Chapter 4

Johnny woke keeping his eyes closed. He was terrified that he was still tied up in the cellar. First he drew in a deep breath. The smell of antiseptics then coffee reached his nose. No choking stench. A warm hand touched his arm.

"Hey, John, you waking up?" Cap's voice asked. Slowly he slit his eyes open. Light. There was a lot of light. The cellar had been pretty dark with only the light coming in from around the door. So he chanced it and opened his eyes all the way.

He was in a hospital room. He ran his eyes over the too-familiar walls with their reprints and various charts. TV. Door to the bathroom.

And Captain Stanley sitting quietly at his side letting him get used to freedom.

"Cap?" he rasped. Hank stood up and offered him a straw. He gratefully sipped at the cool water.

"Glad to see you awake, pal," the older man said. "You've been asleep a long time, over 12 hours. Dr. Brackett was pretty upset with Early for giving you the diazepam." Johnny tried to remember that, at least getting the shot, but he only found a void. He somewhat recalled being in the ER room and all the guys visiting him. And Roy.

"Roy?" he asked huskily. "He was here."

"Just sent him home. He came in with you and he was pretty tired," Hank explained. "He said you woke up for a little while after 3am. Drank some broth and then fell back asleep." He didn't mention the bad dreams that had plagued the poor man. If he didn't recall them then Hank wouldn't remind him!

Johnny reached out remembering a warm hand anchoring him. Not missing a beat Hank put his hand into his paramedic's hand allowing him to hold on.

"Brackett said you could try eating something," Cap continued. Gage's stomach had the audacity to growl at the thought causing Hank to chuckle. He pressed the nurse's button.

"May I help you?" a voice called from the speaker.

"Yes, Mr. Gage is awake," Stanley reported. "Would you please warm up that dish I left with you and bring it in?"

"I'll bring it down when it's warm," the voice brightened considerably. "I'll also leave a message for Dr. Brackett."

"Thank you!" Hank returned. "Emily made you oatmeal and sent your favorite toppings." This earned him a smile.

"Let's get you sitting up a bit," Cap pressed the controls to raise Johnny's head up. He then stood up and began fussing with covers and IV lines getting the younger man ready to have some breakfast.

"Good morning Mr. Gage," the nurse said as she came in carrying a tray. "Mr. Stanley." She set it on the rolling table and moved it over Johnny's lap. Hank opened a sack and pulled out a container with dried fruit and another with brown sugar. He sprinkled both on top and stirred it into the thick oatmeal.

Johnny looked on with some interest. Emily's oatmeal was always good and it was associated with only safe, pleasant memories. He attempted to reach for the spoon only to realize his arms still hurt from being bound and his hand was shaking too hard even for something as sticky as oatmeal. The spoon fell onto the tray.

Without comment Hank picked up the spoon and scooped up some oatmeal. Gage hesitantly opened his mouth and accepted the bite. His stomach growled as it tackled the food being sent to it. Cap offered juice every other bite. They'd gone through most of the bowl when Dr. Brackett entered the room.

Instead of hurrying over to check on his patient, Kel held back and watched the two men. The trust between them plainly showed as they tackled the food and drink. The normally independent paramedic easily acquiesced to the paternal help the older man offered.

"Good to see your appetite is coming back, Johnny," he smiled as he crossed the room. More importantly, the patient did not look embarrassed in the least to have another person come into the room. He grinned at the doctor then turned for another bite.

"Don't think you'll be able to touch him 'til he gets the bowl licked clean, Doc," Hank remarked as he began scraping at the sides. Now a faint blush lightly painted Johnny's cheeks... but he took the last bite anyway! With a chuckle Kel put his hand on his patient's shoulder.

"It's ok, Johnny," he said warmly. "You've got a lot of eating to catch up on. I don't think you'll be lacking for food." Another voice came from the doorway.

"Kelly Brackett, stop teasing the patient!" Dixie said sternly as she entered the room carrying a covered plate. This was set on the rolling table and the cover lifted. The smell of warm nutmeg and pumpkin filled the room.

"Muffins and cream cheese," she said with a smile. Johnny looked interested, but didn't reach out.

"Think I'll have ta wait a little, Dix," he said.

"That's a good idea," Kel slipped in. "Let the oatmeal settle. Time to take a look at you." The table was moved and the covers pulled down as both the nurse and doctor began examining their patient.

Cap used the time to clean up and make a couple phone calls. Then to the cafeteria for coffee. He also grabbed some snack food he knew his paramedic enjoyed.

