*Squad 51 possible heart attack third floor office Cannon Buildings West Summer Street. Time out 10.15*
Jumping to their feet, Roy DeSoto and John Gage abandoned their coffee and doughnuts and hurried to the squad. By the radio, Captain Hank Stanley reached for the mike. “Squad 51, 10-4. KMG 365,” he responded before handing the slip of paper to Roy.
The doors opened and Roy sent the squad smoothly down the ramp to the street. “Hang a left,” Johnny offered absently. Roy snorted. He knew where the Cannon Buildings were. They had done a fire inspection there less than three weeks ago.
“Third floor,” Johnny mused as they raced across an intersection. “Isn’t that the floor the diamond dealer is on?”
“Think so,” Roy replied. He kept his attention on the traffic. They could never be sure that other road users would heed the sirens and pull over. Today, they didn’t encounter any problems.
It took less than five minutes for them to reach the building. Johnny was out of the squad almost before it stopped, opening the side compartments and grabbing the oxygen, biophone and defibrillator. Roy picked up the drugs box and took the biophone from John. Together, they headed into the lobby.
The Cannon Buildings was a comparatively new building, having only been completed about six months before. It offered office complexes to companies and was slowly filling up. The neighborhood it was in was unfashionable, but many businesses were finding the competitive prices offered on rental an incentive to move out from the centre of the city.
The elevator was on the ground floor and it rose with a comforting swiftness and smoothness, the doors opening with a discreet ping. It had taken only seconds for them to rise the three floors. Glancing quickly round, Johnny spotted the diamond dealer’s office on the left hand side. Other doors across the hallway from it were closed and the suites apparently unoccupied as yet.
“Did you call the fire department?” Roy asked the receptionist.
“Yes, it’s Mr. Wheeler,” the anxious young woman replied. “He’s through here.” She led the way through to the inner area.
Johnny wasn’t sure what he had been expecting - another office, most likely – but the area she led them into was a long corridor, with doors opening off either side. One door had a huge wheel on it and Johnny guessed that this would be the strong room where the diamonds were kept. Directly opposite the strong room was a door that led into a spacious office with an imposing view out across the hills. A man lay on the floor, clutching at his chest and gasping.
Without a word to each other, the paramedics went into action. Johnny opened the drug box as he knelt at Wheeler’s side; Roy opened the man’s shirt while asking, “Mr. Wheeler, can you hear me?”
The groan that was his only response didn’t tell Roy very much; just that the man was in extreme pain. He opened the biophone as Johnny attached leads to Wheeler’s chest ready to send Rampart hospital a strip if required.
“Rampart base, this is Squad 51, how do you read?”
“Go ahead, Squad 51,” came the reply in Dr Brackett’s distinctive voice.
“Rampart, we have a male victim, age about 45 with a possible heart attack,” Roy reported. “His vitals are …” He glanced at Johnny who rattled them off. Roy noted them down before repeating them to the doctor. “Rampart, he is stuporous, but reacting to pain. He is diaphoretic and slightly cyanotic. We have him on O2.”
“Send me a strip, 51,” Brackett ordered. “Is there a history of heart trouble?”
“Sending a strip,” Roy acknowledged. He glanced at the secretary. “Does he have a bad heart?”
“No,” the girl replied. “Not that I know of. He seemed fine until a little while ago, after he had had a visitor and then he paged me and when I came in, he collapsed.”
“Thanks.” Roy quickly repeated those details. Johnny was gazing intently at the datascope.
“He’s throwing PVCs,” he muttered.
“51, start an IV with Ringers,” Bracket ordered. “Give a 100mg lidocaine bolus and start a lidocaine drip. Transport as soon as possible.”
“Lidocaine bolus and drip,” Roy echoed. He put down the handset. “Johnny, you’d better go and make sure the ambulance can find us.”
Glancing up, Johnny frowned at Roy. “Huh? Why can’t the girl go?”
“Because,” Roy replied, wryly, “she has just fled the room in floods of tears. Didn’t you notice?”
“No.” Johnny looked over his shoulder, but sure enough, the young secretary had gone. “You be all right here?”
“I’ll be fine,” Roy assured him and bent over his task.
