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       Burning Water
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             Page Two

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From:  patti keiper
Sent: Sun 1/17/16 10:13 PM
Subject: The First Aider

Vince Howard was the first one headed for the door of the Paradise Cove
Beach Restaurant four minutes later. In his hands was his squad car's
E & J resuscitator. "I'll get the man going on this!" he hollered back at Roy
and Johnny, who were gathering up their gear as fast as they could.

Melissa, the hostess, met the paramedics in the parking lot with more details.
"It's Everett Roush. He collapsed at the bar waiting to be seated. It was like he
was choking. But there's no food in front of him from what we can see. Sara
and the front of the house manager are with him now."

"Is he conscious?" Johnny asked.

"No. He didn't look so good. Even just a minute ago." said the young woman.  "He
wasn't breathing well at all. Just one or two wheezy gulps."

Roy spoke up. "Look, ...uh, Melissa." he said reading her name tag. "Stay out here
and show the ambulance attendants where we are. Lead them in, okay?"

"I can do that." she promised, worked up with worry. "It's not like anyone's in a rush
to be seated now with this happening." she said nervously.

"We'll do what we can." Roy promised, shouldering around her in the still warm
beach sand just off the cut log path. "This man has some luck on his side.
You folks called us in very quickly."

To the left of some bamboo hut decor and around an indoor planted palm tree, they
found an open frame doorway strung with a curtain of crystal beads.

"In here!" hollered the manager. "We're in the bar lounge."

Roy and Johnny knelt down by Vince who was already giving breaths to
their patient with a demand valve thumb trigger. "He doesn't have a pulse."
said the rugged police officer in black. "This young lady started C.P.R. right
away, according to her manager." the police officer said, throwing his head at Sara
Butler, who was nimbly keeping up chest compressions around Vince's ventilations.

She was counting out loud. "...2, 3, 4, 5...... He's not obstructed." Sara shared with
the two paramedics. "We checked. He took in breaths we gave mouth to mouth when
we began." she offered, only slightly out of breath. "1, 2, 3, 4, 5.." she counted
once again, after the police officer filled Everett's lungs mechanically.

"How long has he been down?" Gage asked the manager, who was just beginning to
lose his cool.

The Hispanic manager just stuttered, and couldn't articulate a reply.

"Six minutes......eleven seconds....." grunted Sara Butler the waitress, keeping up
steady C.P.R.  "I got my watch on the floor right his head." she gasped.

"You all right keeping that up for another minute or so?"  Johnny asked her, checking
their patient's carotid pulse point for adequate pulse beats on compressions.
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"Yeah... yeah..."   Butler panted.  "I won't stop until you.....say so. This is.....fine."

"We're doing well so far." he told her about the C.P.R.
Gage flipped open the lid of the white Datascope defibrillator and drew out the
handgrip electrodes for a quick paddle read off of the man's bare skin. "I'm reading
course V-fib." he told Roy, who was rapidly setting up an E.T. tube and the biophone.
"Charging to 400 watts!" Gage reported, hitting the red charge button. He gelled up
the paddles and replaced them onto Roush's chest around where Sara's hands were
pumping.  "On three, get away from him. All right? We're going to shock him with

"Okay." Butler nodded, her sandy hair getting into her face. She blew most of it
away from her sweaty face with a clever pursed lip puff, as she worked.

"That's very good C.P.R., by the way."  Gage shared, impressed.

"I'm a girl scout leader. Got some skills." she smirked for an instant. Then her
careful concentration returned.

Gage looked down at the Datascope screen's power readout. "1, 2, 3,... "

Sara leaned back on her knees, lifting her hands up into the air and out of the way.

"...4,...... Clear..." Johnny warned.

"Clear!" shouted Roy.

Roush's body convulsed with Gage's delivered shock.  

Without prompting, Sara Butler started in again on C.P.R. as soon
as the man's body had settled into stillness from the electrical convulsion.

"Nothing... No recapture." said Gage listening with a stethoscope. "Miss?
A break for you. Take his head. Vince, can you switch with her?"

"Yeah." replied Howard.

Sara didn't waste a moment, trading places with a deft scramble.  She properly gave
Everett a breath of oxygen through the mask after snatching the apparatus
away from Vince's grip.

Roy's eyebrows rose in surprise at her. "You learned that fast."

"I was watching him." she said of Vince, leaning forward to rest a bit on her elbows
while she delivered breaths, one every five seconds.  "This doesn't feel any different
than a beer pour spout." she joked. "Same d*mned button." she shrugged, highly
worried about the sick man.

The manager started laughing through his nerves. "You've got our best girl, boys.
In all things. She handles most of our emergencies, using that real cool head of hers."

Gage grabbed a held out biophone receiver from Roy, to begin their hail. "Rampart,
this is Squad 51. How do you read? "  He hit the charge button a second time.

Roy got out a laryngoscope and set up positive pressure suction. He left the unpeeled
airway lying across Roush's stomach in preparation for the order. Roy looked at the bar
keep and at the dinner crowd peppering the lounge who were all watching them with
hushed whispers.  "Did anybody hear him complain about being sick today? Headaches?

"Nope." came the bartender's reply. "There was nothing oddball until he dropped."

"How old is he?" asked DeSoto.

"68. I've carded him for years." replied their helping waitress. At Johnny's double take,
Butler frowned. "I.. like to make older patrons laugh." replied Sara. "No harm in that."

"What's your name again?"  Gage half smiled. "Uh, just for communications sake, miss."

