A Deadly Dance

 

By Rona

 

“That’s all we need,” moaned Johnny Gage as a splatter of water hit the windshield. “Another squall.”

 

“Maybe it won’t last longer,” Roy DeSoto, Johnny’s partner ventured. He was pretty sure that this would be a forlorn hope, as most of the squalls had seemed more like downpours to the hard working A shift of Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Station 51. It seemed to the firemen that they got twice as many calls when it suddenly became wet, as though the people had forgotten how to drive safely, or had built their homes on unstable land, or were wearing the wrong shoes and slipped and fell. There seemed to be no end to the different ways that people could get injured and need the services of the paramedics.

 

Not replying, Johnny looked at the radio, as if defying it to give them another call. They were long overdue for lunch – so long that it was almost time for supper. They might just make it back to the barn this time, as long as no one said anything… “Big Red still there?” Johnny asked, glancing in the side mirror and seeing a glimpse of the engine behind them.

 

“I think Mike might know the way back by now,” Roy smiled. He switched on the windscreen wipers as the rain got heavier. Within moments, it was bouncing off the windshield with the force of hail. Roy slowed up slightly.

 

Peering through the rain, Johnny suddenly saw something on the road ahead. “Roy…” he began.

 

“What the…?” Roy cried, as an oncoming car suddenly swerved wildly across the road, heading towards the squad. Instantly, Roy hit the brakes and wrenched the wheel to try and avoid hitting the car. The tires gripped for a second, then hit the diesel spill on the road and the truck was suddenly involved in a deadly dance.

 

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

 

“Oh my God!” Mike Stoker breathed and Captain Hank Stanley felt a sudden jolt of fear as he saw the squad containing his men spinning out of control on the road ahead. Mike was already reacting, but he was too late. The engine’s greater weight took a longer time to stop and Mike knew that they would not escape the slick. “Brace yourselves!” he shouted, while he wrestled with the wheel.

 

It was terrifying to feel the big machine slide across the road like a carnival ride. Mike never gave up fighting the wheel, turning into the skid as much as he could, but knowing that it was hopeless. All he wanted was to avoid hitting anything. Even at relatively slow speeds, an engine could cause a huge amount of damage.

 

And then they hit, metal screaming against metal, the sound of splintering glass and then complete silence.

 

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

 

“M-mike?” The only sound Stanley could hear was the hiss of escaping steam from the engine’s radiator. Wincing, Stanley forced his eyes to open. Mike Stoker was slumped over the steering wheel, his eyes shut. Stanley forced his aching body to move and stretched over to turn off the ignition and then feel for a pulse.

 

Thankfully, it was there, strong and steady. Hank let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding and winced at the pain in his ribs. At least one member of his crew was all right. Turning his head he shouted, “Kelly! Lopez!”

 

“H-here, Cap,” came the weak reply. It was Chet Kelly’s voice. “Marco’s unconscious,” he added, sounding slightly more with it.

 

“All right, take it easy, pal,” Hank told him. He blinked and forced himself to sit up and peer through the rain-splattered windshield to see what they had hit. His heart sank. Pinned between the front of the engine and a bent-over light standard was the familiar red squad.

 

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

 

“LA, this is Engine 51. We’ve been involved in a MTA with injuries. We have a Code I times four or five here. Request you send another squad, engine company and a couple of ambulances.” Stanley was amazed at how calm his voice sounded. He replaced the mike as Sam Lanier, the dispatcher, acknowledged the call.

 

Beside him, Stoker groaned and he started to move. “No, Mike, stay still,” Hank urged.

 

“Cap?” Mike muttered. “Wha-what happened?”

 

“We were in an accident,” Hank told him, wondering how often he would have to say that today. “Stay still. Someone will come and look at you in a minute.”

 

“Chet, Marco…” Mike cried. He started to move, but Stanley’s hand held him still.

 

“They’ll be fine,” he assured his engineer, although he had no way of knowing how badly injured they were. But right now, he had to get to the squad and assess his paramedics. “You stay still now, hear?” Mike mumbled assent and Hank slid from the engine and limped towards the squad, his heart in his mouth.

