THE Accusation


By:  Kenda


            *This is part one of a three part series. Part 2, The Accused and part 3, The Accuser, can be found in Kenda’s Emergency! Library.





     Vanessa and Tommy clasped hands while making their way into the abandoned mine shaft.  They bent low as they ducked beneath sagging timbers, the smell of damp earth growing stronger the deeper they went.  Tommy’s flashlight beam illuminated the long unused tunnel, though the seventeen year old boy and his fifteen year old girlfriend had visited this place so often in recent months that a light wasn’t necessary.


     Tommy’s breath came in short, excited pants as he trotted pulling Vanessa behind him.  He laughed to himself when he thought of what his high school football coach would say.


     “Duncan, you’re huffing air like an old woman on the verge of a heart attack! You can’t be the quarterback on my team and suck wind like that!  Twenty laps around the field for you, hot shot, and give ‘em to me double time!    


     Tommy giggled.


     “What’s so funny?”  Vanessa asked.


     The boy turned. “Huh?”


     “Funny.  I asked you what’s so funny?”


     Tommy stopped and wrapped his arms around his girlfriend’s tiny waist.  He brushed her long, chestnut colored hair off her shoulders.  He pressed his body to Vanessa’s as their lips met.


     “Nothing,” Tommy whispered around their kiss.  “Nothing’s funny.  Just thinking about football, that’s all.”


     Vanessa resisted the urge to roll her eyes.  Sometimes she wondered if Tommy thought of anything else but football.  Well. . .football and sex.  She supposed she shouldn’t turn her nose up at him.  After all, he was the starting quarterback for their high school team and she was co-captain of the cheerleading squad.  They’d been dating for seven months now.  At first they did the kinds of things Vanessa thought all teenagers did on dates.  Went to the movies, went to the beach, went miniature golfing, but then one day Tommy suggested they take a hike in the hills behind his parents’ home.  Vanessa thought that sounded like fun until they came to this abandoned mine.  She’d tried to tell Tommy entering it was dangerous.  The sign posted in front with a picture of a skull and crossbones reiterated that.  But Tommy just wrinkled his nose at Vanessa in the manner that had always gotten him his way with the fairer sex.  His blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he tugged on the old boards that were nailed across the mine’s main opening.


     “Come on, Nessa, it’ll be fun,” Tommy had said that August afternoon.


     “What’ll be fun?”

     “Exploring this old mine.”


     “Maybe.  But it could also be dangerous.”


     “Nah.  I know guys who explore these old passages all the time.  No one ever gets hurt.”  Tommy’s biceps bulged as he tugged first one board free, and then another.  “Besides, it’ll be nice and cool in here.”


     Vanessa did have to admit getting out of the summer sun sounded appealing.  Nonetheless, she still had reservations about the wisdom of this act.


     “What about snakes?”


     The girl thought Tommy would laugh at her, but he didn’t.  Instead he pulled her into his arms and held her close.  She got that funny feeling that always came over her when their bodies were together in a way her mother would strongly disapprove of and her father would have a holy fit over.


     “Sweetie, there’s no snakes in there,” Tommy had promised as he ran his fingers up and down Vanessa’s spine.  Despite the heat the girl shivered.  And shivered again when she felt Tommy’s fingers caressing her right thigh just beneath the hem of her shorts.  “No snakes, no spiders, and no boogy man.  Plus, no parents and no kid brothers.  Just you and me, babe.  Just you and me.”


     Vanessa couldn’t help but lose herself in Tommy’s kisses.  Neither of their mothers worked outside the home, and they both had little brothers meaning finding the privacy two teenagers in love crave wasn’t easy. Especially when that love would be forbidden if Vanessa’s parents were aware it existed.


     Vanessa didn’t really remember agreeing to enter the mine with Tommy that day.  It just seemed like the natural thing to do when he broke off their kiss and took her hand.  More kisses and caresses were exchanged once they were far beneath the mine’s surface.  Vanessa remembered struggling a little when Tommy started removing her clothes, and she remembered telling him no twice, but it was strange.  Her brain was sending one message and her body another as he entered her.  Vanessa had never imagined she’d lose her virginity while lying on the dirt floor of a mineshaft, but she loved Tommy and would do anything for him.  He said he needed her more than he’d ever needed anyone in his life.  When Tommy took her a second time that afternoon he told Vanessa he loved her. 


     Now Vanessa and Tommy often visited their ‘tunnel of love’ as Tommy called it.  Vanessa never had been able to figure out if he was actually serious when he used that corny phrase, or if he was just joking around.  She supposed it didn’t make much difference either way because he was right, whenever they came here they did make love.  And lately Tommy had wanted to come here on a more frequent basis until movies and miniature golfing had become a thing of the past in favor of sex.


     Tommy shut off the flashlight when they got to the spot in the tunnel where they kept a blanket.  He pushed Vanessa against the rough walls and started stripping her clothes from her body.  He didn’t seem to care that he ripped four buttons off her blouse in his haste to get it open, nor tore a bra strap from its clasp.  Vanessa felt his mouth clamp on her right breast.  She tried to push his head away with her hands, but he wouldn’t let go.


     “Tommy, please.  We need to talk.”


     Around the full breast the heated boy mouthed,  “I am talkin,’ babe.  I’m tellin’ you how much I love you.”


     “Tommy. . .Tommy, please.”


     “Don’t worry, I’ll please you, Nessa.  I promise I’ll please you.”


     If Tommy noticed the tears that were rolling down Vanessa’s face as he took her while they were both still standing he never commented on them.  Nor did he comment when the tears flowed anew as he pushed her to her knees in front of him and encouraged her to take him in her mouth.  Vanessa hated it when he made her do this.  She’d told him that once, but he’d just laughed and said all girls did it for their boyfriends and if she refused to do it for him he’d just find a chick who would. 


     Their lovemaking went a frantic third round before Tommy was finally spent.  He collapsed on their blanket, pulling Vanessa down with him.  He wrapped an arm around her flat stomach, his fingers playing with her breasts.


     Just as the sated young man was drifting off to sleep he heard, “Tommy?”




     “Tommy. . .I. . .we need to talk.”


     “Later, babe.  After I’ve had a little nap.”


     “No, not later.  Now.”


     Tommy gave an internal groan.  If it wasn’t for the pleasures of sex he’d swear off girls.  They were sure more trouble than they were worth sometimes.


     “Okay, talk.”


     “Tommy. . .I. . .I. . .”


     “Come on, Nessa, spit it out.  What’d you do, go and join the army or something?”

     Tommy laughed at his own joke, not paying attention to the fact that Vanessa didn’t laugh with him.


     “I. . .”  the girl felt her heart pounding in her chest and wondered if Tommy could feel it, too.  “I. . .I missed my period last month. And I. . .I haven’t been feeling too good.  I. . .I think I might be pregnant.”


     That word brought Tommy off the blanket.  He shot to a sitting position.


     “Pregnant!  Did you say pregnant?”


     Vanessa slowly nodded as she, too, sat up.


     “But. . .but. . .how?”


     Vanessa thought that was about the dumbest question she’d ever heard.


     “How do you think?”


     “But. . .I. . .I. . .”     Tommy stammered at the unbelievable announcement. 


     They’d never even discussed birth control so he couldn’t accuse Vanessa of failing to take precautions.  How stupid could he have been?  He should have made sure she was using something.  She was so naive when it came to sex.  Her parents were so strict and uptight that God knows they’d probably never discussed it with her. 


     Tommy struggled to find something to say as he watched his football scholarship to UCLA go down the drain in favor of a minimum wage job in order to support a wife and child.  He turned the anger he was feeling at himself outward and unleashed it on his girlfriend.  Vanessa’s head flew to the right when he slapped her left cheek, then just as quickly flew in the opposite direction when he backhanded her right cheek.


     “You bitch!  You stupid bitch!  How could you be so damn dumb?”


     Vanessa’s hands went to her aching face.  She cowered, staring at her boyfriend with open shock.




     “Yeah!  Dumb enough to get yourself pregnant.”


     “But. . .”


     Tommy slammed a fist into Vanessa’s left eye.  “Don’t mouth off to me, bitch!”

     Vanessa flew backwards with this last blow that sprawled her naked body across the dirty blanket.  Stars swam in front of the teenager’s eyes as she tasted blood from a cut on her lip.  Rustling sounds indicated to the girl that Tommy was pulling on his jeans.  She couldn’t open her left eye, but through the right one could see him yank on his tennis shoes then swipe his T-shirt from the dirt floor.  Without a backwards glance he took off at a run.


     “Tommy!”  Vanessa sobbed as she struggled to a sitting position.  “Tommy!  Tommy, please!  Come back!  Tommy!”


     Tommy paid no attention to the girl calling for him.  He raced from the mine like a startled rabbit. His wide shoulders knocked against the unstable timbers as he fled.  He was almost to the mine’s entrance when he heard a distant rumbling that sounded like thunder.  He knew what it meant, but he didn’t care.  The star quarterback never slowed down as he fled the tunnel that had just caved in behind him.  Dirt and dust billowed out the entrance as Tommy tore down the hill toward home.






     The Station 51 A-shift had just finished lunch that Tuesday afternoon in late February.  Roy washed the dishes while Johnny dried them and returned them to their proper cabinets.  The other guys were busy doing their own chores.  Mike was taking the garbage out, Chet sweeping the floor, and Marco feeding Henry.  Captain Stanley had cooked that day so his after-lunch assignment consisted of retreating to his office where a stack of paperwork awaited him. 


     “By the way,” Roy said as he handed Johnny another clean plate to dry, “you can expect an invitation for Jennifer’s birthday party to be arriving in your mailbox any day now.”


     “But Jen’s birthday isn’t for another two months.”


     “I know.  She’s a bit anxious for eight to arrive.  She’s hosting a tea party.”


     “A tea party?  I’m invited to a tea party?”


     “That you are, partner.  And you’ll be happy to know you’re the only boy on her list.”


     “I might be happy to know that if the rest of the attendees were past the age of eight.  Considerably past the age of eight.  Like closer to twenty-five.”


     Roy laughed while Chet gave a snort.


     “Face it, Gage, eight year olds are right up your alley.  They’re too young to realize what a loser you are.”


     “Hey, at least I’m getting an invitation, Kelly.  I didn’t hear Roy mention your name in regards to the birthday bash.”


     “Bash?  Gage, the phrase was tea party.  Tea party with a room full of giggling eight year old girls.  That means sitting at a tiny table with your knees stuffed up your nostrils while eating little things called crumpets that taste like wallpaper paste.”


     “Not with Joanne hosting it,” Roy said as he drained the water from the sink.


     “Huh?”  Chet questioned


     “This tea party is going to include Joanne’s homemade pizza topped off by her double layer chocolate fudge cake with cream cheese frosting.  And if Uncle Johnny’s really good I just might let him sit at the grownup table.  And I might replace his tea with beer.”


     “Now you’re talkin’, Pally.  This is beginning to sound like my kinda party.”


     “Of course, you do have to wear a suit and tie.”


     “A what?”


     “A suit and tie.  Jennifer’s going to put that on the invitation.  After all, this is a formal affair.”


     Marco and Chet snickered as Johnny’s grin from the earlier mention of pizza, cake, and beer, slowly faded. 


     “Yeah, Johnny,” Marco teased, “what would you expect to have to wear to a tea party except a suit?”


     “And tie,” Chet added.  “Don’t forget the tie.”


     Johnny put the last of the drinking glasses away then turned to look at his partner.


     “What about you?  Are you wearing a suit and tie?”

     “Me?  No, I’m not invited.”


     “But you just said you’re going to be there.”


     “I am.  But I’m not invited to the actual tea party portion of the party.  Neither is Chris.  Just you.  Like I said, you’re the only boy Jennifer will allow there.”


     “I don’t know whether to be flattered or humiliated.  She’s not going to make me play dolls, is she?”

     “I don’t think so.  But I did hear something about dress up, and big hats, and long necklaces, and lace gloves, and high heel shoes and. . .let me think a minute. Makeup.  That was it.  Makeup.”


     Roy’s latest spiel set off a new round of laughter in Marco and Chet.  Johnny was actually thankful when the tones sounded.  At least that prevented the teasing he knew was going to follow if Marco and Chet got the opportunity.


     “Station 51, abandon mine cave-in off Sanora Road in the vicinity of Mason Canyon.   Possible victim trapped inside.  Time out; 13:11.”


     Hank Stanley responded to the dispatcher as Mike Stoker shot past him. Marco and Chet took their places on the engine while Johnny and Roy climbed in the squad.  Hank handed Roy a slip of paper with the address on it as he, too, ran for the engine.  Roy passed the paper to Johnny.  The dark headed paramedic hit the switches that activated the squad’s lights and siren.  Roy pulled the vehicle into the street and turned left, the big engine right behind him.




