This story is based on events occurring in "What Was That Name Again?" and refers to characters and the timeline created there.
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An Ill Wind

by
Nexxie


"All right, guys, that's not funny.  Turn it back on!"  John Gage stood in the shower, his tired body lathered from head to toe...in the dark.  Anxious to wash away the filth and stench from a recent call involving the sewer and a slimy substance he would rather not identify, Cap Gage was the last to shuck his uniform and jump into the station's one shower stall.  He let his crew go
first----especially Taylor, who was cooking dinner----partly out of consideration and partly so he could take a leisurely shower.  But the hot water ran out early on, and now this.

"Dammit, turn the lights back on!  I'm not kidding here."  He was just starting to feel and smell human again; now he was just cold and soapy and in the dark.

Two boys playing "hide-n-seek" were last seen crawling into a storm drain.  Station 51 was toned out to aid in the search and rescue effort, which became more urgent as the rains that deluged the northern and western parts of the state began to move south.  After forty-five minutes of searching the sewer, Cap Gage and Dave Konnitsky found the boys drenched and shivering in a side tunnel. 

Cap quickly raised the HT and called for Dwyer and Manley to meet him at the nearest junction.  They were looking at possible hypothermia, but no apparent injuries.  Gazing down at the slime on his turnouts, Gage thought of some pain he wouldn't mind inflicting at the moment before herding the two frightened kids toward his approaching paramedics.

Blankets and warnings to the boys' anxious parents turned out to be the only necessary follow-up and soon the smelly and weary C-Shift, "Johnny's Crew", headed back to the station----and supper.  It was already a long shift after three long and difficult responses and little time in-between.  The rain was starting, there was lightning in the distance, and it looked like a long night ahead as well. 

FF Rudy Taylor was the chef du jour and he promised "something special" for dinner.  Rudy worked as a professional chef on his days off in an elegant restaurant downtown and his culinary talents were appreciated by his shiftmates.  C-Shift was fortunate enough to boast two accomplished cooks and ate well during their on-duty time. 

Rudy Taylor and Marco Lopez began to suspect that their captain assigned them to the least pleasant details when it wasn't their turn to cook so that they would gladly swap for kitchen detail.  They were right, but Cap Gage acted so offended at the accusation that nobody brought it up again.  Only Charlie Dwyer saw the devious grin on Johnny's face afterwards and it wasn't worth his digestion to enlighten his crewmates.

"When I find out who did this it's latrine duty for a month!" Gage yelled, hoping to intimidate the perpetrator into capitulation.  Still no lights.  He was wet and cold and mad now.  Muttering every threat and foul word he could think of a the moment, Johnny rinsed off as best he could and felt around for the shower door.

Just as Rudy finished stuffing the pork chops with his own special dressing prior to popping them into the oven, the lights went out.  It was only seconds before the battery-powered emergency lights kicked on, but they could already hear Johnny cursing and threatening from the latrine.

Dwyer sighed and looked at Manley,  "You gonna go tell him it's a bona fide power outage----or shall I?"

Manley thought a moment and replied, "You do it.  He likes you better."  Manley was late to work that morning and with a very lame excuse that he made up on the spur of the moment.  Cap hadn't bought it.

Reluctantly Charlie stood and headed toward the latrine.  "Yeah," he grumbled to his partner, "he liked me better until now." 

Remembering that there were no emergency lights in the locker room or the latrine, the paramedic grabbed a flashlight from the squad and trotted over to "rescue" his captain.

Suddenly caught in the bright beam from a powerful flashlight, Gage quickly secured the towel around his waist before confronting whoever stood behind it.

"Okay, what's the big idea?"  His dripping hair and the goosebumps that covered his slim body put him in no mood for practical jokes.

"Cap," Dwyer said quickly, "we have a power outage.  You might want to hurry up and get dressed----if it's very widespread we can expect to hear the tones any time now."

"Sorry, Dwyer.  I thought it was just another trick in the campaign to 'get Cap'.  Look, could ya leave the light?  I'll be out in a minute."

"Sure, Cap, no problem," Dwyer grinned.  Johnny was trying to look dignified and failing miserably.  As he left the room, Charlie reflected on the latest apparent effort to revive The Phantom.  Somebody was taking it upon themselves to pick up where Chet Kelly left off.  The difference was, while Kelly couldn't resist watching his pranks come off, this joker was totally anonymous...except to himself.  None of his crewmates admitted to the near-daily gags that were guaranteed to get Gage's goat.

Today Johnny found his coffee mug glued to his desktop.  A careful application of acetone around the bottom eventually freed it, but Gage was very fond of that mug, one that Roy DeSoto had made for him and hand decorated as a birthday gift.  Messing with Cap's coffee mug was one surefire way to start the day off on the wrong foot. 

Dwyer shuddered.  Two things you don't touch, he thought, The Mug and Smokey.  This joker might just do us all in.

True to his earlier prediction the tones sounded summoning them to a fire.

"STATION 51...STRUCTURE FIRE...4298 WILLOW...4--2--9--8 WILLOW...CROSS STREET DAHLGREN...TIME OUT 19:47"

Cap Gage hustled to the microphone just in time to acknowledge breathlessly, "Station 51, KMG-365".  Charlie was just barely in the driver's seat of the squad before the call slip was thrust in at him through the window and Gage was on his way to the engine, tucking his shirt into his uniform pants as he ran.

