LEST WE FORGET
An Emergency, Touched By An Angel crossover story, though the emphasis is on the characters from Emergency.
Lest We Forget is dedicated to my readers. Your input regarding what elements you enjoy most in a fan fic story provides continuous inspiration.
Lest We Forget
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
*Lest We Forget - a sonnet written during the first World War and often recited at funerals of war veterans.
The woman sat curled in a corner of her couch with a box of Kleenex in her lap. Tissues soiled by tears and mucus were crumpled into balls and piled on the end table at her left elbow. The volume on the TV was so low she could barely hear the reporter’s voice. Not that it mattered. The pictures that had been broadcast all day told the story. It was April 30th, 1975, and Saigon was falling to the North Vietnamese.
“Why the hell am I sitting here crying?” the woman asked the empty room as she wiped at fresh tears. “What the hell is wrong with me lately? All I want to do is cry, dammit.”
Unseen by the home’s owner were the two women sitting at the dining room table. The house was an old but stately bungalow with a wide front porch. A wicker settee accompanied by two wicker rocking chairs made the porch an inviting place to relax. The rooms within the house were spacious and airy, possessing ten-foot high ceilings. The living and dining areas formed one big room separated only by an archway trimmed with the type of elaborately carved woodworking that hadn’t been used in more than fifty years now. The kitchen, with its maple cabinets, maple drop-leaf table, and sky-blue Priscilla curtains hanging neatly at all three windows, was behind the dining room. The arched hallway that ran behind the living room housed two large bedrooms and a bathroom. Tucked away at the rear of the house was a laundry room that had at one time been a back porch.
“Her language is a bit on the foul side, Tess.”
“Yes, Angel Girl, it is. But you must forgive her for that slip of the tongue. She’s a veteran of the United States Army, she is.”
“Ah, I see,” Monica nodded. “Yes, those who have served this beautiful country are prone to rough language now and again as I have come to learn.”
“Yes, they are. But don’t let that fool you, baby. This gal is nothing but a lady.”
“She’s so sad, Tess,” Monica observed as the woman plucked another Kleenex from the box. “And she seems confused. As if she doesn’t know why she’s crying.”
how can someone hurt this badly and not know why?”
“Years of denial.”
“Years of denial, Angel Girl. This woman is a veteran of the Korean War. She was just twenty years old when she first signed up to serve. Not much more than a child really. She witnessed so many things that broke her heart. But she was a nurse. It was her job to be strong for everyone else. It still is. So, over the years, she’s learned to hide her pain. But on some days that pain is too much for her to bear. Like today.”
“Because of what’s happening in Vietnam,” Monica guessed, as she caught sight of the helicopter taking off from the roof of the United States embassy as played out on the color console television set.
“That’s right. There have been so many things about this war that remind her of the war she served in. Though she might not know it, today she’s crying because she’s certain everyone will forget.”
“The war. The men and women who have fought so hard for so many years now. The men and women who have lost their lives during what has turned out to be an unpopular campaign. Do you know what they call the conflict she served in?”
“The Forgotten War. And that’s how she feels today. Forgotten. Forgotten, unappreciated, and unneeded.”
“But every human being needs to feel needed. Pardon me for the poor sentence structure, but it’s so true, Tess.”
“You’re right, baby, it is.”
that’s our job here? To make her feel
“Oh, no, Angel Girl. We can’t do that. Only she can find that feeling within herself.”
“Then what is our job? How are we supposed to help her?”
“But she’s crying, Tess. We have to help her.”
Tess reached out a pudgy hand and patted Monica on the arm. “You have such a kind heart, Angel Girl. You remind me of someone else we’re going to meet on this assignment.”
“A young man by the name of John Gage.”
“John Gage,” Monica repeated with a thoughtful expression. “John Gage. Isn’t he the one Andrew’s always being put on stand-by for?”
“That’s right,” the Angel Of Death said as he stepped from the kitchen to join his colleagues. “He’s the one.”
are you finally going to get to take Mr. Gage home to Heaven, Andrew?”
“I don’t know, Monica. Every time I assume that’s God’s plan things change. Mr. Gage appears to be very needed here on Earth.”
“Well, that’s good. At least that means he’s not sitting alone in his home crying.”
“No, he’s not,” Tess agreed. “But then John Gage doesn’t sit for very long on any given day.”
“Ah,” Monica nodded, “he’s busy.”
“Always, Angel Girl, even if that term just means flitting from place to place. He’s a young man with boundless energy and an enthusiasm for life that outshines the morning sun.”
“Is he in Vietnam?”
“No. He’s right here in Los Angeles. He’s a fireman. A fireman and a paramedic.”
how exciting. I’ve always wanted to
drive a fire truck. Will I have my own
helmet and turn out coat? Maybe a big
pair of those rubber goulashes firemen wear when they go to a fire? Will I be able to pull out an inch and a
half? Or cook chili for the guys when
we get back to the station after putting out a big blaze?”
“Now you just stop talkin’ nonsense. No, you’re not gettin’ no helmet or rubber goulashes. And you most certainly will not be driving a fire truck. You’ll be working at Rampart General Hospital.”
Monica smiled. “Doctor Monica. I like the sound of that.”
“You ain’t gonna be no doctor, either, so you just get that idea right on outta your head, too.”
“But if I’m not going to be a firefighter, or a doctor, what am I going to be?”
“That depends on Mr. Gage. And her.”
Monica’s eyes went back to the weeping woman in the living room. “Why?”
“Because John Gage has to live long enough for you to be part of this assignment.”
Monica looked at Andrew who was still standing in the doorway between the dining room and kitchen. The Angel Of Death shrugged his shoulders.
“You know as well as I do that sometimes the only thing that keeps humans from crossing into our world is their will to live,” Tess said. “Or their will to die.”
“But Mr. Gage has always been such a strong young man in the past. He’s always had a fierce will to live.”
“Yes, he has, Monica,” Tess agreed. “But this time he’s going to need some help finding that will.”
“Finding it from where?”
Monica made a skeptical face. “If you’ll pardon me for saying this, Tess, she doesn’t appear to be in any condition to help even herself at the moment. Let alone anyone else.”
“That’s true, Angel Girl. But don’t you see? That’s part of God’s plan.”
“Yes. In order to help themselves, John Gage and Dixie McCall must first help one another.”
Monica looked at Andrew who nodded his confirmation to Tess’s words.
“But what if they don’t? Help each other that is?”
Tess heaved a sad sigh. “Then John Gage will die long before his time on this Earth is due to come to an end. And while she’ll still live on in body, Dixie McCall’s spirit will die, too.”
“It could all end so sad then.”
“Yes, Angel Girl, it could,” Tess said, as she listened to the lonely sound of the woman’s sobs as they echoed off the high ceilings. “It could all end very sad.”
John Gage paid little attention to the massive amount of news coverage given to the fall of Saigon. He’d left Los Angeles right after a gathering at the DeSoto home for Jennifer’s sixth birthday on April 29th. He headed for the mountains to hike and camp on his day off. Well, to hike, camp, and push aside memories as he’d been doing for so many years now. His wife Kim, and fourteen-month-old daughter Jessie, had been murdered on April 28th, of 1967. Johnny had come to Los Angeles in January of ‘68 for a fresh start. No one here was aware of the heartache he’d left behind in Montana. Not even Roy. Johnny had no intention of that changing. Eight years had now passed since Kim and Jessie’s deaths. Eight years in which Johnny had built a new life for himself while trying to forget the past.
Johnny would be the first to admit he never gave much thought to the war. Yes, he had opinions like everyone else in the country seemed to, but mostly he’d kept them to himself. He didn’t understand why the leaders within the United States government never seemed to give the war their best efforts. There was no doubt that U.S. technology could have blown Vietnam right off the map if need be. Why the politicians had let this war go on for so long was beyond Johnny’s comprehension. Yet if he’d been called to serve he would have. He’d been released from draft status for Vietnam twice. The first time was back in the summer of 1966. He’d been exempt because he was an only son and an employee on his father’s ranch. The agriculture industry provided a great value to the United States during times of war. It wasn’t unusual for young farmers or ranchers not to be called into the service of their country, especially if there were no other male siblings in the family to stay behind and work. The second time Johnny had been passed over, the fall of 1970, was because he was a Los Angeles County fireman, and therefore considered ‘necessary personnel’ stateside. Or at least that’s the way the draft board worded it on his deferment. Johnny knew Roy had served a year in ‘Nam back in ‘65, but they rarely discussed it. The only thing Roy had told Johnny was that he was one of the lucky ones. Johnny took that to mean Roy saw little action, which would make sense since Roy wasn’t part of an infantry unit, but rather worked on a base as both a mechanic and radio operator.
It had been a week since the fall of Saigon, and the guys at the station were still talking about it. Roy had been the only one amongst them to serve in Vietnam. Hank Stanley had been drafted several years before the build up of military personnel in Vietnam and remained stateside throughout his two years in the service. Mike Stoker had joined the Navy right out of high school, and while he was aboard a ship that brought supplies to other ships off the coast of Vietnam, he was never involved in any fighting, nor had he ever stepped foot on Vietnamese soil.
Chet and Marco had fallen into the same category as Johnny. Their employment with the fire department had provided them deferments. Nonetheless, it was a hot topic with everyone right now. Or at least with everyone other than Johnny. Because of his deceased wife and child he sometimes felt old beyond his years. Not that he ever showed those feelings. He’d become so good at hiding them even Johnny himself had a hard time digging deep enough to find them. That wasn’t to say Johnny didn’t understand the significance of the war the United States had just lost, it was just that it didn’t directly touch his life. If any of his friends back in Montana, friends he hadn’t spoken to in seven years, had served in the war, or even died over there, Johnny was unaware of it. And none of Johnny’s friends here in Los Angeles had seen battle over there, so it wasn’t a subject the paramedic had reason to bring up.
“So, Gage, what do you think?”
Johnny continued washing the lunch dishes, totally unaware of the question he’d just been asked.
“Hey, Gage? You deaf or something?”
Johnny turned around when a balled up napkin bounced off his skull.
“Chet, knock it off.”
“I asked you a question.”
“What do you think?”
“Think about what?”
Chet rolled his eyes at his co-workers. Everyone but Roy was still seated at the table. The senior paramedic was drying dishes for his partner and returning them to their proper cabinets.
“About ‘Nam. The end of the war. The fall of Saigon. The whole nine yards.”
“I don’t think anything about it.”
kidding me, right?”
“No. I’m not kidding you.”
“You mean to tell me John Gage doesn’t have an opinion he’d like to share on this topic?”
Johnny shrugged as he turned back to his soapy dish water. “No, Chet, I don’t have an opinion.”
“Oh, come on, Gage. I’m not buying that. Everyone has an opinion on Vietnam.”
“All right,” Johnny said as he drained the water from the sink. “If only to get you to shut up I’ll give you my opinion. There was no reason we couldn’t have won the war. I mean, we’re the wealthiest nation in the world fighting a country barely larger than the state of Rhode Island and yet we lose. What sense does that make? Over fifty thousand men and women lost their lives over there and for what? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. What a total waste.”
No one disagreed with Johnny on that point. The paramedic shook his head with both sorrow and disgust as he wiped his wet hands on a dishtowel, then returned the towel to the rack.