Rising, Johnny walked back towards the front office, glancing around to see if he could see the secretary, to make sure she was all right. However, the girl was nowhere in sight. Johnny carried on his way, going out into the hall.
A man stood beside the elevator. Johnny nodded to him vaguely, wondering if the ambulance had arrived or not. He was completely unprepared for the man to lunge at him, knocking him against the wall. Johnny staggered, but was pinned in place by a forearm across his throat. “Don’t move or make a sound if you want to keep living,” hissed a voice in his ear. Something round and hard was poking into Johnny’s belly and a moment later, it appeared at the edge of his vision – a gun.
“Take it easy, man,” Johnny breathed. He wondered what on earth the man wanted. He didn’t carry much money when he was working. “Just take it easy.”
“Shut up!” his captor snapped. “Do as you’re told and you won’t come to any harm, understand?”
“Sure,” Johnny agreed, wondering if his voice sounded as unconvincing to the other man as it did to him. Hostages rarely got out alive after seeing their captor’s faces and Johnny would definitely know this man again.
“All right, we’re going back inside that office.” The man shoved Johnny again, putting more pressure on the hapless paramedic’s windpipe to emphasize his words. “Try anything and I’ll kill you.”
Gasping for breath, unable to speak, Johnny nodded. He sucked in a deep draught of air as the pressure was released from his neck and slowly straightened up. “We’re expecting an ambulance,” he croaked.
“I don’t care if you’re expecting the Pope to pop round,” the other returned. “Now get inside there and keep your hands where I can see them.” He gestured with his head, keeping his eyes on Johnny and the gun aimed at him. Having no other choice, Johnny slowly put his hands up and returned to the diamond dealer’s office.
Roy looked up in surprise as Johnny came back in. “Johnny? What…?” He broke off as he saw the gunman behind his partner. A quick visual check told him that Johnny was unhurt – as far as he could see.
“Sit down, Johnny,” the gunman ordered. “On the floor and keep your hands where I can see them. You – grab this roll of duct tape and tape his hands together.” The roll of silver tape bounced at Roy’s knees. The victim groaned. “Shut up, Wheeler.”
“What’s this about?” Roy asked, carefully, ignoring the tape for the moment.
“I’ll tell you what this is about, fireman. This is about revenge! Wheeler knows what’s going on, don’t you, pal? It’s because of you that the only job I can get is as a stinking security man!” The man glared at Wheeler for a moment before returning his attention to Roy. “And if you don’t get your partner’s hands taped up in the next ten seconds, I’m going to blow his brains out. Have you got that?”
Wordlessly, Roy nodded as the gun came to rest against Johnny’s temple. The safety catch clicked off. Johnny met Roy’s eyes and nodded. He placed his hands palm to palm as the gunman ordered and watched impassively as the silver tape was wound around his wrists. For added measure, the gunman ordered a couple of strips around his hands, preventing Johnny from using them at all. Johnny’s only comfort was that Roy was careful not to make the tape tight enough to cut off his circulation.
“We’ve got to get Mr. Wheeler to hospital,” Roy ventured as his patient groaned again.
“It’s not going to happen,” the gunman replied.
“He’ll die if you don’t let him go,” Johnny added.
“And?” Sneering at his hostages, the gunman leant over Wheeler. “Andy, this is the payback for stealing my share of this business. Did you really think I would just go off and forget about it? Work as a security guard barely making the minimum wage while you made millions? Well, you thought wrong!” He glanced back at the paramedics when he got no response from the comatose victim. “This firm shouldn’t be called Wheeler’s Diamonds; it should be Jackson and Wheeler’s Diamonds. He cheated me out of my share of it!”
Silently, Roy and Johnny exchanged a glance. They now had a partial name for their captor, but it wasn’t helping them to get out of the sticky situation. Johnny moved uncomfortably and drew the man’s eyes back to him. “He needs to be in a hospital now,” Johnny reminded Jackson quietly.
“Don’t you listen?” Jackson seemed to be growing irrational. He turned back to Johnny, waving the gun threateningly in his face. “I told you – he dies here! Are you gonna stop me?”
“If I could, I would,” Johnny admitted, meeting the man’s gaze firmly. “That’s my job, mister; saving lives. I was called here to save this man and that’s what I’d like to do. This isn’t going to get you anywhere except behind bars, if you don’t end up dead. You can’t walk away from this, no matter what you do to me.”