 

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

 

The dizzying circles slowed, but the squad wasn’t under control yet. By some miracle, Roy had managed to miss colliding head on with the other car, but he had clipped the back wing and the lighter vehicle had spun off somewhere out of sight. Roy no longer knew which direction they were headed in, but he thought he was getting the truck back under control.

 

Next moment, they were hit again and Roy heard Johnny let out a cry of pain. It was the last thing he heard for several long minutes. The next time he opened his eyes, they were still, but there was an overpowering smell of gasoline and an ominous hissing noise. He tried instinctively to reach for the ignition key with his right hand, but a sharp stab of pain stopped the movement. Roy gasped aloud. He reached awkwardly for the key with his other hand and with relief, switched the engine off.

 

“Johnny?” Roy turned his head slowly, mindful of any spinal injuries he might have received. He hurt everywhere, to the point where he found it difficult to pin down any one site, apart from his obviously broken right arm. “Johnny?”

 

“I hear ya,” came a tortured whisper. Johnny was slumped into the corner of the squad, blood pouring down his face from a big gash right across his forehead just above his eyes. The dash was crumpled around his legs, trapping him in position. The wing mirror was inches from his face, having been forced inside the vehicle by the collision. It had caused the gash on Johnny’s head. His hands lay limply on his lap. “You… all…right?” he panted. He could barely see because of the blood on his face.

 

“Broken arm,” Roy responded. “You?” He wanted to reach over to Johnny, take his pulse, reassure his partner, but he couldn’t move.

 

“Stuck,” Johnny amplified. “Findin’ it… hard ta… breathe.”

 

“The seatbelt,” Roy realized. For some reason, Johnny had fastened his seatbelt, although he didn’t usually. Now, it seemed to be tight across his partner’s body and Roy realized that this was causing the breathing difficulties. It seemed the tension in the belt hadn’t released after the crash. “Can you… reach it… to open it?” he asked.

 

“No,” Johnny responded simply. He gave a wry smile, which seemed oddly out of place on his bloodstained face. The smile faltered and died. “Broke both my wrists,” he explained.

 

They were trapped, Roy thought, panic overwhelming him for an instant. Neither of them could reach the radio, assuming it still worked. The microphone lay on the floor, anyway. What were they going to do?

 

“Roy? John?” Hank Stanley’s appearance at Roy’s window startled the senior paramedic and he flinched, wincing in pain as his ribs protested the movement. “Are you two all right?”

 

“Johnny’s trapped and seriously hurt, Cap,” Roy replied. “We need to get him out of here.”

 

“Help’s on the way, Roy,” Hank assured him. “Just stay calm.” He glanced across at Johnny, trying to control his expression. “John, how are ya doin’, pal?”

 

“I’ll just… sit tight,” he responded, trying valiantly to make his captain laugh. Hank chuckled dutifully. There wasn’t much humor in the sound, but he was reassured that Gage was trying to joke with him.

 

“Where are the others?” Roy asked, belatedly realizing that there was no sound of rescue. “Cap?” Roy peered closer, noticing for the first time that his vision was a bit blurry. Concussion, he thought. “You don’t look too good.”

 

“I’m all right,” Hank replied, brushing off Roy’s concerns. In truth, he didn’t feel good at all. His head was thumping and his ribs were agony. “The engine hit the squad. The others were knocked about a bit, but they’ll be all right. Help is on the way. Just sit tight.” Hank wished there was more he could do for his men.

 

In the distance, they could hear sirens drawing nearer.

 

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

 

Station 110s was first on the scene, closely followed by Officer Vince Howard, who quickly started to direct the traffic. Gil Sheppard, Johnny’s friend, was pulling overtime with 110s that day and he was the first to arrive by the damaged squad. “Now, what have we here?” he asked jovially, trying to keep the horror off his face.