The waitress didn't answer, rightfully ignoring him.
"1,.....2.....3.....400!" said Roy in a firm readout to Gage, purposely interrupting Johnny.
He quickly took the paddles from his distracted partner's hands and used them.

"Clear!" Johnny answered. Again, Everett was defibrillated. This time, the monitor
settled into an ominous, wavery unresponsive flatline, despite the best CPR delivery
possible being offered by the very experienced Vince.

Gage finally got a start reply from what was a very busy hospital. ##Go ahead, 51.##
came Early's ready prompt over the background noise of several simultaneous paramedic
calls being handled by Morton and Brackett, behind him.

"Rampart, we've a 68 year old, non-obese male. Down from a witnessed
cardiac arrest. CPR was offered immediately by wait staff. We've defibrillated
times two. No recapture. Now showing a fine asystole despite CPR and 100%
O2.." Johnny reported.

##10-4, 51. Attempt an I.V. of Lactated Ringer's. Intubate with an endotracheal tube
and administer two milligrams 1/10,000 epinephrine by E.T. Then defibrillate again.
Send me a strip.##

Gage complied. "Establish a line of L.R...  E.T. deliver 2 mg's epinephrine through
a pulmonary route and follow with a third stacked countershock. 10-4."

Roy worked quickly and got the airway in. He told Sara how to tie it off with
gauze ribbon so it wouldn't move up or down while in between Everett's teeth.

"What does it say at the tick marks on the tube. Right where he's biting?" DeSoto
asked her while he suctioned out some saliva from the man's mouth with a wand.

"15 centimeters."  Butler replied, bending low.

"Write it down." Roy told her.  

"Got it." Sara said, writing the number in pen onto a table cloth near her

"Now keep breathing for him, just like you've been doing on the valve, to just a slight
chest rise for each time. Tell Johnny that measurement when he asks for it." DeSoto
told her, drawing up epinephrine into a syringe. "It'll help Respiratory manage this
tube better, later on."

Butler nodded.

The powerful stimulant was added and one bigger positive pressure vent was used to
deliver the medication deep into the man's bronchial passages.

"Got my line, too." Johnny told Roy, hitting the charger on the defib unit
with the high flowing I.V. bag hanging from his teeth. "This is times three. 1....2..."
he counted off, his voice steadily keeping track of passing time."...3....400 watt
seconds. "

"Everybody clear!" shouted Roy, and they instantly were. Roush's body lifted
up at the shock with even less muscular reaction than before, with hardly any
twitching response to the electricity coursing through his body.

Vince and Butler started in once again on their solidly working CPR while Roy
turned on the cardiac telemetry that he had patched and wired into the biophone
to send to Rampart.

Joe Early's response came fast.
##I see the change, 51. Administer 1.5 mg/kg Lidocaine intravenously, 51.
Repeat every 3-5 minutes until a total of 3 mg/kg has been given. Also
Bretylium 5 mg/kg I.V.# said Joe, reading the monitor. ## Counter shock one
more time. If we don't get an independent rhythm, give another 2 mg.'s
epinephrine by E.T. and follow it with a 20 mg. normal saline fluid bolus. Give
one amp sodium bicarb I.V.. He's in heavy acidosis.....##

DeSoto anticipated. "I'll get a stokes. Let's not wait for the ambulance guys to
worm their way into the building through this dinner crowd."  He passed over
the prepared medications to Johnny and ran for the door.

"Here, hold this." Johnny told the dining room manager, passing off the I.V. bag.
Gage parroted their medical orders into the phone. "10-4, Rampart. 2 mg.'s epi
endotracheally with a bolus flush of normal saline. One amp bicarb I.V push. Stand
by for our fourth countershock."  said Johnny.

##Standing by.##

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Five minutes later, the Mayfair attendants were loading Mr. Roush with Roy at
his head offering breaths by bag and an E.M.T. hovering over his chest, continuing

There had been no improvement on the monitor.

Johnny looked around for Vince as he passed off his gear to DeSoto
through the open ambulance doors. "Where did that waitress go? We
wanted to thank her for her help."

Howard put away his oxygen equipment and slammed his trunk shut. "Her
manager sent her home. He mentioned something about her also dealing with
a friend who was injured in a truck fire today."

"She knew our driver from this afternoon?! Roy, did you hear that?" Johnny said.

Vince just shrugged.

So did Roy, who was working quickly to package their patient for their tandem
transport by switching out oxygen tubing and hanging I.V. lines from the cot's
foot pole.

"I knew I should have gotten her name." Gage sighed regretfully.

Vince went on. "He figured that was enough on the girl's plate for one night.
I'd go back inside and get her name for you, but I gotta go. My calls are piling

"Oh, man. And Malibu's a long way from home. I won't be able to easily
get back here to find that kind of information out. They won't give it to me
over the phone." he said gesturing at the restaurant.

"Sorry, Johnny." Vince waved. "Can't help you with her."

"It's all right. Thanks, Vince." Gage waved, closing the rig's doors and smacking them
after checking them for a tight latch.  He watched the policeman drive off. Then he
reached up and picked both his and Roy's helmets from on top of the squad's rail bed.
"Hey, Roy.. you forgot your--!"

The Mayfair took off, spinning up a large plume of beach sand into the night sky
as it began its transport run with full lights and siren on.

"...helmet." he finished, watching the grains sparkle in the moonlight as they
rained back down onto the path next to him.  "I guess I'll meet you at the hospital
with it." he sighed tiredly.

