This Old House
*The This Old House trilogy was the grand prize winner in a tandem contest sponsored by Tigger’s E! Site, Junior’s Journals, and Squad 51, Where Are You? Parts 2 and 3 of This Old House are posted in Kenda’s Emergency! Library.
Johnny Gage slithered on his back across the cool dirt of the crawl space. There wasn’t more than eight inches of space between his nose and the floor of the ‘handy-man’s special’ Chet Kelly had moved into a month earlier.
Handy-man’s special my ass. Geez, if Chet was such a handy-man he’d be the one on his back in a tiny, dark space full of spiders and mice, not me.
“Hey, Gage! Have you spotted that rattler I’ve been tryin’ to shoo out of there for the past couple weeks?”
“What!” Johnny forgot about his confined quarters as his head shot from the ground. “Ouch! Damn you, Kelly!”
The paramedic could hear Chet laughing. On the heels of the laughter came Marco’s scolding.
“Chet, knock it off. You know how much he hates snakes. Especially since he got bit last year. He’s doing you a favor so put a lid on it.”
Thank God for Marco, Johnny thought as he rubbed the bump on top of his forehead. When Roy isn’t around I can at least count on Marco to be the voice of reason where Chet’s concerned.
As quickly as Johnny’s anger came over Chet’s joke it left him. Which was normal for the dark headed paramedic. He finished slinking to the opening of the crawl space and stuck a hand out into the muggy July air.
“Chet, hand me that pipe wrench, will ya’?”
“You got it.”
Metal clanged together in the toolbox, then Johnny felt the heavy wrench being placed in his outstretched hand. He caught a glimpse of Chet’s face as the man hunkered down on his knees.
“How’s it lookin’ in there, Gage?”
“It looks fine. If you’d lay off with the bad jokes I might actually have this done before the afternoon ends.”
“I gotta hand it to ya’, Johnny, there’s not much you can’t do when it comes to fixing up a fixer-upper.”
“Funny thing about that, Chet. I’ve noticed there’s not much you can do when it comes to fixing up your fixer-upper.”
“True. But the beauty of that is, I’m learnin’ from the best, Johnny Boy. I’m learnin’ from the best.”
Johnny rolled his eyes as he fitted the pipe wrench over the first clamp.
“Flattery will get you nowhere, Kelly. However, the promise of a large pizza and some cold beer might convince me to finish what I’ve started.”
“That’s a promise I’ll make. And hey, Johnny, I really do appreciate all the help you’re givin’ me. Really.”
“Ah, stow the sentiment, Kelly. It doesn’t become you,” Johnny said as he worked. “If you want to thank me you’ll tell me the Phantom got left behind when we moved you out of your apartment.”
“In your dreams, Gage. In your dreams.”
Johnny barely heard Marco’s stage whisper.
“Chet, if you want Johnny’s help with this place I think the Phantom better leave him alone for a while.”
“I’ll second that!” Johnny shouted from his tomb.
“Well...considering the circumstances, you and the Phantom might be able to strike a deal, Gage.”
“That you promise you’ll help me rewire on our next off-shift, then replace the bathroom fixtures after that, then put new shingles on the roof, and once that’s done you could show me how to tile the kitchen floor, and then I’d like to replace all the windows, and after that I’d like to--”
“Kelly, why the hell didn’t you just buy a new house?”
“That wouldn’t be any fun. I can’t fix up a new house.”
“No kidding. You can’t even fix up an old house.”
Johnny didn’t pay any attention to whatever smart aleck reply Chet made. He was enjoying himself far more than he was letting on, and he suspected Chet knew that. John Gage had grown up on a ranch. His father was truly a jack-of-all-trades like most ranchers are. At a young age Johnny was handing his father whatever tools were necessary to complete jobs that ranged from stringing barbed wire fence to framing up the house the Gage family would eventually live in. John’s father was everything from carpenter, to electrician, to plumber. Which was how Johnny found himself in Chet’s crawl space installing new water pipes.
Chet’s two bedroom bungalow was fifty-four years old. While solidly built, Johnny doubted anything had been updated since the home’s completion in 1921. The Station 51 A-shift crew had been offering Chet assistance whenever they could. By virtue of Johnny and Marco being single, they had more time to spend helping Chet than Cap, Roy, or Mike. Besides, it was Johnny who had the skills necessary to get some of the more detailed work done. The rest of the guys could follow his instructions, but none of them had the experience he did in such a wide variety of home maintenance areas.
For the next three hours Marco and Chet handed Johnny whatever he requested. It was late afternoon when he finally emerged through the square opening no larger than a basement window. He squinted as the summer sun assaulted his eyes.
“Okay, Chester B., that should do it. Next step after this, - new bathroom.”
“Great, Johnny. Thanks. Like I said, I really appreciate your help.”
Johnny brushed at the dirt that clung to the back of his blue, short sleeve work shirt while Marco secured the crawl space’s wooden door over its opening.
“Don’t grovel, Chet. It doesn’t become you.”
“I’m not groveling. I really do appreciate your help. I never knew you could do stuff like this.”
“Plumbing, carpentry, electrical work...hell, Johnny, you could take an old house and make it look brand new. You know, maybe you should think about that. After all, you aren’t gonna be a paramedic forever. Maybe you could open your own business. Even have your own TV show.”
“My own TV show?”
“Yeah. Sure. You know...some kind of home remodeling show like you’d see on PBS.”
“Chet, no one watches PBS except the preschoolers who catch Sesame Street every day. Besides, who the hell in their right mind would wanna sit down and watch a show about remodeling a house?”
“I don’t know. Guys like me I guess. Guys who want to learn how to do the work themselves. You could call it...Home Improvement. Or...Tool Time. Or how about This Old House?”
“This Old House,” Marco said as he latched the tool box, then lifted it. “I like that.”
“Me, too,” Chet agreed. “This Old House with John Gage as your host. Pretty nifty idea, huh, Johnny? And then maybe you could even get a sponsor like Craftsmen Tools. And then you’d get all your tools free, and get free tools for your friends, too. And hey, me and Marco, and Roy, Cap, and Mike could all make appearances as your helpers.”
“Chet, that’s just about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard of. It sounds about as exciting as spending a Sunday afternoon watching golf.” Johnny slapped the dirt off the legs of his faded Wranglers, then walked toward the front of the house. “I’m gonna get washed up, then you can make good on that pizza and beer you promised me.”
“Sure, Gage. Sure.”
Chet took the toolbox from Marco. The two men headed for the one car garage that sat at the back of the property.
“You know, it is a good idea,” Chet said. “I bet a lot of guys would watch something called This Old House.”
“Probably. But evidently not Johnny.”
