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The Face In The Mirror

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THE FACE IN THE MIRROR

by Anotherjaneway

It was nine in the morning at the Ojai College campus. Roy DeSoto was starting up yet another vo-tech course of CPR for public citizens.

Johnny Gage was setting out the resusi-mannequin onto the blue gym mat on the floor, and setting its electronic wires in place. "Huh, you must be crazy, Roy. Working doubles, then teaching the morning of your day off." he scoffed, part teasing, part complaining. "Don't tell me you've got a new addition on the house you're trying to pay for."

"Not for the house.." Roy said, shifting on his feet, and studying his polished shoes.

Gage's smile wiped into a huge grin, "Nahhhhh.." he bubbled as understanding dawned.

"Yep. Joanne found out for sure last night from her family doctor."

John dropped the dummy and rose, pumping Roy's arm like a happy uncle. "Well, I'll be. Congratulations, buddy." He leaned in, hitting Roy on the shoulder, "That's great! Three's a more rounded number."

When his partner frowned in confusion, John added, "They say families have 2.6 kids per household." His face fell ruefully, but amused, "But in my case, it's definitely a negative number."

Roy handed John a cup of coffee from the counter by a sunny window. "Don't lose hope, Johnny, You've only had what? Five crash and burn dates this spring? Not a bad average. And the summer's young yet."

"Not a bad average. Not a bad aver--?" John lifted the coffee to his lips. It never got there. "Yeah, but when will I find HER.?" he sighed. "I seem to have better luck attracting hairy furballs than women lately."

"How's Bonnie doing anyway?"

"Fine. She's quiet. Doesn't mind going to the neighbor's when I'm at work. And she's the one who's been finding me those dates to begin with." John said, polishing his fingernails on his gray terry shirt. He adjusted the navy bandana tied around his forehead up a little more, drawing his mouth up smugly.

Roy rolled his eyes, "They say, dogs attract girls like moths to the flame."

"And this flame is hot to trot.." John said, "I've landed a date for tonight."

"Oh?" Roy asked, "Who?" he said with a wide splitting yawn.

"Betty.." his partner said mysteriously. "In fact, she's going to be one of your students today. Moreno thought he saw Betty's name on your roster there." He said pointing to Roy's slate.

Roy folded his arms. "And I thought you volunteered to help me with the class today just to be magnanimous." he said levelly, sipping his cappuccino.

"I am being magnanimous." John said with conviction, stabbing Roy's yellow t-shirted front with a finger.

Roy didn't believe a single word, "Only as long as it takes to enforce that heroic rescuer image on her with this course work. I'll just bet you're going to volunteer to be her heimlich partner. You know, to get in real tight and personal with her right off."

John's face beamed into a pleased smile, "Hey, I never even thought of that angle. You know, for a very happily married man. You're pretty savvy. Thanks. partner." He watched as Roy fell into another series of face tearing yawns. "You'd better get more sleep from now on. Even your wrinkles are getting wrinkles. Start getting some more sleep or I'm going to haveta take over driving the squad."

Roy was about to launch a protest when there was the sound of a bell and the rumble of many footsteps coming towards them.

John put a finger to his lips, "Later.. Now you're on. Just try to act natural. You know. Make me look good." he said with a pleading look, sitting at one of the desks. He took up a hotdog from a pouch in his knapsack, on cue, and started munching loudly.

Roy sighed deeply and just shook his head.

He took a seat in the first of twenty empty ones ringing the demo mat and flipped his baseball cap around, looking nonchalant as he slumped there.

There was the usual nervous mix of new housewives, looking to gain the reassurance of the first aid training for their infants. Or, like this month, the latest teen aged summer lifeguards chosen from high school job programs to fill needs for L.A. County's vast ocean beach front.

He became one of many to introduce themselves to each other in casual social groups. About five minutes later, the class took in the air that the teacher wasn't in yet and filed into conversation clusters around him. Even Gage made a big show of saying hello and eating eagerly and chewing his food around his words. He milled about acting boisterous and very biker-ish.

Until he threw hands up over his throat and knocked his chair over in surprise. He started to gasp and wheeze, staggering around.

Two teens jumped up in alarm and started for the door to call for help. Another football player type teen grabbed Johnny by the shoulders and started shaking him.

A blond woman in jerseys with platinum eyes did the only thing she knew, pounding gingerly on Gage's back with a few fingers as if he were made of glass. Of course, that did nothing to help.

Going limp, John fell to the mat and utter panic ensued. The class of students milled over him ineffectually poking here and prodding there until.

Roy got up from his place watching them all and "rescued" the choking Gage with the proper techniques in a calm manner, first listening, then checking in his mouth, then following up with back blows and one set of abdominal thrusts.

Johnny promptly spat out the hotdog right into the class's shocked faces. They leaped backward out of reflex as the seemingly unconscious man made a ballistic missile out of his sausage bite.

Gage opened his eyes, grabbed Roy's hand, and rolled neatly to his feet. "Thanks, man. I needed that." and he plopped down into his own seat as if nothing had ever happened, buttoning up his shirt again.

The stunned onlooking students blinked. Then some got angry or sank into chairs with shaky adrenaline reaction.

One redhead man stood over John, "You mean you weren't really in trouble?!!" he shouted at Gage.

"Nope. He wanted to see what you all would do for me just now." Johnny said, pointing to DeSoto.

Silence filled the room.

Roy spoke up, taking off his hat. "Pretty scary, wasn't it? Kinda funny how higher reasoning goes out the window in the face of a true medical emergency.. You,." he said, pointing to the burly teen who had tried shaking Gage. "Could have injured him or even made the obstruction worse by doing that. You." he said, smiling slightly at the blond woman in the jersey, "were closer to the right track. but sometimes, it's not a good idea to just go pounding on someone's back if they're making good attempts to dislodge a foreign body. You meant well but in this case, it only made things worse and your victim went unconscious when things completely blocked off with your "tiny" tries at helping. You others, who ran for the phone, made a good decision. Sort of. Summoning help is a sound choice, but it is always second order of business in a medical crisis like this one.."

"Second order.?" said the angry teen. "But I thoug--" He broke off when Roy held up his hand and shot him a diplomatic smile.

DeSoto flipped his chair around, foregoing the desk, to be face to face with his class. "Let's start off on the other foot shall we?"

"Morning. I'm glad you came here today. I'm Roy DeSoto and this is Johnny Gage, my department partner of six years."

John nodded, all serious in greeting, once.

"We're both L.A. County Firemen/Paramedics in our day jobs, when we're not scaring the bejeesus out of CPR class attendees." Roy went on.

Light chuckles filled the room.

DeSoto went on. "Now, if you'll allow us, let us impart a little of what we know so you can have the opportunity to make a real difference for somebody when it counts the most and to be successful at it to the point of having the ability to SAVE that life free of panic. You're here today to learn much more than just what to do for a heart attack victim or a toddler choking on a grape. You're here today to assess any given emergency situation and become an effective caregiver to that victim until professional help arrives. Minutes and even seconds count, like in the urgent scene you saw Johnny enact here."

And he went on, explaining why calling for help was second in importance. He met the angry red headed man's eyes. "Your first duty to any medical emergency victim. is to assure and establish a viable airway, do whatever you can to restore and/or maintain breathing second, then to assess and/or maintain circulation of bloodflow to the brain, last of all. But what if the mouth's so badly cut, you can't get a good seal with which to perform mouth to mouth at all? Or what if someone's neck may be broken? How do

you establish an airway then without tilting that person's head back to get one? If you don't, they'll suffocate, if you do, they might be paralyzed. What do you do? There's is much more to CPR than just pushing on someone's chest and pinching their nose and blowing air into their mouths. So let us show you what to do in many medical cases that aren't so neat and tidy an incident as the ones your text manual shows you."

 

------------

 

It was two PM.

The class ran smoothly, following demos of the heimlich and other moves and a movie, outlining oxygen debt and the six minute chart.

Johnny learned that the shy blond woman was Betty, the one he had known was coming. They seemed to hit it right off in Roy's mind. She worked through her timidness about breathing into a dummy only after Gage demo'd it for her.

He caught Johnny over lunch break and held up a compressions tape sheet from Betty's mannequin sequence. "Hey, Johnny, she's a strong one. Just look at this graph! She's in the green on those CPR compressions. Perfect."

Gage smacked Roy on the shoulder, "I know, she nearly busted my ribs even pretending the heimlich. I think I'm in love."

Roy sighed, "Just don't go fainting dead away in class just to get her to breathe for you or anything. Our intro demo part is over. You two are disruptive enough as it is so far." he said smiling. "And we've still the test outs to do on them all."

"Oh, puhleassee. I'm not that dumb. I want her to kiss me for my natural charms, not some foolhardy stunt like that."

"Hmmm. I wouldn't put it past you." Roy laughed.

Johnny was oblivious, "She has great reactions. I mean, when I pretended a blackout with a full obstruction while standing, she had her hands right there underneath my head so I wouldn't bang it going down. Now that's sweet thinking on your feet if you ask me."

"If you say so. If I were her. I'd have dumped you like a sack of potatos and let your fall knock out the obstruction." Roy quipped.

"Oh. Ha. ha.." Gage said dryly. "You're just bent out of shape because I'm using my "uniform" to win a girl. I'm not using my uniform, how can I be? I'm in a tank top, I'm..just teaching her class that's all.."

Roy was skeptical, "Uh huh." But he said nothing more, grinning behind his newspaper. "Gage, the choking Romeo. Now there's one for the history books." he mumbled.

 

-------------------------------------

It was the next day at the station and Roy was still yawning. Johnny rolled in whistling Dixie, and popped his locker open with a fancy butt flourish.

Roy didn't even look up, pausing with his arms still stuck in his T-shirt sleeves he had cocooned over his head as he sat on the changing bench. He appeared to be snoring.

Gage turned and tapped Roy's covered head. "Hey. You alive in there?"

Snnorrreee..

"Come on.." and John pulled down Roy's T shirt the rest of the way. "Man. you need a pot of coffee if you're going to get anywhere today. Didn't you sleep in the last few days like I told you to?"

"A little. Had an unexpected amniocentesis bill slip up on us yesterday. Had to take on another class to pay for it."

"Amniocen--" John guessed, "Oh. Is everything ok.?"

Roy looked up at him blearily. "Huh? Oh. yeah. It's standard to run one of those at this stage of the game. Especially with this being Joanne's third ba--- YAWWNN---by." Another ear splitting yawn jumbled his last words.

John threw Roy's uniform shirt at him, who was too tired to catch it. It bounced off his face. "Wake up. or I'm going to have give you some O2 to revive ya. Time for breakfast." and he headed into the kitchen, leaving his sleepy partner behind. "I have a feeling it's going to be a busy shift for us. It's a full moon tonight." Gage groaned.

"Don't remind me." came Roy's voice from the locker room, floating across the station's truck bay.

 

-------------------

Sounds of fork scrapes and bowl slurps filled the kitchen along with the aroma of at least three kinds of morning repasts.

At one seat, the happy eating got a little loud and not so harmonious. Wood chair legs squealed like nails on a chalk board as one particular man pushed backward from the table.

*Spit* A large glob of Juevos Rancheros festooned Captain Stanley's paper napkin as he doubled over and relieved his burning lips of a totally unexpected attack on his tongue and throat. ". whoa..*cough*!." Cap's long arms shot out and grabbed a metal jug of water and drained half of it in desperate swallows from the jug itself.

 

 

All eyes at the table shot up from newspapers and magazines in surprise.

Johnny looked up from dishing hashbrowns onto his platter. "Cap? You ok? " he said half rising in concern.

Hank held up hands to show everything was cool and waited for his voice to come back. Then he set down the metal water pitcher with a hollow liquidy clang. "Marco, what are you trying to do?" he shouted in his best offended tenor voice. "Are you trying to kill me?"

He pushed away his Mexican eggs and eyed them distrustfully, "I know. This is some kind of revenge because I made you drag and hang all the engine's hose in the tower before you left last night." Captain Stanley said regaining his chair.

Marco shook his head vehemently. "Oh, no no no. Cap." with eyes widening.

Cap went on. "I SAID, Try one of your sweet little old mother's breakfast recipes for a change of pace but I didn't mean creating a four alarm fire! Man,,, whooo wee.." he coughed.

Gage sat down again, chuckling in relief that he hadn't requested eggs like Captain Stanley had done. Marco's turn at breakfast detail was always a sort of culinary roulette when he got into one of his creative cooking moods.

Marco, "Don't look at me like that, Cap. Your exact quote, to clarify things, was.. 'How about breaking our scrambled eggs and bacon tradition and whipping up one of your mother's recipes for a new change of pace?' You didn't say what KIND of recipe, nor any limitations on any spices."

Hank mulled over that, looking a lot like the "Honest Abe" he was, "Hmm. Guess I did say that, Marco." And he reached over and stole Gage's lone bagel.

"Hey!" John protested, out ranked. But Gage quickly and craftily snatched another solo bagel from Chet Kelly's plate while the curly haired fireman laughed uproariously over something in his funnies section.

Kelly reached down, without looking, for his bagel ..and didn't find it. He whipped his paper away and complained to the chipmunk cheeked paramedic next to him. "Gage!!"

Johnny shrugged "Snooze? You lose." he said, chewing loudly. Soon, Chet found and walked fingers to Stoker's plate and procured the last onion bagel there.

SLAP!

"OWW!" Chet howled, dropping his booty and yanking his guilty fingers into his mouth. He sucked on them.

Mike deftly refolded his scolding magazine into his lap and took a bite of bacon. "Never raid unless you can get away with it. Chet, you're getting sloppy. Must be because Gage finally one upped the Phantom, eh?"

Chet rolled his eyebrows, frowning. "No way man. Has hell frozen over? The Phantom's sharp as ever."

His next raid on Marco's pancake was thwarted with a viscious fork parry from Lopez, "Ah ah ah." the Mexican warned.

Mike laughed, thoroughly enjoying his rescued bagel. "Really? How do you figure?"

Cap snickered over his milk.

Then Johnny eyed the tardy DeSoto shuffling into the kitchen. He pantomimed to the guys to keep quiet about his next action, putting a finger to his lips. Then he made a big show pulling out a chair for his partner, "Hey Roy. Here's some nice hhhottt coffee. " he grinned hugely.

DeSoto missed all the warning signs. Roy rubbed dry eyes and lifted the mug handed to him while he plopped down into his seat next to Chet. "Thanks but I don't think it's going to help any. Not unless you've got an IV that's pure caffeine somewhere around here."

Gage clicked his tongue. "Fresh out." John said, picking up Cap's abandoned plate of steaming Mexican eggs. "Ooo, Roy. Doesn't that smell good? Dig in, pal."

And he deposited his offering in front of DeSoto, sliding several napkins towards him, too. He shoved the water pitcher to a far corner of the table, well out of comfortable reach.

All eyes watched with amused horror as a sleepy Roy cut a large biteful of the eggs and inserted them into his mouth.

Gage thought. '3..2..1.'

But Roy kept chewing, slowly. his eyes more shut then open.

Chet couldn't resist. "Hey Roy?"

"Huh?"

"How's breakfast?"

"Oh.." Roy said, looking down at his salsa covered hen's eggs. "Fine. I guess."

Gage looked at Roy incredulously. "Roy. Aren't they kinda hot to you?.." he said, aiming a butter knife at Roy's platter, with one cheek still big with bagel.

"Uh..." DeSoto considered. Then he mumbled "..no?" he ventured.

"Holy cow. That's crazy. You're taster's wwwaaayyy off.. Cap here couldn't even BREATHE around em." Gage whipped out his penlight and reached out making a big show looking at Roy's pupils. "You're not even an Apgar Three on the scale man. Are you slipping into a coma or something?"

Roy slapped Johnny's hand away laughing. "I'm not feeling any pain eh? Well, at least these eggs won't go to waste. Marco..my compliments on your mother's recipe." he replied, forking himself another hot sauce smothered egg yolk.

"Gracias mi amigo. At least I know who to cook for now." he glared at Cap.

Cap looked up from his very mild toast and butter. "Sorry Lopez. I'm from a French neighborhood. Tame palette I guess." he said apologetically.

Roy went on.. "Maybe this numb brain thing will get me through today with the minimum shift's torture."

Gage scoffed, "I highly doubt that." pocketing his penlight.

Cap eyed Roy critically. "One of the kids keeping you up, DeSoto.?"

John spoke up as he watched Roy drain yet another mug of java. "Yeah,, the unborn one. Joanne had a ped bill Roy had to work off. He took on another CPR class after the one I helped him on." he said.

Cap winced. "Ooo, tiring way to earn a few bucks. Nothing like four hours of CPR demos to wear out a guy."

Roy shook his stiff arms. "I would've been spared if my buddy over here bailed me out again and helped me to teach it."

"One time's enough."

"Yeah?" Roy quipped, "That's only because you got yourself that date from that one student, eh? Betty I think her name was." he chewed a few times before asking, "How did it go?"

Gage didn't make eye contact as he swiped his plate clean with a slice of bread. "I was at Eight's pulling extra duty, or I'd been there pal." he said, avoiding the question.

Roy just grunted, angling his jaw with an amused smile. "She dumped ya, didn't she.?"

The gang erupted in giggles again. Chet voiced a score count. "That makes it.. what? Six strung and hungs this year, Johnny? What a tragic track record. A real bummer."

Gage said, with unconvincing icyness, "Cut it out. Kelly. Leave your prying OUT of my love life."

"What love l-?" Kelly started to say before Cap pointed his all mighty index finger at him to cease at once. Chet amended what he was going to say. "..uh, lingers, except for later, right? For the next time around? " he smiled wanely, covering his arse and making an escape back into his paper.

Cap ended his challenging glare and continued chewing. He shoved two pots of coffee in front of DeSoto. "Hey John,. throw these in your pocket, eh.? Feel free to use them on him any time you need to, pal." He said topping off Roy's mug yet again.

A pack of smelling salts plunked into Gage's hands as he reflexively caught what Cap sailed his way. He laughed, brandishing them, before pocketing them into his shirt.

Roy said sarcastically, "Oh ha ha."

-------

An alarm sounded, a long one, through every category of callout mode tones. "Station 51, Station 8, Truck 137, Battalion 14. Multiple pileup on Hwy 101. Two miles east of Roy Rogers State Park. Two miles east of Roy Rogers State Park. Meteorological weather station reports heavy fog in the vicinity. Time out. 07:59."

Gage turned to Roy,.. "Full moon's true to form yet again." and he pushed out of his chair.

The gang made their vehicles and slipped into helmets, overcoats and seat belts.

"Station 51, Responding. KMG 365." Cap said, writing down the 10-20 on a pad and handing off carbons to both Stoker and Gage.

They rolled out.

==========================

Ten minutes later Cap thumb motioned for Stoker to slow down the engine travelling in front of the squad. He squinted through the thick musty smelling mist, boiling before him and ordered. "Lopez, get out on the footrail and see if you can see anything, okay pal?"

"Right, cap." Marco stepped out of the rear cab and hung onto a spot mirror.

Cap waved Mike to drive forward carefully. Then he thumbed his radio. "Engine 51 to Truck 137. We're two miles south of mile marker 2 next to the south end of the park. We can't see anything. Give a directional blast on your airhorn, will ya?"