On the way there, he ran all of what they had done through his head.
Sadly, Gage realized that the man they had handled so smoothly together,
was probably already just a corpse that they were keeping dutifully warm and pink.
The latest strip in the bar had shown the ominous earmarks of an end stage result of
a heart attack called The Widow Maker.

::H*ll, what a kicker for her. She deserves to find out about both of them, rules or no
rules. She tried so hard. I'll find a way to tell her their generalized outcomes at any
rate. She already knows who they are.:: Johnny promised.
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From:  patti keiper  
Subject: Finesse...
Sent: Sat 1/30/16 4:13 PM

James Garner expertly parked in a visitor's space at Rampart. He leaped
out of his driver's seat and headed for the nearest pair of hospital staff
walking on the grounds. "Which way to Emergency? My father's here."
he asked.

Two nurses pointed to the velvet roped ambulance entrance door beyond
the skyway. "Check at the main desk. Ask for Dixie." said one young R.N.

"Thanks." replied Jim, rushing inside as fast as he could walk.

The E.R. was bustling in the waiting room when the worried private
eye stood in the center of a hallway intersection to get his bearings.

A few seconds later, he noticed orderlies and doctors alike making a
beeline for the nurse posted desk to his right next to a glass room.
"Aha. The female organizer behind all the chaos.." he mumbled to himself.

Stepping up to Dixie McCall's charting station, Jim Rockford waited with
only miminal patience while the head nurse finished answering her phone call.

"Now, Miss, those are the rules. I can't give out names unless you can prove
you are next of kin. I understand you know the patient because you've
waited on his table for years, but I'm not allowed to provide protected
patient information. I'm sorry. Perhaps if you call one of his relatives. That
way consent to share information can be granted by the family. Okay?
Try that. Goodbye, miss. Good luck." McCall sighed as she hung up
the phone.

She eyed up the fifties, black wavy haired male in a cheap woven suit
pacing in front of her thoughtfully. "Ah, if I only had a dime for every time
somebody tried to charm private info off of me, I'd be a millionaire.
I sure hope you aren't one of those schmos, mister. I've had quite a day."

"You're in luck. I'm next of kin, Dixie."

McCall's eyes widened at the mention of her first name which wasn't
provided on her name tag.

Rockford held up a defensive hand. "Easy does it. You're fine, Ms. McCall.
A passing nurse gave me your name when I was coming in. She pegged
me as a genuine I guess."
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Dixie relaxed and pulled over her stack of charts a little closer so she
could leaf through them. "What's the relation?"

"Rocky, er... Joseph Rockford. My dad. He was in a truck fire earlier in the day."  

Dixie began to smile.

"Is that buttering me up for something? Or.. or.. is that good news?" Jim
asked with apprehension, fidgeting with one of her pencils.

"Your dad's quite a character, Mr. Rockford. All he could talk about is you.
That and something about horses." she said, making a puzzled face.

"Horses?! Did Rocky hit his head?" Jim asked, watching Dixie pull
out his father's chart. "He hasn't gambled on any since I was a kid."

"Head's fine. I don't think he was talking about racing. Anyway, he just has
small cuts and abrasions and he took in little too much smoke. All superficial."  
At Jim's sigh of relief, Dixie added more. "Sign here and we'll keep him a few days
until that moderate secondary cough of his is under control."

"Why do I have to sign his admission papers?"

"Rocky tried to leave to go look after those horses I told you about.
He's not convinced that the new friend he found will actually do it."
Dixie explained.

Jim Rockford grunted and penned away his authorization with alacrity.
"I suggest you post security on his door, Miss McCall. He's one stubborn cuss."

"About as stubborn as you barging ahead of the line?" Dixie grinned again,
pointing to the waiting room of other folks filling out forms for their
family and friends who were patients.

"Yeah. One and the same." he apologized, handing the signed chart back.
"I'll find out who that friend is, for all of us, so we won't have an escape
happening later on in the middle of the night. Do I have any hope of seeing him

"Ask those two paramedics where he is. They're the ones who brought your
dad in."Dixie told him. "Once they figure out that you're a relative, they'll talk
a blue streak about him." she promised. "Now I've got some other work to do,
if you'll excuse me, please." McCall inclined her head.

Rockford took the hint. "Thank you, ma'am." And he ambled away with a polite smile.

He cornered Roy and Johnny by the drinking fountain. "Hi. I'm Rockford.
I understand you guys rescued my father from his oil tanker this morning.
I want to thank you. Personally." he said, offering them his outstretched
hand for a shake of welcome. "Name's Jim."

"Hello, Jim." "Hi." they replied, straightening up from drinking out of
the fountain. "I'm Roy. He's Johnny."

Johnny Gage set a box of supplies on his hip. "Your dad's
sure one lucky man. A minute more and that fire would have--"

"...been put out entirely." Roy neatly intercepted. "Saving us the need to
rappel him out by the armpits like we did. Coming to see him?"

"I sure am." Rockford said.

"We'll take you there. Our engineer's got some unofficial
business with him that we need to clarify." said DeSoto.

"Oh, really?"  

"Yeah, turns out your father was babysitting a friend's stables around his
work shifts we think. Rocky asked our Mr. Stoker to go take over the favor.
Our man had to say yes or Rocky never would have left the fire." Gage

"That conniving, no good.. swindling.." Jim sputtered. "He could have died
pulling that kind of sh--"

"No way, sir." Gage said. "We already had the ropes on and he was half way
out of there before he even took another breath. Don't blame him. His
heart's all in the right place. For you see, I own a few horses myself. I know
what he was talking about when he said he'd go through H*ll and high water
for them."

