" asked Chet suspiciously.
"I answered the phone. You guys need a life. If the most exciting thing you have to do is eavesdrop on Mike, you need help." With that Marco returned to the kitchen.
Johnny peaked into the captain's office again and watched Mike's reactions. Mike had turned bright red and was practically yelling into the phone. He was loud enough now that eavesdropping was no longer necessary.
"I don't care if it's my turn. I don't want to do it! Please, Mindy, talk to Dave again and see if he will Stop treating me like the baby, because I'm not! No, I've already told you my answer. Bye!" Mike slammed the phone down.
Stoker stormed out of the captain's office and walked right by the group, with out looking at any of them, and disappeared into the dorm room.
Chet watched the door close behind the engineer. "Roy, maybe you should go talk to him."
Roy gave Chet an annoyed look. "Why me? Why does everyone always expect me to be the counselor around here? If he wants to talk he'll ask."
Chet wasn't going to give up."Cap, why don't you?"
Hank shook his head at Chet. "No, I think Roy is right. This is Mike's business and it's not our place to be nosy. I believe you two have better things to be doing. If you don't, I'll find something."
Chet and Johnny took the hint. Chet headed out back to the hose rack and Johnny retrieved the mop and bucket out of the supply closet and went to go clean the latrine.
Johnny tried to focus on his task but he found his mind wandering. Finally his curiosity got the better of him and he quietly sneaked through the locker room to see if he could find Stoker. He stopped near the door into the dorm and listened to Mike talk to himself.
"I don't want to deal with him. Why do they make me? I wish he had never been born. My life would certainly have been a lot easier."
Johnny leaned the mop against a locker and tried to get a little closer, but he accidentally knocked the mop over in his curiosity. Johnny cringed as it rattled to the floor.
Upon hearing the noise Mike stopped talking and looked into the locker room.
Johnny gave the engineer a nervous grin. "Sorry, I couldn't help but overhear you. I don't suppose you want to talk about what's bothering you?"
Mike glared at Johnny. "No, not really. You wouldn't understand."
"You might be surprised at what I understand. Try me." Johnny leaned in the doorway of the locker room.
"No offense, Johnny,but you and I have absolutely nothing in common. I don't really want to talk about it." Mike turned his back on Johnny and walked back to his bunk. "If you don't mind, I'd like a little privacy."
"Okay, I was just trying to be nice." Johnny leaned down and retrieved his mop. He tried to hide the hurt look on his face as he walked back toward the latrine.
Mike went over to his bunk and sat down to stare at the wall. Great, now the whole station knows. Being in a fire station is like growing up with my family; nobody will leave you alone. Mike's thoughts were interrupted by the tones going off.
"Station 51, man trapped on ridge, North Canyon View Road, North Canyon View Road, 5 miles north of Topanga, Time out 10:19."
Mike pulled the engine up behind the squad and cringed as he stepped out into a huge mud puddle. The engine was really going to need a bath after this run.
He surveyed the area and finally spotted the reason they were there. Trapped halfway up the steep slope of the foothill was a bright red and blue parachute. Mike could just see the form of a human lying motionless beneath it.
Mike walked up behind Cap, Johnny and Roy to listen to their conversation.
Johnny sighed as he looked up towards the man. "That slope looks like it's mostly loose dirt and shale. It's going to be hard to get up."
"Well, there's no access from up top," Roy said as he turned back toward the squad. "We have to climb it."
"I'll call for a chopper to transport him." Cap got on his HT.
Mike sighed as he watched the paramedics collect their equipment. It looks like another rescue where the engineer and hose jockeys get to be spectators. Oh well, it's better than being up there. He took up a spot next to Chet and Marco to watch Johnny and Roy work.
The two paramedics were slowly trying to make their way up the slope. The loose dirt and shale kept crumbling beneath their feet. It didn't help that it had just rained either.
Mike heard Chet let out a gasp when Johnny almost fell. Johnny and Roy were not having much success in navigating the slick slope. It seemed that for every step forward the paramedics were sliding back two.
Just seconds later Roy really did slip and he slid down the hill knocking Johnny off of his feet. The two paramedics came tumbling down the steep foothill in a tangle of legs, arms and equipment.
Mike ran forward with the rest of the gang. He reached down to help Johnny to his feet.
"Are you two all right?" Cap asked as he assisted Roy.
Johnny visually checked himself out. "Yeah, but we're not going to get to him by climbing. That slope is too wet."
Roy took stock of their equipment to make sure that it was all still in working order. "We have no choice."
Mike stood there as Cap and the two paramedics tried to think of an alternative. He was distracted when he heard the helicopter approaching. He turned and watched it land on the road a ways back.
The co-pilot came running over. "So what's the situation here?"
Cap scratched his chin. "Well, we are trying to get to our victim but the slope is too slippery and the paramedics keep sliding down."
Mike found himself watching Johnny. The paramedic was looking up at the victim and then back at the chopper. Oh no, he's got that look in his eye. The look he always gets when a rescue gets really challenging. I think he enjoys being a rescue man, though I can't imagine why.
"Hey, Cap, I've got it. I know the chopper can't land up there, but Roy and I could attach lines to a skid and then the chopper could fly us up the slope. We get him in the stokes and the chopper can bring us back down here."
Roy's eyes lit up as he realized what his partner had in mind. "Good idea. Let's get the equipment."
The co-pilot nodded his head and then ran off to tell the pilot the plan.
Soon the helicopter was taking off. Mike could hardly make himself watch as the chopper made its way up the slope with a paramedic dangling by a rope tied to each skid. They were holding the stokes between them so they didn't spin in the down draft caused by the chopper.
The co-pilot directed the chopper's movement as it gently maneuvered its human cargo close to the slope. Mike noticed that they were trying to be careful about disturbing the parachute with the chopper, but weren't being very successful.
When Johnny and Roy's feet hit the ground near the trapped man they both scrambled to cut the parachute free before it could drag the victim off and injure him further. Once completely free the colorful nylon took flight, guided by the wind created by the whirling helicopter blades above.
"Those two are downright crazy," muttered Chet.
Marco shook his head as he watched his coworkers. "You couldn't pay me enough to do that."
Mike didn't say anything, but he agreed with both of them. I'm happy to just stay here by the engine, safe and on the ground.
He felt a little better now that the parachute danger was over, but Mike realized that the powerful wind caused by the hovering chopper, combined with the steep slope was making the footing a challenge for the two paramedics.
It was just another difficulty added to getting the unconscious man into the stokes, and then getting the stokes properly secured to the chopper. After a few more tense moments the helicopter was lifting up again carrying all three men.
Finally, Mike ran forward with his co-workers as the hovering chopper lowered Johnny and Roy to the ground. He grabbed one end of the stokes and waited while the paramedics freed themselves and the stokes from the ropes attached to the helicopter. Next he and Marco carried the victim over to the squad.
They placed the stokes on the ground and Mike turned to the squad. He opened the side doors and started pulling out the equipment he knew Johnny and Roy would need.
Mike continued to hover nearby, watching as the two paramedics went about assessing injuries and applying treatments. He decided that engines were far easier to understand than the human body I think I'll just stick with oil and gears.
The patient suddenly regained consciousness and began to thrash about wildly, even though he was still strapped in the stokes. Mike couldn't help but overhear as Johnny practiced his bedside manner.
"Sir, just calm down. You're safe now. I'm a paramedic and my name is Johnny and that's my partner Roy. We're both going to take care of you, okay."
"My leg is killing me. Can't you give me something for the pain?"
"What's your name?"
The man winced. "Neil. Neil Jessup."
"Okay Neil, let me explain it to you. You hit your head really hard and that means that you could have a concussion. That also means giving you drugs could hurt your head even more so you'll just have to wait. But don't worry we'll be at the hospital before you know it."
Neil seemed to believe Johnny and settled back. "Okay, I can wait until then. Hey, my parachute?"
"Uhh, Neil, I think your parachute is the least of your worries. Just hang in there." After reassuring the patient, Johnny began to collect the equipment.
