Johnny sighed as he opened his locker. The Indian doll hanging from
the back hook was supposed to look like an Indian warrior. It was just
the latest—and maybe one of the least offensive—of the pranks
that had started when he had returned to work after his Aunt’s
Her wishes had been to have an Indian funeral and be buried back on
the reservation where she grew up. Since she had been the one who had
really cared about him and given him the self-confidence to believe in
himself, he had wanted to grant her last request. He should have known
that when he had brought the papers outlining the rites, rituals and
traditions of his heritage that there would be fallout. He had brought
them while she was in the hospital just before she died so he could carefully
go through them so that he wouldn’t miss something that he was
supposed to do. He hadn’t been to an Indian funeral since his parents
died and he wanted to do it right. Chet had found the papers along with
the information someone back home had sent his Aunt about a powwow and
all the traditions they would be observing. Johnny hadn’t thought
much about it because Chet had left him alone during the time his Aunt
was in the hospital and when she died. But as soon as he returned to
work it started.
It might not have bothered him so much if the other guys had not gone
along with Chet and thought that the pranks were either funny or harmless.
Roy had even told Johnny that Chet was just being Chet when Johnny had
tried to talk to Roy about it. Sure, Johnny was used to being on the
receiving end of most of Chet’s pranks and he usually didn’t
mind too much, but these pranks were targeting the only thing he had
left of his parents—his heritage. It really hurt because he was
proud of his Indian heritage. And then they had started in again with
the “nine lives” cracks when they had received a few rather
dangerous calls and Johnny had been hurt and survived again along with
the cracks that he was a jinx. He had told them he wouldn’t stand
anywhere near any of them on any calls so they wouldn’t get hurt
and they had all said good. Fairly sure that comment was in jest, it
hurt none the less. Add to that the barbs Chet had been making about
the paramedic trainees they had been having becoming Roy’s regular
partner and Roy going along with it and Johnny was very upset.
Johnny’s parents had been killed in a car accident when he was
six. His father’s brother and sister-in-law had taken him in even
though they really didn’t want him because he was a half-breed.
But the Indian tribal council had informed them that Johnny was their
responsibility and they had taken him under their roof. No love was lost
and Johnny often felt like he imagined Cinderella felt when he was given
the bulk of the chores around his Uncle’s ranch and often received
undeserved beatings. But Johnny loved the horses and soon grew to be
an expert horseman. As he started into high school, however, the other
kids tormented and beat him as much as his Uncle did at home. For a full
year, Johnny couldn’t remember a day when he wasn’t covered
with bruises. The treatment he received at the hands of others because
he was only half-Indian couldn’t diminish Johnny’s pride
in his heritage. It was his father who, in the few short years he had
been with Johnny, had instilled a pride that nothing could destroy.
Johnny had arrived early and had entered through a different door so
he hadn’t said good morning to any of the crew yet. Instead of
getting a cup of coffee like the rest of them, he performed the system
checks on the squad. Captain Stanley had been a little surprised when
he walked through the bay and found Johnny already doing the checks.
Roy was more surprised when he came into the bay and heard Johnny finish
the check with Rampart indicating all the checks were done.
The four crew members shared questioning looks as Johnny silently joined
them in line. They had even more questions when Johnny was assigned latrine
duty and didn’t say a word. As the rest of the crew headed to the
dayroom to finish their coffee, Johnny headed towards the closet, got
the cleaning supplies and went to start his chore.
Alexis Renee Selfridge was a counselor at the Raymond Jr. High in Carson.
She loved working with the kids and was often found wandering the halls
when she wasn’t counseling someone. But she was also very shy.
As she wandered the quiet halls she thought about the last few months
with a smile. Being interested in genealogy, Alexis had traveled to Oklahoma
to take part in a powwow one of the members of her genealogy group had
told her about. She had used the time to also learn more about the tribe
that was in her heritage. It was on that trip that she had met John Gage.
They had met on the plane trip to Oklahoma and got even better acquainted
when they ended up on the same plane back to L.A. But before she could
think anymore about Johnny, she saw Ralph Canon walking towards the Principal’s
office. Saul Callanone, the local Boy Scout director, met him at the
office door. Alexis knew Ralph Canon was angry and also knew she was
the reason behind his anger. As Saul and Ralph walked into the office,
Alexis’s thoughts turned to the encounter she and Johnny had had
with Ralph Canon on Friday.
Johnny had been telling her about what had been happened at the station
since he had returned from his aunt’s funeral. She had tried to
help Johnny sort out his feelings and thoughts as they walked through
the hallways to Miss Skinner’s history class. They had been studying
Indians and Alexis had mentioned meeting Johnny. Miss Skinner wanted
her students to learn the real truth about Indians and to learn respect
for all other nationalities. So she had asked Alexis if Johnny would
come and teach some of the Indian beliefs and traditions to her class.
As they walked down the hall, they ran into Ralph Canon as he was walking
to the office to make some arrangements for his troop meeting after school.
Ralph Canon recognized John Gage. The anger he had felt when Johnny
had succeeded in graduating from the fire academy when Ralph had washed
out returned with a vengeance. The director of the Academy had said it
was because he wasn’t making the grade. Sure, he was 20 pounds
over weight and had no desire to lose it; he couldn’t do any of
the climbing drills very well; and he couldn’t handle hoses to
fight the fires very well. But, he knew the real reason they kicked him
out was because they had to give the position to John Gage to meet their
minority hiring quota. He had watched Johnny going through the academy.
He was fit and trim, had the best time on the climbing drills and handled
fighting the fires with ease. But, the job was supposed to be his—not
“Miss Selfridge, may I have word with you.” Ralph Canon
didn’t like Alexis Selfridge, but he didn’t want her hanging
out with that red skin piece of trash either.
Alexis looked at Ralph and then turned to look at Johnny. “Miss
Skinner’s class is in room 130. It’s right down that way.
Why don’t you go ahead and I’ll be there in a minute.” As
Johnny walked away, Alexis turned to Ralph. “What can I do for
you, Mr. Canon?”
“Miss Selfridge, I want to know what that savage is doing in
“Miss Skinner asked Mr. Gage to come and talk to her history
class and he is not a savage.”
“Why would she want him to talk to her class?”
“She wants them to learn about the Indian culture and heritage.”
“There are books that will give them all the information they
need. You just go tell Miss Skinner to send him packing and you’d
better not be seen in his presence again.”
“Why not, Mr. Canon?”
“Because you never know what will happen when you associate with
redskin trash like that.” With that comment Ralph Canon walked
Later that day, Alexis had stayed to work on the end of the year party
for the 8th graders who would be entering 9th grade the next year. Her
thoughts were on her encounter with Ralph Canon. As she walked by the
scouting room she stopped when she heard Ralph Canon’s voice.
“Ronnie and Joe, you have nothing to complain about. The other
guys were just teasing you. If you are that upset over nothing, why don’t
you go on home? Maybe at the next meeting you won’t be so sensitive.
Or maybe you don’t even belong here.”
When the two scouts left the room, Alexis started towards them. She
sent them on towards her office as she stopped once more to hear Ralph
Canon’s answer when one of the scouts asked why he sent the two
boys home and didn’t say anything to the other scouts for teasing
Ronnie and Joe.
“Because they are nothing but a nigger and a savage and all they
are good for is tormenting. They are nothing but trash and don’t
belong in our troop.”
It was then that Alexis decided to say something to the principal and
to the Boy Scout office. Now Ralph Canon was in the principal’s
office because of that complaint. And it was because of that complaint
that Ralph Canon decided to take matters into his own hand. He planned
his revenge against both Alexis and Johnny. He knew just how to get back
at both of them and would carry out his plan as soon as possible.
As Johnny was cleaning the latrine, his thoughts wandered to the last
few weeks. He knew what he had to do and the sooner, the better. Taking
a break from his chore, Johnny made sure there was no one in the locker
room or dorm. He walked to the desk and picked up the phone. He had a
couple of calls to make. It had been quiet all morning and Johnny was
relieved that it held until he had hung up the phone after his last call.
When the tones sounded, he ran to take his place on the squad.
While out on calls, the crew worked together like a well-oiled machine
with little verbal communication. They had worked together long enough
that they all knew what each member was going to do.
But in the squad, at the hospital, and in the station, Johnny kept
to himself. After all, even Dr. Brackett and Dixie had laughed when Roy
told them about some of the things the Phantom had been doing.
Johnny had been lucky at lunch time—the squad was out on a call
when the engine crew ate. When the squad returned, the engine was out
on a call. Johnny had dreaded eating alone with Roy because he knew Roy
was going to try to get him to talk—he had been trying on every
run they had. But just as they sat down to eat, Joanne called and Johnny
was done and gone before Roy finished talking with her. Then the tones
sounded and it was a very busy afternoon.