     As Roy drove he wondered how long it might take them to find the exact spot where they needed to be.   There were several long defunct mines in this area.  It had only been in the past five years that homes had begun to go up in what once had been thirty square miles of desolate overgrowth.


     Johnny saw her first.  He pointed to Roy’s right where a woman in her mid-fifties stood at the side of the road waving her hands in the air.  Roy slowed the squad as he approached her.  He glanced in the rearview mirror to make certain Mike was slowing down as well.  When Roy was satisfied that the engineer had seen his brake lights he brought the squad to a stop.  Johnny switched the siren off and rolled down his window as the woman pointed behind her.


     “My husband’s over that ridge!  We were out walking our dog.  He thought it looked like the old Clariton Mine had caved in, and then we both thought we heard someone calling for help.  A girl.  It sounded like a teenage girl.  We yelled and yelled, but she never answered.  My husband told me to take the dog home and phone the fire department.  He stayed by the mine entrance to see if he heard the girl again.”


     Johnny thanked the woman as Roy pressed on the accelerator.  The squad was able to bump its way up the dry hills to the mine’s entrance.  Mike followed as far as he dared before stopping the engine.  The crew disembarked and jogged the remaining fifty yards to where Roy and Johnny stood talking to a gray headed man.  Roy turned as Hank Stanley approached.


     “Cap, this is Mr. Seavers. He and his wife were walking their dog when they spotted the cave-in.  They thought they heard what sounded like a teenage girl calling for help.  Mr. Seavers sent his wife home to call us and stayed behind in case the girl cried out again.”


     “But she hasn’t?”  Hank asked the older gentleman.


     George Seavers shook his head.  “No.  Not a word.  But I swore I heard her.  My wife heard her, too.”


     Captain Stanley didn’t doubt that the man heard something, but whether it was a girl or just the groaning of rotted-out timbers there was no way to determine without further investigation.


     Hank looked at his paramedics. 



     “There’s no choice,” Johnny said.  “We gotta go in.”


     Roy nodded his agreement.


     “Kids are always playing around these abandoned mines, Cap.  We can’t take a chance that one of them is in there.”


     Hank was well aware they couldn’t take that chance, yet there was nothing he hated worse than sending his men into a dangerous situation when there was no concrete proof that anyone was in need of rescuing.  


     Johnny seemed able to read his captain’s thoughts.  As he hooked a lifeline to the utility belt he wore at his waist he shot the man a grin.


     “We’ll be careful, Cap.  Besides, I’m sick of eating smoke.  A little dirt and dust will be a nice change of pace.”


     Roy chuckled as Hank rolled his eyes at Johnny’s comment. 


     “You know Johnny, Cap,” Roy said as he slipped his handie talkie into the pocket of his turnout coat. “He always finds the silver lining in every cloud.”


     “That he does, Roy,” Hank agreed as he watched Johnny make his way to the mine’s entrance as though climbing into dark, unstable structures was second nature to him.  “You two just watch yourselves in there.  I don’t want to discover there was no victim to begin with, only to end up rescuing my two paramedics in the end.”


     “Believe me, Cap, I don’t want that either.”

     Roy finished securing his own lifeline, then followed Johnny. 


     The paramedics hadn’t taken more than four steps into the mine before Johnny was slipping his flashlight from its loop on his utility belt.  Dust showered down upon the men like a fine mist on a foggy day making it difficult to see more than a few feet in any one direction. 


     Johnny arced the flashlight beam over the walls and across the ceiling.  Piles of rocks, dirt, and splintered wood grew five feet high in some spots.  Like Vanessa and Tommy had done earlier, the paramedics were forced to traverse the mine in a crouched position while being careful not to disturb any of the wooden beams that were still holding the earth in place above them.  Roy felt like he was traveling through a house of cards.  The simple act of resting a hand on what appeared at first glance to be a solid timber might bring everything tumbling down on top of you.


     Johnny coughed as he breathed in what felt like one percent dust minus any oxygen.  When his eyes began to water he knew they’d be forced to turn around and get their air tanks if they had to be in the mine for any great length of time.  Because Johnny was in the lead he’d occasionally give a shout as they traveled.


     “Hey!  Hey, is anyone in here!  It’s the fire department!  Is anyone in here?”


     The paramedics had been in the mine fifteen minutes by Roy’s watch when they came to a mound of dirt and timbers that rose higher than their heads.  Halfway between the ceiling and the floor was a perfectly round hole as though God had designed it just big enough for a slender man to slither through.  A very slender man. 


     Johnny crouched down in front of the hole, shifting his weight with a grimace when his right knee came to rest on the point of a rock.


     “Is anyone in here!  Fire department!  Anybody back there!”


     Johnny waited thirty seconds then tried again. He repeated this action two more times. He was just about to turn to Roy and advise they report back to Captain Stanley when he heard a faint and distant,  “Help!  Help please!  Please get me out!”


     Roy cocked a surprised eyebrow at his partner.  Prior to hearing the girl’s voice he was about to conclude the mine was empty.


     So much for that cold Coke I was just thinking of.


     Johnny was careful not to disturb anything when he pressed himself as close to the small opening as he dared.


     “Okay!  We hear you!  Just stay calm!  Are you hurt anywhere?”


     “I. . .I don’t know!  I just. . .I don’t know!”


     “All right, what I need you to do is just stay put and stay calm.  We’ll be there in a few minutes!  Okay?”


     “O. . .okay!”


     Roy took the handie talkie out of his pocket.  When he tried to raise his captain all he got was static.


     “Must be some kind of mineral in here that’s interfering with the transmission.”


     Johnny nodded.  “Why don’t you head back for the entrance to tell Cap what’s going on and to get our stuff.”  He shined the flashlight beam through the opening in the debris and used one eye to peer as far as he could.  “I think I can get through there.  It looks pretty clear on the other side.”


     “Maybe so.  But you’ve got no guarantee you’ll get to the girl.  You might encounter nothing but another blocked passage.”


     “True, and if I do I’ll just come back out.  But if I get to her then I can assess her injuries, get what I need from you, and start treatment.”


     Roy couldn’t fault Johnny for his logic.  Though Roy’s weight was appropriate for his height, he’d never be able to fit through the opening with the ease his skinny partner could.  And at this point ‘ease’ was the optimum word.  They couldn’t risk disturbing any of the debris for fear of causing another cave-in.


     Roy nodded his agreement.  He watched as Johnny unhooked the utility belt that held his lifeline.  The senior paramedic didn’t like the fact that Johnny had to do this, but he knew his partner could never squeeze through the hole with the bulky belt around his waist.  The next things that came off were Johnny’s turnout coat and his helmet.  Johnny handed everything to Roy including the flashlight then began inching his way through the opening with his arms held straight out over his head.


     The blond man watched until the bottoms of Johnny’s shoes disappeared from sight.  He didn’t turn for the mine’s entrance until he heard Johnny call, “Okay, Roy!  I’m through!”


     “And on your feet?”


     “And on my feet.”


     “How’s it look?”


     “Pretty good so far.  I’m gonna reach my hand back in the hole so you can give me the flashlight.”

     “All right.”


     Roy estimated the hole Johnny had just slithered through to be twelve feet in length.  He carefully extended his arm as far as he could while imagining Johnny doing the same from the other side.  Their hands never touched when Johnny’s fingers were just barely able to make contact with the long end of the light.


     “Got it!  Thanks!”


     “I’m going out to talk to Cap now!”




     Because Johnny had the flashlight the return trip to the mine’s entrance took Roy longer than he’d anticipated.  By the time he could see shafts of sunlight he estimated he’d been climbing, duck walking, and crawling for twenty minutes.  He wiped the sweat from his brow when he was finally able to stand upright.  As he stepped out of the mine Roy hoped his partner’s journey to the girl was easy and uneventful.




     Vanessa had no idea what was happening when the walls of the old mine first started to rumble and Tommy took off running.  She’d covered her head and prayed while dirt and small rocks pelted her body.  When the debris stopped falling and the dust settled enough so that she could see, the girl realized she’d been caught in a cave-in.   Her way out through the tunnel she and Tommy had traveled was blocked except for a small clearing at the top of a twelve foot high pile of wreckage. Though she didn’t know where the path behind her went, it was now completely obstructed - a solid wall of dirt and timbers that made her tomb a mere fifteen feet long by ten feet wide.


     Vanessa screamed for Tommy until she was hoarse.  When he didn’t answer she had no way of knowing if he’d made it safely out of the mine or not.  A part of her wondered if he was injured, while at the same time a part of her wondered if she cared.


     He knew what was happening and he left me.  He ran.  He ran away without giving me or his baby a second thought.


     The girl alternated between crying and calling for help until the dust she was taking in with each breath forced her to stop.  She wasn’t sure how much time had passed while she sat naked in her dark, silent tomb, but finally realized it would be wise to get dressed.  By feel alone she put on her underwear, shorts, bra, blouse and sandals.


     Vanessa had a lot of time to think as she waited.  First she worried over the chances of being found and rescued, but when those thoughts threatened to make her cry again she forced herself to push them to the back of her mind.  She didn’t much want to think about the other thing that had preoccupied her every waking hour for the past three weeks, but that was impossible to avoid.  It had even interfered with her sleep.  She tossed and turned on most nights.  If she were able she’d get up and pace her bedroom floor, though she had yet to succumb to that urge for fear of alerting her parents to her troubles.


     Oh, what will they do when they find out?  Mom will probably cry and tell me how disappointed she is.  Dad will yell.  And yell and yell and yell, and then probably make me stand up in front of the whole church and confess my sin.  And then. . . then he’ll probably send me away somewhere.  To some home for unwed mothers, and later. . .after the baby comes, they’ll take it away from me and he’ll send me to an all-girls Christian boarding school.  I know that’s what he’ll do because that’s what I heard him tell Mom he’d do to Jeannie if she was his daughter.


     Jeannie was Vanessa’s nineteen year old cousin.  A year earlier Jeannie had gotten pregnant and had a baby boy.  Jeannie and her baby lived with Vanessa’s aunt and uncle who were helping her raise the child while she attended college classes near their home.


     Dad would never be as understanding as Uncle Ralph was with Jeannie.  He’d never help me raise my baby the way Uncle Ralph and Aunt Charlene are helping Jeannie raise Brent.  Daddy would have kicked me out of the house.  I know, because I heard him tell Mom that’s what Uncle Ralph should have done to Jeannie.


     As much as she didn’t want to start crying again Vanessa couldn’t help but break into sobs at the thought of the news she’d eventually have to tell her parents.  It made her sick to her stomach just to imagine facing them.  And Tommy. . .it was obvious Tom Duncan had no intention of facing them with her.


     He’ll just deny it’s his.  That’s what all boys do if they don’t want to marry the girl they got pregnant.  That’s what Brent’s father did to Jeannie.  And Tommy. . .well if he’ll leave me alone in this mine then he sure isn’t going to stand by me until our baby is born,. . .or marry me for that matter.


     Vanessa didn’t think it was possible to be so scared.  She almost didn’t care if help ever arrived and she died in this mine.  That might be an easier alternative than what was ahead in the months to come.


     The girl’s survival instinct overrode those thoughts; however, when she first heard the man’s voice yell, “Is anyone in here!  Fire department!  Anybody back there!”


     After she answered the man Vanessa heard him tell her to stay where she was and to stay calm.  Then he promised her someone would be with her in a few minutes.  The teenager had the presence of mind to roll the blanket up she was sitting on and shove it behind two fallen timbers.  The last thing she wanted was to alert anyone to the fact that this mine was a hideaway for her and Tommy.  If  the firemen suspected she’d been here before they’d no doubt tell her parents.  As it was she was scrambling hard and fast to come up with a plausible story to tell every adult who was bound to ask her what she was doing in the Clariton Mine to begin with.


     Vanessa thought more than a few minutes passed before the owner of the voice she’d heard earlier finally appeared.  She wasn’t wearing a watch, but she guessed close to twenty minutes went by before she saw someone crest the top of the mound of dirt and rocks like a mountain goat, then slide down the other side on his butt.


     Despite his dust covered uniform and dirt smudged face the first thing the man did was smile at her.  Vanessa felt her heart skip a beat as he knelt by her side.


     He’s really cute.  Dad would call him a hippie ‘cause of his long hair, but he’s not a hippie, he’s a fireman.  Which means Daddy’s wrong when he says ‘long hairs’ are no good bums. 


     “Hi.  I’m Johnny Gage.  I’m a paramedic with the LA County Fire Department.”


     “A paramedic?  For real?”


     “Yep,” Johnny said.  “For real.”