Beside Wheeler, Roy was watching Johnny as though he had grown horns. His mouth hung open in disbelief. Had his partner finally taken leave of his senses? He was practically begging to be shot! He tried to catch Johnny’s eye, but Johnny’s gaze slid past him and hit on the biophone. The receiver was lying by Roy’s leg. And suddenly, Roy knew what Johnny wanted him to do. Slowly, he reached his hand down and pressed the transmit button.
“You think you’re so smart, don’t you?” Jackson jeered. “Let me show you how wrong you are, fireman.” He straightened slightly and Johnny watched him apprehensively.
“The police know we’re here in Wheeler’s office,” Johnny added desperately, pitching his voice louder so that Rampart might be able to pick up what he was saying. He just prayed that Brackett would realize what was going on and get in touch with the dispatcher to find out exactly where the squad had gone. “If we’re here too long, they’ll come and see what’s happening.”
“Shut up!” Jackson shrieked and backhanded Johnny viciously across the mouth.
At Rampart, Kel Brackett frowned in confusion. One minute he was waiting for Squad 51 to tell him they were transporting their victim, the next he was listening to something he didn’t understand. He was just putting his finger on the transmit button when he heard what sounded like a slap or a punch, then Roy’s voice cried, “Johnny! Are you all right?”
You don’t get to be head of emergency medicine by being slow. Understanding dawned and Bracket stepped over to the window of the base station and rapped on it briskly. At the desk, Dixie McCall glanced over before rising to her feet and hurrying in. “What’s up, Kel?” she asked, diagnosing his frown from long years of experience.
“Get a hold of the county dispatcher and find out where Squad 51’s call was. I think they’re in trouble.” Kel turned back to the receiver. Behind him, he could hear Dixie identifying herself to the dispatcher.
“ ‘M all right,” Johnny mumbled. His face was throbbing and he could feel blood trickling down his lip. He raised his bound hands awkwardly and wiped at it with the backs of his thumbs. Roy winced in sympathy as Johnny touched the split.
“I told you to shut up!” Jackson growled. Hitting Johnny seemed to have taken the edge off his anger for the moment. He started pacing, taking short, choppy strides, which spoke of his agitation. “The police aren’t going to get me. I’ll have you two as hostages.”
Once again, the paramedics exchanged glances. They had been in a similar situation before and had walked away unscathed, thanks to Johnny’s clever thinking and his ingenuous charm, which had persuaded the bank robbers that giving up was the only thing to do. But those men had just been dim, not vicious.
“And when you’ve killed us?” Johnny asked.
For a long moment, Jackson stood frozen, gazing at Johnny. Roy began to hope that perhaps he was thinking seriously about what Johnny had said. Then he turned away, muttering to himself. Roy knew that no miracle ending was in sight.
Glancing over at Johnny once more, Roy caught his breath and froze. Out in the corridor, he could see the young secretary. Seeing Roy gazing, transfixed, out of the office, Johnny slowly turned his head and also saw the girl. He knew that they had to give her the chance to get away. It might be their only chance – Johnny didn’t know if Rampart had heard them or not. He knew he had to distract Jackson long enough to allow the girl to get out safely and unseen.
Unwittingly, Jackson gave Johnny the opening he needed. He turned slightly to leer down at Wheeler, pointing his gun down at the helpless man. Johnny pushed himself to his feet and lunged at Jackson, driving him to the floor, caught completely unawares.
Roy gestured frantically to the girl to run and she did as he told her. Turning, Roy went to help Johnny, only to see the gun crash down, catching Johnny at the junction of his neck and shoulder. Johnny slumped down, groaning, raising his hands to protect himself. It made no difference. Jackson shoved Johnny off to the side before crashing the gun butt down on Johnny’s head. Gage went down and out.
“One move!” Jackson snarled at Roy, who was half standing, half crouching. “One move and I’ll kill him.”
Freezing in position, not even aware how uncomfortable he was, Roy visually assessed Johnny’s condition. He only hoped the girl had got out to safety and was even now talking to the cops. Because if she hadn’t got out, Johnny had paid a very high price indeed.