"Will do. We are at the first MVA to the north. No victims as yet. We have evacuated the area and are beginning a washdown."

"10-4. Appreciate that." Cap replied.

All in the cab, strained to listen. So did Gage and DeSoto in their truck.

A horn bellowed from fairly close away.

"That sounds like only a fifth of a mile." He thumbed the mike, "Gage, DeSoto, we're there."

"10-4, Cap." Roy said.

The paramedics and firemen bailed their vehicles.

Cap shouted to his men, "Fan out. Start searching. There's no cliffs to speak of here. We're level with the ocean on this stretch of the freeway."

That much was true. All the gang could smell the tang of sea salt and could hear distant waves echoing to them under the blanket of heavy fog.

Cap chose to relegate scene triage to Battalion 14, which pulled up right behind Squad 51. Hookraider took over the task, understanding Stanley's decision was a sound one. Men were needed to search cars. Even those with captain's rank. "Battalion 14 to Station Eight. Station 51's got the south end. Position your men in the northbound lane, to mile marker three. Number of effected MVA's, unknown at this time."

Gage and Roy moved out, walking fast with meager torches and their gear. Chet followed them with stokes and O2, shouting. "Can anybody hear me? Fire Department!"

Gage and Roy nearly fell over the first mangled car, gray, like the smothering fogbank around it.

Johnny saw a second red pickup on its side a short distance ahead through the murk. "Chet! Marco! Check out that truck!"

Roy tried the passenger door of the car they had found but it was jammed.

"I got it. Go check over there." John told Roy. John poked his head inside and saw clothes. Two sets. "Cap! Get a K-12 over here! I've got victims!"

Gage finished a brief check for gas, then wormed into the narrow window up to his waist. Glass crinkled under his gloves as he found the driver. Gasping loudly, he slid himself closer in the tight space next to the first victim.

The smell of blood was strong and something else that was very bad.

He felt for a carotid he knew wasn't there. A definite sign of fully dialated pupils made John's heart sink.

What he saw in the back seat was even more tragic.

Roy leaned in the window looking in on Gage, "That truck's clear. Everybody got out without injury." he said, thick with concentration. "How are they?" He couldn't quite, see inside.

John curtly shook his head, vacating the crushed car. He waved Marco and Cap with the K-12 away to the next vehicle. "She's been disemboweled. Gone for too long. The toddler's DOA, too."

Roy glanced back at the impossibly flat roof collapsed over the babyseat and saw two sneakers poking out. The only thing he recognized. "Johnny." he gasped, clutching Gage's jacket as the shock of another child's death sank in.

John understood it was ten times harder for Roy to see that kind of fatality, having kids of his own.

He covered the mother and child up with a blanket quickly, hiding the sight. "Roy. Just move out. There's gotta be more victims around here. Only a semi could do damage like this." he said of the gray Honda.

Roy got on his walkie talkie, and mechanically, John marked the car with fluorescent orange search paint. Putting an X on roof and door. Swallowing, he put the symbols for two bodies next to it.

"Cap, we've got two DOA's in the first car. Second truck's clear but I'm smelling gas." Roy reported.

Cap ran up waving on several stations' men with 51's K-12 to take over the head of the searching. "I'm on it. Marco! Run two inch and a halfs to cover any gas spills, Stoker, you're with him. "

Then a chief from Station Eight pummeled toward them. In the gray gloom, his white helmet almost appeared to be glowing. "We've found all of them. Seven cars, one semi. Besides these two, here. One of my men's found a Winnebago upside down along the guardrail. There's two little girls inside. Their parents are fine."

"We're on it." Roy said. "Cap have the guys bring our gear.!" He put back on his helmet and grabbed biophone and oxygen and followed the Station Eight chief to the site.

"I'll get it myself." Cap answered. He ran back to the Honda to collect the stokes and IV box. John followed to get the defib and drug box.

Soon, John, the station eight man, Cap and Roy followed an eerie trail of hissing cherry flares that acted as a beaconing line along the way. "Good thinking." Gage said to the chief. "This is a faster way of getting around in this stuff.." meaning the heavy fog that was around them.

-----------

Roy was the first one to arrive at the rolled camper. He was met by a dazed father who only had superficial contusions on temple and cheek. The man grabbed onto DeSoto's arm and begged him to let him inside the RV. Roy physically peeled his fingers off, deciding the man to be a low priority case. "It's all right, You're all right. They're still alive. I'm going in to check them out right now. Just sit on the curb here and take it easy! My partner will take a look at ya in a second." He handed him off to Cap and crawled into the window the chief indicated.

Station Eight had already cracked it open and laid overcoats over the glass.

-----------

John knelt by the wife, who was sitting supported by Vince on the roadside. He glanced at the man Cap brought over, knowing him to be the one a bit better off of the two.

John asked the burly motorcop, "Any of em injured?"

Vince said, "He seems ok. But the wife almost went out on me twice, though." Gage took her face into one glove and checked her over visually. There wasn't a mark on her. He took her wrist into his hand, feeling her radial pulse. It was rapid, but strong. She seemed just out of a faint, leaning heavily on the officer.

"My name's Johnny Gage, I'm a paramedic with the Los Angeles County fire department. Are you feeling any pain anywhere?"

The wife stayed dazed, staring at the Winnebago.

John pulled an aromatic ampoule from his shirt. He snapped it and waved it under her nose. "Hey. can you hear me.?"

The slender woman gave a shudder and whipped her face away from the fumes of the capsule, coughing. She peered around blearily, then focused again on what she was looking at. Emotion flooded back in a wave, "My babies.! I have to get to my girls. They're still in there! I- I've got to help them. The dresser pinned them inside." And she struggled in Vince's protective grip without thinking.

Johnny held her by the shoulders firmly. Her struggles jostled his helmet and it fell off.

"Take it easy now! My partner's working on that. Now let's just make sure you're all right before you move around so much, ok?" Gage said.

The clatter of John's helmet on the concrete made Cap, by the chief, shout for his man he couldn't see. "You ok over there?"

John answered. "Yeah.!"

The woman nodded, finally fully awake. She calmed down as John softly spoke to her. He told Vince, "Keep her upright. That's how you found her, right?"

Vince nodded, "Yeah. and the sergeant said she was walking around earlier before I got here."

Gage strung cannulas of O2 set at six liters for both husband and wife and began to get a set of vitals for Rampart. As he worked, he glanced over to the Winnebago, wondering what Roy had.

-----------------

Roy found a jumble of furniture in his way. Gasping, shoved his way through and

found the children. He waved the station eight man monitoring them away. The man retreated back out of the camper.

A tangle of wall and sheet metal had wrapped the two girls up like pretzels. One child's head wasn't visible and three arms in pink stuck out from where they were. It was hard to tell which limb belonged to which child inside a hole in the debris for both were wearing the same kind of clothes, pink jumpers.

Reaching into the gap, Roy felt up the body of the child whose head was hidden, to her face, feeling for breathing. His bare hand encountered wetness around her neck that was sticky, but cool. 'This one's not bleeding that bad,' he thought. And he was satisfied with her rate of taking in air. He made sure she stayed breathing well by slipping in a child sized airway. Roy began to search for the reason why the little girl was unconscious.

Shifting around, he grabbed one of the arms he thought belonged to the hidden child.

There was a strong pulse in the brachial artery that attested to a fair blood pressure , giving Roy more reassurance that she was stable and not critically injured. He shifted each girl slowly apart from the other, without jarring neck or spine. Trying to find how they lay. They're so tangled up here. His effort failed. The twisting metal made him give up the attempt. He got on his walkie talkie, "Cap! These two girls are pinned in real good. We're gonna have to cut them out! I can't get good access to either one."

'We're on it, Roy. Hang tight. We're coming now.'

DeSoto finished his quick assessment on his patient. He found no more blood stains on the girl. But it was bothering him that he couldn't reach all of her to know for sure, her true physical condition.

Roy moved to the conscious child, who was watching him with frightened silent eyes. DeSoto flickered fingers quickly at her eyes to see which startled fingers moved in the debris so he could identify the position of at least one set of hands.

"Hi. How are you doing? My name's Roy. Pretty scary in here, huh? "

She nodded, which told him her neck wasn't hurt.

DeSoto leaned back, setting his handytalkie behind him while he pulled some closet partition out of his way. He cursed again in his mind how flimsy Winnebago materials were in the trailer.

"Don't go!" the girl cried. She reached out and grabbed Roy's jacket.

"I'm not going to leave you alone. I'm here to care for you and your sister right now." And he smiled at his small charge.

"Roy?"

"Yeah.!"

It was Cap, making his way towards where the girls were trapped. "I got the gear."

"Hand over the IV box first. We're gonna have to get lines into both of them before we extricate either one."

Cap got to Roy's side just as he spoke again to the frightened sister who began to struggle when the splintered dresser boards above her began to creak. "It's ok, honey. Just relax. Someone's coming, that's all. Mom and dad's just outside. This is my friend, Captain Stanley. He's a fireman like me. We're going to help get you and your sister out of here. "

She said boldly. "He's not Captain Stanley. He's really Abraham Lincoln. I learned about him in school." she claimed, voice hitching with nervousness.

Roy and Cap exchanged ironic looks. Hank mumbled, "Guess I do sort of look like the man." he said, scratching his head.

They spent a minute or two, leaning over their young patients while they freed what they could off the two children. But it was soon apparent Roy was right. The jaws were needed to do any more.

The air in the tiny space slowly grew hot and stuffy and made DeSoto feel every second in a torrid grogginess, but soon, he bent over the unconscious sister to get a BP on an arm he had freed. He guessed it was hers because of blood spatters on the sleeve.

Cap touched another tiny arm at random. "Is this one yours?" he asked the tiny girl. He sing songed, moving fingers on that limb testing for neural response. "This little piggy

went to market. This little piggy stayed home." he sang.

The little girl giggled. "No, that's my sister's." Cap kneeled near her face to get closer and to get more comfortable in the small space.

"Ahh!" she screamed.

Hank instantly froze. And lifted a loose board from where he had been kneeling. A left leg was curled un-naturally under her chin.

There was no doubt whose limb this was.

"Roy."

DeSoto took his stethoscope out of his ears and saw where Cap was pointing. "Is there a pulse in it?"

Hank removed a sandal and checked. "Can't tell. Hell, all of her's cold right now."

Roy said, "Hand me a hair traction splint. "First thing, we're going to straighten that

limb out."

"With this metal in here like that?" He said of a wound in the thigh. A three inch long stake of side chrome stripping was embedded there.

"We have to. There can't be any bloodflow in the leg with it being that dislocated. I'll think of something and work around that shard." He thought for a few seconds. "I know. Immobilize it. Keep that piece from moving around. Use bulky dressings or, some of that wall insulation. Anything you can use."

"Right." After he was through, Cap slid drug box, IV box and defib next to DeSoto. "What can I do here now?"

Roy finished cutting away the pink shirt on the buried sister. "Get our awake little princess here on the monitor. We can always use the paddles to check her sister's EKG. It's the best way we have to keep tabs on her vitals with her being buried like this."

Cap nodded, and got out leads for his patient. Then he handed Roy the defib paddles, stretching their coiled cords across to him.

Roy threaded the paddles through his tiny access hole and set them on bare skin, an arm and a waist; the only places he could reach well. It was enough contact; Cap and he got a wavering strip off the stilled girl.

"Bradycardia. deep. Probably from that neck bleeding. If a jugular's so much as bruised you get a reading like this." he told Cap.

He got a second set of vitals on her and a set on the frightened sister while Cap initialized two tie ins on the EKG monitor using the pads and leads he set in place on the second child he was near.

"What's that?" she said as two sets of beeping audios filled the air.

Cap stroked the girl's cheek. "That is a heart TV. It shows us you got one around in there somewhere." He peered, tapping on her chest gently.

She smiled, "And the other squiggly line is Cassie's TV?"

"Yep. That's right."

"Cassie is your sister's name?" Roy asked as he positioned a hair splint by the leg Cap and he were about to move. It had completely slipped his mind to find out the girl's names and to use them.

"Uh huh." she nodded. "And I'm Robin."

"Nice to meet two such pretty young ladies. Do you and your sister always wear the same outfits?" DeSoto asked, while he blindly checked Cassie's neck more closely for any lacerations he might have missed.

"Not always. But today is Cassie's birthday. And we wanted to fool Grandma into getting our names wrong again."

Cap said. "It's your sister's birthday? Well, we're going to have to do something about that now aren't we, Roy?"

 

Roy looked up from his concentration, and flipped on an instant, but tight, smile. "Yeah."

"Really?" Robin asked.

Another shaking of the debris around them announced another fireman picking his way into the camper. Stoker came near and passed off an O2 apparatus to Roy, "This is eight's. Johnny's using ours."

"Thanks." DeSoto got out the unit's demand valve mask and started hyperventilating Cassie to get her heart rate to speed up.

Cap gave Robin a nasal cannula on a second O2 line after showing her how it worked on himself. He adjusted it around her face.

Captain Stanley heard the sound of a K-12 begin to cut through the Winnebago's outer wall. A blade protruded noisily, making Robin startle, but the saw retreated the second it got through the wall.

Roy's talkie buzzed, ##Cap? It's Kelly. We've gotten most of the way through. Get those girls under cover.##

"10-4, pal." Cap touched Robin's arm lightly. "Let's see. something special for a very special birthday. Hmmmm. I know. Do you think Cassie would like to wear a fireman's helmet? We've got one for both you and her."

"wow." Robin nodded.

Cap and Roy flipped up their own overcoat collars to shield themselves from the rain of saw embers to come. Cap gave his helmet to Robin and Roy used his to make a roof over Cassie's face between two beams.

Roy nodded to Cap that he was ready for both the splinting and the saw.

Hank warned the little girl what they were going to do. "You let me know the moment you feel anything like an owie when we move your leg ok? And we'll stop." Cap told her.

Robin squeezed Cap's hand as her fright mounted. She began to cry. "No. I don't

want t- to. I want mommy."

Her EKG sped up rapidly.

He leaned over Robin and smiled, "Hey, I know that. Roy knows that, too. But we have to bundle you up first all safe and sound before we get you out of here. Ok? Now those men out there are going to cut us a door. It's going to get a little loud. Think you can handle that?"

But Robin was beginning to drift and didn't answer. Hank turned up the flow on her O2.

Cap gave the go ahead on the handy talkie "Go ahead Kelly. On the double!"

The sawing resumed, and showering orange sparks began to fall from above them that lit up the camper.

Roy was in his own private world. His mind was racing with priorities and he was fighting his own fatigue. Wisps of oxygen from the girls' masks would give him seconds of clarity but they didn't last. Why didn't I sleep a little longer last night. One more hour would've done it. Now. Concentrate. You aren't going to be able to contact Rampart until you're out of this confined space.. he told himself. Focus.

Maintain Cassie's positive pressure ventilations for a minute longer. Then get that circulation back into Robin's fractured leg.

 

Roy gave Cassie a few more assisted forced air shots then left the demand valve on passive, so that it fed a healthy stream of oxygen to her when she breathed in, automatically.

He turned to Cap and together they drew Robin's hideously broken leg out from under her face and down her body as easily as they could.

Robin screamed at one point and passed out. Her EKG sank into shocky sinus rhythm. A minute later, the task was done. The metal shard in Robin's leg under the Cap's dressings began to pulsate with each heartbeat on Robin's monitor.

Roy smiled, "Ok, that's it. We did it, I think."

Cap checked his end of the splint, fastening off the tension straps holding Robin's leg straight. "We did. Foot's warming. "

DeSoto's smile faded, "Where's the break at in that leg." he asked Cap.

Hank cut away the girl's pink slacks around the straps. "Looks like there's an exit wound in the middle upper thigh. Femur. And another one lower down by her ankle. There's a

deformity there, still."

Roy nodded, head back in Cassie's niche as he resumed her forced O2, "So far so good. That sounds like it was an open fracture, which we reduced. That ankle I'm not so much worried about. Is her thigh any bigger than the other one?"

"No."

"That's good. At least she's not bleeding out inside that leg. Last thing we need is an arterial bleed. We can't exactly get a pair of mast trousers in here, now can we?"

Cap caught the note of exasperation in his paramedic, "Easy Roy. We've done what we can here. Now Kelly and the whole gang should get us out inside five minutes." He eyed the rain of sparks and their location. "He's 3/4's the way around making us that door right now."

---------------------------------------------

Outside Chet was sweating with effort behind his face plate. Marco was anchoring his shoulders while he cut into the Winnebago's side.

But then the rasping buzz of the K-12 soured somehow with a sound of something very much like static..

Marco smelled ozone.

"Chet! There's a live power line nearby!"

Chet turned but didn't stop cutting. "One more second and I'll be through."

"Chet!!"

A hanging wire from a broken, leaning telephone pole that no one could see in the fog, swayed in the rising wind of coming daylight.

A thick cable sparkled with blue fire, ionizing the air before connecting with the wall of the Winnebago.

Current passed through Chet's sweaty gloves like water and into Marco.

Both men were thrown backwards by the shock and fell onto the road.

From where he was, Johnny Gage heard a crackling and looked up, horrified, as a massive blue arch illuminated the contorting forms of Lopez and Kelly. "Chet!! Marco!!"

He ran as close as he dared to where he thought they went down. He couldn't see them through the fog. And he didn't dare move any closer. Ozone nearly choked him.

He thumbed his talkie, "LA, this is Squad 51. Cut all power to the Southbound Highway system, now!!"

-------------------------

In the RV, the sound of sawing stopped. Cap looked up at the cutting outline and saw the job wasn't yet complete. It had gone quiet out there.

Roy met his puzzled gaze. "Must've hit a beam or something." He was about to ask what was happening on the talkie when the EKG on both girls soured suddenly in a downward wave.

"What th--?" It almost looked like resolving defib on the monitor. His bare hand brushed the metal floor. It tingled and he suddenly felt short of breath. He jerked his hand away with an effort of will. "Cap! The RV's being electrocuted! Get on your shoes' soles"

A sickening wash of ozone flooded the tight space Cap Roy and the girls were in. They could now hear the crackling power striking the RV. They could see lightning blue through the cracks of the sawed wall.

Cap gasped, "What about the girls?"

Roy began grabbing the strewn dresser clothing around them. "Stuff insulation under them! If we get a direct hit from that wire. It'll kill them. They're touching this wall directly." He frantically put on his gloves again, avoiding the twisted metal around him and shoved sweaters, pj's and towels under his patient. Cap did the same for Robin. But before they could finish, a bright flare of fire buzzed and the bucking powerline wire wedged in the crack the K-12 had made at the top of the wall.

The girls caught the whole backwash of electricity for a brief second before they were insulated from the floor by Cap and Roy.

The EKG rhythms plunged again, more deeply, but they didn't flatline.

Roy ducked involuntarily and so did Cap at the angry energy snapping so near their heads. It was a near thing.

Then under DeSoto's hands, Cassie's chest failed to rise. "Cap! Check Robin. Her sister's just arrested."

He redoubled his ventilation efforts again, using the demand valve on Cassie, watching her EKG monitor intently. But there were no further downward spikes at all.

Their desperate mats of laundry had worked.

Captain Stanley caught something of Roy's sudden urgency over the hideous noise from the powerline. He reassessed Robin, and she too, was apneic. "Roy, she's going down. No breathing."

