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       Burning Water
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             Page Five

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From: patti keiper <>
Sent: Monday, May 29, 2017 9:28 AM
Subject: At The Brink...

The lush property's birds were singing loudly. It was vile to the firefighters'
ears while they were attending their current emergency call. Maybe it was
because it was taking so long to get to their patient, and because it
involved family.

"L.A. Squad 51, on scene." Brice reported through his HT.

## Squad 51 at 05:37.##

Ben Stone and Roy DeSoto circled Craig Brice's bungalow and decided quickly
which way was the least destructive to get into where they believed Karen
Overstreet had holed up after fleeing Rampart.  Roy got ready to smash
open the kitchen window over the sink with his turnout halligan tool.

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa.. Roy, this window to the bathroom. It's open. I think
we can both fit." Captain Stone said, from further down the yard.

"Are the police on their way?" DeSoto asked, knowing that they were a
routine protocol taken for any crisis call.

"Yes. I got them when we were split up on the exterior sweep. Smell any gas?  
I can't smell anything today. Stupid allergies!" Ben cursed.

Roy jogged over and tossed in their gear boxes, those that had nothing
breakable, onto the floor, being intentionally loud. "It's clear. Karen!!  It's
the fire department!  Are you okay? We're coming in!"

Roy slipped into the house and turned around to intercept the rest of the
medical gear that Ben was passing through the opening.

"Karen!!  Can you hear me? Craig called us when you didn't answer the phone!"
Roy yelled, kicking the bathroom door open a little wider to expose the
closest hallway.

The multi-level brick bungalow remained silent and still. All DeSoto could hear
was the sound of his own activity and rapid breathing as he rushed in
grabbing equipment from his partner.

"Swimming pool's empty. Still no answer?" Stone said, hurrying back from
his last trip to the squad.


"D@mn. This is the last of it." Ben told Roy, handing off the resuscitator
apparatus and the Datascope defibrillator. "Dump it down and go search.
Mark the doors with a wax crayon as you go. I'll be right with you. I'll pile
the gear in the middle of the house."

DeSoto agreed. "That's a good plan. This place is huge. We've a lot of
ground to cover."

The sound of a siren from a police car responding to their address grew in
the distance. Ben and Roy tossed their helmets outside to land underneath
their open window, through which they had made their entry, as an "it's
safe-follow us" cue for the arriving officer.

"I'll sweep counter clockwise from Side A, here. You go the opposite. I'll
meet you on Side C half way. H.T. if you find her before I do. Whoever
does first, stays with her! Whoever's left brings the equipment." Stone
laid out.

"Understood." Roy replied, peeling off his turnout to leave it in the hallway
to make himself faster.

Ben copied his move. "Let's go. You're right. We don't need these."

Roy shoved open the very first door along his path, it was a baby's room,
dusty, unused. His heart panged at the thought of his own children at
home, and what could have been for Brice and Karen. He methodically
checked a closet, a kid's bathroom, and an upper bed bunk clubhouse.

Ben Stone's search pattern first hit a pantry. He dug through its coats
and immaculately hung clothing bags, aiming a flashlight into all of its
corners."Karen!  It's Benjamin Stone of 10's with Roy DeSoto!  Can you
answer us?"  

Roy's shouts echoed around corners of sleek marble wall panels in a den,
and in and out of a dusty, sunken floor living room.::No pets.::  the back
of his mind filed away.  ::In a house with two workaholics. Might be a
clue tying in that lost pregnancy.::  "Karen Overstreet!"

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All too soon, the two paramedics wound up at their end point.

"Oh, no." Roy puffed.

"Any room we could have missed?" Ben panted, spinning around. "I swear,
I've got every light in the whole joint turned on."

"The basement's empty." DeSoto sighed in frustration, worried about
their lack of contact.

Then they both remembered the tiny two foot cord hanging down from
the ceiling in the same hallway as the master bathroom through which
they had arrived.

Stone got on his radio. "L.A., Squad 51. All we have left is the attic.
We'll be up there."

##Squad 51. Will relay to the P.D. Notify if you need to respond an

"10-4." the paramedic captain acknowledged.  Ben put away his handy
talkie to a belt clip and then he knelt down so Roy could climb onto his
knees to be able to reach high enough to pull down the attic's stairway.
Only then did they see that a ring of dust framed its bottom step perfectly
on the blue carpeting. "She's got to be up here." he said, spot lighting
the telltale dirt silohuette.  

"Yep. Karen!!" Roy shouted, hurrying up as soon as the stairs stopped

She was in the farthest corner of the attic, in the deepest shadow. A box
of sonogram polaroids were opened and laid out, fanned, in a circle around
where she sat. Her arms were flung out widely away from her knees like
someone when they lose their balance. Overstreet had no idea that the
two of them were even there. She wasn't even blinking.

"Doctor Overstreet?" Ben asked softly as they squatted down next to her.
"Can you see us?"

The expression on her face was frozen horror. Tears, even hours since
she ran away, were still flowing freely. Every limb on her, was shaking.
She didn't reply.

DeSoto reached for her wrist slowly. "I'm... just going to get a pulse on
you here. I see what's happening to you and I understand what's going
on. We're going to help you now, Karen. So...this will just be me.... a
touch on your arm... Now."

Both he and Ben grabbed her wrists at the same time and tensed,
expecting a hysterical fight. But that never came. The devastated
intern didn't even start sobbing to match the grief so evident on her

"Non-combative." Stone took another care step deeper and examined
her eyes with a penlight. "She's definitely not tracking." He felt around
her head, back, and body, looking for trauma. "There's no bleeding
anywhere. Just sweat. Respirations are non-distressed."

"Then not a fall." Roy let go of Karen's arms and quickly searched the
area for any sign of substances or other chemicals that might be
responsible for her altered consciousness level. Nothing was
out of place. "No pills, no spills, no leaks. Everything's normal, Ben."

Stone sighed, still not letting go of Karen's limp, icy fingers. ::She
needs contact.:: He pressed the PTT button on his radio. "Squad 51
to L.A. Patient found... Code 4."

##L.A. Squad 51. Acknowledging- situation okay. Will relay to
Engine 51.##  

::Half an answer is better than none, Cap. Wish I could tell you that
everything's fine, but it's not.:: DeSoto thought as he covered up
Karen's shoulders and wrapped her inside of a thick homemade
comforter he had found lying on top of a stack of boxes near them.