“Geez, just when I have an idea that’s bound to rake in the bucks Gage goes and ruins it for me.”
“I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself there, Chet. A good idea is one thing. Selling it to a TV show producer is another.”
“Still, it had potential.”
“I guess. But for now let’s just worry about your old house. And if you want any more work done on your old house you’d better feed Johnny. You know how he gets if he misses a meal.”
“Yeah. Downright unbearable.”
The two men exited the garage. They headed for the back door intent on doing exactly what Johnny was, washing up before going out for supper.
“Hey, Marco, you got thirty bucks you can loan me?”
“I’m a homeowner now, man. It’s not like I’ve got a lot of extra cash layin’ around you know.”
“Come on, just until pay day. I’ll pay you back then, I promise.”
Marco sighed as he pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans.
“Chet, it’s a wonder you have any friends.”
“At least I was smart enough not to ask Gage if I could borrow money.”
“At least. I think that would have been pushing it after that little rattlesnake joke and all.”
“Yeah, but the beauty of Gullible Gage is, he probably would have given it to me.”
Marco didn’t consider Johnny nearly as gullible as he considered him big hearted. Before he had the opportunity to debate that with his friend Johnny came out of the house bare chested and carrying his dirty shirt. His arms, face, neck, and hands were now free of crawl space dirt.
“Come on, you guys, I’m starving.”
“What else is new?” Chet wise-cracked.
“Hey, Chester B., I’d advise you to shut your mouth around the This Old House guy unless you really want this to continue to be an old house.”
“Geez, Gage...no Phantom. No smart aleck remarks. You’re reducing me to just another sissy firefighter here.”
“Maybe so, but at least my life will be calm and quiet for the next few weeks.”
“Yeah, and mine will be boring.”
Before the two men could become embroiled in another round of Gage/Kelly bickering, Marco pushed Chet into the house.
“Hurry up, Chet. I’m with Johnny. Let’s eat.”
“Okay, okay. I’m hurrying. I’m hurrying. Geez, Marco, you’d think you were payin’ for this supper or something,” was the last thing Johnny heard as he walked to his Land Rover to exchange his dirty shirt for a clean one.
Monday morning found the men of A-shift reporting for duty after their weekend off. Chet was bringing Roy and Mike up to date on his house when Johnny walked into the locker room.
“And there he is now. John The Tool Man Gage.”
The remark garnered Chet nothing more than a tight smile as Johnny passed the man on his way to his locker. Without joining the conversation the dark haired paramedic started changing into his uniform. He didn’t know how many times Chet hailed him before he finally turned around. Johnny could tell by the puzzled look on Roy’s face, though, that Chet had called his name more than once.
“Huh? What you’d say, Chet?”
“I was telling Roy and Mike that I think you’ve found your calling when you retire from the department.”
“Yeah. Remodeling homes.”
“And hey, what about the idea for the TV show?”
“What TV show?” Mike asked.
“I had this great idea, only Johnny thinks it’s stupid. But it’s not. See, he could...”
God, I wish he’d shut up.
Johnny wasn’t even sure where that thought came from as he put a foot on the bench and began tying his shoe. Leaning forward to accomplish that job only increased the pounding in his skull.
“So anyway, Gage said it sounds as boring as watching golf on a Sunday afternoon.”
“It does,” Mike agreed.
“No, it doesn’t. Listen, all a guy would have to do is buy an old house like mine, get a camera crew together and...”
Shut up, shut up, shut up...
“Shut up! Jesus, Chet, don’t you ever shut your mouth!”
Johnny was immediately sorry he’d released the anger he didn’t even know existed. Chet looked like a puppy someone had just tossed from a car.
The paramedic heaved a sigh while resisting the urge to massage his aching temples.
“Look, Chet, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I just...I’m tired today.”
“Sure,” Chet nodded, though Johnny could hear the hurt and embarrassment in his voice. “Sure, I understand. Hey, you did me a favor by working around my place yesterday. Guess if anyone’s entitled to tell me to shut up it’s you.”
“Forget it, John. It’s no big deal.”
But Johnny could tell it was a big deal as Chet left the locker room. Once again Johnny found himself wishing he was more like the reserved Mike Stoker who never seemed to say or do anything wrong. The big man gave Johnny a small smile the paramedic couldn’t read before exiting the locker room in search of Chet. Johnny wished Roy would leave as well, but he didn’t. A long moment of silence passed before the blond man spoke.
“I knew you were going to ask me that,” Johnny said as he turned to get his pen off his locker shelf and stick it in his shirt pocket.
“It’s just not like you to snap at Chet like that. To snap at anyone like that.”
Johnny couldn’t prevent the surly tone that added itself to his voice.
“I’m sorry, Mr. DeSoto. If you want me to write sentences on the blackboard in-between runs I will.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you today, but you don’t have to take it out on me.”
Again, Johnny sighed. He dropped his head into his hands and rubbed his fingers over his temples.
“No, I don’t. And I apologize. Like I told Chet, I’m tired.”
“Do you have a headache?”
“Did you take some aspirin?”
Johnny’s head shot up. His brown eyes turned black with fury.
“Yes, I took some aspirin! Geez, Roy, do you think I’m some kind of idiot who doesn’t know when he needs to take...”
Roy held up his hands in surrender as he stood.
“I can see it’s gonna be a long enough shift as it is. Why don’t we just call a truce. I won’t ask you how you’re feeling. if you promise not to bite my head off.”
Knowing his partner as well as he did meant Roy was surprised when his remark didn’t earn him an apology. Sick or not, it was unusual for Johnny not to be contrite if he knew he was at fault over something that was causing tension between the two of them. But all he did now was nod his head.
“Okay, fine,” Roy said when he could see this was the only answer he was going to receive. “You hold up your end of the bargain and I’ll hold up mine. See ya’ at roll call.”
Again, Johnny nodded. He was glad when he heard the locker room door shut, the sound indicating he was finally alone. He sank to the bench on shaky legs and found himself clutching the smooth wood in order to keep from toppling to the floor. The room spun around the paramedic as a wave of nausea washed over him.
I musta picked that flu bug up from Jennifer and Chris last week when I was at Roy’s house helping him paint.
Johnny wasn’t certain what kept his breakfast in his stomach that morning, he was simply happy his Cornflakes stayed where they belonged. Before he had a chance to assemble with the other guys for roll call the klaxons sounded.
Both the engine crew and the squad were summoned to a structure fire. As Johnny raced from the locker room he thought about how good it would feel to be back in bed right about now. He glanced at the wall clock as he climbed into his seat.
Only twenty-four hours to go and we’re off-duty again. No matter how lousy I feel I guess it can make it through a mere twenty-four hours.
