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    From Loaves To Fishes
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               Page Four

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"What!? Away from the camp? That's nuts! We're
leaving Roy and those two kids behind!" Kelly shouted,
trying to slow his chesnut mare's flight after Dot.

"Cap'll get em, Chet! He's on the way with
the fire crew and a stokes team remember?!"
Gage shouted.

Kelly let go of his hold on Molly's bit and started
kicking her flanks. "Ok, come on, girl. Move!"

Johnny clucked urgently, leaning down to encourage
Spook into greater speed. "Easy boy, just a little
*cough* farther." he said, giving his mask to the
child in front of him.

The fire became a live animal and writhed above,
boiling the air and stripping the pines into black
ember impaled skeletons of char in seconds.

But the massive fire column twisting in the sky
did not descend to consume the rescuers
and children into its fierce dance.

A wall of heat began to burn the hides of
the laboring horses on their rears.

Then..... Sploosh!

The water's surface offered its layer of breathable air
when the five horses splashed into the river's current
and began swimming for the shelter of the opposite

Looking behind him, Johnny could just see the orange
dot of Pete's kayak safely moored by the beach in the
center of the willow pool. Then smoke obscured it.

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Blowing hard and coughing, the camp horses bore
their riders onwards, gasping in effort and frothing.

Then they were staggering up the far side's knotty
boulders and into the peaceful forest whose fire hadn't
yet the strength to endanger.
The firemen and rangers glanced back only once at the
raging inferno they had left behind. Two singed deer
stood in the river, looking back at them, frightened
of the humans but even more frightened of the fire.
The mulies didn't even move at all.

Julie and Tim took them all to a very high bare rise of
rock where Gage dismounted gladly. He took out a
cherry flare from a pocket and ignited it for the distant
choppers. Its light burst out into a red star from the wax
seal and the wind carried away the steam trail into the sky.

As they watched, collapsed, and holding the horses,
drop planes and water helicopters cut a hole in
the fire line with chemicals and liquid suppressants
until the way to the ranger tower was clear of flames.

Soon, they were overrun with rescuers and vehicles
and brush firemen, who rushed to take the children
to the command center down the highway where
the ambulances and flight helicopters were waiting.

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Gage coughed as he sucked in more oxygen from
a mask an aid worker had given him in Fire Relief

Roy sat on a cot next to him, still covered with dirt
but he was still far more cleaner than his partner was.

DeSoto smiled. "So, how did it feel to be on
horseback like that with the rescue gear on and all?"

"What do you mean, Roy? I was on horseback yesterday
at home when I worked out Eagle."

"You know what I mean. I've always wondered about
mounted firemen at forest fires... using horses to get around at
the fringes of a blaze, then using them to go on
rescues..."  he hinted. "I- I - I know rangers already have
a mounted service. I used to think that was really kinda neat.
I was just wondering that maybe I should suggest to someone
about the forest fire department maybe starting one up, too...."
he said, very reflective. Then he smiled with shy curiosity at Johnny.
" did it feel?"

"You know Roy, quite frankly, I don't remember much.
All I kept thinking about was those children and and..and..
keeping the fire off us long enough to save all our skins."
Johnny admitted, cock eye grinned. "But I'll admit that deep
down inside, I felt a bit like the Lone Ranger because I
had a mask on and everything." he joked.

The two paramedic firemen laughed together about
that mental image until Julie Beck and Tim Cassidy came
into the tent following their medical checkups.

Gage smiled. "Hey.. how are the horses? I figured we
ran em pretty ragged out there."

"They're fine. Dot took a burn on the hock but the vet
says it'll heal cleanly." Julie said. "The rest of them just
have melted hair damage. No wounds."

"That's good."

Tim took off his ranger's hat in a gesture of respect
that made Johnny and Roy sit up straighter.
"Well, we've got to get going. We've piles of reports to
fill out about all this back at Devil's Head.
Listen.. I appreciate all that you guys tried to do for Pete.
It means a whole lot to me and Julie." Cassidy said
meaningfully. The hint of sadness about the boy's loss
still covered his voice.

Both Johnny and Roy got to their feet and accepted
the rangers' handshakes of farewell.

"It's our job to try, Mr. Cassidy. Next time, we'll beat
death. Like we always do ....the majority of the time."
Johnny emphasized.

"It's been a real pleasure.." Roy said. "Who knows,
perhaps we'll work together again in the future."

"Count on it." Beck beamed, wiping away her
tears with a kleenix through a smile.
"Take care.."

"You two.." Gage said. "Stay gold."

The rangers departed.

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Sighing, Roy and Johnny vacated the
medical tent and stood outside under the
stars. Already, the forest fire to the east, was
dimming as cool blessed rain fell in abundance to
snuff it out as the light of a rising dawn grew brighter.

"Hey, would you look at that.." Johnny said in mild
surprise. He started smiling ear to ear.

"Look at what?" Roy asked, crossing his
arms over his dusty uniform shirt.  He winced when
he bumped his taped up ribs.

"Over there, in the camp evacuation block.
That's Kevin, one of the little boys we rescued
on the mountain. He's in that tent under that pine
tree playing with one of the search dogs."

"Oh yeah.." Roy smiled in pleasure. "Looks like
he's doing fine now. Looks like his parents have
found him already."