     “I’ve read about you guys in the paper.  Paramedics I mean.  I think what you do is neat.  And exciting.   Very exciting.”


     “Sometimes it’s a little bit of both,” Johnny agreed.  “But then sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned dirty work that no one else wants to do.”


     Vanessa smiled at the twinkle in Johnny’s brown eyes.  Considering her current dilemma she knew she was being teased. 




     “No need to apologize.  It’s my job.  Now can you tell me where you’re hurt, Miss. . .”


     “Vanessa.  My name’s Vanessa Schaffer.”


     “Okay, Vanessa Schaffer, how about it?  Where do you hurt?”


     “Well. . .I guess my shoulder hurts a little.”


     “Right or left?”



     “I’m going to take a look at it then.  You let me know if anything I do hurts.”




     Johnny palpated Vanessa’s right shoulder, then instructed her to move it up and down before asking her to extend her arm.


     “I’d say you just have some bruising there, Miss Vanessa.  Nothing serious enough to cause you more than sore muscles by morning.”


     “Then I won’t miss the state cheerleading competition next week?”

     Johnny took his penlight from his belt and shined it in Vanessa’s eyes while answering her.


     “We’ll have to let a doctor make a final decision on that issue, Miss Vanessa.”


     “But aren’t you kind of like a doctor?”

     Johnny laughed.  “ ‘Kind of’ would be the correct term.  And if I go around giving you a diagnosis, or the promise of being able to compete at the state cheerleading competition next week, Doctor Brackett will have my badge.  Not to mention my hide.”


     “Who’s Doctor Brackett?”


     “My boss more or less.”


     “But I thought you worked for the fire department.”


     “I do.  I have a boss there, too.  Captain Stanley.”


     “Wow.  You have two bosses?”


     “To a certain extent, yes.”




     Johnny laughed again.  Vanessa wasn’t sure if she liked to make him laugh because he seemed to take so much pleasure in that action, or if she liked to make him laugh because the laugh eventually turned into that crooked grin that made him even cuter than he already was.


     Vanessa sat still while Johnny took her pulse.  She thought he was quite a gentleman when he explained to her first exactly what he had to do in order to count her respirations, then asked her permission before resting his palm in the area just above her stomach but below her breasts.  Tommy had certainly never asked her permission before he touched her, and his touch was always far more intimate than what Johnny’s was.


     Johnny asked Vanessa to follow his finger next as he moved it left to right, then up and down.  After that he asked her if her head hurt.


     “No.  My head feels fine.”


     “You’re not dizzy or nauseous?”




     “How about ringing in the ears?  Have you had any occurrences of that?”


     “I don’t think so.  But then I don’t know what that sounds like.”


     Once again Johnny laughed.  “Well, take it from a guy who’s had his ears ring more than once, if it was going on you’d know it.”


     “What makes a person ears ring?”


     “Generally from getting a good knock on the head.”

     “Oh.  So you’ve been knocked on the head?”


     “A time or two.”  Johnny smiled again at what Vanessa took to be a private joke.  “Or three or four.”


     Johnny leaned back on his heels, satisfied with the results of his cursory exam.  The only thing he didn’t have with him that would be useful was his B/P cuff, but considering how unscathed the girl appeared he wasn’t expecting the reading to be too far out of the normal range.


     “Okay, Vanessa, you’re doing great.  Before I declare this examination over is there anywhere else you’re hurting?”


     “Well. . .I. . .my face hurts a little,” the girl used her tongue to wipe the remaining blood from her cut lip.  “And my eye.  My left. . .left eye.” 


     Johnny exchanged his penlight for the flashlight lying at his feet.  He shined the beam at Vanessa’s face, but kept it turned away just enough to avoid making her squint.  The man let out a low whistle.


     “Looks like you’ve gone a few rounds with Muhammad Ali, kiddo.  You’re gonna have quite a shiner in another couple hours.”


     “I think. . .I think a board might have hit me there.”


     “Uh huh,” Johnny said in a way that led Vanessa to believe he doubted her story.  “And your face hurts you say?”


     “Yeah.  But. . .but not too bad.  You don’t have to look at it.  It’ll be okay.”


     Johnny noticed the red imprints that five years of paramedic experience told him were made by a hand.  A male hand.  He didn’t ask the girl who had roughed her up.  He had no doubt she’d lie to him about it anyway.  He’d make sure he told the doctors at Rampart about it, and whatever police officer showed up at the scene of this rescue.  From there he’d let the professionals handle it as he’d been taught was proper procedure.  That didn’t mean; however, that he couldn’t probe to get what information Vanessa might be willing to reveal.


     “So, Miss Vanessa, just what is a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?”


     Vanessa was ready for the question.  She’d been rehearsing the answer for over twenty minutes now, and figured she might as well try it out on Johnny before having to repeat it for her parents, the doctors, the police, and anyone else who might ask.


     “I was looking for rocks.”


     “For rocks?”

     “Yes.  For my school science project.”


     “And you had to come in this mine in order to do that?”

     “Yeah.  Everyone knows the kids who get the best grades on their science project find their rocks in these old mines.”


     “But didn’t you see the sign outside that warned you not to come in?  And wasn’t the entrance boarded over?”


     Vanessa had to lie to Johnny’s first question, but could honestly answer the second since Tommy had torn the boards off months ago.


     “No, I didn’t see any sign.  I’m sorry.  I guess I was really caught up in what I was doing.  But as far as boards go, no.  There wasn’t any covering the entrance.  I just walked right in.”


     “Well, you shouldn’t have.  You could have been seriously injured.”


     “I know.  Like I said, I’m sorry, Johnny.  I really am.”


     “I’m sure you are.  And I bet you won’t do this again.”


     “No, I sure won’t.”


     “That’s good enough for me then.”


     Vanessa was astonished.  No lecture.  No stern look.  No words expressing his disappointment and anger over her foolish actions.  Johnny trusted that she wouldn’t do something like this again, and that was that.  Or at least that’s the impression Vanessa got from studying his face.


     Johnny held a hand out to the girl. 


     “All right, Miss Vanessa, I don’t see any reason why we can’t get you to your feet and make our way out of here.”


     “Out?  How?”


     “The same way I got in.  Climb, crawl, slide, and slither.”


     “You almost make it sound fun.”


     Johnny grinned.  “It was.”


     Vanessa accepted Johnny’s assistance as she got to her feet.  She was a little shaky, but the girl knew that was more from the prospect of facing her parents than from any injury she’d sustained.  She regretted it when Johnny let go of her hand.  She felt safe when he was in physical contact with her. 


     “Okay, kiddo, here’s the deal.  You’ll climb ahead of me over this mound of dirt.  I’ll be right behind you, instructing you on what to do as we make our way out of here.  Whatever you do don’t lean on any timbers.  It’s questionable as to how sturdy anything is that’s still holding this place together. If you need to rest, or lean your weight on something, use me for support.”


     Those words made Vanessa want to cry.  She wished she’d heard them from Tommy.


     “O. . .okay, Johnny.  I will.”


     “Vanessa, are you all right?”

     The girl swiped a quick hand across her eyes before Johnny was able to shine the flashlight beam on her face.


     “Yeah, I’m all right.  Just have some dirt in my eyes, that’s all.”


     “I hear you there, believe me.”  Johnny indicated to the wall of dirt he’d descended ten minutes earlier.  “Okay, kiddo, time to climb.”


     Vanessa smiled when he took her hand again in order to help her get started.  Fine grains of dirt and sand shifted beneath the teenager’s feet as she ascended in a crouched position, Johnny right behind her.  What the paramedic heard when they were almost to the top of the mound Vanessa didn’t know, but his quick thinking probably saved their lives.  Johnny grabbed Vanessa around her slender waist and slid backwards with her.  As rocks, dirt and wood rained upon them he threw her face down then covered her body with his.


     Vanessa didn’t think this second cave-in would ever end.  When she and Johnny were finally able to come up for air Vanessa saw their only route out was now completely blocked.  Johnny slowly lifted himself from his charge while asking the teenager if she was all right.


     “Yeah. . .,”  Vanessa coughed three times before she could complete her sentence.  “Yes, I’m fine.”


     “Okay, but don’t move.  I want to check you over.”


     “But I said I was fine.”


     “That’s all good and well, but I still want to make certain for myself.”


     Vanessa remained on her stomach as Johnny ran expert hands over her legs, arms, and head.  He asked her several questions, and only then seemed satisfied that she was telling him the truth.  He held both hands out to her this time.


     “Up you go, Miss Vanessa.”


     Vanessa placed her palms in Johnny’s and climbed to her feet.  She didn’t want to let go of his strong hands, and when he didn’t pull them away from her she remained clinging to them until he settled her back in the spot where he’d first found her.  Johnny sat down next to the teenager, both of them leaning against the cool surface of the mine’s wall.


     “I guess we might as well get comfortable, kiddo, ‘cause I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be here a while.”


     “They’ll get us out though, won’t they?  The fire department I mean?”

     “Sure they’ll get us out.  But how long it will take I’m not certain.  We just need to sit here and stay calm.”


     “I can do that as long as you’re with me.  Stay calm I mean.”


     Johnny chuckled.  “Since the prospect of me going anywhere is slim to none at this point I’d say you’ll be staying very calm then.”


     A few minutes of silence passed in which Vanessa wished she had a cold glass of water and Johnny mentally calculated how long it might be before they were dug out of their tomb.  Vanessa was the one who kicked off a new round of conversation between them.





     “Can I. . .can I ask you a question?”


     “Sure, we might as well do something to pass the time.  Go ahead.  Ask away.”


     “If. . .if. . .well if one of your kids did something like I did. . .came into this mine and got trapped and all, what would you do to them?”

     “I don’t have any kids.”


     “Oh.  So. . .” Vanessa tried to sneak a peek at the man’s left hand, but couldn’t clearly make out his ring finger since he had the flashlight off and resting on the other side of his right leg.  “You’re not married?”




     “How old are you?  If you don’t mind my asking that is.”


     “I don’t mind you asking.  I’m thirty.”




     Johnny laughed at the astonishment he heard in the teenager’s voice.


     “Thirty’s not that old, Miss Vanessa.”


     “Well. . .I guess not. I just thought you were younger.  More like. . .closer to my age.  You know, about twenty.  You don’t look thirty.  Or act it either.”


     “You women are always telling me that.”


     “That you don’t look thirty?”

     “No, that I don’t act it.”


     “Is that a bad thing?”


     Again, Johnny laughed the laugh Vanessa was rapidly falling in love with.  If only Tom Duncan could be more like John Gage then carrying his child wouldn’t scare her to the depths of her soul.


     “To tell you the truth, Miss Vanessa, I don’t know if it’s a bad thing or not.  Let’s just put it this way. Sometimes it tips the scales in my favor, sometimes it tips ‘em against me.  It just depends on what the woman I’m dating is looking for in a man.”


     “Do you date a lot of women?”

     “In my estimation, no.  A guy can never date too many women, kiddo.”


     “But don’t you want to settle down with just one woman?  You know, get married and have a family?”


     “Someday.  When I find the right one.  That just hasn’t happened yet.”


     Vanessa tried to keep the joy out of her voice when she said simply, “Oh.  I see.”  She cleared her throat and asked again, “So, back to my first question.  If you did have a daughter about my age what would you do to her for getting herself trapped in a mine?”


     “You mean after I hugged her to death when I found out she was okay?”

     “Really?  You’d really hug her before you yelled?”

     “Yep.  I’d really hug her before I yelled.”


     “But then you’d yell?”

     “Probably some.  It would depend on the circumstances.  You know, on why she was in the mine to begin with, and whether or not I had ever warned her about the dangers of these old places.”


     “So you’re saying you’d give her a chance to tell her side of the story?  That you’d actually listen to her before you started hollering?”


     “Yes, I’d actually listen to her.  That doesn’t mean I might not still yell.  Or that she wouldn’t be punished, but sure I’d listen to her.  Everyone has the right to an explanation even if it’s one a parent doesn’t want to hear or doesn’t agree with.”



     Vanessa slowly nodded.


     “I think you’d make a good dad, Johnny.”


     “Thanks.  I hope to someday have that chance.”


     “You will.”


     “How can you be so sure?”


     Vanessa couldn’t tell the paramedic that there was no way a man as handsome and nice as he was would go through life single, so instead she simply shrugged her shoulders.


     “I don’t know.  I just am.”


     “Oh, I see.  It’s that woman’s intuition thing, huh?”

     “Yeah.  That’s it.  Woman’s intuition.  That’s how I know.”


     “Well, far be it from me to question a woman and her intuition.”


     “I’m not a woman.  I’m just a girl.”


     “How old are you?”



     “Then you’re not too far from being a woman in my opinion.”