If Johnny hadn’t felt so much like puking, he might have actually found his sarcasm funny.
Roy watched as his partner ricocheted around Rampart’s supply room. Dixie glanced up from her clipboard. The look on her face was no different from the look on Roy’s, a cross between amusement and irritation.
I’ve told you before,” the woman scolded,
“lay off the Coco Puffs for breakfast.
The last thing you need in your system is sugar. How did your teachers ever get you to sit
still in school?”
“Don’t know,” Johnny replied with a frantic edge to his tone. He flitted around the supply room grabbing things from the shelves. Just as quickly Dixie would grab them back.
“Put those down! You know I have to check everything off before you take it.”
Roy could tell Dixie was rapidly losing her patience with Johnny’s childish antics. He flicked his head to the door.
“Johnny, why don’t you got track down that nurse you wanted to ask for a date. I’ll finish up in here with Dixie.”
“You got yourself a deal, Pally!”
Johnny patted Roy on the arm as he flew past him. Dixie rolled her eyes after the excitable paramedic.
“He’s sure wound up this morning.”
“He came into work crabbier than all get out. Just about took Chet’s head off, and was ready to have mine for dessert.”
“That doesn’t sound like Johnny. Well...maybe where Chet’s concerned, but certainly not you.”
“I could tell he had a headache, but then we got called out to a fire. He was fine there. Or at least in the sense that he did his job with his usual efficiency. But after we were headed here for the supplies he got like he is now. Hyper. Like my kids get when they’ve had too much candy.”
“So, do you think he had too much candy?” Dixie asked with a smile as she handed four bags of Ringers Lactate to Roy. “Or coffee perhaps?”
“Actually, I haven’t seen him eat or drink anything all morning. Which, come to think of it, is unusual for Johnny. Especially where the coffee is concerned.”
“Maybe Johnny’s simply feeling better and this is his way of releasing all that pent-up Gage energy.”
“Maybe. Gee, Dix, it was bad enough when I thought I was gonna have to put up with a crabby Johnny all shift. But now? A hyperactive Johnny? I don’t know if I’ll make it until eight o’clock tomorrow morning.”
Dixie laughed at Roy’s hangdog expression.
“You’ve survived a hyperactive Johnny before. Somehow I have a feeling you’ll survive him again.”
“I suppose. But not without wanting to kill him first.”
“True. But, Roy, it’s your differences that make the two of you such a great team. And my favorite paramedics. Don’t do anything drastic to the other half of that team.”
gagging him be considered drastic?”
Dixie glanced out the glass pane that made up half of the supply room’s door. She saw Johnny talking a mile a minute to a young nurse. The look on the nurse’s face said she’d appreciate any excuse to get away from him.
“I doubt Sherry would think so.” Dixie piled the rest of the supplies in Roy’s arms. “Here. Let’s get you guys checked out, then you can collect your partner before my entire nursing staff is hiding in the janitor’s closet.”
I hide with them?”
Roy’s only answer was a laugh.
Johnny paced the kitchen floor as Marco made lunch. Roy looked up from where he was writing in the log book to see Johnny tugging on the front of his shirt.
“Johnny? Something wrong?”
“Then get away from the stove.”
“I know. You already told me. And I said get away from the stove and you won’t be so hot.”
Marco turned around from where he stood browning ground beef for tacos.
He cocked a puzzled eyebrow at Roy.
Roy started to stand, only to have Johnny brush by him.
“I’m going outside.”
“Good idea,” Roy said. He watched until his friend disappeared out the back door. “A little fresh air might be just what you need.”
As Roy recorded their two morning runs in the log he heard the basketball bouncing on the black top.
Good. Maybe he’s finally found a way to work off that excess energy. He’s been driving me crazy ever since we got back here.
That thought no more than ran through Roy’s mind than Chet stomped through the door.
“What the hell is with Gage?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I just asked him if I could shoot hoops with him and he told me to go screw myself.”
“Ah, Chet,” Marco said, “he was probably just teasing you.”
“No, he wasn’t. He damn near hit me in the head with the ball. He would have if I hadn’t ducked. It was just like this morning in the locker room.”
Before Roy could ask Chet any questions Cap and Mike appeared from the engine bay.
“What was just like this morning in the locker room?” Hank Stanley asked.
Despite Chet’s anger, he didn’t want to get Johnny in trouble with their boss. The fire department had a strict code of conduct regarding behavior. Chet didn’t want Johnny getting written up because he’d been a nark.
“Nothing, Cap. Nothing.”
looked at Roy who merely shrugged. When
Hank looked at Mike the engineer shrugged, too. “I don’t know what’s goin’ on, Cap.”
“You know, sometimes you guys remind me of my kids when they were little. You’re ready to kill each other one minute, but heaven forbid you’d be disloyal to one another the next.”
When his men remained silent Captain Stanley let the subject drop. He walked over to the stove.
“Lunch smells good, Marco. What can we do to help?”
“Just set the table and get the tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese out of the fridge. We’ll eat in ten minutes.”
To the distant sound of a basketball slapping against pavement the men did as Marco requested. When the meal was on the table Cap went to the back door.
Henry seemed to understand the meaning of the word lunch just as well as the rest of the A-shift did. He plopped off the couch and waddled toward the table. If Roy hadn’t seen what happened next with his own eyes he never would have believed it. A disheveled Johnny entered the room, his shirttails hanging out and his hair matted to his forehead with sweat. Henry didn’t get in Johnny’s way. Nor did Johnny accidentally run into the pudgy Basset Hound. Instead, Johnny deliberately set a path for the little dog. He drew back his right foot and kicked the hound so hard Henry sailed across the kitchen floor with a pain-filled yelp.
“Gage!” Hank Stanley yelled as he stood.
Roy voiced his own astonishment with, “Johnny!”
“Johnny, what are you doin’, man?” Came from Mike.
Marco didn’t say anything as he ran to Henry’s side. The whimpering dog cowered by the stove.
“Don’t pick him up, Marco,” Roy said as he rounded the table. “Let me take a look at him first.”
Because everyone’s attention was drawn to Henry no one saw the fury on Chet Kelly’s face. He advanced on the wild-eyed paramedic.
“What the hell is with you today, Gage! What did you do that for! Henry wasn’t hurting you! He wasn’t hurting anyone. He was just...hey, don’t walk away from me. Get back here! Gage! Gage, get your skinny ass back here and...
The rest of Chet’s ranting was lost on the men as he followed Johnny to the engine bay. Maybe if Chet hadn’t been so angry he would have seen the disorientation on Johnny’s face, as though he no longer knew where he was. Maybe if Chet hadn’t been so angry he would have noticed how heavily Johnny was sweating, and the way he seemed to be struggling to get a breath. Maybe if Chet hadn’t been so angry he would have realized Johnny was about to lose his ability to stay on his feet...and lose what was in his stomach.