 

“We need to get Johnny out,” Roy replied. He had been watching his partner and was worried by Johnny’s silence. The younger man didn’t have enough breath to talk. He grunted whenever Roy said his name, but beyond that, he concentrated his efforts on simply breathing.

 

“We need to get you out first,” Gil chided him. “You’re between me and Johnny.” He reached into the squad and took Roy’s pulse. “I need a pry bar here,” he called over his shoulder. “A couple of c-collars, two backboards, O2 and the jaws.”

 

“Good assessment,” Roy commented. “I’m a bit shocky,” he added, as a wave of dizziness overtook him.

 

“Could you just let me be the paramedic here?” Gil enquired, good-naturedly, but Roy took the hint.

 

As one of Gil’s crewmates arrived with the pry bar, another squad pulled up and Brice and Bellingham hurried over out of Roy’s sight behind the damaged squad. “Is the engine crew okay?” Roy asked, concerned.

 

“I don’t know,” Gil responded, as the door finally popped open. “I’m here helping you two.” He fitted the collar around Roy’s neck and he and his partner smoothly eased the injured paramedic out of the squad. Moments later, Gil slid in behind the wheel and reached for Johnny’s pulse. “How you doing, buddy?” he asked.

 

“Can’t… breathe,” Johnny gasped. “Seatbelt.”

 

“I see it,” Gil responded. He pressed the release, but nothing happened. He got out his knife and cut through the webbing. Johnny’s breathing eased slightly at once. “We’ll get some O2 on you, Johnny and see about getting you out of this baked bean can. Sound good?”

 

Gritting his teeth against the pain, Johnny grunted. Gil abandoned his attempt to get a pulse in Johnny’s wrist and felt for the carotid instead. He wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Johnny’s arm and quickly checked it. Turning, he retrieved the oxygen and a collar and applied both to his friend. He quickly reported the vitals to someone Johnny couldn’t see to relay them to Rampart. “Roy?” he asked.

 

“Roy’s doing fine,” Gil responded at once. “Okay, Johnny, we’re just going to cover you up while we work on getting you out of here. Don’t worry, I’m not leaving you.”

 

Snorting, Johnny managed to convey to his friend that he was quite well aware of the procedures involved in this type of rescue and could his friend stop giving him the party line. Gil merely grinned and continued to drape a yellow plastic blanket over them both. While the jaws were working, Gil cleaned the gash on Johnny’s forehead and put a bandage on it. An IV was handed in and he efficiently got it started, although Johnny winced loudly as the needle went in.

 

Suddenly, the pressure around Johnny’s legs came free. With the release came pain and light headedness. Dimly, Johnny was aware of Gil’s muffled cursing as he fought to stem the bleeding that spurted just below Johnny’s right knee. Then, he knew nothing.

 

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

 

It was safe to say the staff at Rampart was rather taken aback by the arrival of all of station 51 in three ambulance loads. Chet and Marco were first to arrive. Neither of them was seriously hurt, but both had had a bang on the head and Marco had been knocked out. They were admitted to the observation ward.

 

Next in line were Hank Stanley, protesting loudly about being forced to leave the scene before his paramedics were safely extracted, and Mike Stoker. Stoker had a couple of broken ribs where he had hit the steering wheel and a mild concussion. Hank also had a couple of broken ribs and a mild case of whiplash. They had been lucky, but the engine’s solid construction had provided them with a lot of protection. Hank and Mike were also admitted to the observation ward.

 

About half an hour after that, Roy and Johnny were brought in. Roy was taken to treatment three and Johnny was whisked into treatment four. “Dixie, I want a unit of blood down here, stat,” Brackett ordered. “Get the type from his files. Have a second unit standing by, just in case we need it. I want a portable x-ray, skull, spine, chest, abdomen, both arms and the right leg. I don’t think it’s broken, but let’s not take chances.” He glanced at the nurse who was taking Johnny’s vitals.

 

“His BP is 100/60,” she reported. “Pulse 80 and respirations 20 and labored. Equal breath sounds on both sides.”