     Johnny wasn’t sure why his remark delighted the girl to the extent her voice revealed, but he supposed it was simply because she was at that in-between age all teenagers find so frustrating.  No longer a child, but not quite an adult.   He had no idea she was rapidly falling in love with him and was thrilled to find out he viewed her as a woman.




     Vanessa thought a moment.  Maybe. . .just maybe she had a way of solving all her problems.


     “So how old does a woman have to be for you to date her, Johnny?”



     “What’s your definition, age wise I mean, of a woman?”


     Suddenly Johnny recognized what was happening.  It wasn’t unusual, nor something he hadn’t experienced on occasion in the past.  The person being rescued often mistook feelings of gratitude for feelings that went deeper than that.  Especially when the person was a young female in a frightening situation.


     Johnny chose the safest answer he could think of. 





     “Yep.  That’s my definition of a woman.  Someone who’s twenty-one or over.”


     “But you just said I was almost a woman.”

     “You are.”


     “But I’m only fifteen.”


     “I know.  But fifteen isn’t that far from twenty-one.”


     “It’s six years away.”


     “Yeah, but those six years will go by fast.  Trust me.”


     Not fast enough, Vanessa thought as she saw her plan wither and die.  Her parents refused to allow her to date until she was eighteen, which was why she’d been seeing Tommy on the sly all these months.  But she was certain that a mature man as fine as Johnny, and who had saved her life besides, might be able to convince her parents to let him take her out.  And if he took her out, and one thing led to another and Johnny thought she was carrying his child, then she’d at least have someone to marry before the baby came.  Her parents would still be furious, but what could they really say or do other than to let Johnny make an honest woman out of her? She wasn’t really certain what that phrase meant, but Vanessa had heard her father use it often enough to have it memorized.


     Vanessa reached out a hand and did to Johnny what always seemed to turn Tommy on.  She ran her hands across his chest, caressing and stroking with her fingertips.


     “So there’s nothing I could do that would convince you I’m more of a woman than I am a girl?”

     The startled paramedic removed the girl’s hands, then scooted over until he was far enough away that she couldn’t make physical contact with him.  His voice was firm when he ordered, “Stop it, Vanessa.  And no.  There’s nothing you can do to convince me of that fact because you are a girl.”


     Vanessa felt tears well up in her eyes.  She was humiliated, embarrassed, ashamed, and angry all at one time.   “I’m. . .I’m sorry.  You’re mad now.  I didn’t mean to make you mad.”


     Although Johnny knew how easy it was for teenagers to experience emotions they didn’t fully understand, and to sometimes act on those emotions without thinking, he wasn’t foolish enough to get within touching distance of the girl.  He spoke from the spot he’d retreated to.


     “I’m not mad.  I’m just making it clear to you that there’s boundaries here and you just stepped over one of them.  Vanessa, it’s my job to take care of you until I can get you safely out of here.  That might be in another ten minutes, or it could be as long as several hours.  So for both our sakes you need to realize that I’m just doing my job as a paramedic.  By helping you I’m doing what the county pays me to do.”


     Vanessa sniffled and wiped her eyes.  “So you really don’t care what happens to me?”


     “Of course I care.  Until I get you to the hospital and turn you over to the doctors you’re my responsibility.  But that’s as far as it goes, Vanessa.”  Johnny hated being so blunt with the girl, but felt he had to in order to stifle her growing crush on him and the misconceptions she was coming to because of it.  “That’s as far as it will ever go.” 

     Johnny couldn’t do much other than let the girl sit and quietly weep.  He felt bad for hurting her feelings, but God knows the last thing he needed was to be trapped for an indefinite amount of hours with a love-sick teenager.


     Johnny remained silent until Vanessa’s tears quieted. 


     “Are you okay now?”


     “Yeah. . .yeah, I’m okay.  Sorry. . .I’m sorry for being such a problem.”


     “You’re not a problem, you’re simply a person stuck in a very scary situation.  Sometimes that causes the best of us to say or do things we don’t mean.”


     Vanessa was grateful for the man’s understanding.  If nothing else she was fairly confident Johnny wouldn’t tell her parents about her advances toward him.


     Before either the girl or Johnny could think of anything else to say a voice called from behind the mound that blocked their escape.


     “Johnny!  Johnny, can you hear me?”

     Johnny stood and walked toward the debris.  “Roy?”

     “Yeah, it’s me!   Did you find the girl?”

     “She’s right here with me!”


     “Is she hurt?”

     “No, just a little bruised and shaken, but otherwise in good shape!”


     “I take it another cave-in happened after you made it to her?”

     “You take it right, partner!”


     “Okay then, I’ll go back and tell Cap what’s going on!  110’s is here now, too!  We’ll have to decide the safest way to dig the two of you out of there!”


     “That’s what I figured!  Hey, how’d you get here anyway?”

     “We were able to make the hole wider that you crawled through!”


     Even though Roy couldn’t see him Johnny nodded rather than speaking.  The shouting they were being forced to do in order to hear one another was only making Johnny’s voice, already hoarse from the dust he’d been sucking in, grow more raspy.


     Roy must have figured that out for himself because he didn’t wait for a reply.


     “Okay, well you and the girl hang in there!  We’ll have you out in a little while!  Oh, and by the way, what’s her name?”

     “Vanessa!  Vanessa Schaffer!”


     “And her parents’ names?”


     Johnny looked at the teenager.  She was reluctant to answer until he said,  “Come on, Vanessa, we have to know.  If you don’t let us contact your folks now they’ll just be contacted once we get you to the hospital.”


     Vanessa hesitated a moment longer, then said,  “Carolyn and Paul.” 


     Johnny asked the teen for her home phone number next.  He shouted the information he had gathered to his partner.


     “Got it!”  Roy cried from the other side of the wall.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes!”


     “I’d tell you to take your time, that we’re not going anywhere, but it’s getting a little stuffy in here so you might want to pick up your pace a bit on your way topside!  You know how cranky I get when I’m hot!”


     Roy knew this was Johnny’s way of saying he was concerned in regards to just how much oxygen was available within his and Vanessa’s small chamber.


     “Yeah, I know how cranky you get!  I’ll go as fast as I can!  See you in a bit!”


     “We’ll be waiting!  Oh, and Roy!”



     “Bring back a large pizza with extra cheese and a cold six pack of Cokes for me and Miss Vanessa, will ya’?”


     Roy laughed.  “You got it!”


     “Liar!  All you’re going to bring back is the drug box!”


     “You know me too well, partner!”


     And with that, Roy was gone.


     “Who was he?”  Vanessa asked as Johnny sat down across from her.  She noticed he still stayed far enough away so that she couldn’t touch him.  She supposed she deserved that action on his part.  After all, she hadn’t proven herself to be very trustworthy so far.


     “My partner.”


     “He’s a paramedic, too?”



     “I wish he didn’t have to call my parents.”


     “I know.  But he doesn’t have a choice.  You’re a minor and we can’t treat you without your parents’ consent.”


     “But you said I was okay.  I can walk home from here once we get out.”


     “You are okay. Nonetheless; we’ll still have to take you to the hospital to have the doctors look you over.  You’ve got some nasty bruises, and I’m sure they’ll want to take an X-ray of your shoulder just to be on the safe side.”


     “My mom and dad are gonna kill me.”


     “I doubt it.  They’ll probably be pretty angry, but they’ll get over it.”


     “You don’t know my parents, Johnny.  They never get over anything.  They just. . .they harp on it, and harp on it, and harp on it until you’re so sick of hearing about it you just wanna scream, ‘Enough already!  I’m a sinner!  I’m a no good dirty rotten sinner, is that what you want to hear!   I’ll burn in hell if that will make you happy, only please just shut up about it!’ ”


     Johnny knew teens were prone to exaggeration where their parents were concerned so wasn’t certain how much stock to put in the girl’s words.  If she was telling the truth then her home life didn’t sound like any picnic, but then who was he to tell someone how to discipline their kids?


     “I’m sure once you tell them you were in here because of a school project they’ll calm down.”


     Vanessa’s eyes sought the dirt floor as she thought of the real reason she’d been in the Clariton Mine.


     “No,” she whispered almost too softly for Johnny to hear,  “No, once they find out why I was here I don’t think they’ll calm down.  I don’t think they’ll calm down at all.”


     Johnny didn’t know what else to say in order to lift the girl’s spirits, so chose to light on a safe subject.


     “So tell me, Miss Vanessa, just what does a person do at a state cheerleading competition?”

     That brought the girl’s head up.  She’d fought long and hard to convince her parents to allow her to be on the cheerleading squad.  Her father didn’t approve of the short skirts the cheerleaders wore, nor of the way they “flaunted themselves in public” as he put it.  Her father considered such actions to be promiscuous; whatever that meant.  Vanessa never did determine why her mother didn’t approve, but surmised it was simply because Carolyn Schaffer didn’t have the backbone to stand up to her husband.  It wasn’t until the cheerleading coach came to talk to Vanessa’s parents and told them of the college scholarship opportunities available to girls as skilled and athletic as Vanessa was that her folks gave in.  Cheerleading had turned out to be Vanessa’s haven.  It had transformed her from a shy girl who was unsure of herself to a confident girl who beamed from ear to ear when she was out on the gym floor performing a routine.  She smiled as she began to tell Johnny all about the skill and mental tenacity involved in what was just now beginning to be recognized as an athletic endeavor.


     John Gage might be a talker, but he was also a good listener.  And naturally curious.  He enjoyed seeing the excitement that came to Vanessa’s eyes when she spoke of something that obviously meant so much to her.  He got the impression she didn’t often get the opportunity to talk about herself and what was important to her as a person.  What made her the individual she was.  So for the next thirty minutes he listened while keeping an ear out for the first sounds that would indicate his station mates were on their way.




     When Roy finally emerged in the sunshine he hoped he didn’t have to travel through the mine too many more times this afternoon.  He nodded his thanks as Chet handed him a thermos jug of water.  Roy took a long swallow then turned to Captain Stanley.


     “I found the spot where Johnny’s at.  There’s been another cave-in so he’s trapped on the other side of a wall made up of dirt and wood. He’s with the girl.”


     “Is she all right?”

     “Just a little banged up according to Johnny.  Nothing too serious.”


     “At least we have that going in our favor.”


     Roy nodded his understanding.  He knew the last thing his captain wanted was to be under pressure to get Johnny and the girl out in a hurry.  Haste in a situation like this often caused further injuries.


     “Johnny did say it’s getting stuffy in there.”


     “I would suppose,” Hank agreed.  “Can we safely dig them out?”

     “I think so.  It shouldn’t take much to make an opening wide enough for the two of them to slip through.  Though it’s kind of rough going, we should be able to get in there and get them back out with few problems.”


     Hank turned to confer with the captain from Station 110.  They agreed that two of the men from 110’s, plus Chet and Marco would go in the mine with shovels and start the digging process.  Roy would also go in to aid his partner in bringing the girl out.


     It was as the men were making these final decisions that the ground beneath their feet began to rumble.  At first Roy thought it was an earthquake until he saw the convoy of thirty eighteen-wheelers roar by on the highway.  The firemen scrambled from the entrance of the mine as everything came down at once.  They heard the sound of crashing timber as dust billowed out in a way that would make a person think an explosion had occurred if they didn’t know better.


     Roy could do no more than shout an internal, “Johnny!” when the dust settled and he saw that the mine entrance was now completely sealed.





     John Gage thought the entire world was crashing upon him and Vanessa.  This time the debris didn’t rain down gently, but rather fell hard and fast.  He threw himself on top of the girl, again shielding her body with his own.  Johnny winced as a rock the size of a baseball hit the center of his spine.  Before he had a chance to protect his head with his arms a two by four struck the back of his skull followed by another.  Johnny saw stars and heard that ringing in his ears he’d been telling Vanessa about earlier, then lost the battle to stay conscious.  




     It seemed like hours before the mine stopped falling around them.  When an eerie stillness finally settled over Vanessa and her rescuer she waited for Johnny to get off her.  When he didn’t, and when he didn’t ask her if she was okay, the girl knew something was wrong.


     “Johnny?”  Vanessa coughed up dirt, then tried again in a stronger voice.  “Johnny?  Johnny, are you all right?”

     When the paramedic didn’t answer her Vanessa gritted her teeth and tried to raise herself up on her arms.  She wasn’t hurt, but Johnny’s weight made it hard for her to move.  She finally managed to get enough leverage to slither from beneath his body.


     The first thing Vanessa saw when she turned around was blood, and lots of it.  There was so much blood on the back of Johnny’s head Vanessa couldn’t easily discern where his injury was located.  Blood ran down his neck to be soaked up by the upper portion of his shirt.  The girl glanced around, but didn’t see anything she could use to help the man.  Tears trickled down her dirty face as the panic she hadn’t felt since before Johnny arrived returned with full force.  Vanessa didn’t even realize she was yelling.