Chet grabbed Johnny’s arm and spun him around. “I’m not through with you yet! If you wanna kick someone around then kick someone your own size you--
Even if Johnny had been aware he was going to throw up he wouldn’t have had the strength to turn away from Chet. He vomited with so much force it knocked him off his feet. Chet jumped back, but not before he was liberally splattered from knees to shoes with stuff he didn’t want to even think about, let alone get a whiff of. The weight of Johnny’s body diving toward the ground almost ripped Chet’s arm from the socket.
“Jesus, Gage! What the--
It was then that Chet realized something was seriously wrong with his friend that went beyond a simple case of the flu. Johnny vomited three more times in rapid succession as Chet eased him to the floor. Chet Kelly didn’t have a vast amount of medical knowledge, but he did know what it meant when someone threw up stuff that looked like coffee grounds to the naked eye.
“Roy! Roy, get in here now!” Chet bellowed as he knelt by Johnny’s side. “Roy!”
Chet supposed there must have been some note of panic to his voice that brought the entire crew running. Johnny threw up again, this time covering Roy’s shoes with blood. Seconds later he began to convulse.
Roy forced himself to remain calm as he issued orders.
“Marco, get me a spoon! Chet, help me get him on his back! Mike, put your hands under his head! Whatever you do, don’t let him hit the concrete.”
Roy used the spoon Marco brought him to keep Johnny from swallowing his tongue. He heard Cap call a Code I into dispatch, then heard him request an ambulance. At the same time Marco ran back and forth to the squad bringing drug box, trauma box, oxygen and bio-phone.
It seemed like hours to Chet Kelly before the spasms gripping John’s body ceased, but in truth the convulsion had lasted just thirty seconds. When it ended Roy immediately went to work getting his partner’s blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rate.
“Put the oxygen mask on him, Marco,” Roy said as he checked the reaction of Johnny’s pupils to his penlight. The blond man reached up and adjusted the oxygen flow while at the same time contacting Rampart.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51. How do you read?”
Dixie McCall’s voice came over the line.
“Go ahead, 51.”
“Rampart, I have a male twenty-six years of age who has vomited blood and suffered a convulsion. Pupils are equal and reactive, and I’m currently administering oxygen.” Roy glanced at his notebook paper. “Pulse is 110, b.p. 160 over 90, and respiration 18.”
It was Kelly Brackett’s voice that came on the line next.
“51, has the patient reported feeling ill prior to this episode?”
“Affirmative, Rampart. This morning the patient complained of a headache.”
“Negative Rampart. However, it’s my observation that the patient has alternated between being irritable and excitable throughout the day.”
“Your observation, 51?”
“Affirmative, Rampart. The patient is John Gage.”
Roy could almost hear the pause on the other end and could picture Doctor Brackett and Dixie exchanging concerned looks.
“Roy, is Johnny conscious?”
“Not at this time, Rampart.”
“51, start an IV with Ringers Lactate. Transport patient and relay vitals again while enroute.”
Whether it was the activity going on around him, or the wail of the ambulance siren that brought John Gage to consciousness Roy wasn’t sure.
“Johnny?” Roy beckoned as his partner’s head rolled back and forth in Mike’s hands. “Johnny?”
Johnny went from disinterested lethargy to violent aggravation in seconds. He gave an incoherent growl, then yanked his IV out and tore the oxygen mask off before anyone could react.
“Johnny! Johnny, stop it!” Roy ordered as he grabbed a flailing arm. “Chet, Marco, help me restrain him! Mike, stay right where you are! Don’t let go of his head. Cap, get on the phone to Rampart! Tell Brackett Johnny’s combative and has ripped his IV out.”
Kelly Brackett could have easily guessed the information Hank relayed to him. As soon as the phone line was open he could hear the struggle going on in the background.
“Johnny, stop it!”
“Johnny, cool it, man! No one’s gonna hurt you!”
“Calm down, Johnny! Calm down!”
Hank had to put on hand over his ear in order to hear Brackett.
“Is the ambulance there yet, 51?”
“Affirmative, Rampart. It just arrived.”
“Use the straps of the gurney as restrains. Then restart the IV with Ringers and administer 5 milligrams diazepam. As soon as it’s feasible I want updated vitals.”
“Affirmative, Rampart. Restart IV with Ringers, administer 5 milligrams diazepam, and transmit updated vitals.”
Hank Stanley didn’t know who was sweating heavier by the time they got Johnny strapped to the gurney, the patient or the men who were trying to help him. Gage fought like a caged tiger. He kicked and screamed and flailed and filled the air with curses that echoed off the brick walls while attempting to wrench his body from the hands keeping him still. Hank hated having to treat one of him men like a prison escapee on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List , but he knew they had no choice. He kept telling himself the manhandling and restraints were for Johnny’s own good.
Roy was too busy with Johnny to acknowledge any of his shift mates as Hank shut the ambulance doors. The men left behind stood in a semi-circle watching in shocked silence as the ambulance pulled away.
The first person able to speak was Marco.
“He’ll be okay. Doctor Brackett will figure out what’s wrong.”
“But what if he doesn’t?” Chet asked in a voice so quiet Hank wouldn’t have known who was speaking if he hadn’t been standing next to the man.
“He will,” The captain assured, more to keep his men’s spirits up than because that’s how he really felt.
In actuality Hank’s concerns mirrored those of Chet. What if Brackett couldn’t figure out what was wrong? Or what if the illness that had so quickly stricken John Gage was life threatening?
Hank shook those thoughts from his head for now. He turned to Chet and offered the man a small smile.
“Why don’t you drive the squad to Rampart, pal. Roy’s will need a way to get back here. In the meantime I’ll call dispatch and put the squad out of service until I find someone to fill in for John.”
Chet jogged to the squad, more than happy to follow his Captain’s orders. At least he wouldn’t be left behind waiting like Marco and Mike. That would drive him nuts.
“Be okay, Johnny. Please be okay,” Chet murmured as he drove to Rampart General. He had a feeling Cap, Marco, and Mike were saying the same thing back at the station.
Chet found Roy Rampart’s nurse’s lounge.
Roy turned from where he’d been staring out the window.
“He had another convulsion on the way in. He went into respiratory arrest on me. Brackett’s got him on a ventilator. Other than that I don’t know much.”
“Roy...what could it be? What’s wrong with him?”
“It could be a hundred things. But which one I don’t know.”
“All of them serious?”
“Most of them.”