But now both the engine and the squad were in and it was dinner time.
Johnny really didn’t want to sit and eat with the others. So, he
grabbed his plate, filled it and headed outside to eat at the picnic
table in the back yard. He could always use the excuse that it was too
nice of a day to be inside since it was a beautiful day. Being sure that
Roy would come out to try to find out what was wrong; Johnny was surprised
when it was Captain Stanley that sat down across from him at the picnic
“John, why did you come out here?”
“It was such a beautiful day I wanted to get some fresh air.”
It was quiet for a couple of minutes as the two men ate in silence.
Hank was trying to think of the best way to approach his junior paramedic. “John,
something’s been bothering you lately. Care to talk about it?”
Johnny sighed. He really didn’t want to try to explain something
he felt sure his Captain would never understand. It was with a feeling
of relief, that Johnny grabbed his plate and ran back into the station
as the tones sounded calling the station to an unknown rescue at a local
Alexis had talked to the parents of each of the boys in Ralph Canon’s
Boy Scout troop. They were shocked to hear what had happened and had
agreed to let Alexis meet with their boys and talk to them about the
events of the last few meetings. The parents agreed to meet with the
Principal, Alexis and all the boys later that evening.
After school, Alexis had gathered all the scout members except Ronnie
and Joe. They had spent an hour and a half talking about the situation.
Alexis was pleased with the questions the boys were asking and the feelings
they were sharing. She was relieved that the scouts didn’t share
their leader’s beliefs. They all wanted to be friends with Ronnie
and Joe and had been upset with the way he had treated them.
The meeting with the parents and the principal, Wayne Miller, went
very well. Ronnie and Joe were returning to the room to pick up a book
Ronnie had forgotten. They were a little leery when the rest of the boys
entered the room.
Randy was the first one to speak. “Ronnie, Joe, my parents said
I could have a sleep over this weekend. We are going to camp out in the
woods in back of my house. We really want both of you to come.”
“Yeah, we would like to learn more about your heritage and beliefs.” Kevin
moved over to stand across from Joe’s desk.
“And we all want to say we are sorry for the way we treated you
before. Mr. Cannon was wrong in what he said and we should never have
listened to him. Please forgive us.” Derek joined Randy beside
the two boys.
“Really?” Ronnie wanted to believe what they were saying.
“Really. We are a troop and belong together.” Randy hoped
the two boys would accept their apology.
“We would love to come.” Joe looked at Ronnie for verification
and let the rest of the boys know they wanted to be friends, too. “Why
are you all still here?”
“Miss Selfridge met with us to talk about how we and Mr. Cannon
treated you. She wanted to make sure that Mr. Cannon’s views weren’t
our views. We let Miss Selfridge know that we thought both of you were
very nice and two of the best friends a guy could have.”
Ronnie and Joe took Joe’s book and headed out knowing they were
indeed a part of the Boy Scout troop and that they belonged.
Alexis smiled and thanked Mr. Miller for walking her to her car. She
waved as she pulled away and Mr. Miller headed towards his car. Neither
one of them saw the car that pulled out of the parking lot and started
following Alexis as she headed home. Knowing that Johnny was at work,
Alexis took a chance and stopped at the station to see him. She wanted
to invite him to dinner the next night and the station was on her way
Once again the engine was out and the squad was alone in the station.
Roy was busy in the dorm and did not know about Alexis’s visit.
If he had, he might have learned what was bothering Johnny and prevented
future events. He also might have seen the car that was watching Johnny
and Alexis. As it was, the car went unnoticed.
But Roy didn’t know about Alexis’s visit and couldn’t
get his partner to talk. As a matter of fact, Johnny was avoiding him.
Just as Roy decided to come right out and ask Johnny what was wrong,
the squad was toned out for a heart attack. Roy sighed as he realized
the opportunity had slipped away once again. And Roy didn’t get
another opportunity to try to talk to his partner as the whole station
had back to back runs the rest of the shift and Johnny was out of the
station before anyone could stop him at the end of their shift.
Roy had every intention of going over to see Johnny later in the day,
but got involved at home and didn’t get the chance. When he tried
calling Johnny to invite him to dinner, there was no answer. He sighed
as he hung up after the third try. He would try calling Johnny the next
Roy arrived at the station a little early for their next shift. He
had tried to reach Johnny all during their three days off, but his phone
went unanswered. For some reason Roy had been having a strange feeling
that something was not right. He couldn’t shake it as he drove
into the parking lot. It became stronger the closer he got to the station.
Before he could think about it, Chet pulled into the parking lot with
screeching tires. They walked into the locker room together.
As they were changing into their uniforms, Roy wondered when Johnny
would get there. He wanted to invite Johnny to dinner the next weekend
to celebrate his birthday. The kids had planned a party and wanted to
surprise their “Uncle Johnny”.
The surprise in Marco’s voice brought Roy out of his deep thoughts. “Who’s
the paramedic that just walked in? Isn’t Johnny here today?”
“He waved his hand at me when I told him I’d see him this
shift when we left last shift. I tried calling him the last couple of
days, but I thought he had gone camping.” A knot began to form
in the pit of Roy’s stomach.
Nothing further was said as a new man walked into the locker room to
change into his uniform. Roy almost stopped him when he opened Johnny’s
locker. It was then that Marco, Chet and Roy realized that Johnny’s
locker was empty and his Smokey the Bear poster was gone. The knot in
Roy’s stomach grew to the size of a basketball.
Marco and Chet gently led Roy out of the locker room as the paramedic
with a name tag that read Shannon closed the locker and headed out. Chet
hoped Captain Stanley would have explanation as to why this new guy was
there and Johnny wasn’t.
As Mike, Marco, Chet, and Roy lined up, Captain Stanley walked out
of his office with a heavy heart. He had come into work early this morning
only to find two envelopes on his desk and a message from Chief McConnikee
asking that he call before the shift began. He couldn’t believe
or really understand what he had just learned during that conversation.
He was going to have to sit down and sort it all out. But not right now—he
would have to wait until he had delivered the news to the other men and
things had settled down. He squared his shoulders as he approached his
men. “Good morning, men. Welcome, Gary.” Hank went through
the announcements and job assignments wanting to put off the inevitable
as long as possible. Only when he had nothing else to say did he break
the news. “Johnny has turned in his resignation. Gary Shannon has
been permanently assigned to our shift.”
There was a stunned silence and before the barrage of questions Captain
Stanley knew was coming could start, he held up his hand. “Let’s
go into the kitchen and have our coffee and I will tell you what little
I know.” Hank was still trying to make sense of the fact that Gary
Shannon was replacing Johnny Gage.
After they were all seated at the table, Hank handed an envelope to
Roy that had his name in Johnny’s familiar handwriting. He picked
up the envelope that was addressed to him. Gary was feeling a little
uncomfortable. John Gage had called and asked him to take this permanent
assignment. The pain had been evident in Johnny’s voice. He had
not given any explanation—he had just said it was time to move
“Cap, where’s Johnny?” Roy had a sinking feeling
in his stomach.
“I’m not sure why, but according to Chief McConnikee, Johnny
has resigned from the department. Roy, why don’t you find out what
your letter says as I check the letter he wrote to me.” Hank had
the same sinking feeling Roy did.
Hank found two sheets—one addressed to him and one addressed
to the A-shift crew. He read the one addressed to him first because it
was short and, as he was sure it would, contained Johnny’s resignation.
Then he read the second one. The sinking feeling became a knot that kept
getting tighter. Taking a quick glance at the look on Roy’s face,
he knew that Roy’s letter held something similar to the sheet he
held in his hand.
The look of question on his men’s faces mirrored his own, and
knowing that putting it off wouldn’t make it any easier, Hank began
to read Johnny’s letter to the crew. “This is what the letter
from Johnny has to say. ~Dear Captain Stanley, FF Lopez, FF Kelly, FF/P
DeSoto and Engineer Stoker: I want to apologize to all of you for the
last few years. I just wish that all of you would have told me when I
first started working with you that you didn’t trust me. I would
have transferred out or even left the department then. The times that
I was out with injuries were probably times of relief for all of you.
I wish you would have told me you were afraid to be around me because
I am a jinx. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or afraid
because they are too close to me during a rescue and something might
happen to me or them. If I had only realized how difficult it was on
all of you to work with me, I would have done something about it sooner.
I thought we were a close knit crew, but I know now that I was mistaken—it
was only a pipe dream on my part. I will pray for all of you daily that
you will stay safe because even though I was not worthy of your respect
and trust, I will always hold each of you in a special place in my heart.