"Let's roll, Marco," Captain John Gage gave his customary prompt as Marco pulled "Big Red" out behind the squad.  It wasn't far to the fire scene, which was in a residential neighborhood, and Johnny was relieved to see that the house was not fully involved.  He supposed the steady driving rain might receive part of the credit for that.  Still, if he had to choose between rain and none, he would chose none every time.

The fire started when the homeowner fired up----literally----a gasoline generator.  The man carried a candle out to the garage to find the gas can and fill the generator's tank.  Disaster in the form of an explosion and fire occurred when the candle fell into a puddle of spilled gasoline.  The man wouldn't need a lecture on fire safety...he would need an ambulance.

"L.A. this is Engine 51 respond an ambulance to this location," Johnny requested before sending Taylor and Konnitsky to hose down the garage with inch-and-a-halfs.  A quick glance assured him that Dwyer and Manley were already on the biophone to Rampart and were placing the victim in a burn pack. 

Marco was watching the gauges and keeping an eye on his crewmates behind the hoses so Gage jogged over to where the victim's wife was sobbing hysterically.  After determining that no one else was in the house Johnny led the woman away from where her husband was being treated and checked her out for minor burns or other injuries.

The ambulance arrived on the scene and left again almost immediately with Manley and the burn victim inside.  Dwyer followed in the squad.  It seemed everyone was in a hurry to get out of the rain.  The fire out, Taylor and Konnitsky managed clean up in record time and they headed back to the dark station house.  Johnny was anxious to get into dry clothes. 

Flashes of lightning lit up the dayroom with a garish strobe effect as Johnny got on the phone to find out just how widespread the power failure was.  The neighborhood they had just come from was affected he recalled, and all the area they passed through en route to the fire.  No one answered at 99's where Roy was working----they were probably out on a response----or at 15's where J.R. was on shift.  Dwyer called from Rampart and confirmed that the hospital was running on emergency generators.  They were requested to stay and help in the emergency room, which was a madhouse.  Johnny told them to remain but make themselves available. 

No sooner did everyone change into dry clothing than they were toned out again, this time a traffic accident.  Non-functioning stoplights and poor visibility were to blame for a two-car collision with only minor injuries.  Neither car was travelling very fast in the pouring rain, and Johnny determined that the engine was not necessary on this one.  Leaving the squad to patch up the victims, Johnny made the engine available.  He knew there would probably be more serious calls before the night was over.

****************

Roy DeSoto and his crew at 99's just sat down to their evening meal when the power went out.  A chorus of groans rose from around the table as the emergency lights kicked in and the power didn't come back on.  They didn't need to be told twice when Roy prompted, "Better eat quick, fellas, we're probably gonna be toned out any time now.  People do stupid things when the lights go out."

Six forks rapidly dug in to try and finish the meal before beginning what could be a long, busy evening.  They almost made it...

"STATION 99...SQUAD 36...UNKNOWN NUMBER OF VICTIMS TRAPPED IN AN ELEVATOR...2746 GRAYMONT...2-7-4-6 GRAYMONT...TIME OUT 19:25"

"Station 99, KMG-375," Roy responded before handing off the call slip and jumping into his seat beside the engineer.

2746 Graymont turned out to be a four-story apartment building in the older part of town.  They nearly missed it in the dark and driving rain.  99's paramedics were using the searchlight on the squad to scan the passing buildings for the right address when a man darted, seemingly out of nowhere, almost under the wheels of the squad.  He was frantically waving his arms and his face was ghastly pale in the glare of the bright headlights.

"My wife and daughter are stuck in the elevator with her mother and father.  My father-in-law has a heart condition.  I could hear them calling for help.  They are stuck between the second and third floors.  I stopped in the lobby to check for mail, or I would have been with them."

The man's excited account gave Roy no space to ask questions, but then he had pretty much covered all the bases anyway.

Captain DeSoto sent the engine crew in with forcible entry tools and ropes as the paramedics carried their equipment toward the stairwell.  Roy stopped long enough to pick up the handy talkie and an extra cylinder of oxygen from the engine.  As he was entering the building, Squad 36 arrived and the paramedics hurried up to him.

"Cap, what do we have?"

"Hi, guys.  We have at least four people trapped in an elevator between the second and third floors.  One of the victims is a possible heart attack.  Squad 99 is already up there."

The guys from 36's nodded and one paused to relieve Roy of the O-2 before they rushed up the stairs.  They would send for their equipment if it was necessary.

When Roy arrived at the third floor, he was glad to see the emergency lights functioning and located just across from the elevator.  The engine crew already managed to force open the access doors and were discussing the situation with the paramedics.

The building was old and the elevator somewhat antiquated.  Roy didn't fancy a trip to the roof in the driving rain.  He remembered a description of the way Captain Stanley and Marco Lopez manually lowered an elevator for him and Johnny one time when they became trapped between floors with a victim.  Both Cap and Marco were sore for a couple of days from that rescue.

"Can we reach the ceiling panel of the elevator?" Roy asked Peters, his senior paramedic.

"Well, Cap, we can reach it, but I wonder if this old elevator can hold the additional weight."

"OK, why don't we lower one man down on a belt and hold him suspended while he assesses the situation?"  Roy was as nervous as Peters about the situation.

Peters nodded.  "I think it should be me then."