Stone got up and threw open the attic window shutters, letting in
the sunrise and more daylight so they could work. "I'll go call in
to Rampart. I'll bring up the biophone after I get my orders and
the drug box for a B/P cuff...uh, oh! And I'll get us a Mayfair." Ben's
concentration was shattered with Overstreet looking like an acute
crisis psych.

Roy immediately understood that gut blow for what it was, well. It
was only slightly better than responding to a bad child call. DeSoto
watched him hurry off and then he turned down both radios to a
effective murmur.

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He carefully sat next to Karen and loosened the collar of her
blouse so she could breathe a little better.  Then he smiled and
began speaking to her face to face, holding her hand in both of his.
"I heard what happened to you at work last night from the others.
And I know why you're physically and emotionally messed up right
now. If you're wondering why we're here, Craig called home after
Morton told him that he had to cover your shift when you left. But
you didn't answer. Craig got worried then about you, and called in
the calvary. You're doing okay. We just checked you out. You lost
control, but you're not physically injured. So don't worry. We'll be
doing more medically for you once a doctor gets in on this in a
minute or so."  Roy found himself counting the number of tears
leaving her eyes, unbidden. ::There aren't enough tears in the
world to mourn two lost babies. But she's really trying.:: he thought.  
"You're going to be okay, Karen. Today is just the first day of a new

Stone soon returned. "I brought the I.V. box, too. How's her color?"

"Adequate. These seem to be just chills from being up all night,
stressed, and from being a little hungry. Nothing convulsive or seizure
related." Roy observed, still keeping a mild look on his face for Karen's

"I got Morton on the line. He's already updated me to her history. There's
nothing past what we know, and if we see something, it's new. He wants
a Normal Saline drip, 500 in, for her fluid volume loss, then T.K.O. followed
by 15 mgs Demerol I.V. for her symptoms. Routine EKG on limb leads.
And, yes, they want to put her on a 72 hour hold. Standard hospital
procedures."  Ben relayed.

"Craig Brice will fight that psychological evaluation order." DeSoto shared.

"I just bet he will. Everybody has a bad day, and that's what this is." he
said, crouching protectively by Karen as they began her treatment.
"Demerol's a muscle relaxant, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. I'll try to lie her down before we give it." Roy said. "Morton's
planning ahead. It doesn't cloud the mind like Valium does. It lets a person
continue to work through whatever's bothering them." Roy nodded.

"I like that kind of thinking in this case. There's no previous mental
history. That past post partum depression was only temporarily
hormone related." He took Karen's blood pressure. "90 over 64, sluggish.
Hypoglycemic from not eating?"

"Morton would know the answer to that. He was working with her when
it started." said Roy.

"He wants to talk to you, since you've been with her longer." Ben shared,
passing over the phone receiver after opening its orange casing. "I'll
get a trace going. Two minutes." Ben said.

Roy dialed in and called up the base station. "Rampart this is Rescue
5-1. How do you read?"

##DeSoto, how is she doing?## Mike asked, getting to the heart of
the matter.

"She's--She's acutely catatonic. She doesn't react to stimuli or try
to pull away from physical contact. There's no traum---."

##DeSoto... Stop! Give me just the basics!## Morton shushed sternly.

"Doctor?" he reacted, startled.

##Is she speaking? Is she talking to you? Responding to questions?!##
Mike demanded sharply, openly fretting about his colleague.

""  Roy shared softly.

##Give her the shot before the I.V. Do it now, Roy. Don't delay!
Sedation's the key to minimizing the long term effects of a break.##

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Stone picked up the phone his partner had abandoned to fulfill the
order."He's doing it."

##Watch her head as she goes down, if she's upright. That dose I've
ordered would K.O. a line backer. I want her feeling detached as much
as possible, without her passing out. Make it fast.##

"We're ready." Ben reassured the worried physician.

##Leave me on an open phone line.##

Roy used a simple saline lock to deliver the relaxant.  

It took all of ten seconds for Karen's eyes to flutter and finally half
shut over bloodshot corneas. Her copious tears' flow suddenly stopped
with the mucosal drying medication. Overstreet grunted wetly and
sagged in half, over her legs. The two paramedics pulled her straight
and positioned her onto her back as dizziness set in.

"That's it, Karen. Just let go. We've got you." Ben said by her ear.
"You're not going to be left alone handling this thing."

Roy finally applied EKG leads to her lower arms and lower legs, to
monitor. The tachycardia from a minute earlier slipped in increments,
down to a slow, regular, fifty eight beats per minute. "No artifact.
She's not allergic."

"That's good." Stone nodded, putting away the cardboard pre-loaded
epinephrine syringe box he had held in his hand as a standby, just-in-case

A thundering run up the attic stairs announced the police officer. "Up
in the attic! What's your status?!" came the command tone voice of law
enforcement who had been too long ignored on the radio.

Both paramedics immediately held up their hands. "It's all right! There
are no weapons! She's not suicidal... Not violent! She's just.. "

"....missing her little girl so, very much......" Overstreet whispered,
still very deep in her tremendous, crushing emotional pain. "Oh, why
did you have to wake me up now?! I-I'm not ready yet!..." she sobbed
softly, feeling a weak, righteous anger that very quickly, threatened
to drown her.  It was the first different emotion they had seen, shooting
up as blind panic, when she discovered that she couldn't move to clear
her throat.

Ben suctioned out the extra saliva, because Karen could no longer
swallow easily. "Easy,.. easy! You're not going to choke, even though
it feels like it. See? It's gone."

"Karen, can you hear us now?" Roy asked, leaning over her. "Do you know  
where you are?"

She finally nodded, crying without a sound. Then she answered the
second question. " *gasp!*  Ohgod.. Why am I completely dead
inside? I'm lost?  And I don't think...*ugh* I ... still don't know....
how to get her back..k..." she agonized quietly, without visual focus.

##They both died, Karen. But you don't have to! Because you have the
option not to!## Morton pleaded fervently. ##We'll show you.. how to
go on. Please!##

"....o..kay......Mike. I'll stay."  she sighed into the phone receiver that
had been placed by her head.  She then gave up her protective, frightening,
spiralling retreat inwards, and fell asleep instantly in Stone's arms.