“Most of those kids who died weren’t over twenty years old. Twenty years old. When you’re that age you think you’ve already lived a long life and are wise beyond your years. But you haven’t. And it’s young. It’s just so damn young to have everything taken from you.”
The men watched as Johnny walked out the back door. As soon as Roy heard the basketball start to bounce against the parking lot’s pavement he knew Chet had struck a nerve with Johnny. Chet knew it, too.
“What?” The Irishman asked of the four pair of eyes
staring at him. “What did I say?”
Funny thing was, no one could answer Chet this time, or blame him for any wrongdoing. If what he had said upset Johnny it was far beyond the ability of any man present to figure out why.
Hank Stanley did what any good leader does at this point. He clapped his hands together as he stood to head to his office.
“Okay, guys, enough on this subject for today. It will be wise for all of us to remember this will be a sensitive topic for many people we encounter in the weeks and months ahead. Let’s just drop it around the station for the time being.”
After Hank’s office door closed Chet turned to Roy.
“But what did I say to get Johnny so narked off?”
“I don’t think he’s narked off, Chet. Just upset. With Johnny’s there’s a big difference.”
right. So what did I say to get him
Roy shrugged. “I honestly don’t know.”
“He doesn’t have a brother who’s served over there, does he?” Chet asked, fearing that maybe Johnny had lost someone he loved to the war.
“Not that I’m aware of. But to tell you the truth I don’t know much about his family.”
don’t even know if Gage has a brother or not?”
“No, I’m not. I know his mother died a few months before he moved out here in January of ‘68. I know his father is still living, and every so often he speaks of his paternal grandfather. But other than that Johnny doesn’t mention his past.”
“What’s so weird about it?” Mike asked.
“Mike, come on. Roy and Johnny are best friends. They’ve been partners for over three years now. Don’t you think it’s odd that Roy doesn’t know more about Johnny’s home life in Montana than what he’s just told us? I mean geez, Gage yaks on at the mouth about everything else. A guy would think Roy would even know the name of Johnny’s kindergarten teacher.”
“Mrs. Long Feather.”
“The name of Johnny’s kindergarten teacher,” Roy said. “Mrs. Long Feather. He went to grade school on an Indian Reservation.”
“So you know the name of Gage’s kindergarten teacher, but you don’t know if he has a brother. See what I’m saying here? Weird. Just plain weird.”
“Chet, some things are private,” Marco pointed out. “Even for someone as outgoing as Johnny. All of us have parts of our lives we’d rather not reveal, or that are too painful to talk about.”
“No way. I tell you guys everything.”
Roy just shook his head at the Irishman while Marco and Mike exchanged longsuffering smiles.
Chet’s voice dropped, and his eyes darted around the room as though he was expecting a figure of authority to walk in at any moment.
“You don’t suppose Johnny’s running from the law, do you?”
“Chet, come on,” Marco scoffed. “You’re being ridiculous now.”
“No, I’m not. Give it some thought here, guys. What kind of Indian name is John Roderick Gage anyway? Maybe that’s the name Johnny took after he--”
“After he what?” Roy asked. He was trying not to show it, but he was getting a little miffed at Chet.
“I don’t know. After he did something that caused him to change his name and leave Montana.”
Roy leaned back against the counter with his arms folded across his chest. He tried to keep the glare he was shooting Chet to minimum intensity.
“Chet, if only to shut you up I’ll tell you what I know about Johnny. Number one; the United States Government forced Indians to take English names when they put them on reservations. This extends to the names they give their children. Or at least the legal names. Number two; he spent part of his growing up years on a reservation, and part of them on a ranch his parents bought when he was a kid. He came to LA to work as a fireman because there weren’t many job opportunities for a ‘half breed,’ as Johnny put it, in the small town of White Rock, Montana. End of story.”
“And does he ever go back?”
“I don’t know. Not that he mentions.”
“And no one from his family ever visits him here. So see, something’s up.”
“How did we get to this from Vietnam?” Roy asked.
“I’m just curious, that’s all.”
“Well, keep in mind curiosity killed the cat.”
it go, Chet,” Roy advised. “Look, you
guys know my dad died when I was thirteen, right?”
it’s not something I talk about much, is it?”
“And you never bug me about that fact, Chet, so extend that same respect to Johnny. I don’t know why our discussion about ‘Nam upset him and I don’t care. If he wants to tell me he will. If he doesn’t, then so be it.”
“But I don’t think it was the discussion about ‘Nam that set him off in the first place,” Chet said. “I think it was something else. Only I can’t figure out--”
Roy grabbed a dishtowel and stuffed it in Chet’s mouth as he passed by.
“Chet, for once and for all, shut up.”
To the sound of Mike and Marco’s laughter Roy headed for the locker room. He had a book in his duffel bag he wouldn’t mind reading if the afternoon stayed quiet. Before he got that far the klaxons went off and the squad was called into service. As Roy slipped behind the wheel a slightly winded Johnny jumped in the passenger side. Roy took the sheet of paper Cap handed him and passed it to his partner. Johnny checked the map book and navigated as Roy drove. Right before they got to the school where a child had fallen from the monkey bars, Roy looked at his partner.
you have a brother?”
Considering the two men hadn’t even been carrying on a conversation the question caught Johnny off guard.
Roy felt his face turning red. He had just stooped to Chet’s level, something he could have never imagined himself doing.
“No. What’d you ask me?”
“It’s not important.”
didn’t hear you. Ask me again.”
Roy gave an internal sigh, hoping he wouldn’t regret this question given Johnny’s earlier unexplained upset. “I asked if you have a brother.”
“Neither do I,” Roy replied for lack of knowing what else to say.
Well, Chet, that disproves your theory that Johnny has a brother who served in ‘Nam.
Johnny shot his partner a look that said he was certain Roy had lost his mind.
“I know you don’t. So what’s going on? Are you thinking of adopting one?”
“No,” Roy laughed, before growing serious. “I guess you’re the closest I come to having a brother. I mean, I think of you like a brother, you know?”
Johnny made a dramatic showing of smashing his body against the passenger side door as though he suddenly found it necessary to get as far away from Roy as possible. He cocked an eyebrow at his partner.
you feeling all right?”
just don’t normally go around saying stuff like that. Don’t tell me Joanne has made you join one of those groups where
you get in touch with your feelings and junk like that.”
“No, nothing like that.”
“Then why the sudden sentiment?”
Damn you, Chet.
“Just forget I said anything.”
“Forget it, Johnny.”
Nothing more was said until the men pulled into the school yard. As they were opening compartment doors to get their equipment Johnny tossed his partner a teasing grin.
“If I was gonna adopt me a blue eyed, blond headed brother, you’d be the paleface I’d choose.”
And with that the two men jogged to the fallen child with the broken arm, their conversation forgotten for the moment.
With each year that passed since Kim and Jessie’s murders, the internal mourning period Johnny went through at the end of every April seemed to lessen in length. That used to upset the paramedic, but over time he’d come to realize that was normal. Normal, and overall a lot easier on his emotional health. He knew that didn’t mean he’d ever forget his wife and little girl, or ever stop loving them, but it simply meant he was still amongst the living and had to carry on.
By the time mid-May arrived Johnny was once again his old self. The same could not be said for Dixie McCall.
The urge to cry whenever she was alone had not left the nurse. And alone was how Dixie spent most of her time when she wasn’t on duty at Rampart. Unbeknownst to Dixie’s friends and colleagues, she was rarely leaving her house these days other than when forced to make the trip to work, or go to the grocery store. She was tossing out excuses left and right each time an invitation was issued for dinner, or a movie, or a Sunday afternoon of tennis with a trio of her female co-workers. She no longer rode her bike around her quiet neighborhood on a daily basis, and she’d lost interest in the Candy Striper program at the hospital that she’d so faithfully been the head of for years now. She’d taken the program beyond what it had been; a volunteer position for teenagers who delivered gifts, flowers, and newspapers to patients, or who played with the children on the Pediatrics Ward, to instead introduce these young people to the world of nursing in a way that turned many of them on to the idea of making the profession their life long careers. Dixie had always been so proud of that, and had always enjoyed working with the teens, but lately she’d given more and more of those responsibilities to another ER nurse.
Like many people who are overwhelmed by depression, Dixie recognized the symptoms but didn’t completely understand the cause. When she gave it any thought at all she supposed there were a lot of reasons why she didn’t want to get up and face each day. Certainly the end of the Vietnam War was at least a part of it. The men and women who served over there were arriving home, but to what? Not a nation that was honoring them, that’s for certain. Not anymore than it had honored her and the other veterans of Korea; and by what Dixie was seeing on the news, even less.
This country loves a winner, but heaven forbid you should end up fighting on the losing side.
Dixie sighed as she slipped into her seat at the nurse’s station. She’d been staring at next week’s schedule all day now, and hadn’t gotten any farther on it than Sunday. Each time she found a moment to study it she was called away. Though not called away for a patient in crisis, but rather called away because a treatment room wasn’t set up the way Doctor Brackett liked it. Or because her newest nurse, a young lady fresh from college and barely twenty-one years old, was in the bathroom crying because Doctor Morton spoke sharply to her. Or because someone lost the lab tests Doctor Early had ordered. Or because an orderly hadn’t cleaned up the vomit in Treatment Room Five. Or because a waiting family member kept interrupting her to check on a patient. Dixie stared at the black squares on the paper in front of her.
I’m making the highest income now than I have ever earned in my life, yet every day I dislike my job more and more. I feel like an adult baby-sitter. If I’m not tending to Kel and his quirks about the set up of a treatment room, then I’ve got someone crying on my shoulder - literally - because Mike Morton brought his ill temper to work. And if it’s not that, then someone is complaining about having to wait to see a doctor, or I’m washing dirty coffee cups left behind by all the paramedics who breeze in and out of this place on a daily basis as though it’s Dixie’s Diner. I don’t know when I got so out of touch with hands-on-nursing. Trauma care is what I do best, but it’s what I’ve gotten to do the least of these last few years. If wanted to nurture everyone through life I’d have become a kindergarten teacher, which is what I feel like on most days.
Dixie pushed her dark thoughts away. It was already Friday. She had to get this schedule done before she went off-duty at three o’clock or she’d be taking it home with her. And she knew how little success she had at accomplishing anything at home lately if it didn’t involve a box of Kleenex Tissues.
I’ll probably just end up having another good cry as soon as I walk in the damn door.
Dixie paid little attention to the nurses looking over her shoulders. When she finally put her mind on the schedule she could complete it with a high school band playing John Philip Sousa marches in the waiting area.
Betty looked from the schedule to her co-workers. Dixie’s mood had been so foul lately they hated to approach her. Betty finally took a deep breath and plunged into uncertain waters.
“Uh, Dix, I. . .remember I told you that I need Sunday off?”
“Yes, and I said I need to come in an hour later,” a nurse by the name of Ann timidly reminded. “I’ll work an hour later, of course, to make up for it, but my son is serving seven o’clock mass that morning and I’d really like to be there to see him.”
“And I need Monday off,” Carol reminded. “My sister’s flying in from Dallas on Sunday evening so I’d like some time with--”
“I need, I need, I need!” Dixie groused. “Don’t you ever stop and think how tired I get of hearing that phrase? For God’s sake I’m not your mother! And don’t you three have something better to do than stand over my shoulder while I’m working?”