     “Help!  Somebody help us!  Oh, please somebody help!  Help!”


     Vanessa screamed until she had no voice left, but her cries for help didn’t bring any men from the fire department, nor did they rouse John Gage.




     Three more engine companies had been called to the scene along with an additional paramedic squad.  Two ambulances were there, and Roy had notified Rampart of the situation.  Other than that there wasn’t much the senior paramedic could do other than assist his fellow firefighters in unearthing Johnny and Vanessa.  Hank Stanley asked the sheriff’s department to close the highway that ran by the mine so they didn’t experience another traffic-caused cave-in.  He also asked that Vanessa’s parents be notified.  The mother was nearly hysterical when she arrived on the scene with a  ten year old boy in tow.  Fortunately enough police officers were on hand to keep her back.  Hank wasn’t sure at what point the father showed up, but when the captain emerged from the mine to take a ten minute break from digging he easily guessed the grim faced, balding, bespectacled man with one arm around the upset woman, and the other around the teary eyed boy, was Vanessa’s father.


     Tunneling through the mine with nothing but shovels and man-power was slow going, but the area was too unstable to bring in any type of heavy equipment.

It took them four hours to reach the area where Roy had first heard Johnny’s voice.  The paramedic stood where he had earlier and called,  “Johnny!  Johnny, can you hear me?”


     Vanessa rose from the state of lethargy she’d been floating in.  She recognized Roy’s voice and realized that meant what she’d been dreading all afternoon was about to happen.  Yes, she was finally going to be freed, but she was also going to have to face her parents.  Which meant the problem she’d almost been able to forget with the arrival of John Gage had now returned to the forefront of her mind.


     The girl looked down at the still unconscious paramedic.  Johnny had moaned a few times since sustaining his injury and even opened his eyes once, but had never appeared to be aware of his surroundings.  Vanessa felt tears burn in her eyes again at the thought of what she was about to do.  She knew it was wrong, but she had to do something before she saw her mom and dad.


     The teenager ignored Roy’s voice and the sound of shovels digging through dirt as she gave a mighty tug on the shoulder of her blouse until the material gave way.  It was easy to rip her bra, after all, Tommy had already started that job.  She tried to rip one leg of her shorts but the denim fabric was too tough.  She looked around, then spotted Johnny’s bandage scissors clipped to his belt.  She slipped them from their holder and used them to slit the right leg of her shorts until a good portion of her white cotton underpants showed.  She made certain that the cut was uneven so it looked like it was the product of human hands.  She returned the scissors to their holder, the reached a hand out towards Johnny’s head.  Vanessa’s tears came with more force as she coated her hand with Johnny’s blood then smeared it in random fashion across her white blouse and onto her bra.


     By the time the first fireman poked his head through the opening he’d made Vanessa was sitting in a far corner with her knees drawn up to her chest.


     “Help me,” she sobbed.  “Oh, please help me.”


     “Don’t worry, sweetie,” Chet Kelly soothed as he carefully stepped into the confined area.  “Help is here.”

     “No!  Get away from me!  Don’t touch me!”           


     Chet held up his hands and took a step back.  He glanced down at the unconscious Johnny, immediately taking note of all the blood.


     “Roy!  Roy, get in here!”


     Roy was the next one through the hole.  Within seconds he’d assessed the situation and knew he needed more hands.  He told the men on the other side of the wall he wanted them to send in the paramedics from Station 26.


     “Have them bring the trauma box, a backboard, and two Stokes!”


     “Will do, Roy!” Marco acknowledged.


     Without moving his partner Roy took Johnny’s pulse then checked his respirations. 


     Thank God his face isn’t buried in the dirt.  At least he’s been getting some air for however long he’s been like this.


     “How is he?”  Chet asked over Vanessa’s wailing.


     “Not good.  Pulse is thready and respirations weak.  He’s shocky, too.”


     Roy looked at the girl. “Vanessa!  Vanessa, I need you to calm down and tell me how long he’s been unconscious.”


     The girl refused to make eye contact with Roy, nor did she answer the man even when he repeated his question three times.  As much as Roy hated to leave Johnny’s side when the paramedics from 26’s arrived, he knew that was the best course of action for all concerned, aside from it being protocol.  If you had no choice but to work on your injured partner then you ignored your emotions and gave him the best care possible.  But if you did have a choice you always turned his care over to any other paramedic who might be on the scene. 


     Roy told the men what he knew of Johnny’s condition which didn’t consist of more than relaying his pulse and respiration rates, and stating the obvious in regards to his head injury and the blood loss that had occurred.


     While Dave Manchester and Ken Houston worked on their fallen comrade Roy slowly approached Vanessa.  Because of the girl’s hysteria Roy spoke in a gentle, even tone.


     “Vanessa, my name’s Roy DeSoto.  I’m Johnny’s partner.  I need to have a look at you, but I can’t do that while you’re this upset.  Can you calm down for me?”


     Vanessa was so mixed up and confused by conflicting emotions that it was almost beyond her ability to control herself.  She hated herself for what she was about to do, but didn’t know of any other way out of her situation.  Yet the more she thought about her pending actions, the harder she cried.


     The teenager was barely aware of Roy taking her pulse and then her blood pressure.  He checked her over in the same way Johnny had hours earlier, though Vanessa’s sobs prevented her from verbally responding to Roy’s questions.  She felt herself being lifted into some sort of metal basket.  The basket was then passed out through an opening in the wall, just like Johnny’s basket had been a few seconds earlier. 


     Vanessa had almost stopped crying by the time the firemen got her to the entrance of the mine.  She squinted as the late afternoon sun assaulted her eyes.  When her eyes finally adjusted to the light the first people she saw were her parents.  They hovered over her basket, upset and frowning.  They always seemed to be upset and frowning.  For as long as Vanessa could remember those were the facial expressions her parents most often employed.


     Their questions came fast and furious just like Vanessa knew they would.


     “Vanessa, what were you doing in that mine?”

     “Vanessa, do you know how worried I was? I had no idea where you were.”


     “Vanessa Christine, you’d better have a good explanation as to what this nonsense is all about. I had to leave work early because of your foolishness.”


     And that’s when the damn finally broke.  Vanessa knew this is just what it would be like when she told them she was pregnant with Tommy’s child, only one hundred times worse.  So she couldn’t tell them.  She just couldn’t.  Or at least not in quite the way it had really happened. 


     Vanessa started screaming and sobbing again in the same hysterical manner that had overcome her when Chet and Roy had first arrived by her side.


     “Mommy, Mommy!  Help me!  Help me!”


     The firemen bearing Vanessa’s Stokes stopped their progress so the girl could reach up for her mother.


     “Mom. . .Daddy. . .please.  Please help me!”


     Vanessa felt her father brush her hair from her forehead.  “Calm down, Vanessa.  We’re right here.”


     “No. . .no, you don’t. . .you don’t understand.”


     “Understand what?”

     “He. . .oh, he hurt me, Daddy.  He hurt me.”


     Paul Schaffer’s tone changed to one Vanessa rarely heard.  Soft and full of concern.


     “Who hurt you, honey?”

     Vanessa struggled to a half sitting position and pointed a shaking finger at the unconscious form of John Gage on the ground a few feet away.


     “He. . .him.  Johnny.  He. . .he was supposed to be helping me, but he hurt me.  He. . .”  Vanessa buried her face in her father’s chest.  She squeezed her eyes shut in an attempt to hide from the horrible lie she was about to tell.


     “He hurt me, Daddy!  He forced himself on me and did things. . .did things he shouldn’t have!  Did things. . .the things only a man and woman do when they’re married just like you said, Daddy!”


     Roy DeSoto was certain every man on the scene heard the girl’s loud and ugly accusation.  It seemed like all eyes turned to stare open mouthed at first the girl, then at Johnny.  Time stopped for several long seconds, then Ken and Dave returned to their task of treating Johnny, and a grim-faced Roy began his task of treating Vanessa. 


     Vanessa Schaffer.  The fifteen year old girl who had just accused Roy’s best friend of rape.





     Roy didn’t think the ride to Rampart would ever come to an end that day.  As much as he wanted to be with Johnny, he was grateful two ambulances had been on the scene.  Considering the delicate circumstances Roy knew it was for the best that Vanessa and Johnny were transported separately.  Carolyn Schaffer rode in the front of the ambulance.  She sat turned in her seat, peering through the glass to keep a constant vigil on her daughter.  Not that Roy could blame her for that.  If his own daughter had just accused a man of rape Roy wouldn’t let her out of his sight. 


     For as hysterical as Vanessa had been at the scene she was now silent in a deathly sort of manner.  She refused to look at Roy, lying with her head turned toward the outer wall of the ambulance.  A steady stream of tears continued to trickle their way down her dusty face, but she emitted no sounds with them. An IV with Ringer’s Lactate flowed into a vein in her right arm, but she didn’t seem to notice that anymore than she took notice of Roy taking her blood pressure at five minute intervals throughout their ride in, nor took notice of Roy saying quietly into the bio-phone at one point, “Rampart, the victim I’m transporting states she’s been sexually assaulted.”


     By the time Roy and the ambulance attendant were wheeling Vanessa down the ER’s hallway Johnny was already in Treatment Room 1.  Dixie McCall met the gurney bearing Vanessa just like Roy knew she would when he reported the girl’s statement regarding a sexual assault.


     “Room 3, guys,” the head nurse said.  “Kel will be there in a minute.”


     Dixie looked down at the teenager and smiled while speaking softly.  “Hi, Vanessa.  I’m Dixie.  I’ll be your nurse while you’re here with us in the emergency room.”


     Vanessa made brief eye contact with Dixie before pulling her gaze away.  Carolyn Schaffer ran along beside the gurney, clinging to Vanessa’s limp hand.  Dixie allowed the mother to stay with her teenager while Roy and the ambulance attendant transferred the girl from the gurney to an exam table.  She followed the two men back into the hallway, then flagged down one of her nurses. 


     “Betty, please help Vanessa. . .the girl in room 3, get undressed and into a gown.  Don’t destroy her clothes.  Lay them on a chair for now.  Oh, and Vanessa’s mother is in there, too.  Let her stay for now.”


     “Okay, Dix,” Betty said as she pushed open the door of the treatment room.


     Dixie waited to speak further until the ambulance attendant had said his good-byes and rejoined his partner outside.  When she and Roy were alone in the hallway she asked, “What details has Vanessa given you?”

     Roy was expecting this question.  He’d been asked it in the past by Dixie under these same circumstances.  There was nothing he hated worse than transporting patients who had been raped.  If it was a child all he saw was his own daughter’s face, if it was a woman all he saw was his wife’s face.   It was such a violent, brutal crime that often haunted its victims for the rest of their lives.  Never in Roy’s wildest dreams had he ever imagined the person accused of committing such a crime would be John Gage.


     Roy didn’t realize he’d closed his eyes for a brief moment, nor that in that moment Kelly Brackett had joined Dixie.


     “Roy?” The woman prodded.  “What is it?  What’s wrong?”

     Roy opened his eyes, his gaze flicking from the nurse to the doctor before settling on both of them. 


     “Ummm. . .she was trapped in a mine cave-in,”  Roy stated, knowing fully well Dixie and Brackett were already aware of that fact.  Yet he couldn’t do anything but tell the story exactly how it unfolded.  After all, it wasn’t easy to just blurt out that your best friend had been accused of rape.


     “Johnny was able to get through to her.  Then another minor cave-in happened and they were trapped.  I was able to talk to Johnny at that time and he said they were fine.  Said Vanessa was bruised, but other than that okay.  I had no more than gotten out of the mine to report to Cap that I’d found Johnny and the girl, when a third cave-in occurred.  This one major.  It took us four hours to get to them.  Johnny. . .Johnny had been hit on the head by a beam and was unconscious when we reached him.”


     Kelly Brackett nodded.  He knew this much from 26’s transmission to Joe Early. 


     “Vanessa. . .other than being bruised like Johnny said, she appeared to be okay when I initially examined her.”


     Brackett’s brows knit together.


     “Then when did the rape occur?  Did someone drag her into that mine before you guys got there?  And if so, how come Johnny didn’t tell you she’d been assaulted?”


     “I. . .I don’t really know what happened.  But the girl. . .Vanessa, she says Johnny. . .that Johnny raped her.”


     It was all Dixie McCall could do not to scream, What!, right in the middle of the corridor, but years of professionalism had taught her to temper her initial impulses.


     Kelly Brackett took a deep breath.  Whatever emotions he may have been feeling didn’t show, which Roy fully expected.  When the doctor spoke it was to ask in a low voice,  “What’s Johnny say about all this?”