The two men sat at the round table in the center of the room. They passed the next ten minutes in silence. Chet wanted to ask Roy how Henry was, but didn’t think now was the time. He could just imagine what Roy’s reaction would be to a question about a dog considering the circumstances. Roy must have been able to read Chet’s mind though, because when he finally broke their silence it was to say, “Oh, by the way. Henry’s fine.”
“He doesn’t need to go to the vet?”
“No, I don’t think so. Nothing was broken. I think he was more shaken up by what Johnny did to him than anything else. Cap’s gonna make sure the other shifts keep an eye on him for the next couple days, though. If he stops eating or drinking then we’ll take him to Doctor Wilson.”
“Good. I’m glad he’s okay.”
“I know you are.”
“But that doesn’t mean I don’t want Johnny to be okay, too.”
“Chet, I know you want Johnny to be okay. But I also know Henry’s your dog probably more than he’s anyone else’s. It’s all right to be concerned about him.”
“I know. It’s just that at a time like this a dog...well a dog doesn’t seem very important.”
Roy smiled. “Don’t let Henry hear you say that.”
The men looked up as the door swung open. Kelly Brackett entered, motioning with one hand for Roy and Chet to remain seated. He pulled out a chair and sat down as well.
“How is he, Doc?” Chet asked before Brackett’s butt hit his seat.
“We’ve got him stabilized.”
“So that’s good, right?”
“Chet, at the current time that simply means his vital signs are holding at reasonable levels.”
“What’s wrong with him, Doc?” Roy asked.
“I’m not certain. That’s why I came to talk to you. We’ve drawn blood to test and will be doing a CAT scan soon, but there’s a few other things I need to know.”
Roy nodded his head, indicating to Brackett he was ready for any questions the doctor had.
“You said he complained of a headache this morning, Roy?”
“And being tired,” Chet added. “He said he was tired.”
“Did he complain of anything else? Dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, double vision?”
“No,” Roy shook his head. “But he wouldn’t necessarily tell me if that’s how he was feeling. Especially if he just thought he had a touch of the flu or something.”
“Dixie said when you and Johnny were in here a few hours ago he was almost acting like a hyperactive child. Would that be an accurate description of his demeanor?”
“Yeah. As a matter of fact I remember thinking he was acting like my kids do when they’ve had too much sugar, or like an adult does who’s had too much caffeine.”
“Dixie also told me you said he’d been irritable. And you mentioned that when you called in, as well.”
Roy nodded. “In the locker room this morning he was an absolute bear. Nothing like Johnny normally acts. He went after Chet--”
“You mean started a physical confrontation with him?”
“No, more of a verbal one. But you could tell he could have been pushed into a fistfight without much provocation. After Chet left Johnny got the same way with me when I asked him if he was feeling all right.”
“What did he say?”
“Just that he had a headache.”
“In the kitchen, about twenty minutes or so before he collapsed, Johnny was pacing back and forth. He kept pulling at his shirt and saying he was hot. Looking back on it now I realize he wasn’t processing what I was saying.”
“Three different times I spoke to him, and all three times all he said was, ‘I’m hot,’ which really wasn’t the proper response to what I said. Even Marco realized something was odd about Johnny’s demeanor because he turned from where he was cooking lunch and cocked an eyebrow in my direction. I...I guess an alarm kind of went off in my head then because I was just getting ready to stand and walk over to Johnny when he said, ‘I need some air,’ and headed out the back door. A few seconds later I heard the basketball start bouncing so I just figured he needed to work off some energy.”
“God knows he has enough of that,” Kelly said. “Anything else either of you can tell me?”
“He got real aggressive outside,” Chet answered.
“I asked him if I could shoot hoops with him and he got pissed off. Kind of snarled at me and told me to go screw myself. Then he threw the ball at my head. For a few seconds there I really thought he was gonna come after me.”
“What’d you do?”
“I was ticked as hell, but I didn’t wanna start a fight with him. I knew we’d both get suspended if that happened, so I decided we’d better stay as far away from each other as possible. I went back into the kitchen, and a few minutes later Cap called Johnny in for lunch. He looked kind of spaced out when he came in, but I was too mad at him to wonder why. Then Johnny just walked right up to Henry...the station dog, and kicked him as hard as he could.”
Kelly Brackett didn’t even have to ask if this behavior was out of character for John Gage. He knew the paramedic, in his right mind, wouldn’t harm a dog any more than he’d harm a child. He turned his attention back to Chet as the man continued speaking.
“While everyone ran to see if Henry was okay, I ran after Johnny. He was headed for the engine bay. I was yelling at him...what, I don’t even remember. But I was yelling at him and he just kept walking away from me, which only made me madder. Finally I grabbed him by the arm and spun him around. That’s when he threw up. At the same time he started going down like a sack of potatoes. If I hadn’t been hanging onto his arm he would have hit the concrete like a ton of bricks.”
Roy picked up the story from there.
“Chet called for me. When I got to Johnny he threw up blood, then immediately started convulsing. As soon as the convulsion stopped I made contact with you.”
Brackett nodded. From there he knew the rest of the story. What he didn’t know was how John Gage had spent the past forty-eight hours.
“I take it if you guys are on duty today you were off over the weekend?”
“Yeah,” Roy acknowledged.
“Do you know how Johnny spent his time?”
“On Saturday morning he cleaned his apartment and then washed his Land Rover. Or at least that’s what he said he’d done when he stopped by to pick up Chris and Jennifer.”
“Where did he take the kids?”
“To a street carnival that was being held a couple blocks from his apartment.”
“And he seemed fine then? Didn’t complain of not feeling well, or of having a headache?”
“No, he didn’t say anything about not feeling well. And he seemed fine. Like his normal self. The kids said they had a ball with him, so he must have been acting okay.”
there anything else you can tell me about Johnny’s activities on Saturday,
“He had a date that night, but where they went and what they did I don’t know.”
“Dinner and a movie,” Chet supplied. When the two men just looked at him he added, “Johnny was at my place all day Sunday. Him and Marco both. He ran new piping under my house.”
“Piping for plumbing?” Doctor Brackett asked.
“And again, he seemed okay? He wasn’t complaining of not feeling well, nor acting irrationally?”
“He was fine.”
Kelly thought a moment before asking his next question.
“What can you tell me about the work Johnny did yesterday at your place, Chet?”
“What do you mean?”
“Was he working with chemicals, some kind of compounds, glue, was he in an enclosed space with little ventilation, was...”
“He was on his back in the crawl space most of the time.”
“Is there anything down there like fiberglass insulation?”
“No. Just spiders, and mice, and dirt. Or so Johnny said.”
“Why? Could that mean something?”