By now, there was a crowd growing around the base station at Rampart. Brackett was hunched over the radio and all other squads on call were told to use a different frequency. Doctors Morton and Early were monitoring those calls, which were fortunately infrequent. Likewise, the ER was quite quiet, although they all knew from past experience that that could change in a heartbeat.
“The police are there already,” Dixie reported to Brackett. “And the dispatcher is sending another squad and an engine company, just in case.”
“Which company?” Brackett asked. His eyes met Dixie’s and she nodded.
“51s,” she replied.
“We need two treatment rooms set up,” Brackett decided. “And a third on stand-by. I don’t know exactly what happened there, but it didn’t sound good.”
“All right,” Dixie agreed and handed the orders on to Carol, her second in command. Carol hurried off, grabbing a couple of student nurses and candy stripers to help. She turned her attention back to the radio.
“What do you want?” Roy asked. His finger still held down the transmit button – he had forgotten that he was holding it. “What are your demands?”
“What?” Jackson looked confused.
“The police will come here,” Roy told him, his voice professionally calm. “They’ll want to know what you want to get us out of here alive.” He glanced down at Wheeler and thought that if they didn’t get the man into an ambulance and on the way to hospital soon, he would die. It might already be too late. “So what is it you want?”
“I want him to die!” Jackson reminded Roy.
Refusing to be intimidated, for Johnny’s life depended on him, Roy calmly met Jackson’s eyes. “And when he’s dead?” he asked. “You’ll just walk away?”
Blinking, it appeared that Jackson hadn’t thought that far ahead. However, his mind worked quickly. “I’ll take my share of the diamonds and precious stones and head for the high life over the border,” he bragged.
“I see.” Roy did indeed see. The only way this situation was going to end was with Wheeler’s death and then there would most likely be a shoot out. At best, they might escape with minor injuries. At worst, they would die. He cast another anxious glance at Johnny. The dark-haired paramedic was starting to stir. “Let me help my partner,” he pleaded, raising his voice slightly, just in case Rampart was still listening in. “He could be seriously hurt and I don’t want him moving around too much with a head injury.” Roy hoped he wasn’t blowing it by saying too much, but any information that he could give Rampart might help them. “Mr. Wheeler needs to be checked again, too.”
“Move real slow,” Jackson warned and stepped back, keeping Roy covered as he felt for Wheeler’s pulse. It was irregular and thready. He checked the drip and oxygen and after that, there was nothing he could do. Wheeler was unconscious.
Sidling over to Johnny, Roy grasped his wrist, feeling for his pulse. It was steady and strong, which was a huge comfort. Johnny’s respirations were regular. Roy didn’t bother trying to get his BP. Johnny’s head was bleeding. Gently, Roy felt the area of Johnny’s shoulder where he had been struck and Johnny moved, trying to escape the pain. “Easy, Johnny, you’re going to be just fine,” Roy soothed.
He was rewarded with Johnny’s dark eyes sliding open. The pain reflected there for the first few moments made Roy catch his breath, but as Johnny allowed his gaze to travel around the room, the pain faded away. “Roy?” Johnny completed his visual appraisal and was now frowning as he tried to focus on his partner. His vision was blurry, wavering out to bring two Roys into his vision before sliding back to just one very blurry Roy. “You… all right?”
Smiling, although he felt more like crying, Roy nodded. It was typically Johnny to be worrying about the other person rather than himself. “I’m fine,” he assured his partner. “How are you feeling? And the truth, please!”
“Not so good,” Johnny slurred. His eyes slid closed for a second before he battled them open again, knowing that Roy wouldn’t want him to sleep, no matter how tired he was feeling. “My head hurts.”
“You’ve probably got a concussion,” Roy told him. “Johnny, I need you to stay awake for me here.”
“Sure,” Johnny agreed. He tried to move, but had forgotten that his hands were bound in front of him. He hissed in pain as the movement jarred his injured shoulder.
“Easy, easy,” Roy warned him. “Don’t try to move.” He shot a glance at Jackson. “Please free his hands.”
“No,” Jackson replied. Roy glared at him. Johnny was hurt – what possible danger did Jackson think he represented?
Seconds later, they both flinched as Brackett’s voce issued from the biophone. “Squad 51, what’s your ETA on that heart victim?”