 

“Hang another bag of Ringers,” Brackett ordered. “Get that uniform off.” He bent over and shone his penlight into Johnny’s eyes. The paramedic groaned and made an abortive attempt to swipe the irritant away. “Welcome back, Johnny,” Brackett smiled, relief in his voice.

 

“Hi, doc,” Johnny breathed. “Roy?”

 

“Joe Early’s with him now,” Brackett soothed. “Let’s worry about you, shall we?”

 

“’M all right,” Johnny mumbled. His eyes dipped closed again and Brackett frowned.

 

“Stay with me, Johnny,” he called. The dazed brown eyes opened again. “You’ve got to stay awake while we take some pictures,” he explained. “Then I’ll know what to give you for pain.”

 

“MS is nice,” Johnny muttered, fighting off the waves of sleep that lapped over him. He heard Brackett laugh.

 

“I’ll be right back, Johnny,” he promised. “You stay awake for me now.” The x-ray technician pushed the machine into the room and Brackett left. It didn’t take too long before the pictures were done and while he waited for them, Brackett got the nurses to wash the blood off Johnny’s face.

 

Brackett pored over the films intently. There was no skull fracture and the ribs were all intact. Both Johnny’s wrists were broken about an inch down from the base of the hand and Brackett guessed that he had tried to stop an impact with the dashboard by throwing his hands out. His right leg was badly cut, but not broken. All things considered, Johnny was extremely lucky.

 

***********

 

It was late in the evening before Roy and Johnny were settled in a room. Both of them had had to have visits from Orthopedics. Roy bore a cast from shoulder to fingertips on his right arm. Both Johnny’s wrists were casted to the elbow and were currently propped on pillows. It had taken 14 stitches to close the gash on his forehead and another 10 to close the gash in his leg. The bruising from the seatbelt was standing out in a dark band across his chest and the head of the bed was raised to help with his breathing. Johnny still wore an oxygen mask and IVs dripped fluid and blood into his veins.

 

Looking across at his somnolent partner, Roy realized once again how lucky they had all been. The driver of the other car had had some bruising, but was essentially all right. The engine crew was banged up and would miss a few shifts, but they were all alive. Roy had wanted to see his shift mates, but Brackett had vetoed the idea and given the way Roy’s head was throbbing, he hadn’t pushed.

 

The room door opened and Dixie slipped quietly in. She smiled at Roy before checking his vitals. “I thought you’d be asleep,” she whispered.

 

“I can’t drop off,” Roy whispered back. “I keep seeing that car heading towards us and then the squad spinning out of control. Do you know what happened?”

 

“Hasn’t anyone told you?” Dixie replied. “There had been an unreported diesel spill. Combine that with the rain that had just started and it was like a skating rink out there. Don’t blame yourself, Roy. None of this was your fault.”

 

“I’m glad,” Roy admitted. Joanne had told him that it wasn’t his fault when she had visited earlier, but since she didn’t know the particulars of the accident, Roy hadn’t been sure whether to believe her or not. “I guess I can try and sleep now.”

 

“I can get you something else for pain if you need it,” Dixie offered, but Roy shook his head.

 

“I’ll be all right,” he replied. “How’s Johnny doing?”

 

“I was just about to check him out,” the nurse replied. She crossed to the other bed and laid gentle fingers on Johnny’s neck to check his pulse.

 

“He’s not going to be happy he’s got a Foley catheter,” Roy commented sleepily, watching Dixie check the urine output.

 

“Until he’s on his feet again,” Dix observed dryly, “he doesn’t have much option. No hands, remember?” She brushed the sleeping man’s bangs away from the bandage on his forehead, but Johnny didn’t stir. He had had a hefty dose of painkiller and would sleep for several hours. “Now, you get some sleep. Sure you don’t want something for pain?”

 

“Sure,” Roy smiled and yawned. “Sorry.”

 

“Just sleep,” his friend replied and slipped quietly out. Roy closed his eyes and drifted off immediately.