Over the next two days Johnny's strength returned, although he'd been put on heavy duty antibiotics as his body decided it didn't like the treatment it had received. At least he was sleeping better and wasn't waking afraid to open his eyes. Brackett and Early decided to keep him in the hospital a couple more days to monitor his kidneys. They were a bit sluggish in processing and some edema built up in his lower legs.

"Hey Johnny," the bed-bound paramedic looked up and smiled.

"Hey, Mike, good to see you!" he said happily shutting off the TV.

"Thought you'd be up for company," the engineer said as he set a couple of bags down on the floor. He fished out a large milkshake and french fries.

"Thanks, pally," Gage said as he accepted the milkshake. "But I'd better pass on the fries, I can't have a lot of salt."

"More for me!" Mike grinned as he started in on the deep fried treat. He removed a large soda for himself. From the second bag he pulled out a checker set and a deck of cards. Johnny set up the checkers and soon the men were chatting about the station and the latest the Phantom had been up to.

"Hey!" Chet's voice came in from the doorway. "No fair discussing the Phantom when I can't defend my... him!" He pretended to glare as he and Marco entered the room.

"Better get yourself chairs," Mike motioned with his head. Chet slipped back out allowing Marco to set a bag on the floor beside the bed.

"Momma heard you couldn't have a lot of sodium so she made you some home made chicken soup, no salt," he said as he pulled out two large thermoses and a wide-mouthed mug.

"Wow! Doc was right when he told me I'd be well fed!" Johnny exclaimed as he waited for his latest treat. The rich smell of sage-chicken filled the room. As he sipped his friends settled in chairs, Mike putting away the checker board.

"You hear that 36 got hit again last night?" Chet mentioned as they watched their paramedic working on the short noodles and carrots.

"No," slurped Johnny, causing Marco and Mike to snicker.

"Yep," the Irish fireman ignored the messy eating for the time being. "Walked in while the entire crew was there, had two guns this time."

"Brice was furious," Marco added. "Second time for him."

"I can't believe how brazen they are," Mike said quietly.

"These are the same two guys?" Gage asked incredulous.

"Yeah, can you believe it?" responded Marco.

"I know I can't!" a voice came from the door. Officer Vince Howard walked in. "Hi Johnny! You're looking great!"

"Vince! Good to see you," Johnny replied as he shook the man's hand. He then shook all the other's hands. Chet found another chair in the hall, receiving a few raised eyebrows from the nurses.

"I hear the 36s were hit again last night," Marco restated the ongoing conversation.

"Yep, thanks Chet," Vince agreed as he sat down. "The same two guys from reports. Brice recognized 'em anyway."

"Let me get this straight, the two guys that snagged me have hit the 36s and the 48s?" Johnny asked, his face reflected concern.

"Yes, now that you mention it," Vince said. "The same two have hit all three stations."

"Multiple times, for the 36s and the 48s," Gage continued. "Why don't they put a couple plains clothes cops at the 48s and our station? Seems to me they really like the 36s, but they hit either us or the 48s on alternate nights."

"Good grief, Gage," Chet said, "maybe your brains aren't that addled."

"I'd hope the detectives assigned have thought of that," said Vince, "but I'll mention it when I report in." They chatted a few more minutes then the officer had to return to duty. He did stop to phone in Gage's idea before he hit the road.

The guys stuck around several hours, playing cards and laughing a lot. When Gage drifted off they'd kept on playing and talking, softer, until Roy showed up with some dinner.

After two more days Brackett allowed Gage to go home with the DeSotos. He needed to keep hydrating himself and cut back on sodium; his kidney function had returned to normal but needed monitoring.

With Roy at work finishing up a 48, Joanne enjoyed having another adult to talk with in the house. She loved her kids, but some days she only spoke with two kids under 8. Plus Johnny had no problem playing with Jenny during the morning and Chris when he came home from school. This freed her to get her many tasks and projects done.

When Chris arrived home he kissed his mom and immediately went off to find his uncle. Since she was cutting and organizing coupons in the kitchen Joanne didn't follow him. She listened to her son's excited voice for awhile, not really hearing what was being said.

A good thirty minutes had passed when she realized how quiet it had become. Really quiet for two under 8s and a twenty-something that acted 8. Being a mom she was well aware of the mischief her two kids could get into. Joanne just wasn't certain the extent of mischief one John Gage could get into...