DeSoto handed Cap another pediatric oral airway and told him how to insert it. But there was a problem. Only one demand valve was available.

Hank improvised, starting to breathe for her, wearing the cannula in his own nose, using his own lungpower and the flow of O2 through him to keep oxygen in her body.

But there was a blessing even in the fetid darkness. The two EKG's on the defib monitors still sounded off, like music to his ears.

Roy didn't admit it, but part of the tingle he got touching the metal floor underneath him had jarred him physically. His eyes blurred as he worked over Cassie. Shake it off. Shake it off. It's just a headache.

He knew the girls needed IV meds. And they needed them right now.

Cap got on his walkie talkie, crouched around Robin's head.

In between delivering breaths to Robin, he spoke, shouting. 'LA, this is Engine 51. Emergency!'

"Go ahead 51."

'We're......pinned down surrounded by live power lines. Cut power to the area immediately. Multiple victims.......are involved.'

"The power company has been notified. Two minutes to shut down." dispatch replied.

Cap gave Robin another breath and looked up. "How are we going to get med authorization? You've got your hands full with that demand valve!"

Roy backed out of Cassie's niche. "Relay. Then get Gage in here!"

But before he could get back on his handytalkie he heard a frantic Gage contact him. 'I heard ya on the horn! Hang tight. Chet and Marco are down! **a large crackling of power** Dammit!! I still can't get to you or them! You're going to have to make due without me!'

There was thudding sound as John threw away the talkie in another attempt to circle around to get to his fallen coworkers.

Roy heard only static follow on his radio.

Cap and Roy were left alone, underseiged by the powerline in the camper, but they kept working to maintain the girls.

Outside, Gage spotted another EMS crew appearing from the fog a few yards from the camper. He made sure he was heard and seen by picking up and throwing one of the road flares in their direction. He pointed at the camper when the men turned to face him.

"Get my partner! He's in there! Live power line!!"

Then he jumped the guard rail, moving up onto a hilly bank just visible to him in the mist. It was on a level with the top of the rolled Winnebago.

John leaped on top of it, mindful of his fog damped shoes, quickly dancing until he got his overcoat under his feet insulating him from the deadly electricity surging under him.

Stoker, who had come running at Cap's frantic radio call, handed him a shepard's crook. "Use it on them! Not the cable! Or the polymer will melt on you!"

Gage nodded, leaning on his stomach, over the edge of the camper's caved in roof. Mike tossed him a rope, which he looped around the end of the crook. He extended the pole, and snagged Chet's hand, the only thing sticking in the air against a piece of debris.

He jerked the line, tightening the noose and flung the line back at Mike on the ground. Station eight's men dragged Chet out of the hose watered danger zone to safety.

Gage glanced over only long enough to see them roll him over onto his back before catching a new rope from Vince. His toss at Marco's foot, missed. His next toss caught him across the face, awakening him with its rough sting.

"Ughhh!"

"Marco, Listen to me! Grab the rope!" Marco contorted with each shock from the wire but he still had wits enough to hook an elbow around Gage's looped line.

Johnny leaped back onto the grassy rise and hauled Lopez towards him away from the watery pavement. He got Marco to his feet and they got out of there. "I got ya. I got ya."

Lopez locked into an involuntary spasm just as Gage and others got him back over the guard rail. He dropped in their arms and was quickly lowered to the ground and held carefully so his head didn't abrade on the concrete while he shook. "Ah. it hurts so bad!" His breath was squeezed out of his body by a great steel band of his own muscles. *choke*... The world retreated for long seconds before the convulsion left him as quickly as it came. His vision came back. Marco saw a ring of faces over his. And one he recognized. ".ugh. Johnny.?.*gasp* H-How's Chet.?"

John looked over across the road from where he was crouched over Marco. He could vaguely make out the outline of a Pasadena FD back bobbing up and down. "They're working on him."

"uh no.." Lopez said, slinging an arm over his face.

"They got to him fast enough now just worry about yourself for once, all right?" John said sharply. " Mike. Get the stokes!" Gage shouted. "I want him near me and the gear boxes!"

John tried some levity as he undid Marco's overcoat and cut through his shirt with clothes shears from his hip holster when he saw that its buttons had fused together. "If your breakfast wasn't hot enough this morning. It sure is now. Your hair's curlier than Kelly's."

Lopez groaned. Gage wasn't all sure that it was laughter. He kept a hand on Marco's chest. "Can you breathe, ok? That was some jolt you took there."

"*cough* y- yeah." Marco tried to straighten out his body. But then an even stronger muscle spasm curled him up into an agonizing ball. "Ahhhh!! Gage. Make it stop!!.. It's killing me.." he sobbed.

"Easy, Marco. There's meds I can give ya to do just that But you're going to have to wait. You've been one upped by Chet here. Stone!" he shouted to a Pasadena man he recognized, "Get him on some O2 will ya.?" He said, pointing at Marco. "Put him on fifteen liters, non rebreather. Bring a bite stick. His convulsions won't resolve." Johnny turned Marco onto his side before the next spasm could make him ill. "The O2 will deal with some of your nausea ok?"

Marco lost focus and stopped writhing as the spasm quit shaking him like a dog with a rag. He drifted.

"Hey." John looked down at Lopez's pale face. He was now half out, but still moving air. "See you in a few minutes." He lingered only long enough to see the new EMS team insert a bitestick and start up his order of O2. "Marco. Hang tough. I'll be right back!" Johnny shouted as he stood up.

Gage took off at a run to get to Kelly's side.

Stoker, Vince, Station Eight's chief and Vince's partner, Garner got Marco into the stokes and brought him across the road to where Chet lay on the ground. Station eight's men were performing CPR on Kelly and using their own resusitator to give ventilations.

John thunked down onto his knees and checked out Chet's pupils with his penlight around the demand valve mask without getting in that fireman's way. "They're reactive."

He knew things weren't going to be easy. Roy had the squad's defibrillator. "Damn. If only we had another defib box." he mumbled.

Then Vince spoke up. "There's one in the lifeguard tower station on the beach. "Vince peered about. "We're at mile marker two, aren't we?"

The Chief nodded. "Where exactly is that station?"

Vince thought hard. "It's about twenty five meters off the park entrance at the south end. It's a base station. There should be guards there now."

"Well what are you waiting for?!" Gage said, listening to how the oxygen from the positive pressure mask was perfusing in Kelly's lungs with his stethoscope around the CPR man.

The Chief ordered, "Get a move on..!" he pointed to two men.

"Yes sir.!" Two firemen ran towards the direction of the ocean's waves. They disappeared into the fog.

Gage shouted suddenly, "Hold it. hold it.!" gesturing to the ventilator. "Chet's distending too much. I'm not getting any good volume in his lungs at all now. On the count of three, we'll roll him."

At the end of a set of chest compressions, Kelly was turned on his side, with his head tilted back. John pressed Chet's hugely air swollen stomach carefully, and the lung constricting air expelled back out of his mouth. When he finished, John swept inside Chet's mouth with a finger. It came away clear. "All right. back over. Back over. He didn't get sick."

CPR continued. Gage nodded at the return of vents inside Kelly's chest. He pulled off his stethoscope, and sighed.

John saw the powerline still arching in the Winnebago wall. He saw Truck 137's crew circling it, still separated from Roy and Cap. They were stymied. "Damn it. I wonder why the power company's taking so long."

He saw one of Eight's men plunk the squad's biophone right in front of him and another unit's drug, trauma and IV boxes. "Where did you get that?! " he said incredulously happy.

One of the men answered. "Station Eight's. But they've gone with the defib, They had a touchy OB in labor to the hospital. Stone said you might be needing this."

"Good enough."

He picked up the receiver and hailed Rampart.

"Rampart this is squad 51. How do you read?"

As if on cue, the power was cut to the writhing wire above them and its burning end went black. It settled to the ground.

A new saw advanced on the camper immediately.

John nodded with satisfaction, thumbing his walkie talkie. "Roy, they're coming in!!"

-----------------------

The base station next to the front desk was empty, until the red light began to flash.

Dixie McCall looked up from her slate at the sound of the incoming transmission's double buzz. She flagged down Joe Early coming out of treatment three. "Joe." and she pointed with her pen.

Dr. Early went into the glass enclosed room and toggled the switch on the radio after starting the recording machine. "Unit calling in, please repeat."

"Rampart this is Squad 51."

"Go ahead 51."

"Rampart, we have six victims at a multiple MVA. Two Code I. Two are still inaccessible. Two superficial. Victim one and two are victims of electrical shock. Victim one. Negative vital signs. We're administering CPR. His arrest was witnessed. Victim two is semiconscious and suffering from severe muscular convulsions with moderate respiratory distress. He is stable. Victims three and four are children, trapped inside a trailer. Roy is with them now with a hand held radio, linked to you via

dispatch. Victims five and six have minor cuts and abrasions." John reported.

Joe early read the notes he took down. "Go ahead with victim one."

Gage looked over to the men working on Chet. "10-4,Rampart, " Johnny swiped sweat off of his lip as he talked, "Chet's CPR has been ongoing for four minutes. We've had problems with distension, request permission to insert an esophogeal airway."

"Go ahead 51. Then defibrillate at 400 watt seconds."

John lip's set into a frustrated line, "Negative on the defibrillator, Rampart. We don't have one. A lifeguard station is nearby. We're waiting for beach lifeguards to respond with their equipment."

Joe saw Kel walking by and motioned for him to come into the room curtly then added, "10-4, 51. Start an IV D5W, TKO. Continue CPR. Administer one amp Sodium Bicarb. Then 5 cc's 1/10,000 mg epinephren IV Push. "

"10-4. IV D5W TKO, one amp Bicarb, 5cc epinephren IV. Inserting an esophegeal airway." Gage repeated to his attending doctor.

"Standing by." Dr. Early replied. He nodded to Dr. Brackett and handed him his notes and a transcript of the first minute of 51's call. Kel continued reading intently.

Joe said, "There's no defibrillator there. 51's working on it. They said they'll have one soon."

Brackett said, "Six victims? Must be a bad one."

Joe grunted and waited for his paramedic to come back online.

Slinging the phone receiver and cord over his shoulder, Johnny grabbed a laryngoscope and an EOA. He bit his lip as he threaded it into Chet's throat, down the scope's guide groove and into his stomach. He was almost afraid that there'd be swelling from his evac earlier but there wasn't any at all. The tube settled to its end mark, effortlessly.

"Ok." He said to the man with the respirator. The valve was reconnected to the airway tube a second later. John listened to Chet's ribcage. "Ok, give him a shot." Kelly's chest rose. Gage heard good breath sounds on the left side. He shifted his stethoscope over to the other side. "Again." he nodded. He heard pure air sounds there too and no gastric bubbling. The tube was in place properly, he inflated the airway's gastric bulb. "We got it. Continue the CPR."

He got an IV line in on sheer blind luck into Chet's inner arm vein at the crook of the elbow. He ran the D5, and then squirted air out of the epinephren needle before injecting it into the IV's rubber port. "Anything?" John asked when he was through.

The fireman at Chet's head checked for a carotid. He shook his head.

Gage cursed with more than a little frustration, "You're making it hard for us.. Chet, I was only kidding about the full moon thing." he said, setting the IV bag under Chet's shoulder.

John then got out the Bicarb ampoule and prepared and injected that blood neutralizer into the IV line. "He'll need a truckload. He's been down forever." he mumbled. "Where are those lifeguards.?"

On cue, two people, a man and a woman in red shorts and jackets ran up to them being led by the chief's men. They had a white box with them. They crouched by Gage and the crew. The youngish athletic man spoke, "I'm Lt. Craig Pomeroy. This is Jill Riley, senior

lifeguard. Heard you needed this."

John smiled and grabbed it. "You're beautiful!" He flipped open the lid with a flourish and his face fell. "What th-?"

He got out the phone in the same motion. "We have a defibrillator, Rampart. But it's a type I've never seen before."

"What model is it?" Joe asked, puzzled.

"I couldn't tell you, doc.." Gage said quite honestly. He heard Kelly Brackett emit an oath in the background.

Dr. Early went on, "Any chance of finding another Defibrillator?"

Craig spoke up to the fireman/paramedic. "I'm authorized to use this pack, sir. It's an automatic unit. It'll assess whether or not he's receptive to countershocking."

John shouted eagerly, "Hold on, Rampart!" He set the phone down setting fingers on the woman lifeguards' arm. "Wait a sec. You said it determines heart recapture optimums?"

They both nodded.

"Rampart, ah,. The Lifeguard lieutenant here says he's fully trained on it. And that it has conversion analysis. What should I do?" Gage asked, breathless.

Brackett slammed the button down, "Do whatever it takes, 51. He's running out of time!" he growled.

Johnny nodded. "10-4." Then he looked to the Baywatch lifeguards. "You heard the man. Do it."

Quickly, Jill and Craig threaded two huge pads that were attached to the strange looking monitor. There was no EKG screen to speak of, Gage thought. Until he saw a digital one pop on a screen the second the leads hit skin. Then they touched a green switch on the side of the device.

A computerized synth voice spoke, ---Stand Clear. Stand clear-- analyzing patient. --

Johnny took the lifeguard's cues, motioning, and all the firemen lifted their hands from Chet.

--No signal. Continue CPR.--

The team resumed their resusitation.

"What's that mean? Why didn't it fire?" Johnny asked.

Jill reset the device. " It means your bicarb hasn't had a chance to neutral this man's acidosis. When did you give it to him?"

"Three and a half minutes ago."

"Then it won't be long until the pack determines viability and defibrillates. It won't shock a heart in the wrong chemistry. Saves damage to the patient. Back off everyone." Craig ordered.

Again the crew stood off.

---Stand Clear. Stand clear-- analyzing patient--

Everyone held their breaths.

--Countershocking.--

*Shock*

Chet Kelly's torso lifted only slightly, almost gently under the box's new kind of direct delivery system.

---No Pulse. Continue CPR.--

Johnny's patience hit a breaking point. "Damn it!" Gage sharply motioned for the CPR team to begin working again.

Jill reassured Johnny. "The bicarb is working. Soon, his blood will be prepped enough

for the pack to deliver another shock. It'll be another ten seconds."

Gage grabbed her arms, "Wait a minute. Are you saying that right now, Chet's system is still too acid for that thing to work?

Craig put his hands on his knees, "Yes."

Gage smiled, "Hang on.. Rampart, There's still no conversion after one countershock. We're showing deep flatline on the pack." Come on, docs, guess what I'm guessing.

"Hmm. Sounds like his blood is still too acid. Give another amp Sodium Bicarb." Joe said finally.

Yes! Gage thought happily. But then Brackett came on.

"Gage, we'll need to bump him up into coarse V-Fib again. I am personally authorizing you to give 2 cc epinephren Intracardially."

Johnny's face fell and he gaped, slowly, "Hold on. Rampart, IC? I've never done one in the field."

"I have full confidence in you, Johnny. You've seen me do it enough times." Brackett said.

Gage licked suddenly dry lips. "Uh,.10-4, one amp Sodium Bicarb, then 2cc Epinephren IC. Stand by."

The bicarb load was in and empty when John got over being stunned about what he was being asked to do.

Johnny drew open the paper off the premixed syringe. He motioned with his head to the firemen around him. "All right. Stop the ventilations." He fingered the proper position into the cartilage between the third and fourth ribs and cleared the six inch needle of any air.

Jill Riley looked away as the long needle plunged down.

Gage advanced the cath until he felt one pop, then two. "All right, I'm through the chest wall, nnghh. and the pericardial sac." then he felt a tenuous third resistance in the needle, ventricle tissue! "There.!"

He pushed the plunger until all of the amber fluid in the chamber was gone. He held his breath and withdrew the needle back the way it came and looked at the tip of it. It was all there. Nothing had broken off.

He sighed, passing off the spent syringe to the needle bin in the Drug box. Then nodded for CPR to resume. John sat back onto his butt, rubbing his mouth in relief. "I did it. I actually did it."

The lifeguards continued where he left off. The green button was pressed again.

----Stand clear. Stand clear--analyzing patient--

More than one man crossed their fingers.

--Countershocking.--

*shock*

----Pulse detected. Pulse detected.. Detach unit's power source.--

The last line of the computer's voice was drowned out by cheers from all the rescuers over Kelly as his chest began to rise and fall.

Johnny snatched the phone to his mouth. "Rampart. We have a Ventricular rate of about 30."

It was Brackett's turn to sigh and tremble a tad. "Good work Johnny. You saved both my professional reputation, and yours. Think we should add that little trick to the Paramedic manual?"

Gage just grunted in the negative. "Hell no. My nerves are shot!!"

But he could almost hear Brackett grinning through the biophone line.

Joe early added, "51, start an IV of an Isiproterenol Drip, and the rest of the bicarb. Continue O2 and monitoring. Transport as soon as possible. Send us a strip lead two."

Jill turned a toggle on the pack for Gage and a few other dials he didn't understand and said, "This will be lead two."

Brackett and Early grinned at the unfamiliar voice but bent over the paper roll feeding out of their relay monitor. "Looking good, ..ma'am. " Kel joked. "Johnny, Increase the drip until his rate's around seventy, will you? We'll wait on his vitals until you've treated victim two."

"Affirmative, Rampart." He finished his med order on Kelly and then turned his attention to Marco behind him.

-------

Lopez still had good color and was moving slightly.

Gage looked to the Pasadena man who was carefully watching Marco's breaths steaming under the mask.

"Is he still having spasms?" Johnny wanted to know.

"Yes."

On cue, Lopez twisted up, in one arm and leg on the same side. "Tonic convulsions now?" Gage wondered. John shouted, "Marco! Can you hear me?"

His coworker's face didn't change.

Johnny got closer to his ear. "Marco!" But Lopez didn't react. Johnny checked out his pupils. Then on a thought, rubbed a knuckle into his sternum.

Marco twitched and fingers moved slightly on the relaxed hand. But that was all.

Johnny relayed what he had found, "Rampart Victim Two's Marco Lopez. He's semi conscious and diaphoretic. Respirations are labored at.." he paused to check. Then Gage was surprised to see the two lifeguards stringing a different patch from the auto defib unit of theirs to Lopez's bare shoulder.

Pomeroy shrugged, "Your doctor is going to want to see how he's doing too."

Johnny smiled, "Fair enough." he said, muffling the phone mouth piece, Then he finished his report, "Respirations are 36 and irregular. He's having frequent seizures in his lower body and extremities. The spasms started all over him when we first got him

free but now seem to be confined to the left side of his body. He's on fifteen liters of O2. Additional vitals to follow."

Early wanted to know. "51, Sounds like the electricity traveled down his central nervous system from the contact point and has disrupted neural activity on that side. I want a BP from that arm. What's his heartrate?"

"Pulse is..120 and irregular, BP is..*sigh* . Stand by for the BP."

Gage got a reading quickly by stepping his foot on the twitching hand on Marco's left side while Jill and Craig helped hold the arm still for him, restraining it at shoulder and wrist. "..BP is...Hold him, 72 over 30." He reported, pinning the phone to his ear between his shoulder and face.

Marco began to gag slightly in his stupor. But there was nothing left in his stomach to lose. He only had weakened dry heaves as he lay on his side, gasping tightly around them.

