Gotcha!

By KathyAnn

A sequel to “Hook, Line and Sinker”

It seemed that the Land Rover dealership was doing a booming business today. Johnny had driven there directly from work to pick up the parts he had ordered for his Rover. There had been several people in front of him when he arrived, so he had taken a number and sat down to wait. This was definitely taking longer than he had anticipated; he’d already been here for an hour. He was staring at posters of Africa and Australia and daydreaming a little…

“Number 15!”

“Number 15! May I help you, sir?” a female voice with just a hint of a British accent asked.

Johnny jerked, glanced at the number on his ticket, and turned his attention to where the voice came from. A young woman with laughing green eyes, red hair peaking from under a dealership ball cap and a dazzling smile gave him a small wave. She was dressed in the dealership’s coveralls. He smiled in return and walked to the service counter.

“My name is Liz. How may I help you?” she again asked. “I recognize you,” she added with a smile. “You come in here often for parts, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do,” Johnny smiled back, turning on the “Gage Charm”. “My name is John, but my friends call me Johnny.” He remembered seeing her here on several occasions. “My Rover wasn’t in the greatest shape when I bought it used a couple of years ago, so I’m slowly going through everything.”

“Well, she looks pretty good now, in spite of all the dirt,” she added as she looked over Johnny shoulder out the large window to where Johnny had parked his Rover.

Johnny turned to follow her gaze. “I finally got all the body work completed along with the major mechanical issues. My plan is to… Oh no…”

“John… Johnny, what’s wrong?” Her concern was real and she placed her hand on his arm. 

Johnny continued to stare out the window. Finally he turned with a sigh, “Not WHAT’S wrong, but WHO’S wrong.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” Liz said sympathetically.

“Do you see that VW bus parked across the street?”

She glanced out the window again and nodded.

“That belongs to one of my crewmates. I’m a paramedic with the fire department; I work over at Station 51.”

“I know where that is; I pass it every day coming to work. Go on,” Liz encouraged.

“Well, Chet, or ‘The Phantom’, as he likes to think of himself, goes in big for practical jokes. This morning I got back at him good stringing him along with a story about a date I supposedly have tonight. Now it looks like he’s going to follow me around all day to see for himself.” Johnny leaned on the counter with a sigh.

“How can I help?”

“What?”

“How can I help?” Liz repeated with a grin. “I’m always game for a good practical joke. How can I help you with yours? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d be willing to wager that you get more that you give when it comes to these practical jokes.”

“No bet,” Johnny said glumly. “Man, I am dead! Chet is really going to nail me when we go back on shift.” Johnny held his head in both hands.

“So tell me what you told Chet.”

Johnny proceeded to explain to Liz all that he had told Chet. Liz listened intently, her eyes twinkling with amusement and a grin spreading across her face. By the end of his tale, she was laughing out loud.

“Johnny, that’s a good one!” Liz rested her hand on Johnny’s, and still smiling, stared into his eyes and said, “I think I have an idea. Let me get your parts for you and I’ll explain.”

Johnny gazed after her in amazement, a smile slowly forming on his face. Maybe, just maybe, he’d get Chet good after all.

Liz returned with several boxes of various sizes.

“Everything seems to be here except the wiper motor," Liz explained as she set the boxes on the counter.”

Johnny checked over everything and agreed. “Well, at least I can get the tune-up done. When will the wiper motor be in?”

Liz checked her paperwork. “It’s supposed to arrive on Thursday,” she replied.

“I’ll be back on shift then so I suppose I could stop by after I get off on Friday morning and pick it up,” Johnny mused.

“I’ve got a better idea. Can you get your tune-up and detailing done by 6 this evening?” Liz asked with a smile.

“That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Good! How about meeting me at that pizza place over on Main? Do you know the one I mean?”

“Yeah, sure do,” Johnny’s smile was getting bigger by the moment.

“Great!” Liz exclaimed, her smile matching Johnny’s. “I’ll explain everything then.”

Liz bagged up the boxes of parts and Johnny paid for them.

“Thanks, Liz. I’ll see you tonight.”

“You’re quite welcome, Johnny. See you tonight.”

There was a bounce in his steps as he walked to the door. He turned, smiled and waved to Liz, who smiled and waved in return. He stepped out of the door and over to his Rover. He placed the bag of parts in the back, surreptitiously observing Chet parked across the street. With an even bigger smile, he got in his Rover and drove home.

Across the street, Chet slumped down further into his seat hoping that Johnny did not see him. He had followed Johnny as he left work. Chet was doubtful about what Johnny had told him and wanted to see for himself. Waiting while Johnny was inside the dealership was boring. Chet had tried to see who Johnny had been talking to, but the glare on the large window prevented him from seeing clearly. All he could see was that Johnny waited a while to be helped and then spent quite a bit of time talking to the person behind the counter.