Peters was a short slender man, feisty and determined, and very good at his job.  In some ways he reminded Roy of his former partner.  "Skinny but tough" would be a good description of 99's senior paramedic too.  He also fearlessly wriggled his small frame into tight places and volunteered for the most dangerous portions of any rescue.

Unlike Johnny though, Roy reflected as he watched Peters being lowered to the top of the elevator, Jesse Peters seemed to lead a charmed life, almost never getting hurt.  While John Gage's medical file would rival the L.A. phone book for sheer volume, Peters' held little more than the results of his yearly physicals.

"Cap, we can get the victims out through the escape hatch, no problem," Peters' voice called up to him. 

The top of the elevator was only about five feet below the opening on the third floor.  A second rope and safety belt was quickly lowered.

After about two minutes Peters called for the crew to bring up the first victim, the little girl.  Her frightened eyes large in her pretty freckled face, the child ran to her father and was gathered in his arms.  At times like this Roy reminded himself to give Jennifer an extra hug when he got home.  She wasn't little any more like this one, but she would always be his little girl.

The grandmother was evacuated next and began to hyperventilate.  36's paramedics checked her vitals and gave the woman a small paper sack to breathe into.

Suddenly the elevator groaned and shifted.

"Let's get a move on, guys!  Get those people out of there."  Roy's urging was unnecessary as Peters frantically unhooked his belt and put it around the grandfather, allowing the engine crew to speedily extricate the remaining two victims in quick succession.  As they lowered the belt back to 99's senior paramedic, the elevator shifted again and with a shriek of tortured metal, fell to the basement, the flashlight inside, which was the sole illumination for Peters, going dark on impact.

Roy held his breath, almost not daring to look, but a volley of relieved sighs and cheers allowed him to focus on the single rope that still hung in the shaft, now swinging back and forth like a pendulum.  Several flashlights at once were trained on the bottom of the rope where Jesse Peters was holding on for dear life.  He managed to grab the safety belt with both hands before the elevator gave way, and like threading a needle, went through the escape hatch as the elevator fell.  Peters' incredible luck held.

"Hey, Cap, shall we reel in this fish?" one of 99's crew asked Roy.

"Yeah," their captain said with a smile, "go ahead.  He's scrawny, but he's a keeper."

"Gee, thanks, Cap," Peters puffed as his head cleared the level of the floor.  Two sets of hands reached out and pulled the paramedic to safety.

"Good job, Pete," Roy had time to say before one of 36's paramedics yelled out "V-FIB!"

Attention quickly shifted from the group by the elevator doors.  The grandfather had collapsed when he heard the elevator fall, his overtaxed heart already beating rapidly from the stress of the time spent in the dark elevator.  99's paramedics, all business now, moved rapidly to assist the men from 36's, Peter's taking over the oxygen as the other paramedics charged the defibrillator.  Peters' partner set up the biophone and contacted Rampart while Captain DeSoto requested an ambulance.

Roy and his engineer, Scott Richey, went about calming the man's distressed wife and daughter while the son-in-law, daughter still in his arms, looked on anxiously.

The patient was successfully converted and stabilized awaiting transport.  36's paramedics took charge of the patient and Roy called in to make Station 99 available at the scene as the ambulance arrived.

All of them made light of Peters' extraordinary escape at the time, but were sobered by the closeness of the call.  But for the speed of their response, and an incredible amount of luck, the scene could have been a tragedy.

Station 99 was kept busy throughout the night.  I wonder if 51's is having as busy a night as we are, Roy thought.  Probably.  At times like this I envy his Johnny all that energy he always seems to have.  I'm tired to the bone already, and there's a good seven hours left in this shift.

Their next call was for a car trapped.  A large tree was torn from the muddy ground, now saturated and soggy from the torrential rains, by the increasingly high winds and dropped neatly across the vehicle like a huge leafy tent.

The car was effectively pinned and nearly inaccessible.  It required an hour or so with two chain saws to finally free the vehicle, which was all but crushed by the heavy trunk, branches poking through the broken windows.  Twenty more minutes were required to pry open the mutilated doors with the Jaws of Life.  The whole crew was astonished, then, when two very shaken but miraculously uninjured people crawled out of the front seat. 

I wonder how long such incredible luck can hold, Roy thought, two rescues in a row where there could have, and normally would have, been fatalities...but, except for the heart attack, no one was hurt.  And even the heart attack victim was doing well when the ambulance left the scene.

****************

A torrential downpour lasting for hours upstate was already creating havoc all over northern and eastern California.  Flooding, mudslides and downed powerlines closed many secondary roads and made responses especially difficult for emergency services.  The entire city of Bakersfield, according to the transistor radio in Johnny's office, was without power.  Additionally the weather was manifesting itself in the mountains as a heavy snowstorm, blocking even the interstate traffic and stranding motorists on both sides of the passes.  And now the mess was settling on L.A.

Johnny thought anxiously of J.R.  He knew that 15's would be just as busy on this night as 51's and his son was still a probie, still inexperienced with California mudslides and the mountainous terrain that could turn small streams into raging rivers in a short period of time.  J.R. grew up in Kansas City where the climate and terrain were very different from L.A.  He knew that 15's captain would keep an eye on his son, but that didn't stop him from worrying.