John slid his free hand to Marco's neck, pulling his larynx up a bit in his thumb and fingers to see if his breathing evened out. It didn't. Johnny added. "Rampart, Marco's getting stridorous. I think the petite mals are having an impact. And he's really nauseated and he's getting a bit cyanotic."

"Try an esophageal airway, 51." Joe ordered.

"Negative, Rampart. He has a gag reflex." Gage said.

"What's his response to pain stimuli?" Dr. Early asked.

"Somewhat to pain, nothing to verbal cues. And he's now showing no signs of voluntary movement on his uneffected side."

Joe considered, then asked, "51, is he still vomiting at all?"

"Negative. his stomach appears to be empty."

Dr. Brackett laid down the plan. "Hmm. Johnny, sounds like he'll tolerate a naso pharyngeal airway. Go ahead and intubate him. It should help his air intake and keep him from aspirating any bodily fluids."

"10-4." Gage nodded as the lifeguard Craig anticipated his need and handed him one already out of its wrap. He nodded thanks, while he listened to the rest of Kel's instructions.

"..Send us a strip. I want to see what's happening to his cardiac functioning."

Jill took off Marco's O2 mask and held it near but out of Johnny's way.

Johnny gel-ed the nasal airway and guided it through one of Lopez's nostrils and down, until it was in place fully. He checked its positioning in the back of his throat with a penlight, peering into Marco's mouth. Then he replaced the bite stick in between his involuntarily clenching teeth. "All right. Get that O2 back on him."..

Jill complied.

He listened for a moment, molding the mask carefully around Marco's nose and mouth and the seizure stick, then smiled as his labored gasps eased off and began slowing. "Ok. he's set. It's working." He picked up the phone, "Doc, his breathing's leveling off. Respirations are 24 and deep." he nodded with satisfaction. "He's in better color too."

Gage pointed to Jill, and she sent Marco's telemetry to the hospital as she had done with Chet's readings.

Brackett eyed Lopez's strip as the audio feed danced in its soft wavering pitch, filling the base station's tiny room. Dix held her breath, and so did Joe.

Kel finished reading the strip, and one of his eyes twitched as he toggled the sending talk button. "51, I'm getting only minor ventricular irregularities. Your fireman's one lucky man. Looks like the jolt he took was only of moderate intensity. His nausea's not cardiac related. It's most likely due to pyschogenic shock. Give .05 mg Atropine , IV, 51. And start an IV of D5W, TKO to get him out of it."

Johnny replied, grateful at the news, "10-4, doc, .05 Atropine in a D5W IV to keep open." He tore a bag out of its paper and strung a line in after nabbing a vein. He splinted the tubing and the catheter in Marco's arm with an IV board, so it wouldn't be torn free in his seizuring. Then he added the atropine.

Lopez began to shiver differently and the convulsions on his left began to spread to his other side.

Jill cushioned his head in her hands but other firemen replaced her gentle manual restraint with two sand bags that worked even better.

Gage got on the phone quickly, "Rampart. Atropine is in, but ah,. his convulsions seem to be getting worse. And more frequent."

Dr. Brackett, "It's a tough tradeoff, 51. Atropine for that good air exchange. But increased tremors." He mumbled off phone to Joe. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't." He got back on the line. "All right Johnny. We're going to find middle ground. Draw up 10 milligrams Diazepam for an IM only."

Gage frowned, rocking back on his heels, grumbling at his only viable option. He knew what the doctors were asking him to risk. Great. first Kelly's IC, now this.

Kel went on, "Watch him closely. The Diazepam's going to depress his breathing every step of the way. You're going to inject half a cc at a time until he's just at the point where the tremors cease. Got that? Half cc for every fifty pounds body weight. You lose lung draw and we're in trouble."

"10-4. Diazepam IM. One half cc per fifty. Stand by."

"Standing by."

Johnny wasn't happy. He knew the risks of losing Marco's respiratory ability were high due to his shock; let alone those incurred from his having a downer drug used on him.

Coma couldn't be far away if Gage over shot his mark.

He closed his eyes, holding the needle and shot of muscle paralyzer up between his chilled hands as he tried to recall what he had heard Lopez joke about his weight a week ago while he was standing on the station's scale. "Now what did you say Lopez? 185?.190 pounds?" He couldn't clearly remember.

"Damn." he cursed, grabbing up his talkie. "Squad 51 to Engine 51. Come in."

Captain Stanley answered, "Gage? Is that you? Hurry up. We've got two respiratory arrested girls in here."

"Hold on, Cap. I'll be right there. But Marco needs treatment right now more than they do. You've got the kids maintaining just fine from the sound of it." Johnny said. He could hear Roy's PPV's and Cap's mouth given breaths plainly. "Right now I need to know Lopez's exact body mass."

Cap grabbed up the radio closer to his free ear, "What did you just ask? The saw's too loud in here!"

"Roy . Cap!. how much does Lopez weigh? How heavy is he? Brackett's got me anesthetizing Marco to control petite mals. Now how many pounds do you remembering seeing in his file from last week, Cap? I can't do this at all unless I am absolutely right on or he'll get real sour on us real fast."

Cap said, "I don't honestly know, Gage.. Roy?"

DeSoto wiped sweat from his eyes. His head was pounding from the remnants of the electrical surge he took through his fingers on the floor. His mind raced, then he snatched the radio away from Cap and hollered, "Chief, get one of your men in here right now to take over for me. My partner needs me out there ASAP. Johnny I'll be right there.!."

A minute later, Stone wormed his way to Roy's side and took over Cassie's resusitation effort.

Roy put a hand on Cap's shoulder as he worked over Robin. "I'll be right back. Call me if either of their EKGs so much as twitch."

He left his radio on Robin's stomach, within Cap's easy reach. Hank nodded as he placed another seal over the child's lips and blew her another careful breath.

Roy made sure Cap had enough oxygen flowing through the cannula on his face to go through him and then to the child. "Got to remember your trick for the books." he quipped.

That simple statement made Hank relax a whole nine yards.

Roy felt comfortable then with leaving the four of them in the camper.

==========

DeSoto stumbled out into the fog. He found Gage and Kelly and the Pasadena group by following the flares glowing on the road.

He arrived too fast and banged into Gage. He lost his balance. squatting down near him over Marco's writhing form.

Gage looked at him "Hey, easy! I almost stuck you.." He said, whipping the needle away from Roy.

"S-Sorry." Roy coughed, rubbing his eyes to clear them.

Johnny looked a little more closely at Roy, "You ok? I know you're better than me at this, but if you're too tired.."

"I- I'm fine. Give it here."

Gage studied Roy's sweaty face for a moment, and noticed a stench coming from him. Burned flesh. "Hey." he took up Roy's arm, "Where did you get that burn?"

"It's nothing. I.. touched some hot metal when I got too near the K-12." he lied. Marco needed him to act. Now.

"You sure you're all right?" Gage said, still hanging onto Roy's jacket.

"Yeah. I'm fine." DeSoto said.

Something about his conviction fooled Johnny. He studied Roy's face a moment longer, then slowly handed DeSoto the syringe. "ok." he said.

Johnny picked up the phone. "Rampart, Roy's going to do it. He's got a better idea of how much Lopez weighs."

"Get on it, 51. Every minute with those convulsions is another minute too many." Brackett said.

Roy's brain fuzzed as he swabbed down the fleshy part of Marco's flank. "He said.. he weighed. 81 kilos. in the gym. Joked about how it was the same weight as our punching bag.." he whispered to himself.

"What?"

"Shhhhh" Roy said, wiping moisture from his upper lip. "He said. 81 kilos.. I'm certain of it. that's why he looked so funny working out with it. It kept knocking him around.. Yeah. I remember laughing at him trying to keep on his feet."

Gage nodded, smiling slightly. "He's not much of a Mohammed Ali, I take it, eh? Only 81 kilos? " then he clammed up. Johnny occupied himself with taking another BP on Marco's still arm, mentally kicking himself for distracting Roy. He began pumping up the BP cuff.

Even that small snicking valve sound intruded badly upon Roy's concentration. He took a deep breath trying to ignore it. .now, how many pounds is 81 kilos.? He did a mental calculation and then said out loud to Johnny with a short nod of his head. "Injecting. . Inj uh,.2.5 cc's Diazepam. IM." And he stuck the needle into muscle, pushing the plunger to drain to the 7.5 remaining line.

Gage looked up, ripping his stethoscope out of his ears. "Roy?! Did you just say 2.5.?" He whipped up Roy's hand off the syringe still impaled in Marco's hip, gasping. He jerked out the needle and flung it away quickly, but it was too late. "Roy. 81 kilos is only 178.5 lbs! The dose should have been dif---!."

The absolute horror that rose in Roy's face transferred to his own. Roy began to tremble, but automatically, he felt Lopez's chest for air movement. Marco breathed still, but shallowly. He got out his penlight and looked very quickly at Lopez's eyes. The pupils were fixed and dialated. He pointed to them, his face a tortured mask, dropping his shining pen light. The bulb shattered on the pavement.

Gage knocked Roy's hands away fiercely using his own light to see and saw the undeniable sign there too.

Coma.

Johnny was stunned, but brought the phone numbly to his mouth, "Rampart. we have a problem. I think we made a..a .mistake."

Brackett looked up sharply from his notepad. "What do you mean, Johnny? Talk to me."

Simultaneously, Roy reacted. "Oh my god. Johnny, what have I done.?" The moment proved too much. DeSoto's head fuzz reared up as he tried a futile denial. Then his brain refused to function any longer. Roy slumped to the ground, letting the rising black from his near jolt of electricity claim him.

"Roy?!" John shouted. He flung out a hand.

But Jill and Craig were faster. They caught the fair haired paramedic before his head hit the ground.

Craig told him. "He's fine. He's fine. I got him." he said after a check of his carotid. "He's just out cold. I don't see anything more than that."

Brackett's demanding voice shouted at their feet. "51! What's going on over there! This man's EKG has just hyperbolically leveled. He's overdosed. He's down too deep."

Gage picked up the receiver. "Doc. Roy .. injected 2.5 cc's. Way too much."

Joe didn't hesitate, "25 cc Narcan. Push it."

"Doing it." Gage got the universal drug antidote from the box and used it. "Come on, Marco. Snap out of it. Nap time's over."

He watched a fireman increase an ambu bag's delivery of controlled 100% O2 to Marco a few more notches. The Pasadena man had begun using one when he had first heard the word "overdosed."

But the EKG remained at its suppressed eerily slow, uniform sinus rhythm, the earmark of the coma state.

Brackett announced over the landline, "No conversion. Keep hyperventilating him, Johnny. And put DeSoto on the line, I want to talk to him."

"I can't doc,. He's out cold. He may be injured from his trying to get to the other victims. He's got a burn I didn't check out very well." He groaned in anger as he saw other marks of charring soot on his skin that Craig had uncovered as he opened Roy's shirt to monitor him. "I think he might have tangled with the same powerline that took out Chet and Marco."

Joe toggled the speaker when Kel didn't respond to Gage right away. "10-4, 51. Monitor DeSoto and treat for shock. Listen to me. I want you to stay focused. We'll work out all of this later. Give me another set of vitals on Marco and get him set to transport. Now. I want to know about victims 3 through 6 in triage priority."

"10-.10-4. Rampart.." Johnny said mechanically. "Cap's with victims 3 and 4 now, I've just learned, they're two girls in respiratory arrest."

"Give me a man with them who can get me their vitals." Early said.

"Stand by." Gage once more got on his radio.

======

The rest of the rescue was a blur to Johnny.

The tremendous load on Johnny as senior assessor was soon halved shortly after Roy's collapsed.

Gage remembered the side of the Winnebago being finish cut and pulled free and then a new station's paramedics rushing in to relieve Stone and Cap's ventilations of the two girls. With a firm tie to Rampart, the injured children's conditions were stabilized rapidly, and Cassie and Robin, with their parents, were transported out by Mayfair rig ten minutes later.

That completed, Johnny could focus on the full implications of events with Marco, Roy and Kelly.

==========

In a second, red lighted speeding rig, Chet awoke enough to spit out his airway en route. Johnny leaned over him just in time to hear him complain about his head aching and about his chest that somebody had used both as a trampoline and as a stone for the proverbial sword.

Gage winced, rubbing his own chest, imagining what it must be like for Chet, having a fresh six inch needle puncture wound down heart deep. "You have no idea the trouble we had to go through to save your butt, Chet. Just be grateful you're still breathing." he grinned lopsidedly.

"Ohhhh..ow." Then Chet asked about Marco as his memory returned. "How's Lopez? My god, I swear I could hear his mustache sizzling just before I blacked out." he laughed a short laugh before the painful reminders of his rescue, shut him up.

He turned his head, seeing his familiar coworker firefighter lying next to him on

another stokes.

Gage deflected masterfully, with his smile locked in cement with all the skill of the

paramedic hiding bad news. "Worry about yourself and that halo you narrowly avoided, Chester B." Gage said, firmly planting the O2 mask back over Chet's face. "That's your first concern."

Kelly blinked, twice, shoving his O2 mask onto his forehead, thinking. "Ok, Lopez is entitled to a little confidentiality. But what's HIS story?" the curly haired fireman said, pointing to a third stokes Johnny was leaning his rear on in the crowded ambulance. That one held Roy's dusty, limp form. Kelly saw that he, too, was on precautionary O2, but no IV hung over his head.

Naturally, Chet assumed the lightest possible outcome to that scenario. "Don't tell me the sandman caught up with DeSoto during my rescue?" Chet laughed weakly. "Now that would be REALLY embarrassing. Glad I wasn't awake for that little blunder." he chuckled.

Kelly actually saw Johnny suddenly wince at his words and look away.

The haunted look in Johnny's eyes sobered Chet more than the water did from the Phantom's revenging can sprung a year ago. A sick feeling gripped Chet that had nothing to do with his near brush with death. "Gage. What is it that you aren't telling me?"

John fiddled with both Chet and Marco's EKG settings before he replied in the softest of voices. "I don't know how in the world I could possible begin to tell you what happened Chet. I can't believe it really happened m- mysel--." he admitted, his strong baritone cracked with emotion. "You see.. Marco needed a drug to stop his seizuring. Roy was so tired. and I didn't see how tired he was. I let him take over. And.. he ." Gage looked down at his soiled hands, ".gave him. too much.."

Kelly rose up onto his shaking elbows. "What?" in utter disbelief, then a few seconds later, in denial, " Johnny. even with an OD, I've seen you use that stuff, what is it called? Narcan. Yeah. Like you use with the cocaine addicts all the time. That will fix Marco right off as soon as we get to Rampart,." he smiled desperately. But his eyes on the stretcher next to his only revealed a deathly still man, and an oddly mechanical heart rhythm, unnaturally slow for lifesigns, scrolling on the screen next to his own. ".right?"

Johnny's eyes filled and he set his hand on Marco's stomach just for the reassuring rise and fall of his breathing in another attempt to delude himself. "Chet. That tiny OD put Marco into a coma, one from which he might not ever awaken."

The sirens above Chet's head began to alter in pitch, its urgency mocked, as a new sound mingled with its wail and began to grow.

The sound was of two completely grown professional firefighting men, starting to cry.

------------------------------------------

"Roy..."

A voice. It was someone he knew. He was certain of that while he worked around the pain and fog in his head.

"Roy... Open your eyes.. It's me."

Roy DeSoto opened his eyes to a bright light, which was instantly angled, out of his eyes by a nimble hand, which cocked the overhead light away from his face. Roy coughed.

A gentle smile resolved into focus. Dixie McCall sat on a stool by the side of his treatment room gurney. "How are you doing?" she asked. "You took long enough snapping out of it." she teased. "Thought I might have to light matches under your fingernails just to revive you."

The joke didn't make Roy laugh.

Roy tried to rise but she was instantly there, restraining him. "Easy. Dr. Morton will be along to check you out in a moment. Now you just lie back and wait for him. Do you remember what happened to you?"

Roy groaned, fighting dizziness and swept fingers to his nose, feeling the flowing cannula resting there, but it was only his expression that conveyed his next question because he couldn't yet talk.

"You passed out. Johnny brought you in here himself, twenty minutes ago."

"I did?" He took another deep breath from the oxygen tubing and his stubbornly foggy head cleared.

Emotion wracked DeSoto cruelly as full recall of what he had done dug into the pit of his

stomach. "Marco! Oh my god. Dixie. I-- It's Marco. I-I. gave him an overd-- "

He cut off when he saw her small slow nod.

The room swam nightmarish in his mind's eye as he returned to every paramedic's idea of a living hell. He sucked in a choking sob and demanded. "How is he?"

Dixie's doe eyes lowered fractionally but she met Roy's gaze again right away even as her caregiver's voice deepened into a note of seriousness. "...He's the same I've heard.. Dr. Early's with him now. He's ordered an EEG scan on him."

Dixie held up an admonishing finger when Roy started to protest, started to leave the bed.

She snicked up the bed's side rail, preventing him. "Now you listen to me Roy DeSoto. We'll get answers soon enough. But those won't come any faster if you go barging in there like some guilt ridden, self sacrificing Don Quixote. Besides, you have no idea which treatment room he's in right now at all, do you?" she said, folding her arms.

"Dix." he started to say.

She ignored him, "Chet, on the other hand, is asking about YOU." she said significantly. "There's a fireman who's got his priorities straight. He's concerned right now with Roy DeSoto. And so am I. "

She changed the subject a bit to deflect him, "Did you know that your partner brought Kelly back with his first IC ever? Chet converted right away. Gage nearly wet himself when Brackett gave him the order, but he did what had to be done, flawlessly. Shows his skills as a paramedic are gr--" she broke off, uncomfortable when she realized what she had been about to say.

Roy let the comment sting. "But what about my OWN skills as a paramedic, huh?" he said with some heat. "Yeah, I trained Johnny, so did you, and he now saves a hell of a lot of lives. because of us." he said sarcastically, "But tell me this, Dix. When did I lose track of managing my own stamina and judgement? Can you tell me that? When did I lose my edge?" Tears filled his eyes as he absently picked at the burn dressing someone had placed on his arm while he had been unconscious. "How can I get up tomorrow morning to even shave? I can just see it, pretending all's well. Staring at my own face in the mirror.." His voice was intensely bitter, "A little lost sleep and I blow all propriety out the window with a fateful misinjection that turns one of my best friends whom I've known for almost six years into one of the living d--..."

"Roy.." Dix admonished. "Now you listen to me and you listen to me good. Dragging yourself over the coals about this thing isn't helping one bit. It's not helping you and it's not helping me. And certainly that attitude's not helping Marco."

The mention of Lopez's name made Roy look away. Dix grabbed Roy's chin to make him look at her.

She said frankly. "You know as well as I do that it's still way too soon to know if the Diazepam caused permanent harm yet or not. You know the findings in this scenario are unrevealing for a week or two at the very least.. So don't go writing off any people so soon. Neither your friend, nor yourself." She let him go. "So you made a mistake. A terrible one. One that will most likely have a lasting effect no matter the outcome. But let's face it, together. You don't have to be alone with this. Not at all."