The women scattered like mice. Each one of them had an enormous amount of respect for Dixie and, until recently, had loved working for her. Now they couldn’t figure out what had caused the sudden change in her personality. Betty had tried to talk to her about it one day, but had been told point blank it was none of her business. Later, Dixie felt bad about the hurt she’d seen in Betty’s eyes, but never had apologized for being the cause of it.
I suppose they’re gathered in a corner somewhere right now talking about what a bitch I am. Well, so be it. I’d gladly trade places with any one of them. After a week of this job they’d be just as crabby as I am, and at least I’d be able to do what I’m good at, trauma care nursing.
Dixie didn’t even have a smile or a hello for one of her favorite paramedics that afternoon. Johnny simply shrugged his shoulders when the nurse made no reply to his greeting. He assumed she was engrossed in her work and hadn’t heard him. He poured himself a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter behind Dixie whistling between sips. Roy was in a treatment room with the patient they’d brought in. Johnny’s assistance wasn’t needed, so he figured he’d say hi to Dix and grab a cup of coffee while he waited.
Johnny had a natural interest in people and what was going on around him, so didn’t notice Dixie’s silence as he watched the bustling activity within the ER. Three minutes into Johnny’s visit Dixie slammed a fist on the counter.
“Do you have to do that?”
“Oh. Sorry. I didn’t know it was bothering you.”
Dixie swiveled on her stool and faced the paramedic. “Well, it does bother me. It’s bothered me for years. You can’t carry a tune to save your soul. Or to save mine. So just knock it off, okay?”
“O. . .okay.”
“And make sure you wash your coffee cup when you’re finished. You guys seem to think this is Dixie’s Diner and that I have nothing better to do than pick up after you. And make sure you spread the word to your fellow paramedics, too.”
Johnny’s “All right,” was spoken like he was walking on a bed of nails. He let a moment pass, then shot the woman a grin that never failed to soothe her feathers no matter how ruffled they might be. “What’s the matter, Dix? Get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?”
“No, I did not get up on the wrong side of the bed. And quit calling me that. I hate it. I always have.”
“Dix. My name is Dixie if you haven’t noticed.”
“I noticed. I just didn’t know it bothered you. Sor--”
“Don’t be sorry. Everyone is sorry. I’m sick of hearing it.”
Poor Johnny didn’t know what to say. So far everything that had come out of his mouth where Dixie was concerned had been wrong. He settled on keeping quiet for the moment while she returned to her schedule. It wasn’t until an attractive woman with long auburn hair walked by the nurse’s station and smiled at him that Johnny broke the silence.
“Who was she?”
“Who was who?”
“The woman that just walked by here. The one with the gorgeous red hair.”
Dixie looked up to see a young woman entering the elevator.
“Oh, her. A student chaplain. Monica somebody or the other.”
“That’s an odd last name.”
“Somebody or the other. It’s an odd last name.”
Dixie didn’t laugh like Johnny expected her to. Instead she shot a glare over her shoulder. “Listen, if she’s going to be your latest conquest then you find out her last name.”
do you mean by that?”
“You know perfectly well what I mean. Whomever you latch onto today you’ll forget about tomorrow. You think women have no feelings. You think you can use them for your own amusement then toss them aside when you tire of them. Well, you can’t, Johnny. You hurt a lot of people that way. It’s about time you grew up and faced that fact.”
Now it was Johnny who was hurt. It was none of Dixie’s business what type of a relationship he carried on with any woman he dated. Not since Kim had he ever led a woman to believe he was going to make a life long commitment to her. He’d never do that until the day he was ready to marry again, and so far that day hadn’t come. Sometimes he wondered if it ever would. But regardless, despite the many women he’d dated since coming to L.A., he’d never sweet-talked any of them into doing anything under false pretenses. If someone had told Dixie otherwise then they were lying. Johnny thought Dixie knew him well enough to instinctively understand that, but evidently not. Before their conversation could go any further, and Johnny was just mad enough and hurt enough to take it farther, Dixie was called away. She brushed by the paramedic without so much as a glance in his direction.
When Dixie returned to the nurse’s station twenty minutes later Johnny was gone. Every dirty cup had been washed, dried, and was neatly stacked on the cart that held the coffee maker. The nurse shot a small smile at the housekeeping staff member she didn’t recognize who was wiping off the back counter with a damp sponge.
Must be another new one. At least she appears to have ambition.
“Thanks for washing those cups.”
“Cups?” The large black woman questioned as she turned from her work.
“The coffee cups. The paramedics don’t know the meaning of the phrase, ‘pick up after yourself please.’ ”
but I didn’t wash these here cups, Mizz McCall. Some nice young man with the
cutest ole’ grin washed ‘em. I tried to
do it for him. I told him it was my
job, but he said no, that he was doing it for Dix. Or at least he started to say Dix. He corrected himself and said Dixie. I take it that’s you?”
“Yes,” Dixie acknowledged quietly, suddenly ashamed of her earlier behavior with Johnny. “That’s me.”
“It seemed important to him that he do something nice for you. I hope it’s okay that I didn’t help him. I’m new ‘round here and don’t wanna lose my job.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t lose your job,” Dixie assured. “You said you’re new?”
“Yes, Ma’am. This is my first day.”
“Oh. In that case, welcome to Rampart. You know who I am, but I didn’t catch your name.”
“Hi, Tess. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too, Ma’am. This seems like a real good place to work. That young man. . .John, I think he said his name was?”
“Yes. John Gage. Or Johnny as most of us call him. He’s one of our paramedics. As a matter of fact, he and his partner Roy DeSoto are probably the best paramedics in this county. Though don’t tell anyone I said that. You know how men can be when they find out you think they’re pretty special.”
“Insufferable,” Tess supplied.
“That’s for sure. And, of course, I wouldn’t want to hurt any of the others. They’re all great guys.”
“You didn’t seem to think they were so great a little while ago.”
Tess returned to her task of wiping the counter top. “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but my ears are big as a circus elephant’s, as you might have noticed. Because of that, I couldn’t help but hear you crabbin’ away at Mr. Gage from where I was sweepin’ up in the waiting room. Bad day?”
“More like a bad month.”
“Sorry to hear that. Anything I can do to help?”
Dixie didn’t want to insult the woman, but couldn’t imagine anything a cleaning lady could do to assist with bringing her out of her current mood.
“No. Like I said, just a bad month. I’m sure it will pass given time.”
“Could be. Though time isn’t always the great healer we think it is.”
“No. First you have to face the problem before it can even begin to be healed.”
Dixie gave Tess what she hoped the woman would take as a distracted nod, then she returned to her schedule. Her effort to look busy didn’t deter Tess any.
“Now as I started to say earlier, that young man –
Johnny. . .I think he’s worried about you.”
“Worried about me?”
“He didn’t say it in so many words, but I’m pretty good at readin’ people. I could tell that whatever went on between the two of you really upset him.”
Dixie tried to dismiss Tess’s words with a shrug of her shoulders.
“If you work here long enough, Tess, there’s one thing you’ll learn about Johnny Gage.”
“And what would that be?”
“He’s a good actor. At the drop of a hat he’ll turn those big brown eyes on any willing female, bat those long black lashes of his, and feign the ‘poor little old me’ look with all the skill of an Oscar winner. He loves the attention.”
“Maybe he needs it.”
“The attention. Maybe there’s a reason why he needs attention from a woman such as yourself.”
“Yeah, there’s a reason all right. Because he’s got a big ego.”
“You say that like you don’t really mean it. Like you want me to believe you don’t hold much affection for Mr. Gage, while deep inside you know that’s not the truth.”
How’s she do that? I’m doing my best to get rid of the woman, but it’s like she’s got a direct line to my thoughts.
“Today I mean it.”
“We all need something from our friends, Mizz McCall. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. It’s what draws us to them in the first place, and it’s what makes us human. Instead of scoffing at it as though it don’t mean diddly squat, you should be pleased to know you provide something to Mr. Gage that no one else does.”
“And just what would that be?” Dixie asked as she attempted to return her attention to the schedule again. “A mother figure?”
there be anything wrong with that?”
“I’m growing rather weary of being ‘mother’ to adult people.”
“His is dead, you know.”
Dixie glanced up from her schedule. “Pardon me?”
“John Gage’s mother is deceased. If part of what your friendship provides to him is memories of a dear woman he loved very much, you shouldn’t complain about that. You should be honored.”
Dixie was dumbfounded. She knew very little about Johnny’s background other than he grew up in Montana. She couldn’t imagine that this woman, who was brand new to Rampart and couldn’t have had more than a five minute conversation with Johnny, would have discovered something so important in such a short amount of time.
“How do you know that?”
“That Johnny’s mother is deceased. Did he tell you?”
“Land sakes, no he didn’t tell me. As a matter of fact, that’s one thing you and John Gage have in common, Mizz McCall.”
“No, we don’t. My mother is still living.”
“That’s not what I was gonna say.”
“Then what were you going to say?”
“Neither of you like to talk about your pasts. You both think that by denying the things that have caused you heartache you can forget those things ever existed. But one of these days soon you’ll need each other in ways neither of you can imagine now. I just hope you both realize that before it’s too late.”
Before the stunned Dixie could form a reply Tess picked up her sponge and bucket and loaded them on her cleaning cart.
“I’m gonna set up Treatment Room One for Doctor Brackett. Lord help us all, but that man is particular. Why, he’ll be telling God how to rearrange Heaven when his turn comes.”
Dixie shook her head in wonder as Tess lumbered away. How the woman, after only one day of employment, was privy to the knowledge she had was beyond Dixie’s ability to figure out. And as far as Tess’s prediction went of Dixie and Johnny needing each other at some point in the future, well the nurse chalked that up to just plain crazy talk.
Oh well, she must be one of those nosy people who enjoys listening in on conversations that are none of her business, then offering her two cents worth. I hope personnel checked into her background. I’m not so certain she isn’t half nuts to begin with.
Tess popped back around the corner. “Oh, and about your scheduling problems?”
Dixie took a deep, calming breath. She just wanted this annoying woman to go away.
“If I was you, I’d give Ann off on Sunday and have Carol work. Then give Carol off on Monday and have Ann work. That way you don’t have to juggle Ann’s hours on Sunday, don’t have to be short staffed on Monday by giving Carol off, and everyone is happy.”
Dixie gave a slow nod. “Yes, that would do it.”
smiled. “See how easy it is when you’re not letting anger cloud your thoughts?”
Dixie was so shocked by the woman’s boldness she couldn’t make a reply.
“And if I was you, baby, I’d think about apologizin’ to John Gage. True, he can’t carry a tune, and he does have a tendency to leave his dirty coffee cups on your counter, and Lord knows that man has an eye for a pretty face, but it’s not really him you were mad at. It was yourself. Friendships are precious and need to be nurtured, despite the fact that right now you don’t want to put much effort into nurturing anyone.” Tess grabbed the arm of the cart and started pushing again. “But I talk too much, I know. That’s my one fault. I’ll go get that treatment room ready for Ole’ Doctor Picky.”
And with that Dixie was left alone with her thoughts, and her schedule.