Chet watched Johnny pull out of the parking lot and then followed him. When he realized that Johnny was heading home, Chet figured that Johnny would be busy with his car for several hours. He drove past Johnny’s place and then drove home, smiling all the way. He would take up his surveillance later in the afternoon.

**********

“Done!” Johnny said to himself. “Now let’s see if that did the trick.”

Johnny wiped his hands on a shop rag and climbed into the driver’s seat of his Rover. He turned the key. The motor turned over immediately and settled into a smooth purr. Johnny grinned from ear to ear.

“That’s the way you’re supposed to sound,” he said patting the dash. He hopped out and went around to the front of the Rover, double checking that everything was functioning as it was intended. He gathered up all his tools and put them in the back of the Rover. Glancing at his watch, he decided to drive to the car wash now then get something to eat and a few hours rest before meeting Liz at 6:00.

**********

Johnny woke to the clanging of his alarm and silenced it quickly. Sitting on the edge of his bed, he was still groggy from only two hours of sleep. Running his fingers through his hair, he suddenly remembered what he was going to do that evening. Now wide awake, he hopped up and headed to the bathroom to get ready, a smile growing slowly across his face. He quickly showered and dressed in jeans and western shirt, then headed out the door. As he drove down the street, he noticed a certain VW bus pull out of a side street and follow him. Johnny just grinned at the sight.

Pulling into the parking lot of the pizza place, he saw Liz get out of her car -- a Rover of course -- and wave. She was still dressed in her work coveralls and carried a small tote bag. Johnny parked beside her and they went inside. Chet pulled into the parking lot just in time to see Johnny enter the restaurant. He couldn’t tell if anyone was with him or not.

Well, guess I’ll just have to wait till they come out,” Chet thought to himself.

Inside, Johnny and Liz were shown to a booth. They ordered a pizza and some soft drinks and were waiting for them to arrive when Johnny spoke up.

“Did you notice we have a shadow?” Johnny asked, nodding toward the parking lot.

“No! Is Chet still following you?

“Yeah, he followed me from my apartment. Guess his curiosity is really getting to him.”

“Well, you know what they say about curiosity…” Liz added with a grin.

The waitress arrived with their order and they each took a slice of pizza. After downing their first slice, Johnny sat back a looked at Liz. “Why are you doing this for me? Now, don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate your help, but…well…you don’t even really know me.”

Liz sat back and wiping her mouth with her napkin looked at Johnny, her eyes twinkling. “Johnny, I’ve seen you at the dealership many times. I’ve seen the way you interact with people -– you’re always kind and sincere. I figured you were one of the ‘good guys’ and I’ve wanted to get to know you but never had the chance before today to talk to you. Besides, I know you can’t be a bad guy -– you drive a Rover.” She started chuckling at Johnny’s expression. It was a mixture of astonishment and embarrassment and he was speechless -– something she thought was unusual for him.

Johnny smiled and shook his head slightly. “You sure are a surprise, Liz. I…”

Before he could say more, Liz interrupted, “We’d better eat this pizza before it gets cold and make plans for Thursday.”

Johnny agreed and for the next 40 minutes they ate and discussed “The Plan” that would be put in motion on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, out in the parking lot, Chet was getting hungry and tired of waiting. He rummaged around in his van and found some stale cookies under the seat. Munching on these, he began planning on what he would do to Johnny when he caught him in the ‘tall tale’ he had spun.

“How do we get out of here without Chet seeing you with me?” Johnny asked.

Liz gazed around the restaurant and finally waved at someone on the far side of the room. A young man stood up from a table and walked over to them.

“Johnny, this is my brother Richard. Richard, this is Johnny, the one I told you about.”

Johnny stood up and shook hands. “Nice to meet you.”

Richard smiled and returned the handshake warmly. “Liz told me about this little practical joke and I figured you both might need a little help.”

Liz slid over and Richard sat down next to her. “Here’s the plan,” he began. “I’ll leave with Liz and we’ll go to my car and drive off. You wait about 5 minutes and then you leave. We’ll circle back in about 15 minutes, and if this Chet has left, then Liz can collect her car and leave. If he hasn’t, we’ll drive around a little longer and try again”

“Sounds good. From the sound of things, you two have been into practical jokes for a while,” Johnny smiled.

“Oh we used to drive our parents and teachers up a wall with all the antics we pulled,” Liz agreed with a grin.

“Well, I sure do appreciate your help. Not sure how I can repay you, though.”

Liz smiled at Johnny. “You did mentioned taking a ride up into the mountains or the desert.”

“That is one payment I’ll be glad to make,” Johnny agreed. 