It was the last thing Brackett wanted to do, but the police were determined that this was the best way to find out what was happening in the building. The secretary had done a good job, explaining where everyone was situated and detailing the office layout on a map of the building. Consultation with Rampart had told them that the heart patient most probably wouldn’t hold out much longer, if he was still alive. They knew one of the paramedics had been injured, but until they knew how severely, they couldn’t plan their next course of action.
“Squad 51, what’s your ETA on that heart victim?”
“What do I tell them?” Roy asked.
“I don’t care!” Jackson growled. “But tell them something!” He moved so that he was looming over Johnny. To the injured paramedic, he looked as though his head was scraping the roof. It made Johnny nauseous and he hastily shut his eyes.
Going slowly to the biophone, Roy picked up the receiver. “Rampart, this is Squad 51. Uh, we have a problem here. We are being held hostage by a gunman. The victim is stuporous and diaphoretic. His pulse is irregular and weak.” Roy swallowed. “Rampart, we have a second victim. The victim is a 27 year old paramedic. He was struck on the neck and head by a gun butt. He has moderate bleeding from a head wound and has tenderness in his neck and shoulder area. Query possible fractured clavicle. Be advised that the victim is John Gage.”
“10-4, 51,” Brackett replied, not trying to keep the despondency out of his voice. “Is Johnny conscious, 51?”
“That’s affirmative, Rampart,” Roy responded. He was keeping a wary eye on Jackson. “He is oriented, but groggy.”
“Keep him awake, 51 and keep in touch.” Brackett wanted to offer Roy some encouragement, but he didn’t know what to say.
“10-4, Rampart.” Roy slowly put down the receiver.
“What do you think?” Vince Howard asked his superior.
The older policeman shrugged. “From what Brackett says, the heart attack victim isn’t going to survive much longer without a major amount of help; hell, he might not pull through even if he gets that help now. Gage doesn’t sound too badly injured, but I suspect that whoever is holding them hostage is using Gage to keep DeSoto in line.”
“That’s what I figured,” agreed Vince, gloomily. “So, we gonna go for tear gas?”
“Better try talking first,” the captain replied. “That’s what I get paid for.” He walked over to the communications van.
The ringing phone startled everyone in the office. Even the comatose Wheeler flinched slightly. Roy was kneeling between Wheeler and Johnny, anxiously keeping an eye on them both. Wheeler was fading and Roy knew that even if help arrived right there and then in the shape of a doctor and fully equipped ICU, Wheeler was beyond help.
Johnny was faring rather better, although he was pale and diaphoretic. He gamely struggled to keep his eyes open and his stomach under control. He was in quite a bit of pain, but he knew, because of the head injury, he wouldn’t be allowed anything for the pain until he reached the hospital. The unnatural position of his hands kept his arm muscles tense, which exacerbated the pain he felt, which made his muscles even tenser. It was a vicious circle.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?” Roy asked, when the phone had rung several times.
Frowning, Jackson was obviously trying to work out if this was some sort of trick. Unable to decide, he grabbed Johnny by the arm and hauled him the few steps over to the desk, dropping the paramedic on the floor when he got there. Johnny was now as white as Roy had ever seen him, and he leant unsteadily against the desk, clearly trying to keep his stomach in its place. Roy hoped he would succeed. Johnny didn’t need anything else to happen to him right now.
“Hello?” Habit was sometimes overwhelming. Jackson had meant to answer the phone with a gruff ‘what?’ He thought that saying hello made him sound like a wimp. “What do you want?” That was better.
“My name is David and I’m with the police department,” came the reply. “We’re concerned about the hostages you have. We know that Mr. Wheeler had a heart attack and he needs medical help urgently. And we know that one of the paramedics is hurt. What can we do to get you to release them?”
“Nothing!” Jackson spat. “Nothing at all! I want Wheeler dead and I’m not going anywhere until that happens!”
“Sir, please,” David begged. “Don’t do that. Whatever has happened, I’m sure we can get things worked out.”
“It’s already worked out,” Jackson reminded him. “I’m staying here until Wheeler is dead!” With a crash, he hung up the phone.
“You’ve got your wish,” Roy told him. The datascope showed only a flat line. “Wheeler is dead.”