Roy is out there in this mess too, he thought.  I wonder what kind of responses 99's are getting tonight?  Wish I was still there to watch his back...and vice versa.  Guess we'll really have some stories to swap----all three of us---- after this shift.

Just then the tones sounded again and the weary firefighters of 51's hustled to the engine.  The squad was called out separately a few minutes earlier to a possible heart attack and the engine was responding with Station 15.  A mudslide on a mountain road had carried a car down the side of the hill in a sea of slippery ooze and debris.

As Engine 51 arrived on the scene, 15's paramedics, Winston and Crawford, were halfway down the hill, slipping and sliding, only their lights visible from above, as J.R. and one of his shiftmates Kyle "Farms" Farmer, held their lines.  15's Captain Riley was the incident commander and Gage went over to confer with him.  For now 51's was going to be back-up manpower, helping to bring men and equipment up the slope.

There were three victims in the car, a woman and two children, all apparently injured.  The call was put in by a motorist behind them that watched in horror as the car was swept from the road.  The motorist turned back the way he came and headed for the nearest phone, giving in to his terrified reaction after notifying the fire department.

Frequent lightning, crashing thunder and driving rain all hampered the rescue efforts.  As a precaution, Riley called for an additional squad.  Having just reported in as available, Squad 51 was called to assist and responded from Rampart.  There was going to be a delay on the ambulance of 30 minutes----none were yet available.

Cap Gage noticed that the wind was picking up as well, howling through the trees and blowing the rain into their faces.  If there was more miserable weather for a rescue, he didn't know what it could be.

Over the HT Winston bellowed for the stokes and the splint box.  Already attached to a rope in anticipation of the request, the stokes was loaded and sent down on a line.  Halfway down the slope it caught on a small bush and refused to budge.  With a muttered imprecation, Captain Riley motioned for J.R., the lightest of his crew, to belt up and go down the hill to free it.  Del Nichols, 15's engineer, took J.R.'s place at the ropes.

Acknowledging with a nod, J.R. ran to get a lifebelt while, at Johnny's prompting, Rudy Taylor tied off a lifeline for J.R. to the front of Engine 51.  Belted up and struggling to put on his gloves J.R. spared a second to glance at his father before stepping over the twisted guardrail and rappelling down the side of the hill.  Rudy held the rope tightly as FF J.R. Gage slipped and slid on the way down, moving as rapidly as possible to free the stokes. 

J.R. reached the stokes and sent it on its way down to Winston and Crawford before beginning to return to the top.  Just as he began his ascent, he felt the ground turn to water beneath him and stepped off to the side as a stream of mud took part of the hillside with it where he had been standing.  As his new foothold too began to give way, the young firefighter hopped back to the left of the growing stream of mud and water where there appeared to be more sure footing.

As J.R. moved to the right, his rope slid along the guardrail and moved across a portion of torn and twisted railing.  J.R.'s weight on the rope pulled it tight across the jagged metal.  As he moved back to the left, the seesaw effect of the rope on the sharp fragments was enough to sever the line.  With a startled gasp the young probie felt himself become one with the slippery stream of mud making its way rapidly down the mountain.

Johnny watched in mute horror as the rope severed and his young son slid helplessly down the slope.  Rudy Taylor dove in a futile attempt to grasp the severed end of the lifeline as it slithered rapidly away from him into the darkness below.  At his side he heard his captain give a strangled cry.

"NO-O-O-O!   J.R.!  Somebody catch him...oh no...no.  Not my son...NO!" 

Strong arms restrained John Gage as he made to step over the railing and go after the fallen young man.  He looked wildly at Captain Riley and Marco Lopez as they held him in an iron grip.
Dwyer and Manley were helping Rudy Taylor back up the slope from his headfirst dive after the rope's end.

After ascertaining that Taylor had no serious injuries, they ran to get lifebelts and ropes, determined to rappel down as far as it took to reach and recover J.R. Gage.

"Don't worry, Cap, we'll get your boy!" Dwyer reassured Johnny with a firm squeeze on his shoulder.

Unable to hide his anguish, Johnny looked at Dwyer and said desperately, "Bring him back to me, Charlie, he's all I've got."  All the times he had rescued other people's kids, tried to calm hysterical mothers and frantic fathers, never meant much more than simple compassion to John Gage...until now, until he was experiencing the nightmare from a parent's side of the rescue. 

Johnny always seemed to have a magic touch with calming the victim, but Roy was better at dealing with the families.  Now he understood why...Roy could put himself in their place.  Now Johnny could too.  Not that he took the time to analyze this newfound understanding, or realize that he had changed in some way.  It was just a fleeting flash of comprehension.  For the first time, Johnny was a worried parent.

Lightning and thunder alternated with the flashing light and siren from the ambulance, just arrived, to create a surreal nightmare scene.  The wind increased and drove the rain into the rescuers buffeting them where they stood and robbing them of breath.

Winston and Crawford were struggling to extricate the second victim, another child.  The first had a broken arm and multiple lacerations and contusions.  The second child was in worse shape.  He was unconscious.  Breathing was shallow and labored, probable concussion, probable internal injuries, possible spinal injury. 

With a shake of his head, Crawford indicated there was no need to hurry with the third victim.
Winston informed Rampart that victim three was DOA and proceeded to give vitals on the second victim.

The stokes finally made its way down to them and they reached to secure the first victim for his ride up the hill when a screaming figure plunged past them in a sea of mud, broken branches and stones.  It barely had time to register that this was J.R. Gage before he disappeared from sight.