Jim frowned at Johnny. "Dixie said my dad's already tried to get out of
bed to leave the hospital over this horse thing. Can you help me
out at all so that he doesn't try that little stunt again about it?"

Both paramedics nodded.

Gage turned down his H.T. radio noise a little.
"Sure. Mike Stoker's already said he'll do it. He called me a few minutes
ago over the phone to learn how. All we need is the address of that barn
from Rocky. He's where we're headed next with your permission." Johnny

"Lead the way, gentlemen. Keep me from killing him in the process, would ya?
I'm mad as h*ll he got hurt because of a few hundred gallons of mineral slime."
Rockford growled.

"All's well that ends well." Roy murmured.

"You think?"  Rockford snapped. "Sure hope so after all of this nonsense. It's
making my ulcers act up something fierce."
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A few minutes later, the three men re-entered the corridor on the third floor.

"Good. He's finally sleeping." Rockford said once the door was closed.
"Are you sure that's not a I'm-really-hurt-pass-out going on?" the P.I.

"It's a sedative." Roy offered with a knowing nod. "I read the add on label on
Rocky's I.V. bag.  Dr. Overstreet injected Valium as a piggy back aid to his sugar water
just before we got there."

Jim leaned against the wall in fatigue, holding his stomach as he let go a
huge sigh of stress.

He felt something cold bump his arm. Jim looked down and saw Roy offering
him a bottle of pink anti-acid. "That's for you. Call it mutual aid. Off the
record. It'll get rid of that flare up."

"Thanks." Jim said. "If there's anything I can do for you guys, just say the word.
We owe the fire department. Big time." he said taking a large swig of Pepto

"No you don't." DeSoto began.

Johnny cut off his partner. "Ah,.. just a second, Roy. There may be a ..small
favor he can do for us... uh, for me." he amended when Roy began to glare
at him.

"You see, Mr. Rockford, there's this gal who helped us out a lot today with a heart
attack victim. We want to thank her, but we don't know her name."
Johnny shrugged.

Jim Rockford began to smile. "Where does she work?"

Johnny blurted out his answer quickly.
"Uh, the Cove Beach Restaurant in Malibu. She stands about five three,
long curly blond medium length dirty blond hair, eyes you can get
lost in.."  

"They're hazel." Roy supplied with a incredulous grin at Johnny's

"She's a waitress. One heck of a level head on her shoulders--"

"Wait a minute." said Rockford. "Does this young lady happen to wear
her emotions on a sleeve with a cool intellect that could burn holes
through your ears?"

"That's the one." Gage said.

"I know who she is."

"Wow, uh, okay. What's her name?" Johnny grinned crookedly.

"I'm not going to tell you." Rockford said, crossing his arms with a neutral

"Well,... why not?" Johnny sputtered. "All we want to do is thank her. Maybe
give her an award for.."

"I'm a private eye. My services cost."

"How much?" the Native American paramedic swallowed dryly.

"I charge two hundred dollars a day plus expenses."

"That's a rip off! For providing us one name?!" Johnny sputtered.

Roy shushed the pair of them, dragging both Jim and Johnny away
from Rocky's door so he wouldn't hear all the shouting.

"My dad's bills aren't going to be free and guess who gets stuck paying
them when the social security check runs out?" Jim glared back.
"I'm not a rich man. I live in a trailer."

"That's cold."

"No, that's life." Jim countered. "So what's it gonna be? Another
hand shake?"

Sighing, Gage honored the agreement with some return skin.
"Yes, sir. You drive a hard bargain."

"No, a necessary one. One that benefits only my father." Jim

"Great. That settles that. What's her name?"

"I'm not going to tell you until you pay me first for one entire day."

"What?!" sputtered both paramedics.

Jim Rockford stopped leaning on the wall and began to lean forward.
"Fair's fair. I've been swindled once too often by clients who
decide not to pay up for services rendered."

"We fight fire, Mister! We're not crooks." Gage protested.

"For whatever disease you have that allows you to do that, I'm
sure it's got letters and that they make lots of little pills for it."
Rockford said, walking away. "We'll be in touch."

"You don't know how to reach us." Johnny yelled after him.

"I'm a private investigator. I can find out anything."
It's about time you have a little faith in one of us professional snoops,
Mr. Gage. I sure had a lot when you fellas rescued my father.." he
challenged back.
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From:  patti keiper (  
Subject: Comeuppance..  
Sent: Sun 8/07/16 8:55 AM

Hank Stanley's fingers itched to receive his white hat. It had been
a week of exercises, written and practical exams, and finally the last
of the detailed testing by the chiefs'  board from the county. He knew
his scores were good. He knew he deserved a battalion's spot. ::I've been
a proverbial carpet for chiefs' shoes long enough.:: he smiled mentally.
::Lay it on me.:: he let go with a sigh.::I want to be free of that.::

"...And in conclusion," droned on the highest chief of the Fire Department.
"..all of your years of hard work and dedication have finally paid off. I can
think of no finer candidates to add to our top team."

Stanley watched as Houts smoothed the white cloth on top of a brand new
graduation style chief's hat absently as he gave his speech.

"May I call up our very own Captain Henry Stanley of Station 51, Division

::Now.:: Hank thought. He got up from his chair and dreamily made his way
up to the front of the class next to the podium.