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From: patti keiper <>
Sent: Saturday, June 10, 2017 5:49 PM
Subject:  Here's To Vacuum Cleaners and Breath Sounds..

Lt. Dennis Becker and Vince Howard led the S.W.A.T. team van to the location on the gravel road
where Jim Rockford had said that he and Sara Butler had left Johnny Gage's activated flashlight. It
had been extremely difficult to find in the growing wildfire smoke, even with the two of them looking.
But located it, they did.

Vince decided to figure out a safety margin time estimate for their hastily arranged police department
search and rescue operation. "How much time do we have left to look around for Mike Stoker?"
Howard shouted to a brush crew firefighter working a fire line beside them, over the roar of the forest
fire across the valley.

"About twenty minutes! Thanks, man. It's killing us not to be able to look for him ourselves. Digging
this line's been ordered as a top priority to stop the fire. We know this is the best way to help the
guy out by stopping the fire's progress uphill, until somebody finds him."

"We'll find him." Becker promised. "We've got a dog. And there's blood sign at the starting point."

"Is Fireman Gage all right?" asked the young fireman in the jumpsuit.

"The paramedic with him didn't seem worried at all when he shipped out." Vince shared.

The young man in the smoke goggle's relief was visible. "Thanks, officer. We weren't
allowed to listen in on his rescue's hospital transmissions on scan. I'll pass that along.
It'll cheer up the others until Stoker's found."

Howard nodded and ran back towards the police van, holding Gage's flashlight. When the team
disembarked, he approached the dog handler. "This is the one." he said, holding up the torch.

"Give it here." said the S.W.A.T. man holding the blood hound's leash. "This is our live dog.
Wasn't about to bring the corpse dog and jinx the mission."

"Good man." Howard approved, passing it over.  "There's a lot of blood on the road up there,
too. Dried, but still visible, belonging to both Gage and a horse."

"That will only help us. They were with Mike Stoker at the other end of the blood trail.
Hoover will find him. I swear she's part wood tick." the helmeted police office said, petting
her head affectionately.

"Hoover?" Howard chuckled nervously, eyeing up the sparks swirling in the night air around

"Yep." grinned the S.W.A.T. man offering the flashlight to his charge. "She sucks down scents
like a vacuum cleaner. Her record of finds is almost perfect."  Hoover soon got the target
odor and she excitedly started straining and baying on the lead. "Gotta go. I'll be on your
channel!" he promised.

"You've got twenty minutes. Then it's time to pull out!" Becker shouted. "And that's firm,
officer. Then USAR takes over."

The leader of the team flashed him a thumbs up.

The S.W.A.T. team in full riot gear ran after the dog handler and Hoover, surrounding them
in a protective circle with their rifles raised, forming a rolling defense against anything the
arsonist/sniper might try against them as they tracked along.
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A fire department water drop helicopter spoke over their radio. ##S.W.A.T. One. I've got a
visual on your team and will follow your progress into the woods from the origin barn. I've
got your back with 2500 gallons of lake water, standing by, if it's needed.##

"Appreciate it, Copter Eleven." said the leader over his HT radio.

Lt. Becker grabbed Howard and dragged him towards their squad car. "Come on, let's get
back to the fire department's Staging Area." said Dennis.


"A good friend of mine got his car all shot up tonight from our perpetrator. Maybe he's got
some leads into where this creep last was, before he fired at the two firemen and their
horses. That might provide a clue into his M.O. type that we can use that'll tell us
whether he'll go after Mike Stoker or not."  the lieutenant replied.

"Case and point." Howard agreed, hurrying along with him. "That idea's far better than
hanging around here waiting for something to happen. That chopper can call in the
calvary if they find Mike, faster than we can."


Jim Rockford, Angel Martin and Sara Butler had been moved into the fire department's
rest and recuperation tent. They had been green triage tagged, much to their annoyance.

"Hey!  I wasn't anywhere near the fire." the curly haired Angel Martin insisted to the nurses
seated at the folding table near the front entrance flap. "I don't have smoke inhalation like
my friends do. Why do I have to stay here?"

The black haired nurse manning the radio station, in between rotating in and out groups
of firefighters, was nonchalant. "Mr. Martin. Impersonating the press is a chargable
offense in this state. If you don't want to get arrested on the spot by that CHiP officer
over there, sit down like a good little boy and finished getting treated."

Angel eyed up Frank Poncherello, who did his best to look tough and angry at him, while he
also flirted good naturedly with any female persuasion of firefighter resting on a cooling cot.
The Hispanic volunteer was handing out ice cold water bottles with a huge toothy white smile
as he poured on some trademark healing charm.

Martin immediately sat when one of Frank's black gloves suddenly came to rest on top of
his pair of shiny handcuffs. "Listen up to the nice lady, Martin. She knows what she's talking
about." Ponch warned him.

Jim Rockford was grumpy.  He was being prevented from leaving, too, because he had accepted
oxygen treatment from the fire department. "Listen, you've got to understand. I have to pick
up my Dad at the hospital. He was released three hours ago."

"With what?" Sara smirked. "The police impounded your Firebird as evidence. Smart of you to
anticipate that they'd do that in advance like you did." The calm young woman nodded at the
young nurse who was doing a follow up blood pressure check on her. "If you stay quiet,
our future ambulance ride will take us right to your father, still waiting at Rampart."

Jim looked at her as if she had grown a third eyeball. "Sara! I don't have 400 dollars to blow
on an ambulance bill! If anything, my bank account's negative 3,000 bucks, and growing, on
account of my dad's new medical costs."

"Don't you guys have insurance? If you don't, I can sell you and Rocky some." Angel quipped,
opening up his news reporter mock up jacket to expose a few pamphlets.

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Rockford just shot him a look hotter than the fire outside.

Angel bellied up, his hands palms facing out. "Just trying to help out my friends in a rough spot.
Can't blame a man for trying." he grinned, avoiding eye contact.

"Not now, Angel. I'm covered! We're both covered. It's the premiums that are murdering me as
Dad gets older, and has more mishaps. I've been paying them out entirely solo."