Winston picked up the HT and requested to go after the probie.  Cap Riley, his hands full with a distraught Johnny Gage, told Lopez to answer Winston in the negative.  A rescue would be underway shortly from the top.  Winston and Crawford should stay with their victims and continue treatment.

Lopez and Riley released Johnny.   Marco then joined Rudy Taylor to hold the ropes for Dwyer and Manley.

Charlie Dwyer and Greg Manley double-checked their lines and belts before donning gloves and stepping determinedly over the guardrail.  As 51's paramedics descended, Konnitsky and Nichols hauled up the stokes containing the first victim, a little girl, from the car accident as the ambulance crew prepared to transfer the victim to the gurney.

Captain Riley called over to Johnny to help with the victims as they reached the top.
He wanted to tell Gage to sit this one out, but there just wasn't enough help available as it was.

Johnny tried desperately to keep his hands from shaking.  There wasn't time to give in to his emotions now.  He had to concentrate, however hard that might be, on doing his job and trusting the paramedics to find his son and bring him back.  He remembered the look J.R. shot him just before he went after the stokes.  It was brief but it held a cocky 'don't worry about me' attitude.

I can't lose him, I can't.  He's my son.  God, you've got to give him back to me.  I need him.  Oh...please...please... Johnny pled silently as he struggled to tuck the blanket in around the child on the gurney.  Tears ran hot and fast down his face before falling from a trembling chin.  Loosening his chinstrap, Johnny wiped his face with a handkerchief before turning back to gaze down the mountain.  He choked back a sob and prepared to send the stokes back down.

Winston called for a backboard and Konnitsky ran to fetch it from the squad to send it back down with the stokes.  Just then a violent gust of wind simultaneously whipped the helmet from Johnny's head and ripped the backboard from Konnitsky's grasp.  Whirling through the air like a demented Frisbee, the backboard glanced off the back of Gage's now unprotected head before flying off into the darkness.  Without a sound, John Gage crumpled to the ground.

Dave Konnitsky ran to his downed captain and screamed for help.  Captain Riley ran over to find out what had happened now.

Would this nightmare never end?  Riley wondered in anger and frustration.  "L.A. Engine 15, we have a Code I times two.  We need a second ambulance dispatched to our location."

"10-4 Engine 15...Engine 15 be advised there is a 45-minute delay on a second ambulance."

"Dammit" Riley muttered before responding, "Engine 15, 10-4"

Konnitsky left his captain with Riley and retrieved the backboard from Squad 51's rear compartment.  Strapping the backboard into the stokes he sent it back down the hill to where 15's paramedics were waiting impatiently.

"HT-15, this is Engine 15, we have a man down up here.  Is it possible for one of you to come back up with the stokes?"

"Engine 15, HT-15 10-4, Crawford will be up with the stokes.  Our third victim is a Code-F"

"10-4 HT-15"  Riley turned to look at Lopez and Taylor who were manning the ropes on Dwyer and Manley carefully keeping them away from the sharp edges of metal that severed J.R.'s lifeline. 

"HT-51, this is Engine 15, what is your situation?"

Dwyer's voice came back broken and mingled with the screeching and howling of the wind.  "Engine 15...HT-51 we...no success...at this time...will keep you advised...continuing the search...difficult...wind and rain..."

With a sigh Captain Riley stalked over to assist Crawford in getting the stokes over the railing and transferring the victim.  The paramedic checked both victims and then knelt down beside the unconscious Captain Gage, quickly checking his vital signs.  A careful probe of the back of Gage's head brought up a hand covered with blood and a worried look on Crawford's face.

"Cap, I have to go into Rampart with the first two victims.  They need to get outta here ASAP and can't go unattended.  Plus we can't tie up the ambulance here any longer.  Captain Gage is gonna need treatment like yesterday too.  You need to tell Winston to get his tail up here on the double."  Crawford was in a dilemma.  The two children were in danger of going into shock and
Captain Gage needed help desperately.  Protocol said he had to take care of the kids first.

"Okay, Pal, do what you gotta."  Riley shook his head, this was the worst case of a rescue gone bad he had ever known.  Briefly it crossed his mind that he was involved with John Gage, famous as the most injured firefighter in LA County, and his son, damned-near a carbon copy of the father.  Nah...that really can't have anything to do with it...can it?

"Winston!" Cap Riley yelled into the HT, "Get the lead out!  We need you up here now."

"On my way, Cap."  Radio protocol forgotten, Winston loaded the third victim into the stokes, piled in the remainder of the equipment and hightailed it up the hill.

****************

J.R. felt the rope break just as his feet slipped out from under him and he went plunging down the side of the mountain caught up in the growing stream of mud and water that flowed unchecked toward the rocky bottom below.  Bushes and rocks gave way as his body raked over them, giving no purchase for a handhold.  He could feel the growing number of scratches and bruises on his hands and face, his gloves torn away as he attempted to grab hold of a spindly pine sapling in passing.

He could remember seeing the silhouettes of Winston and Crawford leaning into the overturned car as he slid past them toward the dark void below and still heard the echo of his father's voice calling out after him, but was as powerless to help himself as a leaf in a hurricane.  The crazy ride seemed interminable.  His mind told him this was the end...he was bound for the bottom and death...or worse.