Shannon Ten Clouds stared out the window as the Greyhound bus pulled out of LAX’s parking lot. Shannon was a twenty-year old Marine who had just arrived home from Vietnam. The bus was headed south, for Camp Pendleton, and filled with young men like Shannon. Or at least like Shannon in the sense that they were all fresh off a plane from ‘Nam. Shannon was the only American Indian amongst the Marines on the bus, which was what set him apart from his comrades. Though that issue didn’t matter much anymore. As a matter of fact it hadn’t really mattered since he’d left the reservation in Arizona. If nothing else, the Marine Corps had given Shannon a sense of belonging. Despite the thirteen months of hell he’d just lived through in ‘Nam, he’d learned what it meant to belong to a unit of men where the color of your skin, or the slant of your eyes, or your last name didn’t matter. All that mattered was that you proved your loyalty to your fellow Marines and your worth to the Corps. Shannon had done that over and over again in every bloody battle he fought. Not that prejudice didn’t exist in the Marine Corps, but for the past year Shannon and the young men he fought along side were more concerned with living one more day than they were concerned with bickering over their differences; be those differences cultural, racial, or religious.
Though the bus was filled with fifty young men the only sound that could be heard was the roar of the Greyhound’s engine. Shannon observed his comrades from his seat at the rear of the bus. The oldest amongst them was only twenty-two, the youngest had turned nineteen the day Saigon fell. But to Shannon, they all looked like weary old men. He wondered if he looked that way, too. He wondered if there were dark circles of fatigue under his eyes, tense lines around his mouth, and a blank look to his face as though any emotions that had once made him smile, laugh, or lit his eyes with joy, had been sucked out of him in Southeast Asia.
Despite the early hour of the morning in which they’d landed, protesters had been waiting for them at the airport. They’d been shouted at, called baby killers, and then the ultimate insult; Shannon and several others had been spit on. They’d been warned to expect this type of welcome, but being warned versus actually experiencing it were two different things. Shannon remembered the stories his father had told of the hero’s welcome he’d received when he’d returned from the South Pacific after World War II. His father, a full blooded Pima Indian, had been hailed by his countrymen as opposed to being spit on by them. Of course, the hero’s welcome didn’t last any longer than it took his dad to arrive back on the reservation, but despite that, even thirty years later his father’s eyes still filled with tears of gratitude each time he spoke of it.
Most of the men sat two to a seat, but no conversation ensued as the bus traveled the streets of L.A. Everyone stared out the windows. Even the grimiest factory was something to marvel over as it slowly sank in that you were back where you belonged. Back in the country of your birth. The land of opportunity. And after seeing the living conditions in Vietnam, Shannon finally believed that America was, indeed, the greatest country in the world, regardless of the troubles that still plagued a member of a minority group such as himself.
The bus bounced beneath Shannon. He sat alone, purposely isolating himself from the others. That hadn’t been difficult to do. He’d chosen the seat closest to the bathroom. Not a particularly sought after spot, but a good one if you wanted to be able to stretch your legs while at the same time having no desire for human contact. The seat across from Shannon was empty. Or at least he was certain it had been just moments earlier. Now a voice sounded from his right.
“How are you doing?”
Shannon’s head jerked with surprise. He turned, wondering how the man had gotten to the seat without him being aware of any movement on the bus. He finally chalked it up to being both lost in thought, and absorbed by the passing scenery. Shannon gave the blond man a long look. He didn’t recall seeing him on the plane, nor when they boarded the bus. The man’s hair fell far beyond Marine Corps regulations, but yet he wore the stripes of a sergeant.
“I’m fine, Sir.”
“Leave the ‘Sir’ stuff in ‘Nam for now, private.” The blond said. “I’m Andrew.”
“Shannon,” the young man responded in return. Since Andrew didn’t supply his last name, Shannon didn’t offer his. After a while it got old listening to people’s comments regarding the oddities of Shannon’s full name. Shannon Eric Ten Clouds did not sound nearly as Native American as Shannon looked.
“Doing some heavy thinking I see.”
Great. The guy wants to talk.
“Uh. . .yeah. I guess.” Shannon looked out the window. “It’s beautiful.”
Andrew’s eyes followed the same path Shannon’s had taken. All he saw was smog, cars, brick buildings, and a set of railroad tracks in the distance, as they chugged through an aging section of Los Angeles.
Andrew nodded. “I know of only one place that holds more beauty. A beauty so magnificent, so joyous, that it can’t be described with words.”
Shannon tore his gaze from the window and looked at the man across the aisle.
“Where would that be?”
“I’m an angel.”
“As in someone who wears a white robe, has wings, and floats around on clouds all day?”
“That’s a common misconception. Most of the time we look just like you. Like every day, ordinary people.”
Andrew smiled at the young man’s skepticism.
“You’ll see soon enough. Just remember, there’s no need to be afraid.”
Shannon resisted the urge to laugh. He’d been afraid of a lot of things in the past year, but a nut who thought he was an angel wasn’t one of them. He gave Andrew a placating smile, then turned to stare out the window once more. As far as Shannon was concerned the guy was two steps away from being locked in the loony bin. Shannon had met a few others like him. Veterans who had cracked under the stress of battle. No doubt he’d be drummed out of the Corps as soon as the psychological evaluations at Camp Pendleton were finished.
Shannon pushed all thoughts of the crazy sergeant from his mind. Instead, he focused on what he was going to do now that the war was over. He knew, at some point in the next few weeks, he’d be granted leave to visit his family in Arizona. His parents and four sisters had been faithful correspondents throughout this last year. He was looking forward to spending time with them. When his leave was up he’d have to decide if he was going to make the Marine Corps his career, or if there was something else he was interested in doing. Leaving the reservation had opened his eyes to the many possibilities the world held. He didn’t think he wanted to return there permanently. Other than his family, the reservation had nothing to offer in terms of a future for Shannon.
And God knew, after this past year, the one thing Shannon Ten Clouds wanted was a future. A bright, shining, future as is the right of every American boy.
Johnny was in love again. Or as ‘in love’ as John Gage ever seemed to get. Her name was Eve Madison. Her blond hair was the color of sun bleached wheat and fell in thick waves to her waist. Her eyes were as blue as the summer sky, her nose straight and tiny, her lips full and luscious. She stood five feet ten inches tall, weighed one hundred and twelve slender pounds, and was a fashion model with the shapeliest legs in Los Angeles.
And Joanne DeSoto hated her.
Roy pondered this as he sat at his kitchen table sipping coffee, trying to capture the last few moments of morning serenity before the kids rushed off to school and he headed for the station. Eve and Johnny had been over for dinner the night before. Though Joanne never lost the ‘hostess demeanor’ she was famous for, Roy could tell his wife disliked Eve within three minutes of meeting her. The paramedic chuckled as he recalled the dark looks Joanne had shot Eve behind her back that no one but him had seen.
“What’s so funny?” The subject of Roy’s thoughts asked as she entered the kitchen. She’d just finished making the beds and overseeing the kids getting dressed for school. Chris was now in the bathroom brushing his teeth, while Jennifer packed her book bag.
“I was just sitting here thinking how often we say that the poor guy who marries Jennifer will first have to pass her Uncle Johnny’s inspection.”
“That’s true,” Joanne acknowledged. Though Jennifer was only six years old, meaning marriage was many years in the future yet, there was no doubt her intended would have a more difficult time getting John Gage’s approval than he would getting Roy’s.
“And in thinking about that,” Roy said, “I realized that Johnny’s future wife is going to have a heck of time passing your inspection.”
“If this is about Eve don’t even waste your breath.”
“What have you got against Eve?”
“She’s shallow, immature, and none too bright.”
“So what makes her different from any other woman Johnny’s dated?”
“I don’t know,” Joanne said as she began loading the dishwasher. “If you’re asking me to give you an example I can’t. I only met her for the first time last night.”
“My point exactly.”
“Look, Roy, sometimes a woman can just sense these things.”
just something about her. . .I mean, she works in an industry where beauty and
physical perfection are very important, right?”
“I just got the impression that she’s attracted to Johnny for the wrong reasons.”
“The wrong reasons?”
“While you, Johnny, and the kids were playing in the backyard Eve couldn’t keep her eyes off him.”
“So? That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”
“No?” Roy said, feeling every bit the part of idiot male he was currently playing.
“Not when all she could keep talking about was how handsome he is. How brown his eyes are. How dark and thick his hair is. What a nice body he has. How perfect he is. . .and by perfect she meant physically perfect.”
“Did she say that?”
“She didn’t have to. I could read between the lines.”
“Look, Joanne, I think you’re making too much of this. You only just met the girl. And besides, Johnny really likes her. They’ve been seeing each other for close to three months now. If she is as shallow as you say he would have broken it off with her.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe she keeps her shallow side from him.”
“I suppose that’s possible.”
“It’s very possible.”
“Well, whatever you do, don’t say anything to Johnny about it. I really think Eve might be the one.”
Joanne almost dropped the dish she was putting in the rack. She turned to look at her husband.
did you say?”
“That she might be the one. The girl Johnny finally settles down with.”
“I think so. He really likes her a lot.”
do you know?”
“When Johnny isn’t trying to figure out a way to dump a girl a week after he’s started dating her, that means he’s in love. Or at least I think so because I don’t ever recall him seeing anyone as long as he’s been seeing Eve.”
“Oh, Lord, help us.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that I always envisioned the woman Johnny marries and myself as growing to be close friends. I could never, and I do mean never, be close friends with Evil Knieva.”
“Joanne!” Roy voiced his amused astonishment at his wife’s play on words. Joanne rarely had a bad thought to utter about anyone.
“She’s going to hurt him, Roy. Mark my words, just when Johnny needs her the most she’s going to hurt him.”
“Since when did you become psychic?”
“I’m not psychic. It’s just this eerie feeling I have.”
“Eerie feeling? Like a premonition?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s just that my first impression of Eve was so negative I’m reading more into this than really exists.”
“I’m sure that’s it,” Roy agreed as he stood and crossed through the kitchen. He rinsed his coffee mug out in the sink then put it in the dishwasher for his wife. “Trust Johnny on this one, Jo. If Eve really is like you say, he’ll figure it out for himself.”
“I just hope he figures it out before she hurts him in ways he won’t easily mend from.”
“I think you’re being a bit over dramatic here.”
“I just wish Johnny would settle down in the suburbs with a nice girl, become a daddy to about. . .oh, four children, and live a quiet life.”
Roy laughed. “Johnny? Live a quiet life in the suburbs? Joanne, the suburbs would never be the same after John Gage and his yet-to-be-born four kids invaded them. I don’t think suburban America is ready for that.”
“Not if he marries Eve it’s not.”
And having gotten in the last word on that subject, Joanne walked away calling, “Chris! Jennifer! It’s time to head for school!”
Dixie McCall shuffled around her kitchen, dressed in her robe and slippers. She’d just gotten out of the shower, but had no desire to get put on anything other than what she was currently wearing. There was a time not too long in the past that she would have considered it a sin to be attired this way at nine o’clock in the morning. She’d always been an early riser. Even on her days off she liked to get her household chores and errands done early so she had time left to pursue her hobbies. Problem was, none of her hobbies kept her interest for more than five minutes any longer. She couldn’t even seem to lose herself in a good book. When she wasn’t at work all she felt like doing was crying. Which was stupid, especially since Dixie didn’t know the reason why. Or, at the very least, was unable to acknowledge it.
The woman tightened the belt at her waist as she poured herself a cup of coffee. She’d lost weight in recent weeks. Not only had she been forced to alter her uniform pants so they’d stay on her hips, but the weight loss was showing in her face as well. Her cheeks had become so drawn and hollow that Kelly Brackett had delicately suggested she make an appointment with her physician for a complete physical. She’d simply given the man a dark glare, which told him what she thought of his suggestion, delicate or not.