"Being accident prone runs in the family?" the nurse at the table piped up, her pen poised over
Jim's patient chart.

The wiry detective frowned at her witheringly. "M.Y.O.B. lady. You're not my care provider here."

"No, but he is."  she stated, pointing in the direction of the tent entrance. "He'll be relieving me

Roy DeSoto was just returning back to brush fire duty. He rushed over to the nurse's table.
"Okay, give me what you have." he said to her, pulling on a bright blue In-Charge Triage vest.
"The worst first."

"There aren't any, Roy. Not even any reds or yellows." she answered, bored. "Just these three green
tags you see getting processed here."

"W-What about Johnny Gage? I heard he was here. He must have been hurt a whole hell of a lot
to not be able to call in." Roy reasoned, accepting their metal charts into his arms.

The nurse apologized to Roy DeSoto, with a look.
"He's already off the charts and has been checked in as an in-hospital. I'm afraid any information
on your fellow paramedic went in with him, Mr. DeSoto. Have you tried contacting your captain?
He's the one who got him out of the fire zone."

"Brice did?!"

"Yes. On Battalion Chief Hank Stanley's order." she shared. "That priority came
down the pipes quickly. It all went down about a half an hour before I was flown in here to
work for a bit in your place."

"Captain Brice of Station 51 found him?!"  Roy was completely flabbergasted.

"No, I did. That Brice fella only patched him up a little." said Jim Rockford. "Remember me?
You and Johnny rescued my dad a few days ago."

DeSoto accomplished a disbelieving, uncomprehending double shake of his head.

"Roy..." Sara prompted.

"What?" DeSoto tensed, trying to digest what had happened into his tired brain.

"Go call him. You'll get your news faster that way." Butler suggested. "Jim and I won't be able
to tell you enough to satisfy your worries about Johnny."

"Oh, you're beautiful!  I'd kiss you if I wasn't already happily married." Roy celebrated. "I'll
contact Cap right away on H.T. I mean my Cap. My new Cap. Oh, you know what I mean." and
he rushed off towards the coffee pot and a quiet corner to make the transmission.

Angel Martin hooked a thumb over his shoulder. "Who was that guy?"

Sara smirked. "The still missing man's coworker, who's about to find out that his best
friend's A-okay."


"Mr. Rockford?"  came a very deep voice.

"Yes, already! That's me. I'm wearing an I.D. bracelet for Pete's sake! Can't you keep it straight
in your heads yet about who I--  oh, hi, Officer Howard." Jim amended, still letting a nurse's aid
check his pupils with a penlight.

"Do I know you?" Vince asked.

"Not yet."

Vince gave him a funny look.

"I read your name tag." Rockford shrugged, tossing up a pointer finger up at the burly officer's black
uniform shirt.

Lt. Becker smirked and crossed his arms. "Oh, he's good."

"Even while I'm being blinded." Rockford grumbled at the oblivious nurse, fussing over him. "What
can I do for you fellas?  Wasn't handing over my sports car enough for you guys?"

"We're not keeping it. We're just ..... photographing it and taking a few powder samples."

"In all this soot?" Jim asked sarcastically. "We drove through miles of it."

"Hmmm.. Then everything but the bullet hole's been..."  Howard began.

Rockford cut him off "...corrupted. That's right. Now gimme my car back. All the evidence you're
ever going to get off of it is entirely visual."

"We can keep your windshield." Becker teased.

"Aw, come on, Dennis! I've had far worse than a really bad day. Are you really going to add to
the pile of complete and utter horse honkey onto my plate?"

"What's horse honkey?" asked Angel, whispering.

"Horse shit." supplied Sara, also whispering as she took in the ongoing tennis match.

Martin acted affronted, sucking in a shocked breath. "*Gasp* And you're a lady!"

"Jim was being polite because I... am a lady."  Butler blinked in snobbish glee.

"So am I." said the nurse examining Rockford's lungs with a stethoscope. "Aww, that was sweet, sir."
she said, grinning at her detective patient. "You should hear the trucker mouth talk pouring out of all
of these firefighters at times. Will curl your ears tighter than the curls on your--"

"What's he sound like?" came DeSoto's voice, prompting Jim's nurse.

"Clear. Have a peep at him." she invited, vacating the stool she had wheeled over to the chair row
everybody was gathered around. She passed off her stethoscope to Roy who promptly put the buds
from it into his ears.

"Has anybody asked me?" Rockford snarled. "It's my chest!"

"Shh!" The black haired nurse at the radio table hissed.

Rockford didn't back down from clutching the buttons protectively on his shirt.

"May I?" Roy shrugged mildly, opening up his gloved hands without touching him.

"Oh, whatever."  Jim barked. "There's nothing like free medical care before you refuse an ambulance trip."

Angel's head pivoted around from the view he was enjoying of Poncherello crashing and burning in his
date propositioning activities across the tent room. "You mean, w-we can do that?"

"Yeah, Angel. It's called an AMA form." Rockford whispered under Roy's ministrations.

"Against. Medical. Advice." Roy supplied. "I wouldn't recommend it this time." he warned Martin, shaking
his head seriously.

"Oh? What'd you find?" Jim quailed, suddenly contrite, looking down at the stethoscope drum making
rounds across his dark, hairy pec muscles.

"Some rales. Left side.  Might turn into pneumonia in a few hours if it's not thwarted soon by a doctor
and some bronchiodilators." Roy told him.

"Eeow. Sounds unpleasant." Sara frowned, her nose crinkling. "So what about me? I hereby give..
my consent, sir. Do your worst."

Roy checked her out, vital signs and lungs. "You're fine, Miss..."

"..Butler. I'm that waitress from yesterday morning at the restaurant. From the heart attack?"

"Oh, yeah.. Now I remember you. You've got nice C.P.R. delivery." Roy admired, written down
the data he had gotten from the two of them onto their charts.

"Thanks." Sara blushed.  "So how's Jim doing? He's my date."

"He needs some work." DeSoto told her seriously.

"I'll say." Butler quipped.

"Sara!"  Jim complained.

Both Roy and Sara laughed out loud.

DeSoto bailed out his P.I. patient's butt. "I'll get a doctor over here for a second opinion on your
breath sounds. You can still sign off, but it might make for a rough night."