Just know that you will not have to worry about me ever again. FF/P John
It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. What made Johnny believe
they didn’t respect or trust him? But each one remembered the teasing
and pranks he had had to endure over the last several months and they
knew why he felt the way he did. They all knew they would feel the same
“Roy, did he say anything in your letter?” Chet had a feeling
that Johnny’s leaving had to do with the pranks and jokes Chet
had pulled on him. “That is if you want to read it to us.” He
remembered all too clearly the many times he had kidded Roy and said
that the new trainee would make a better partner than Johnny.
“Yeah, there is a little more. ~Dear Mr. DeSoto:~ “He’s
never called me Mr. DeSoto.” Roy realized then just how hurt Johnny
really was. His voice caught as he continued reading the letter out loud.
~I just wanted you to know that you no longer have to worry about me.
It is no longer your obligation. I am sorry I didn’t realize all
this sooner and made the mistake of putting the burden on you as my emergency
contact person. I have corrected that mistake. I am sorry you felt obligated
to pretend that I was a part of your family. When you shared about your
family, I was happy to listen. I know I didn’t talk much about
myself, but when we first met I wasn’t comfortable sharing about
my life with anyone. I wanted people to like me for who I am and not
feel sorry for me because of my childhood and what I had to live with
after my parents were killed when I was six. But as the years went on,
no one asked me about my life or my heritage. I would have been happy
to tell you about it, but I was not about to push it on any of you. But
none of you—Mike, Marco, Chet, Cap or even you asked me anything.
All you did was sit and watch—or even helped—Chet pull pranks
and jokes on me based on what you thought you knew about my heritage
from what you saw on TV programs that were full of misinformation. None
of you ever asked me what any of it meant. Please forgive me for being
so blunt, but I am tired of always pulling back to keep from hurting
someone else’s feelings. The doll that was supposed to be a warrior
was bad enough, but when I got near the day room and heard all of you
planning the next prank and laughing, it was the final straw. I know
that I mean nothing to you or your family, but I do want to thank you
for sharing them with me. For a short time, I believed I actually belonged
somewhere and to someone for the first time since my parents were killed
when I was six. Maybe someday I can find a place where I really belong.
I had something very special to share with all of you because I thought
you were my family and you would care but I realize now you never asked
about my life because you really didn’t care—that you were
just tolerating me. I am so sorry. All the times I did say anything,
all any of you heard was my “ranting”. Well, I guess I’ve
taken up way too much of your time and you are probably sick of my “ranting” again.
If you are still reading this, thank you. This is the last you will ever
hear from me or be bothered by me. I will be praying daily for you and
your family. FF/P John Gage~
All five men felt like they had cut Johnny’s heart out. Mike
thought about the look he had seen but ignored in Johnny’s eyes
at the end of one day that Chet had been relentless. Johnny’s eyes
were full of pain. And all of them had laughed at the pranks with none
of them caring about Johnny’s feelings at all. The pranks had gotten
a little more derogatory as they progressed. It was his heritage—his
life that they were making fun of. And thinking about it, each one of
them had to admit to themselves that had they been on the receiving end
of the pranks, they, too, would have felt that no one trusted or respected
them. And then when they all started making comments about not wanting
to be around him because he was a jinx and they just might get hurt,
Mike was as guilty as the rest of them.
Chet thought about the pranks and jokes he had pulled over the last
few months. He put himself in Johnny’s shoes and knew that he would
never have put up with any of the pranks or jokes. He would have been
very angry and would have gotten revenge. How much pain he would have
felt, he had no way of knowing—he had never been in that position.
Chet had a feeling he would be retiring the Phantom for good—especially
if Johnny was really gone. How many times had he asked Roy if he wanted
to switch partners and trade Johnny in for the new trainee? How many
times had he called Johnny a jinx?
Marco thought about the torment Johnny had been subjected to over the
last few months and wondered how he could have ever been a part of it.
No one should have been teased like that—just because they didn’t
know anything about Johnny’s past. But Johnny was right, none of
them had even asked. When Johnny wouldn’t say much the first few
years, they didn’t try again. But they should have. Johnny had
started asking them a couple of years ago about their families and their
heritage, but Marco could never remember a time when anyone ever asked
him about his family and heritage.
Captain Stanley thought about what he had let happen in his station.
How could he let one of the most sensitive and kind-hearted people he
had ever met be the brunt of such cruel pranks and jokes? And how could
he even laugh at some of them? Did he deserve to be a Captain when he
let something like this happen to one of the men under his command?
Roy was heartbroken. He had ruined the confidence of a person he cared
for more than a brother. His family loved Johnny and would be devastated
when he went home tonight and told them what had happened. As Roy thought
about the last few years, he could remember several times when Johnny
seemed to be hinting that he wanted Roy to ask him about his family and
heritage and Roy had ignored him. Johnny was the most caring, easily
forgiving, sensitive person Roy had ever met. He had seen the hurt and
sadness in Johnny’s eyes when Johnny tried to talk to him about
Chet’s unrelentless pranks and jokes. But at the time Roy had been
enjoying them and the relief they seemed to bring during some really
horrific shifts. Roy had kept putting Johnny off so he wouldn’t
have to deal with it. How many times had he agreed with Chet and had
actually told Johnny he was going to talk to the new trainee about being
his partner when the trainee’s probationary period was over? And
the “nine lives” cracks—hadn’t he been the one
to actually start them when Johnny had been injured so bad about a month
before his Aunt died? What kind of a friend was he really? Would Johnny
ever forgive them? Would Johnny ever forgive HIM? Did they have any right
to even hope he would? How did Johnny deal with those horrific shifts
when the person he had thought was his best friend and brother had turned
his back on him and ignored him? Roy had Joanne at home to help comfort
him. Who did Johnny have? Then Roy thought about the letter—Johnny
didn’t have anyone. His Aunt’s death several months ago had
been what started the pranks regarding his heritage and in Roy’s
letter he said that his parents were killed when he was six. How had
his parents died? Who had Johnny turned to now that his so-called family
had turned on him?
Roy looked at the man who was his partner—at least for this shift.
If he had anything to do about it, Johnny would be back by next shift. “Come
on, Gary. I’ll go through the squad with you and show you how to
run the checks with Rampart.” Roy felt 100 years old.
The rest of the crew slowly got up to go do their chores.
Johnny was taking Alexis out to dinner so she didn’t have to
cook after working all day. On the way to dinner, they had decided to
make a stop and do something they had hoped to do differently, but there
had been no reason to now. There had been no reason to wait any longer.
Alexis was smiling as Johnny led her to his Land Rover and opened the
door for her. They were both happy with the decision they had made even
though things were not the way they had hoped. Neither one noticed the
dark sedan that was sitting down the street watching them. Johnny moved
around and got into the driver’s side. He leaned over and kissed
Alexis and then pulled out onto the street.
Turning on the radio and smiling at Alexis, Johnny looked in the rearview
mirror. He noticed the dark sedan that was behind them. He didn’t
think anything about it as he turned down the side street. It was only
when the bright lights of the sedan glared in the rearview mirror that
Johnny realized they were being followed and the car seemed to be getting
closer. He also noticed the car that had pulled in front of them and
seemed to be slowing down. He had a sinking feeling in his stomach.
Johnny woke with a terrific headache. As he began to regain consciousness
and memories of what had happened when the car behind them rammed them,
Johnny tried to move. He found that he was tied spread eagle against
the wall with a band around his forehead, bands around his upper arms
and wrists, his thighs and ankles, his chest and his stomach. He was
held in one place with the bands around his chest and stomach being extremely
tight. The pain in his chest was almost unbearable. The duct tape across
his mouth prevented him from saying anything. His thoughts immediately
turned to Alexis. He tried to find out where she was.
“Oh, you’re finally awake.” Ralph Canon pulled Alexis
along with him as he walked into Johnny’s line of sight. “I
was beginning to think that Larry had given you too much chloroform.
Now I can have my fun.”
Johnny saw that Alexis was blindfolded, gagged and had her hands tied
behind her back. Johnny pulled at his bonds as he was forced to watch
and experience the kind of fun Ralph Cannon had in mind for him and Alexis.
It was the third shift since Johnny had resigned. The worst part was
that no one had seen or heard from Johnny—not that they had a right
to expect to hear from him. When Roy had tried calling from the station
or on his days off, the phone kept ringing. Roy was surprised that Johnny’s
answering machine didn’t pick up. When he called the day after
the last shift he had finally received a message that the phone had been
disconnected. When he went by Johnny’s apartment, Johnny’s
car was always gone. Finally at the end of the day he worked up enough
nerve to go to Johnny’s apartment. When he used his key to open
the door, he was shocked. The apartment was empty—there was no
furniture—nothing. Stopping by the office, Roy was told that Johnny
had moved. He gave them his key to the apartment and slowly walked to
his car. ~Where are you, Junior?~
Roy had arrived earlier than anyone else on the crew. He knew they
needed to be told about Johnny, but he needed to gather his thoughts
before they arrived. For the last two shifts he had been secretly praying
that it was all just a misunderstanding or a nightmare and Johnny would
walk in and tell them he wanted to come back. But when he had opened
what used to be Johnny’s locker each time and Gary walked in, he
was met with reality—Johnny was gone. One thing he was grateful
for was that C-Shift was out on a call when he arrived. At least he didn’t
have to answer any questions from them yet.