Dixie knew Rampart’s emergency room was buzzing with gossip about her. She supposed she deserved every whispered speculation she’d overheard. After all, she hadn’t exactly been easy to get along lately. Her nurses ran for cover when they saw her coming. Doctors Early, Brackett, and Morton walked around with puzzled frowns every time they had an encounter with her, and the paramedics had stopped lounging around the nurse’s station for fear of what mood they’d find her in. Dixie hadn’t seen John Gage other than in quick passing in the ER’s corridors since the day she chewed him out over the silly things, like whistling and calling her Dix, that simply made Johnny who he was. Or at least who he had been. A good and valued friend.
A friendship I probably lost because of how I treated him that day.
Dixie wished she knew how to make things right with Johnny. How to make things right with everyone she’d hurt these last few weeks by her mood or her unkind words. Problem was, she didn’t have the desire or the energy. She just wanted to be left alone. Alone like she was right now.
The sunshine streaming through the kitchen window didn’t chase away Dixie’s blue mood as it might have at one time. Nor did she take her morning coffee out to the front porch as had been her habit ever since she bought this house. Instead, she headed for the couch and another day filled with television programs she cared little about, and would pay scant attention to as she sat and cried.
The same two women who had occupied the dining room table on the day Saigon fell sat there now.
“She’s still so sad, Tess.”
“Yes, Angel Girl, she is.”
“And it’s been so long now.”
“Yes, it has been.”
“Will she ever get past this? Will she ever be happy again? Feel good about who she is and what she means to those who love her?”
“That’s up to her.”
“Up to her?”
Tess reached out and patted Monica’s hand.
“There’s a train leaving its station right now, baby, and that train is gonna change a lot of lives. It has the power to change Dixie McCall’s life, too. But whether it does or not is her choice, not ours.”
“How can a train change someone’s life?”
“It’s not the train so much, Angel Girl, as it is the decision Mizz McCall will make because of that train.”
“If she chooses to help, she might be able to save the life of a friend. If she chooses not to help. . .well, only the good Lord knows what will happen if she chooses not to help. Maybe someone will die who wasn’t supposed to. Or maybe, if nothing else, he’ll die alone. Without a friend by his side.”
Monica eyed the sobbing woman. “I think she needs to help, Tess. I think helping would make Dixie feel good right now.”
“I think so, too. But ultimately, that will be up to Mizz McCall.
We don’t have the power to influence humans regarding the choices they make.”
“I know,” Monica acknowledged as she listened to Dixie cry. “But sometimes I wish we did, Tess. Sometimes, when I listen to someone cry as though their heart is breaking, I wish we did.”
While Dixie sat on her couch crying, John Gage was busy cleaning Station 51’s kitchen. Roy walked in after completing his own assigned chore of mopping the locker room and dorm floors. He crossed to the counter and poured himself a cup of coffee. Johnny looked up from where he was sweeping underneath the table.
“Hey, thank Joanne again for supper last night. It was really good, as always. Eve enjoyed it a lot.”
“Yeah. She said it was nice to spend time with a family. Hers is back in Illinois so she doesn’t see them very often.”
“Oh. Well, then you’ll have to bring her over more often.”
“Yeah. I guess.”
Roy couldn’t tell much from that noncommittal, “I guess.”
“So, are things. . .serious between you two?”
“Yeah. You know. Like. . .serious.”
“Did Joanne put you up to asking me that?”
“It just sounds like something a woman would want to know.”
“Well, no, she didn’t put me up to it. I’m asking because I want to know. But if it’s none of my business just say so.”
Johnny simply shrugged as he swept cookie crumbs and fine grains of dirt into the dustpan.
“I don’t know if it’s serious or not. Kinda, I guess. But not really. I mean, we have some things in common, but. . .I don’t know. She’s a nice girl. I like her a lot if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Like her as a friend, or more than a friend?”
Johnny carried the dustpan over to the garbage pail and dumped it inside.
“A little bit of both I suppose.”
Roy resisted the urge to sigh. In so many ways Johnny was an open book, but when it came down to just how serious he was about whichever current woman he was dating, he was harder to get information out of than a clam. One thing was for certain, he was never without a date if he wanted one. Roy had yet to figure out why none of these relationships grew into a lifelong commitment. Before Roy could pursue the subject further Chet entered the room.
“So, Gage, has Eve come to her senses and dumped you yet?”
“Hardy, har, har, Kelly. And no, she hasn’t dumped me. As a matter of fact we had dinner at Roy’s house last night.”
Chet sauntered over to the coffee pot in a way that told Roy he was just now beginning to bait his hook.
“You know, Gage, I can’t figure out why a beautiful woman like Eve would date a guy like you.”
“What’s so hard to figure out about it?”
“A model must have pretty high standards. I find it hard to believe she’d lower herself to your level. Of course, I guess some dames would say you’re good lookin’, though it’s lost on me as to why. And as far as physique goes, which undoubtedly is important to a chick like Eve, you’re not exactly Mr. Universe there, Gage.”
Just like Roy expected, Johnny was starting to get annoyed. He returned the broom to the closet, then faced his adversary.
“You know, Chet, looks aren’t everything. It’s what’s inside a person that makes them who they are.”
“You really believe that?”
“Of course I believe it.”
“With an ugly mug like yours I guess you’d have to. But the important thing here is, does Eve believe it?”
do you know?”
“I just do,” Johnny said, though in truth he had no idea what Eve believed and what she didn’t when it came to this subject. But John Gage himself was basically such a decent, honest, down-to-earth man, that he couldn’t fathom someone only caring for another person because of their looks. Yes, he knew you could initially be attracted to someone because of their features. He would never deny that he had an eye for pretty women. But he wasn’t so foolish as to think a relationship could be built around something that shallow.
Chet laughed at his co-worker’s naiveté. This was the great thing about Gage. He was so easy to get riled up.
“Gage, you don’t know jack shit. If something happened to you tomorrow, like if you got hit by a Mac truck meaning you’d be even uglier than you are now, that girl would drop you like a hot potato.”
“Chet, you’re full of--”
Before Johnny could finish his sentence the klaxons sounded long and loud.
“Station 51, Station 14, Station 110, Station 65, Station 87, collision between train and bus at the Garden Street crossing. Train/bus collision at the Garden Street crossing. Time out, nine twenty-two.”
Images of crunched metal and twisted bodies assaulted Roy’s mind as he and Johnny raced for the squad. He was glad he’d eaten breakfast at home that morning with the kids and Joanne, rather than just grabbing a doughnut at the station. Based on what dispatch had just announced, Roy had a feeling it would be a long time until lunch, and when his next meal came he wouldn’t be interested in eating it anyway.
Shannon heard the distant blowing of a train whistle, but paid little attention to it. It wasn’t until that blowing got louder, and more insistent, that he brought himself out of his reverie. The young man turned to his left. A massive silver Amtrak engine was bearing down on them. The bus was filled with shouts as Shannon’s fellow Marines tried to warn the driver.
“Hit the gas, man!”
“Get us the hell outta here!”
“Move it, move it, move it!”
Panic ensued as men vaulted over one another in an effort to flee the inevitable. Shannon could feel the vibrations of the railroad tracks beneath the floor of the bus. Vibrations so hard they caused the moving bus to rock back and forth. Just when Shannon was sure his heart would fly out his chest he caught sight of Andrew. The man was glowing. Glowing like an angel. Andrew smiled at Shannon, and in that moment the young Marine felt a sense of tranquility wash over him like he’d never experienced before. His fear was gone, to be replaced instead by calm acceptance.
Shannon was sure a bomb exploded when the train slammed into the middle of the bus. As sparks flew and metal bent, Shannon was catapulted through the air. His last conscious sight was of Andrew, The Angel Of Death, taking the hands of those who were already destined for Heaven.
John Gage had been on the scenes of a number of disasters in his seven years with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, but never had he witnessed an apocalypse of this magnitude. It was impossible to tell where the train ended and the bus began. Strips of metal as long as seventy feet were twisted like pretzels and wound over, under, in, and out of one another. Metal shards and broken glass littered the area for three quarters of a mile, crunching beneath the firefighters’ boots. Suitcases had been thrown from the bus’s cargo hold upon impact with the train. They were strewn across the tracks and on the road, many with their latches broken open. Military issue socks, T-shirts, and boxer shorts, along with khaki uniforms and hats, were scattered as far as the eye could see as though someone had just snatched clean wash from a barracks and left it as a trail for Hansel and Gretel to follow.
Station 51 was the first to arrive on the scene. They had to head another mile from Garden crossing because that’s how far the train had traveled with the bus on its nose before coming to a stop. As soon as Hank Stanley saw that it was an Amtrak passenger train that had collided with the bus he put in a call for six more paramedic units to respond. Even as he directed Marco and Chet to begin hosing down the Greyhound’s gas tank as a precaution against further disaster, Hank spoke into his handie talkie.
“L.A., advise all area hospitals to be on Disaster Alert. Repeat; all hospitals should be on Disaster Alert. This not a drill. We’ll need a triage station set up at the scene with ambulances and helicopters standing by.”
“10-4, 51. Disaster Alert in progress.”
Johnny could hear screams coming from both the bus and train. People with everything from superficial cuts to broken arms were jumping from windows in an effort to free themselves from the wreckage. This was the type of disaster every firefighter trained for at regular intervals throughout his career, but training for the situation and actually being a part of it were two different things. For one uncertain moment neither Johnny nor Roy knew where to begin. But that moment of uncertainty was brief, not lasting more than four seconds before Roy was headed to the train and Johnny to the bus. They were the first paramedics on the scene. How many injured people they’d encounter before helping hands were available neither man could guess.
Captain Stanley took charge of the ‘walking wounded,’ as he was already silently referring to them. With Mike’s assistance he steered the mobile injured away from Johnny and Roy, directing them behind the relative safety of the fire truck. Before Hank or Mike had to put their First Aid skills to use the paramedics from Station 14 arrived and took over the care of these patients.
Sirens wailed and the bellow of air horns sounded as more fire engines and paramedic units arrived. Hank continued to direct the operation until he saw the Battalion Chief pull up. He ran over to the man’s car just as Patrick McConnikee was climbing out. Even the thirty-year veteran of the department was momentarily stunned by the carnage before him. His eyes traveled from the rear of the train that was bent in three different directions like that Slinky toy his granddaughter was so fond of, to the bus that was still miraculously standing on its wheels, though folded right in the center like an accordion. The position of the bus made it look like the train’s hood ornament.
“What have you got, Hank?” The chief asked when he could find his voice.
Captain Stanley started pointing out the locations of various firefighters, shouting so he could be heard over all the noise.
“Two of my men are hosing down the bus’s gas tank! No sign of fire at this time, but I want to take every precaution.”
“I’ve got 14’s, 110’s, and 65’s hosing down the train.”
The chief nodded, taking visual assessment of the firefighters in complete turn-out gear doing just as Hank described.
“The guys from 87’s are assisting the paramedics with search and rescue!”
“Any idea how many passengers on the bus or train?”
“Not on the bus. One of my paramedics. . .DeSoto, just contacted me. He talked to the train’s engineer! Including the crew there’s two hundred and fifty people on the train.”
“Any idea how many are seriously injured?”