She silently walked down the short hall and looked into the front room. The tv was off and Chris seemed to be sitting on something on the couch.

"Chris?" she began only to be shushed by her son. She continued further into the room and was treated to the sight of the paramedic curled up on the couch with Jenny tucked in his arms under his chin, both fast asleep. Her son was sitting mostly on Johnny's backside and leaning against the sofa reading a school book.

"He finally fell asleep," Chris reported. "Jenny said they played all morning." Joanne had to agree, the little girl had him wrapped around her finger. They had been going full tilt for quite a while.

"Are you ok there?" she asked.

"I need to go do homework," he said "but I didn't want to move." With a smile she reached down and picked him up, setting him on the floor. Then the flannel blanket came off the back of the couch and settled over the two sleepers.

For the next hour mother and son worked at the table in companionable quiet on their projects. Jenny wandered in and climbed up on her mom's lap.

"Uncle Johnny sure is tired," she yawned.

"Let's give him another hour before we wake him up," Joanne suggested. "He can't go outside today so maybe you two should go play before dinner." This was agreed to and the children went out into the back yard.

Johnny wandered into the kitchen just about an hour later, his hair touseled, wiping sleep from his eyes. With a small grin Joanne filled a mug with coffee and set it down at the table for him. With an inelegant grunt he sat down and cradled the hot drink in his hands.

Joanne wisely said nothing until the caffeine had hit the bloodstream.

"Thanks," Johnny said as he breathed in the steam and began sipping. It took a few minutes for everything to come together.

"I can't believe how tired I am!" he grumbled. "At least Brackett is letting me have coffee again."

"You are allowed to be tired, silly," Joanne was putting all the coupons away and tossing the scraps into the trash. "Especially since you spent the morning with Jenny. She's hard to keep up with!"

"Yeah," he sighed. "She was pretty active." He watched as she started gathering things to prepare for dinner.

"I'll cut up the vegetables," Johnny offered. "Mike and Marco say I'm the best sous chef at the 51s." Joanne snickered.

"Best sous chef?" she chortled. "Do you even know what a sous chef is?" Gage straightened up, pulling his shoulders back.

"A sous chef assists the chef in the kitchen," he said, looking affronted. "I have personally assisted Marco prepare his varied dishes from three pepper casserole to tacos and I have assisted Mike in his spaghetti sauce preparations. I come with the highest recommendations." Joanne tooled her face.

"Well, then, sir," she said with a faint curtsey, "do me the favor of dicing this onion and mincing three cloves of garlic."

The next 45 minutes were spent slicing, dicing, sauteing and combining fresh ingredients for dinner. Johnny kept affecting a high, feminine voice reminiscent of Julia Childs as he diced and sliced various veggies for Joanne. She had a hard time not laughing. Which is how Chris and Jenny found them, he waxing eloquently on the virtues of thick sliced zucchini versus thin slices, their mother valiantly trying to act superior to her sous chef.

After dinner and clean-up, (Johnny insisted they all help), the children dragged their uncle into the front room to play games. First a spirited round of Memory™ then a two games of Uno™, (Joanne teamed with Jenny for Uno™).

Roy called just before bedtime. He first listened to Chris telling him all about his day including beating Uncle Johnny at both evening games. Then Jenny began her spirited, fast-paced, recitation of the day.

"Uncle Johnny played with me all morning! We had a tea party and we played dress up and we moved all the furniture in my doll house," she didn't seem to breathe as she ploughed ahead. "Then Chris came home and he was sooo good! Uncle Johnny napped for the longest time! Then we went out to play but Un'le Johnny stayed on the couch but then he woke up and went and helped mommy in the kitchen and we ate dinner and then we played lots of games!"

"That's wonderful honey, could you..." Roy tried breaking in.

"So I had lots of time to play with Uncle Johnny and Chris got to play lots with Uncle Johnny. And 'cause Un'le Johnny was good and took a nap Mommy can play with Uncle Johnny when we go to bed!" Jenny said triumphantly.

First, there was an outburst of laughter from all of the adults listening in. Then a blush painted both Johnny and Joanne's faces. Both Chris and Jenny wondered what was funny.

"I am glad that Mommy gets time to play with Uncle Johnny tonight," Roy said carefully. "Can I talk with Mommy now?"

"Ok, Daddy!" the happy child passed the phone to her Mom.

"I'll just get the kids into bed!" Johnny said quickly and started hustling them to the bathroom.

"Chicken!" Joanne hissed.