"It sure has been one of those, Mr. DeSoto."  Jim sighed, breaking into a cough, unbidden.

"I can make his night better, Roy." Sara said. Then she looked at Jim.
"You know,.. later on." she winked, in conspiracy. "I'm really good medicine."

Rockford finally started to smile for the first time that evening.
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From: patti keiper <>
Sent: Saturday, July 22, 2017 11:32 PM
Subject: Taking Care Of Business....

"So what can you tell us about the guy who shot at you?" asked Dennis Becker of Jim Rockford.

"Not much. It was dark. Well, maybe not all that dark because of the fifty foot flames ringing town."
he groused sarcastically.

"It's not my fault your new girlfriend's house's so close to the fire! So hush." the lieutenant chided.
"We found a clue. The guy may be weaponless now. One of our dogs found a burned up
hunting rifle a couple of minutes ago. There was enough of a serial number still on it to get
the name of a registered owner."

"So we have an honest criminal, following the permit to carry law?" Angel grinned.
"How'd he miss the obvious crook 101 about not leaving a paper trail?"

"Maybe it's not his gun." Vince suggested. "Plenty of people in the area panicked
and dropped what they were doing the second that EBS broadcast about the fire went over
the air."

"It was partially hidden inside of a tree." Dennis defended. "The man's name is Blair Todd,
He's 56 years old and he's a certified public accountant with the city of Carson."

"Oh, now, Dennis,.. come on! CPAs don't get psychotic. They mess up your tax forms if they
want revenge. They don't try to blow your head off with a rifle." Jim said.

"Well this one might." Becker countered.

"What makes you believe that?" coughed Jim with laughter.

"Because his wife just died last week in a house fire. Los Angeles County firefighters
couldn't get her out in time before the roof collapsed." the lieutenant said.

"Oh, that's... a pretty good reason to crack up, if you're going to, Jimmy Boy." Angel minced,
not smiling at the nurse offering him a donut from off of a snack plate.

"That doesn't explain why he shot at Sara and me, Angel. We're not firefighters." Rockford
told Martin, trying to figure it all out. He declined the food tray.

"No, but you said you two were with some recently. Like him for example?" Martin pointed out,
glancing at Roy DeSoto.

"What?" Roy asked, looking up from the triage charts he was creating on the others for

Vince brightened. "Do you think Mr. Todd watched Jim Rockford's father's rescue?"

"It couldn't of been anything else, Officer Howard. Maybe he was jealous of my dad
surviving his truck fire, and so he's picking on me because he can't reach Rocky, who's
no longer in the hospital. Can't find some one no longer in a bed." the P.I. suggested.

"And he picked on Johnny and his poor friend Mike, because they were in uniform
playing around with Rocky's horses." Sara added. "So is this Blair settling for secondary

"Bit of a stretch." Howard frowned. "A sniper plus arsonist?"

"Officer, you can't use logic when it comes to craziness. Someone either has it, or
they don't."  Butler glared.

Becker sighed. "I just hope Mike Stoker can manage his smarts enough to
survive Todd's currently launched murderous brand of stupid out there in the

DeSoto was firm. "He can. He knows his way in and out of a fire even better
than Johnny and I."

Howard jumped when his radio toned out another pull back of his department
away from the mountain fire. "So there's our M.O. What's next?"

"A man hunt with all possible, available personnel." Becker planned.
"That's one better than the lone S.W.A.T. and two squad cars we
have investigating now."

Jim swallowed with determination. "I'm going to go take a shower. I'm gritty."

"Me, too." Sara agreed, "I was in the same car as you."

"OOo. Are you gonna come clean with me?" Jim perked up, hugging Sara from
behind. "Honey, can I help with soaping your cute little nose."

"Wrong time and place, mister mister." Butler pushed Jim away with a grin. She turned
to the triage nurse. "I assume you have decontamination showers for all your patients?"
she asked, gesturing to herself, Rockford and Angel Martin.

"We do. Straight down and to the left. Don't forget to scrub under your finger nails.
Anything burned by a fire's toxic." she replied, pointing with a pencil.

"So's letting a killer remain loose out in the woods." Rockford mumbled, "I think
I'm going hunting with you, Dennis. If you'll have me. I've more than a little score to

"No problems here. Everybody's under manned because of all of this extra
duty associated with the brush fire." Becker promised. "We'll take you."

"Can I go, Chief Band-aid?" Rockford asked Roy DeSoto, who was fidgeting
because everybody was talking about leaving before seeing an on site doctor.

"Uh, just Fireman DeSoto, Mr. Rockford. Sign these and you can do anything you
want around the fire scene so long as someone law enforcement is with you in escort."
said Roy, handing off a chart with three forms on them and the same number of pens.
"Those are handed down orders from MY chief, Battalion Five, Hank Stanley."

"Gotcha." he replied, Jim, genuinely smiling in gratitude. "Just gimme a pen." he winked.

"These are A.M.A. forms, Jimmy. Hey, I remembered." said Angel Martin.

"Ah, that's good, Angel. I doubt we'd be allowed to stick a single toe outside without
donating our signatures first." Jim told him. "Got your safari get up handy?  'Cause that's
where we're going next. Into all that actively burning wilderness after that at large nut case."

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this little adventure for all the world. I was bored until I remembered
you and the debt you still owed me, Sly."

"I paid you in full, remember that?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah. Of course. That Hamilton's weighing heavy in a shirt pocket. I can't
forget it."

"You might by tomorrow." the P.I. teased.

"Jim Bone, have faith in your Angel!" Martin shot back, getting caught on the hook.

"Only in the invisible Guardian type, Martin. I'm not very religious at all." Rockford
said, handing his completed form with Sara's and Angel's, back to Roy.

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Roy DeSoto left his post as soon as he could. He found Captain Craig Brice
standing on the hill in Staging above Triage.

Craig was already smiling calmly when he spied DeSoto riding up to him on the back of
a brush truck headed into the fire zone.  "Anything notable?" he asked the blue vested
paramedic, about the three people he knew Roy had seen in the tent.

DeSoto reported on them as soon as he hopped off and waved good luck to the fire crew
headed off into the blaze. "No. They've cleared off voluntarily. Got the papers.
We're empty of cases for the moment."

"Good. I figured that, because why else would you be here and not there?"