“No. DeSoto said the engineer’s injuries aren’t life-threatening so he was making his way to the first car in search of those in need of immediate help.”
chief waved a hand at the three sets of tracks before them. “Has all this been shut down?”
“I contacted dispatch and told them we needed that done immediately.”
The chief nodded. “I’ll follow up on it! The last thing we want is for another train to come barreling through here.”
“No kidding,” Hank agreed, not even wanting to consider such a catastrophe.
“You’ve done a good job, Hank!” McConnikee shouted above the incoming sirens. “I’ll take over directing operations. You get back to your men.”
“Thanks, Chief.” Hank turned to jog toward the Station 51 engine, but stopped when he thought of one more thing. “I had dispatch put the hospitals on Disaster Alert. I’m guessing the triage team will arrive within the next fifteen minutes.”
McConnikee waved in acknowledgment. He scouted the area, finally choosing the spot he thought would be safest, and most efficient, for the triage set-up. He then reached into his car and grabbed the mike from its holder. Though he trusted each and every one of his men, he wanted concrete assurance all railway traffic had been halted.
“L.A., this is Chief McConnikee. I want an official from the railroad at the Garden Street scene as soon as possible.”
The man leaned back into the car and returned the mike to its holder.
As he watched flames begin to shoot from a rear compartment of the train, and firefighters move in to douse them, he had a bad feeling things were going to get worse before they got better.
A person would think it would be relatively easy to find a way into a bus that’s been sliced open by a train until they had to try it. Johnny circled the Greyhound three times before he found a way in that either wasn’t too small, or lined with jagged metal that would cut him before he managed to squeeze past it.
From Johnny’s vantage point on the ground he could see just the floor of the bus and what he assumed had been a section of seats. He pushed the trauma box, drug box, and bio-phone in ahead of him. This was one of those times when he and Roy could have used extra of all three pieces of equipment. Roy had entered the train with nothing in his hands. They had assumed the worst of the injuries would be found in the bus, so decided Johnny should take the equipment while Roy offered the train passengers what help he could until more paramedic units arrived.
Johnny checked the opening he was going to climb through one last time before hoisting himself up and in. His turn-out coat caught on a piece of metal, but he pulled it free without incurring so much as a small tear.
The paramedic swallowed hard as he took in the devastation before him. It looked like a bomb had gone off. Bodies were dangling over seats, and over the railing that separated the driver from the passengers. Five bodies, including that of the driver, were piled on top of one another in front of the smashed door. Some bodies were still sitting upright in their crunched seats, while others had been tossed around the bus’s interior before eventually coming to rest on the floor. Johnny reached out and touched the pulse point at throats as he carefully traversed the aisle. Moans and groans from various directions indicated life. He bent beside the first man he came to who had a pulse. The victim was unconscious and bleeding profusely from a piece of metal that had nearly scalped him.
Johnny looked around as he dug out a pressure bandage for his first victim.
“It’s gonna be all right,” he said to whomever could hear him. “I’m a paramedic with the fire department. More units are responding to the scene right now. We’re going to transport the most seriously injured first.”
Johnny heard a smattering of weak, “Okay’s” from all round him. It was then that he noticed everyone on the bus was male, and all of them were in uniforms representing the United States Marine Corps.
Helluva welcome home, fellas.
While Johnny tried to get the bleeding under control of the Marine he was working on, he glanced up to see a young man slowly making his way forward.
The Marine was holding his left arm to his side, limping badly on his right leg, and had blood running down his face from a gash on his left temple.
“Hey, sit back down,” Johnny urged, unable to move from his first victim to help this second one. “Sit down.”
“I can help you.”
“Yes, you can. By sitting back down.”
Shannon’s body gave out on him. He dropped to what was left of the seat behind Johnny.
just stay right there,” Johnny ordered.
“Where do you hurt?”
“My left arm. I think. . .I think it’s broken. My right knee. My head.”
you lose consciousness?”
“Yeah. I’m pretty sure I did.”
“Okay then, I don’t want you to move. I need to help this man first, then I’ll take a look at you.”
hurt pretty bad, huh?”
Johnny’s pressure bandage covered up the fact that the man was missing half his scalp.
got a serious head wound,” was all Johnny would say. “Do you know him?”
“No. He wasn’t in my unit.” Shannon looked around in a dazed manner Johnny recognized as being a sign of a concussion. “I. . .I a lot of them were, but I don’t remember their names for some reason.”
“Don’t worry about that right now. Just relax.”
Shannon watched with fascination as Johnny contacted Rampart on the bio-phone, then started the IV Doctor Early ordered.
“Are you a medic?”
“A paramedic, yes.”
“Is that like a medic?”
mean like an Army medic?”
“And you work. . .work for the fire department?”
“Yes.” Johnny removed his turn-out coat and helmet, setting them in what was left of a seat. “I’m a firefighter, too.”
“But you’re. . .you’re. . .”
Johnny smiled. “Part Indian?”
“So, how’d you get to do this kind of work?”
“Same way you got to be a Marine. Proved that I was good at it.”
Shannon smiled. He liked this man’s straight-forward style.
“My name’s Shannon. Shannon Eric Ten Clouds. Dumb, huh? Irish first name, Danish middle name, and Indian last name. I’ve always wondered what my parents were thinking.”
Johnny smiled in return as he secured the pressure bandage to the head of his victim. There wasn’t anything else he could do for the man until an ambulance arrived to transport him. He moved forward, bending and stretching to feel for pulses. He kept his facial expression neutral each time he couldn’t detect a pulse, though he doubted he was fooling Shannon, who was watching his every move. When Johnny finally found a sign of life at a battered man’s throat he slithered in-between smashed seats in order to give the young Marine help. He spoke to Shannon while he worked.
“I’m John Gage.” The moans and groans of earlier had given way to eerie silence. It was nice to have someone to talk to. To know that, amidst this twisted wreckage, life still existed. “John Roderick Gage. Not nearly as interesting as yours.”
“Lucky you. You probably didn’t get teased as much.”
“Probably not. Though I got my share.”
“Yeah,” Shannon acknowledged of his own mixed race heritage. “I know what you mean.” Shannon’s eyes traveled over the bodies of his comrades. “It’s so unfair.”
“What’s unfair?” Johnny asked as he took the blood pressure and respiration rate of his latest victim.
“To survive ‘Nam, only to have this happen. A train. A train hit the damn bus. One minute we’re all sittin’ here thankful we made it outta that hell hole alive, and then we’re rammed by a train. Who would have ever believed it?”
Johnny didn’t answer the Marine because he had no answer to give him. Shannon was correct. It was unfair. But at the moment Johnny didn’t have time to ponder the workings of the universe. Including the deceased driver there were fifty-one men on this bus. Fifty-one, and Johnny knew for certain thirty were dead. He couldn’t allow himself to dwell on that, or dwell on the fact that life was far from fair sometimes. Instead, Johnny made a vow that he’d do his best to get the remaining twenty-one men out alive. It was a vow he had every intention of keeping as he climbed, crawled, and slithered through twisted wreckage, steadily making his way from one victim to the next.
Doctor Kelly Brackett was the head of the Los Angeles County Triage Team. Like the fire department, at regular intervals the team practiced for disasters that would result in a large number of victims needing emergency medical care. And like the fire department, Doctor Brackett was happy that actual disasters in need of the triage team were few and far between.
Brackett was in his office when a fire department dispatcher called him about a collision involving a bus and a train. He immediately began putting his disaster plan in motion. Rampart’s receptionist had a list of phone numbers she was to work from in order to notify the other four area hospitals that needed to be put on alert. The ER nurse’s station had a list of phone numbers for all off-duty Rampart medical personnel. Brackett had two nurses making phone calls while he held a brief meeting with his on-duty staff. He appraised Mike Morton, Joe Early, and every available ER nurse of what little he knew regarding the accident. He didn’t have to tell these people more than that. They were well aware of what their jobs would involve for the next several hours. Those present who were a part of Brackett’s on-site triage team left the building in groups in order to car pool to the accident scene. Kelly was ready to leave, too, but was hailed by Betty as he ran by the nurse’s station.
“Just so you know, Doctor Brackett, I wasn’t able to reach Dixie.”
“Damn,” the man swore at the thought of being without his best triage nurse. “Here, let me try before I leave.”
Betty turned the phone around so the doctor could use it from the patient side of the counter. Kelly dialed Dixie’s number from memory, then let the telephone ring, and ring, and ring. Twenty rings later he was just about to disconnect the call when a nasally voice answered on the other end.
Kel. Listen, have you seen the news?”
“On TV. About the collision between the bus and the Amtrak train.”
“Oh. Oh that. Um. . .yes. Yes, I guess I saw something about it. I. . .I haven’t been paying much attention to tell you the truth.”
Brackett cocked a surprised eyebrow. Normally if Dixie knew of a disaster like this one occurring on her day off, she would have called into Rampart to see how she could help.
“Listen, I’m going out to the site with the triage team. I’d like you to meet me there.”
“Oh. Oh. . .well. . .I can’t.”
“No. I’m sick.”
“A bad cold. And the stomach flu I think. I. . .I’m just not feeling well at all.”
Brackett had to admit the woman didn’t sound good, but still, this wasn’t like Dixie. She loved triage medicine, and in recent years complained that she was no longer a part of it often enough to suit her. She normally wouldn’t let something like a cold keep her from helping if she knew she was needed. But, she was the one who knew best how she was feeling so there wasn’t much Brackett could do.
“Okay. Well, I’ve got to go. Take care of yourself.”
took the phone receiver from the doctor.
As she began dialing the number of another off-duty nurse she said, “Dixie’s sick?”
“Yeah. Bad cold. And stomach flu, too.”
“Oh. Maybe that’s what’s been wrong with her these last few weeks.”
“Come on, Doctor Brackett, don’t give me that innocent look. You know what I mean. Dixie’s been crabbier than a bear who came out of hibernation before winter ended. Maybe its the flu that’s been bothering her.”
Brackett didn’t have time to do more than say, “Could be,” before he left the building at a run, headed for his car in the doctors’ parking lot. He knew he’d miss Dixie’s competent presence at the accident scene, and cursed the rotten timing of her flu virus as he drove.
Dixie hadn’t been lying to Kelly Brackett when she told him she’d paid little attention to the first breaking news reports about the accident. For all she knew, or cared, it could be happening in St. Louis, or New York City, or even London for that matter. As soon as she hung up the phone from Kelly she uncurled herself from a corner of the couch and padded across the living room carpet. She turned the volume up on the television and sat in the easy chair to the right of it. A male reporter from channel 10 was at the scene. Dixie watched as firemen ran back and forth helping ambulatory patients to waiting paramedics. As the camera panned the area she identified several fire stations by the numbers on the sides of their trucks, and even saw the empty Squad 51 sitting off to one side. With as little as she paid attention to things lately, she’d lost track of which shift was on-duty, so couldn’t guess which set of 51’s paramedics were at the scene. As the camera panned the wreckage she let out an involuntary gasp. It was hard to believe anyone could still be alive inside that bus. She wondered if anyone was, and if so, who was helping them. She had her answer soon enough when she briefly caught a glimpse of unruly black hair through one of the Greyhound’s windows. There was no mistaking John Gage’s lean figure as he climbed over one of the seats with what looked like the drug box in hand.