"Bwu-wack!" Johnny returned as he high-tailed it out of the room. Roy had to laugh once more.

"So, sweetie," he said tartly, "What games do you plan to play with Uncle Johnny?"

"Hmm, I guess hide the sausage is out?" she considered. This cause Roy to laugh again.

"Yes, the sausage game is out," he replied. He knew his wife and best friend would do nothing like that, but it certainly was fun to joke about.

Until he heard the gasp behind him and caught a glimpse of Chet ducking out of the room. With a groan he leaned against the desk. He knew the conversation would be retold to all of the crew.

"Is there something wrong, honey?" Joanne asked.

"Just Chet," he replied. "Sneaking around and listening in to private conversations." Joanne let out a sigh.

"I'd hit him if I were there," she said grumpily.

"I just might if he gets too crazy," her husband responded. "Hey, I need to go, I have clean-up."

"Ok, keep safe!" she said. "I love you!"

"Love you too," Roy responded warmly. "I'll see you in the morning."

The kids tucked into bed Johnny settled into Roy's lounger after he turned on the TV. Joanne quickly entered the room and turned the channel. The paramedic looked up slightly miffed, but said nothing as it wasn't his house.

"The Dean Martin show is on!" she exclaimed as she dropped down onto the couch. Now Johnny smiled. Roy had told him she was totally hooked on the singer and his Thursday night show.

It was funny, with skits and singing. Martin made several mistakes reading cue cards then managed to get his pianist, Ken Lane to laugh at an outrageous song lyric. As the singer got ready to sing with his guests, the screen blanked and then refocused on a news reporter standing in front of a familiar-looking building.

"In breaking news the men behind the rash of drug robberies at local fire stations have been apprehended," a reporter began. Now the camera pulled back slightly to show the apparatus bay of Station 48. Johnny nearly achieved flight as he rocketed upward and scooped up the phone next to the couch. Still riveted to the screen, the young man dialed his own station.

"Station 51, Chester B. Kelly," the mustached fireman answered.

"Chet! Chet!" Johnny began excitedly.

"Oh, Johnny boy!" Chet said loudly for the benefit of the other men in the room. "Having fun playing with Joanne?"

"Chet!" the paramedic tried to get a word in edgewise, but failed. He didn't even hear the atrocious comments the man was making and hung up the phone. Lifting the receiver again he dialed an alternate number.

"Station 51, Captain Stanley," the reassuring voice washed over Gage.

"Cap! They got 'em! Turn on Channel 7!" he said with a now shaky voice.

"Mike! Turn to 7!" Hank called from the door way still holding the phone on his ear.

"Aw, man, that's just that Martin guy," Kelly groused. But his complaint died as they watched the screen. Two police officers were leading a handcuffed man past the camera who was followed by two more plain clothed officers with another prisoner.

"Hey! Those are the guys that took Johnny!" Roy exclaimed now perched on the edge of his chair.

"They hit the 48s again!" Marco chimed in.

"John? You still there?" Cap asked. He could hear his paramedic breathing but no other sound.

"Johnny?" now Hank heard Joanne in the background. "Sit down, sweetie, 'k? Give me the phone..." He could hear the rustling noises of a body being moved.

"Hello? Hank?" Joanne said over the phone.

"Is he ok, Joanne?" concern bled over the phone as the news report droned on.

"He looks a little pale," she said, "probably a little shocked seeing those men."

"Want Roy to come out and check him over?" Hank asked.

"I think he'll be ok. I'll get him a warm blanket and something hot to sip," Joanne decided. "Maybe you can talk to him while I get things together."

"I'll get Roy," Hank said. "He needs his partner right now." Soon the senior paramedic was on the line with his partner. The news break had ended and programming returned to the end of the variety show. Roy kept up a running commentary on various things, including the latest Phantom prank that failed.

When Joanne came back some color had returned to her friend's face. She wrapped the warmed quilt around him and made him snug back into the lounger. This was followed with a mug of warm hot chocolate. Johnny kept one hand on the phone while he gingerly raised the drink to his lips.

"Get something warm to drink Junior?" Roy asked as he heard the slight slurping.

"Yeah, hot chocolate," he said, "with something added to it." He wrinkled his nose trying to figure out what had been added. It tasted good, whatever it was.

"You feeling better?" Roy asked as the quiet descended once more.

"Yeah, I do," Johnny said. "Kind of a shock seeing those two again. I'm really glad they caught 'em."

"Me too," Roy agreed. "Me too!"