Mike realized the paramedics were ready to load their patient up and he quickly stepped in, with Marco, to help pick up the stokes. They followed the two paramedics as they carried their equipment to the waiting helicopter.
As Mike helped slide Neil in he realized that the man was looking at him. All Mike could do was give him a nervous smile. He stepped back when Johnny jumped in the chopper. Mike again heard Johnny strike up a conversation with his patient.
"Hey, Neil, have you ever ridden in a chopper before?"
"No, lots of airplanes but no helicopters."
"Well, don't you worry. These pilots are so good you won't even need a parachute for this ride."
Mike watched as the helicopter took off and headed back toward the city. How does Johnny find it so easy to talk to people? I guess that's why he's the paramedic and I'm the engineer. He sighed and followed Marco back to the engine.
Roy noticed that Johnny was unusually silent on the ride back to the station. He should have been ranting and raving about how stupid that guy was for jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Instead he was leaning his head on his hand and staring out the window.
"Is something bothering you?"
"What? Uhh, no. I'm just thinking."
Finally Johnny sighed and leaned back in his seat. "Something Stoker said to me. Say, Roy, do you think he likes me?"
"What do you mean, do I think he likes you? Of course he does, we're all friends."
Johnny frowned. "I'm not so sure."
Roy just looked at his friend in disbelief. "What makes you think that Stoker doesn't like you?"
"Well, when I went to go clean the latrine, he was in the bunkroom talking to himself. I guess I was a little too nosy and I asked if he wanted to talk. He said he didn't want to talk to me because we have nothing in common. He kind of just brushed me off.
I've been thinking about that and he's right. He is the one person at the station that I have the least in common with. He has stuff in common with all the rest of you, but not me."
"So what? How does that translate into him not liking you?"
"Friendship is based on having things in common, like hobbies, jobs and stuff. I mean, you and I have the exact same job and we both like to fish and stuff. That's why we're friends. Stoker's just being nice to me because we happen to work together."
"I think you are blowing his comment way out of proportion. He was upset, Johnny. He probably wouldn't have wanted to talk to any of us at that moment. I know he really likes you. You should have seen how worried he was when that car hit you."
Johnny didn't seem convinced but by now they had reached the station. Roy watched as Johnny climbed out of the cab and disappeared into the latrine. When Johnny got an idea in his head it was always hard to dislodge.
The rest of the day seemed to go by slowly, especially for Mike. He tried to focus on his job but his mind kept thinking about his conversation with his sister. Mike didn't get angry often, but when he did he could brew for hours.
Mike ignored the interested looks from his coworkers. He knew that Chet and Johnny could be ruthless in fishing for information but he wasn't about to give in to them. Those two are the last people I'd go to for help. For that matter, no one else here would understand; all of their families are normal.
Dinner was announced and Mike found his place at the table. He silently filled his plate and focused his attention on his food. No one was talking much anyway, which was fine with him.
Halfway through the meal he reached for the ketchup and for the first time actually looked at his coworkers. He realized that almost all of them were looking at him, even Cap and Roy. "What?" he asked, annoyed at the attention.
No one dared to speak up, except Chet. "Uhmm, well, we all overheard your conversation with your sister. We've never seen you so upset."
"I'm a grown boy, Chet. I can handle my own problems," Mike barked.
Cap cleared his throat and looked at Mike. "We are just concerned that's all."
Mike sighed, knowing that he was not going to get out of this without some explanation. "It's nothing, guys. We were just arguing about something silly; you know sibling rivalry stuff. Sorry to worry you all."
Cap gave an understanding smile. "I'm glad it's nothing serious."
"Station 51, woman trapped in car over an embankment, Topanga Canyon Road, Topanga Canyon Road, near Morran Street, time out 18:37"
Mike was actually relieved to be sent out on a call. Hopefully this would distract his overly concerned coworkers. I better stop feeling sorry for myself before they all do something drastic, like try to cheer me up.
As the engine pulled up to the scene, Hank spied a large crowd of people gathered around the railing near the concrete culvert. He dropped to the ground and followed his paramedics over to the crowd. He was surprised to find that the people were desperately clinging to the front bumper of a small car trapped on the sloping embankment.
Recent rains had filled the usually empty canal with raging floodwaters and this group of concerned citizens was all that prevented the vehicle from being swept to the ocean.
Hank yelled to his crew, "Kelly, Lopez get some rope and get this car tied down now. Stoker bring the engine closer!"
When Hank turned back around looking for his paramedics he realized that Gage and Desoto had joined the crowd holding onto the car.
Soon Chet and Marco came running up with ropes and squeezed into the crowd to attach the lines. "Cap," yelled Chet, "we can't reach the axle. The railing is in the way."
"Attach it to the bumper then." Hank knew that wasn't the best place for the ropes but it would have to do.
When the ropes were safely attached to the front of the engine Hank addressed the crowd. "Okay, everyone let go and move back."
The police officer that had been helping hold the car turned around and moved the crowd back to a safe area. They all continued to watch anxiously.
Hank assessed the slippery slope of the culvert and looked at his paramedics. "I want you two to tie yourselves to the railing before going down there. If you slip, we'll be able to pull you out."
Roy and Johnny nodded and ran back to the squad to get their equipment. Johnny returned first. He now had on a safety belt over his turnout coat and he handed Marco the line. Marco quickly secured it to the railing and signaled Johnny he was ready to go.
Right next to them Chet was helping Roy do the same thing. Mike came up with more rope and set the stokes on the ground next to Roy.
Johnny climbed over the railing first and carefully made his way to the driver's side door. He yanked on it and managed to pull it open. He looked inside and observed a woman lying unconscious across the front seat. In the back was a young girl of about 10 years of age who was crying hysterically and banging on the window of the car.
Johnny focused on the woman first. He could see blood all over her face. The blood stains and cracks in the windshield made it obvious what one of her injuries was. He turned back to Roy, who was standing behind him. "I've got a pulse. We'll need a cervical collar and a neck board."
Roy turned and repeated the request to Chet.
Hank watched his men work, but cast a glance at the water level in the canal. When they had first arrived it had barely been touching the car but now it was covering the back tires. "You two be careful, but hurry. The water is rising."
Roy handed the collar to his partner. "Did you hear that?"
Johnny nodded his head. He gently sat the woman up in her seat so that he could apply the collar and slide in the neck board. He kept an eye on the young girl in back. "Just relax, sweetheart, we'll have you out soon."
The girl stopped screaming for a moment but never really looked at Johnny. Then she resumed her screaming and pounding.
Hank watched the paramedics and then glanced around to check what his other men were doing. Mike was concentrating on the ropes holding the car, and Marco and Chet were holding the lines tied to the two paramedics. Next he turned a nervous eye to the rising water that now was up to where Johnny and Roy were standing.
Hank handed Roy the stokes, but kept a good gripe on the rope attached to it. "Watch your step, Roy."
"Johnny, are you ready to move her?" Roy asked as he positioned the stokes.
Johnny nodded his head and the two paramedics started to drag the woman out of her car. Roy grabbed the neck board and helped pull her into the stokes.
After Johnny strapped her in he gave the thumbs up. "Okay, pull her up."
Roy stepped back to help guide the stokes over the door while Hank and Mike pulled on the rope. Just as the stokes cleared the door Roy slipped and fell into the water. The wire basket banged against the car, but Roy was too busy trying to avoid being swept downstream to worry about it at the moment.
Hank and Mike struggled with the rope before they managed to pull the stokes over the railing and safely lay the victim on the ground.
Chet was busy pulling on Roy's line, and a minute later, a wet and bedraggled Roy climbed over the railing to safety.
Johnny had noticed his partner's fall. "Roy, are you okay?"
"Yeah," answered Roy, "I'll take care of her."
"Okay." Johnny turned back to the car and the little girl still trapped inside. He pulled the front seat forward and reached into the back seat for her.