The camera moved away from the bus, to instead concentrate on the train. People sporting splints, thick head wraps stained with blood, and bandages on every conceivable limb, were being helped out what few doors the fire department had been able to pry open with the Jaws Of Life. Dixie saw Roy DeSoto pass a bloody child out a window into the waiting arms of a paramedic she couldn’t identify because he was wearing his helmet and had his back to her. It was as Roy passed out another injured child that Dixie made her decision. It was obvious the fire department was doing all it could, but they needed help in the form of more trained professionals. If the paramedics were tied up treating victims inside the bus and train, then additional medical personnel had to be available on the scene to aid in the treatment of the victims once they were freed.
For the first time in weeks Dixie felt able to take positive action. She clicked off the television and headed for her bedroom. She was removing her robe by the time she was in the doorway. She hung it on a hook in her closet. She moved to her dresser and yanked opened the top drawer. She grabbed a pair of white bikini briefs and a bra, then slipped into both before opening the third drawer. She pulled out a pair of jeans and a man-tailored blue denim work shirt with long sleeves before grabbing a pair of thick white socks from another drawer. Though the clothing wasn’t as sturdy as the firefighters’ turn-out gear, it would offer some protection against jagged glass and metal. Dixie made quick work of getting the clothes on, then hurried into the master bathroom where she brushed her teeth, then ran a comb through her still damp hair. She pulled her shoulder length hair into a single ponytail and secured it with the first thing she grabbed while running back to bedroom, a black clip-on satin bow. A little fancy for a train wreck, but she didn’t have time to dig through her supply of clips and bows to find something else.
The nurse retrieved the sturdiest shoes she owned from her closet’s floor, a pair of brown suede ankle-high hiking boots. She sat on the edge of the bed in order to pull the boots on and lace them up. She reached for the lower ledge of her nightstand where she kept her purse. She retrieved her wallet and keys from it, then headed for the front door. Dixie kept a medical bag in the trunk of her car that held the most basic equipment from blood pressure cuff, to stethoscope, to bandages, to aspirin. Anything else she might need would be available at the scene.
The woman paused at the coat closet in her foyer. She hesitated before opening the door and pulling a lightweight jacket from its hanger. It was seventy degrees outside. Considering Dixie was already wearing a long sleeve shirt the jacket wasn’t necessary, but something the nurse could only describe as an inner sense of urgency was nagging at her to put the pale pink jacket on.
The nurse zipped the jacket halfway, locked the door behind her, then trotted down the front steps. As she climbed in her red Mustang she realized that, for the first time in weeks, she felt useful.
For Roy DeSoto, making his way through the train was like winding through a snake’s belly. Some of the cars still stood upright, while others were on their sides, while two were upside down. Like Johnny, he bypassed the minor injuries for now in favor of treating the most critically wounded. Because passengers had been thrown around the train, and some had already exited it through windows or holes torn in its metal, people had been separated from their loved ones or traveling companions. The hysteria that ensued because a parent couldn’t find his or her child, or because an old man couldn’t find his wife of sixty years, made the situation that much harder on Roy. He did his best to calm the upset passengers while assuring everyone they’d get treatment, be evacuated, and be reunited with their loved ones just as soon as possible.
Roy breathed an internal sigh of relief when the paramedics from 14’s and 110’s joined him. He cast a brief glance out a shattered window to see more paramedic squads pulling up followed by Kelly Brackett. He knew Brackett’s triage team of doctors and nurses would be close behind. He also knew this meant the local hospitals had been placed on Disaster Alert, and that the department had put out a call for all off-duty fire personnel to come to the scene. Roy was thankful for that. With two hundred and fifty people on this train, and most of them injured in some way, Roy knew they could use all the help they could get.
As Roy moved on to treat his next victim he wondered how Johnny was doing. Though Roy hadn’t run across a fatality yet, he had no doubt the bus was filled with them. He figured Johnny was just as happy to see the additional paramedics, and triage team arrive, as he was. It was never easy being the first paramedics to respond to a scene as devastating as this one. If nothing else, the presence of their colleagues would lend both Johnny and Roy the moral support they’d need hours from now, after every victim had been transported to either the hospital
. .or the morgue.
Johnny feverishly performed CPR on a young man who looked like he couldn’t possibly be more than fourteen.
“Come on, come on,” Johnny urged as he worked. He finally detected a pulse, then inserted an esophageal airway as Doctor Early had instructed. When off-duty paramedic Charlie Dwyer stuck his head in through the same opening his station-mate had used to enter the bus, Johnny was never so happy to see anyone in his life.
Charlie was momentarily stunned by the sight in front of him. Bodies were tossed everywhere, as though Godzilla had picked up the bus and shaken it. He knew Johnny had been the sole paramedic in here for the past twenty minutes. He also knew these Marines were lucky John Gage was one of the first paramedics on the scene. A lesser man, or a rookie, couldn’t have performed all the medical tasks Johnny had to handle by himself.
There was no time to trade friendly barbs like Charlie and Johnny normally did.
“What do you have?” Charlie said as he carefully made his way up the aisle.
“He was in full arrest. I’ve got him back, but we’ve got to get him out of here.”
“Triage is set up and running.”
“Get someone over here with a Stokes then.”
Charlie spoke into his handie talkie, requesting the needed item.
“How do things look with the train?” Johnny inquired while he monitored his victim.
At Johnny’s raised eyebrow Charlie said, “A lot of victims. A lot more of them than there are of us right now. But off-duty guys are rolling in every minute. That will help.”
“Yeah, it will.”
Shannon watched with fascination as Johnny and Charlie worked. Just like the men Shannon had served with in the Marine Corps, Johnny and this man he called Charlie, shared an easy camaraderie that seemed to transcend racial boundaries. It wasn’t something Shannon was used to. Prior to joining the Marines his life had been limited to the reservation he’d grown up on. This gave him a whole new outlook on what the world might hold for him if he chose not to stay in the military. There were actually other possibilities. Careers to pursue where people didn’t care if your mother was Caucasian and your father American Indian provided, like Johnny said, you proved yourself to be the man for the job.
Johnny hadn’t forgotten about Shannon. Several times John patted his shoulder and asked, “How are you doing?” or said, “Hang in there for me, Shannon,” as he passed him. Though Shannon’s head ached and his arm hurt, he didn’t complain. He knew his fellow Marines needed medical attention worse than he did.
The process of treating and evacuating the living from the bus was a slow, arduous one. Because of the bus’s condition no other paramedics could fit inside other than the two already present. Johnny wiped sweat from his brow as he moved onto his next patient.
Twenty-one alive, and we got six of them out so far. Fifteen to go. Fifteen to go, Johnny repeated to himself, ever mindful of the vow he’d made when he first arrived on what was left of this Greyhound bus.
A large tent had been hastily erected by off-duty firefighters for the triage team. Gurneys lined the inside of the tent as make-shift beds, and spilled beyond the protection of the tent’s roof as well. The area reminded Dixie of the MASH units in Korea as doctors and nurses bustled back and forth calling out information about the injured and giving one another instructions. The medical personnel were dressed in everything from lab coats, to nurse’s uniforms, fire department uniforms, suits and ties, to a tennis outfit, a pair of plaid golfing pants complete with cleated golf shoes, to blue jeans and casual shirts like Dixie was wearing. The off-duty doctors, nurses, and paramedics had arrived regardless of what endeavors they’d been pursuing. Dixie was glad now that she’d joined her colleagues. If nothing else it beat sitting home alone and crying.
For a little while Dixie forgot she was the nursing supervisor of an emergency room. There were no schedules to worry about, no employees making complaints about crabby doctors or patients, and no dirty coffee mugs left to wash that the paramedics had used. Instead, there was simply triage nursing, what Dixie loved and did best. She took vital signs, started IV’s, splinted broken bones, and was one of Brackett’s lead team members when it came to deciding in what order patients were to be transported, and what hospital they were headed to. Within thirty minutes Dixie had assessed more people than she could count. She pinned red tags on those who were the most seriously injured and a must for immediate transportation. Put green tags on those whose injuries fell into the semi-serious category. And marked the ‘walking wounded’ with white tags, meaning they could wait until the very end to be transported.
As Dixie moved from patient to patient she came across a little girl lying on a gurney crying. The child had already received medical treatment and was awaiting transport. Her left arm was splinted and her auburn bangs had been brushed back to instead be replaced by a large white bandage on her forehead.
“Sweetheart, don’t cry,” Dixie soothed as she rubbed the child’s shoulder. “You’re going to be fine.”
want. . .I want my mommy.”
“I know you do, honey.” Dixie looked around. It was impossible to guess who this little girl’s mother was, if she was even present.
“Were you and Mommy traveling together?”
“Uh huh. On the train. We were coming to California to visit Grandma and Grandpa.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun.”
“It was until the big noise happened and the train turned upside down. Now I don’t know where my mommy is.”
“What’s your name, sweetie?”
“Lori. Lori Ann Henderson.”
“Well, Lori Ann Henderson, you don’t need to worry. There are a lot of firemen in that train right now helping everyone get out. I’m sure they’ll find your mommy.”
what the man promised.”
“The one who put this bandage on my head and carried me out of the train. He was real nice. He said he had a little girl just about my age named Jennifer.”
Dixie smiled. She knew the child had to be speaking of Roy DeSoto.
“Yes, he does. And you’re right, he is nice, isn’t he? His name is Roy. And if he promised he’d find your mommy then he will.”
Dixie took a pen out of her pocket in order to add information to the index card someone had pinned to Lori’s blood stained shirt. The child’s name was printed on the card, along with a list of her injuries and the treatment she’d received.
“What’s your mommy’s first name, Lori?”
Dixie printed on the card - Mother - Marilyn Henderson.
“Do you know your grandparents names?”
“The one’s I’m coming to visit?”
“Grandma and Grandpa Trumel.”
“Do Grandma and Grandpa have first names?”
“I. . .I guess. But I don’t know what they are.”
“Elaine and Peter,” a voice from behind Dixie supplied. The nurse turned around.
“What are you doing here?”
“Juz helpin’ out, Ma’am.”
“Helping out how?”
“With people like Miss Lori. Gettin’ names, and information, and makin’ sure these little ones are reunited with their mommies and daddies.”
“Oh, good idea,” Dixie nodded, assuming this was a new facet of Kelly Brackett’s triage team she didn’t know had been added. She had to admit, in the midst of a disaster when medical personnel were being pulled in one hundred different directions, having someone on hand like Tess simply to offer comfort and record information was an asset.
Tess smiled as she looked down at Lori. “Now I’ll take over here, Mizz McCall, so you’re free to be where you’re needed.”
“Thank you, Tess.” Dixie gave Lori’s arm a gentle squeeze. “I have to go help other people now, Lori. Tess will stay with you until you go to the hospital.”
my mommy? Will she be at the hospital,
“She sure will be, baby,” Tess assured. “As a matter of fact she’s already waiting there for you, just a wonderin’ and a worrin’ as to where her little girl is.”
Dixie shot the woman a dark scowl.
you got your nurse’s cap all turned around for like you’re in a lather over
something?” Tess asked.
“Don’t lie to her like that,” Dixie whispered. “Offering reassurances is fine, but outright lies can do more harm than good.”
“Mizz McCall, I don’t cotton to lyin’, nor do I practice it, so don’t you worry your pretty head over it none. I didn’t lie to this child. Her mother is waiting for her at Rampart Hospital.”