She angrily brushed loose hair from her eyes and took his hand, "That's why I'm here, Roy. That's why we're all here. So don't you forget that. Your family loves you and so do your crewmates. Don't let them down by giving up on anyone. And I won't have you giving up on yourself so start dealing with it right now, Roy DeSoto."

She rose, moving the exam tray Mike would need for Roy in a few minutes.

She gave Roy time to absorb her words. Dixie's own eyes were full and watery, but she didn't let any tears fall. She felt too much conviction to let emotion rule her. Especially when someone needed her to be a firm strength. Especially during times like this one. A friend in need... she thought. "Joanne and the kids are on their way. I called them myself."

Some of her strength finally transmuted to DeSoto.

Roy nodded, quickly drying his face. Internally, he felt horrible, being weakened in body physically, and emotionally, down to his very soul. But if he had to be vulnerable. He could think of no one better suited to share his pain outside his immediate home or working family, ..than Dixie. "Where's Johnny?" he asked, his voice a little clearer.

Dixie answered truthfully, "With Marco. He's been glued to him ever since he ..went down."

Roy's chest tightened and he clenched his teeth, denying the physical injury there, but one hand moved up to his chest unbidden.

Dix didn't miss his symptoms. She wrapped a grip around his wrist checking. "Short of breath?" She paused a few seconds, counting his pulse. "Uneven. I'm getting you on an EKG."

She was still patching him up to the monitor when Dr. Morton entered the room. Without a word, he went to Roy's side, checking his pupils and overall condition in his trademark gruff manner. He spent a minute studying the strip Dixie produced from Roy's leads, then he spoke. "Residual elevation on your T waves. That's typical with excessive electrical contact. They should resolve in an hour or so. You'll be fine there without the necessity of me medicating you."

He began a belly probe and chest percussion exam. Both Dix and Roy were puzzled at his silence during it. Morton sighed and eyed the both of them before saying, "I am breaching doctor/patient confidentiality by saying this to you both, but Marco's EEG is showing plateau leveling with a negative Bebinski finding."

"Mike." Dix scolded.

Morton was frank, "Dixie, Roy doesn't want to be coddled. Isn't that right, DeSoto.?" He said, turning to his patient.

Roy shook his head in tiny agreement but was deathly afraid to hear more.

"Do I go on telling you anything, Miss McCall?" Mike asked. "If you don't trust yourself to hear this, you can leave the room right now." He said, taking off Roy's oxygen feed so he could look into his nose for dust or blood.

She held her tongue.

Dr. Morton went on, "I didn't stay in the treatment room long enough to hear all of what Dr. Early and Dr. Brackett were discussing on Lopez," he indicated DeSoto, "for they told me YOU were still out cold then and needed to be seen. But I will tell you this. It's too soon to tell anything with absolute certainty. There are steroidal treatments we can use to try to induce a return of frontal lobe functioning. But it's going to take time to clean out all the Diazepam toxins from his system. Until then Marco's coma is being streamlined and deepened with anti-inflammatorys and his body core temperature's being dropped until his brain tissue begins to heal itself. Now,. let's just finish up here and stop talking about Lopez." He smiled slightly. "You didn't hear this news from me. Is that understood? My butt could be canned even discussing him."

Two heads nodded.

Dr. Morton went over Roy with a fine tooth comb and then he drew a red top. "Nurse, run this to the lab. Have them run a cardiac creatin series, CBC and electrolytes." Dixie took the phial and headed for the door. "Oh, and have them look for renal proteins. I want to make sure your kidneys fared as well as your heart did, Roy."

But Roy wasn't listening to him.

Dixie shifted her gaze from Roy to Mike, reluctant to leave, but finally, she did.

The closing door returned silence to the treatment room.

Doctor and paramedic went eye to eye when the rest of the exam was over. Mike rubbed his chin for a moment, and considered something.

Without saying a word, Dr. Morton pulled down the bed's side rail and handed out to Roy his T shirt and uniform that had been resting across a nearby chair. He swept a gesture for Roy to get out of bed, uncharacteristically kind.

Roy looked at Mike questioningly, coming out of his deep thoughts. "Doc?"

The "get vertical" and go invite was not standard for one in Roy's condition.

"I'm releasing you." Morton said, peeling off EKG patches and the BP cuff off Roy. "No point in you lying around here worrying about all this, now is there?" He held up the rolled EKG from his chart. "There's nothing I'm seeing here that warrants an admission."

Roy sat up, testing his own balance and took the shirt, taking and then pulling on the T and then the uniform.

Morton held up a finger. "But I am ordering you away from Marco."

That stopped DeSoto. "Why?" Roy asked. "Don't tell me it's for my own health." he said a little defensively.

Morton moved to the door, and opened it.

Vince and his partner Garner stood there leaning against the wall. They had been standing outside Roy's treatment room waiting. And they were on duty. "They asked me to inform you not to see him." Morton told DeSoto.

Mike wished he could say something encouraging, but nothing more needed to be said. All four of them knew why officers were present.

Vince studied his shoes. and both he and Garner whipped off their helmets in respect. "Sorry Roy. Standard procedure." Vince said uncomfortably.

Roy buttoned his shirt, moving out into the hall, a horrifying thought coming to mind, "Am I being arrested?"

But Vince didn't say anything more. Garner said, "Dr. Brackett would like to see you in his office. He'd like to see you right away."

Dr. Morton set a gentle hand on Roy's shoulder. "I'll call you with your lab results. Take care."

"Appreciate it, doc." DeSoto said as Morton walked away down the bustling, busy noon time hospital hallway.

Roy's mind was numb. He was highly aware of the presence of the two police officers flanking him. It made him feel like the worst of criminals. Maybe I am one. One of the worst kind. Hurting Marco like this is unforgivable. he thought.

The short walk was soon over and he turned to the left, first knocking, and then settling a still dusty hand on the chief physician's rich mahogany and brass door knob until he heard a reply of, "Come in."

It took all of his concentration and will to finally open the door.

----------------------------------

Gage was inches away from Joe as he worked over Lopez. He fussed with the bird's link to Marco's mouth, watched the respirator pump beyond his taped airway billow adequately, and handed Early medications and equipment before the doctor even asked for them. Finally, Dr. Early said. "Johnny. Thing's are well under hand here. Why don't you go grab a cup of coffee?"

Johnny looked up from an unconscious grip he had on Marco's brachial pulse that he was using to monitor Lopez closely. "Hmm?" he said distractedly.

Dr. Early saw the firm grip Gage had on Marco. And the palpable fear he had of even considering letting Lopez out of his direct care.

Joe nodded tightly and then reconsidered sending the dark eyed paramedic from the room. "Hand me the cooling blanket will you? I'll rig an internal thermometer. We're going to lower his core body temperature to ninety four degrees."

"Right doc." Gage moved into activity. They rolled Marco's bare body onto the plastic coils and bundled him up inside of it snuggly once the doctor had his internal thermometer probe in place. He switched it on.

Dr. Early watched the degrees indicator drop and adjusted a dial until the reading showed 94.

A bleep made both men jump. It was the EKG, reacting. A random PVC.

Johnny ran to the display his face brightening. "Is he feeling that cold, doc? Look." he said, pointing,. as another PVC inserted itself, breaking the abnormally slow beat tracing on the monitor.

Dr. Early bent over Marco's chest, listening manually with his stethoscope.

Johnny held his breath.

Dr. Early shifted his listening to Lopez's abdomen and to the intestines lying just beneath. He lifted his head, eyeballing Gage. "There's no sounds of bowel movement, Johnny. He's still in his coma. It's possibly the steroids Dr. Brackett gave him to reduce cranial swelling that is causing that arrhythmia. Steroids have a tendency to do that quite often. It's just a random aberration."

The PVC mocked them by not repeating.

"Damn." Johnny said, standing up and walking away a few steps, hands on his hips. He then felt his long aches and fatigue and the weight of his job like a ton of bricks. He leaned over, hands on knees, coughing hoarsely at phlegm he suddenly felt strangling him.

"Took in a little dust?" Dr. Early asked.

Johnny nodded without looking up. "Just a bit. The camper blew up a few minutes after we got the two little girls out safely."

Dr. Early pointed to the O2 port on one wall with a pen, a silent order.

Wearily, Gage rose and sat on a stool by it, moving his seat so he could still be close to Marco's head and grabbed a demand valve from the basket for himself. He began using it, sucking in its pressurized oxygen to clear his lungs in several cleansing breaths.

He startled, looking down when he saw that one of the attending nurses had already put protective ointment into Marco's eyes and had taped them shut. Only patients moving to the Intensive Care Unit or to surgery got that done to them.

Highly disturbed, He took in more O2, coughing when the cool oxygen made the dusty snot in his chest bubble, then he spoke, and "He's not going to wake up anytime soon is he?"

Dr. Early was studying Lopez's EEG monitor intently but he looked up at Johnny instantly. "I am not going to lie to you, Gage. Marco's condition is very serious. Diazepam is poisonous in high dosages. It kills cerebral tissue very quickly if it's not counteracted fast enough. These Narcan drips can only do so much. Marco's system was already weakened from the electrical shock he received. His heart was racing then, because his blood pressure was depressed and from those involuntary seizures. Most likely, quite a bit of the paralyzer made it to his brain before you injected the counteragent."

Johnny buried his face into his free hand and rubbed tired eyes. "Oh, man.. Roy's gonna freak out over that." He took in more O2. Then he spoke again, blinking without seeing, the posters on the wall proclaiming the success of the fledging LA County paramedic program to date. "I should have seen he wasn't up to it. He hasn't slept for close to two days."

Dr. Early just listened while Gage vented, "Hell, even Cap dismissed Roy's tiredness at

breakfast. he even gave me these." he grinned, pulling out the smelling salt pack Cap gave him.

The sight of one missing, the one he had used on the woman made his grin wash away and he tossed them onto the bed. He couldn't bear to look at them for they had been an eerie premonition of what was to come. "I should've stopped him. I should've seen the warning signs." he said, watching the respirator fill Marco's chest with air before it released it again in electronic uniformity. Up and down, automatically doing its work with perfect machine like precision.

Gage ruffled fingers through Marco's hair, picking off the bits of debris, clinging to it.

"What's going to happen to the both of them, doc?" He asked at last. At that thought, Gage lost it. Tears sprang out. He sank his face into his arms, caressing Marco's head and began to weep.

Joe took the O2 mask out of Johnny's hands and just sat with him. An arm over his shoulder. He sent the nurses out of the room.

John cried for a time.

Then the two silently fell to watching Marco's slow EKG and the even slower brain wave EEG monitor without needing to speak anymore. It wasn't the time for words any longer. It was time to start praying.

A chaplain entered shortly thereafter to do just that.

Johnny had to leave the moment he saw the purple cloth around the chaplain's neck. Oh no. Lopez isn't going to get Last Rites if I have anything to do with it. I'll find Brackett. Yeah. Maybe there's a more aggressive treatment out there he knows about.

He stood, swiftly, hiding his thought from the doctor. He mumbled to Dr. Early. "Gotta go find.. Roy.. You keep me posted, you hear?" he said, fiercely wiping his face dry. "Call me at home, or the station. Hell call me via dispatch if Marco changes even if I'm on another run. Promise me that, doc."

Joe looked up, very somber, "I will."

Johnny left to go find Brackett.

---------------------

Roy turned the brass knob.

Kelly Brackett, he expected to see, framed by his golden leafed medical books lining the walls of the rust colored office and sitting behind the broad desk with its nameplate displaying on one edge of it.

But he didn't expect to see another man in one of the visiting chairs.

"Cap?" Roy exclaimed in surprise. He let Vince and Garner into the room behind him, so shocked that he almost forgot they were even there.

"Would you close the door, Roy?" Brackett asked. "And have a seat."

"Sure, doc." Roy did so and took the chair next to Captain Stanley. Hank was still in his trenchcoat, and his helmet was on the floor.

Roy thought, He didn't even leave it in the engine cab? thought a ridiculous ramble. I hope Marco's ok. And Chet.

The distraught paramedic looked around the room, not getting anything from the unreadable expressions from the man who had taught him emergency medicine nor from the man who was his station's captain.

He broke the awkward pause that followed by asking, "How's Kelly doing?" with a falsely encouraging smile.

Hank shifted uncomfortably in his seat, sniffing, and didn't find a position that made him feel better, "H- he's just fine, pal., " he said, clapping his gloves together with a cheeriness that was forced. "He woke up in the ambulance according to Johnny, and and.. and spit out his EOA." he laughed slightly. " Heard he complained the whole way in. The doc here says he's been moved to CCU just as a precaution for a couple of days."

Roy smiled bigger, a bit. It fooled no one.

Hank added, "Kelly's been asking about you. Said something about wanting "the" pinup for his room. ah,. know anything about that?"

Roy scratched his head, "He meant Johnny's Smoky the Bear poster, Cap. They've been stealing it from each other ever since their Phantom stunt war ended. It's in Gage's locker."

"Fine, Roy. I'll. have one of the guys bring it to him." Cap said.

Roy refused the icy feeling that seeped into him. Now why does one of the guys have to do that? What's going on here? But he felt his mouth mechanically say, "I can do that, Cap. Morton's just released me medically."

Cap actually looked away from DeSoto and that frightened Roy more than anything else

he had seen since the OD occurred.

Kelly Brackett steepled his hands, looking very tired. "Roy. there are detectives here, working with these two police officers."

"What?" Roy asked, stunned. He then noticed the angry red on Cap's face. And the same color on Brackett's a moment later. Have they been arguing about me?

Brackett met Roy's eyes squarely. "I've been ordered to have you step down as your station's paramedic pending a full investigation. by orders of a Detective Fielder, coming from FEMA itself. You know the organization is like the FBI for the EMS service."

Roy stood, and anxiously began to fidget. "Why, doc? I mean, I know I made a horrible mistake out there. But don't you have to have criminal charges before--"

A new man entered the room, fully in a three piece power suit armed to the hilt with official looking papers. "We have those charges sir. Gross Nonfeasance, Mr. DeSoto. Your lack of professional judgement almost killed a man and these two officers over here were witnesses to it."

Cap's look at Vince and Garner almost burned them. Cap shot to his feet, "What!? This is getting ridiculous Doctor Brackett." he rounded on Kel, "You only told me Roy had to take a leave of absence, You never said anything about this kind of thing!"

Brackett looked shaken. "My hands are tied, captain, as are yours." he said severely. Anyone who knew him knew the head ER physician was highly worried, not angry. Kelly stood and turned to his first, best paramedic. "I'm sorry Roy, But I am going to have to ask you for your badge and departmental ID."

Cap stabbed a hand on Dr. Brackett's desk. "In a pig's eye! You said nothing about resigna--!!"

Roy shook his head, "Cap. Cap. ". he said, setting a hand on Hank's coat. "Stop." he said quietly.

Captain Stanley still had soot on his face. And there was a look of helplessness there that Roy had never seen before coming from him. But he knew that emotion. It was an emotion any firefighter worth his salt got when things suddenly rocketted out of firm control.

Roy repeated himself. "Just...stop." He looked around the office, smelling the sweat coming off him, Vince, and Cap and the musky civilized cologne off of Fielder and he felt suddenly old and worn. It was serious this time. Nothing that could be fixed or patched up, or forgotten.

Without another word, he unpinned his uniform's shield and threw his wallet medic's identification card with it onto Brackett's desk. The badge bounced, falling onto its front and rang as it rocked there on the shiny wood, until Kelly Brackett's hand stilled it.

Cap wouldn't even look at it, instead settling his eyes on Roy's, in apology.

DeSoto nodded to Cap in acceptance of all and he turned to the detective and raised his wrists palms up, together.

It was Vince's turn to look away. He motioned to his partner to attend to DeSoto instead. He himself couldn't bear to do it.

Garner brought out his metal handcuffs, and opened them reciting the beginning of the Miranda Rights all of them had only heard on TV. "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for you for your trial in a court of law..."

Cap dropped his head as he saw Roy's dusty and bloody hands bound behind his back. Hero's blood. From those he's trained to save, God damn it.

Even Dr. Brackett was speechless. But then he said as Fielder opened the office door to let Vince and Garner lead Roy out, "Roy.. I'll do everything in my power to handle this." he promised, " Absolutely everything."

Roy gave him a pained look before he was led away.

The door shut.

Cap slammed his gloved fist into the desk. "It isn't right! Roy doesn't have an evil bone in his body."

Kel reacted, "I know that. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this entire hospital knows that too. Believe me when I tell you now that I AM on your side captain. But technically, what DeSoto did to Marco is legally construed the same as an attempted murder. accident or not with just the facts in black and white, on paper alone." he said angrily. Then he sobered. "Now it's up to us, to convince the courts to see just what kind of man we already know DeSoto to be. One of the best paramedics you or I or this county has ever seen."

---------------------------

Out by the Emergency entrance, Johnny saw the back of Roy's head out by the squad and was overjoyed that he had his blue uniform shirt back on and was ambulatory.

"Roy!" he shouted. But then he cast his eyes lower and saw metal cuffs around his wrists behind his torn and soiled back.

In a sudden haze, he saw Vince guide Roy's head into the back of their squad car before he, too, climbed into the front seat. The police car started pulling away and Johnny saw Roy's face lean against the window, drained, with eyes closed.

A pure fury gripped him, "No.. Roy!!"

Gage started running dodging around patients and nurses and doctors who were wondering what the paramedic was shouting about. "Please. I have to get through. My partn-- Who the hell released him from hospital custody? He's injured!" he demanding of the passing doctors around him.

But no one spoke up or answered his loud demand.

A sharp impact stopped him in his tracks. It was Cap, wrapping powerful arms around him in a bearhug. "No, Gage. Let him go.."

Johnny broke away and again they jostled. "Cap, they just can't DO that. I gotta tell them the truth. I was th--"

Cap whirled Gage around, his helmet's strap dangling under his chin, "I know that, pal. But you have to let him go. Don't embarrass him further. He's completely devastated as it is." he reasoned.

Gage stopped trying to leave. But he didn't take his eyes off of Roy's police car until it turned a

right turn under the hospital walkway and was gone.

Johnny turned back to Cap, suddenly seeing how incongruent a completely outfitted firefighter seemed inside Rampart. Already eyes were drawing to Cap and whispers beginning.

Cap noticed this, "Come on, pal. We're sticking out here like sore thumb. Let's grab some coffee and go see Kelly, ok? Would you like that? I know I would. I've already cleared it with dispatch that the station will be out two hours. Lord knows we need some breathing room after all this hellish business."

Johnny still looked stunned.

Cap lightly tapped him on the face, "Hey. pull it together. Joanne and the kids will be here soon and we're the ones who are going to have to tell her what's going on. Dix has already agreed to stall them until WE'RE ready for them. So let's go."

Cap guided John by the shoulders and into the nurses' lounge. "Tell me about Marco. What's his current condition.?'' he said, sitting Gage down.

Mechanically Johnny began telling him and he felt a steaming cup of coffee thrust into his trembling hands. The odor of java that was so inviting that same morning smelled suddenly like the most vile substance on earth. He closed his eyes against the world, denying everything but the feeling of his captain's glove still on his shoulder while he talked.

Unbidden, he saw a vision of Marco's cross taped eyes sunk in a pale face behind his own closed eyelids and his own shot right back open again and he gasped.