Upon realizing that the stranger's attention was now on her, the little girl stopped her pounding. She watched him nervously out of the corner of her eye. When Johnny reached for her she screamed in fear and scrambled to the far side of the car.
Johnny sighed and looked at his boss. "Cap, she's to scared to come to me. I'll have to get into the car."
The water was high enough now that Johnny was actually standing in it. "Be careful and hurry." Hank gave his permission.
Johnny slowly squeezed into the back seat of the tiny car. He talked soothingly to the girl hoping to calm her down. As he approached her he observed her actions.
She was now banging her own head and repeating a phrase over and over. "Bad stranger. Bad stranger." Not once did she look him in the eye.
Johnny realized that she was not a normal 10-year-old girl and knew he would have to change his approach. He kept speaking to her in calm tones.
"My name is Johnny. I'm a fireman and I'm here to get you out. Just be calm, I won't hurt you." He tried to reach for her but the girl screamed and began to kick out at him. Johnny had to retreat away from her to think of another way.
The car shuddered as the rushing floodwaters angrily flowed around the obstacle. The frightened girl paused for a moment.
Johnny saw his opportunity and smiled at the girl. "Angel, I've introduced myself. I'm not a stranger anymore. My name's Johnny and I'm a fireman. I'm here to help you."
His words seemed to reach her. "No stranger?" she asked still not daring to look at him.
"No stranger," repeated Johnny. He approached her again hoping that this time she wouldn't fight him.
From outside the vehicle Hank watched Johnny work and wondered what was taking him so long. It should be a simple matter of grabbing her and pulling her out. He was about to call out to Johnny when he felt Mike's hand on his shoulder.
"Cap, there is debris coming!"
Hank looked to where Mike was pointing and he saw trees, which had been downed by the flooding up stream, heading straight for the car. "Johnny, watch out, the car's going to be hit!"
Johnny heard the frantic yell from his Captain and knew he could not afford to waste anymore time. He quickly reached for the girl. His sudden movement startled her and she started to kick and scream again. Johnny had no choice but to let her hit and kick him as he pulled her into his arms. He tightened his grip on her and braced himself.
A large tree slammed into the car with tremendous force, breaking the rear window of the car, which now allowed water to pour into the vehicle. Worse yet, the force of the blow caused one of the ropes securing the car to break.
Hank realized the other rope was holding; but his relief was short lived. The already damaged front bumper of the car was being pulled away from the body of the vehicle. It was just a matter of time before the flood claimed the car.
Hank again glanced upstream. He discovered, in horror, that even more debris was hurling toward the now almost totally submerged car. He saw Johnny hurrying for the door, clutching the little girl to his chest; but he knew Johnny was not going to make it.
Another tree slammed into the car and the sound of metal ripping away from metal filled the air. Hank leaped aside as the front bumper flew towards him. He looked up from where he landed and watched the body of the car being pulled into the raging torrent with Johnny and the little girl still inside.
Marco desperately tried to maintain his hold on the rope attached to Johnny. To Marco's dismay, he found that he couldn't maintain his footing and his was pulled over the railing into the water, following the departing car.
Hank scrambled to his feet and saw Chet make a frantic grab for Marco's turnout coat. Chet managed to get a handhold on the collar but he began to follow his partner over the railing into the merciless grip of the floodwater.
"Marco, let go of the rope!" Chet yelled.
Mike planted his feet and grabbed Chet, trying to prevent Chet from being swept away with Marco. Roy was soon at Mike's side and joined him in clinging to Chet.
Hank leaned over the railing and tried to reach Marco.
Marco felt the slack in the rope being pulled through his hands and he was forced to release the line because of the pain, rather than from a conscious decision. The rope continued to disappear into the water until it was pulled taunt, still tied to the railing.
Finally Mike and Roy were able to pull Chet back over the railing and Chet dragged Marco with him. As soon as he could, Hank grabbed Marco's collar and hauled him onto the road.
The firemen had no moment to rest or relish in their own safety. Johnny was still lost in the muddy water. All eyes quickly scanned the surface hoping to see him.
Johnny felt the car shudder as the first tree slammed against it. The youngster realized that the danger outside the car was now a greater threat then the stranger inside the car and she stopped fighting him. Instead she embraced Johnny as her protector by throwing her arms around him and burying her head in his chest.
Johnny pushed his way through the tide of water that was now flowing inside the car. He was almost out the door and his comrades were only a few feet away but he knew that it was still too far. He felt the next violent collision and suddenly the car was free floating and rushing downstream.
Before he could think about what to do next, the water ripped him away from the precarious hold he had on the car door. Still clutching the girl tightly to his chest he was suddenly immersed in a muddy, spinning nightmare.
Water rushed into his lungs as he struggled to reach the surface. He could feel debris pounding him as he was swiftly carried downstream. Seconds later he was slammed to a stop when the rope attached to the safety belt around his waist was pulled taunt.
Johnny was only vaguely aware of all this, as the water violently streamed around him. Most of his thoughts focused on keeping the little girl in his arms and getting air into his lungs.
After what seemed like an eternity he broke the surface. He coughed and gasped for air as the water continued to wash over him; forcing him to struggling with all his strength to keep himself and the child on the surface of the roiling water.
On the bank, Roy was the first one to spot Johnny when he popped up to the surface. "There he is!" Eagerly he reached for the rope and began to haul his partner in. Chet and Marco quickly stepped in to help. Their muscles strained as they fought to save their friend from the deadly grip of the canal.
When Johnny was within reach, Hank and Mike leaned over the railing, each securing an arm of the drenched paramedic and hauled him out of the water. Carefully they pulled Johnny over the railing and sat him on the ground. Johnny stared blankly at his rescuers and maintained his tight hold on the sobbing girl.
A cry of joy erupted from the crowd of bystanders when they saw the paramedic and the little girl pulled to safety by the heroic firemen, but the fireman did not share in the celebration. The danger was not over yet.
"Johnny," Roy tried to get his attention. Johnny was coughing violently and shivering uncontrollably. "Johnny, look at me." Roy reached out and touched his partner's shoulder.
Finally Johnny's brown eyes looked at Roy and comprehension crossed his face. He gave his companions a weak smile. "Boy, that was almost too close."
"Tell me about it, pal," responded one very relieved fire captain. "Now you just relax and let Roy check you out."
Roy looked up. "Cap, why don't we get these two over to the ambulance. We need to head for Rampart immediately. I'll check them out on the way."
"Okay." Hank and Mike helped Johnny to his feet but the paramedic's knees gave out.
Roy could see how exhausted Johnny was and reached for the child in his arms. "Go ahead and give her to me."
Johnny reluctantly handed her over to Roy but the little girl had other ideas. When she was separated from Johnny, her screams filled the air and her struggles nearly tore her from Roy's grasp.
Hank and Mike supported Johnny while they followed Roy and his combative charge to the ambulance. They set Johnny down on the bumper and removed the safety belt and turnout coat. Chet handed over a blanket, which Hank wrapped around the shivering paramedic.
Roy's struggles with the little girl drew Mike's attention. She was fighting the paramedic's attempts to examine her and pounded her tiny fists on him. She yelled over and over at him, "Bad stranger! Bad stranger!"
Without saying a word, Mike picked her up and quickly turned to hand the girl to Johnny, who was already reaching for her. When she was back in Johnny's arms the screaming and flailing stopped and she settled into a hushed sobbing as Johnny stroked her hair and whispered comforting sounds in her ear.
Roy smiled gratefully at the engineer. "Thanks, Mike. Okay, let's just get them to the hospital."
After helping load the ambulance, the four remaining firemen stood there for a moment, watching the ambulance disappear up the road. Hank glanced at Chet. "Hey, pal, take the squad into Rampart."
"Sure thing, Cap."
Next Hank turned and found Marco staring at his hands. He looked down and realized that they were covered in blood. "Geez, Marco, why didn't you say something sooner. Chet, wait up, bring a first aid kit!"
Marco winced as he looked at the burnt and torn flesh of his hands. "Sorry, Cap. I didn't realize how bad it was. I was too worried about Johnny."