“Well, Sis, we’d better get out of here. You’d better change because if this Chet sees you in your work clothes, the jig is up.”

“I’ll just be a minute,” Liz replied as she grabbed a small duffel bag and headed for the ladies’ room.

Johnny watched her leave then turned to Richard. “She’s really something. I mean, I really appreciate all this. Thanks.” They exchanged a firm hand shake and smiles

Liz returned then dressed in jeans and a print blouse that accentuated her green eyes.

“Well, guess we’d better get this show on the road.” Liz gave Johnny a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, then laughed at his astonished look. Richard joined in the laughter. “She’s always full of surprises,” he explained.

Johnny laughed too, and then with a final wave, Liz and her brother exited the restaurant. Johnny sat at the table thinking and smiling. After the agreed-upon 5 minutes, he got up, paid for the pizza and walked out to his Rover. He could not keep the smile from his face as he glanced in Chet’s direction as he left the parking lot.

Chet sat up when he saw Johnny exit the restaurant. He watched him get in his car and leave –- alone. A smile slowly spread across his face.

“Gotcha now, Gage,” Chet said quietly to himself. He started his van and drove off following Johnny once more.

***********

The next day, Johnny did take a short drive just to make sure everything that he had fixed was working properly. Then he spent most of the day with Roy, helping him with his “Honey Do” list. He was rewarded for his efforts with a delicious meal and leftovers to take home.

Johnny was so excited on Thursday morning that he woke up early and had time to stop and pick up doughnuts for the guys before arriving at the station. He arrived just as Mike was getting out of his car.

“Morning, Mike,” Johnny greeted as he hopped out of his car.

“Morning, Johnny. What’s with you? You’re here early, with doughnuts, and grinning like a Cheshire cat.” Mike couldn’t help but smile right along with Johnny.

“It’s gonna be a great day, Mike. Just you wait and see.” 

Johnny almost bounced into the station. Mike watched him go, then followed shaking his head and smiling. ‘Better warn, Cap; Johnny’s going to try to get Chet today. Sure hope he can pull this one off.’

Johnny changed quickly then went into the day room and made a fresh pot of coffee. The guys from C-Shift were surprised to see him there so early, but didn’t rib him too much, especially since he had enough doughnuts for both shifts to enjoy.

Finally, everyone on A-Shift arrived and gathered around the table with mugs of coffee enjoying the treat -- complements of Johnny.

“Well, I hate to break up this little coffee klatch, but we have work to do.” Cap stood brushing powdered sugar from his shirt. “Roll call in five.” He turned with a smile and walked to his office. The remaining members of C-Shift said their good-byes as A-Shift continued to enjoy their coffee.

“So, Johnny, how was your ‘date’?” Chet’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Johnny looked up at Chet. “It’s none of your business, Chet.” Johnny busied himself by starting to clean up the table. Mike, Marco, and Roy stared at the two with a mixture of anticipation and dread -- anticipation of the upcoming war of words, but dreading if Johnny came out on the losing end...again.

“What’s wrong, Johnny? Did she stand you up? Did you have to eat pizza all alone?”

“She did not stand me up, Chet. And I did not… How did you know I had pizza for dinner?” Johnny was around the table and nose to nose with Chet in three long strides. “Were you following me that night?”

Chet backed up swiftly and backed right into a chair sitting down abruptly. Johnny loomed over him. Roy came quickly to Johnny’s side and placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. Johnny shrugged it off. “He was following me, Roy. Chet...”

Marco interrupted. “Chet, you didn’t!”

“That’s really low, Chet,” Mike added.

“Now, do you guys really…”

At that point, all five men began talking at once, their voices increasing in volume with each statement.

Cap heard the raised voices and rose from his chair to investigate. Just then, someone knocked on the outside office door. Glancing in the direction of the voices, he sighed and turned to open the door. He was pleasantly surprised to find a lovely young lady standing there. She was dressed in a light blue denim skirt and white blouse. Her long red hair hung in soft waves.

“I’m Captain Stanley. May I help you, Miss…?”

Liz smiled up at Cap, her eyes twinkling. “My name is Liz. I work at the Land Rover dealership. Is John Gage working here today?”

“Yes, John is here, but...” Cap inquired.

“Oh, this won’t take long. A part he ordered came in early and I thought I would save him a trip. This station is right on my way.” 

Cap raised one eyebrow expecting more of an answer.

She lowered her head slightly and said more softly, “And I wanted to thank him for a wonderful time at dinner the other night.”

Cap looked at Liz astonished and amused. He knew what his men were “discussing”. ‘This could be interesting’ he thought.

Cap smiled at her. “I guess I can let you see John for a few minutes. But it will have to be brief. We are on duty and we could get called out.”