“I’m not certain, but at least it gives us several avenues to look into. Johnny’s symptoms and behavior could point toward some type of poisoning.”
“Poisoning?” Chet said.
“Lead poisoning, asbestos poisoning, possibly even a spider bite of some type.” Kelly Brackett didn’t linger any longer. “Gentlemen, thank you for your time.”
Roy stood with the doctor. “Doc?”
“Roy, why don’t you go back to the station with Chet. Johnny will be undergoing a wide variety of tests over the next several hours. I’m sure we won’t know anything until late this afternoon at the earliest.”
“So you’ll call me as soon as you know what’s going on?”
“Yes,” Brackett nodded. “I’ll call you the minute I have any news.”
Though Roy hated to leave, he knew Cap couldn’t keep the squad out of service indefinitely.
“Thanks, Doc. I appreciate it. And tell Johnny...well tell him I said hi.”
“Me, too,” Chet said. “Tell him I said the same thing.”
“He’s unconscious right now, guys.”
“I know,” Roy acknowledged softly. “But could you...could you tell him anyway?”
“Sure, Roy,” Brackett nodded. “I can tell him. Guess it can’t hurt, can it?”
“No, Doc, it can’t.”
Chet didn’t know who had a more difficult time leaving the hospital that day, him or Roy. As he drove the squad back to the station with a silent Roy sitting in Johnny’s spot, he supposed it was an even toss up.
The world surrounding Johnny Gage was fuzzy at best. He tried to call for Roy, but something in his throat prevented him from getting any sound out. He thought he recognized Dixie’s face once, and it had to be her who kept brushing his hair from his forehead like an older sister would do.
Johnny tried to sit up, but they’d tied him to a hard table. Another face bent over him and smiled. The man said something about a cat and his brain, but Johnny didn’t understand what he meant. Johnny thought he should know the dark headed man, but it took him a few seconds to put a name with the face.
Doctor Frankenstein! It’s Doctor Frankenstein! He wants my brain! He’s gonna put it in his cat. That’s what he meant! He’s gonna put my brain in his cat! And Dixie’s gonna help him! She must work for him now. I bet she’s the Bride Of Frankenstein! I gotta get outta here! I gotta find Roy! He’ll help me! He won’t let Doctor Frankenstein take my brain! Roy! Roy, help! Roy!
Johnny felt a sharp prick in the crook of his left elbow, then felt something cold flowing through his vein. Dixie brushed his hair away from his forehead again, but now he knew that act wasn’t meant to comfort, but was meant to leave the area clear for an incision.
Johnny’s last thought before unconsciousness claimed him was to wonder if Roy would recognize him when he returned to Station 51 as a tabby.
It was eight-thirty that evening and Hank Stanley didn’t have the heart to ask Roy to stop his pacing. The men were gathered at the kitchen table, including Charlie Dwyer who was working the remainder of Johnny’s shift.
They hadn’t heard anything from Doctor Brackett yet which was causing Roy’s attack of nerves. It didn’t help that it had been a slow afternoon with no runs for either the engine crew or the squad.
“It’ll happen tonight,” Charlie said to no one in particular.
“What’ll happen tonight?” Marco asked.
“Business will pick up. We’ll no more than get to sleep before we’ll be toned out.”
“Probably,” Marco agreed.
This is the way the conversation had gone all afternoon and evening. Long stretches of silence that were interspersed with small talk.
Hank’s eyes followed Roy four times back and forth across the kitchen floor.
“Roy, go ahead and call the hospital, pal. Someone’s bound to be able to tell you something.”
“No,” Roy shook his head. “No, Brackett said he’d call when he knows something. If I don’t get to talk directly to him or Dixie all I’m gonna get is the run-around. And more than likely Dixie doesn’t have much information, if she’s even still on duty. ”
“If Brackett hasn’t called yet then that means things aren’t good,” Chet said as he stroked the sleeping Henry’s coat. The dog lay in Chet’s lap with his head resting across the fireman’s knees. Henry had suffered no ill-effects from his boot across the kitchen and couldn’t quite understand why he was being showered with so much attention.
“Chet, we don’t know that,” Marco reasoned. “He might have gotten tied up on another case and just hasn’t had the time to call.”
“No. Somehow he’d find time. He knows how anxious we are to hear something from him.” Chet’s hand faltered in the act of petting Henry. “It’s...it’s my fault.”
“How do you figure?” Marco asked.
“It happened at my house.”
“Chet, you don’t know that for certain,” Hank pointed out.
“Brackett said as much. Besides, it must be true. Roy said Johnny was fine on Saturday. And he was fine when he was at my house yesterday. Marco, me, and Johnny ate the same stuff for lunch and supper so it can’t be food poisoning. The only difference is Johnny was in my crawl space, and Marco and I weren’t.”
Roy stopped his pacing and leaned back against the counter by the sink.
“That’s true, Chet, but there’s no use jumping to conclusions until we hear from Brackett. Besides, even if it is some kind of poisoning from your crawl space Johnny won’t blame you for it. He’s not that kind of a guy.”
“I know.” Chet’s words were so quiet the men had to strain to hear them. “But I will.”
Before Marco could finish his sentence they heard a call from the engine bay.
Before Hank could jump to his feet to greet their unidentified visitor Roy took a few steps toward the doorway.
“We’re in here, Doc.”
Kelly Brackett entered the kitchen minus his normal attire of white doctor’s coat, sport coat and tie. The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up to his forearms, and the top two buttons on the shirt were undone.
“Doctor, have a seat,” Hank said as he stood, relinquishing his place at the table to the man. “Can I get you a cup of coffee? Or something else? A Coke or glass of orange juice?”
“No, thank you. I’m fine.”
Roy could barely contain himself through the pleasantries. He was glad when they came to an end.
“Doc? Johnny? Is he...?”
“He’s doing a little better tonight, Roy. I’ve still got him on the vent, and we’ve got him sedated now so he can rest, but all things considered I anticipate a full recovery.”
“Full recovery from what?’
“He was poisoned by an insecticide called Dieldrin.”
“How did that happen?” Hank asked.
“Our best guess is that he absorbed it through his skin, as well as inhaled it, when he was working in Chet’s crawl space yesterday.”
“Damn,” Chet swore in a choked whisper. “I knew it. I knew it was my fault.”
The doctor shook his head.
it wasn’t any more your fault than it was Johnny’s. I take it you bought an older home?”
“Yeah. Built in 1921.”
“A lot of older homes in this area have been built right on top of what once were farm fields and citrus groves. Dieldrin was commonly used to kill a wide variety of insects that attack everything from potatoes to oranges. It was banned in the United States by the EPA just last year because of its high toxicity to humans and animals, though it’s still sold in some countries overseas.”