Slowly the members of A-shift drifted in the back door. But Roy didn’t
seem to realize any of them were present. Only when they were all in
uniform and sitting at the table with their coffee did he realize he
was not alone.
“Roy, what brings you here so early?” Cap had been surprised
to see Roy when he walked in the door. When Roy looked up, Hank didn’t
like the haunted look in Roy’s eyes. “Roy, what is it?”
“I tried to contact Johnny while we were off.” Roy couldn’t
bring himself to tell them the rest of it just yet.
“Did he say what kind of knuckle-brained idea made him resign?” Chet
was trying to hide the feeling of dread that had washed through him at
the sight of Roy’s face. He tried to ignore the glares he received
from the other crew members.
“I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I don’t even
know how to contact him.”
“What do you mean, Roy?” Mike wanted to unite the Station
51 A-Shift family just as much as everyone else did. “Didn’t
you leave a message on his answering machine? Did you stop over there?”
“I tried calling his apartment for the thousandth time, but I
finally got a message telling me the line has been discounted. I went
by his apartment, but his car was never there. Finally, I went to the
apartment. I used my key to get in and found out it was empty. I stopped
by the office and talked to his landlady but she said he had moved out
last week. She said that the only forwarding address Johnny left was
an attorney’s office. The attorney said he was not allowed to give
out any information when I asked for it.” Roy was worried. Johnny
“You mean he’s gone? Where would he go?” Chet was
“I don’t know, Chet. I wish I knew.” Roy couldn’t
keep the tremor out of his voice.
“Maybe he went back to the reservation. It is the only other
home he has known. But I’m not sure he would go back there with
the way he was treated growing up.” Gary looked at the faces that
were staring back at him in wonder.
“How do you know that?” Marco was the first one to find
“Johnny has been doing evaluations of some of the new paramedics
as well as some of the hands-on-training the new paramedics were receiving
in the field. I asked him about his background when we became friends
during the time he was evaluating my skills and training at station 24.
That was why I accepted this position when Johnny called and asked me
to. He is a very good friend.” Gary wasn’t aware that Johnny
had not shared any of this with his crewmates.
The A-shift crew members were all surprised when they learned that
Johnny knew Gary and that Johnny had been doing the paramedic evaluations.
They were even more surprised to find out that Gary knew more about their
friend than they did. Roy felt even guiltier when he realized that even
though Johnny didn’t believe he trusted him, he had “hand
picked” Roy’s partner so he would be able to work with someone
he could get along with.
Mike slowly rose to his feet to put up the flags. His gait was a little
slower than normal as he walked through the bay. What had they done to
someone who was supposed to be their friend?
Mike was beginning to wonder why they were not being toned out. A fire
in a nearby neighborhood was given to another station even though station
51 was closer and available. He was about to ask the Captain, when Hank
walked out of his office. “Do you know where the rest of the guys
“Roy is finishing up in the dorm and Chet just walked into the
kitchen to get a cup of coffee. I think Marco is out back shooting baskets.
Gary is finishing up in the latrine.”
“Go get Roy and Gary and I’ll get Chet and Marco. The station
has been stood down. There are a couple of police detectives on their
way down here to talk to us.”
“Why do they want to talk to us?”
“I don’t know. I just know that it seems to be important
enough that headquarters is standing the station down until we are done
talking to them.” In the back of Han’s mind was the question
about whether or not this had anything to do with Johnny.
When the six men had gathered around the table with their coffee, no
one said a word. Each was lost in his own thoughts.
Five a.m. found Roy sitting at the kitchen table staring into his cold
cup of coffee. He had not slept all night and had finally gotten up so
he wouldn’t wake the others.
He had several things on his mind, but the most pressing one was the
note he had found on his car when he had wandered out back while he was
waiting his turn to be interviewed by the detectives. The note had been
turned over to the detectives, but Roy would not forget a single word
of what it said.
~To the men of Station 51 A-Shift: I just wanted to let you know that
I am handling the problem you have had for the last few years. Because
my own place in the LA County Fire Department was taken by the half-breed,
redskin piece of trash that was a paramedic with your shift, I am more
than happy to rid you of the burden of working with ‘Tonto’.
His ‘nine lives’ are long over and, Roy, you will have a
new partner. In keeping track of this piece of garbage, I overheard several
of your conversations that let me know you feel the same way I do about
him. I really thought the peace pipe, tomahawk and Indian warrior doll
were very creative. I wish I could have seen the other things that you
did. However, I just wanted to let you know, you will never have to worry
about the piece of trash or his stupid white squaw ever again. A concerned
They had all been scared but Chet was the vocal one. “A concerned
citizen? Do you think he is serious?” Chet was worried about his
friend. They had not heard from Johnny in almost a week. Was he in danger? “What
did he mean when he said he was keeping track of him and had overheard
our conversations? Those all took place here, but when no one else was
around. Cap, I think that guy was stalking Johnny. And what was that
remark about a stupid white squaw?”
“I think you’re right, Chet. But I really hope that he
is just blowing off steam. And I don’t have any idea what he meant
about a squaw.” Captain Stanley didn’t know what the next
step should be. He really hoped Johnny was not in any kind of danger.
The other thing on Roy’s mind was the meeting A-shift had with
the detectives. Unbeknownst to the men of Station 51, Johnny had taken
a temporary job at LA County Fire Department Headquarters. He had not
shown up for work and headquarters had tried to contact him for two days.
Finally they brought in the police and realized that no one had seen
him since he had resigned from Station 51 a week before. The men also
discovered that Johnny had a fiancée who hadn’t been seen
for almost a week at her job either. That must have been who the “concerned
citizen” had been talking about when he mentioned a “white
squaw.” The detectives were trying to find the missing couple.
Roy’s thoughts turned to the conversation after the detectives
“Where could he be?” Chet’s voice cracked when he
was the one to finally break the silence.
“I just hope he is ok.” Marco’s voice was just above
“I always thought we were all family. The detectives said he
has a fiancée. We didn’t even know he was dating anyone.” Hank
was in a state of shock.
“Maybe it’s because we were too busy teasing him about
his heritage and not really listening to him. We didn’t even know
his parents were killed when he was six or that he had been tormented
on the reservation when he was growing up—at least none of us but
Gary knew.” Mike had been thinking about how they had been treating
Johnny since his Aunt had died. He sure wouldn’t have wanted to
be in Johnny’s shoes and knew he wouldn’t have put up with
1/3 of what Johnny had been subjected to. He would have resigned a lot
earlier—or done something to put a stop to it.
“I saw the pain in his eyes when he tried to talk to me about
the teasing and I said it was just harmless fun. Why would he talk to
me about anything else? We all let him pull away from us these past few
months. What have we done?” Roy thought about the note Johnny had
“Actually, I think we pushed him away these last few months.
Will we get the chance to make it up to him?” Chet was really feeling
guilty about how he had treated Johnny. If the roles had been reversed,
he would have been angry at the very first prank. “Will he let
us make it up to him?”~
Roy was pulled back to the present as he again tried to think of what
he was going to tell Joanne and the kids when he arrived home in just
a little while. Joanne and Roy had decided to wait to tell the kids that
Johnny was gone hoping they would hear from Johnny and things could be
straightened out. What would he tell them now? They had been able to
skirt around the kids’ questions about Johnny’s birthday,
but now they would have to be told.
The rest of A-shift shuffled into the kitchen. By the looks of them,
none of them had gotten much sleep.
“Roy, are you alright?” Gary was worried about Roy, too.
Johnny had told Gary that Roy was his best friend and had included him
in his family and that the men of A-shift were very special to him. He
was surprised when he had learned what had happened over the last few
“I just wish I knew where Johnny was.” Roy looked at his “partner”.
“I know the feeling.”
Between 7:20 and 7:30 B-shift wandered in. As they passed through to
the locker room their greetings were returned in subdued tones. When
they were all dressed and had returned to the kitchen for their morning
coffee, A-shift was still sitting silently around the table.
Seeing the expressions on the faces of the crew, Charlie Dwyer knew
something serious had happened. “What happened? Did you hear from
Johnny?” The rest of the Station 51 crews were as worried about
Johnny as A-shift. As a matter of fact, the entire department was worried
After several seconds of silence, Gary was the one to answer. “He
and his fiancée are missing. No one has seen either of them for
several days. The police were here questioning us yesterday.”