DeSoto's ears almost started smoking.
"Why didn't you tell me right away about Johnny being found? I had to hear about it from
a patient." Roy said, leaning into Craig, letting anger show in his eyes.

"He was fine. He transported. He needed nothing spectacular for treatment paramedic
wise. I didn't want you to worry about him at all DeSoto." Craig admitted, dropping his
captain's pretense instantly.

"Do you have kids, Brice?"  DeSoto asked, working his jaw tightly.

The question startled Craig into a dead pan reaction as his heart panged in memory of
Karen Overstreet's recent crisis call. "You know the answer to that, Roy. First hand."
he replied quietly.

Roy blanched. Brice never used anyone's first name. Ever. Now he had just used his.
"Sorry. Oh, man, Craig. I wasn't poking at the sore spot. I was just going to say that having
a regular partner in a squad is exactly like having a kid. I am doomed to worry about
Johnny for the rest of my life now. How about we trade call notes on Karen and Gage? Just
between the two of us. For this once, break the rules, Brice. For me, as well as for yourself.
There's nobody around now, who'll hear us."

Brice's mouth flopped open for a few blank seconds. He actually rubber necked quick glances at
the other fire departments working and setting up around them, who were indeed, just like
Roy had said, completely out of over hearing distance. He took off his skunk striped helmet
and parked it by its strap off of his duty belt. "O-Okay, everything off the record. Tell me
about Karen, DeSoto. It's killing me right now, not knowing all of the details. I was told
nothing concrete." His knees actually started wobbling.

Roy sat him down on a tree stump. "She didn't harm herself. There was no indication of
her being suicidal. But she was catatonic to the point where an I.M was needed to snap
her out of it.  She hadn't eaten or taken any fluids, Stone and I think, for about a day and
a half. Her vital signs were good, Brice. Dr. Morton definitely managed to talk her out
of retreating mentally. So she never got to the point of no return. It was just a nervous
breakdown, not a psychotic break I think."

"Are you sure about that?" Brice asked, in a tiny whisper, afraid to look up from the ground.

"Yes. Every instinct of mine screamed for it. Stone's, too. She'll be okay once she starts to
grieve losing that pregnancy of both of yours, in a normal way." Roy told him, not letting
go of Brice's shoulder. "My guess is she tried to bury her feelings in a ton of work and
it backfired when a patient's death painfully reminded her of it again before she even had
an inkling of how much she was actually hurting inside."

Craig let out the breath he was holding. "Thank you, DeSoto. Having a clearer picture will do
wonders for my ability to concentrate on other things today. Okay, my turn. Do you want
my log?" he asked, pointing to his seat.

"Uh, no.. I'm fine." Roy shrugged.

"Johnny was hypothermic and a bit dyspneic. He never lost color, but he was bagged for a bit.
He wasn't hypovolemic from blood loss. His head gash was minimal, maybe 200 CC's loss
on the ground. He had a negative Babinski, but he was non-reactive to pain. His pupils were
normal and equal. There was no posturing. The doctor who treated him over the radio seem
to think that he'd come around with a little warm pushed fluids. I didn't see any sign of
skull fracture or brain stem tearing. His EKG was unremarkable. I think he was out cold
because he was tired and still a bit stunned physically in an overall effect, resulting
from his fall off of the horse driver's bench."

Roy rubbed his face in relief for several long, weary seconds, getting in control of his suddenly
releasing emotions. Then he spoke. "Anything on Mike? I can't believe he wasn't found near

"The guy who found him was being shot at. He had to rescue Gage quickly and then had to flee
the area in a car. Jim Rockford and his girlfriend Sara probably saved his life. Have you seen

"We've been introduced. They were two of the three green tag patients of ours earlier." Roy chuckled.

"Glad they're safe. That's three less civilians for me to worry about." Brice nodded, replacing the
white striped Station 51 helmet back onto his head.

"Can you call about Johnny now?" Roy requested. "You know, to nab a current
status report about him from the Rampart staff?"

"I'm going to pull all available strings, DeSoto. Immediately. Or I'm not being your captain. I may
not be next of kin to them, in this situation, but I am entirely responsible for documentation
of injury for insurance purposes. I'll play that particular legal card to the hilt."

Roy began to smile really big. "And we've got Chief Hank Stanley as a backup authority figure.
Outstanding! Dixie can't say no to that. No matter how loud Morton barks at her about rigid
information sharing protocols."

Brice sighed. "I...I'm beginning to see how wrong I was about restricting who can talk to whom
on rescue scenes..  Perhaps I should rethink my thinking to an 'on a need to know' basis."

"I think you're right." Roy agreed. "That's how we've always done it at Station 51, in the past."

Craig got on his handy talkie to L.A. to set up a patch to the main E.R. desk.

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The hunt had begun. Angel Martin was regretting ever sharing his sniper stalking firefighter theory.
He was hot. He was sweaty. And he was coughing again, even though fire crews they passed
told them that the air was at completely acceptable safe levels for breathing. ::That close to
a raging blaze.:: his mind added with vehemence. ::I want an air bottle and mask like all of
them have.:: he thought miserably. Martin unsuccessfully tried to cheer himself by berating
his best friend who was currently leading him all over creation, looking for the bad guy.
"You washed your butt. You've seen your girlfriend, now you're just begging for a bush
whacking!" he told Rockford. "Why are we putting ourselves in danger un-necessarily?"

Jim whirled on Martin. "We didn't ask you to tag along for this little adventure of ours. You
invited yourself, if you do recall. I wanna catch this unscrupulous guy of ours so I can collect
his insurance money through the courts to pay for my shot out windshield!  So keep your voice
down! Why we're currently creeping around the woods like this real stealth-like with a capital
letter S, is so we won't get ourselves killed!"

Sara giggled. "Nobody can hear us, Jim. The fire's being too loud. It's why you're shouting to be

"I know that, Sara! I'm---" he broke off when he realized that it was the truth. "Well, we still gotta
keep our heads down. There are cops with us, all over this burned out zone, with itchy fingers
on the triggers. Ever heard of death by friendly fire?"

"No." Martin piped up innocently.

Jim Rockford did a double take over his shoulder. Then he just sighed. "Just stay behind us
and do what we do, Angel Martin. And you'll be fine." he said, swiping a sooty mesquite
branch away from his face as he stepped through the underbrush.