     “I don’t know.  He never regained consciousness at the scene.”


     “Nor in the ambulance on his way here,” Dixie informed both men.  “He’s still unconscious.”


     Brackett chewed on his lower lip a moment then stated,  “Roy, I’m sorry.  But you know I’ll have to treat this case just like I’d treat any other case involving an alleged sexual assault.”


     “I know,” Roy nodded.  He realized this meant Brackett would be collecting evidence for a possible court case throughout his examination of Vanessa, and would be filing a report with the police.


     “But that doesn’t mean I think Johnny did what this girl is accusing him of.  Far from it.”


     Again, Roy nodded.


     Dixie laid a hand on the paramedic’s arm.


     “Look, why don’t you got get a cup of coffee and have a seat in the nurse’s lounge.  I’ll let Joe know where he can find you. Feel free to use the phone to call Joanne or the guys at the station if you’d like. ”


     Though Roy had no desire to talk to anyone at the moment he smiled his appreciation.  


     “Thanks, Dix.”


     The paramedic headed for the nurse’s lounge.  He paused briefly when he spotted Paul Schaffer and his son sitting in the ER’s waiting area, but they didn’t see him so Roy felt it was best not to stop and talk to them.  This whole mess was bad enough without Roy getting caught in the middle between his partner and an upset family.


     Roy was grateful to find the lounge empty.  He poured hot coffee into a Styrofoam cup, then walked over to the window where he stood staring out at the parking lot.  He alternated between worry over Johnny’s physical condition, and worry over what would happen to Johnny if Brackett’s examination of Vanessa Schaffer proved the girl had indeed, been raped. 


     Neither concern was less profound in Roy’s mind as he began to pace the room with the hope of relieving some of the tension that was causing his stomach to flip flop in time with his thoughts.




     Regardless of who Vanessa had accused of rape, both Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall treated her the same way they’d treat any young woman who stated she’d been sexually assaulted. 


     They allowed Vanessa a few minutes alone with her mother before entering the treatment room.  Had Vanessa been a younger child Dixie would have let Carolyn Schaffer remain throughout the examination, but considering the girl’s age and the fact that her mother’s presence seemed to prompt weeping of an almost hysterical proportion, Dixie asked Betty to escort Carolyn to the waiting room.


     “Don’t worry, Mrs. Schaffer, we’ll take good care of her,” Dixie assured when the mother was reluctant to release her daughter’s hand.  “I’ll stay right by Vanessa’s side until the examination is finished, then you can come back in.”

     Carolyn glanced over her shoulder until the swinging door shut, blocking her view of Vanessa.  As Dixie suspected might happen, as soon as the mother was out of sight the daughter calmed down.


     Dixie stood by Vanessa’s head as Kelly approached the table.


     “Hi, Vanessa. I’m Doctor Brackett.”


     The girl swallowed back her tears and gave a soft, “Hello.”


     “Can you tell me what happened this afternoon?”


     Vanessa recalled the story she had told Johnny and decided that was a good place to start.


     “I. . .I was collecting rocks for my science project in the old Clariton Mine and. . .and suddenly there was a cave-in.”


     “Were you hurt during the initial cave-in?”

     “No.  Not. . .not really.  My shoulder. . .my right shoulder hurt a little, but other than that I was okay.”


     “All right,” Brackett said while palpating Vanessa’s shoulder.  “Then what happened?”

     “I called for help.  I don’t know how long it was before I finally heard a voice calling back.  Maybe. . .maybe forty-five minutes or so.  Then about. . .about fifteen minutes after that. . .”  Vanessa’s eyes filled with unshed tears.  “About fifteen minutes later

Johnny. . .he’s a paramedic. . .he found me.”


     Kelly examined the eye that was now bruised and swollen, and also took note of the red streaks on Vanessa’s face. 


     “What happened next?”

     “Johnny. . .he asked me if I was okay.  And he pressed on my shoulder like you just did.  Johnny said he was gonna get me out of the mine, but then. . .then a another cave-in happened and we were trapped.  A little while. . .little while later we heard his partner’s voice calling for him.  Johnny told the man where we were.  The man. . .Roy I think his name was. . .he went to get help because he couldn’t get us out by himself.   He was. . .he was gone an awful long time.  That’s when Johnny. . .” Vanessa was crying now as she attempted to push her words past her tears.  “That’s when Johnny raped me.”


     Despite the fact that Vanessa had just accused John Gage of rape, Dixie took the girl’s hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.


     “It’s all right, Vanessa.  No one can hurt you now.  You’re safe here.”


     When the girl had calmed down somewhat Brackett continued his line of questioning.


     “Vanessa, how did Johnny get hurt?”


     “There. . .there was another cave-in after he. . . after he was done. . .hurting me.  A beam hit him on the back of the head.”


     “I see,” Brackett said as he glanced at the clothes the girl had been wearing that Betty left folded on a chair.  The doctor walked over and picked each article up.  Between the black eye, marks on the girl’s face, and the state of her clothing there was no doubt in Kelly Brackett’s mind someone had abused her, he just didn’t want to believe that someone was Johnny Gage.


     “How did you get this blood on your shirt?”


     Vanessa fished for an appropriate lie. 


     “I’m. . .I’m not sure.  I think. . .I think Johnny was holding me when the beam hit him.  I don’t. . .I was so upset by then. . .upset about what he’d done, that I don’t remember.”


     “Vanessa, I’m going to ask you one more question before I examine you.  I know it’s hard for you think about what happened in the mine, but it’s very important that you have the sequence of events correct.  Are you absolutely certain the assault you speak of occurred before Johnny was injured?”

     Dixie immediately picked up on Kelly’s line of thinking.  A severe head injury can cause a person to act in a manner totally foreign to them.  If Johnny did rape this girl, and the doctor could prove that act happened after Johnny had been injured, that evidence might just keep John Gage out of jail.


     Dixie’s heart sank at Vanessa’s firm response.


     “Yes. It happened before.  He. . .he was so friendly.  I thought. . .I felt safe with him.  I never though he’d hurt me.  He told me. . .told me he was there to help me.”


     Kelly didn’t reply to the girl as he returned her clothes to the chair.  He moved to a cabinet where he took out the instruments he’d need.


     “Dix,” he said quietly as he slipped on a pair of latex gloves, “please get her ready.”


     Dixie spoke to the girl for a minute, explaining what the examination would involve.  Vanessa kept her emotions in check until she felt the sheet being draped over her lower body and her feet being placed in metal stirrups.  She began to cry again and her legs shook so hard her knees threatened to knock against one another.  A small portion of the girl’s terror receded when Dixie sat on the stool by her head.


     The nurse never broke eye contact with the fifteen year old.  She took the girl’s hand again and let Vanessa squeeze as hard as she needed to while Doctor Brackett conducted the first gynecological examination Vanessa had ever undergone.


     Vanessa was humiliated, embarrassed, and scared all rolled into one.  She wondered if the doctor would be able to tell she was pregnant.  When he asked her the approximate date of her last period she stammered,

“Huh. . .I think six weeks ago.”


     “Is it unusual for you to go that long between periods?”  He asked next.


     Vanessa wanted to die.  She’d never talked about her period with a man before.  She’d never even talked about her period with her mother.  The teenager knew she couldn’t tell the doctor the truth.   She knew she couldn’t tell him her periods had come on a monthly basis like clock work ever since she’d started menstruating at the age of thirteen.  If she told him that, then he might suspect other things that would lead him to doubt her story about Johnny Gage.


     “No.  No. . .it’s not unusual.  That’s. . .that’s normal for me.”


     Vanessa hated that he wrote everything she said on a chart.  She wondered if her words would later come back to haunt her. 


     The girl thought Kelly Brackett’s examination would never end that afternoon, but in truth it lasted no more than ten minutes.  When he was done the doctor gently removed Vanessa’s feet from the stirrups and made sure the sheet covered her all the way to her toes. 


     “Okay, Vanessa, we’re finished,” Doctor Brackett said as he stripped off his gloves and threw them in the waste basket.  “I’m going to have Dixie give you some medicine that will help you relax, then we’ll have your mom come back in here and sit with you.  We’re going to have an X-ray taken of your shoulder, though I don’t expect to find anything.  I think you’ve just got a bad bruise.  After the X-ray technician leaves we’ll have you moved to a room on the third floor.”


     “I have to stay here?  At the hospital?”


     “For the remainder of today and tonight, yes.  If you’re feeling better tomorrow, like I fully expect you will be, I’ll let your parents take you home.”


     Brackett flicked his head toward the door, signaling Dixie to step out of the room with him.  He smiled down at his patient.


     “Dixie will be right back, and I’ll see you again in a little while.”


     Vanessa tried hard to smile at the man who just had his hands in places she didn’t even want to think about.




     Dixie did no more than raise an inquiring eyebrow at Brackett once they were in the hallway.  The doctor nodded.


     “She’s had sex at some point this afternoon.  And some pretty rough sex at that.”


     Dixie immediately took note of the fact that Kelly didn’t say Vanessa had been raped.  She knew this spoke of his loyalty to John Gage.


     “But you think she’s lying about that act occurring with Johnny,” Dixie stated.


     “I want to believe she’s lying about that act occurring with Johnny but. . .”


     “Kel, there’s no buts here,” Dixie insisted in a quiet tone meant to guard the privacy of this delicate conversation.  “Johnny would never do such a thing.”


     “I know that, Dix, but what do I tell the police other than what I just discovered? Someone knocked that girl around, and someone had sexual intercourse with her.  Now whether that intercourse was with her consent at some point prior to Johnny’s arrival, or whether someone dragged her into that mine and raped her before Johnny got there, or whether Johnny’s head injury caused him to. . .”


     “But Vanessa said this happened before Johnny was injured.”


     “Yes, that’s what she said, but with as traumatized as she is who knows if that’s really how the course of events unfolded.  And most likely we won’t know until Johnny can tell us.”


     If he can tell us,” Dixie said while thinking of all the complications that could arise from head injuries.  At this point they didn’t even know if John Gage was still alive. 


     Kelly seemed to be reading his head nurse’s thoughts.  He gave her a pat on the upper arm.


     “Look, I’m going to go check on Johnny, then I’ll talk to Vanessa’s parents.  In the meantime, administer two milligrams of diazepam and stay with Vanessa until her mother rejoins her.”


     Regardless of what emotions Dixie was feeling she wore a smile as she reentered the treatment room.  She took a key from her pocket and walked over to the drug cabinet.  She picked up a clipboard and recorded what she had taken, then wrote the same information again on Vanessa’s chart before crossing to the girl’s side.


     “I’ll be injecting this right into your IV, Vanessa.  It won’t hurt a bit.  Promise.”


     “Is that going to make me feel better?”

     Dixie looked down into the teen’s bruised and tear-streaked face.  Despite the fact that she didn’t believe John Gage hurt this girl, Dixie certainly knew someone did.  She seethed at the thought of the harsh treatment the fifteen year old had endured.


     “Yes, sweetie, it will.  Like Doctor Brackett said, it will help you relax.  It might even make you a little sleepy.  But that’s okay.  If you feel like taking a nap then that’s what your body needs right now.”


     Vanessa nodded.  She thought the blissful unconscious state of sleep sounded like the exact place she wanted to be.  For the first time in all her fifteen years Vanessa knew her father was right when he said that one lie only forces you to tell more lies.  Which is why she and her brother Nick got their mouths washed out with soap when caught in a lie.  Vanessa used to think that punishment was so cruel, but today she was beginning to understand the reason behind it. 




     “Yes?”  The nurse responded as she returned from depositing the needle in the same medical waste container Kelly’s gloves had been tossed into.


     “How’s. . .do you know how Johnny is?”


     Dixie found it odd that the girl would be asking about her alleged attacker.  Regardless, she kept her expression neutral when she replied.


     “No, Vanessa, I don’t know how Johnny is.  Doctor Early, our staff neurosurgeon, is with him.”


     “Neurosurgeon?  Does that mean Johnny has to have surgery?”

     “Not necessarily.  What it means is that Doctor Early has extensive training in the field of head injuries and their resulting complications.”


     “Complications?  But I thought Johnny would just wake up like happens on TV.”


     Dixie smiled at the girl’s misconception.


     “Yes, TV programs often lead us to believe that’s the case.”

     “It’s not?”


     “Not always.”


     “But. . .but Johnny will be all right, won’t he?”


     “I don’t know, Vanessa.  If the injury he sustained has caused his brain to swell, or has caused bleeding within his brain, then very serious complications could arise.”


     Vanessa turned her face away from Dixie’s scrutinizing eyes.  She didn’t want the nurse to see the tears that were forming again.  That didn’t keep Dixie from spotting them; however, nor from playing out a hunch.