 

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

 

Roy was right; Johnny was not a happy camper when he awoke to find he had been catheterized. However, by later that morning, he was feeling slightly happier; after managing to keep down the broth and jello he was given, he had high hopes of having the IV removed.

 

But that was the plus side. On the down side, Johnny had a dreadful headache. He hated being helpless and he hated being bedridden. He had had nightmares about the crash which had dragged him from his sleep screaming. The catheter had just been the final insult.

 

Roy had fared little better. His sleep had been more restless, disturbed by dark dreams that he couldn’t awaken from. The few times he had managed to waken up, he had fallen straight back into the same dream. Come morning, he was exhausted and hollow-eyed.

 

By that afternoon, the only member of A shift who was still hospitalized was Johnny. It would be several days before they would release him and even then, he wouldn’t be allowed to go home – he would be going to the DeSotos’ until he was able to take care of himself. Johnny was despondent at first for he hated imposing on Joanne and Roy, but he soon cheered up as he realized that he was at least getting out of Rampart.

 

Over the coming weeks, A shift trickled back to work in penny numbers. Chet and Marco were first back, followed a couple of weeks later by Mike Stoker and Cap Stanley. Roy was scheduled to be next back to work, with Johnny a short time behind him. Both of them required physical therapy to regain the strength in their injured arms.

 

But at last the day came when they were all back together again.

 

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

 

It felt good to be back, but Johnny was aware of an uneasiness he couldn’t quite identify as he stood in the line for roll call. I hope I’m not getting sick, he thought, mentally giving himself a check over. No, he didn’t feel hot and he couldn’t really say he felt like he was going to throw up – he just felt uneasy. I’ve been out for a few weeks, he reminded himself. Of course I’m uneasy – its excitement. Somehow, he couldn’t convince himself of that.

 

“Good to have you back, John,” Cap said, as he started roll call, listing the things headquarters had deemed important enough to pass on to the men and issuing the housekeeping chores. Johnny was quite relieved to get the dorm – he had half expected the latrine, given how many shifts he had missed.

 

As was their practice, Johnny and Roy checked their supplies and did the biophone calibration before starting their housekeeping chores. “We’re low on MS,” Johnny noted. “We’ll need to make a run for supplies.”

 

“C shift must have been busy,” Roy agreed. “Let’s head over to Rampart and do that now, before we get a run.” He rose to his feet and put the trauma box away. There were one or two other things they needed as well and Roy went to write them down and tell Stanley where they were going. “Let’s go, Junior,” he cried, coming out of the office and hopping into the driver’s seat.

 

Obediently, Johnny opened the squad door – and froze. He literally couldn’t get into the vehicle. His mind wanted to, but his muscles were locked.

 

“Johnny?” Roy stared, perplexed, at his partner, who had the squad door open, one foot on the running board, but was just standing there, shaking. “Johnny?” As Roy watched, the color drained out of Johnny’s face, leaving him sheet-white. “Johnny!”

 

“Roy? What’s wrong?” Hank asked, coming out of his office. “I thought you guys were…” His voice trailed off as he saw Johnny. Instinctively, he moved to the young paramedic’s side. “John?” He touched Johnny’s shoulder.

 

With a violent start, Johnny came out of the trance-like state he had been in and stared at Hank. “Uh… Did you say something, Cap?” He belatedly became aware of Roy’s close scrutiny and the worried looks on both men’s faces. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

 

“I was going to ask you that,” Roy replied, watching Johnny. “You froze getting into the squad.”

 

“You’re pretty shaky, there, John,” Hank noted, his voice concerned. “Why don’t you just sit down here for a minute and let Roy check you out.” It wasn’t a suggestion and Johnny sank to the running board of the squad, suddenly aware that his hands were shaking and his heart racing.

 

“I’m fine,” he protested, but he didn’t sound convincing even to himself. He ran a hand through his hair.

 

Automatically, Roy started taking Johnny’s vitals. His pulse was a little high, but slowing, and apart from the fact that Johnny was sweating, he seemed back to normal. “I can’t find anything wrong,” Roy told Hank. “Johnny? How do you feel now?”