"I'm getting thirsty."

"We just left the R and R tent, Angel! Not five minutes ago. Here, you can have mine."
he said, passing over a water bottle from his jacket pocket.

"I'm hot, too. Can you fix hot?" Martin asked absently, bubbling around the water he
began to chug with alacrity.

"I sure can't." Sara joked, preening herself flirtatiously for Jim.

Rockford cat called softly for her benefit in appreciation and grinned.

"Guys! Life or death here.." Martin complained, getting more mad that they were playing
around in such a serious situation.

"We'll crawl under a fire hose if we have to." the P.I. promised him.

Sara nodded at them both. "Let's hope it won't come to that any time soon. These
firefighters look like they know what they're doing. I think we're still completely safe."

"As long as we can still see them." Angel snapped. "And they can see us."

"For now." Jim murmured, wiping his gun hand on his pants trousers to dry his palm.
"This fire's getting to be monster sized."

A police officer chucked a stick that hit Rockford in the back to get his attention.

"What?! Oh... We're off course. The dog went that way, guys. Less talking and more
watchin', I guess?" Rockford shot back at the other two. Sara just smiled patiently,
passing through the thick brumbles like mercury, and silent as a ninja.

Angel was finally cowed by the enormity of possible consequences he might be facing
because of the choice he had made to go after Jim yesterday. He fell silent and he
tried to emulate Butler, his scared eyes combing the smoky slopes for either signs of
the sniper or Mike Stoker.


Johnny Gage snapped awake to the sound of the hissing oxygen mask he was wearing.
"Mike! Look out!"

He tried to move, but something was holding him down on crisp, ozone smelling sheets.

"Easy, Gage.. This is Dr. Morton. You're safe now. How's your head doing?"

Johnny grunted, blinking grit out of his sore eyes. He panicked for a few seconds when
he realized that a set of strong fingers were holding onto both sides of his head. "Am
I at Rampart?" he rasped. "In ICU?"

"Yes. Answer the question."

The inside of Johnny's mouth tasted foul. Old blood and...::Suction tube.:: he pegged.
"How bad was I earlier?"

"You were just sleepy...  Gage. I know you understood me." Morton warned.

"Okay.. okay. I know my name, the date, who the president is. Now tell me all the H*ll
about Mike Stoker! Has he been brought in yet?"

The doctor let him go. "Ah, so there's no concussion after all. Your condition first. Then I'll talk
about your friend. So keep answering my questions. I can hard ball harder than you can, six year
Paramedic Johnny Gage. You learned it from this six year physician! So shut up and start
telling me what I want to hear!"

Johnny finally felt the full weight of his exhaustion as his adrenaline rush of returning to
consciousness swiftly wore off. It weakened his voice to a frightening breathless whisper.
"Sorry.. *gasp*. Can't." he slurred.

He felt a new wave of energy sweep through his body. His teeth clenched together in reaction
to a stimulant. Dr. Morton had injected a dose of epinephrine into his I.V. line. The M.D.
leaned over the bed again. "I'm just trying to save you an x-ray bill. Shots are cheaper. Let's
try this secondary survey interview attempt again."

Johnny took in a deep breath of oxygen and finally focused internally between his ears.
"No dizziness. I lost some time. From... when it happened to now."

"I gathered that. You were shouting for your firefighter friend a few moments ago. Tell me
what I don't know yet, Johnny Gage. Quit messing around."

"All right, all right, all right. There's no pain anywhere past muscles, doc. Neck's fine,
sight's fine. And ...I think I really gotta pee."

"Funny guy. Okay. A deal's a deal. Stoker hasn't been located yet."

Johnny felt his EKG monitor speed up in response. "What time is it, Dr. Morton? Has
it been all night? He could be dead by now! A horse was shot almost out from under us."

"It's morning. Almost noon. Lie still. I'll grab a nurse to go get you a urinal can. I'm not
ordering a catheter. You don't need it." Morton said, raising the bars of the exam bed
back up again. He gathered up his spent syringe papers and waste from Johnny's bed
spread. "That's more money I'm saving you."

"I'm not out any. It's the fire department's cash we're spending."

"Were you on duty when it happened?" Mike fired back.

Johnny paled, realizing that he hadn't been.

"Thought so. Just rest up and think pleasant thoughts. After you empty your bladder, I'll
see about getting you some soft food. Your blood sugar levels suck right now." the
doctor said, darting across the room with an armful of charts.

"Dr. Morton.." Johnny called out after him.

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Mike spun on his heels, gripping the side of the treatment room door impatiently.
"I'll let you know about Stoker as soon as I hear anything. We've got the scanner on in
the breakroom." he replied quickly. Then he disappeared into the bustling main hallway.
The door shut between them.

Johnny sighed let his head fall back onto the pillow. ::I really hate being laid up to
the point of where I can't stand on my own two feet. I really wanna sneak out of here.::
he thought. ::I'm needed at the fire to give out some info on his whereabouts.::

A new voice at the door startled him. "That won't work, Sonny Boy. I can read your mind."
said Joseph Rockford, peeking in.

"Rocky? What are you doing here? I thought you were a patient." Gage asked him.

"I was. I got discharged because of the current fire emergency. And my son's been
too busy to come get me! He said something about a sniper. Not too happy
about that. No, siree."

Johnny chuckled. "Your son's probably looking for my friend now. He's still missing
somewhere out there in the big fire."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Here." he said, handing Johnny a urinal can from
a nearby counter top. "I'll go stand by behind the curtain while you take care
of this business. I can see the bulge your insides are making through the
sheets from way over here! I used to be a corpsman."


"Least I can do for someone who saved my life!" Rocky barked. "Sorry. I'm still mad
at being trapped inside this joint." The two men continued their conversation with
each other through the wall of white fabric between them. "Was Neb shot up really
bad? I wanna know what to tell his owner next time I see him." Rocky asked.

"It hit him somewhere around the head. There was a lot of blood, but I remember
he could still run and..." Johnny broke off, being considerate. "I'm sorry.."

"...scream and buck. That's probably how both of you firefighters fell. It's okay. I can
take the details. I've seen worse in the Korean War and so has my boy."