Chet came up with the first aid kit. His eyes lit up in surprise but a smile came to his face. "Oh boy, I get to play paramedic." He pulled out some bandages and proceeded to wrap his partner's hands. "That ought to teach you to hang onto ropes. You about drowned us all you know."
Hank watched as Chet teased Marco. Marco just pretended like Chet was torturing him. "All right, when you two are done, head over to Rampart. I suspect you'll need a real doctor to undo the damage Chet's doing."
Marco laughed, despite the pain and followed Chet to the squad.
With those two on their way, Hank turned to the last member of his crew. "Okay, Mike, I guess it's just you and me stuck cleaning up this mess."
There was no response from the Engineer. Mike was still standing in the road looking off into the distance where the ambulance had disappeared. Hank had to tap him on the shoulder to break his trance. "Hey, pal, we've got work to do."
Stoker realized where he was finally. He smiled sheepishly at his captain and followed Hank back to the railing to collect their equipment.
Roy apprehensively observed Johnny, who was leaning back in the corner of the ambulance gently rocking the frightened child. His face was pale and he was still coughing. There was no doubt in Roy's mind that this rescue would earn Johnny yet another stay in Rampart, at least for the night.
The ambulance lurched forward as the driver took off for the hospital. Roy could hear the familiar siren begin to wail. Suddenly the little girl began to scream hysterically again and go into more fits. This time she was banging her own head with her fists. These weren't light taps either; she was literally beating herself hard enough to leave bruises.
Johnny tried to restrain the struggling child. Then he turned and began banging on the wall of the cab. "Turn off the siren!"
The attendant looked at Johnny like he was crazy. "What do you want that for?"
"It's hurting her ears. Turn off the siren!" Johnny was frantic himself. Finally the driver understood and stopped the offending noise. As the noise died away, the little girl once more curled into Johnny's arms, sobbing.
Roy watched Johnny and the little girl. Her actions confused him. Sure, she was probably really frightened but she did not seem to act like a girl her age should. "Is she okay?" he asked Johnny.
Johnny kept rocking her and nodded his head. "She's just scared and she doesn't need a bunch of strangers poking and prodding her. Please, just give her some space so she can relax."
"Okay. I'll let you handle her. How about you, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Don't worry about me." Johnny settle back again and closed his eyes.
Roy sighed, not really convinced that either of them were injury free but he knew there was nothing he could do at the moment. He left his partner alone and concentrated on the mother for the rest of the trip to Rampart.
When the ambulance stopped and the doors popped open, Roy and the attendant jumped into action. Dixie met them at the door as they prepared to wheel the woman in. "Kel wants her in treatment room 2, Joe will take the little girl in 4, and Mike will take a look at Johnny in 5."
Roy turned to Dixie as the attendants followed her instructions. "Uh Dixie, the little girl has been really combative and she won't leave Johnny. He's the only one who's been able to control her."
Dixie watched as Johnny slowly exited the vehicle still clutching the little girl tightly in his arms. The girl's green eyes got bigger as she realized that her environment was changing again and she buried her face in Johnny's shoulder. Dixie could see that separating the two right now was not a good idea. "Okay, we'll take them both to 4."
Johnny sat down in the wheelchair with a heavy sigh, positioned the girl in his lap and allowed the orderly to push him into the hospital. Roy followed close behind, eager to help with his friend. Upon reaching the exam room they helped Johnny sit on the table and placed the horrified girl next to him.
Dr. Joe Early came in the room and noticed how this girl was responding to her environment. His experience with children warned him that there were too many people in this room.
He turned to Dr. Mike Morton, who had followed him. "Mike, I think I can handle these two. Why don't you go see if Kel could use a hand."
"Are you sure?" When Joe nodded yes, Mike shrugged his shoulders and left.
"Roy, if you could please wait outside, I'd appreciate it."
Roy took a last look at his partner and his small companion. Reluctantly he turned for the door. "Sure thing, Doc. Take care, Johnny."
Johnny noticed the worry in his friend's voice. He opened his mouth to try and say something reassuring but instead he went into a coughing fit.
Now that most of the people were gone, Joe noticed that the little girl relaxed a little as her emerald saucers surveyed the room. "This little gal seems to like you, Johnny." Joe bent down to get a better look at her.
Johnny gave the Doc a smile. "Yeah, I guess that swim in the river convinced her I was a friend. Doc, I think this girl might be autistic."
Joe studied her mannerisms and behavior. The little girl was still sitting very close to Johnny but she was rocking back and forth in a steady rhythm, lightly banging herself on the head, and mumbling something repeatedly. "I think you might be right. Did the mother ever wake up to confirm this?"
Johnny shook his head no. "You're the first person I've told of my suspicion. I didn't feel comfortable mentioning it to the others." He reached up and gently stopped her from hitting herself.
Joe smiled at the girl. "Well, that makes you a real special young lady. I'll be sure and give you the best care I can. Now, why don't we get you two out of those wet clothes."
Johnny accepted the surgical scrubs that Early handed him but when he hopped down to go change in another room the girl hopped down to follow. When Early tried to touch her she yelled something unintelligible at him.
Johnny just smiled. "She sure told you. Maybe if I just change behind that screen she won't be a scared?" Joe nodded in agreement.
Johnny reached up and took his badge off of his shirt. After reclosing the clasp he turned to his little friend and showed it to her. Her eyes lit up in wonder as she looked at the shiny metal. "Here, Angel, hold this for me and I'll be right back."
The gift distracted the child enough so that Johnny could walk behind the screen. He quickly changed but kept talking so the girl would know he was still in the room. She was still looking into the silver badge when he returned. His trick had worked.
The doctor and paramedic, with the help of a nurse, managed to get her into a gown while she was still fascinated with her prize. "Firemoon, Johnny," she mumbled as she continuously ran her fingers along the badge's decorations.
Joe was amazed that Johnny seemed to be able to handle the girl. "I'll have to remember that trick."
Johnny just shrugged his shoulders. "It always worked with my sister."
"Your sister? You have an autistic sibling?"
"Yeah, I had a sister diagnosed with autism. She's dead now, though." Johnny smiled when he realized that the little girl was not about to give him back the badge. He hoped the department would understand this time.
"Well, that means you'll be a perfect assistant while I examine her." Joe slowly approached her, talking to her the whole time. He was hoping that she was now used to his presence. He reached out to gently touch her and he was relieved when she allowed this. However, when he brought the stethoscope out she cringed in fear at the strange object.
"Hey, I've got an idea Doc. If you examine me first then maybe she won't be afraid when you do it to her?"
"Good idea." With this plan Joe was able to thoroughly examine her and Johnny at the same time. By the end of the examination the two patients were laughing and giggling as they tried to tickle each other on the exam table.
Dixie stuck her head in the door and had to smile at the pair goofing off. "How are they doing Joe?"
Early approached her and stepped out of the exam room before answering. "The little girl is just fine. She swallowed a little water and has a few minor lacerations, but basically she's coming out of this in remarkable health. Johnny, on the other hand, I'm a little worried about. His lungs sound pretty bad so I would like to admit him for the night."
"All right, I'll tell Roy. He wanted to know before heading back."
"Say, how is the mother?"
Dixie shook her head. "She's stable but she hasn't regained consciousness. She may have to go to surgery if the swelling continues. We contacted the father but they live in Sacramento and will have to drive here. Apparently the mother was bringing the daughter to some clinic for children with autism."
"Yes, we were already suspicious of her condition. In fact, Johnny was the one who noticed first. Tell Pediatrics that we'll be sending her up, and prepare a Valium for her. We're going to have to sedate her to get her away from Johnny."
Early returned to the room and his patients who were now playing with his stethoscope. The girl was holding it against Johnny and listening to the sounds coming from him. Next she would place it against her own chest and listen, and then she would listen to Johnny again.
Johnny looked up as Joe entered. "I think we might have a future nurse on our hands."