“Did you say fiancée?” Bob Bellingham had been the
last one to enter the kitchen.
Before any of A-shift could answer his question, the tones sounded. “We’ll
take it Hank.” Captain Anderson patted Hanks’ shoulder as
B-Shift ran towards the engine and squad.
“Thanks Tim. We owe you.” Hank said as he heard the B-shift
engineer responding. He stood as the two vehicles pulled out. “Guess
we all should head on home. Sitting here isn’t going to change
anything.” Not another word was said as the six men changed their
clothes and left the station.
Johnny’s head felt like it was going to explode as he slowly
fought his way back to consciousness. In the brief seconds he was alert,
his first thought was about Alexis. His main concern was for her safety.
But he lost his battle with consciousness before he could find out about
Alexis or before he could remember what had happened. He didn’t
know that Alexis was unconscious and needed help as soon as possible—that
they both were in critical condition. Their “golden hour” had
long since passed. Neither of them realized that a spark from the car
had started a small fire near the car. Johnny’s last thoughts as
he lost his fight were of the beatings and abuse they had both suffered.
~I’m sorry Alexis. I love you. Roy, I hope you, your family, and
the guys all stay safe. You really are special to me~ were the last thoughts
Johnny had as he slipped back into the darkness. He never heard the sirens
or the voices of the men who were trying to get them the help they so
The fire was threatening the vehicle as the men of Station 36’s
B-shift arrived on the scene. As Captain Lawrence call out orders, he
sent up a heartfelt prayer for the occupants of the car in a whisper.
He looked over as a police cruiser pulled up behind the engine and Vince
Howard emerged from his vehicle. Both men watched as the paramedics and
engine crew worked.
Ken and Tom headed down the side of the cliff on the ropes they had
tied off to the engine as the crew sprayed the area with water to put
out the fire. By the time they reached the vehicle, the fire was just
Tom took one look at the vehicle and gasped. Ken had been undoing his
belt and was getting ready to turn around when he heard Tom’s sharp
intake of breath. Seeing the stricken look on his partner’s face,
he turned towards the white land rover he realized belong to John Gage.
It seemed like time had stood still, but in reality only a few seconds
had passed before both men were actively at work, trying to free their
friend and the woman that was with him. They worked feverishly to free
the man who had become a friend during the time he had helped to train
them. Word had traveled fast through the Fire Department grape vine about
Johnny’s disappearance. Now the two paramedics were wondering just
what had happened.
“Captain, we need two stokes and backboards right away. And Cap,
the victims are John Gage and a lady.” Ken knew they needed to
get them out of the car and to St. Mary's Hospital as soon as possible.
Examination had revealed that both of them had several broken bones,
probable internal injuries and head injuries that were probably quiet
severe. But they couldn’t work on them in the car. They needed
to get them out where they had room to move. Ken had a very bad feeling
that the couple’s “golden hour” was long past and they
were now working on borrowed time.
Captain Lawrence and Vince Howard exchanged glances. With a small sense
of relief that at least they were alive for the moment, Vince wondered
where John Gage had been for the last week.
Both paramedics’ were relieved when the two victims were finally
lowered beside the squad where they could work on them. Both men worked
with a sense of urgency Captain Lawrence had never seen before. He watched
them a few minutes and then reached in to pick up the microphone on the
engine. “LA, this is Captain Tim Anderson. I need to get a message
to Captain Hank Stanley as soon as possible.
Ken and Tom waited in the doctor’s lounge for word on Johnny
and his passenger. They were both in very rough shape. As a matter of
fact, both men had been convinced that neither of them would make it
to the hospital—but somehow they had. Alexis and Johnny were now
in surgery for internal injuries. That left the two paramedics to wonder
about the situation. They both knew that the injuries the couple had
sustained were not all from the automobile accident. Something else had
happened to them before that.
The two paramedics wondered if the police that were crawling all over
the accident scene when they left would find out any more information
than what they knew right now. The detectives had arrived at the hospital
shortly after the paramedics and had questioned them about Johnny’s
and Alexis’s conditions when they found them. They all knew from
the condition they were found in that this was no accident. Johnny and
Alexis were supposed to die in either the accident or the fire that started
afterwards and wouldn’t be in any condition to answer questions
for a long time. Discussing the injuries they had found on Johnny and
his passenger, both men realized that they were not conscious when the
car went over the cliff. As a matter of fact they had probably been unconscious
for several hours.
Both men looked up as the door opened. They were hoping it would be
Dr. Calzone or Dr. Wanderson but knew that it was way too soon for either
doctor to have a report. Instead Hank Stanley entered the room. Hank
had decided he would not call any of the rest of his crew until he had
had an opportunity to check on Johnny and he had more news to tell them.
Police detectives had met him as they were leaving and had spent the
last half hour questioning him.
“Any word yet?” Hank didn’t like the looks on the
two paramedics’ faces. It wasn’t encouraging at all. Instead
it made the knot in his stomach tighten even more.
The next few minutes Ken and Tom told Hank about the accident and the
condition they found Johnny and Alexis in. Then the three men sat in
silence. The hardest part was when Tom told Captain Stanley they knew
that Johnny and Alexis were supposed to die in the accident. The fire
was supposed to have destroyed the vehicle and any other evidence.
The two paramedics were toned out as Chief McConnikee walked into the
doctor’s lounge. He sighed as he knew he would find Hank there.
With a deep breath he approached him. “Hank, any word on Johnny
and his fiancée?”
“Not yet, Chief.” Hank’s concern for one of his friend
overrode his normal paranoia around McConnikee.
“Hank, Johnny never explained why he resigned. He just said that
he didn’t want the rest of A-Shift to get hurt and knew you would
if he stayed on the job. When I asked him if he wanted to transfer, he
said he didn’t because he wasn’t worthy of anyone’s
trust. I talked him into working at headquarters hoping we could straighten
out whatever happened. What happened, Hank?”
Taking a deep breath, Hank started telling the Chief about the months
since Johnny’s Aunt had died. Hank also told the Chief about the
letters from Johnny and the concerned citizen. “I really wish we
could go back and do things differently.”
“I’d like to know about Johnny’s fiancée.
She must be one very special person for him to love her.” Hank
wondered how he could have been a part of the teasing that Johnny had
been subjected to.
Hank looked up as the door opened admitting the two detectives that
had questioned him earlier.
“We have a little more information on Mr. Gage and Ms. Selfridge,
but we need to ask you some more questions. We don’t know who,
but we do know that someone beat, tortured, sodomized and raped them
both repeatedly and savagely over the last week. It is a miracle that
either one of them is still alive.” The detectives were not aware
that the two men in the room did not know Johnny’s fiancée
or even what her name was.
“They were not supposed to survive the accident. But whoever
sent the car over the edge couldn’t wait around to see the results
as a group of bikers had pulled up and stopped close to the accident
site. They were the ones who somehow noticed the accident and called
it in before the fire got out of control. What we need to know from you
is if you can think of who might have wanted to hurt Mr. Gage and Ms.
Selfridge.” The detective looked at the men seated in front of
Before either one could answer, a voice interrupted them from the doorway. “I
don’t mean to interrupt, but I think you should be aware that John
and Alexis were married about a week ago.” Every head turned to
look at Craig Brice standing in the doorway. “I just came in to
get a cup of coffee.” He responded to the questioningly looks on
the faces watching him.
“Brice, how do you know they were married about a week ago?” Hank
Stanley wondered how someone Johnny had trouble working with would know
that he had gotten married.
“They asked my girlfriend and me to be their witnesses. They
were married at the Justice of the Peace.” Brice knew that there
had been some trouble at Station 51. He and Johnny had become friends
over the last few months and he had been able to get Johnny to tell him
about it. “Is there any word on their conditions?”
Just at that moment the emergency room admitting nurse entered the
room looking for the two detectives. They had stopped at the desk and
told her they needed any information on both Johnny and Alexis as soon
as she got it. “Detectives, Ms. Selfridge is still in surgery,
but I wanted to update you on what we have found so far.” The nurse
had gone on to tell them that Alexis had a long hard fight ahead of her.
She had broken ribs, a punctured lung, internal bleeding, a fractured
skull, second and third degree burns on her back and chest, and had been
severely beaten several times. They were still trying to determine what
caused the burns. But it was the news that she had also been savagely
raped and sodomized repeatedly that made Hank almost physically ill.
The room got quiet once again as the nurse left. Chief McConnikee left
Hank sitting lost in his thoughts as he answered a callout on the handi-talki.
Giving him a few minutes, the detectives knew they needed answers to
their questions. An idea started forming in one of the detective’s
mind. Right now he was sure it was the only way they were going to find
out who was behind whatever had happened to John and Alexis Gage.