Houts held out the creamy white hat to him using both of his own white
dress gloved hands formally, smiling widely. "Here you go, Hank. I'm very proud
of you. Congratulations, Fire Chief Stanley, welcome to our ranks."

Hank no sooner touched its rim when it suddenly burst into flames a foot high.
"Ahh!!" cried Cap. He leaped backwards and dropped the burning hat in horror.
"What th--?!"

Unexpectedly, Houts and the whole class exploded in uproarious laughter,
adding to Hank's stunned confusion. A fire cadet appeared instantly from
around a corner with a handy fire extinguisher, and put out the fire.

"Just a joke, Hank. Relax. This was Chief McConnike's final request as stated
in his will. We had to honor it to the letter. You see, he didn't want you
to have just a brand new piece of freshly commissioned get up for your special day.
No... He wanted to leave you his very own personal hat to wear for the rest of
your days as... what he had always considered you to be... a very respectable career
man. So consider this as so bequeathed. With both of his and my deepest honor
and duty, we now bestow this token of your new office."

McConnikee's hat was encased in a clear plastic cellophone dust cover, packaged neatly
on a pillow of blue velvet. It was richly aged. It still glowed with a purity of
snow white that rivaled the factory made sets awaiting the rest of the class. A
highly polished challenge coin was nestled to one side of the black head band.

Stanley pulled it out in his fingertips with real reverence and some bemusement. He read
its inscription aloud."To the ultimate prankster, a one Hank Stanley." Lying underneath
it, was a note sealed in red drip wax. Hank quickly opened it. He read to everybody,
choking up as he did so. "See? I finally got your name right, son. And I got my final
revenge. Serve the department well and long my friend. All my best, including my
favorite red car to drive, is now yours."

The room erupted in cheers and a standing ovation. Stanley was suddenly overwhelmed
with emotion, eyes finally overbrimming. There was nothing sweeter than Emily's arms
as she rushed up from the audience, wrapping herself around him as Houts crisply set
McConnikee's revered hat on Hank's head.

He turned around and acknowledged his commander in chief with a hand shake. "I'll never
top it, sir." he said to Houts. "That stunt was...absolutely awesome!"

"To tell you the truth, Hank, I don't think anyone ever will. Please, call me Richard.
You can do that now."

"Yes, sir." Cap beamed.

An hour later, the CIC came back to Stanley's side as Cap reluctantly pulled off his new hat
until he was officially on the job.

"Oh,.. a word of advice." whispered Houts. "If I catch you or any one of your stations'
men ever calling me Ricky, on or off duty, I'll demote and bust you back down to captain
so fast, your trumpets'll spin." he said with a wink, pointing at Cap's now old rank
insignia pins on his collar. "See you later. I'll probably be hearing from you over the radio
sooner in the future, than what we've initially planned for you. The Escondido fire is turning
into a storm, Hank. It's so hot, it's beginning to burn water." he said significantly.

"I'll be ready. And... thanks for the bump up. I've really been wanting this, sir."

"Uh huh... For years. We've known." Houts said, smiling. "That's why we prepped you so
heavy and let you stew a while. Your job as everybody else's chief is only going to get harder
as more people come to live in our county. We have to be ready. Keep in touch." said
the chief, saluting in ceremony, and dismissal. "I have to go. Duty calls."

"Yes, sir, it does." Cap returned the salute and watched as his commander walked away.

A change in the light suddenly made Stanley looked out the window at the sky. It was the color
of blood.  ::Wildfire smoke? Here?:: he wondered in his head. ::We're nowhere near the

Cap rushed out the door and down the hall to the L.A. Headquarters dispatching area to see what
was happening in the heart of his fire department.
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Date: Wed 11/2/2016 5:46 AM
From :  patti keiper  <>
Subject :  Out Foxed..  

"I'll take a double deep chili dog. Hold the mustard." said James Rockford at Davey's Dogs.

It was full night and the night crickets were already in full voice around him.

Johnny Gage, seated to Jim's left on another stool was oblivious to ordering food. His eyes had
priority over his empty stomach because they were full of their third companion, Sara Butler    
"Wow." said the infatuated young paramedic. "I can't believe they gave you the night off from
work." he grinned. The hearts for the slim waitress were evident in his voice as well as his eyes.

Sara Butler smiled. "I was surprised, too. But Mickey said I needed a reward for saving one of his best
regular customers." she chuckled, biting into her foot long hot dog.

Gage practically drooled on his rust and bone colored western shirt. "I can just imagine what
that's like."

Rockford shook his head at Johnny and facepalmed. "Nothing like a little innuendo to sweeten
up a date, eh?" he murmured to himself.

"Huh?" his two companions replied, distracted with either dinner or open full blown admiration.

The private eye covered his tracks nimbly. "Nothing like a little dins, you. Eat up. We're late."

"Where are we going next?" Johnny asked.

"My place to settle up, if you catch my drift." Jim said unsubtlely. Then he winked.

Gage's crush face immediately fell into disappointed recollection of the two hundred dollars
finder's fee he still owned the P.I.

"Settle up what?" asked Sara.

Jim was merciless. "Oh, just a" he lied. "Our young fireman friend here wanted something
really bad. So I gave it to him." he said ironically.

Johnny's face flopped wide open in shock. He immediately flashed,  shut-up gestures at him
behind Sara's back until she turned around and looked at him in puzzlement. By then, he was
already innocently sucking on a malt straw.