Joe filled Johnny in on the news about her mother and father. "Plus, you will be staying the night too. Don't look at me like that. I want to make sure you aren't going to get an infection. Flood waters are filled with bacteria and other harmful germs."
Johnny just nodded his head. The two continued to play the stethoscope game with the green-eyed beauty until Dixie came in with a gurney and the medication.
Johnny laid down on the exam table and the little girl laid down on the gurney. She watched Dixie insert a needle into to Johnny and then watched as a needle was inserted into her arm. After a few moments the medication took effect and the little girl fell asleep, still clutching the silver badge in her hand. Another nurse wheeled her out of the room.
When the little was girl finally gone Joe reexamined the paramedic. He frowned when he realized that Johnny's lungs seemed to be worse. Dixie finished the IV and then she and Joe left Johnny alone for a few minutes.
Johnny finally allowed his weary body to relax. He thought about the green-eyed little girl who had just been in the room and smiled. As he closed his eyes, his thoughts floated back in time to a 15 year-old girl who had shiny black hair and brown eyes, but she had the same innocent smile and same angel like laugh as his new friend. He remembered now how much he missed her.
When Joe and Dixie returned, with three firemen in tow, they found Johnny sound asleep on the table.
Hank picked up the coffeepot but realized that nothing was flowing into his cup. He sighed, put it down and dug out the supplies to start a fresh pot. He hated waiting around to hear news about his injured men. Worse yet, the usual chatter that served to ease the tension was missing. The only company he had had for the past two hours was his Engineer.
Stoker was still sitting in the same place he had chosen upon entering the kitchen after the rescue. He was staring off into space and absentmindedly petting Henry, who didn't seem to mind. Mike had not uttered a single word.
Hank was now becoming very concerned about his Engineer's mental state. Mike's problem seemed to be bothering him even more now, than before the rescue.
After tiring of watching the coffeepot, Hank finally approached Mike. "Stoker, you can talk to me if you like. It will be strictly confidential.
Stoker didn't look up at his Captain. "I'd rather not, Sir."
'Sir?', Hank couldn't remember the last time one of his men actually used that to refer to him. He knew that his Engineer's mind was really someplace else. Hank opened his mouth to order Mike to either speak with him or a counselor but was interrupted by the sound of the bay door opening and the squad backing into its spot next to the engine.
Hank watched Marco, with both of his hands expertly wrapped by Dr. Morton, enter the kitchen with Chet and Roy close behind; but no Johnny. Hank noticed Mike sit up with anticipation when they walked in but then he sat back disappointed.
Cap walked over to the cabinets and dug out three mugs to fill them with the fresh coffee. "So how is Johnny and the other two victims?"
Roy accepted the coffee and sighed. "The mother is still unconscious but they contacted the father. We found out the little girl is autistic but she is just fine."
"Really," commented Hank with a raised eyebrow, "that explains her behavior."
Hank noticed Mike's reaction to that statement out of the corner of his eye. The Engineer sat up straighter and looked at Roy, but he still didn't say anything.
"Hey, what does autistic mean, any way?" asked Chet.
Roy shrugged his shoulders. "You know, I'm not really sure. I think it's a form of mental retardation."
"No it's not." Everyone turned and looked at Mike, surprised. He had finally spoken. "It's a developmental disorder. They can be just as smart as regular people they just don't react to the world the same way we do. They're not stupid people, just different."
Roy sensed that he had just hit on a sensitive subject. "Sorry if I was wrong. I've just never learned much about it."
Chet looked at Mike suspicious. "How do you know what it is?"
Mike glared at Chet then returned his stare to the floor in front of his feet. He withdrew into himself again and sat there in silence.
Roy could tell that Mike wasn't going to speak again so he returned to the original topic of discussion. "Yeah, well Dr. Early wanted to keep Johnny overnight. He took in too much water. Hopefully, they will release him in the morning."
Hank looked over at Marco who was staring at his coffee cup frustrated. The bandages on his hands made it impossible to pick up the mug. "How about you Marco?"
Chet saw his friend's dilemma and got up to retrieve a straw out of a drawer. He smiled at Marco and placed it in his cup.
"Thanks Chet," Marco couldn't believe that he was reduced to drinking coffee from a straw. "The Doc said that it'll take a couple of weeks for them to heal. I guess I'm going to be out for a while."
"Well, remember your gloves next time, Champ," sighed Hank.
Chet patted the distraught man on his back. "Cheer up Marco, it could be worse. At least they didn't make you stay at the hospital with Johnny as your roommate."
Cap laughed softly as he left the kitchen to go call for replacements. After Marco finished his coffee, he and Chet headed for the bunkroom.
Roy slowly sipped his coffee and eyed the Engineer. He decided that Mike was definitely bothered too much by his problem. It was time for the counselor to go to work. "Mike, you've been really quiet lately. Maybe it would help if you talked about it."
Mike looked at him. "Not now, Roy." Then he stood up and walked out of the kitchen leaving Roy alone and staring at his back.
Nighttime at Rampart was often radically different than during the day. The halls were no longer busy with nurses, doctors and visitors. Only the footsteps of an occasional nurse or a custodian disturbed the sleeping occupants.
Up in Pediatrics a nurse quietly opened the door to a room at the end of the hallway. Inside was a young girl with pretty brown hair all about her face, sleeping quietly.
The nurse made sure that she was doing fine and then turned to leave. She stepped on something and bent down to pick it up. It was a silver fireman's badge. The nurse remembered the girl clutching it earlier. She put it back where the little girl would find it and left the room to continue her rounds.
After the nurse shut the door the little girl opened her eyes and discovered where she was. When she realized that she was missing something she started frantically looking for it. Finally she spotted the shiny metal badge lying on the table next to her bed. With a smile of delight, she climbed over the guardrail on her bed and retrieved it. "Firemoon, Johnny."
She looked around realizing that he was not there. She headed for the door and cautiously peered out. Seeing no one, she tiptoed into the corridor and began her search for him.
Johnny sat on the front porch of his childhood home. He was dressed in his best dancing outfit full of feathers, beads and colorful ribbons. He tapped his feet on the stairs enjoying the jingling sound the bells around his ankles made.
In the front yard he noticed his older sister kneeling on the ground fascinated by something. The feathers in her hair blew around in the breeze as she continued to stare at the grass. She was dressed in a beautiful buckskin jingle dress, with an intricate design of beads and rolled tobacco lids.
Johnny watched her since his mother was in the house on the phone with his aunt. His sister looked like a normal teenager but he knew that she was not. Grandfather said she was wakan, or blessed and sacred. Mom said she was their little angel sent by the Great Spirit to remind them all what true joy was. All Johnny knew was that is was strange having an older sister who seemed to live in a world of her own, like a total stranger to even her own family.
Finally he discovered that she was watching a butterfly as it fluttered around some flowers. The colorful insect decided that it had to be somewhere else and started to flutter off. Giggling she got up to follow it. Her jingle dress made soft music as she tried to keep up with the erratic flight of the insect.
Johnny only absentmindedly kept an eye on her. He knew that the simplest of objects could keep her occupied for hours. She would ignore people, but not any item that was shiny or colorful.
He decided to double-check his own outfit. He loved wearing the feathers and buckskin of his fancy dance costume. It made him feel like one of the great warriors his uncles would tell stories about. For a brief moment he could be proud to be Indian and forget about being just a half-breed.
Johnny finally realized that he couldn't hear his sister anymore and he got up to investigate. He sighed when he saw her still following the flight of the butterfly. Then he realized that she was heading for the road. Mom would kill him if he let her play out in the street. "Karen," he called and moved to intercept her.
He was still too far away when the car came careening around the corner. Johnny could hear the drunken hollers from its occupants as the tires squealed loudly. Johnny realized the same instant the driver did, that the path of the insect had lead the innocent girl into the street and in front of the speeding vehicle.
"Karen!" Johnny screamed. He could hear the sickening sound of her body hitting the windshield of the car and he saw her body flying. After that, all he could hear was the sound of his jingle bells ringing madly as he ran to her side.