“Will Johnny suffer any long term effects from his exposure?” Roy asked.
“He shouldn’t, though God knows he dodged one heck of a bullet considering how long he was in that crawl space. If the symptoms aren’t caught in time and treated, the patient can go into a coma. Once that happens death is almost certain as the blood begins to rapidly thin and the vital organs shut down. If Johnny had called in sick this morning instead of coming into work...well, just be glad that he didn’t.”
Roy nodded. He understood what Doctor Brackett meant, as did everyone else in the room. By the time Johnny realized how ill he was he wouldn’t have been able to summon help for himself. It’s quite possible no one would have realized anything was seriously wrong until Johnny didn’t show up for their next shift. By then it would have been too late.
“Will the stuff just work itself out of his system?”
“According to the chemist I spoke to it should. We’re speeding that process up with several IV’s, but there’s no drug that counter acts the poison if that’s what you’re asking. All we can do is treat his symptoms.”
“But you said he’d be okay.”
“And I believe he will be, Chet, given time.”
“How much time?”
“If Johnny continues to improve tonight as much as he’s improved the last two hours then I’ll take him off the ventilator sometime tomorrow. At that point we’ll see if he can keep some food down. If he sails through that then possibly by Thursday I’ll release him. He’ll probably be a little unsteady on his feet for a few days, but shouldn’t feel any worse than someone who’s recovering from a bad bout of the flu. It’s possible he’ll be able to return to work next week.”
“Can he have visitors tomorrow, Doc?”
Knowing the A-shift would be off-duty the next day meant Doctor Brackett surmised he’d have five men at the hospital by eight-thirty in the morning if he allowed it.
“He should be able to, but hold off until evening visiting hours, guys. By then I hope to have him off the vent, out of the ICU, and settled into a regular room.”
“Thanks, Doc,” Roy said. “And if something changes tomorrow you’ll--”
“Yes, Roy. If something changes I’ll call you. If you don’t hear from me then plan on seeing Johnny around seven tomorrow evening.”
Roy smiled. “We’ll do that.”
Hank echoed his paramedic’s words.
“Yes, we’ll plan to do that. Thanks for stopping by, Doctor Brackett. Roy was about to wear a path in the tiles.”
“I imagine he was. Johnny had me wearing a path in some tiles for a while this afternoon, too. I’m just glad we were able to discover what was wrong. He had us scared for a little while there.”
“Believe me, Doctor, he had some firemen scared, too.”
“I’m sure he did.”
Captain Stanley walked Doctor Brackett through the engine bay to his car. For as silent as the kitchen had been before the doctor arrived, now it was filled with animated chatter. Dwyer turned on the television while Marco got out the popcorn. As the men talked about Johnny’s good fortune, and how glad they were to hear he was going to be all right, Roy noticed Chet slip out the back door. The paramedic waited a few minutes. When Chet didn’t return Roy stepped outside.
The summer sky still held enough dusky light to see by. The blond man found Chet sitting on the rear bumper of Johnny’s Land Rover.
“Chet? You okay?”
“You’re not acting fine.”
Chet shrugged. “It’s just...I can’t help but feel what happened to Johnny was my fault. He was helping me out. Doing me a favor. I know the Phantom gives him a lot of shit, Roy, but I’d never do anything to intentionally hurt him.”
“I know that. So does Johnny.”
“I bet he doesn’t feel that way right now.”
“First of all, right now I doubt he’s feeling much of anything.”
“Whatta ya’ mean?”
“Brackett says he’s got Johnny sedated. That’s normal procedure for a patient who’s on a ventilator. Johnny’s in such a deep sleep right now that he won’t even remember any dreams he might have.”
“Really. And after everything he’s been through it’s hard to say just how much he’ll remember about any part of today.”
“Well, if he doesn’t remember I’m gonna tell him. I want...he has the right to know, Roy.”
“He does,” Roy agreed. “And I’m sure Brackett will want him to know. But if Johnny doesn’t remember anything about today don’t fill him in until Brackett says it’s okay.”
“Come on, let’s go inside. Marco’s making popcorn, and I think Dwyer just tuned in Terror In The Library.”
“Terror In The Library isn’t fun unless Gage is here. He always jumps when the librarian screams. Every time. You’d think by now he’d be expecting it.”
Roy smiled. “You’d think.”
Chet stood and walked with Roy to the back door.
“Man, that Gage is gullible, but...well, he’s a good guy, you know, Roy?”
“Yeah, Chet, I know.”
“But don’t tell him I said that.”
“Good. ‘Cause his ego’s big enough. He doesn’t need my help to be insufferable. He does a good job of that on his own.”
Roy simply shook his head with amazement. Had Brackett brought them bad news Chet would have been devastated. But since the news was good, Johnny was once again fair game for the fireman’s teasing barbs.
“You know, Chet, I think Johnny kind of got his own form of revenge on the Phantom today.”
“Well, he did puke on you.”
“Yeah, leave it to Gage to come up with something even more disgusting than the Phantom himself could think of.”
“So as far as this round goes; Johnny one, Phantom zero?”
“Well...considering Gage is laid up in a hospital bed right now I guess I’ll allow him a small victory. But next time...oh, next time, Roy, the Phantom’s gonna get Gage good for this barfing episode.”
“I’m sure the Phantom will, Chet. I’m sure the Phantom will.”
As the two men walked into the kitchen Roy’s last thought was, And I hope I’m not here to see it.
Johnny’s hospital bed was cranked to a forty-five degree angle. He reclined against his pillows on Tuesday evening, glad to finally be free of everything but one IV with a saline solution. If he kept down the meal he’d been given for supper Brackett promised the IV would be removed on Wednesday.
Johnny’s memory of Monday’s events was hazy. He recalled reporting to work with a headache and remembered complaining of feeling tired to Roy and Chet in the locker room. He remembered the two runs he and Roy had gone on in the morning, and had vague memories of getting supplies from Dixie sometime that morning as well. From there his memories faded. It seemed like he’d been mad at Chet, but why he couldn’t fathom. But then, he also thought he might have thrown up on Chet. He prayed that hadn’t happened. If it had, he knew he’d never hear the end of it. The next thing he recalled was riding in an ambulance with Roy’s worried face drifting in and out of his view. After that he knew Kelly Brackett and Dixie were with him, but then the lights seemed to go out. His memory stopped there until he woke up in ICU this morning hooked to a ventilator. Thank God Brackett explained everything to him. It was a lot less frightening knowing why you were hooked to a vent rather than not knowing why.
Only I could get insecticide poisoning from crawling around under someone’s house. Which I’m sure everyone will be more than happy to remind me of for years to come.