Suddenly the oozing mass of moving mud slowed down as the stream diverted to skirt a large boulder revealed for an instant by a brilliant flash of lightning.  In desperation J.R. managed to jerk his sliding body sideways and throw it in front of the rock.  He felt his back and shoulders slam into the solid object as he was propelled by the momentum of the stream that veered off now to his right.  When the boulder didn't move he sighed in relief and closed his eyes.

The next thought J.R. had was of being wet and cold.  Mud diverted from the slide was rapidly piling up against his body and he lifted his head carefully to keep his face clear. His feet dangled in the stream of water that was doing its best to carry the side of the mountain to the bottom.  Pain in his shoulders and back brought tears to his eyes, but he was relieved to have landed safely against the rock.

Carefully he flexed first one wrist then the other, then both ankles.  Good, everything still moves, he thought,  guess I didn't break anything.  My shoulder hurts like hell, but it was probably bruised from impact with the boulder.  My hands sting too, but I couldn't see the damage with all the mud covering them even if it wasn't dark.  An annoying trickle of warm liquid snaked down the side of his face and dripped off his chin.  It's probably blood, he figured, but it's more irritating than painful.

I wonder how long I'll have to wait for help to come.  Trying to climb back up that hill alone is not an option.  I hope they're looking for me by now.  I shouldn't be hard to find...just follow the path of everything else sliding down this mountain.  He shivered uncontrollably as the stream of cold muddy water continued to soak his feet and the rain pelted mercilessly on his face.

Dwyer and Manley held tightly to their flashlights with one hand and the lifelines with the other.  The driving wind and pelting rain made the search difficult and exhausting, but they were determined to continue until they found their captain's son.  That he was a fellow firefighter and still a young probie just added to their urgency.

Manley panned his powerful flashlight on the slope behind him and stopped as the light revealed a large boulder perched on the edge of a precipice.  It looked like a heap of mud was piled up against the front of the rock, but the heap was moving in a most un-heaplike manner.  With a shout to Dwyer, Manley flashed his light at the boulder and was rewarded to see a muddy hand raise up in greeting. 

When they reached J.R.'s side they checked the shaking young firefighter for a back or neck injury, relieved when there was none.  Getting a stokes all the way down here would be difficult in the extreme. 

"Engine 15, HT-51, we've found him.  We are putting a belt on him now and will be bringing him up shortly," Charlie Dwyer informed the relieved group of firefighters now gathered anxiously for news at the top of the hill.

"Hey, Junior, you ok?" Dwyer asked.

"D-d-don't...c-c-call...m-me...J-Junior," J.R. responded, his teeth chattering, chin quivering with cold beneath the mud that caked his face. 

Dwyer wondered vaguely whether he would prefer the title "Swamp Thing".  He smiled inwardly at the joke as he cleared away as much of the mud as he could and fastened the safety belt around J.R.'s mid section.

"10-4 HT-51 say the word and we'll start hauling you up.  Do you need a stokes or any equipment?"

"Negative on the stokes and equipment, but have blankets ready, he's hypothermic.  We're gonna put him on the line with Manley." 

"10-4"

Dwyer rubbed a weary hand across his face before hooking J.R. up to Manley's belt and slipping his gloves back on. 

"This is HT-51, we're ready to start back up."

Slipping a hand around J.R.'s shoulders Charlie helped lift him to his feet and they started the weary trek back up the side of the hill, half supporting, sometimes half carrying the young fireman. 

When they reached the top, the firefighter and the two paramedics collapsed on the ground as their crewmates unhooked them from the ropes and belts.  In the distance they could hear the faint sound of a siren growing louder as the ambulance approached.  Captain Riley was anxious to get the two Gages on their way to Rampart before anything else happened.

Over by Squad 15 a worried Walt Winston rechecked the vitals on John Gage.  There was a probable concussion but he managed to stop the bleeding and immobilize the man.  He was worried though that Cap Gage had not yet regained consciousness.  Using 51's biophone Winston contacted Rampart and advised them about the two victims that would be on their way in a matter of minutes.

"Hey, Dwyer," Winston called, "could you get the vitals on J.R. so I can call them in to Rampart?  I have your biophone."

Dwyer looked curiously at Winston then shrugged and made his way over to the squad to get the drug box.  Noticing it was missing from the side compartment, he looked again at Winston who was holding out the stethoscope.  Then he looked at Winston's patient.

"Geez, Cap!  What happened?"  Dwyer questioned.

At Dwyer's startled exclamation J.R. sat up in alarm, suddenly aware that his father was not part of the group that awaited him at the top of the hill.  He looked in the direction of Winston's voice and stood shakily, spotting his father's unconscious form on the emergency blanket beside Squad 15.  Manley helped the young man to sit down beside his father and wrapped him in a blanket while they took his vitals and relayed the information to Rampart.  J.R. intently watched Johnny's white still face, his eyes never leaving it for a moment.

Both with a man down, the two engine companies packed up their gear and headed home, temporarily out of service.  Dwyer elected to ride with the two Gages so Winston could drive Squad 15 to Rampart and pick up Crawford.

Cap Gage started to come around in the ambulance on the way to Rampart.  He blinked, trying to focus, first spotting Charlie Dwyer before his eyes caught sight of J.R. on the gurney across from him.  Twin expressions of relief appeared on the faces of father and son as each was reassured of the safety of the other.