He fell to his knees beside her and found that the beautiful handmade deer hide dress was covered in blood. The once free floating feathers in her hair were now trapped in the blood that coated her face and her eyes were frozen open, as if she was still looking for the butterfly. The Great Spirit had reclaimed its angel.
Johnny could only sit there helpless. He found it harder and harder to breathe. The sounds of his mother's terrified screams filled his ears. The world around him began to spin and turned really warm. He struggled as hands reached out to him and strange voices called his name.
Finally he woke up with a start and looked up into the concerned faces of Dr. Joe Early and Dixie McCall. Dixie was holding Johnny's hand and stroking his forehead trying to calm him down. "You're okay, Johnny, just relax and try to breathe normally."
"It was just a dream," stammered Johnny as he realized he was now back at Rampart, hundreds of miles away from the reservation of his childhood.
Joe turned to Dixie "Let's start him on some antibiotics, we need to get his fever down. I also want him on low flow oxygen." Joe returned his attention to the patient. "It looks like you've picked up an infection, Johnny. We are going to have to get that under control."
"Okay, Doc." Johnny relaxed as he felt Dixie place the naso-cannula. He let himself drift back to sleep as she continued to work on him.
Dixie watched Johnny close his eyes and she listened as his breathing steadied again. "That must have been some dream. I hope he doesn't have it again."
"I know. He needs his rest to get his strength up." Joe updated Johnny's chart and then exited the room.
Dixie followed Joe out but couldn't resist a worried glance over her shoulder at the fitfully sleeping paramedic before quietly closing the door.
Back at the fire station, Mike found himself out on the back patio. The hoses from the morning's fire were still hanging up and there was a strong enough wind blowing that they rustled against one another.
He couldn't get the little girl from the rescue out of his mind. He had suspected that she was just like his brother. Now Roy had just confirmed it for him. He sat down, hugging his knees and stared into the darkness. What an idiot you are, Mike. You stand up for the little girl and then turn your back on your own brother. Then you accuse Roy of doing something you've done a million times yourself. Mike slammed his fist on the ground. Why me, why do I have to deal with this?
As he sat there thinking, his anger began to turn to guilt as Mike thought about the little girl again. Johnny sure seemed to know how to handle her. Did he know about her? Great, I could have just brushed off the one person who might understand. I wonder if Johnny will even speak to me after what I said to him. He sure seemed pretty upset.
Mike was startled out of his thoughts when he saw the light from the back door appear in the darkness. Cap stuck his head out the door.
"Stoker, it's time to hit the sack."
"Okay, Cap." Mike slowly stood up and approached his captain.
One more time Hank tried to get Mike to talk. "Mike, are you sure that you are okay?"
"I'm fine, Cap. I just needed some time to myself." Mike followed Hank into the bunkroom and got ready for bed.
He settled into his bunk and listened as his coworkers fell asleep. Soon their snoring could be heard throughout the bay. Mike found sleep alluding him as he tossed and turned. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the darkness.
When he opened his eyes again, Mike found himself standing on the bank of the culvert watching Johnny struggling with the little girl. Suddenly the girl disappeared and Johnny was now struggling to control a brown-haired boy. Mike found himself yelling as the water swirled around them. "Robbie stop it. Stop being so stupid!"
The boy looked at Mike with his uncomprehending brown eyes. "Mikey, what's up doc?" Mike rolled his eyes; his brother had a bad habit of communicating by quoting cartoons and movies.
"This is not a game, Robbie!" Mike struggled to help his co-worker with the boy. He reached out his hand to Johnny but the paramedic disappeared and Mike was now the only one struggling to keep the raging torrent from swallowing up his brother.
Mike fought with his emotions and the grip of the water. "I don't know why I waste my time with you! You always ruin everything! Everything revolved around you and your little routine. I was the one stuck babysitting you when I could have been out with my friends, not to mention the fact that I couldn't even have friends over because of you."
Robbie looked around disinterested in Mike, not understanding the desperate situation he was in. Something floated by in the water that interested him more than playing with Mikey, so he let go and reached for it.
In shock, Mike grabbed for his brother but he felt nothing but empty air. He could only watch as Robbie floated on the water, content with his toy.
"NO!" yelled a horrified Mike. "I didn't mean it when I said I wanted you dead! You're still my brother. Robbie!" He jumped into the raging water in a futile attempt to save him.
Mike felt the torrid water pushing and pulling him and taunting him by calling his name over and over again. He tried to fight its deadly grip.
"Mike, Mike, wake up!" Roy and Hank were forced to pin down the arms of the flailing Engineer.
"Stoker!" yelled the Captain again.
Mike woke up and found that instead of drowning he was actually thrashing about on the floor of the bunkroom in the firehouse. The other firemen were all gathered around him with concerned looks on their faces.
Roy finally relaxed his grip and help Stoker to sit up. "It's okay, buddy. You're safe."
Embarrassed beyond belief, Mike tried to avoid eye contact with his friends. "I'm sorry I woke you guys."
Hank helped his Engineer onto his bunk. "Mike, I've never seen you like this before. Please, why don't you tell us what's wrong."
"I can't Cap. I don't want to burden you with my troubles. I just want to get back to sleep."
Hank hesitated, knowing that Mike needed help; but he was unwilling to force him at this moment. "Okay, but talk to someone. Otherwise I'll get a counselor for you. Let's get back to bed men."
Reluctantly everyone but Roy made their way back to their bunks. Mike could feel Roy's hand on his stomach and knew the paramedic was getting his respiration. "Roy, I'm fine, it was just a bad dream."
Roy gave Mike a soft smile and picked up his wrist to take his pulse. "Bad habit, just humor me. It makes me feel useful." After Roy convinced himself that Stoker was fine he gave the engineer a comforting pat on the shoulder and returned to his bunk.
Mike settled himself into his blankets and stared at the ceiling. He didn't let himself go back to sleep again. He was too afraid that the nightmare might return.
Dixie and Joe were sitting in the staff lounge taking a well-deserved break. The nightshift always seemed to last longer then the dayshift. Their break was short lived, however, when a nurse from Pediatrics burst in the door. "We can't find the Simpkins girl. She's disappeared!"
"What?" Joe immediately stood up. "How long has she been missing?"
The worried nurse wrung her hands. "She was in her bed the last time I did my rounds. We looked all over Pediatrics for her but she's not there. We wondered if maybe she wandered down here."
Dixie stood up and headed for the door. "Come on, I have an idea." It was a long shot but it was worth a look. She lead Early and the nurse to Johnny's room on the third floor and cautiously peered into the darkness.
Dixie found her suspicion was correct. There was the little green-eyed girl curled up next to Johnny on his bed. He had pulled his top blanket over her and had one arm around her as they quietly slept.
Joe shook his head as he took in the sight. "She sure has made a connection with him. It's a shame to disturb them but we can't leave her here." He reached down to pick her up.
The little girl woke up at that movement and immediately began to scream and fight.
Johnny woke up with a start and starred as Joe and Dixie tried to control her violent tantrum. They were losing the battle since the little girl's strength had returned.
In the heat of the battle the little girl's flailing arms yanked the IV out of Johnny's arm but despite the pain, all he could think of was trying to calm her down. "Doc, Dix, stop it!"
The urgency of Johnny's cry convinced Dixie and Joe to let go of her. She immediately scrambled to the other side of Johnny's bed and clung to him. She cried and moaned in fear rocking back and forth furiously. Johnny sat up and placed a comforting arm around her.
He looked at his friends. "Children like her rely on a familiar environment and routine. My sister used to get frantic if you took a different way to the store, let alone go someplace new. This girl is far away from anything she knows. You have to be careful."
"Sorry, Johnny, but we need to get her back to her room." Early realized how little he knew about this condition and vowed to study up on it.
Johnny looked at the child cowering in his arms. "She's not hurting anything, Doc. I'm the only person, besides her Mother, she knows here. Can't she stay with me a little longer?"