Cap was still urgently talking to him, not taking eyes off of his junior man, now awfully partnerless for an unknown length of time. He knew it would be even harder for Gage when he got back to the station and saw Gil already in place as 51's temporary paramedic fill in. "Easy, pal. I know this going to be hard for the whole gang. Just hang tough. Before you know it, we'll be right back together soon sharing another of Marco's four alarm breakfast recipes. And that will be during a very, very routine A shift, ok? Gage? Drink up. Things will be normal again if I have anything to say about it. You can be absolutely assured of that, pal."

Deep inside, Gage knew things weren't going to be normal again for many many days. Not by a long shot.

--------------------------------------

An hour went by slowly, and soon, he found he was back to base at the station house.

Johnny Gage pulled the squad back into the garage about half way, then stopped, staring at the brilliantly blue California sky overhead. Seems so unreal. That fogbank might have been a mirage for all I'm seeing here. he thought squinting in the sunlight. It caused a whole lot of heartache for such a short lived thing.

For the third time, he glanced over at the passenger seat in reflex. It felt odd being in the driver's seat, the most profound sensation was knowing the reason why he was there. And he couldn't ..quite get over it.

But Gage pushed his troubling feelings aside when he saw that the engine had beaten him back from Rampart. They're going to need me to be the same Johnny Gage I always am, with my joking and complaining. Somebody has to be the one to act normal around here. We're a station crew with three men down.

Sighing, he turned off the lights and put the truck in park, took off his black helmet, and got out. He headed straight for the showers.

Gage whistled a tuneless measure to cheer himself up with a shouldered towel and shampoo and soon, he found himself walking by the sinks. He was shocked to find another fireman with ginger hair shaving by one of them. He stopped whistling.

The other man turned around. "Hey Johnny."

Johnny didn't move. but he replied, "Hi, Gil. "He hid a reaction of resentment. Roy's fill in had already been summoned. It was the way of a 24/7 fire department. He curbed any sharp tone by lowering his eyes and mumbling. "Who else came out with you?"

Gil, was bright, free of worry. "Oh, Moreno from Eight's and..uh, I think Odegard from 14's." he said, carefully carving a path through the foam on his face.

"Good man Odegard," Johnny remarked, "Heard he just got his rear pumper lieutenancy last month. Got promoted the same time as Lop--" he broke off. He studied his shoes, tapping one toe against the tiled wall frame.

Gil caught a bit of John's reluctant acceptance of him filling Roy's place and nodded, "Listen uh, Johnny. If it means anything at all. I rushed ahead of the line and volunteered myself to make this reassignment a little easier for you."

Gage said, "Gil. don't pay any attention to my face right now. It's not listening to me at all at the moment. What you think you see there, isn't about you. It's about me not being able to cope fast enough." he said, irritated at himself. "My whole world's been turned upside down in." he looked at his dusty watch,." a little under four and a half hours." And he threw him a dry look and frown. "My brain's seriously fried."

But Gil Sheppard went on, feeling an explanation would make himself feel more comfortable. "I barged on ahead of Brice thinking I was the lesser of two evils..heh." he said wiping off the last of the foam on his face. "Look, I know I can't fill your partner's shoes one hundred percent, a close working team doesn't spring up well oiled over night. I figured I'm less caustic that HE would've been."

Johnny walked over next to Gil, and leaned two hands on a sink. "Sheppard. " and he held out his hand. "I'm glad you're here. Welcome to Station 51, partner." and he actually smiled on one side.

Relieved, Gil broke off and took Gage's hand. "Been a long time, Johnny. We haven't hung out since Pam died." He shook a callused firm hold, then let go, turning back to the mirror. "It's been what? Five years?"

John, too, studied the mirror and saw the soot and wear of the morning on his forehead and clothes. "I look like a sight for sore eyes." he sighed heavily, "Yeah. Something like that. What've you been up to, lately? I thought you took that cush job up north in the Sierra Nevadas with Station Ten's, riding shotgun with their elite high country rescue helicopter unit."

"I'm still there. But it's not exactly fire or tourist season. Things are slow. And then when we all heard your run go out this morning and then your radio transmissions about Chet and Marco and Roy on the scanner, I knew I had to come and help you guys out, you know. I've got too much history with this station house to just do nothing." Gil said as he absently rinsed the sink. He gave an exaggerated, short polish to one particular carved graffiti heart near his sink, still displaying the faint initials of G.S and P.B. and eyed Johnny from the corner of his eye to see if he noticed the teasing move. Gil and Johnny once competed dating wise for Pam. Gil was the one who eventually won her hand.

Johnny dropped his head and put hands on his hips smiling even wider. He was caught. Gil's maneuver had worked. For the first time Gage felt good feelings since the pile up call. "Yeah, Pam always did link us all up together, and between you and Roy,. and Pam, you three finally finagled me into entering the medic program and got my rear off being a rescue man on the engine. How could I refuse the challenge? I didn't stand a chance, a zitfaced teen fireman, standing alone, against two paramedics and a flight nurse telling such tales of heroism and bravery? Not a chance in the world."

Gil laughed.

John patted his arm in appreciation, "Thanks for being there for the both of us." He meant Roy and himself. "Then ..and now. See you in a bit." And he left to clean himself and get into a new uniform. Before he got all the way into the water room, he stopped, "Oh, and Gil.."

"Hmm??" the tall red haired man grunted around his toothpaste.

"Thanks for upstaging Brice. I might have murdered him on the very next run we went on.."

"No problem."

-----------------------

The county jail physician had noticed DeSoto's arrival through the main doors of the LA county PD, and grunted at the dusty look falling over the minor burns that were still half treated on Roy's arm and chest. He followed Roy through his search, fingerprinting and clothes changing process, attending him silently.

Nervously, Roy told him that he had been treated and released by Rampart General officially due to extenuating circumstances, most likely from the detective's eagerness to take him into custody, but the older grizzled man would have nothing to do with that excuse.

He treated and covered Roy's blisters with several two by twos and Silvadene. To Roy's dismay, the handcuffs were not removed the whole time. Finally, as the older doctor was putting away his supplies, Roy spoke, "I've been through a lot today. I don't usually have a pair of handcuffs locking my wrists together like this. I've a wife and two small kids coming. If you'd just take them off. I'd sure appreciate it." he requested.

The old doctor didn't look up, and quipped wearily, "That's what they all say." He took Roy's measure fully. But then said kindly." You don't strike me as a felon Mr. DeSoto, quite the opposite in fact. I'm sure whatever it is you're in for will straighten itself out."

Roy didn't say anything contrary, but nodded noncommittally. "I sure hope you're right, doc."

"Keep them dry.." the jail physician said. "I'll see what I can do about those restraints." And then he left Roy to his solitude. The attendant guard helped him to change the rest of the way into his overalls without saying a word.

Roy's apprehension grew at the cautious manner in which the man handled him. As if I were a powder keg, about to go off.

Ten minutes later, another guard returned and freed Roy from his bonds without questions and he was taken away. The doc was as good as his word.

----------

It was sometime later, Roy was staring at the ceiling of his jail cell, tracing a crack in its official steel gray shine, drawing along it with a finger from his place on the cot while lying on his back.

His own mind haunted him.

Sunlight through the shadow of leaves from the window made shapes of a checkerboard that flickered on one wall. Its cheerfulness seemed vile to him and he couldn't bear to look at it.

Roy sighed, shifting onto his side, to avoid it and scratched at an itch, then winced when he caught a blister's top accidentally with a fingernail. Just how did I wind up here?

The memory he had of the ride in was from a protective haze that had divorced him from his surroundings.

Now the gray cell's quiet was restoring his senses.

He smelled disinfectant and chlorine from the toilet. And heard the echoes of bar gates slamming as people were moved about around him.

Slowly, he forced himself to run over events in his mind of what had taken place that morning.

DeSoto folded his elbows above him on the pillow and rested his head on his arms, very sobered by the enormity of how quickly things had changed.

Why didn't I see I was unfit to handle Marco's med? I just won't buy the excuse of a headache from the jolt in the floor. I've taken harder knocks than that and still carried out a rescue afterwards. Just where in the hell did I go wrong here? But answers eluded him as easily as smoke on the wind. A lurid grogginess rose up, masking out his thoughts again in a protective pall.

Even before his eyes drifted shut, Roy fell into an exhausted and troubled sleep.

------------

He awoke to a gentle caress on his cheek. Lily of the valley perfume told Roy who was with him. "Joanne? " he whispered.

Roy's wife of seven years placed her head on his nearest shoulder and just laid there, smoothing out its loud orange jail colored material from her place on a chair.

She had been watching him sleep for half an hour until her need for contact made her wake him. "Honey, I heard, I'm so sorry about Lopez. It's awful. Are you ok?" Joanne didn't even begin to imagine the guilt Roy must have been feeling, for volumes of it filled his eyes, making them cloudy.

But Roy kissed her head tenderly, and set his hand on the two of hers. "Physically, yes. Emotionally, well, the count's still out on that one. How else can you feel on the day you almost kill one of your coworkers?"

Joanne covered her mouth, blinking to shut out her tears and she just wrapped her arms around her husband as if to drive out all of his pain and remorse with just the warmth from her body.

Roy closed his eyes, letting silent tears fall but he didn't, couldn't make a sound.

Joanne soothed away his chills when he started shaking and gave him her own light jacket to use, pulling it up around his neck.

Roy coughed, sitting up, and got a grip over his fear, studying her eyes, "A-Are the kids here? I don't want them to see their father like this.."

Joanne replied, "Don't worry. When Cap and Johnny told us you had been arrested and were no longer at the hospital, I came here alone. Bernice from down the street has them until we get back home."

Her last sentence jarred through Roy's senses. "Until WE get home?" He sat up and they broke apart.

"Yes, didn't you hear? Johnny's met your bail. I was allowed back here to come get you." Joanne said with consternation. "Didn't the authorities tell you anything about being released?"

"No. No one's told me a thing. Not even the jail doctor. He treated my burns, but kept cuffs on me the whole time."

Joanne got a little angry. "Well, they're off now. And I wouldn't be surprised if the officer outside comes in here to open the door any second now. He told me he'd come get us as soon as we were ready to go. I told him to wait so you could rest a little more and to come back when you were awake and talking again."

Sure enough, Joanne's guard heard conversation and entered the jail block. He unlocked Roy's cell door, leaving it wide open. "You're free to go, Mr. DeSoto. Detective Fielder is releasing you into house arrest custody until your extradition hearing tomorrow morning. A Mr. Gage covered your bail for you."

And the young man left them alone again.

"Let's go home, Roy. I don't like it here." Joanne said.

---------------

Gil and Johnny were spit and polished for their shift and they made their way around squad and engine to the kitchen, talking animatedly.

A voice called from the captain's office. "Gage, Sheppard. A moment if you will." It was Cap.

"Right there." Johnny said. His short lived good mood evaporated immediately. It was Hank's official business tone showing in his voice.

"Coming, Cap." Gil said.

The two paramedic friends entered the office. Gage spun around and almost left again when he saw who was with his captain.

Detective Fielder rose to his feet, "Johnny Gage?" and he offered his hand. "Detective Fielder, from the Investigative Office, FEMA."

John took the hand, blank faced, eyeing the wall. He was intently aware of Cap watching his reactions. "Yes. I'm Johnny Gage. I'm Roy DeSoto's partner with the paramedic squad here." he dropped the detective's hand quickly and sat in a chair, putting his feet on Cap's desk, at once challenging and sarcastic, barely civil.

Hank surprisingly, grinned at John's body english, and didn't mind the feet sitting on his papers at all. He inwardly despised this Fielder almost as much as his paramedic did.

Gil, instinctive firefighter to the last, sat with Gage, folding his fingers with elbows on knees before him, leaning in on the conversation to show his unswaying support nonverbally.

Johnny looked at Fielder and didn't look away. "Exactly what can I do for you, sir? Quite frankly, I'm mad as hell you even had him arrested!"

Fielder raised his palms in surrender, not at all phased by the accusation. "Now that wasn't my call at all. The PD saw an illegal offense taking place. By law, they were required to act. It was my job to get him to take a leave of absence and to investigate the why and how of what happened. It's the knee jerk protocol of the PD alone that even had Mr. DeSoto cuffed and hauled away without an actual crime scene statistic."

"Crime scene statistic.." he grunted angrily. "huh. You're talking about the fact that Marco Lopez hasn't died yet." John said incredulously.

Fielder inclined his head. "No body. No crime."

Gage scoffed, "Oh, that's nice and tidy, now isn't it? My partner is figuratively hanging himself already over this overdose and then you come along, making him feel like he's Hitler's Dr. Mengele' or something by taking away his paramedic's badge. That's real class, man. Real class." and he kissed his fingers sarcastically in an Italian salute.

Fielder sighed deeply from his place, leaning on the wall and he studied his shoes, setting his hands on his hips.

The phone rang, interrupting them all.

Hank grabbed it up a little too fast, "LA. County Fire Department. This is Captain Stanley." "Yeah..?" And he wrote down some information on a notepad." Yeah. I'll tell him." Then he hung up the phone, smiling just a bit, "Just heard from Joanne, Johnny. Your bail went through. DeSoto's home now. The kids are at the neighbor's down the street."

"Good." Johnny said, glancing briefly at his captain. "At least something's going right today."

Fielder wasn't blind to the fire crew's need to vent. He knew how close an engine crew's company could become. It was a little how he considered his own family of detectives to be at the head offices. He gave the men in front of him the benefit of the doubt. "Listen to a voice of wisdom here. A little bird always tells me this when I'm cornered in a plaintiff's own bailiwick." He drew quotations in the air, " ' I- am- not- the - bad -guy'.hmm?" And he flung his hands wide.

Gage and Cap instantly regretted their attitudes.

Fielder went on. "In fact, I am here to show that Roy DeSoto isn't one either. The mistake itself is being investigated. Not the man. Roy DeSoto's fitness for continued service lies with this fine gentleman seated to my left, Mr. Gage." and he gestured to Cap.

Johnny and Gil looked up in surprise. "Cap, is this true?"

Cap didn't change his expression much but he did look pained. "In part." and he started to quote a departmental regulation. "Section nine, paragraph 14 in the county's captain's manual. 'In the light of an error of judgement in the field from crewmen under a captain's command, resulting in police action, it is up to the station captain to determine the continued fitness of the effected crewman to perform in his assigned role and course of duty."

"So what are you going to do, Cap?" Gil asked. He saw that Johnny was beyond words.

"What the man says. Investigate." and he leaned back against the wall, with fingers laced behind his head, "Now I'm not a whiz on this paramedic's stuff, I don't pretend to be. So I've asked Kel Brackett to be my adjudicator.."

Johnny nodded with satisfaction, pleased with the choice.

Cap threw a gesture at Fielder. "Sound fair enough?"

"The head ER MD?" Then he nodded. "That's acceptable. I'll make arrangements."

But Johnny still had a question. "But how are you going to "check" Roy out? He's been suspended. Can't investigate the work of a paramedic out of uniform." he said, still a touch defensive about the whole affair.

Cap made the move of a batter hitting a pitch from home plate. "That's Brackett's department, now isn't it? I have full confidence in the very doctor that trained DeSoto to know and determine, if he's still got the right stuff ..or not."

Then Captain Stanley rose, concluding the meeting. "Come on, lunch is getting cold. Odegard's trademark stew on the stove. Join us, detective?" he invited Fielder.

"Don't mind if I do, captain. That's if.. Gage and company are amenable.."

Johnny forced himself to grin and gallantly indicated the door. "I am. Eat with us. And I promise not to beat you to a bloody pulp." His grin went bigger.

Gil smacked Johnny's shoulder. "That's what we got a punching bag out back for, Gage. For those oh, so macho aggressive protective tendencies of yours. You should start using it right after you tame that growling stomach of yours. I could use a partner in a better mood as fast as I can get one."

"Oh. ha. ha." He was the last to trail out of Cap's office. He mumbled to himself. "I think I will.."

The four men were walking by the wallsized map of L.A. county by the wall when a jarring shimmy came up from the ground, unbalancing them.

The dispatch mike came off its spigot on the wall by the intercept alcove and bounced on the floor. It jittered there, and all eyes watched it.

"whoa." John exclaimed, "Now that's what you call a tremor.." and he grinned at Fielder's suddenly pale face. "Happens all the time this far south." He explained to the detective. "Guess your city of Malibu's spared this kind of excitement at FEMA headquarters, huh??"

It wasn't past him to torment the detective ..yet. He easily "surfed" the cement floor subtle undulations.

Fielder sighed at his show of weakness with a little frustration. "It doesn't get anything this bad. How strong do you think it is?"

Gil checked the width of the power cords swaying back and forth near the garage's ceiling. "From the look of it, only a 2 on the Richter's scale."

"Only ..a 2." Fielder echoed.

Gil slapped him on the shoulder. "It's nothing. Come on, let's eat. You can still walk during one of these, just, bend your knees a little bit. There. That's right."

Cap was stooping to replace the microphone when the overhead grid toned a station's check. It gave the Earthquake Alert Call Sign tones, then the familiar dispatcher came online. 'L.A. County to all stations. Topographical survey confirms a level two earthquake spike. This is a communications check. All stations report in.'

Captain Stanley toggled a switch. "L.A., This is Station 51, Communications are patent and clear. You read just fine. 51, out, KMG 365."

The sounds of the other stations and units in the county were still coming on the overhead speakers in the kitchen when everyone finally sat at the lunch tables.

Around them, the station house creaked and groaned audibly, complaining while the slight tremor continued.

Odegard was wiping off some gravy that had spilled at the start of the ground shake. "Ooo, no earthquakes on my shift. you hear me?! This gravy's is too good a batch to go to waste.. so Knock it Off!!" he said, shaking a fist at the window across the kitchen.

The ground stilled.

"Thank you very much.." and he tossed a pinch of salt over his shoulder for luck.

All the guys laughed at his comic relief.

The station 51 gang and the Malibu detective began to share their meal and talk, dismissing the minor earthquake from their minds in moments. They turned to filling the hunger in their bellies soon after.

-----------------------------------------------------

Roy and Joanne were disturbed from their hard won, peaceful afternoon nap soon after they had comforted each other physically. It was their malamute, Shania, howling a short series of yaps from the yard.

At first, Joanne thought it was Bernice, escorting the kids back home early.

But then the house began to rock, very slightly.

Joanne cracked an eye, watching the tassels on the lampshade dance. She buried her head in her pillow. "Oh, for Pete's sake. Hon. it's another tremor."

"What?" Roy mumbled sleepily, he was still groggy but relaxed from the aftermath of their lovemaking.

He shifted from his back from how he had been slumbering, to his side, snuggling up close to Joanne once more, wrapping protective arms around his wife's barely rounded, pregnant belly. "Oh. The ground's shaking. Yeah, I can feel it. Nothing to worry about. It's just a ...just a.. " and he began to snore. His breathing leveled off once more.

Joanne was instantly comforted by his lack of concern. "Just so you're ok. And the kids. That's all I need to know.." She too, soon, drifted off to join him in dreams.

---------------------------------

Rampart General was alerted through the same agency that ran the fire department dispatch in all of their emergency paramedic calls.

About the Richter alert, she herself didn't feel anything. Rampart had backup generators and backups to those backups in a redundant three way linkup. And the main hospital building she was in was too big to even twitch for a level two. Needless to say, she entered the base station as per protocol, reaffirming city wide communications with all nine firehouse paramedical units.