For a moment, exultation flooded Jackson’s whole being. He had done it! He had killed Wheeler! And then, reality set in. He looked at Roy and Johnny and knew that he had to kill them. But he also had to get out of the building. A surge of panicky adrenalin surged through his gut.
Shoving Johnny onto the floor, he put his foot on Johnny’s chest. “Hand me that duct tape, slowly and carefully, or I’ll kill him,” he ordered Roy. Roy didn’t doubt it for a minute and did as he was told.
It took very little time for Roy to be immobilized. His hands were taped in front of him, his ankles taped together and a strip of tape was over his mouth. He watched as Jackson dragged Johnny to his feet and fastened tape over his mouth and eyes.
He could only watch as Johnny was dragged from the room.
Unable to see, Johnny stumbled continuously as he was dragged from the room. He had no idea where they were going and the grasp Jackson had of his upper arm made his already painful shoulder even worse. He felt desperately nauseous and fought to keep his stomach in place. If he vomited now, he would die as he aspirated. It was not a pleasant prospect.
Suddenly, the floor vanished from under his feet and he was falling, down, down, battering off sharp edges, screaming his pain silently against the gag, until, mercifully, the wild journey came to an end and he blacked out.
As Jackson and Johnny vanished from sight, Roy started moving. He struggled to get a grip of a corner of the tape on his mouth, but determination paid off; it eventually came free. Shuffling on his backside, Roy made it to the biophone. It was awkward to hold it to his ear and press the transmit button, but he managed it.
“Rampart, this is Squad 51.”
“Go ahead, 51,” came the instant response. There was undisguised relief in Brackett’s voice.
“Rampart, Wheeler has died and Jackson has gone, taking Johnny with him,” Roy tried to keep his voice clinical, but he could hear the betraying shake in it.
“Are you hurt, Roy?” Brackett demanded, forgetting protocol for the moment.
“No,” Roy admitted. “Just stuck.”
“Hang tight,” Brackett advised. “Someone will be with you shortly.” Behind him, Dixie finished her report to the police and hung up the phone. They exchanged a worried glance. This was not over yet.
“He’s on the move!” cried David. “He’s got a hostage with him! Vince, you know the other paramedic; get up to that room and make sure he’s all right.” Immediately, the captain turned away, issuing orders to the SWAT team that was on stand-by.
As the men were deployed, Vince made his way inside the building and up to the office where Roy was waiting as patiently as he could to be freed. He cast a regretful look at Wheeler – they hated to lose a patient at any time, but it somehow seemed worse under circumstances like this. “Its murder,” he murmured quietly to himself.
“Roy? You all right?” Vince knelt by the helpless man. “Hurt anywhere?”
“No, I’m fine,” Roy replied. He held up his bound hands. “Just get me out of this!”
It took a moment or two for the tingling to die away from Roy’s fingers and toes. He allowed Vince to guide him away from the office, knowing that it was now a crime scene. But that no longer concerned Roy. The only thing that occupied his thoughts was what was happening to Johnny and Vince didn’t know anything more than Roy himself did.
Traveling down in the elevator, Roy leant against the wall, suddenly realizing how tired he was. His legs were shaking slightly underneath him as they reached the ground floor and he didn’t object as Vince slid a hand under his arm to help him outside. Roy was vaguely aware of the TV cameras back behind the police lines, but they didn’t hold his attention. All he wanted was a place to sit down.
“Here, Roy.” A familiar voice spoke into his ear and Roy suddenly found himself sitting on a gurney, not aware of how he had got there. He looked up to see Bellingham wrap a blood pressure cuff around his arm. “Just relax, you’re all right,” Bellingham continued. Roy recognized the tone he was using; it was the same one Roy himself used on anxious patients.
“Johnny?” he asked, vaguely aware that he was probably in shock. He felt his legs swung around and then he was lowered until he was lying flat. Not under torture would he admit how good that felt.
“As soon as we know something, you’ll know something,” Bellingham assured him. He popped the stethoscope earpieces in and listened to the BP. At Roy’s other side, a hand took hold of his wrist to count his pulse. Roy knew this was the Perfect Paramedic, Brice. Roy couldn’t muster any conversation. He turned his head towards the building, his thoughts once more with Johnny.