"It's against hospital policy. Beside we don't want her exposed to whatever infection you may have. It's for the best." Joe turned to the pediatric nurse. "Go prepare a Valium for her and we'll have to restrain her. Dixie get that IV restarted on Johnny." The two nurses left the room to get what they would need.
Johnny looked at Joe, pleading his case. "At least let her settle down before you drug her, okay. Just give us sometime alone."
"All right." Joe left the room and waited outside for the nurses to return.
Johnny lay back in his bed trying to alleviate her fears. He gently stroked her hair and whispered to her like his mother used to do with his sister when she was scared of something. After a while the smile returned to her face and then she once again settled down next to him feeling safe.
Joe stopped Dixie before she entered his room. "Give them one hour to relax and calm down then take her back to her room. Make sure she's properly restrained."
"Yes, Doctor, " Dixie replied, not happy with her orders. The look on Joe's face indicated he was no happier to give them.
Dixie entered Johnny's room and watched as he calmed the girl down. "You always have had a way with beautiful women, John Gage."
Johnny smiled as he watched Dixie reinsert his IV. "To be honest Dixie, I think this little angel is helping me more than I am her."
"She's helping keep the nightmares away." Johnny settled back and closed his eyes. He could feel Dixie gently brushing the hair from his forehead and then lay her hand there to check his temperature.
"Get some rest." Dixie quietly left the room.
One hour later she returned with the nurse from Pediatrics. Dixie rechecked Johnny's forehead and noticed that his fever was now under control. She readjusted his medication and then glanced at the other nurse.
"Dix, it seems a shame to move her. I really don't want to have to strap her down."
Dixie agreed with her. She grabbed the arm of the other nurse and indicated they should leave the room. "She's better off with him right now. I'll deal with Dr. Early." The two nurses smiled and let Johnny and his angel sleep peacefully in each other's arms.
Mike wearily walked into the kitchen and saw Roy standing by the phone on hold. He poured himself a cup of coffee and accepted the plate of food that Chet handed him. He kept his ear on the conversation Roy was having on the phone, as he sat down and tried to eat something.
"Hey, Dixie, how's Johnny? Oh, how bad? So I take it, he's not going home today? Can he at least have visitors? Great, I'll be over later today Hey, how's that little girl? You're kidding yeah he sure is a sucker for a pretty face . Thanks, Dixie. Bye" Roy sighed as he hung up the phone and returned to the table to finish his breakfast.
"What's wrong with Johnny?" Hank asked.
Roy picked up a piece of toast and reached for the butter. "He developed a fever during the night and his lungs are still congested. Dr. Early is really concerned about him developing pneumonia. They are going to keep him there for a while longer. Looks like he might even miss the next shift."
Chet finally sat down after making sure everyone else had food. "What's the deal with the little girl?"
Roy smiled, "Apparently she sneaked out of her room last night and managed to find Johnny. She threw a fit when they tried to take her back, so instead they left her there. She slept with him the whole night."
"Ahh, Johnny and his new girlfriend." Chet couldn't resist the joke.
Mike sat there thinking as he picked at his food. It still amazed him how Johnny never seemed to mind the danger he put himself in at a rescue. No matter how badly he was hurt, Johnny would still not hesitate to do it again. It's called self-sacrifice, maybe I should try it sometime.
He quietly waited for the next shift to arrive, and then he slipped out the door. Once he was in his car, he headed straight for Rampart.
Nervous, he walked into the lobby of the hospital and approached the reception desk. "I'm here to see a friend of mine, his name is John Gage."
The nurse consulted her records. "Yes, he's in room 310, but visiting hours don't start for another 30 minutes. You can wait in the main lounge, right over there."
Mike headed for the row of seats she had pointed to. Despite the early hour they were already starting to fill with family members and friends who were anxious to see their loved ones. Mike sat down on a couch where a young girl of about 16 was sitting. He gave her a polite smile and prepared himself for the wait.
"Amy, Amy, sweetie, Daddy's here."
Johnny opened his eyes and saw a strange man with dark hair and glasses gently shaking the child who was still sleeping next to him. He watched her slowly stir and then open her eyes.
When she realized who was there a bright smile crossed her face. "Daddy!" The father laughed, picked her up and swung her into his arms for a huge hug.
"Oh, my little Pumpkin, I was so worried about you." He gave his daughter a kiss and another hug as she giggled in his arms.
She leaned back and pressed her prize possession on his chest. He looked at it. "What's that you have?" He looked surprised when he realized it was a badge of some sort. He looked down at Johnny. "Is this yours?"
Johnny watched the scene and smiled. "Not anymore. So her name is Amy, I was just calling her Angel."
The man laughed. "My name is Dale Simpkins. The doctors and nurses told me what you did Mr. Gage. I am forever in your debt. I don't know what I would have done if I'd lost her or my wife. I wish there was some way to repay you."
"There is no need. She's a special little girl. She reminds me of an angel I knew like her once."
Dale smiled. "I'm glad she was with someone who could appreciate her. Most people don't know how to deal with her. They last time she was in a hospital they tied her to a bed and she screamed the entire time. You know when we first found out about her condition I was devastated, but I've learned to love her just the way she is. Thanks again." He shook Johnny's hand and turned to leave.
Amy was still clasping the fireman's badge as her father carried her out the door.
"Bye Angel," waved Johnny. He sighed as he leaned back in his bed and looked at Dixie. His lungs still really hurt and he felt a coughing fit coming on. When he was done she handed him some water. "I don't suppose I'm going home today, huh?"
Dixie couldn't help but laugh at the pouting paramedic. "Sorry Charlie. Roy called and said he'd stop by later today. Breakfast will be in shortly. Take it easy, okay, I'll see you my next shift."
Mike sat there glancing at his watch, about to go stir crazy. He noticed the girl next to him perk up and look at a man who was walking toward them. He was carrying the girl that Johnny had pulled from the wreck yesterday. She was dressed in a green jumper suit that made her expressive eyes standout even more.
The young girl got up and took Amy in her arms and gave her a huge hug. "Oh, how's my favorite little sister?" A tear streaked down her face as she finally knew that her sibling was safe and sound.
Amy barely looked at her sister, instead her eyes focused on Mike. She continued to stare at him. Then she pointed at him. "Firemoon, firemoon."
She released herself from her sister's grasp and went up to Mike and placed the badge on his chest. "Firemoon, Johnny." She grinned proudly.
"What honey?'' Dale looked at Mike and smiled an apology. "Sorry, she's is a very energetic girl."
Mike found her smile very soothing. "That's okay, sir. She's right. I am one of the firemen who was at the scene yesterday. I'm surprised she recognized me."
Her sister laughed. "She never forgets a face. She hates strangers but you only have to introduce someone to her once and she'll remember you forever."
Dale held out his hand and Mike gladly shook it. "I'll tell you the same thing I told Mr. Gage, I am forever grateful. Thank you and please pass that on to your coworkers."
Mike smiled shyly. "We were just doing our job. I'll let the other guys know you appreciate it."
Dale returned his attention to his elder daughter. "Watch her now. I'm going to go check on your Mother." He patted Amy on the head and returned to the reception desk.
The older girl grabbed Amy and sat her on the couch between her and Mike. "Amy, I promise I'll never yell at you again. I was so scared when I thought you might be dead." She kissed her sister on the top of her head.
Amy giggled but seemed oblivious to her sister's promise. She just gently rocked back and forth on the couch staring at the fireman's badge as if seeing it for the first time. She continuously ran her fingers along its decorations.
Mike, however, heard the promise and the vivid dream from the night before flashed in his mind. Was he taking his own brother for granted? "My name's Mike Stoker by the way."
"I'm Alice and this is my sister Amy. They said the wreck was really bad? Did Amy almost die?"
Mike saw the scared look on Alice's face and decided she didn't need to know the whole story. "She was in good hands. My friend Johnny saw to that."
Hearing his name, Amy perked up and held up the badge. "Johnny. Firemoon."
"So why are you here?"
"Uh well, Johnny was hurt helping your sister. Don't worry, he's fine, the doctors just like to keep him around to make sure."