     “After we get you settled in your room you’ll have to talk to the police.”


     “The police?”  Vanessa questioned with her face still to the wall.


     “Yes.  You’ll have to tell them exactly what you told Doctor Brackett.  You know, about how Johnny attacked you in the mine.”


     Dixie saw the girl bite down on her trembling lower lip.  She could barely hear the quiet, “Oh,”  Vanessa gave that sounded like it came out with a choked off sob.


     The nurse laid a gentle hand on the girl’s uninjured shoulder.  She rubbed in small circles.


     “Vanessa. . .honey, is there’s something you’d like to tell me about what happened this afternoon?”


     The girl turned her head until she was staring up at the ceiling.  She blinked rapidly three times, but couldn’t stop the tears from sliding down her face.


     “Dixie. . .I. . .I.  . .”


     If ever Dixie McCall could have cursed poor timing it was at this moment. 

Before Vanessa was able to say anymore the door was pushed open.  Not only did the girl’s mother enter the room, but her father and brother followed.


     When Vanessa saw her family her quiet tears turned to heart-wrenching sobs.  Any confession she might have been about to give Dixie was lost as Vanessa’s mother hugged her, and her brother stood wide-eyed in a far corner looking scared, and her father vowed that, “The man who hurt my daughter like this will regret the day he was ever born.”


     Dixie gave an internal sigh of frustration.  Now that Vanessa’s parents had arrived she knew she could no longer be of help in this room.  But she did know of a room she might yet be useful in. 


     Without saying another word Dixie slipped out of Treatment Room 3 and headed for Treatment Room 1.



     The first thing John Gage was aware of was pain.  A pain so intense it felt like a band of leather five times too small was cinched around his skull. He tried to open his eyes, but even that act caused his head to pound protest.  He heard voices, but wasn’t able to determine if those voices were coming from anyone he knew, or even what the voices were saying.  He thought it might be important to tell one of those voices he was going to throw up, but the pain in his head made even that concern seem remote and distant, as if the actual act of expelling his stomach’s contents was happening to someone else.


     Dixie knew Johnny was conscious before either Joe Early or Roy DeSoto realized that same fact.  She also saw a particular look cross his features that twenty years of nursing told her meant one thing - she needed the emesis basin and she needed it now.  Thank heaven’s some other nurse knew it would be needed, too.  It sat on the raised tray by the examination table within easy reach.  Dixie had it under Johnny’s mouth before the first wave of vomiting started.  Johnny was so weak, and still so out of it, that Roy moved to support his partner’s shoulders while turning the injured man on his side so Johnny wouldn’t choke on the expulsions.


     Dixie didn’t think Johnny even realized he’d thrown up as she wiped his mouth and chin with a damp cloth.  Joe Early had to call the paramedic’s name four times before Johnny finally opened his eyes.  He winced as the overhead light lanced through his eyeballs, then turned his head slightly so he could avoid the light’s brightness.


     “Welcome back,” Doctor Early greeted with a smile.


     Johnny felt like his tongue was three times its normal size.  The sound of his voice, thick and hoarse, reflected that feeling. 


     “Where. . .where’d I go?”


     “You tell me.”




     “Can you tell me what day it is?”

     The pain in Johnny’s head caused him to give the first response that came to mind.


     “I. . .I really don. . .don’t care.”


     Joe chuckled.  “You might not, but there’s several of us standing around the table who do.  So come on now, Johnny, what day is it?”


     Johnny felt the wings of panic beat within his chest when he realized that, all kidding aside, he didn’t know what day it was.


     Well, there’s seven days in a week, I know that much.  So I’ve got a one in seven chance of getting it right.


     “Fri. . .Friday?”


     “Are you sure about that?”


     Johnny tried to sound firm when he replied, “Yeah.”

     Because he’d closed his eyes again Johnny didn’t see the looks exchanged amongst Roy, Joe Early, and Dixie.  But when he heard no response from the doctor he slurred,  “So. . .what did. . .did I win?”




     “For telling you. . .tellin’ you what day it is.”


     “You won yourself a nice long rest in a hospital bed.”


     “Got it. . .got it wrong, huh?”

     “Something like that.”  Joe dropped the gentle teasing from his tone when he asked,  “Johnny, can you tell me what the last thing is you remember?”

     Johnny had to think hard about that one.  Since he thought it was Friday, logic told him he should try to recall what he did on Friday.  Trouble was, he had no idea how far in the past Friday was.  Or even what Friday he was thinking of.


     “Johnny?”  The doctor prompted when thirty seconds passed and no response came forth.


     “Roy’s. . .Roy’s house.”


     “What about Roy’s house?”

     “I. . .we. . .started. . .siding it.  I told him. . .Roy. . .I told him all that. . .painting year after year was. . .was a pain.  Even if. . .if Joanne does feed me. . . good for my help.  Convinced Roy. . .I finally convinced him. . . go with siding.  Looks. . .looks nice, too.”


     “I bet it does.”


     Johnny winced again. Without being aware of it he moaned at the relentless pain.  When he was able to speak he said,  “I. . .I didn’t fall off the ladder. . .did I?  Roy. . .Roy will think I’m. . .such a klutz, and the

kids. . .they were there.  I didn’t. . .scare Chris and Jenny, did I?”


     Up until this point Johnny didn’t know his partner was in the room with him.  He felt a hand come to rest on his shoulder and then heard Roy’s quiet voice.


     “No, Johnny, you didn’t fall off the ladder.  And no, you didn’t scare Chris and Jenny.”


     Johnny wanted to ask Roy what did happen, but he hurt so bad that the effort was just too much.  He thought maybe if he just remained quiet he’d pick up on enough of the conversation to determine what brought him to a Rampart treatment room.  He didn’t have to wait long.  Joe Early was the first to speak.


     “When did the two of you side your house, Roy?” 

     “Last month.”


     Joe arched an eyebrow but didn’t comment on this fact that meant John Gage had lost a good chunk of his memory for the time being.  The doctor spoke to his patient again.


     “Johnny, can you hear me?”


     Johnny didn’t even try to open his eyes this time.




     “We’ve done a full skull series on you and the verdict is a severe concussion.  It also took fifteen stitches to close the gash in the back of your head.  That gash also earned you a unit of blood to replace what you lost.  I’m probably going to keep you here for a couple of days.  You’ll be monitored closely for the next twenty-four hours.”


     “Can’t you. . .can’t you juz. . .juz replay. . .my answers. . .from last time?”



     “Last time.  Laz time I was. . .here. . .with a ‘cussion.  Juz replay my answers so the nurses. . .nurses don’t keep waking me up.”


     Joe and Roy chuckled while Dixie pretended to be outraged.


     “John Gage, we haven’t even gotten you settled in a room yet and you’re already causing trouble.”


     Without opening his eyes Johnny tried to toss the nurse the best imitation of a grin he could muster considering the fact that grinning was the last thing he felt like doing.


     “Knew. . .knew you were here, Dix.  Smells. . .room smells like lilacs.”


     “Is that a compliment?”


     “You. . .you bet.  It’s. . .it’s my favorite smell.”


     Johnny felt a soft hand brush his hair from his forehead. 


     “Bet. . .bet you don’t. . .don’t do that for. . .every battered para. . . paramedic who crosses your path.”


     “Nope.  Only for you.  Because you’re the only one who’s always in need of a haircut.”


     Johnny would have laughed if just the thought of such an action didn’t hurt so much.  He was dimly aware of two sets of hands he identified as Dixie’s and Roy’s dressing him in a crisp hospital gown, and briefly wondered if he’d been conducting this entire conversation naked.  He rather doubted it the more thought he gave to it.  He was certain he’d felt something covering him at some point, but then like a lot of issues right now he found he didn’t really care.


     He heard Dixie say,  “Okay, Mr. Gage, your ride is here,” then felt Roy help the orderly transfer him from the table to a gurney.


     Johnny knew Dixie, Roy, and Doctor Early were deep in conversation, but once again he found it difficult to focus on their words.  As he began to drift towards sleep Johnny realized he’d never asked anyone just what day it was, and what brought him here.  He tried to do so now, but was gently shushed by Dixie.  It didn’t matter anyway.  He couldn’t seem to get his tongue to form the proper syllables. 


     Johnny heard the squeak of Dixie’s rubber soled shoes as she walked along side his gurney as he was wheeled to the elevator.  He knew she got in the car with him because he could once again smell the perfume that reminded him of the rows of lilac bushes that had been planted in the backyard of his maternal grandparents’ home.   He wasn’t certain why Dixie put her hand on his shoulder, and why she left it there until he was transferred to a bed on the fifth floor.  Not that he minded her touch.  It was nice to know he wasn’t alone.  But there was something different about it.  Almost protective in nature. 


     As he fought past the pain in his skull to search for the comfort of sleep, Johnny couldn’t figure out what Dixie thought she needed to protect him from.




     Vanessa sat up in her hospital bed clutching Buster to her chest.  She’d packed the teddy bear away when she was twelve, but had asked her mother to get him down from the attic and bring him to her.  When Carolyn Schaffer arrived at the hospital on Wednesday morning she had Buster with her.  Vanessa smiled as her old friend appeared from the shopping bag her mother carried.  She reached out her arms for the brown bear just like she had when her father had first given the toy to her when Vanessa was four.


     The teenager was glad she had the bear with her when that police detective questioned her.  He was nice, and he let her mother stay in the room, but Vanessa had a feeling that underneath his smile he could be mean if he wanted to be.  There was something about his gray eyes she didn’t like.  They didn’t allude to even the slightest warmth like Johnny’s brown ones did.  What if the detective found out she was lying?  What would happen then?


     But Detective Ingersol didn’t act like he thought Vanessa was lying.  She told the story the exact same way she had told it to Doctor Brackett and Dixie the previous afternoon.  It was actually easier to lie this time, which was exactly what Vanessa’s father had always said.  That the bad thing about lies is they get easier to tell with practice. 


     Vanessa had to drop her eyes to the mattress each time she mentioned Johnny’s name, but if the detective noticed that move on her part he didn’t comment on it.  Her mother must have noticed it because she grasped Vanessa’s hand the first time it happened, but Carolyn Schaffer only seemed to think that action spoke of her daughter’s upset as opposed to being the signal that her child was lying.


     Vanessa collapsed against her pillows when the man finally ended the interview.  He thanked both Vanessa and her mother, then left the room.


     “Vanessa. . .honey, are you all right?  Do you need me to get a nurse?”


     “No, Mom.  No.  Please don’t bother the nurses.  I’m just a little tired I guess.”  The girl opened her eyes and sat up straighter.  “Is Nicky okay?”

     “Your brother’s fine.”


     “Does he know. . .know what happened to me?”

     “Not all the details.  Your father and I just told him you were hurt when the mine caved in.  Really, Vanessa, this never would have happened if you hadn’t been in that mine to begin with.  I don’t know what you were thinking.  Foolish.  It was absolutely foolish on your part to go in there regardless of what school project you were working on.”


     “I know.  I know and I’m sorry.  I. . .”  the girl broke eye contact with her mother.  “When can I go home?”

     “Doctor Brackett will be in to see you soon.  If he feels you’re doing all right then he’ll release you.”

     “Where’s Dad and Nick?”

     “Nick’s in school.  Your dad dropped me off here and went to run an errand.  He’ll be back in a little while.”

     “An errand?  What kind of errand?”

     “He went to talk to some chief or someone at the fire department’s headquarters downtown.”



     “Because he’s filing a formal complaint against that. . .that fireman who was with you.”


     Vanessa felt her stomach roll. 


     “But why?”


     “Because of what he did to you, Vanessa, why do you think?  Of course if a court finds Mr. Gage guilty then Dad’s actions probably aren’t necessary.  But unless Mr. Gage confesses, or until this case goes to trial, Dad and I don’t want that man working for the fire department.  What if he does the same thing to another girl that he did to you?”


     Vanessa was stunned by her mother’s words.  She never thought one lie would cause this much trouble for Johnny.


     “But. . .but I. . .I never meant to. . .I never. . .”


     “You never meant to what, honey?”


     “I. . .”  Vanessa turned her head away. “Nothing, Mom.  Nothing.  I’m

just. . .I’m tired that’s all.  I think I’ll sleep until. . .until Doctor Brackett gets here.”


     Vanessa felt her mother pat her hand and heard the woman murmur, “That’s a good idea,” but she paid little attention to what went on in her room after that.  As she laid there with her eyes closed all the girl could think was, Oh, Johnny, what have I done to you?  What have I done?





     John Gage sat up in his own hospital bed, shock at what he’d just been accused of draining what little color had returned to his face overnight.


     “What did you say?”


     “You heard me, Mr. Gage.  Vanessa Schaffer says you raped her yesterday afternoon.”