Jim winked, then pounced. "So,..who gets to walk you to your door after supper tonight?" he asked
Butler with a winning smile.

Gage tried not to look thunderstruck as his latest crush eyeballed them both with a mischievious
grin on her face. "You." she sighed, stuffing a cold french fry into her mouth enthusiastically.
"Because you asked first, Mr. Rockford." she declared.

Johnny tried his best to look gracious behind them.
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Sam Lanier looked up as Hank Stanley entered the communications bay of L.A. Headquarters.
"Capt.. OHhhh...chief now?" he sputtered, seeing the white hat and formal dress uniform he was

"In title only." muttered Hank wryly. "I'm still a cap, duty wise, until the rest of the pile of paperwork
pulls through." Stanley leaned over Sam's status board. "I couldn't resist taking a peek. Our illustrious
commander-in-chief cut short our graduation ceremony acceptance speeches and came directly here."

"With good reason." said the dark complexioned dispatcher. "It's the San Bernadino Gorge
neighborhood. A hot spot's broken out."

Hank sucked air in between his teeth. "Oh, boy. I know that place well. It's been the subject of the
next-to-go-up-in-serious-flames talks for years now. Overgrown with drought killed manzanita and
cholla brush two stories high."

"Yep. Since the late 1960s. It's a miracle that tinder trap's waited this long to ignite."

"How many homes are in danger?" asked Cap.

Sam picked up his notes. "Two. And a hydroelectric plant above the dam."

"Ow.." he sympathized, adding layers of complexity to the difficulty of the new firefight to come
around the industrial site. "And if I remember rightly, that water pump at the top of the gorge is
a drinking supply source for millions?"

"I'm afraid so."

"All right. Too bad we can't get permission to open the flood gates. They're facing in the wrong
direction. Okay, which building is closer to the fire?" Captain Stanley asked, looking at the map Sam
had pulled up on the topography of the area. "House One. Here. On a ridge. It's directly downwind
of the origin point."

"Send the specs and the current situation to Brice at 51's. I'll be choosing to station them at the
new EOC the CIC's currently game planning. I need his kind of thinking."

"I'll get right on it, sir." Sam replied, settling a microphone/earphones set on top of his head.

Hank paused, half way out the door. "Sam..  Do they know the cause of this new brush fire yet?"

"P.D. said it's suspicious. They spotted a man with a backpack running for cover, away from the
second house now inside the fire zone, during an active burglary call. The cops saw him disappearing
down hill into the darkness. Soon after, a news chopper spotted the blaze in the gorge."

"Damn. Arson, as a get away distraction.." grumbled Cap, making a xerox copy of the map Sam had
shown to him. "Plenty of caves down there to hide in, too."

"Almost a certainty. What's one more felony between friends?" shrugged Lanier. "A good thing is,
he was apparently doing his thieving, and that fire starting, alone."

Hank Stanley was not comforted in the slightest. "Between you and me, Sam, at this time of year,
just one guy's probably enough to burn the whole county down."
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"So where are we headed?" Gage needled Stoker in the Volkswagon Beetle
the engineer was driving. "We have to be at Staging for the fire at three."

"We won't be far from there, Johnny. Do you remember our last victim call?"
he asked, passing over a business card that he pulled out of his uniform shirt

"Yeah, the hapless trucker. The dad to that annoying P.I. who scampered off
with both two hundred dollars of mine and my girl."

Mike smiled in sympathy. "That was a finder's fee rightfully earned and our
contact there's name, is Rocky."

Gage peered at the card using his penlight and read the address off of it. He
grimaced at first at the sight of what he thought was old blood. Then he
remembered that it was actually crude oil, color changed by fire retardant
effects. He sniffed the card in a test. "So why are we going to this place?"

"I sort of promised him that I'd take care of a couple of his friend's horses
while he was laid up." said Stoker.

Johnny sighed. "Aw, Mike, You didn't."

"I had to, or he never would have cooperated getting carted off to Rampart
with you guys." Stoker defended.

"So that's why Brice told us we couldn't talk to next of kin any more in the
future. He must have overheard what you said to Rocky. You made him a promise
that never should have been made?"  the dark haired paramedic reasoned.
"Yes. It had to be whatever it took to get him out of there."

Gage finally shrugged. "I know. It's always tempting to say things to get
cooperation in a victim. But do you know what you're getting us into?"

"Yeah." Mike said. "Rocky filled me in over the phone from his hospital room.
There's only two, and they're draft horses."

Johnny swallowed in relief. "Good. We won't need to groom them. Heavyweights
don't like to roll on the ground."

"Now you see why I dragged you along. Not only are we saving a little gas
by carpooling to the fire, I get your expertise on caring for them."

"Just this time. I'm not the one who promised the moon like a certain fireman
engineer did."

"Thanks for your help for just this one day then." Mike inclined his head.

"You're welcome." Johnny finally grinned. "It's been a long time since I've
had a chance to play with draft horses. It's usually a lot of fun."


"Is this it?" asked Johnny as they pulled up to the edge of a wide canyon
bottoms meadow that was ringed in white wooden fences.
An alfalfa field stood three feet high inside.

Mike Stoker aimed a flashlight up at the still early morning shadowed property
archway gate sign that curved over the road. "Tucker's Glen. Property stake...
007416." he read off of the reflective marker beside one of its posts. "Yep. We're
here. And both of them should be in there." He pointed into the tall grazing
grass pasture beside them.