"Thank...thank you, Charlie," Johnny said to Dwyer, never more serious in his life.

****************

It was a little after midnight when Dr. Early came out of the glass-enclosed base station to encounter a very frazzled-looking ER head nurse.  Not that Joe would ever tell Dix she was frazzled looking---he liked breathing just fine. 

"Well," said Joe Early, "this is a first."

Not in the mood for riddles after a difficult evening that promised to become a hectic night, Dixie just looked at him with raised eyebrows.

"We're going to treat John Gage twice."

Dixie's eyes widened in comprehension.  "They both got hurt?  At the same time?  On the same call?"

Just then, as if conjured up by Joe Early's words, two gurneys were wheeling down the hall with a Gage on either one.  Dwyer was hurrying along beside J.R., Winston and Manley following at a distance.  None of the paramedics looked overly concerned and Dixie smiled in relief.  The injuries weren't too bad, then.  Crawford joined them a few minutes later to get the latest information on how and where they found J.R.

"Put the old guy in Treatment Four..." Dixie instructed the attendants.

"Hey!"  Johnny raised his head indignantly, glaring at Dixie as his gurney was wheeled into the treatment room.

"...and Junior here in Five," she said pointing across the hall.

"Don't call me..."   The door to the treatment room closed before J.R. could finish his sentence.

Kelly Brackett gave Dixie a half-smile before he beckoned her to follow him into the room where J.R. lay.  One look at his patient and he winced.  Cleaning and stitching up the many cuts on his face and hands would be unpleasant and painful for the kid.

Joe Early entered Treatment Four shaking his head in amusement.  Dixie always knew how to push Gage's buttons.

***************
Roy sighed in relief as hot water cascaded over his tired shoulders.  About midnight the calls tapered off enough to allow his men to shower and change into dry uniforms.  There was a constant stream of firefighters to and from the coffeepot in an attempt to get warm and stay alert.  On a night like this, sleeping wasn't an option.

"Cap," Peters leaned into the latrine.

"What?" Roy yelled over the sound of the shower spray, unwilling as of yet to turn off its comforting warmth.

"Phone call.  It's your wife."

Roy quickly turned off the shower and grabbed at towel.  Joanne never called him at work unless it was important---she always waited for his usual call.  But it was nearly 1:00 A.M., what was she even doing up?

"Jo?"  the worry was evident in his voice.

"Hi, Honey."  He relaxed.  Joanne wasn't panicked.  "Rampart just called---actually Dixie.  Johnny and J.R. were brought into the ER a little while ago."

"Both of them?" Roy questioned, incredulous.  "What happened?"

"Well, Dixie sounded pretty tired and didn't go into detail, but you know she promised to call us..."

"...whenever Johnny gets hurt," Roy finished the sentence for her.  He remembered the memo taped to the base station desk with just those instructions.  The same memo that was responsible for Johnny's first meeting with J.R.  "It looks like we'll be getting twice as many calls now," he muttered.

His wife chuckled, "Dixie did say it wasn't too serious.  Johnny has a mild concussion and J.R. some cuts and bruises."

"I guess I'll check on them in the morning when I get off shift then," Roy decided.  "You and the kids okay?"

"Yes, we're fine.  Chris was sent home from work when they closed the store.  We have flashlights and extra batteries.  The radio says the power company is putting on extra shifts to try and restore power by sometime tomorrow morning.  The storm should have passed by then."

Roy could still see the flashes of intermittent lightning and hear the roar of the wind outside.  Things were probably far from over for the night.

"So far they haven't called A-Shift in early.  Maybe the mess will ease up a bit by morning.  If it doesn't though, Jo, I can't say for sure when I'll be home."  Roy knew Joanne was fully aware of the possibility that he would have to stay over, but he always told her anyway. 

"I'll see you in the morning, Sweetheart," Jo told him, praying as always that she would.

"Bye, Jo, gotta go," Roy said hurriedly.  His wife could hear the sound of the klaxon in the background as the phone clicked on the cradle.  She always cringed when she heard the call-out tones over the telephone.  At the end of a telephone conversation with Roy at work, she could always imagine him and the others watching TV or snacking in the kitchen after she hung up.  When the tones went off, she knew they were being called into possible danger.  It was hard to go to sleep after that.

*******************

"Where's J.R.?" Johnny inquired after his son as Dr. Early turned his head and gently probed  the gash on the back.  He instructed the assisting nurse to call for a portable x-ray, full skull series, before replying to the patient. 

"He's across the hall," Joe Early answered.  "We've arranged for the two of you to be roommates."  On a milder scale, Dr. Early enjoyed teasing Johnny just as much as Chet Kelly had.  Johnny was one of his favorite people, and he invariably amused the surgeon.

"Aw, c'mon, Doc, I just got a little bump on the head..."

"Which left you unconscious for almost an hour," Joe finished for him.  "And that means..."

"I know, the Rampart Hotel.  Geez!  I know the drill.  I even know what's happening to J.R. right now."

"You do?"   Dr. Early raised his eyebrows and waited for Johnny to continue.

"Yep.  Bracket is looking at J.R.'s hands right...about...now."

"Are you sure?"  Early looked skeptical as he carefully cleaned and examined the gash.  Johnny flinched before continuing.

"Yep, and he's asking J.R. when his last tetanus shot was right...about...now."