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A clattering of hooves on pavement broke their
reverie on the soothing sight of a healing child
as Chet Kelly rode by on Molly, the brown camp stable
horse. "Hiya fellas!!  " he shouted enthusiastically.
"What'ya say Johnny.. Think you can hire me out
to exercise your barrel horse once in a while? I think
I'm really starting to get the hang of all this riding stuff.
Yeehhaaaaa!" and he asked Molly to rear in a trick
he had discovered that she knew.

The mare's stunt startled several passing firefighters
on the way to the firelines and caused a water
truck to screech to a halt in alarm.

"Chester B Kelly. Get down from there!" ordered
a booming, couldn't be denied voice. "You're making
the whole Los Angeles County Fire Department
look like a bunch of cowboys.." growled Captain
Stanley from the nearby command tent.

"That can be a good thing, Cap..." Johnny murmured
secretively, thinking of Roy's earlier views.

"Johnny, you just hush.. Kelly, down off her and
get that ridiculous ranger hat off your head. I wanna
see hooves back to the shelter corral so fast that
horseshoe sparks'll still be lit on the asphalt long
after you're gone. Or do you like the idea of being
assigned drip torch detail on the fire line for the rest
of the day before you get breakfast?"

Kelly and Molly were ballistic missiles.

Cap felt the breeze of their departure ruffle his
overcoat as they galloped away.

Stanley grinned in satisfaction and entered the chow
tent with a happy wave at Johnny and Roy. "That felt
wonderful. Always a good thing to let off a little steam
after a bad fire.." he quipped.

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Roy and Johnny moved away from the fire command
tent and accepted plates of food from the aid workers
as they sat down in front of a bon fire lit by some
of the valley camp's staff, for warmth.

Roy chewed, after finding a comfortable position,
then he asked. "So... are you gonna do it?"

Johnny was inhaling his food like a vacuum cleaner.
"Do what?" he asked, chipmunk cheeked. He burned
his mouth on some coffee that was too hot and Roy
had to grab a handful of ice from a water cooler to
put out the fire.

"Let Chet work out Eagle.." DeSoto continued.

"Oh,. Huh. That.." Gage chuckled. "Thanks for the ice.
Don't think I scalded myself more than a little bit. Heh.
Uh.. I think I'll.....I think I'll let ....Chet handle my horse.."
he reflected.

"Your prized appaloosa barrel racer?" Roy asked,
wide eyed in shock.

"No, not him. I think I'll let Chet manage Cochise,
the Falabella. He comes about knee high. He's
a miniature horse, Roy."

Roy burst out laughing to the point of crying
out in pain when his splinted ribs shook.
"Oww.www.. Ha.! hehe. Ow..  ouch.. I don't think
Chet's gonna like that idea very much. I think Chet
had in mind that he wanted to ride some more."

"Nah uh.. no way. Not on my horses. He can just
play amusement pony ride manager for Cochise
at the Fireman's Picnic event and be happy."

"If you say so. Johnny.. Come on, let's go get
cleaned up and hit the hay.. I'm bushed." Roy said
standing up and walking away from the campfire
to make room for new hungry firefighters.

Gage said, scooping up a donut from a box as
he hurried after his partner. "Ouch. Roy, I'm
speared clear through... That hay pun wasn't very
funny at all. " Then.. his voice lifted in an idea.
"Sayyyy,, " John's purred in discovery, "If I play my
cards right.. maybe I can get Chet to be my new stable
boy at the ranch. He'll pitch plenty of hay then for sure
if I can convince him that it's worth it." he grinned.

"Better be prepared to pay.."

"Pay what?"

"A wage. I don't think Chet'll do anything with horses
for free unless it's strictly riding them."

"Who says?"

"I do.." DeSoto said frankly, biting into an apple.

"Wanna bet?"

Roy stopped in his tracks and set both hands as
best he could on his hips and regarded Gage through
slitted, calculating eyes. "After a full night's sleep I will."
he challenged, chewing slowly.

Johnny matched his stance, just as scrutinizing, through
equally slitted eyes. His finger came up and poked Roy
on the chest. "How much?" he asked with a cat that ate
the canary smirk.

Mike Stoker strode by, in fresh turnout, towelling
off his shower fresh, damp hair. "Don't go for it. He'll
rob ya." he called out mischieviously.

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Gage never changed his position. "Don't listen to
him. He's just an engineer. How much?" he asked
Roy again, without even glancing at the gesture taunting
head shaking in the negative Mike rounding the corner
away from them.

DeSoto studied Mike and then angled his jaw in
a final decision. "See you later this evening when our
night shift starts." Roy told Johnny and he resumed
his slow, rib favoring walk.

"Aww Roy, pally. Come on, what's a little bet between
friends?" Gage asked, stepping comically as he fluttered
around his much larger companion.

"A whole lot. Night, Johnny. Go saw some wood." and
the tent door flapped shut in Johnny's face as Roy passed
through it.

"I'd rather burn some...." Gage said, smiling. He turned back
around to look towards the civilian tents. " a campfire,
roasting marshmellows, with a little boy who really really
really likes to fish. I'll just bet little Kevin'll love riding Cochise
at the Fireman's Picnic Event next month."


Episode Ten..   From Loaves To Fishes


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