Hank stared at Craig Brice still unable to believe what he had just
told them. He had been shocked when they found out yesterday that Johnny
was engaged. Now he learned that not only had Johnny gotten married,
but he had asked Brice to be his best man. And Johnny was married at
the Justice of the Peace. He didn’t have a real wedding with all
his friends and family helping them to celebrate. As he thought about
it, the guilt returned. Hank knew that his engagement and wedding would
have been something Johnny would have wanted to share with them and yet
their treatment of him had kept him from doing just that.
Hank’s attention was turned back to the detectives when they
once again asked him if he had any idea who might do something like this.
It was then that Hank reminded them of the letter they had received at
the station. It was then that the detective presented the idea that had
While they were talking, Craig Brice returned to the hospital and the
lounge. He had arranged for someone to finish out his shift. “Captain
Stanley, have you heard anything?”
“There’s been no word on Johnny.” Hank realized that
in a position of authority he had let something happen to someone under
his command that should never have happened. “I should go call
Roy since he is—or at least was—on record as Johnny’s
next of kin.”
Before Hank could get up the door opened admitting Dr. Wanderson, the
doctor in charge of Johnny’s case. “Craig, I’m glad
you are here. I need to talk to you about Johnny. Can we go to my office?”
“Brice? Why would you be talking to him?” Hank had a sinking
feeling and couldn’t help but voice his question.
“John changed his next of kin listing to Alexis with me as a
backup if something happened to her.” Brice looked from Hank to
the doctor. “Yes, let’s go to your office, Dr. Wanderson.”
Hank looked at Brice and then looked back down at the cold cup of coffee
sitting in front of him. He knew that whatever had happened they would
not know anything about Johnny’s condition. They had destroyed
Brice saw the devastated look on Hank’s face. He turned towards
the doctor. “Dr. Wanderson, I believe Captain Stanley would like
to know the extent of John’s injuries, too. Let’s sit in
here and discuss it.”
Hank gave Brice a small, sad, grateful smile as he and the doctor sat
down. He knew he would be making some phone calls to make as soon as
he knew Johnny’s condition.
“Mr. Gage is in recovery. He survived the surgery, but is in
very critical condition. We are very surprised that he survived surgery.
I believe that if he makes it through the next 48 hours, he will make
a full recovery. He suffered severe internal bleeding; all of his ribs
were either cracked or broken—one punctured his left lung and another
one tore a hole in his heart. His left leg is broken as well as his left
collarbone. His right shoulder is dislocated and he has a severe concussion.
He will be transferred to SICU right out of recovery.” Dr. Wanderson
was not aware of the relationship between the men sitting before him
and his patient.
“Thank you, Doctor.” Craig Brice knew that Hank and the
others at Station 51 would want to know about Johnny. Johnny had told
him what had happened. Brice knew that although they hadn’t really
meant to hurt Johnny, they had hurt him deeply. Maybe they would be able
to work things out during Johnny’s hospital stay. He prayed that
Hank was once again staring at his cold coffee. Craig Brice felt sorry
for the man sitting in front of him. “Captain Stanley, are you
“I’m not sure. I just need to make some phone calls.” Hank
slowly made his way out of the lounge in search of a pay phone.
Roy was outside when the call came. Joanne had beckoned him in from
the back yard with a worried look on her face. Before he could ask her
what was wrong, she handed him the phone. “Hello.”
“Hello Roy. It’s Hank Stanley.” Hank went on to tell
Roy what he knew receiving the promise from Roy that he would be at the
hospital within a half an hour.
Hank went on to call Chet, Mike, Marco and Gary. Within 20 minutes
the five men were sitting with Hank in the SICU waiting room waiting
for the ten minutes they could visit Johnny.
The station 51 A-shift sat in the waiting room. Each one was lost in
his own thoughts about the last few months and the friend who was now
fighting for his life. Roy wondered what Johnny’s wife was like.
It seemed strange to think that Johnny was married. He also wondered
if they would really be allowed in to see him.
A noise at the doorway to the waiting room drew everyone’s attention.
Craig Brice was standing in the doorway. He looked hesitant—almost
like he wasn’t sure he would be welcomed.
“Craig, have you heard something?” Roy was on his feet
the moment he realized who was standing in the doorway.
“Uh—no, I just thought I would come back and make sure
that you all were given access. I figured you all would be here. I’ve
talked with Dr. Wanderson and Dr. Calzone and explained that you should
be given information about John and Alexis and that you should be allowed
to visit them.” Craig Brice slowly entered the room.
Roy moved to allow Craig to sit in the empty spot on the couch. “Thank
you, Craig. You don’t know how much we appreciate it. Can I ask
you a question?”
Craig was pretty sure he had a good idea what Roy was going to ask. “Sure,
what do you want to know?”
“When Johnny changed you to his next of kin, did he tell you
why he did it?” Roy knew he had no right to even hope that Johnny
would ever forgive him and things would be like they used to be.
“He told me about how he was treated by his crewmates and even
Dixie and Dr. Brackett. It hurt, but he felt it would be easier on all
of you and had planned on leaving California. Chief McConnikee talked
him into working at headquarters to see if the Chief could somehow straighten
out the problem. John wouldn’t tell him what the problem was—he
took all the blame. He was hesitant to ask me to be listed as his next
of kin, but wanted someone to make sure that if anything happened to
him and Alexis, his money would go to your kids, Roy.” Craig wanted
to get these friendships back on track.
“Was his wedding a happy one?” Chet’s guilt was getting
stronger and stronger.
“It wasn’t what he wanted. His wish had been to share it
all with you, but when he felt you didn’t want him around he called
us and invited us to dinner. On the way to dinner, they asked if we would
mind stopping and being witnesses for their wedding. They said there
was no one else who would be interested in attending. I could see the
pain and sadness in his eyes.” Craig knew what he was saying was
hurting the people in the room but it couldn’t hurt them any more
than they had hurt Johnny.
Roy gave Craig a grateful smile as the two made their way to Johnny’s
cubicle as the first visitors. He looked at the machines that were keeping
his—did he have the right to call him his friend?—alive.
It always bothered him when Johnny got hurt seriously enough that he
was unconscious. That meant he was so still which was totally unlike
Johnny—well at least until a few months ago.
Roy walked over to Johnny’s bed thankful to Craig for giving
him some privacy to talk to Johnny. He picked up Johnny’s hand. “Johnny,
I really need to apologize for the way we have treated you. All of the
guys are here and we realize how deeply we have hurt you. Johnny, we
have no right to ask you to forgive us, but we need to tell you how sorry
we are. We also are hoping that maybe we could work things out so you
would come back to Station 51 and we could meet your wife. We know that
nothing will ever be the same, but Gary isn’t you. Nothing is the
same without you.”
Wishing for some type of response, Roy was disappointed when he didn’t
get one. With one last squeeze of Johnny’s hand and a sad sigh,
Roy returned to the waiting room with Craig so that two others could
go in and see him.
Chet and Marco went next. Roy was worried about Chet when he came back
into the waiting room—he just sat on one end of the sofa not moving
and not saying a word. Marco was worried about his friend. All the jokes
about “nine lives” and him being a jinx were eating away
at Marco’s stomach.
Mike and Hank walked into the cubicle. Hank’s guilt level doubled
when he saw the still body of John Gage. Maybe none of this would have
happened if he hadn’t turned a blind eye to the pranks and jokes
going on at the station. Johnny would still be a member of his crew and
might not have been laying in a hospital bed fighting for his life. Mike
looked at Johnny’s still face. Was he Captain material if he joined
in with the jokes and pranks that were happening at the station?
The five men sat in the ICU waiting room after visiting Johnny and
wondered where they would go from here. They knew that they had been
able to visit Johnny because he was unconscious. Would he allow them
anywhere near his room if he was conscious?
Craig Brice walked in to see five very long faces. “Roy, everything
will work out.” Craig wished he could erase the last several months
for these men. He knew how much Johnny cared for the men sitting before
him and he was beginning to see that they cared for Johnny just as much.
Somehow what had happened the last several months had gotten out of hand
and misconstrued. Now if he could only repair the breach in this “family”.
“How can you be so sure Craig? Johnny probably wants nothing
to do with any of us ever again and I really can’t blame him. If
I was in his shoes, I wouldn’t want to ever hear any of our names
again.” Roy’s heart was breaking. It was almost as if Johnny
had died. He hadn’t but Roy knew he would never be a part of his
life again. What was he going to do without him as a friend and partner?