The ‘everyone’ Johnny was thinking of appeared at the door of his private room ten minutes later. Roy poked his head in first.
“Hey, partner, glad to see you’re awake. You up for a few visitors?”
“Sure,” Johnny rasped around a throat still inflamed from the ventilator’s breathing tube. “Come on in.”
Hank, Mike, Chet, and Marco followed Roy into the room. Roy studied his friend with a paramedic’s eye.
He’s pale, and he looks tired, but all in all considering what could have happened I’ll accept pale and tired for now.
The guys gathered around Johnny’s bed.
“How ya’ doin’, pal?”
“I’m okay, Cap. Be glad when I can get out of this place though.”
“I’ll bet. But don’t rush it. Do what Doctor Brackett tells you or you’ll be here even longer.”
“I know. I will.”
The next fifteen minutes were filled with small talk. By the way Johnny’s eyes were drooping Roy could tell they’d just about overstayed their welcome. Considering Johnny had spent the past twenty-four hours on ICU this didn’t surprise Roy. Plus, he knew five visitors at one time was a little overwhelming for anyone confined to a hospital bed after a serious health problem. Just when he was going to suggest they leave Dixie entered the room.
“Hey, fellas, it’s time to tell the Bride Of Frankenstein’s favorite patient good night.”
“The bride of what?” Roy asked as Johnny blushed.
“Oh, it seems like Dieldrin brings on some interesting hallucinations. Johnny thought Kel was Doctor Frankenstein and I was his bride. Somehow when Kel explained to Johnny we were going to do a CAT scan of his brain, Johnny interpreted that to mean were going to remove his brain and put it in a cat.”
Everyone laughed but Johnny. He simply shrugged and tossed Dixie an apologetic grin.
“But you made a beautiful bride, Dix, there was no doubt about it.”
“Well, Mr. Gage, if nothing else Dieldrin poisoning hasn’t effected your charm.”
“I hope not. Sometimes my charm is all that gets me through life.”
Mike, Hank, and Marco said their good-byes to Johnny, then exited the room. Dixie could see both Chet and Roy wanted to linger a little longer. She pointed a warning finger.
“Five more minutes, guys, then my patient needs to sleep. He’s had a long day.”
Though it was barely seven-thirty Johnny didn’t argue with the nurse. He felt like he could sleep the next twelve hours straight through without so much as shifting position, let alone awakening.
“Johnny, I...” Chet began with a stammer in his voice after Dixie left.
“Chet, forget it.”
“Chet, I said forget it. I don’t wanna hear it.”
“Hear what? How do you even know what I’m gonna say?”
“You’re gonna apologize. Which, by the way, doesn’t suit your image.”
“Well, if that’s your attitude...”
“It is. And besides, it wasn’t your fault. How could you have known the ground in your crawl space is infected with an insecticide?”
“I guess I couldn’t have, but still...”
“Look, Chet, if it hadn’t been me it would have been someone else. A plumber you hired, or a contractor. At least when I got sick I was at a fire station full of guys trained to handle an emergency situation. A lot of other men wouldn’t have been that lucky. Think of how you would have felt if some guy had died.”
“I don’t have to think about it,” Chet muttered, “I know how I would have felt.”
Roy caught Johnny’s eye and nodded. That action on Roy’s part told Johnny Chet was torn up about this entire incident and was blaming himself.
“Listen, Chet, if you wanna make it up to me do me one favor.”
“Contact someone from the Environmental Protection Agency and have them come out and look at your place. You know, test the soil, water, stuff like that. Just make sure it’s safe for you to live there.”
“Aw, Gage, I didn’t know you cared.”
“I don’t. But if I’m gonna spend the next couple months helping you with your ‘handy-man’s special’ then I want a guarantee I’m not gonna end up right back in here. And I sure as hell don’t wanna end up in here sharing a room with you.”
“Good point. I’ll do that. Contact the EPA I mean.” Chet sat down on a corner of Johnny’s bed. “You know, Gage, I’ve been giving that TV show some more thought.”
“The one we talked about Sunday. This Old House. I really think I’m onto something here, but as you’ve pointed out, I’m not the handy man here, you are. So in order to make it work I need you to be the pretty face in front of the camera while I’m the brains behind the scenes.”
“Kelly, you couldn’t be the brains behind a game of tic tac toe, let alone the brains behind a TV show.”
“Gage, come on! We could make money...big money, off this idea.”
“Chet, I already told you no one in their right mind is gonna watch a TV show about a guy who remodels houses.”
“Yes, they will. Like I said Saturday, there’s lot of guys out there like me who could learn a lot from watching This Old House.”
The door to Johnny’s room opened again, and Dixie stepped inside.
“This Old House? I’ve never heard of that show. What’s it about?”
“It’s not a show,” Johnny said. “Or at least not a real one. It just exists in Chet’s imagination.”
“It revolves around a guy who remodels old houses,” Roy supplied.
Dixie wrinkled her nose. “Sounds boring.”
“See,” Johnny gloated. “Told you.”
“Johnny, she’s a chick. What do chicks know about remodeling houses anyway?”
“They know enough to stay out of small, dark spaces, Mr. Kelly, that’s what they know,” Dixie said. She crooked a finger at Chet and Roy. “Now come on. Go. My patient needs his rest or he’ll be here longer than either of us desires.”
“Okay, okay,” Chet said as he stood, “we’re going. But this conversation isn’t over, Gage. We’ve got ourselves a TV show to make.”
“Sure, Chet. Whatever.”
Roy stopped right before he got to the door.
“Hey, Johnny, after Chet makes you rich and famous can I get your autograph?”
“Don’t you start, too. You’ll only encourage him.”
Roy laughed as he followed Chet into the hall. Dixie rolled her eyes while crossing to Johnny’s bed. She picked up his left wrist and took his pulse.
“A show about a guy who remodels houses,” Dixie scoffed with a disbelieving shake of her head. “That sounds about as ridiculous as a show about a woman who spins her own wool, bakes her own bread, weaves her own baskets, designs her own Christmas cards, and decorates her house with designs she’s made herself by cutting shapes into paper and painting them on the walls with a sponge.”
“You actually know someone who does all that stuff?” Johnny asked as Dixie checked the flow of his IV.
“No, but my aunt who lives out east does. The woman’s name is Martha somebody. My aunt says she’ll be famous some day.”
“This Martha chick?”
Johnny snorted. “Yeah, right.”
“That’s what I say.”
Johnny didn’t hear anything else Dixie might have said. While she was still doing her evening check, he drifted off to sleep dreaming of crawl spaces, boring TV shows, and puking on the Phantom’s shoes.
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