Dixie picked up the land line confirming full band transmission to them first, through the fire department's dispatch manned base.

Then waited to see if any rescue squad wanted to check out their equipment afterwards.

There was only one call ; from Station 36, in Anaheim. They wanted only a session

on the radio monitor to test their defibrillator's EKG relay readout.

The head nurse obliged them, getting a perfect EKG series from 36's equipment from their location at their station. Including a mock defib against their unit's test plating, remotely. "36. Your defibrillator's output calibrates green. You're good to go. All four leads register fully."

"10-4, Rampart. Squad 36, out."

Shrugging, Dixie McCall left the tiny room and she turned on the red lined radio above her work station. It was tuned to the state's official EMS bulletin scanner frequency.

Soon, topographical data began issuing on the ground tremor's progress across Los Angeles.

She saw Dr. Morton walking by and he raised an eyebrow when he saw the disaster

scanner turned on. "Oh, it's nothing, Dr. Morton. A minor tremor , topping only a 2.4 peak in Anaheim, which lasted, in any one spot, for only 20 or so seconds. The EMS room is quiet." she said jerking her nurse's capped head at its status board, showing all stations at their bases. "Not so much as a peep so far from any of them." she meant of the firehouse rescue squad departments city wide.

"I see. That's the third alert this month."

"Yeah."

"I'm feeling lucky, Miss McCall." he muttered, changing the subject and he hefted his chart in her direction, meaning the patient whose data was contained within it.

"Oh?" she toned, up a scale, looking for good news. Dixie caught the name of the chart Mike was looking at. "Marco Lopez." she read aloud, "How's he doing?"

"Swelling's going down. He's still comatose and the aberrations on his EKG have gone away. He's off the respirator, breathing on his own." Mike said with a half smile.

Dixie looked up still serious, "Is that good?"

Morton's face fell. "It's hard to say. His pupils are still fixed, showing deep coma, but it's encouraging to see he's off life support. That might be a sign that Kel's steroidal treatments are having a positive effect and that the Narcan has begun to clear out all traces of Diazepam from his cerebral tissues."

"When will you know more, doctor?" Dixie asked.

"The neurologists say if there's any rallying to be done by Marco, he's got to show further improvement by nightfall. If he doesn't respond to stimuli appreciably then, we'll have to start speculating that this toxic coma of his might be permanent."

Dr. Morton walked away after leaving Marco's chart in the wooden carousel on her desk.

Dixie was left only with immeasurable sadness. Unconsciously, she looked at her watch.

It was 3 PM.

Marco Lopez. You've got four and a half hours to wake up. Or you're never going to, ever.

Dixie turned back to her work.

--------------------------------

Joanne shook out of a featureless dream, jolting awake and she sat up.

Around her, the house was sunny and silent and the birdsong outside the window soothed her spirit. Mrs. DeSoto pulled back the curtains and saw that Shania, too was resting, curled in the sun, by the dog house outside, oblivious to the jays bathing in her water bowl.

Grinning at her pet's somnolence, she shifted in bed, and saw Roy's broad back as he slept next to her. She reached out to caress him once more to reassure herself of his physical nearness but changed her mind. It's better he rests. Tomorrow's only going to be hard on him, too.

She looked at the time. It was 4:47 PM. Oh my. I've got to go to Bernice's before her company comes over. What time we're they arriving for her party again? Oh, yes. Five o'clock. I still have time.

Rising carefully, Joanne got on some clothes, undergarments followed by a soft plaid shirt.

She had just buttoned her jeans when Roy shifted, complaining that he couldn't hear the

radio, calling in his sleep that he was "available."

A familiar mothering pang made her go into the living room for his walkie talkie. She returned to the bedroom and switched it on to a universal frequency, so he could hear the usual babble between the fire departments corresponding with each other and with dispatch as they went about their day.

She set the radio on the night stand near him but turned it low enough so that it wouldn't wake him if a call went out for his station.

At once, Roy settled down and stopped mumbling. He grew still again, sinking back into slumber.

He's most probably listening to it right now. she mused. That's just fine. The station is his second home.

Joanne kissed him and hurried down the street to collect the kids from Bernice's.

----------------------------------------------

The lunch dishes had just been piled by Mike who had been assigned that detail when a knock on the outer door caught all of their attentions.

Puzzled, Cap rose from his chair, leaving the newspaper he had been reading on the table. He went to the kitchen's side entrance access door and opened it.

Kelly Brackett stood there in flight fatigues with a folded bundle under one of his arms. "Hello Captain. Thought I'd drop by and start doing some of that adjudicating I promised you I'd start doing." And with that, he barged into the kitchen. He had a field medical pack with him, a teaching one.

Grinning, Cap got out of his way. Time for Operation Wake Up. he thought happily.

"I thought this was your scheduled day off, doc?" John remarked.

"It is. I'm not really here if anyone asks. Kapeche?" Brackett challenged.

"Clear as crystal." Gage said, getting back to his plate of food. John had an inkling of what his superior was planning, but hadn't quite yet pegged exactly what it was yet.

Cap ambled back over to his chair. "Coffee's right over there. doctor. Have you eaten yet?"

"Heavily." Kel answered, he grabbed the cup Moreno hastily pro-offered him after he received a less than subtle cue from Cap to give him one.

Detective Fielder was rolling up his sleeves, his suit coat over the back of one chair when he noticed the doc standing next to him, "Oh, hello, Doctor Brackett. Come to do some paperwork? I was just going to help out here some." and he smiled hugely.

"Don't let me stop you. In fact, I just might keep you on the job, Fielder, afterwards."

The rest of the gang already knew what was up and gathered around to watch curiously. Finally, the light dawned on Gage and he began to chuckle, too.

The detective felt being ganged upon but to his credit, didn't let it effect him. He stayed relaxed and friendly, "Oh? How, so.?"

Brackett reached up and pulled off Fielder's expensive clip on tie and tossed him his folded bundle. "Put these on. I just heard from your superiors that you have to listen and follow every request I make of you.."

Fielder caught the clothes, dropped his dish towel on the counter and opened them to see what they were. It was a tunic identical to the one Brackett was wearing. "Well, yes. Technically that's true, within reason." he answered truthfully, but confusion still marred his voice.

Brackett grinned diplomatically back, "Oh, believe me. I am being very reasonable, Mr. Fielder. You see, I've just authorized you to be allowed to participate on a paramedic ride along for an entire eight hour working shift. That way, you can see what our front line medical men do up close and personal. Maybe by the end of the day, you'll see just what kind of stresses and pressures that men like Johnny and Gil here, face everyday."

Fielder nodded, "If this has something to do with your man DeSoto.. I can't reverse his rescinded license without due cause."

But he got into the suit without protesting further.

"Fair enough. I am only asking you to ride along with us just as an observer. Captain.. That creates a problem. The squad can only hold three men."

Captain Stanley didn't even hesitate. "Sheppard, take the rear pumper slot on the engine next call, you're a water man until situations change it."

"You got it, Cap." Gil said instantly.

Cap held his hands up in a there you go gesture and got back to his paper. "Problem's solved, Dr. Brackett."

"Oh." Kel said, blinking a few times, "That was easy."

Cap muttered from his pages, "Always is when you're captain."

The guys around him laughed until a glare from Hank over the paper stopped them.

"Need anything else?" Cap asked Kel cheerfully.

Brackett pursed his lip, thinking but Gage finished his eventual thought. "No.no no. no.. We're set. Now all we need is a r--"

A two tone call went out over the intercom. 'Station 51. Citizen reports a smell of gas on the 1800 block of Supomeda Ave. The gas company has been notified. On the corner of Mitchell and Supomeda. Mitchell and Supomeda. Time out 16:49.'

Moreno remarked, "Hey I know that area. It's a warehouse district on the edge of an apartment complex. The site's an empty lot if I remember correctly."

"We all know that area, Carlos." Cap said, "That's the edge of the Streger factory wing. Remember them guys? There's a track worn in their frontage road from our squad pulling in every week to hand out pipeline violations."

"Oh, that's why they're so familiar." Moreno groaned.

The guys got up and moved out. John shouted when Fielder just stood there. "Let's go. Let's go. That's us. Get the lead out, Fielder, I gotta fit you for a helmet for you to wear too."

And he shoved the man to hurry him along.

Brackett took his pack with him.

Cap acknowledged their response, "Station 51, KMG 365." And then he got on his overcoat.

There was some initial elbow jostling as the bigger Fielder squeezed into the squad with the smaller Brackett in the middle with Johnny taking the wheel but they made good time and still pulled out ahead of the engine.

Station 51 activated lights and sirens, which cleared the busy boulevard of traffic and both rescue vehicles turned left to head north into the suburb district of West Lake Village.

----------------------

They stopped about 800 yards from the corner they were given and halted their vehicles.

Cap stepped out of the cab of the engine and ordered. "Everyone put masks and air on until we find the problem. I don't want to put anyone at risk until we know more."

"Right." they said.

Gil got his apparatus on quickly then jogged over to the squad with a gas spigot wrench.

He tapped Johnny, who had geared up just as quickly, on the shoulder. "Do you want me to help him get this on?" He pointed to the detective turning straps over, trying to see how the harness went on.

Gage nodded, and handed his spare tank to Gil to give to Fielder. Awkwardly, the tall civilian man put on the strange equipment with the fireman's help.

Brackett, already trained and equipped, was ready to go. He stood by Cap as Stanley coordinated plans for a search. "Stoker. Moreno, head east to that substation. See if

you can find anything. Odegard, Sheppard, head north. Doctor Brackett, hang back with me. Johnny, take Fielder. He'll be an extra nose here, pal. Tell him what to expect and keep him safe."

"Got it, Cap."

Gil said, "What about me?"

"You're with us. We'll head south. I see yellow gas line flags over there down in that ditch. O.K. move out people and keep in contact via radio at all times. Check in every five minutes. Move out."

The men split up into their four groups and headed into four different directions.

Five minutes walking distance from the trucks, the stench of the nitrous oxide indicator grew stronger.

It was Johnny who found the leak. It was coming from a fresh crack in the earth. Luckily, a nearby valve was downpipe from it, sticking up in the open field. He had spotted it easily.

The day breeze was blowing the deadly gas downwind, away from the nearby apartment houses to flow harmless over the LA riverbed.

Breathing heavily inside his mask, he brought his radio to his mouth, "Cap! We found it. Looks like the earthquake disrupted this line. There's a new erosion crevasse intersecting the pipeline over here. I have found the shutoff valve. But I'm seeing clear signs of further substrate instability. Over."

He gestured to Fielder to hand him the pipe wrench.

Dimly the radio in his hand replied. "Got that, Gage. We've just been notified that the gas company is turning off service for the whole area in less than a minute."

Gasping through his regulator mask, Johnny tightened the emergency valve until the hiss of gas ended. Then he pulled Fielder back with him to the road.

Back in clear air, Johnny removed his hazard helmet and pulled off his face mask.

Fielder joined him doing the same thing.

"Whew, That was close. Another five minutes and that whole neighborhood would've gone up into smoke."

"How so? It seemed to be such a small leak." the detective said, eyeballing his unfamiliar breathing equipment.

Gage watched the indicator on the valve station sink to zero as Cap's promised gas company shutdown, happened before his eyes. Johnny's expression grew very serious. "Fielder, that's natural gas. It hangs together on the ground like fog and is very volatile. Even a leak that small can spread for hundreds of yards until it encounters someone's open window well. After that it's just a matter of time before the gas bank encounters a pilot light in the basement. Then, " And he gestured a huge explosion.

Fielder paled. "How often does this kind of leak occur?"

Gage sighed wearily, "During every earthquake man, during every single, solitary one of them. This part of town lies in a fault line. My station's been handing out pipeline violations to this land owner for years. Nothing gets fixed. He's rich enough from those warehouses to keep up paying all the fines."

The detective thought on it. "You think the city would have planned ahead and not put in those warehouses over there so near the fault. Even I can see it along there.. and there."

"Tell me about it. What you see before you is a good example of your typical inane land developer's ignorance at work." Gage said sweeping a glove over the landscape showing the factories and the riverbed and the field they had just escaped.

He stood a moment wiping the sweat from his eyes before sighing. "All right, looks like the gas has dissipated. Let's start heading back."

Fielder, unknowingly, stepped back into the field near the crevasse. heading towards where the unseen rescue trucks were parked.

"Fielder! No!! That ground's unstable!!"

But the fragile ground gave way under the big man made even heavier by the forty five pound breathing apparatus strapped to his back.

He plummeted into a fast yawning hole.

Johnny leaped and by some miracle, caught him. He grabbed his arm at the elbow, "Hang onto me! Hang onto me."

Fielder gasped, yelling. "Ahh!"

"Give me your other hand, Fielder. Your other hand! Ughhh!! I got ya.!!" He tried not to watch the earth sink and disappear underneath the detective's dangling feet. "Don't look down. Just hang on! I got ya."

Gage could hear the ground still caving in underneath him beneath the ribbon of road. Slowly, over agonizingly long seconds, he hauled the detective out of the growing sinkhole and crevasse using the straps from the air bottle and finally, using his pants belt, dragging Fielder onto the solid concrete road beyond the gaping edge.

Both men collapsed on their sides, gasping for a minute while they got their winds back.

Then they helped each other to their feet.

Gage looked at Fielder carefully, "You ok? I just about tore your arm off grabbing ya."

Fielder shook his left arm, "Good thing I work out with weights every morning. Or I would've been missing that arm." he leaned over unsteadily but grinning.

Gage said, "Here, we won't be needing these things anymore. The gas is off." And he helped the shaken detective out of his air bottle equipment.

The radio, by an odd stroke of luck, hadn't been swallowed in the cave in. It still lay on

the frontage road. Johnny scooped it up again.

A cloud of dust rose into the air from the crater where the field had been. "There's no way Cap's going to miss seeing that. He's going to come running. Man, that's a big cloud of debris.. I wonder what's happening down there.."

No sooner than the words escaped his mouth, than the spidering crevasse grew, sinking in a new crack straight towards the row of houses and the trees lining the yards there.

"Oh, no."

He got onto his talkie, "Cap! Cap! Looks like we got us a full fledged sinkhole in progress. Fifty yards across and growing. It's headed for those homes over there!"

"We're checking it out, pal. Do the same!!" he ordered.

Gage pulled off his apparatus and started running down the only safe place he could, the concrete road, trying to follow where the rumbling crevasse was heading. Fielder kept up.

Then he saw a large Eucalyptus tree containing a treehouse. He briefly saw a head in its window looking up in horror before the whole tree toppled over from its roots losing purchase in the loosening ground.

Gage heard a male scream just before the rumbling ended. It cut short just as the massive splintering tree settled to earth. Silence reigned, the sinkhole was finished eating. For the moment.

He took a risk and leaped over the crevasse into the effected backyard. He turned right back shouting at Fielder, "Go back to the squad. Get the guys and the medical gear!! Right rear compartment. Grab the white, red and black boxes. We've got a man trapped in here! Go!!"

Fielder disappeared over the rise pelting away strongly.

Johnny pulled out his radio as he fought his way through the jumble of branches. He made sure his helmet stayed on his head, feeling vulnerable among the cracked tree limbs jutting all around him. He got to a heavily shaded section and saw a nailed wall, partially crumpled. The treehouse! "Hey! Can you hear me?!! "

Only the wind filled the backyard and birdsong.

"Hey!!" Johnny yelled even louder. He couldn't see anything through the leaves.

Then a moan. To his left. Gage scrambled over a thick fork of the tree and down into the shattered house. His victim was a teen aged boy, wearing a blue football jersey.

Johnny got onto his radio. "Squad 51 to engine 51. I have a causality." He looked around at the surrounding houses for an identifying landmark or house number, none were apparent from his angle. Damn. He reached for the boy's neck for a carotid. It was there, but fading fast.

Nor were there any cars or people about in the neighborhood. Everyone's still at work. he speculated. Fat lot of good it'll do me now. I need someone to tell me where we are..

"Go ahead, Johnny!" Gil answered back on the radio.

Gage got an idea. "Hang on for a 10 -20." he gasped, crouching nearer the teen's head.

He set the radio on a branch and leaned down. "Hey. can you hear me?" The boy moaned and opened his eyes. "Listen." Johnny said, holding his face carefully to keep the boy from moving around. "Help's on the way. but I need to know what your house address is here." The young man began to sag in shock.

John dug a pen cap into the top of one of the boy's fingernails to rouse him further. "Listen to me. What's your address?? Hey, we're going to need help getting you out of here."

The teenager gasped at the inflicted pain and didn't open his eyes. But Johnny thought he had been understood. He moved near the boy's mouth to listen as he began to move his lips. "Sev-- nn, ni." The effort wore out the injured teen, he fell silent, just trying to draw breath.

"All right. All right." Gage said, keeping a hand on the young man's chest. "Just take it easy. We'll find another way to let them know where we are." he said, beginning to cut open the football jersey to expose a soft spot his fingers had found from his assessment, with his shears. "Just try to relax."

Gage didn't like the way the teen was breathing. It seemed that he had broken ribs on that

discolored left side and a distinct sound of bubbling, which attested to fluid building in his chest. Johnny mumbled to himself. "Oh great. Pneumothorax." His lung's collapsing.

But his sweep of the boy's legs showed no fractures and his back and neck were fine and in proper alignment the whole way down his spine from what he could feel.

He got back to Gil, clicking the talk button, "Gil, He said something like. seven or seventeen or seventy nine.. I can't be absolutely certain. We won't be able to get a definite address of this house." Then, he remembered. He fell onto his backup plan. "Watch for Fielder!! He knows where we are!!"

"I'm on it!" A few seconds later. "I think I see him a quarter of a mile up the road. Hang on!!"

Johnny could hear Cap and Moreno and the others calling back and forth to each other, both live and on the talkie trying to find him. He had done all he could. He had to start concentrating on keeping his victim alive now.

He crouched back over his patient. "Hey. how are you doing?"

The teen focused uncertainly on Gage's face, but the nail rub had definitely brought him more to consciousness.

"I'm with the L.A. County Fire Department. Saw your tree go down." he joked. "Quite a sight."

The teen smiled a bit, then winced in pain as something sharp dug into his side again. Ow. something's busted."

A low rumble made him cut off what he was saying.

A sudden new shift in the ground made a new dust cloud roar up around them. The shattered tree began to "crawl" around them as the sinkhole shuddered into life once more. The ground sagged beneath them.

Gage threw himself on top of the kid's face and chest as a huge section of tree came down on top of them both.

---------------------------

Gil and the other men got together to swap info. Breathlessly, Fielder shared the news.

"You say Gage was near the leak on the other side of the field.?" Cap said, leaning out of his cab, looking toward the rising dust cloud. He didn't think either the engine nor the squad were light enough to drive onto the weakened frontage road. Only the concrete's rock hardness kept the road in one piece. A lot of the earth under it, had vanished. "All right. Grab your gear, all. We go in on foot. Show us where he is Fielder. " He raised his talkie to his lips. "Engine 51 to Squad 51, come in."

There was no reply.

"Engine 51 to Squad 51, Come in.."