“Because John and I have had several long talks over the last
several months and have become good friends. He is very heartbroken to
think that he might have put all of you in danger because you have never
really trusted or respected him. He would give his life to have the kind
of relationship with each of you that he thought he had. You were the
first ‘family’ he had ever remembered feeling a part of and
then this happened and his trust was destroyed. It was very difficult
for him to become friends with me—not because he couldn’t
trust me, but because he feels that he is not trustworthy or worthy of
anyone’s respect. Alexis had a very had time convincing him that
she really loved him for who he is.” Craig knew that what he was
saying would only add to the guilt these men were feeling, but he knew
they needed to hear the truth about what Johnny was feeling.
“But we do respect and trust him. Even Joanne worried less when
I worked with Johnny because she knew he would watch my back and do everything
in his power to make sure me or any one of us returned to our families
safe every shift. I often wondered if it was because he didn’t
have any family and we all did. But I never asked—I never tried
to find out anything. I just trusted him. What if he had family to return
to? I didn’t know if his parents were alive, if he had any brothers
or sisters and I didn’t bother to find out. When he did try to
talk to me about the teasing and pranks, I brushed him off and told him
it was all in fun.” Roy didn’t bother to try to stop the
tears flowing down his cheeks.
“And I should have stopped the pranks and jokes. I ignored the
flashes of pain in Johnny’s eyes when another joke or prank happened.
There were a couple of times when I think he was going to say something
but he never did. I should have put a stop to all of it a long time ago.” Hank
was feeling guilty to realize that one of the men under his command could
feel like no one trusted or respected him—especially when he was
one of the most respected, loyal and kindest men in the department.
“I saw the sadness and pain in his eyes, but I walked away from
him. He never held it against me because I am the quiet one. But then
he never holds anything against anyone. He has the most forgiving spirit
of anyone I have ever met. I should have spoken up and said something
about what he was being subjected to.” Mike wondered how he could
have taken Johnny’s trust and loyalty and not returned it. Did
he ever deserve to be a Captain?
“I laughed at all the jokes and even helped pull some of the
pranks. I should have realized how much it must have hurt him. I know
when I have heard jokes that make fun of my heritage that it cuts deep.
He just never complained so I really didn’t think about it. How
could I have done something like that?” Marco was as upset over
how they had treated their friend as everyone else.
“I should never have started with the pranks and jokes about
his heritage. He never complained and seemed to take them all in stride.
He always acted like nothing happened.” Chet couldn’t continue.
He knew that how Johnny was feeling was all his fault—he had started
“Gentlemen, I believe that it may take time, but I believe that
if you let John know how much you care and that this incident somehow
got out of hand, he will forgive all of you. He may even want to work
with you again.” Craig knew that the one thing Johnny wanted more
than anything else in the world was to work with his crewmates at Station
Chet and Marco went on a coffee run for their shift-mates. Both men
had only been in St. Mary’s Hospital twice before so it took them
a few minutes to locate the cafeteria. “Marco, I wish we knew some
of the staff here. I would like to know how Johnny really is. If they
were at Rampart, we would be able to visit them more and get information
from Dixie or Brackett.”
“Yeah, I know, Chet. But if we hadn’t treated Johnny the
way we did, we wouldn’t be in this situation anyway.” Marco
still hadn’t forgiven himself for his part in the way they had
“You’re right. Why couldn’t I have just left his
heritage alone? I have been doing a lot of thinking about the pranks
and jokes and realized that there is no way I would have ever put up
with even 1/8th of the crap I gave him and you guys went along wit. I
guess I just didn’t think about what it would do because although
Johnny complained, he didn’t do it very loudly. And he always seemed
to forgive and forget. I guess he may have forgiven, but instead of forgetting,
he was destroyed by them.”
“Yeah, I know he tried talking to all of us—including Cap,
and we each told him that it was just a way to relieve the stress of
the job. It didn’t take very many of those comments and he stopped
talking about it to any of us—even Roy. As I think about over the
last month or so, I don’t think he talked to any of us about much
of anything relating to him.”
The two men had made it back to the lounge with the coffee. As they
entered Mike, Gary, Roy and Hank were looking dejected and had started
“What’s going on? Johnny isn’t any worse is he? Is
he---?” Chet didn’t like the looks on the four men’s
“No, Chet, he’s actually improving a little. He regained
consciousness.” Roy was trying to accept what they had just been
A large knot formed in Chet’s stomach.
“He has given strict orders that the only visitors he will allow
are Craig and his girlfriend. Even Craig couldn’t get him to see
us even for a short time so we could apologize.” Roy’s gut
had told him that this time Johnny’s forgiving spirit might have
been stretched too thin. When Craig came back and told them what Johnny
had said, Roy was not surprised. He realized they had gone too far this
The crew of Station 51 had left the hospital defeated. Johnny had refused
to see them and they knew they had destroyed their friendship with him.
The first shift after they had tried to see Johnny was very quiet when
the crew was in the station. Each one lost in their own thoughts.
Hank had been trying to complete the endless amount of paperwork for
over an hour. But he realized that the same sheet of paper had been on
top for that same period of time. He jumped when the phone on his desk
rang. As he answered, a feeling of dread washed over him. “Station
51, Captain Stanley speaking.” The rest of the conversation was
burned into his mind. He knew he would remember that conversation for
the rest of his life.
With a deep sigh, he pushed his chair away from his desk and slowly
opened the door to his office. Seeing Mike working on big red, he steeled
himself to face the rest of his crew. “Hey, Mike, do you know where
Mike noticed the look on the Captain’s face and briefly wondered
what was going on before answering. “Chet’s finishing the
latrine. Roy is getting ready to start lunch. Gary and Marco are out
back hanging hoses.” He wondered what had Hank so preoccupied that
he didn’t remember the chores he had assigned.
“Oh, yeah, could you go get Chet while I round up the other three
and meet us in the kitchen. I have something I need to tell all of you.” Hank
didn’t really wait for an answer. He just started walking towards
the kitchen with a blank look on his face.
When the crew was finally seated around the table, Hank sat staring
at his cup of coffee. Knowing it wasn’t going to get any easier,
he took a deep breath. “I just received a phone call from Dixie.”
It was so quiet in the station you could have heard a pin drop in the
dorm. No one wanted to ask what she had called about. No one wanted the
“She received a phone call from a friend of hers over at St.
Mary's Hospital. She, ah— she, ah— she just called to let
us know that Alexis Gage, Johnny’s wife, died last night.” That
was all he could get out at the moment.
“Oh no—poor Johnny.” Chet didn’t try to hide
the fact that he was really worried about his friend. “I wonder
how he is taking it.”
Hank didn’t want to tell them the rest of the news. He thought
that if he didn’t say it then it wouldn’t be true. But Chet’s
comment made him continue. “There’s more. Johnny died this
morning.” There it was said.
“What?” Roy’s guilt kicked in consuming him. In the
back of his mind he had hoped that he would be able to convince Johnny
that he really cared—that he was sorry for the way he had treated
him. Now Johnny would never know. He had gone to his grave thinking Roy
didn’t trust or respect him when both couldn’t have been
farther from the truth.
“You must have misunderstood her, Cap. Johnny can’t be
dead. He has nine lives and he always pulls through.” Chet was
losing it. He didn’t care that the others saw the tears that were
now running down his cheeks. Johnny just couldn’t be dead.
“I’m sorry, Chet, but he died this morning.” Craig
Brice’s quiet voice from the doorway startled all of the men. “I
didn’t mean to scare any of you or interrupt, but I want to come
over and give you the news. I see someone has already told you.” Craig
looked like he had aged 10 years overnight.
“Yeah, Dixie called just a little while ago.” Mike was
still trying to believe that someone he had once considered a close friend
was gone—someone who died thinking his “family” really
didn’t want him around.
Marco made a space for Craig at the table while Gary poured him a cup
of coffee. Brice had become very good friends with Johnny over the last
few months and being here seemed to help him. The seven men sat around
the table reminiscing about their friend. The guilt settled on five of
them as they thought about how they had treated one very kind, gentle
Roy pulled into his driveway and turned his car off. But he just sat.
On the drive home he had tried to think of a way to tell his family that
Johnny was gone. They had not been very happy when he had told them that
Johnny had resigned because of his shift mates and why. He wasn’t
sure how they would handle this news.
Looking up he saw Joanne standing in the doorway just watching him.
He needed her strength more than anything right now, so he pushed opened
the door and slowly got out of the car. His steps got faster as he saw
her standing there with her arms wide open just waiting for him. “Oh,
Jo” was all he could get out when he felt her arms surround him.
“I know. Dixie called me. Come on inside.” Joanne led Roy
into the house.
“The kids will need to be told. How do we tell them? What do
we tell them?” Roy finally lost the battle to keep the tears in
his eyes from sliding down his face.
“We’ll think of something.” Joanne’s tears
soon joined her husbands.
It was the first shift after A-shift had learned of Johnny’s
death. B and C shifts did what they could to help their fellow firefighters.