A smile replaced the concerned look on Alice's face. "Firemen must be the bravest men in the world!"
Mike felt himself blushing at the praise. "Sometimes."
Amy was no longer content to just sit on the couch and jumped up to wander around the room. The two kept an eye on her to make sure that she wasn't going to get into too much trouble. Suddenly she started heading for the doors that led outside.
"Uh oh, I'd better go get her." Alice jumped up to go catch her errant sister. She grabbed Amy's arm to stop her, but Amy seemed determine to go out the automatic doors.
Mike came to Alice's rescue. He scooped Amy up into his arms and then went outside and back inside so that she could see the doors whoosh when they opened and closed. Amy laughed. Once her curiosity was satisfied Mike put her down and she moved over to where some toys were kept for children in the waiting area.
Alice looked at Mike with new respect. "Thanks, I guess I still have a lot to learn about dealing with her."
"I know. I still get frustrated with my brother, myself."
"Yep, he's autistic just like Amy. He's 21 now, but he's still a challenge to deal with."
"Really! Wow, I've never met anyone else who understood." Alice smiled warmly at her new friend.
A nurse approached Mike. "Visiting hours have started. You can see your friend now."
"Thanks." Mike turned back to say goodbye to Alice. "You take care of her and yourself."
"Thanks Mr. Stoker." Alice gave him a quick hug and then turned to find her sister. She shook her head when she saw the mess Amy was making. She had dumped all of the toys out of their box onto the floor. Alice giggled however when she realized that Amy had done that because she was more interested in the box then the toys.
Johnny tried to relax in his bed but it was difficult. His breakfast, or what little he ate, wasn't making him feel any better. He noticed the door start to open and hoped that maybe it was Roy coming to see him. He was surprised, however when it was Mike Stoker who walked into the room.
Mike paused when he saw the look on Johnny's face. He knew that his visit was unexpected. He steeled his nerves and forced himself to approach the bed. "Hey Johnny? How are you feeling?"
Johnny's voice was a little strained and quieter than usual but he could still smile. "I've felt better, but I've also felt worse, so I guess I can't complain."
Mike returned his smile but continued to stare anxiously at his shoes. "Uhh, I wanted to apologize for being so rude to you the other day."
"Hey, it was nothing. You were upset and I was being nosy. You were right, we have very little in common, but that doesn't mean we can't be friends, right?"
"You've always been a friend to me, Johnny." Mike finally glanced at him. Then Mike pulled up a chair and looked at Johnny intently. "You knew she had autism at the scene didn't you?"
Johnny was taken aback by Mike's sudden change in demeanor. "Yeah, I was suspicious. You mean you thought she was too?"
Mike nodded his head. "How did you know? I mean do you learn about that stuff as a paramedic?"
"No, it's not taught as part of the program. I knew because I had an older sister who was autistic. Amy acts just like she did, that's all."
"Me too. Well, I have a brother who is autistic, but I recognized her temper tantrum. Lord, knows I've seen plenty of those."
The two firemen's eyes met as they both realized that they actually did have something in common. Johnny's eyes widened with understanding. "That was what the phone conversation was about!"
Mike felt the guilt and embarrassment return. "Yeah. My parents are going on vacation and us kids take turns taking care of Robbie. Only, I've been avoiding my turn for a long time because I was always the one stuck babysitting him in high school while all of my older sibling were away at college. I don't want to take care of him. I don't think I can handle him. I've always been embarrassed by him and I just don't know how to deal with it. This rescue though has made me feel guilty. I haven't been doing my fair share and maybe I should give him another chance. I don't know what to do?"
There he had said it. He had finally shared with someone the emotions that had been festering inside of him. Mike looked at Johnny hoping that he would be able to give him some good advice.
Johnny was a little shell-shocked. This was the most he had ever heard the Engineer say in one sitting. He sat there contemplating what he should say. "I wish I could help Mike, but my sister died when I was just a kid because I wasn't paying attention to her like I should have."
Mike could hear the distress in his voice. "How did she die?" he asked softly.
Johnny played with his blanket. "We were getting ready to go to the summer pow wow and I was supposed to be watching her. I took my eyes off of her for only a few minutes but she had run into the road and was hit by a drunk driver."
"I'm sorry. How old were you?"
"I was 10, but that doesn't matter. I was still supposed to be watching her."
Mike thought about the dangers his brother had always stumbled into. His habit of running into the street had forced his parents to fence in the front yard. Then he remembered that the first time he saw a fire engine up close was when the fire department came to get his brother down from the water tower Robbie had managed to climb.
"Johnny, it's not your fault. No matter how close we watched my brother he was always finding trouble. The real person to blame is the drunk driver for being reckless."
"I know, it's just that I really miss her. Life was never the same without her. She always had a laugh and a smile regardless of what was going on around her. When she was gone the laughter seemed to leave with her."
"How ironic," sighed Mike. "You miss your sister because she's dead and there are times when I wish my brother was dead. I don't really mean that I guess. I don't know."
Johnny looked at Mike and could sense the turmoil he felt. "Yeah, I suppose if she were still alive I would probably feel more like you. There were times when she was an embarrassment. Of course where we lived everyone knew her and understood. I choose to focus on the positive memories."
Johnny leaned back against his pillows. "My favorite memory of her was at my Grandmother's funeral. It was just a few months before Karen, herself, was killed. All the women were crying and wailing but Karen didn't seem to understand. She was restless and finally Mom allowed her to go play. My cousin went to watch her. When they came back Karen had an armload of the prairie flowers that were in full bloom. Karen started handing them out to everyone who was crying, then she took the last of the flowers and placed them on Grandma's casket. It touched everyone."
Mike noticed the smile on Johnny's face. He tried to think of a happy memory with his brother. "Well, we used to have a lot of fun watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. I always told people it was because he wanted to watch them, but I laughed even after seeing them for the hundredth time. Then there was this trip to the park where we were feeding the fish. He wanted to catch one and when I went to stop him I fell in. He looked at me and then jumped in himself. We laughed so hard I think the people around thought we were both crazy." Mike found that he was now smiling and more happy memories flooded his mind.
"You're right, Johnny, focusing on good memories makes the difference." Mike looked over and noticed that Johnny had closed his eyes. "Johnny?"
"I'm still listening," he replied wearily.
"I suppose I should go, anyway. This talk really helped me. Thanks."
Johnny opened his eyes and grinned at the Engineer. "It helped me too. You should talk like this more often Mike. So have you decided what you're going to do?"
"Yeah." Mike shook Johnny's hand. "I'll see you later." He headed for the door.
"Mike," called out the drowsy paramedic, "if you want, I'd be glad to help you take care of your brother."
"I just may hold you to that, Johnny." Mike quickly left the room so Johnny could get his rest.
Mike rounded the corner in a hurry but stopped for a moment when he ran into Roy. "Hey, you'd better hurry. He's falling asleep but I know he want's to see you."
Roy was stunned as he watched Mike breeze past him. "Uhh thanks."
Roy entered Johnny's room and looked at his dozing partner. He was about to leave when he noticed one eye open.
"Roy, I hope you're here to spring me from this joint!"
"No way, Junior. Say, what's with Mike? This morning he looked close to death and now he's happy as a lark?"
"Oh, just a conversation between friends," yawned Johnny. "So did you bring me anything?"
Mike was on a mission. He went to the nearest phone and dialed his sister's number.
"Hey Mindy, I've been thinking. I've decided that I'll go ahead and take him this time What made me change my mind? Lots of things really: a little girl with green eyes, the story of a girl who passed out flowers at a funeral, and a friend who I have more in common with than I thought. It's a long story. See you next week Yes, I love you too, Sis. Bye."
P.S. This story was inspired by the boy next door, I hope I did him justice. It is also in memory of my cousin Karen, who had Down's Syndrome. She died before I was old enough to appreciate her.
I did do some research on Autism to try and be as accurate as possible but I will accept comments if I still made some mistakes. J
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