Jackson cursed as his hostage missed the top step and was torn from his hand to go tumbling down the concrete fire stairs to land in a heap at the bottom. For a long moment, he just stood there, looking at Johnny, slightly mesmerized by the tape covering a large portion of his captive’s face. Jackson felt exhilarated again – he had never felt as powerful as he felt now to have this man’s life in his hands.
Forgetting all about the police that surrounded the now-evacuated building, Jackson wandered slowly down the steps towards Johnny. This man was helpless – he could do what he wanted with him. Why, it was almost like being God! Jackson couldn’t remember a time when he had felt so good, so invincible. He just knew that he was going to get away scot free and carry on his life. He would quit his job as a security man and find something better. Now that Wheeler was dead and could stop spreading those lies about him, the world was his oyster.
Reaching the landing where Johnny was sprawled, Jackson bent over to haul the slender young man to his feet once more. Movement on the periphery of his vision made him turn his head sharply and the last thing he saw was the large, round, muzzle of a gun.
The shot was muffled by the building, but everyone in the vicinity recognized the sound. Roy started to sit up, surprised when his head swam at the sudden movement. He was barely aware of being pushed gently back down on the gurney, all his focus on the building where he feared his partner had just lost his life.
There was a sudden burst of activity around the paramedics as radios spluttered into life. The police captain appeared abruptly. “We need you inside the building at once. Can you leave Mr. DeSoto?”
“Go!” Roy commanded them.
“Keep him quiet,” Bellingham instructed as he grabbed the drug box and biophone. Brice had the trauma box and oxygen. They hurried off after a cop who was beckoning to them urgently.
They weren’t prepared for the sight that met them. The stairwell seemed to be bathed in blood. Several members of SWAT stood around and two men lay crumpled on the stairs.
“This one’s dead,” one SWAT man reported casually, pointing to one body. “But we didn’t want to touch the other – we don’t know what happened to him, but we suspect he was either thrown or fell down stairs.”
With their hearts in their throats, Brice and Bellingham drew closer to Johnny. He was lying exactly as he had fallen, his hands still taped together and the tape covering his mouth and eyes. Bellingham reached for the tape over Johnny’s mouth while Brice felt for a pulse.
“Pulse is 100 and irregular,” he announced and noted it down in his book. He placed a hand flat on Johnny’s abdomen to count his respirations. “Resp's 30 and shallow,” he added. “Abdomen is soft.” Even the emotionless Brice sounded relieved at that piece of news. That meant it was unlikely that there was internal bleeding.
“Johnny, can you hear me?” Bellingham asked, gently peeling the tape from Johnny’s eyes. He knew it was a painful procedure, no matter how carefully it was done, but the injured paramedic didn’t stir. In a way, Bellingham was glad for that. He took his pen light and flicked it over Johnny’s eyes. “Pupils equal but slightly sluggish,” he reported. He hauled out his bandage scissors and began to cut the tape on Johnny’s wrists and hands.
Meanwhile, Brice had established a link with Rampart and was delivering Johnny’s vitals. “Definite fracture of the right clavicle,” Bellingham reported. “A head injury, which we already knew about; the blood is dry on this one. Oh wait – another bump at the other side of his head.” Bellingham continued on his inventory of Johnny’s injuries. “A broken finger on his right hand. The only other thing I can find is a hot, swollen knee.”
While Brice repeated the information to Rampart, Bellingham picked up the handy-talkie to talk to his captain. “I need a stokes, a c-collar and a backboard,” he requested, then set about putting a splint on Johnny’s leg and immobilizing his shoulder and hand. Brice set up the ordered IV and before long, Johnny was on his way to Rampart, with a worried Roy as his companion in the ambulance.
Something hard rubbing his chest brought Johnny to groaning consciousness. He tried to move, but found that he was still bound. Rolling his head as best he could, Johnny blinked away from the light directly above him and found himself looking at Dixie McCall.
“Dix?” he mumbled. “Wha… what’re you… doing here?”
Smiling, Dixie replied, “I rather think the question is what are you doing here?” She brushed his dark bangs off his forehead, careful to avoid the gash near his hairline.
“Rampart?” Johnny asked. At Dixie’s nod, he started to relax and then another thought occurred to him. “Roy?” He tried to sit up, but Dixie had seen his intentions and gently pinned him down.