Gage got out after they parked near a well kept barn that had its weathered
main double doors cracked slightly open in invitation. "I got this. I know how
to bring 'em in. No way are we gonna find and catch them in all of that tall feed
over there."

The two blue jeaned firefighters walked up to the pasture's gate near a pair of
hanging red leather and chain halters and lead ropes.

Johnny swung open the gate wide, passing off one of the halter sets to Mike to
dangle from his forearm. "Just copy what I do after they come in." Gage reached
for a bucket of sweet feed tucked protectively under the water trough. He whistled
shrilly, then shook the steel pail until the sugary grain within rustled loudly.
"Dinner time, guys! Soup's up!" he shouted.Mike and Johnny eyed the
waving field expectantly. There came a dubious, unseen equine snort from the
curtain of grass, but no answering thunder of hooves at the summons and promise
of a treat. After a minute of vocal encouragement, he gave up. "Huh." he grunted.
"That trick usually does it. I don't know why it didn't work this time."

Stoker sighed tolerantly. He marched over to the horse's water well and rang a
very large metal triangle musically with its hanging striker. A peel of excited
whinnying filled the air and suddenly, the wall of alfalfa grass exploded apart
when at two huge Shires, a black and a red, burst into view rushing at them at
a full gallop.

Johnny's mouth dropped full open. "H-How did you do that?" Gage wondered as
the horses eagerly thrust their heads into the halters offered to their noses.  The
frisky horses quieted down into bouncy energy laden prances as they trailed behind
their handlers.

Mike shrugged. "They don't want food, Johnny. They were already surrounded
head high in the stuff. All they wanted was a little action." He grinned widely.  
At Johnny's puzzled look, he flung open the barn doors which let in the rich
sunlight all the way to the back stalls.

The dusty air from the sweet smelling straw and sandy interior cleared away,
revealing the glint of brass, polished chrome and the red and black filigree
paint art of a turn of the century horse drawn steam fire engine. It appeared
lovingly maintained to a fine polish over every inch.

Mike chuckled as the black horse he held easily dragged him good naturedly
over to nuzzle the heavy black and silver studded work collar of a fire horse's
brightly painted harness. "I'm told these two are the retired parade route fire
horses the city of Santa Barbara used to keep as their symbolic mascots back
in the day for their fire department. This black boy is Neb. And the red mare
you've got is Sally. They were raised, trained and have lived together since
they were foals. Rocky told me our job now is to curry them up,  condition
treat their hooves, then get them into this team hitch and go out for a spin
around property every couple of days, with that." he said, pointing to the shining,
sparkling fire rig behind them.

"Far out. Really?" drooled the dark haired paramedic. Johnny couldn't honestly
decide right then in that moment, about which of the two he was most excited
about, the horses, or the idea of driving heavy drafts on top of the gleaming
antique fire pumper.

Mike just nodded, letting his friend recover from the shock of encountering  two
of his favorite things.

"Thanks for asking me instead of Chet."

"You were my only choice for this, Gage."
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From: Patti Keiper <>
Date: Wed 11/9/2016 2:41 PM
Subject:  Under Fire..

A half an hour later, they were half way up the trailhead, having the time of their lives.  

"Whoa, Neb! Easy, Sally! No need to run any more. You're in your golden years." Gage laughed
to the draft horses underneath his reins. A light hand was all it took to guide them over the path.

Mike Stoker was fiddling with his HT while he sat in the seat on the antique fire engine next to Johnny.
"Aren't you curious about what's going on with our brush assignment yet?" he said, holding the radio
to his ear so he could listen to all of the radio chatter.

"I don't need high tech. All I need to do is look up." the dark haired paramedic teased, pointing skyward.

An ominous tri-color gray cloud of a growing wild fire smoke column was clearly visible through the canyon
trees to their left. When the wind was right, they could smell the fire.

"No wonder the horses want to run. They think they're answering a call here." Stoker marveled. "I'm sort of glad
I filled the tank on back. We might run into a hot ember storm or two up there."

"Still want to get up high and look at it?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah. I want to know how many days we're going to be stuck over there fighting that fire with the brush crews.
My wife wants an estimate on how long I'll be away for this one."

Ebony black Neb snorted, picking his feet up as eagerly as his red stablemate as they snuck into a canter
from a casual trot.  Johnny obliged them. "Okay, you two. Only because I know you got good shoes on your feet.
Step lively." he clucked.

The draft horses wearing their spark blinkers tugged along their little red and gold steam powered fire engine a little
quicker behind them.

Mike Stoker had out the map of the property. "The right fork coming up leads to the top of the ridge by the dam."

"Got it." Gage replied.  "Should be a good enough vantage point."

"I could call L.A. and get a fire report that way." Mike said, turning up the traffic volume on their HT.

"Where's the fun in that?  The horses wanted to do this as much as we did. Just chill. There's a whole mountain
range between us and that burn. Let them get their kicks. I can't see that private eye's father tackling this hill with
them. We're probably giving them the last chance they'll ever get to see a real fire again."  Johnny replied.

Mike Stoker smiled at that as his teeth rattled with the rough travel from the fire engine's wagon wheels.

Suddenly, they were there at the summit overlooking the lake reservoir and the whole sky opened up before them.