Dixie was about to ask Tess how she knew that for certain when she was called away to help with five more patients who were being brought from the train by paramedics. It would be hours later before the nurse thought to wonder how Tess knew the first names of Lori’s grandparents, and hours later when she discovered that, as Tess had promised, Lori’s mother Marilyn had been waiting at Rampart for her.
Eve Madison sat on the couch in her apartment with her long legs drawn up, painting her toenails bright red. She dipped the tiny brush in the bottle she had setting on the end table, then stroked the polish over her nails as the TV droned in the background. Her roommate, Sarah Freedmont, came out of the bathroom wearing a blue stain robe and drying her long, sorrel colored hair with a towel.
“So, are you seeing Johnny tonight?” Sarah asked, as she plopped to an easy chair.
“No, he’s on duty. We’ve got a date for tomorrow night.”
really stuck on this guy, huh?”
Eve shrugged. “I don’t know if I’m stuck on him, but he’s sure nice to look at. And quite the gentleman after the guys I’m used to dating. Kind of old fashioned though, and a little on the dorky side.”
Eve rolled her eyes. “Bowling. On a Saturday night. Puhleeeease.”
“Then you shouldn’t allow Johnny to believe you enjoy bowling. Or anything else he likes to do that you don’t.”
Eve ignored her friend.
“Then last night, when we were at his partner’s house for dinner. . .”
“He was running around playing with the kids like he was a kid himself.”
“That’s not such a bad thing. A guy who likes kids. If you want some of your own, I mean.”
“Oh, I do. Someday on down the road. And I’ll have to say that with Johnny’s good looks, not to mention my own, we’ll make beautiful babies.”
“You are so hung up on looks. That’s not everything there is to a man, you know.”
“As far as I’m concerned it is. Well, that and a great body. Not that Johnny’s body is all that hot, but we can work on it.”
afraid to ask this question, but how?”
“A little weight lifting will do the trick. He’s nice and trim through the waist--”
“Skinny is more like it.”
“Okay, skinny. You’re right, he’s scrawny and I normally like ‘em brawny. But he’s got a pretty good set of biceps and shoulders from all the lifting he does on his job. A little more work in that area and he’ll be perfect.”
Sarah frowned. Johnny and Eve had met in the first place because of her. She was a model, too, and three months ago had fainted under the hot runway lights during a rehearsal one afternoon. When she didn’t regain consciousness a call was made to the fire department. It was Johnny and Roy who had answered that call, and it was Eve who rode to Rampart in the ambulance with Johnny and Sarah.
“Eve, no man is perfect. No person is perfect. Please don’t try to mold Johnny into someone he’s not. Or someone he doesn’t want to be.”
“Don’t give me that innocent act. Look, you just turned twenty-two and he’s what. . .thirty?”
“Twenty-eight. He’ll be twenty-nine in August.”
“That’s quite an age difference.”
“Oh, it is not. You make it sound like he’s sixty.”
“All I’m saying is, you’re at an age where you still want to have fun with guys. Be foot loose and fancy free. While Johnny’s at an age where he might be looking to make a more serious commitment. Don’t lead him to think you want that commitment if you really don’t. Don’t lead him to believe you enjoy doing the same things he does, that the two of you have things in common, if in fact you don’t. He’s too nice of a guy to hurt like that.”
“But he’s so damn cute,” Eve teased her friend with the sole purpose of making her mad. “And good in bed.”
“Oh, don’t scold me like you’re my mother. He is good in bed. In that area he’s got a very good body, if you get my drift. And like I said, old fashioned.”
“Old fashioned how?”
“He cares about how I feel. You know, physically. I can’t say I’ve had a lot of guys worry about that in the past.”
“And does he know how many guys you’d had in the past?”
Eve laughed. “Honey, Johnny’s too old fashioned to ever be told how many guys I’ve had in the past.”
Sarah shook her head at her friend.
“Just do me one favor, okay?”
“Just be honest with Johnny. If this is just a fling, tell him so.”
“A fling? Sarah, I already told you that some day John Gage and I are going to make beautiful babies together. He’s so. . .exotic looking.
His dark eyes, that mass of thick black hair, the way his skin turns that luscious bronze when he’s been out in the sun. He’s part American Indian, you know.”
“Yes, I know. You’ve told me that about fifty times. Now let me tell you something.”
“If all you’re going to build a marriage on is Johnny’s good looks, dark eyes, thick hair, the way he tans, and the desire to have beautiful babies, then you’ll be starting out on the wrong foot. As a matter of fact, you’ll be getting yourself into a marriage that will never last.”
“What makes you so smart?”
“It’s not a matter of being smart, it’s a matter of listening to my common sense.”
Eve stared at her roommate a long moment before dipping her brush back in her nail polish.
“I do love him, you know.”
“Maybe so. But for the right reasons?”
When Eve refused to answer Sarah, or make eye contact with her, Sarah changed the subject. She glanced at the TV as she finished drying her hair.
“Oh, I don’t know. Some news report about a train wreck on the other side of the city. You can change the channel. It’s almost time for that new soap opera I like. . .what’s it called?”
“The Heart Of The City?”
“Yeah. That’s it. The guy who plays Trace Cooper. .Kerry London - is a real hunk. I’m going to see if my agent can get me a date with him.”
“Eve! You’re dating Johnny!”
“I know that. But it never hurts for a girl to have more than one fish on the line.”
Sarah simply shook her head in disgust as she changed the television channel for her friend.
I should be the one dating Johnny, Sarah thought, as she watched Eve drool over the actor playing the role of Trace Cooper. At least I’d treat him better than Eve ever could in her lifetime. If I wasn’t so involved with David I might be tempted to see Johnny myself. I just hope he figures out what Eve’s all about before she has a chance to hurt him.
Sarah headed back to the bathroom to dry her hair. She was so disgusted with her best friend she didn’t want to be in the same room with her.
Ten to go, ten to go, Johnny told himself as he watched Charlie Dwyer exit the bus carrying one end of a Stokes. The other end had been passed out to a paramedic from Station 6. Just ten to go.
The ten men who remained were the least critically injured, and the ones Johnny had the most hope for of surviving long term. Thus, the reason why they were being evacuated last. Like Shannon, several had now regained consciousness. The paramedic gave them a lot of credit for their patience. He’d been on this bus well over an hour now, and though he knew these men were hurting from their broken bones, lacerations, bumps, bruises, and concussions, none of them said a word about it. They were more concerned for their comrades than they were for themselves, which Johnny credited in large part to their military background.
Along with Shannon, two of the men were even joking with Johnny as they tried to take their minds off the lifeless bodies that would remain on the bus until everyone else was evacuated.
A twenty year old named Rich, who was sporting a blond crew cut, held a bandage Johnny had given him to his forehead.
“You’d have made a helluva field medic, Johnny. It’s a shame you had to miss that tropical vacation spot we just came from.”
“So I hear,” Johnny said with a smile as he splinted the arm of J. Seavers, according to the patch on his shirt, a nineteen year old black man who informed Johnny the J stood for James. “Shannon’s been telling me all about it.”
“Yeah, while you guys have been snoozin’ Johnny and I have been gettin’ to know one another.”
“So, you got ole’ Shannon as a recruit for the fire department yet?” James Seavers asked in his deep, Alabama drawl.
“Not yet. But I’m working on it.”
“Now that would be a doggone shame ifin’ that happens,” James said.
“ ‘Cause I reckon Shannon’s just about the best Marine there is, after me a’ course.”
“No, no, that would be after me,” Rich said.
“You guys are full of shit,” Shannon teased in return, despite his splitting headache. “There’s no comparison next to you two. I am the best.”
Johnny smiled at the lighthearted bickering that had such a familiar ring to it.
“You guys would all make great firefighters.”
“Why’s that?” James asked.
“Because you bicker as badly as we do.”
“Like a buncha brothers, huh?”
“Just like that, James.”
“Dat’s cool. I’m likin’ the thought of the fire department more and more already. And I bet they don’t play reveille to get you out of bed, either.”
“Nope, no reveille,” Johnny agreed as he put the finishing touches on James’ splint and secured the arm to the young man’s side with wide strips of cloth bandages. “But the klaxons do sound at seven every morning to get us up. That is if we’re not up already and out on a run.”
“Klaxons?” Shannon questioned with genuine interest.
“Basically an electric horn. It not only wakes us up, but it goes off when we get summoned on a call. It’s taken the place of the old-fashioned alarm bells. It kind of sounds like a fog horn.”
“Speaking of horns, am I hearing things or is there a horn blowing somewhere?” Rich asked.
“Only in your head,” James wisecracked.
“No, man, I’m serious. It sounds far away, but it’s like a train horn.”
Johnny looked out the window. He couldn’t see anything but fellow firefighters and the triage team.
“Maybe it’s the horn from the train that hit us,” Shannon said. “You know, something’s gone haywire with the electrical system and it’s going off.”
“Must be,” Rich agreed.
Johnny didn’t make a response as he moved on to the next patient in need of a splint on an arm and an ankle. He didn’t hear a horn, but then his handie talkie, which was clipped to his belt, filtered a steady stream of chatter upwards between station captains, their men, and dispatch. In addition to that noise there was the steady wail of sirens and loud blasts from air horns as fire trucks and ambulances continued to arrive. Johnny smiled his reassurance at his patients. He knew that after this long on the bus, not to mention being surrounded by dead bodies, they had to be getting unnerved.
“We’ll have you off of here within twenty minutes, guys. It’s just a matter of a couple paramedics being free to help you out and get you to triage. Charlie was going to talk to my captain to see who was available.”
“That’s good,” James nodded, “ ‘cause I really gotta piss. Will they let me piss, Johnny, or are they gonna stick somethin’ up me that I ain’t gonna like to make me do that?”
Johnny laughed. “They’ll probably stick something up you you’re not going to like, but speaking from past experience let me give you a little hint.”
“Just keep raising a fuss and be stubborn about it. If you are, and you can stand on your own two feet long enough to get the job done, they’ll probably give in and let you.”
me piss like a man?”
wasn’t there a song like that?” Rich
asked. “Frankie Valli And The Four
Seasons, right? Piss Like A Man?”
“That’s Walk Like A Man, stupid,” Shannon said. “Geez, if you guys keep this up Johnny’s gonna wonder what kinda goofs were defending his country.”
“Don’t worry about it, Shannon. If anyone heard me and Chet around the supper table at the station they’d ask what kinda goofs were protecting their city from fires.”
“I’d say a buddy of mine, but at any given moment that can change depending on what he’s done to me.”
he’s done to you?”
“He’s a bit of a practical joker.”
a wise ass, huh?”
“You might say that.”
“Well, Johnny, my man, if you be wantin’ my advice,” James stopped in mid-sentence. “What the hell. . .” He looked at the crumpled bus floor. It was vibrating beneath his feet. “What the hell is going on?”
“It’s a train!” Rich screamed, his eyes wide as he stared out the shattered windows. “A train is coming!”
Anything else said was drowned out by the screaming whistle of the oncoming freight train. All Johnny could do was yell, “Run! Run!” as he urged his patients toward the hole in the floor at the back of the bus.
“Run, dammit! Run!”
The impact of the train hitting the already mangled bus threw Johnny across the aisle. The blowing whistle drowned out the paramedic’s cry of pain. He felt the left side of his skull impact with something hard and sharp, while something else that was sharp pierced his right side. Johnny screamed again, then lost consciousness while praying that his ten patients had somehow made it out alive.