 

“Like an idiot,” Johnny confessed. “I don’t know what happened.”

 

“Are you okay to work, pal?” Stanley asked.

 

“I’m fine, Cap,” Johnny replied. He rose, still feeling his knees slightly shaky, but smiled. “I don’t know what happened there.”

 

“All right,” Stanley nodded. “But any more problems, let me know.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Johnny replied and hopped into the squad without thinking about it.

 

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

 

The problem occurred several times that day. Luckily for Johnny, it didn’t happen when they were toned out, but it was beginning to worry him. It was beginning to worry Roy, too. He shot a glance at Johnny as they drove back from Rampart, where they had been following up a child who had fallen out of a tree. The girl had broken her arm, but was going to be just fine.

 

“Anything you want to talk about?” Roy asked neutrally as he drove.

 

“If I knew where to start,” Johnny replied, frustration in his voice. “I don’t know why I keep freezing. I mean, I must’ve got into the squad – I don’t know – millions of times.” He threw his hands in the air. “Why now?”

 

“I don’t know,” Roy replied, just as frustrated. He opened his mouth to say something soothing – although he didn’t know what – when the tones went off.

 

Station 51, structure fire…” Johnny jotted down the address as it was given and reached for the radio.

 

“Squad 51,” he acknowledged and a few moments later heard Stanley add the familiar, “KMG 365.”

 

As ever, the firefighters’ pulses quickened. They never knew exactly what they would face at a fire. It could be some smoke, a few flames, or it could be a building that was doomed. Both men mentally prepared themselves for search and rescue, working the hose or doing first aid. Both were focused on the job in front of them, Johnny’s problems forgotten.

 

The fire was in an office complex and as Johnny and Roy got out of the squad, they both shrugged on their turnout jackets. There was a pretty fair chance that they would have to do a sweep to be sure everyone was out.

 

They weren’t wrong. It was only minutes later that they entered the burning building, looking for a couple of secretaries that had returned from lunch but hadn’t been accounted for. They worked on the second floor and so that was where the search began.

 

The smoke wasn’t too bad there, but it was getting thicker. Moving quickly, Roy trawled one side of the corridor and Johnny checked the other. Each room was empty and they marked the door with chalk crosses. The heat grew with every moment that passed.

 

“No sign!” Roy yelled.

 

“We need to check the ladies’ room,” Johnny called. It was one thing he hated doing, but they couldn’t by-pass the room. He checked the door for heat and finding it cool, pushed it open. “Fire department! Is anyone in here?”

 

“Here!” cried a small voice and Johnny hurried to the back of the room where he found two young women huddled together on the floor. Smoke was billowing in through the room’s vents and both girls were coughing. Kneeling by them, Johnny took off his helmet and ripped off his face mask.

 

“Are you hurt?” he asked, offering the mask to first one, then the other. He coughed as the smoke tickled his throat.

 

“We’re fine,” the blonde replied.

 

“Let’s go then,” Johnny urged. “My partner’s outside. He’ll help you.” He offered his hand to the petite brunette.

 

Giving the young lady his face mask, Johnny guided her quickly through the burning building. He could sense that the whole place was close to flashing and he wanted out. This was his first day back at work – he didn’t need another trip to Rampart as a patient!

 

Suddenly, the girl tripped, falling against Johnny’s legs and bringing him down almost on top of her. He twisted desperately to avoid landing on her and felt his ankle turn under him. Pain shot through his leg, but he knew there was no time to worry about it. He had to get them out! Gritting his teeth, Johnny clambered to his feet, grabbed the girl and dragged her after him.

 

He barely made the front of the building when it flashed. The explosion blew him several feet through the air and he landed hard, winded. Johnny was vaguely aware of hands grabbing him and dragging him to safety, but he couldn’t help or thank them. He was aware that the girl was safe and beyond that, his only concern was trying to get air into his starving lungs. Breath came back with a jolt and Johnny began to cough.