"Ho!...Hold up, yokes. We're there." Gage eased the excitedly blowing Neb and Sally to a halt at the end of the trail
by a pair of houses built on top of the picturesque ridge.  On the shoreline, they could see the fire department
helicopters lined up to fill their drop tanks. He counted them. "One, two, three....  nine, ten,...eleven..Wow. Looks like
at least three counties worth of choppers are here."

Mike and Johnny could make out the tall red flames shooting up out of the gorge far below them in between the trees.
Stoker commented. "Those are almost big enough to leap the gap between canyon rims."

"Do you see any crews down there?" Gage asked.

"Not yet. But I've heard them talk about this firebreak point. It's in the plans to mobilize in the morning to see if they can
save these two structures and the dam's main utility building." Stoker shared.

The wind shifted and suddenly the smoke billowed up from below and buried them in inky blackness. The two draft
horses obeyed their training and suddenly went still in the darkness.

"There's going to be embers soon, Johnny. Feel that heat." Mike told him.

"What do you want to do then? Lay down some water?" he joked.

"Yeah." the engineer nodded seriously. "How about around this clearing on either side of the dirt road? You and I both
know that this is where smoke jumpers are going to land next to configure the chiefs' plan of attack and build a camp."

"All right. Rocky said all the water's free to waste. So let's do it." Johnny agreed. He set the brake on the fire engine
and the two of them dismounted from the seat. It only took a moment to drape the wet nose cloth bags around
Neb and Sally's muzzles to protect them from any wind blown ash rising up out of the burning canyon miles below.

The red fire hose was short but it did the job nicely. They used up their last gallon around the driveway of the closest
house that was painted a light yellow. It had a peach stucco roof and a small flower garden around its swimming pool.

"These old things really work!" Johnny celebrated, patting the side of the old steam fire engine. "That should save the
ground crews a whole lot of prep time getting things set up here."

"Should we let L.A. know what we did to help out?" Mike asked Johnny.

"Nah. Let them see the fresh mud, all of the hoofprints, and zero tire tracks. Let em marvel."
Gage was reeling up the last of the hose onto the steam engine's back rack when his eye fell onto a row of windows
on the house. One of the window panes was shattered and his eye caught the glitter of glass shards on the ground
whenever the sun broke through the banks of fire smoke sweeping over the path. "I don't believe it. Hey, Mike. I think
looters are out already. That window over there's newly broken."

"There are no cars up here, Johnny. Whoever it is, they're on foot."

"Let's flush them out for the home owners by making some noise. It's the least we can do. They're probably just kids."

"Wait, I'll let L.A. know first." Mike countered. He got on the radio."L.A., this is Mike Stoker, County 51. We're on the ridge
by Firebreak 210 at the top trailhead. We're off duty but we're going to check out signs of a burglary at 17502 Aspen
Way. Notify P.D. to respond. We see no vehicles in the immediate area. Might be past action."

##Proceed with caution, 51. Records show that there was a police response at another address in your area
last night. They were seeking a possible at large burglar/arsonist.## the dispatcher advised.

"Understood. Uh, we'll make no approach then. This for P.D.: There are signs of break-in window damage on the south side
of the house."

##10-4, 51. P.D. has been notified. They report an E.T.A. of 25 minutes.##

Mike Stoker eyed up the silent house nervously as they turned the horses around to go back to the hobby farm
down the dirt road.  They both climbed up into the fire engine riders's seat. Gage clucked and jigged the reins on top of Neb
and Sally's back to get them moving. They were both grateful for the cover of the thickening smoke to hide them as they left.

They were rounding the bend, just around the corner from the hobby farm's alfalfa field, ten minutes later. Gage had the brake
applied for the steep hill leading down to the canyon's floor so the fire engine would not be a huge weight for Neb and Sally
to resist while they descended into it. "I hate people some times." he told Mike. "Here we are in the heart of rural canyon
country and still, crime follows us. It's ugly to hear about it. And it's definitely no fun to think about it, even casually."

"Yeah, well, at least we're not seeing any today." said Mike. "That could have been really bad back there at that house."

"I was only trying to help out, Mike." Johnny said. "I'm a home owner and I guess I sympathized a little bit too much with
another one."

"Uh huh." Mike agreed mildly. "Let's stick with fighting fires. We know how they roll a lot better."

Suddenly, a shot rang out from the forest surrounding them. One of black Neb's ears disintegrated in a plume of blood
and the old black horse reared up in blinding pain. He careened sideways into red Sally, trying to escape his agony.

The jolt ripped the hold Johnny had on the brake lever on the steep slope, freeing both horses to panic bolt down
the road. Stoker's HT radio went flying off into the darkness and was lost. Their increasing speed almost toppled the heavy
steam fire engine thundering behind them. Both driver reins snapped apart and began flapping loosely in the wind. Gage saw
that they were now totally useless for trying to control Neb and Sally's headlong flight.

The firefighters threw themselves down onto the floor of the engine's top deck off the seat. ""We've got to stay under cover,
Mike! That was gunshot!"  Staying on board was proving very difficult. They got bruised with every bounce. "Try for the brake
with your foot!  I can't reach it any more. Kick it hard, or we're gonna tip over and get crushed!" Gage screamed.

Stoker and Gage struggled to slow the horses. They ran out of time. A rut in the road sent the fire engine flipping when the
horses leaped over the gap and the front wheels jammed themselves deep within it. Mike and Johnny were thrown high
into the air. The hitching pin snapped in two, detaching the steam engine from the horses and their harnesses in a
spray of jumbled leather.

The last thing Johnny remembered was a pine tree's trunk rising up fast to meet his face.

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