"Your son was a soldier?"

"No. For a while both he and I lived on the streets when his mother left us suddenly
for another man.  We were both targetted and became frequent crime victims, because
we were naturally too nice to everybody. Too often, we got beat up. It made him mad.
That's how, back then, that he had to do some prison time, after trying to protect me.
Jim's still got a large chunk of that temper. And he's ...still learning how to control it
these days. Even years later." Rocky shared. "All set?"

"I'm done. I tossed the thing into the sink." Gage announced shakily.

Rocky rushed back out into the main exam room, just in time to help Johnny
lay back down onto the gurney. "Quit with all of that sitting. You're in no
condition to do much of anything just yet."

"Too late. I'm already worrying. Tell me honestly. Are you any good at breaking
and entering, Rocky?" Johnny asked. "I need you to help me again."

The friendly looking old man pegged him with a suspicious look. "How so?"

"Get into the secured doctor's lounge and listen to all of the fire department
broadcasts from the radio they got on in there. It's the fastest way I'm going
to get news about my friend Mike Stoker."  Gage explained.

"I'll do it. I'll come back every ten minutes with updates. I'll take notes!"
he promised.

"Good man.. I think I'm... I'm gonna take a little nap here."

"You do that. I'll shake you awake the second I hear word that they've
found him. With any luck my son'll be with him at that point."

From: patti keiper <>
Sent: Sunday, July 23, 2017 5:38 PM
Subject: Man Of The Cloth..

Battalion Five, the newest chief in the county, felt old. In his hand
he had Johnny Gage's red triage tag ticket that had been slashed with a
black marker. It was labelled transported. It should have made him feel
relieved that his paramedic had been found and safely sent on to a
hospital. But all he felt, was a nagging anxiety for Mike Stoker.

"Hank, we've news." said Chief Malone, Battalion One.

"Give it to me." Stanley said, perking up. He crossed his fingers hopefully.

"The town's entirely clear. The crime scene crew's been moved out
from the site where that private investigator's car got shot up. And
L.A.P.D. confirms that all businesses and homes have been checked
and are 100% visibly marked as evacuated."

"What's left to do then?  We're at the max for water drops from the reservoir,
we've the latest weather reports on wind conditions. We have all of the on site
accountability crew lists. USAR is standing by in case somebody ignores the
mandatory evacuation order and gets caught in town when the fire hits. Triage
is absolutely empty. That's a first. Seems a shame now that we're flying in
a doctor and a nurse to help Roy DeSoto. What am I missing?"

Lou smiled. "Absolutely nothing at all, chief." Malone nodded. His heavy
set, but wise eyes, were crinkling. "You've covered the bases. Still want the I.C.
spot over the whole fire operation for another day?"

"No. I've a missing man in my division. I want in on his search and rescue
mission." Stanley replied.

"You've got it. You are relieved." Lou gestured. "Inform L.A. of the switch out.
They don't have to know the reason why. That's your prerogative."

Hank immediately took off the vivid lime green vest and dropped it on the ground.
He passed off the work slate and keys to the stand by morgue area to Malone.
"Do you want to wear that?" Stanley asked, toeing the reflective vest.

"No, It'd never fit. I'm too fat." Lou chuckled. "I'll dry marker up my helmet with the
initials instead."  

"Thanks, Lou. I owe you one."
Hank Stanley fled the hill. He lifted his HT eagerly, to his mouth. "L.A. Battalion
Five. Incident Command of Operations is transferring to Battalion One effective
immediately. I'll be located with the S and R ongoing for the missing firefighter."

##Battalion Five, L.A. copies at 12:07. Battalion One is now designated I.C. at the
Thief's Ridge Fire.##

::That doesn't sound good at all. I hate it when the media names a wildfire. Don't
they know it stirs up even more sparks?:: Stanley thought, thinking about
copy cat repeat arsonists. ::A named fire gives them a reason to go out and do
this kind of craziness again, somewhere else, just for the fame/thrill factor.::

He jumped into his new red chief's car and soon, he figured out where Engine 51
was assigned. There he ran into Roy DeSoto, Craig Brice, Chet Kelly
and Marco Lopez, hard at work on an equipment rotation detail.

"Cap! I mean Chief! How's it going?" said Marco happily, from where he was
filling air bottles from a gas tanker.

"Pretty much how I guessed it would go. Call me Hank, since the old nickname's
taken." he winked. Then he pulled out Gage's triage tag and slapped it against
Brice's chest. "Good work, Craig.  He's half of our missing two. Go enter him into
the log book in the Ward."

Brice nodded and left immediately, leaving Stanley with the other three Station
51 firefighters.  

Chet leaned in. "What don't you want him to hear?"

"Chet Kelly, would I gossip about another guy behind his back?"

"Uh, no, C-- er Chief. I was just joshing around a little. He's been under a lot of
stress since his girlfriend took a loop."

"Is he doing okay by all of you?" Hank wondered, squinting seriously at his old
crew. "I mean about Brice, and not our currently local, station prankster who's
here. Everybody high up already know how Kelly rolls."

"Yes." said Roy.  "Uh..."  "Well... " "I guess..." replied the others.

"Define those huffs of doubt, pronto. You don't have to hold your tongues.
I'm still your pal."

"He muzzled us, Hank." complained Kelly.  

DeSoto held up a finger and clarified.
"For a time. But now he's retracting it when it comes to firefighter/public
communications and information sharing."

Marco gaped. "That's different. Brice? Retracting a captain's order?"

Roy got annoyed. "His past reputation aside, Marco, Craig is suddenly
a different man. This new rank of his is changing him from the inside out.
He's finally seeing that he can't be so rigid or regulation stiff when it
comes to managing whole groups of people: our station crew, other
agencies, even sets of public eye witnesses. He has to keep his
mind open to everything, all the time now, just to see the bigger picture."

"Yep." Hank Stanley grinned, crossing his turn coated arms over
themselves. "Exactly what I was checking for. Did he pass muster?" he
asked specifically of Roy.

The others fell silent.

"Yeah. For the most part. It was an added complication that Karen Overstreet
was a call under his jurisdiction that he had to delegate out to someone
else." DeSoto shared, not afraid to analyze their new crew structure situation.
"She's family."

"And..." hinted Stanley.

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