 

The office building was beyond saving. The fire fighters could only surround and drown. Luckily, the only injuries were the two girls, who had minor smoke inhalation. Johnny helped Roy to tend to them, then rode in with them in the ambulance, non Code-R, and agreed to be checked over, although his ankle was bruised only.

 

“How’s he doing?” Roy asked, coming into treatment four, where Johnny was sitting, shirt off, letting Morton listen to his chest.

 

“I think he’ll live,” Morton replied, dryly. “Okay, Gage, you can go back to work.”

 

“Doc, before we go, Johnny has had a few instances where he hasn’t been able to get into the squad today,” Roy mentioned. Johnny gave him a black look. Unperturbed, Roy continued, “He was really shaken first time it happened this morning. The other times, it hasn’t lasted as long, but he still looked a bit tense.”

 

Morton turned an assessing look on Johnny, who wondered if he really could read the word ‘psychiatrist’ on the doctor’s mind, or if he was just imagining it. Morton had a prickly bedside manner and he and Johnny didn’t always see eye to eye. Johnny tried to look carefree and shrugged.

 

“Hmm.” Morton crossed his arms and pursed his mouth.

 

“What does that mean?” Johnny demanded.

 

“Nothing much,” Morton replied. “But did you fellows ever think about what happened the last time you were together in the squad?”

 

“Huh?” Johnny screwed up his face. “Last time? You mean the last run we had today?”

 

“No, no.” Morton shook his head. “Stop being so literal. I meant the last shift you worked together. What happened?”

 

“We had the wipe out,” Roy replied, revelation in his voice.

 

“You think that’s it?” Johnny sounded skeptical. “I never even thought of that.”

 

“It might not be,” Morton admitted. “And this isn’t my field. But it could be.” He shrugged. “Do you want to see someone about this?”

 

“Hell, no!” Johnny exclaimed. “It hasn’t really been a problem, apart from this morning. I’ll be fine.”

 

It took a few more minutes for them to convince Morton that Johnny would be fine and then to reassure Roy that Johnny was most likely suffering from this problem because he had been more seriously injured. Roy didn’t know if he ought to be insulted that he wasn’t having any collywobbles. Was he less sensitive than his partner? Or was it simply that he was less volatile and didn’t live on his nerves? Whatever the answer, he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.

 

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

 

All the way back to the station, Roy had to endure Johnny ranting about Morton’s suggestion. “I knew he was going to suggest that I see a shrink,” he told Roy for the umpteenth time. “Like I need to see a shrink! I mean, I ask you!”

 

“Some people might find it helpful,” Roy retorted mildly.

 

“Sure some people would, but not me!” Johnny shook his head. “Oh no, I’m perfectly fine!” He slumped back in his seat and was quiet for some time.

 

“What are you thinking?” Roy ventured, wondering if he really wanted to know.

 

“Oh nuthin’ much,” Johnny replied.

 

“I know you, Junior,” Roy warned as he backed the squad into position.

 

“Roy! I’m wounded!” Johnny protested with a big grin and hopped out of the squad.

 

The engine was already back and the crew was sitting at the table drinking coffee. Johnny went across and poured a couple of cups for himself and Roy. Stanley looked up at them both. “Everything okay?” he asked. “No more problems with the squad?”

 

“We talked to Morton about it,” Roy replied. “Johnny’s fine.” He shrugged. “Morton seems to think this ‘problem’ is connected to the accident.”

 

“Dunno why,” Johnny added. “I can’t see it myself.” He put down the coffee cup he was holding and added sweetly, “Mike, I was wondering if on the next run we go on together, you might keep the engine back a bit? I think you must have crept up on your stopping distance there.”

 

It wasn’t often the mild-mannered engineer was moved to retaliate, but he was off his seat and out of the door after Johnny in an instant.

 

Shaking his head, Stanley listened to the high-pitched semi-hysterical laughter coming from the engine bay. “What a pair of twits,” he muttered.

 

 Roy smiled. “Its good to have him back,” he agreed.

 

*****End*****

 

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