"You can't know that, Johnny."

"Wait a minute...wait a minute," Johnny held up his hand.  "Dixie's giving him a tetanus shot right...about..."

"OW!"   J.R.'s cry echoed from across the hall.

"...now."  Johnny finished.

"You do know the drill,"  Joe said, amazed.

Johnny giggled.  "Uh huh!"

"Then you also know you're going to get stitches in the back of your head, right?"  Dr. Early chuckled at having the last word as Johnny's mouth dropped open and closed again emitting nothing more than a groan.

****************

When Roy arrived at Rampart after shift change, he was a bit surprised to find Joanne already there laughing and chatting with Johnny.  Some giggling from the other side of the room drew his attention to the sight of his daughter sitting beside the other bed holding an animated, albeit rather one-sided conversation with Johnny's son.

J.R.'s eyes were slightly glazed, his grin a little more lopsided than usual as he listened to Jennifer's chatter.  He only flinched a little when she patted his hand for emphasis.  Roy figured the boy was very longsuffering if the wounds on his bandaged hands were anywhere near as painful as the bruises and lacerations on his face appeared to be.

Johnny was watching the two as well and winced in sympathy for J.R. before looking at Roy and mouthing the word "Morphine", explaining J.R.'s lack of reaction.  Roy stifled a laugh and turned his attention back to his former partner just as a very weary Dixie McCall entered the room.

"So, are you here to spring these two?" she asked.

"When are they going to be released?" Roy asked.  He was anxious to get home and get some sleep.  If Johnny was seriously injured, no amount of fatigue would keep his friend away, but just now 99's captain was struggling to keep from yawning.

"Drs. Brackett and Early told me to empty these beds as soon as possible---we need them for the sick and injured.  These two goldbrickers have to go."

After explaining to Johnny how to care for J.R.'s hands and facial lacerations, Dixie said, "Here are your walking papers, gentlemen.  And now my body is crying out for a hot bath and a warm bed."  With a tired smile, Dixie blew each of her patients a kiss and wiggled her fingers at them as a goodbye wave.  At a signal from the nurse, two wheelchairs were brought into the room, awaiting J.R. and Johnny.

Roy shepherded Joanne and Jennifer into the hall, allowing the Gages to dress in privacy.  Johnny got up carefully, mindful of the team of little men with jackhammers that were doing a number on his brain.  After dressing in slow motion, he walked over to where J.R. was standing looking helplessly from the clothing in the closet by his bed to the bandages protecting his sore stiff hands.

Johnny chuckled, and then regretted it.  "Lay back, Junior," he said with an evil grin, "and Daddy will help you get dressed."

Trying unsuccessfully to retrieve his clothing from the closet, J.R. muttered some colorful language at the pain it caused before surrendering with bad grace to Johnny's assistance. 

"Don't call me Junior!" he said in exasperation before taking a seat in the indicated wheelchair.
"I hate that."

"Might as well get used to it," Johnny chuckled, "I did."

****************

On the way to the ranch they stopped by way of Station 51 where Roy stopped in to assure everyone that both Gage's would be fine and pick up Johnny's Rover.  When he got home, Johnny groaned in dismay at the havoc wreaked by the storm.  Roy and Joanne assured Johnny they would be back the next day to help clean up the mess and repair the damage.  For now, though, they all needed some sleep.

It took Johnny most of his day off to repair the storm damage to his ranch with the assistance of the DeSotos.  Roy and Chris helped replace the hinges on the barn door, twisted beyond salvage, and some shingles on the roof of both the house and barn.  Bits of trash covered the yard blown in from everywhere and had to be raked up. 

Jennifer and Joanne fixed lunch and kept J.R. company as he fidgeted, feeling guilty about not being more useful.  His hands were still sore and stiff from the many cuts and bruises and his face looked like he came off second against the champ.  He would be off work for another shift at least.  Jennifer, though, was lavishing enough sympathy and attention on him to make the injuries rather bearable...that and some heavy-duty painkillers. 

The next day Johnny came home from work, his shirt soaking wet from a water bomb in his locker.  J.R., his hands still bandaged, was waiting for him on the porch shaking his head and trying to keep the amusement out of his eyes.  He knew his dad was frustrated by the stupid jokes that were played on him every shift...and more frustrated that he still had no clue who was doing it.  Threats, pleas and careful observation of his crew revealed no answers to the mystery...and the pranks continued unchecked.

Back at Station 51 A-Shift prepared to do housekeeping chores and start their workday.  With a soft smile, the engineer slipped into the locker room and re-loaded the water bomb in Johnny's locker.  Gage was a slow learner, Mike Stoker reflected.



THE END

**********************

Author's comments: During our honeymoon in 1982, my husband and I were caught up in a three-day storm that battered most of northern and eastern California.  As we drove from north to south, we ran into snow at Yosemite and rain the rest of the way to Los Angeles.  The storm was so powerful that there were scattered power outages all the way from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles.  Mudslides closed many roads, including portions of the Pacific Coast Highway.  En route to Los Angeles, we had reservations at a hotel in Bakersfield.  As we exited the freeway, the entire city of Bakersfield seemed to disappear as if someone with a giant switch turned off the lights.  It was a memorable experience.  Although the storm never quite caused the damage in Southern California that it did upstate, for the purposes of this story, I changed the year and extended the storm to L.A.


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