“Roy is just fine. He’s resting right now while Joe checks him out.”
“Hey, Johnny, how are you feeling?” Brackett asked, leaning in to the paramedic’s line of vision.
“Fine,” Johnny sighed. His eyes began to drift closed, but Brackett quickly got his attention again.
“Not so fast, John. I need you to answer some questions.”
Sighing, Johnny replied, “John Gage, Rampart and Tuesday.” He saw a grin pass over Brackett’s face. “I hurt all over,” he mumbled.
“Bruises,” Brackett told him. “Your right collarbone is broken and so is the middle finger on your right hand. Apart from a couple of bumps on the head, your only other injury is a swollen knee. The x-rays didn’t show anything conclusive, so we’ll put you on bed rest and see how it goes.”
“I gotta stay?” Johnny protested.
“You’ve got a mild concussion, Johnny,” Brackett scolded. “Not to mention the fact you’re dehydrated. Face it, hose jockey, you’re going to be here for a few days.” He glanced up at the head nurse. “Dix, can you arrange to get Johnny to a room?”
“Sure thing, Kel,” Dixie replied. She smiled down at Johnny again. “Be back in a minute, handsome.”
“Don’t go out on me, Johnny,” Brackett ordered. “I’ve got someone here who wants to see you.”
Tiredly, Johnny blinked against the bright lights. He just wanted to be left alone to sleep, but he had been concussed often enough to know that sleep was the last thing he would get – or uninterrupted sleep was the last thing he would get! He yawned widely and winced at the pain in his head and his shoulder.
“Hey, Junior.” Roy leant over the examination table and smiled at Johnny. “You had me worried there.”
“Are you all right?” Johnny asked. He could see that Roy looked tired.
“I’m fine,” Roy assured him. “I don’t even have to stay, but I have been signed off until next shift.”
“What happened?” Johnny asked. “I remember falling…” His voice trailed off as he recalled the hideous, blind trek through the office building. “Jackson?”
“Dead,” Roy replied. “We think you fell down stairs.” His expression darkened and he frowned. “Or he pushed you.”
For a moment, Roy was unsure if Johnny’s furrowed brow meant he was in pain or was thinking – of course, the way things were, it could be both! “I don’t remember a push,” he murmured. “Guess I was a klutz.”
Smiling, Roy shook his head. “You were blindfolded,” he reminded his partner. “Not your fault.”
“Okay.” Johnny yawned again. Brackett took that as his cue.
“Let’s get you settled in a room,” he suggested. “You can sleep for a little while and then the police want to talk to you. Roy, you go home and rest.”
“Sure, doc,” Roy agreed. “I’ll see you later, Junior.”
“Later,” Johnny agreed, his eyes already closed.
After a few days of bed rest, Johnny’s knee had resumed its usual contours and he was able to walk about without much problem. He still found doing tasks one handed awkward and so when he was released, he was going to stay with Roy and Joanne for a few days. The broken finger would keep him out of work about a month.
A few days after he returned to his own apartment, Johnny and Roy met with the police.
Jackson had indeed been Wheeler’s partner in the diamond business when it was in its infancy. Both men had trained under the same gem merchant and then decided to go it alone. However, while Wheeler was happy with the money they made, Jackson had expected to make instant millions, not borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars and only make a small profit once the diamonds and other gems were sold. He decided that there had to be a faster way to get rich and so stole some diamonds.
When Wheeler found out that Jackson had stolen the diamonds – there was no one else who had the combination of the safe, and only one secretary worked for the firm – Wheeler retrieved the gems, dissolved the partnership and kicked Jackson out. Jackson never forgave Wheeler, although he was lucky that his former friend didn’t press charges. The morning that Wheeler had his heart attack, Jackson, his rage overwhelming after he lost his job, went into the office and threatened Wheeler. He had absconded into another room while Wheeler called for his secretary and then followed Johnny to the elevator, where he took the paramedic hostage.
It was a sad story of one man’s uncontrollable greed. Because of that, two men were dead. It was a sobering thought. However, both Johnny and Roy knew how lucky they were to have got out of that situation virtually unscathed.
On his first morning back to work, Johnny was in bright and early. But not early enough. When he opened his locker, he was hit by a deluge of cold water. The Phantom had struck again.
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