But the thing that bothered all of them was the fact that the police
had not released either Johnny’s or Alexis’s bodies and so
funeral plans were on hold. The men were sitting around the table trying
to figure out what was going on when the doorbell rang. Gary went to
answer it while the others sat in silence after having not been able
to come up with a reason.
“Cap, it’s a special delivery letter but there is no postmark
or return address.” Gary had a funny feeling about the letter.
Opening it Hank, too, had an uneasy feeling. Looking at the signature
he got very angry. Feeling the looks of the other men focused on him,
he started reading the letter.
~To the men of Station 51 A-Shift: Well, I know by now that you are
aware that I was successful in eliminating your problem of the half-breed
piece of trash that used to be a firefighter as well as his stupid squaw.
Since the local law enforcement agency will not share our feelings about
this matter, this will be my last contact with you. I know you would
like to thank me in person, but rest assured, I know of your gratitude.
Now you can do your jobs in peace and not have to worry about getting
hurt because of his incompetence or immaturity. I trust he is where he
belongs. A concerned citizen~
“I’d like to know who this guy is. I’m going to call
the detectives right now.” Hank pushed away from the table and
headed towards his office. The grief over Johnny’s death was slowly
turning into anger at the person who had murdered him and his wife.
“Gary who was it that delivered the letter?” Mike had a
suspicion that the person who had delivered their letter was the one
who had written it. “Could you describe him?”
“I can do better than that. I can draw a sketch of him.” Gary
quickly left the kitchen to grab his sketch pad from his locker.
“I hope we can find this guy and they throw the book at him.
It’s the least we can help do for Johnny.” Chet couldn’t
believe this guy would have killed Johnny because of his heritage.
“If they do catch him, I hope he doesn’t get off on a mentally
insane charge.” Marco was afraid that the powers that be would
see this guy as unstable and let him plead insanity.
“Well, the detectives are on their way over right now.” Hank
entered the kitchen and returned to his seat at the table. It occurred
to him that they were having a light day and he prayed that it would
stay that way.
Gary returned to the table and started sketching the man who had handed
him the letter.
The detectives had taken the letter and Gary’s sketch with them
after talking with the crew. Roy had wandered into the dorm. He needed
some time alone. Knowing that Johnny had probably suffered a lot made
his guilt almost unbearable.
He was lost in thought and wondered what it was going to be like not
having Johnny in his life ever again. ~I’m so sorry, Jr.~
Ralph Cannon brought the next to the last load out of his apartment.
Although he had wanted to stay in L.A., he felt he’d better start
over somewhere fresh—at least for a few years. He had been very
careful so he was sure no one knew that it had been him and his brother,
Larry, who had been responsible for what had happened to John and Alexis
Gage. But he felt that he needed to relocate. Turning to head back into
the apartment building for the last time, he was surrounded by police
officers. In one of the squad cars, he could see his brother in the back
seat. He had been caught. Even though they were dead, John and Alexis
Gage had won again.
The members of A-shift were returning from an early morning fire. They
were all tired and Johnny was still on their minds. Each one prayed that
Gary’s sketch would somehow help the police. They were unprepared
to find the detectives, Chief McConnikee and B-shift standing in the
bay when they returned. It was only 6:30 a.m.
“Hank, B-shift will be taking over now. I have the department
van. We are all going to be going to Rampart. There is something we need
to take care of there.” Chief McConnikee watched as the men slowly
followed him out of the station. Not a word was said on the trip to Rampart
even though each one of them wondered what was going on.
They all followed the detectives and Chief McConnikee into the hospital
conference room. Drs. Brackett, Early and Morton as well as Dixie McCall
were already seated around the table. The detectives stood at one end
of the room while the firefighters sat in the chairs around the table.
“We want all of you to know that we caught the two men responsible
for Alexis and John Gage’s injuries. Gary’s sketch led us
to Ralph and Larry Canon. Larry is an ex-con and Ralph was a firefighter
that washed out of the academy at the same time Johnny was training there.
He blamed Johnny for losing his position saying Johnny only got the job
because he is an Indian and they had to give it to him. Ralph was also
angry with Alexis because she turned him in to the school principal and
the Boy Scout administration for his treatment of two members of his
scout troop and he lost that position, too. Larry just went along with
him because he was his brother.” Detective Kandell watched the
faces of the people in the room.
“He was so angry he beat and raped them and sent them over the
cliff in a car to kill them?” Chet couldn’t believe anyone
could do such a thing. “They died because he didn’t like
Indians and she cared about her students?” Chet wanted to strangle
“His prejudice made him beat, rape and try to kill us, Chet,
but the love and support we got from all of you made us live.” Johnny
had to laugh as everyone in the room jumped at the sound of his voice.
“But—but—but you’re dead!” Chet felt
like he was seeing a ghost.
Craig Brice chuckled at Chet’s frustration. “I hope not.
Then I would have to find another best man for my wedding.”
The room exploded with questions when the fact that Johnny was alive
and sitting in front of them finally sank into the group. It took the
detective several minutes to get the group quieted down so he could be
heard. “We had to make the Cannons think that Alexis and John were
dead so they would tip their hand. And that’s just what they did
when Ralph hand delivered that last letter. The staff at Raymond Jr.
High recognized him from the sketch Gary drew.”
“And that’s why you stalled when we asked you to release
their bodies.” Hank understood what had really taken place.
“Yes it is, Hank.” Chief McConnikee was happy everything
had worked out.
Roy was quiet and as each of the men of the A-shift remembered what
started this whole thing in the first place, they were soon quiet with
him. Johnny was alive, but what about their friendship?
Seeing the pensive looks on their faces, Johnny knew what he had to
do. “Detectives, Chief, Brice, can Alexis and I have a few minutes
alone with Roy, Hank, Marco, Mike, Chet, Dr. Brackett, Dr. Early, Dr.
Morton and Dixie please?”
Knowing the group had to talk, the others excuse themselves. When they
had left, Johnny turned to the group seated around the table. “Guys,
Dixie, I know that you are all feeling guilty right now. I have already
talked to the Chief and if Gary agrees, he will be transferred to Station
53 nearer his home and I will be returning to A-shift if you’ll
“If we’ll have you? We should be the ones asking if you
really want to come back.” Chet was the first one to find his voice. “We
treated you horribly and wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t
want to work with us any more.”
“I’m sure you all know by the letters I left that I was
very hurt by what you did and said. But Alexis and I have been doing
a lot of talking and she reminded me that although you pulled pranks
and jokes, when it really mattered you were there for me. Most of what
you did you did out of ignorance. If you would like I could tell you
about my heritage and then you when you pull pranks you’ll know
what you are talking about.” Johnny had missed his friends and
had been thankful that his wife could put things into perspective for
“Johnny, we want to learn about your heritage, but we will never
pull any pranks or jokes relating to your heritage ever again.” Chet
wasn’t sure he had heard right—Johnny was forgiving them?
“That’s good. Now I would like you all to meet my wife,
Alexis Renee Selfridge Gage.” Johnny pulled Alexis into his arms.
The next few minutes was filled with questions and talk. When he realized
Alexis and Johnny, who were now patients at Rampart, were getting tired,
Kel said it was time to get them back to their rooms. It was a very happy
group that left the conference room.
Roy was pacing back and forth as Johnny sat on the couch. Chuckling
Johnny grabbed Roy’s arm as he went past. “Roy, sit down,
you are wearing a path in the carpet. I always thought it was the groom
who was supposed to be nervous—not the best man.” Johnny
was still thanking the Lord for his friends. They were throwing a big
wedding for him and Alexis.
“I just want everything to go perfect. You have had to suffer
so much and we want you to have a special day. After all, you were kidnapped
on your wedding day.”
“I know, Roy, and we appreciate it. Thanks again for everything.” Johnny
put his hand on Roy’s shoulder as the two men shared a quiet moment.
Then Chet knocked on the door and the led the two men to their places.
It was a beautiful wedding that no one would forget—for more than
one reason. The members of A-shift had done some research and had incorporated
some of the traditions from Johnny’s heritage. It added to the
ceremony and the guys had enjoyed learning about not only about Johnny’s
heritage but the true history of American Indians.
Today was Johnny’s first day back at work. Gary had been more
than willing to transfer to Station 53. Not only was it closer to his
home, but he found the same type of friendship with the paramedic there
that Johnny and Roy shared. The other members of A-Shift were waiting
for Johnny when he entered the dayroom dressed in his uniform. They were
enjoying the coffee cake, donuts and coffee when the klaxons went off.
The day was better than the five men had ever hoped for—everything
was back to normal and their family was complete once again. Between
runs, the guys asked Johnny about his childhood and family. The rhythm
they were famous for was back as well as the deep friendship they had
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