Still nothing. And Captain Stanley didn't like the fact that the ground was rumbling again from over where Fielder had come running.

Cap leaned in the cab and flicked on the air horn, hitting it twice in a summons. Then he shouted over the loud speaker. "Gage!! If you can hear us.. Hit your squelch, buddy."

They all looked at the Cap's handy talkie, waiting for the double squeal that was the standard reply for any man lost.

The static remained.

Cap got onto his CB radio. "L.A. we've got a search and rescue operation on our hands. Roll an additional responding unit to our location. We've multiple cave-ins. Casualties involved. Tell them to use the east road only upon arrival."

"10-4, 51."

Cap hopped out of the engine and ordered all to grab extrication and medical gear and two sets of stokes as he heard the new rescue call roll out from dispatch following a new set of summoning tones. Station eight was rolling out to aid her sister station. "Engine 51. This is station 8. Our ETA is ten minutes."

"A long time." Brackett who had been listening intently, had his medical bag. "Would it help if I tried to find a way in down that lane in front of those houses?"

Cap looked where Kelly Brackett was pointing. "Couldn't hurt. Fielder. You go with him."

Gil handed the detective the biophone and trauma kit. "You got airways in there?" he asked the doc about his satchel.

"A ton. I got a D tank in here, too."

Sheppard nodded. "Good, then we'll keep our O2 on this side of that crevasse. That way will have a double chance on one of us reaching Johnny with one of them."

Brackett and Fielder left on the run towards the tree filled neighborhood's entrance road.

Cap, Gil, Odegard and Moreno ran back down the frontage road to the site of the leak. The dust made it hard to see much so they ran north a bit more until they got into clear air.

The sinkhole was huge, stretching more than sixty yards across and its far edge had eaten more than six large trees. Gil's heart sank. I hope Johnny's not down there. He doesn't stand a chance.

--------------

Roy woke up, tightening every muscle. He wasn't yet awake, but he could've sworn he heard Johnny nearby. Then his eyes focused past the clock to the walkie talkie beyond and he heard a pain wracked voice again. "Squad 51 to L.A. Do you ..c- copy?"

Roy flung himself across the bed to grab the radio. "Johnny! It's Roy. Where are you?"

But Johnny's dry voice just repeated its hail. "L A. Over. I'm with a victim. caught in a

landslide..*ugh*. I've been injured, do you read.?"

Roy tried again to contact his partner but it was horrifyingly clear that Johnny could only send and not receive on his radio. DeSoto dressed as he had never dressed so fast before, into a T and jeans, and then switched the frequency to dispatch headquarters. "L.A. This is squad 51. Repeat Engine 51's 10 -20. Emergency." He knew dispatch would react to his call sign anyway, being ignorant of personnel shift assignments for each paramedic at each station. Roy would get his information regardless of whether or not he was on duty.

"51, the address was reported as being on the 1800 block of Supomeda and Mitchell. Last update, Engine 51 reported a resolved gas leak, then multiple cave-ins. A paramedic is transmitting but isn't replying to incoming hails. His location is unknown."

Roy's voice cracked, "That's six blocks from here.."

He lifted his talkie to his mouth. "10-4, LA. Out."

It was 5:45.

At the door he caught Joanne and the kids coming in. "Oh hi Roy. Bernice offered the kids hotdogs at the party and I couldn't resist her fondue." She held up a crock pot, "Saved you some."

Michael launched himself in a child's greeting at his father and so did the younger Jessica. Roy caught them into an automatic hug, but set them down immediately. "Kids, not right now, Daddy's real busy."

His urgency caught his wife right away. "Roy, what's the matter.?" she said, setting the pot on the hallway table.

"It's Johnny, He's at a rescue just over the hill. There's been a cave in and I think he's trapped." As he spoke his fingers twisted the radio back to Johnny's frequency. showing her what he had found. "My patient's vitals are worse.. I think my arm's broken." They all heard a pained soaked Gage report.

Roy took off at a dead run around the house after snatching up a sweatshirt John had forgotten at his house a week ago.

Joanne ran after him, telling the kids to stay in the house and to wait for her.

She met Roy, oddly, in the back yard. He was undoing Shania's chain. "Roy,, I know it sounds bad. But you can't leave here!. Aren't you under house arrest? The other men on the crew can get help to him."

Roy looked up from the knot he was untying around Shania's collar. She was whining picking up the human's sudden distress. She began howling. "I'm going, Joanne! I'll deal with the legal consequences later on. I know that neighborhood. I've got the best chance of reaching Johnny. Our house is on the other side of the hill from the cave in. I've got clear access from this side!"

He knelt by the excited Malamute, grabbing her collar. "Shania. " He thrust Gage's sweatshirt he had snatched up under her nose. "Find Johnny. Go. Seek. Find Johnny. Now." He let her go as the dog latched onto something on the wind and lifted her head. She took off running uphill towards Mitchell Road.

Joanne called after Roy, shouting desperately, "Oh Roy,, be careful.!"

"Keep the kids inside, Joanne. Don't let them follow me."

He fought to keep up with Shania, regretting that he had flung her leash off in his haste to start her tracking Gage.

As he ran, he listened to the radio pressed next to his ear for more clues.. Come on , Johnny. Keep talking. I'm coming.

------------------

In the wreckage of tree, Gage was leaning against a huge limb, favoring his left arm. He suspected a humerus fracture on himself. A simple one. But enough to cripple me. he cursed. He curled around the teen's head once more as he sent another radio transmission out on his station's frequency. "I'm at a treefall, inside a collapsed treehouse." He cast his eyes around the hidden tangle. "I'm hearing ..water, so I can't be that far away from the riverbed." he gasped.

He didn't know if the radio was even working. A heavy limb had cracked its casing in the last cave in.

A moan from the boy drew his attention downward. "L-Lissst-n. to me. If ..I..on't make it--" the teen panted.

"Hey, who said you're going to die now?" Gage told him, adjusting the boy's head and neck to give him the best airway possible. "Just stay with me. all right. You're going to have to keep awake from now on. You think you can do that for me?"

The teen coughed, and bloody froth bubbled out of his nose.

Johnny cursed. Yep. Definite a pneumo. A tension pneumo from the looks of it. "Hey, what's your name? I see you are a Pittsburgh Steelers fan here," as he pointed to the teen's cut open jersey, and nodding.

The teen smiled, "Steven-n. S- Sure am. Best team in the whol--" his eyes began to roll in the top of his head.

Johnny dug his pen back into one of Steven's nails. "Hey. Wake up."

Steven's eyebrows rose but he didn't open his eyes.

Johnny told him the reason to fight harder. "Steven. you've got to keep awake. I know how hard it is. But we've got a problem if you go out on me. I've only got the use of one arm here." If he codes. I won't be able to do his CPR. "Not much I can do after that to help you. So keep listening to my voice and try to concentrate on staying with me. Ok ? Help is on the way. But you're going to have to just hang in there as long as you can. It won't be long now." I hope. he amended.

 

Another nearby rumble created another cloud of dust and twigs and more branches rained down on Gage and Steven.

One caught Gage across his broken arm.

He blacked out.

-------------------

When he came to, the dust was only slightly less. I couldn't have been out long.

Frantic, he looked over to Steven. A thick tree trunk about six inches in diameter lay across Steven's throat. His face was blue.

Groaning, Gage dragged himself over to the boy and used his legs to push it up and off of his neck. He flopped down in agony around his arm at the pain the effort cost him and gasped for long tortured seconds. Come on. Check him. he told himself.

Gage found a weak heartbeat but there was no sound in his lungs. Not even trying to breathe anymore.

He dug a hole in the dirt with his good hand until Steven's head flopped back opening his airway again. Gage tucked his broken arm into his shirt with his other hand, swallowing around his own pain, then leaned over, giving the boy a couple of short breaths mouth to nose, using the grip of his good hand to hold his jaws shut. It was the best he could do with the use of only one arm. "Come on, Steven! Don't give up on me now."

The chest beneath his hand didn't rise.

Again, a series of short breaths, this time more of them, more forcefully, but not enough to exacerbate the torn left lung. "Hey. wake up!!"

Steven jerked, and began to cough and wheeze weakly, Johnny used a shred of jersey to soak up the blood in the boy's mouth as he began to breathe once more. "That's it. Be a fighter."

He slid his fingers to Steven's throat to monitor the thudding pulse there. Come on, Cap. Find us. We don't even have that golden hour for this one. We gotta make every second this boy has count.

------------------------

Dr. Early and Dixie McCall were bent over Marco's bedside with an aural scope and penlight. It was almost six o'clock. The deadline the neurologists had said would mark the demarcation between a miracle and a tragedy for Lopez's future prognosis.

It was time for a change.

Dixie handed Dr. Early his different scopes as he checked inside Marco's ears for the color and perfusion of his eardrums. "They're pink. His parasympathetic nervous system's made a comeback. Open one of his eyes and shine this light in it. I want to see if he reacts."

Dixie did so, peeling away the protective tape, soon, noting again the awful dilation of Lopez's pupil from the norm.

Dr. Early ordered. "Observe his pupil closely." He raised Marco's metal chart and brought it sharply down on the bedside table inches from Lopez's ear creating a very loud impact sound.

Dixie saw the black circle shrink sharply, then relax back into its normal size. "Joe! It's reactive!"

Dr. Early freed Marco's other eye and saw the same result, "He's coming out of it." And one of his hands found a waiting epinephren syringe from a nearby crash cart and quickly injected a few cc's of it into Marco's IV port.

Joe and Dixie held their breaths. Then the EKG monitor began to speed up into a blissfully normal sinus rhythm.

"Uughhhhhhhhhhh..." Lopez said and blinked.

"He's awake." she grinned.

"Yeah, but does he have any frontal lobe damage?" Joe wanted to know.

Dixie leaned in, "Marco. Marco. Can you hear me?"

His eyelids twitched and he sighed, a rich wonderful voluntary sigh. ".w-who wants to know??"

Then his eyes opened and he smiled with a full intelligence behind his look at doctor and nurse. "Oh, it's you guys. Though you were mama calling to me for a sec, Miss McCall."

Joe straightened. "Well. I guess the answer to my last question is a very resounding no."

"No !!" Dix said simultaneously beaming happily. "I guess Gage finally gets his dream phone call after all. she said.

Dixie reached for the landline on the wall, "Yes, hospital operator? Patch me through to the fire department's dispatch. I need to get in contact with a Fireman Gage at 51's in a relay as soon as possible. Yes. I'll hold."

"Hey, what's going on?" Marco asked.

--------------------------------------------------

Roy's lungs were near to bursting. He could see the dust cloud coming from a backyard in the next row of houses down from where he was running.

In order to make time, he'd have to find a short cut.

Shania seemed to agree. For she took a low hedge fence in a giant leap into precisely the most direct descending yard, whose last fence framed the one the sinkhole had claimed. Roy held onto his radio a little tighter, and shouted into it. "Hang on, Johnny, I'm coming.! Shania. locate Johnny. Find him. There's a good girl."

Together, dog and paramedic ran towards the fallen tree and the debris they could both see inside of it, 500 yards away. There wasn't any more dust rising from it, nor were there any more transmissions from Gage.

"Johnny!!"

-----------------------

"Mr. Gage?" It was the detective. "I got your doctor here."

Brackett leaned over the edge of the sinkhole, "Johnny how are you? You sound bad.."

Gage looked up even though his head was beginning to spin, "I'm fine. Just my arm. It's this kid I'm worried about. A possible tension pneumo. He's already quit breathing once on me. Get down here!"

"How? We don't have a rope?" Fielder said.

"Use this!" a new voice said, and a good solid clothesline was flung down into the hole, already tied to a secure tree.

Fielder gaped, "DeSoto? What are you doing here? You should be in house custody."

"Yeah well, there's two people who need me more than any court justice does so I'm going. Arrest me later." he said, "Come on, doc. You first. You've got the equipment. Me and Fielder will hold on to your line until you're down there."

Shania showed her fearlessness and negotiated the loose earthen wall, showing the men the most solid places to put their feet. She leaped the rest of the vertical drop and ran to the object of her search, Johnny. She sat by him, and pawed his leg once to show she completed her task.

Roy quickly rigged a seat rope web and Kel stepped into it. "Use the same footholds my dog used. Her instincts are always good whenever I rock climb. Should work here."

The malamute rose and went over to Steven, staring into his face, whining. She licked his chin once and barked at Johnny. "I know. I know.." Gage muttered. "Just hold on there girl, we aren't as nimble as you are. kay?" he grinned, pushing her away from his patient's face with his foot, to make room for the doctor to land near them. "Ok, doc!! Come on down.."

Kel was lowered to the bottom in record time. He dropped the rope and unslung his pack, opening it. He paused near Johnny long enough to see how shocky he was. He ordered, "As soon as I get this kid stabilized, I want you to get on a cannula, Johnny. You'll be more comfortable. Without it, you're fair game for passing out. I wouldn't give you ten minutes more before that happens. I don't want the guys to have to stokes you out too. That'll slow us all down getting the kid out."

Gage just nodded wearily. "I will. See to him first."

"Spoken like a true hero.." Brackett said.

The words weren't lost on the detective watching them. He grew thoughtful.

Kel got to work.

Johnny spoke from where he was folded on the ground, "His head and neck's clear. No abdominal guarding, no fractures apart from the ribs on that left side. His pulse's rising. He's breathing shallow and he's got rales in that lung, doc. And I think I heard some crepitus under the skin over that spongy area."

Brackett felt the site of the rib breaks. He heard and felt the plastic bubble wrap like patch Johnny mentioned right where he said it would be, "You're right Johnny, He's leaking a lot of air here. Definitely a tension pneumothorax."

But Johnny wasn't listening. He was watching Steven. "Doctor Brackett. Check him. I think he's--"

Kelly felt for a neck pulse. He didn't find one. "He's arrested. Roy! Get down here!! Johnny's not going to be able to help me."

Fielder shouted, "Wait a minute, I can't authorize that!! DeSoto can't treat a man without a license and letting him could cost not only my job, but yours!"

Shania began to growl at the nervous stranger above her. She didn't understand why her dislike of him grew. Only that it did.

Brackett looked up from delivering a breath to Steven before he shifted to his chest, beginning CPR. "Do you want this kid to die, Fielder? Cause most assuredly he will. in very short order! Hurry up, Roy." He shifted his hand position again, keeping his compressions even to minimize the damage internally. "Gage, you stay put." he snapped when Johnny tried to move closer. "Twelve, thirteen, fourteen."

Then Johnny and Roy's radio came to life. It was Dixie. "Rampart to Squad 51, guess who's wide awake and asking for breakfast?" They all could hear Marco's voice talking in the background.

Brackett turned eyes on Fielder as soon as he finished delivering another set of breaths. "Looks like you no longer have a case, detective. Let him pass!! NOW!!!"

Fielder sobbed, relieved that he was legally freed and he moved aside, grabbing the rope. Soon, Roy got to where he most wanted to be, down to where two lives could be saved by the skill of his own two hands and a little bit of luck.

--------------------------

"So did he make it?" Lopez wanted to know.

"Of course." Kel said, folding his arms together. "I was his attending physician."

From the bed next to Marco's, Johnny protested. "Hey, who was the first rescuer on the scene? Huh? Me.." he said. "I should get at least partial credit for Steven's save."

Chet looked up from his funnies from a third bed, "Yeah, Johnny, but it was all of you, as a team that really saved that kid's life. Even your dog, Roy."

Everyone chuckled, infectious giggles spreading.

Roy smiled, pleased, and rubbed the sweater he was wearing over his arms. "I would have brought Shania here to our little get together. But, it's against hospital rules now isn't it Dixie?"

Nurse McCall felt put on the spot and interjected, "Well,. I didn't make up the rules now did I? But.. I seem to remember a time where a certain ER doctor I know once operated on a goat he himself let into the hospital.. isn't that right Dr. Brackett? Now that, was an infraction.." she emphasized the last word.

Brackett wore his best snarly grimace, "No dogs. Period."

But that ploy just set everyone off again.

A knocking at the private patient room door got all of their attentions. Johnny said, "Hey, maybe it's Cap and the rest of the gang. Come in!" he shouted.

Detective Fielder entered the room with a box wrapped in gold ribbon.

Immediately the mood in the room chilled.

"I ..uh, hope I'm not disturbing you, fellows.." he began.

"Who's he?" Marco and Chet piped up simultaneously.

"Shhhh!" the rest of them said.

Finally, Johnny relented, "What do you want detective." It was not a question.

"I.. wanted to apologize to you, Mr. DeSoto for my out of line behavior at the cave-in. I was more concerned for my own financial health than I was for the health of that teenager or your partner here. I... wanted to make it up to you fellas somehow." he set the box on the bedside table over Gage and slid it near Roy. "Just a small token."

Chet, Marco, Dixie , Brackett and Johnny, all looked at Roy to see what he would do next.

Roy, graciously, unwrapped the golden ribbon and opened the lid, looking inside. He pulled out a check and read it. "For the US Firefighters Fund, a sum of twenty thousand dollars. Mr. Fielder, I'm speechless. This is.. this is the station 51's disaster charity. How did you find out about it?"

"A little bird told me." he said sharply, right before it melted into a full warm smile.

Roy looked at Fielder then offered him his hand in friendship, truly touched.

Detective Fielder returned the grasp and smiled slightly. "Put that money to good use. And.. use any extra for, " and he pursed his lips, thinking,..".. a sleep deprivation awareness class for the next fire fighting seminar coming up, ok? Your case could teach other paramedics about the dangers of that risk. Look at what we've learned from it."

With that, he left the room.

Gage fumbled for the box trying to reach the check with his unencumbered arm. "A twenty thousand dollar check? No sheet..." he said incredulously. "Let me see that. I've never seen a check for so-"

Something inside the box thunked around underneath the tissue paper folded there. "Hey, Roy. There's something else in there. I think you'd better take a look." Johnny said.

Roy unfolded the wrap further and saw his badge and wallet ID. "Well I'll be.. He managed to get the police case thrown out of court." A shaft of sunlight sparkled on the badge's back, making Roy look down. He brought it up closer to his eyes, "Hey, an inscription's been put on the back on a tiny plaque."

"What does it say?" Chet said, his funnies column long abandoned.

Roy tipped his paramedic's badge into better light and he read.

"To all the heroes who save lives by their countless thousands at the peril of their own. May our need for them dwindle and become no more."

His eyes misted over, and he said, "Never knew Fielder was such a poet."

Marco said it all in the end, "Never knew we were such a tight knit group to even be stupid enough to consider doing that kinda hero stuff, yyuck." he said, holding fingers against his own weepy eyes.

Johnny laughed so hard, his cast hurt, giving him the perfect alternative excuse, for his crying.

Dix and Kel left the room quietly to let them heal, together.

END

author's comments: I wrote this piece for sheer joy of it after fans begged me to write more. I apparently have a very vivid style that makes my stories feel like a real Emergency episode.

This series is responsible for getting me into the emergency medical field, working as an NREMT in Minnesota. P.S. I love you Johnny Gage and Roy DeSoto, you are my heroes. The actors aren't so bad either. :) :) :)

All references to the Sept 11th US terrorist attacks in the final scene were intentional, the only way I know how to honor them..by setting adrift, a bit moment of their memory, even if only as a passing connection made within the mind of the reader.