     “Yes.  Yesterday.  As in Tuesday, February 26th,” the detective said in a condescending manner.


     All Johnny could do was stammer, “But. . .but. . .

but. . .”  because he had yet to be told how he’d been injured.  To say he’d experienced a rough night would be an understatement.  Between the pounding in his skull, the ever present nausea, and being awakened every hour on the hour by a nurse doing a vitals check, the paramedic was now left feeling like he hadn’t experienced a restful sleep in days.  He’d been seen by Doctor Early at eight a.m., made to eat a light breakfast by one of the nurses that consisted of cherry Jello and a glass of apple juice, then finally been given something for the pain.  He was just dozing off when this man entered his room and introduced himself as Detective Donald Ingersol.


     “But what, Mr. Gage?  You couldn’t have done it? Is that what you were going to say?”


     “I. . .I don’t remember.  I mean no.  I couldn’t have done it.”  Johnny swiped a hand through his hair.  “I don’t remember the girl. . .or anything about yesterday.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.  But I didn’t. . .I wouldn’t have. . .I couldn’t. . .I. . .”


     “I don’t mean to sound like a walking cliche, Mr. Gage, but really, that’s what they all say.”


     The pounding in Johnny’s head that had almost completely receded thanks to the pain medication was back with a vengeance.  He swallowed hard to keep what little he had in his stomach from coming up.


     “But I don’t even know what you’re talking about.  I know I didn’t. . .”  Johnny stopped there.  Just what did he know?  Come to think of it now, very little.  He thought Doctor Early would fill him in on the time that was missing from his memory, but the man hadn’t done that.  When Johnny had questioned the physician as to how he’d been injured the gray haired doctor had simply patted Johnny’s shoulder and said, “We’ll talk after you’ve had a few hours of sleep.”


     And come to think about it the nurses on the floor that he knew seemed to be tiptoeing around him, too.  Almost treating him like glass each time they had to come in his room.  He thought Barb’s smile looked a bit sad this morning, and he could have sworn Kathy had tears in her eyes, but he assumed the pain medication Early had given him was making him perceive things off-kilter. 


     “You know you didn’t do what, Mr. Gage?”  The detective asked with a smug smile.


     “I know I didn’t hurt that girl.  Vanessa did you say her name was?”


     “Oh, so now you didn’t hurt her, when just seconds ago you claimed you didn’t remember anything about yesterday’s rescue.”


     “I don’t!  But I know I didn’t hurt anyone.  I couldn’t have!  Especially not like that!”


     “No, Johnny, you couldn’t have,” came a firm voice from the door.


     Dixie McCall settled her hands on her hips while glaring at the stranger in John Gage’s room.

     “And who might you be, Sir?”

     “Don Ingersol.”  The blond man pulled a wallet out of his suit coat pocket and flashed his badge at Dixie.  “I’m a detective with LAPD’s Sex Crimes Unit.”


     “That’s all good and well, Detective Ingersol, but do you have permission from Mr. Gage’s doctor to be conducting this interview?”


     “No. But then I didn’t ask for it either, little lady.”


     “I haven’t considered myself ‘little’ since I was six years old, Detective, and as for the ‘lady’ part of your statement, you’ll see how much of a lady I’m not if your policeman’s behind isn’t out of this room in exactly five seconds.”


     “Look, you can’t talk to me like. . .”


     “I can, I am, and I’m counting.”  Dixie pointed toward the door.  “Now go!”


     The man looked from Dixie to Johnny.  He didn’t take to being humiliated by a woman, but he knew he could potentially be in hot water with his supervisor for entering John Gage’s room without first talking to the paramedic’s doctor.  In order not to rile Dixie further he decided it was best to leave for now.  But not without a parting shot.  He smiled at the man in the bed.


     “I’ll be back, Mr. Gage.  Maybe after you’ve had a chance to rest your memory will have improved.”


     The door had barely shut before Johnny stammered, “Dix. . .I. . .tell me, please.  What happened?  Is that guy telling me the truth?  Did I really ra. . .hurt a little girl?”

     “Johnny, no,” Dixie said as she crossed to Johnny’s bedside.  “Of course not.”


     “But he said. . .”


     “I don’t care what he said, it’s not true.”


     “So who says it is?”

     “Johnny, please.  Let me call Joe.  He can give you something stronger so you’ll sleep for a while.  When you wake up he’ll talk to you about it.”

     “No!  I wanna talk about it now, Dix!  I gotta know!”  Johnny grabbed the woman’s hand.  “Please, Dix.  Please tell me.”


     “Johnny, I. . .”


     “Dix, please.”


     Oh you and those brown eyes of yours, Johnny Gage.  It’s no wonder women are unable to resist your charm.


     “All right, but here’s the deal.  I get Joe in here first.  I think it would be best if he’s present while we talk.”


     Johnny barely had the patience to wait that long, but knew once Dixie made up her mind he’d never get her to change it.  In addition to that he was also aware she was simply concerned about his health.  He got the impression she was worried about his reaction might be to the news she was about to give him.


     “I’ll be right back.  Okay?”

     Johnny’s reply was barely above a whisper.




     Dixie squeezed his hand then wiggled her fingers from his grasp.  He didn’t seem to notice how tightly he’d been clinging to her. 


     The woman headed for the nurse’s station with the intention of having Joe Early paged.  As she rounded the corner she almost ran into Roy DeSoto.  The paramedic had just gone off-shift.  He wanted to check on his partner before heading home.


     “Dix, there you are.  I was hoping you could get me in Johnny’s room even though it’s not visiting hours.  I won’t stay long.  I tried to find Doctor Early but didn’t see him anywhere.”


     “I was about to have Joe paged.”


     “Why?  Is something wrong with Johnny?  I talked to Doctor Early around nine o’clock last night.  He said Johnny was doing okay and that he’d call me at the station if his condition changed.”


     “Johnny had a rough night,” Dixie confessed,  “but no rougher than anyone who’s been concussed as severely as he was.  Joe saw him about an hour ago, had him eat a little breakfast, then gave him pain medication so he’d sleep.”


     “So that’s what Johnny’s doing now?  Sleeping?”


     “No, he’s not.  Thanks to a detective by the name of Ingersol Johnny’s very upset.”



     “I just caught the guy in Johnny’s room questioning him about what happened yesterday.”


     “He didn’t tell Johnny--”


     Dixie nodded.  “Yes, he did.”




     “That’s what I say, too.  I was tempted to use a few stronger words as I was kicking the man out.  The bottom line is; Johnny’s very upset and wants me to tell him everything I know about what occurred yesterday.  I was just about to have Joe paged so he could be with me while I do that.”


     “I’ll talk to him.”



     “Johnny.  I’ll. . .I’ll talk him.  He might. . .he might take it a little better if it comes from me.  I mean I was at the scene and will be able tell him first hand everything that happened.”


     “Except for what happened during those hours he was trapped with Vanessa.”


     “That’s true.  But I don’t care what that girl says, Johnny didn’t hurt her.”


     “No, he didn’t,” Dixie agreed. “Or at least no one could ever make me believe such a thing.”


     “Me either, Dix.  But I’m afraid a lot of other people will believe it before this is over with.”


     “What do you mean?”

     “Mr. Schaffer filed a complaint with headquarters this morning.”



     “And Cap said there will most likely be a hearing to determine whether Johnny can keep working for the time being, or whether he’ll be placed on administrative leave until this is resolved.”


     Dixie shook her head.  “That’s the worst thing they can do to him right now.  He’ll be devastated, Roy.  Absolutely devastated.”


     “I know.  Cap’s gonna come by and talk to him about it as soon as Doctor Early gives the okay.”


     Dixie heaved a sigh. 


     “Well, first things first.  Let me page Joe while you go say hi to your partner.  Maybe a friendly face will help him calm down.  I know he’ll try to get you to tell him what happened, but please, for Johnny’s sake, wait until Joe gets here.”


     “I’ll wait,” Roy promised. 


     The paramedic watched as Dixie walked to the nurse’s station.  When he heard the page go out over the intercom for Joe Early he headed for Johnny’s room.




     John Gage’s bed was raised to a forty degree angle.  His face was turned toward the wall, as it has been ever since Dixie and Joe Early had left his room fifteen minutes before.  He knew whatever Doctor Early had given him this time was strong enough to knock a horse on its ass, but too many worries were churning in Johnny’s mind to allow him to fully give in to the sedative. 


     His tongue felt thick again like it had the previous afternoon, though Johnny knew this was from the medication as opposed to his head injury.



     Roy sat forward in the chair he’d taken residence in after Dixie and Joe left the room.


     “Right here, partner.  What do you need?”


     “I. . .I didn’t do it, Roy.”


     “Johnny, I know that.  We all know that.”


     “But I don’t remember.  None of it.  The last thing I remember is helping you side your house.  And you said that was a month ago.”  Johnny turned his head and made eye contact with his friend. “So maybe I did do it.”


     “Johnny, come on.  That’s about the most outlandish thing I’ve ever heard you say, and believe me, when it comes to outlandish you take the cake.”


     “But still. . .I don’t remember.  So if I don’t remember how can I prove I didn’t do it?”


     “Given time you might remember.  You know that as well as I do.  Doctor Early said so, too.  It’s been less than twenty-four hours since you were hurt, John.  You’ve barely had any sleep.  Once you’ve had a chance to rest for a few days it might start to come back to you.”


     “But what if it doesn’t?  What if. . .”


     “No more what ifs.  Doctor Early left here with strict instructions that you were to sleep.  No one’s going to disturb you until you do just that.  He told the nurses that except for me you’re not allowed any visitors until he gives the word.  And I guarantee you he’s not going to give the word until you’ve gotten a good ten hours of shut eye.”


     When Roy settled back in his chair Johnny said,  “You don’t have to stick around.  Joanne’s probably waiting for you.”


     “Joanne knows where I am.”


     “Still, you can go if. . .”


     “Johnny, I’m going to stay for a while, okay?  End of discussion.  I’ll leave after you fall asleep.  So if you want me to go you need to do just that.” 


     Mindful of his aching head, Johnny gave a slow nod. 


     “And when you wake up, if you want to talk, you call me.  No matter what time it is.  I don’t care and neither will Jo.”


     “Usually you want me to shut up.”


     Roy smiled at the long-standing joke.  “Usually.  So now’s your chance to take advantage of my good nature.”


     Johnny offered his partner a small smile in return before facing the wall once again.  When ten minutes passed without another word being exchanged between the two men Roy was certain Johnny had fallen asleep.  He was startled, then, by his partner’s voice.






     “Tell her I’m sorry.”


     “Tell who you’re sorry?”

     “That girl. Vanessa.  Tell her I’m sorry.”


     “Johnny. . .”


     “Just tell her, Roy.  Please.”


     Though Roy had no intention of telling Vanessa Schaffer anything, he knew the only way he could get Johnny to rest was by making a false promise.


     “Okay.  I’ll tell her.”




     Thirty minutes later Roy rose from his chair, satisfied that Johnny had finally fallen into a deep sleep.  Roy hesitated a long moment as he stared down at his slumbering partner.  He quietly left the room when his common sense finally convinced him couldn’t do anymore for Johnny than he already had, and that going home and getting some rest himself was a wise idea. 


     Roy stopped at the nurse’s station and requested that someone call him   when Johnny woke up, then headed for the elevator with more concerns on his mind than he thought humanly possible.



     John Gage heard the door give a gentle ‘thump’ as it swung closed.  He opened his eyes and looked around the room made dark by the fact that Dixie had pulled the blinds against the morning sun before she left.  Johnny had been well aware that Roy wouldn’t leave until he was satisfied his partner was asleep, so had feigned that state in order to get Roy to go home.  Not that Johnny necessarily wanted Roy to leave, but Roy had a wife and children he hadn’t seen in more than twenty-four hours.  Johnny felt guilty about keeping Roy away from them even though Joanne would tell him he was being silly, while Chris would assure,  “Oh, Uncle Johnny, me and Jen don’t mind,”  in that way he had that was so like Roy’s, and seven year old Jennifer would kiss him on the cheek while saying, “You can borrow my daddy any time you need him, Uncle Johnny.  I’ll share him with you.”


     Johnny spent the long hours of that day lying in the dark and feigning sleep each time one of the nurses would enter.  The only nurse he couldn’t fool was Dixie.  It was late in the afternoon when she returned to his room for the third time.  In this instance she was going off-duty and could extend her visit beyond her ten minute break. Johnny finally broke down and cried as she stroked her fingers through his hair. Dixie thought her heart would break when he whispered in a choked sob,  “What am I gonna do, Dix?  What am I gonna do?”

     Dixie McCall cried with her friend that afternoon because she had no answers to give him.  She could only hope that, in time, those answers would come to both of them.




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