“Thank you, Captain Stanley. I don’t want to take Johnny away from his work.”

Cap led the way to the day room. The voices seemed to be louder than before. Cap opened the door and stepped into the room. He stood there with his hands on his hips. “Gentlemen!” he boomed.

The silence was immediate. All eyes turned to the source of that voice. Cap glared at them for a few moments, letting them know of his displeasure without uttering a sound. Finally, he lowered his arms and his face softened.

“John, you have a visitor.” Cap stepped aside to allow Liz to enter the room. All eyes were on her as she stepped into the room and stopped. With a small smile on her face, she glanced at each of the men til her eyes found Johnny. Then, her face lit up with a brilliant smile.

Johnny was also smiling as he stepped around Chet, who had stood and was now staring at Liz in open-mouthed astonishment.

“Close your mouth, Chet,” Johnny whispered, elbowing him as he walked by.

“Liz, what are you doing here? Is everything OK?” Johnny took her hand as he voiced his concern.

“Ahem!”

Johnny looked over Liz’s head to see Cap looking back with a small grin on his face.

“Sorry, Cap.” Johnny turned to face the rest of the crew. “Guys, I’d like you to meet my friend Liz. She works at the Land Rover dealership. Liz, you’ve already met Captain Stanley.”

“Yes, and it is a pleasure.” Liz shook his hand.

Johnny gestured toward Mike. “This is Mike Stoker, our engineer.”

Mike smiled and nodded. “Can I get you a cup of coffee, Liz?”

“Yes, thank you, Mike.” Turning to Johnny, she said softly. “He is the gentleman, just like you described him.”

Johnny smiled and continued. “You remember my partner, Roy.”

Liz held out her hand and shook Roy’s. “I’m so glad to see you again.” She smiled and gave him a conspiratorial wink. “How’s your family?”

Roy played along. “They’re all doing just fine, Liz.”

“This is Marco Lopez.”

Liz smiled and shook his hand. “Can I persuade you to give me your chili recipe? Johnny says it’s the best.”

“Sure. I’ll write it down and Johnny can get it to you.”

Mike handed Liz a cup of coffee then offered her a seat at the table. 

“Thank you, Mike.” Liz sat down and sipped her coffee.

“And last, but not least is Chet Kelly.” 

Chet stood there dumbfounded.

“What’s the matter, Chet? Cat’s got your tongue?” Johnny goaded him.

Chet snapped himself out of his trance and shook Liz’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Liz.”

Liz gave him another of her dazzling smiles. “When you’re ready to get rid of that anemic bus you drive and get a real vehicle, come by the dealership and see me. I might be able to help get you a good deal.”

Everyone laughed at the expression on Chet’s face -- a mixture of shock, disbelief and guilt. He was caught and there was no way out of it.

“Liz, why did you stop by?” Johnny asked as he sat down at the table beside her.

“The part you ordered came in on last night’s shipment. I thought if you weren’t out on a run, I could get it to you on my way to work this morning and save you a trip.” She handed him the box.

“Thanks, Liz. I appreciate it.”

Cap stepped over to the table. “John, we are on duty…”

“Sorry, Cap. OK if I walk Liz to her car?”

Cap smiled. “Go ahead. The rest of you clean up this table and get ready for roll call.”

“Good-bye all. It was great meeting you.” She smiled and waved as Johnny escorted her from the room. 

Johnny and Liz walked out the front of the station to where her car was parked. As they reached the car, they both started laughing.

“Liz, you were great! The look on Chet’s face was priceless!”

“That was so much fun, Johnny. They’re a great bunch of guys.”

“Yeah, they are. Even Chet!” That brought more laughter from both of them

“Now, about my payment...” Liz said with a smile. “I choose…a mountain drive.”

“You’re on! Are you available next Friday?”

“Most definitely! I’d better be going; don’t want to be late for work.” She reached up and drew Johnny’s face down close to hers. “You’re a good guy, John Gage,” she whispered. Then she kissed him.

Johnny’s eyes widened in surprise. She released his face and smiled. “Call me with the details,” she said with a laugh, as she tucked a slip of paper into his shirt pocket.

Liz walked around the front of her Rover and climbed in. She waved to Johnny and then pointed to the station. Johnny turned to see his crewmates all standing in the open bay doorway. Johnny laughed and turned back to wave as Liz pulled away from the curb. 

Johnny walked up the drive, whistling and tossing the box in the air and catching it. As he reached the group, he walked passed Chet. Tossing the box one more time, he turned quickly and caught it deftly behind his back.

“Gotcha!” Johnny smiled at Chet. 

Roy handed him his cap and Johnny took his place in line ready for roll call and assignments -- a big grin lighting up his face.

*****End*****

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