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    Station 51's apparatus bay lay dark and quiet in the early morning hours, the faint illumination from a single security light failing to penetrate its farthest corners.  The engine and squad nestled side by side, still and ready, awaiting the next call.  A bright shaft of light pierced its way through the small window in the latrine door to spotlight them and create stark shadows on the walls and floor behind and beneath.  In the dormitory, just beyond the brick wall that separated it from the apparatus bay, rhythmic snores from sleeping firefighters created a kind of nocturnal melody.

    Over all lay an atmosphere of calm.  All was prepared in case of an abrupt awakening.  Six pairs of boots, bunker pants turned down around them, waited in readiness beside each bed, their owners in peaceful oblivion enjoying well earned slumber.  An air of quiet, benevolent watchfulness permeated the room.

    Silently, gracefully two shadows detached themselves from the ceiling and floated down to rest beside the beds of the sleeping men.  With expressions best identified as wistful they each leaned over to touch the forehead of one of the two paramedics recumbent on narrow bunks in their half-cubicle, divided from the other sleepers by chest-high brick walls.  Firefighter/Paramedic John Gage stirred briefly, swatting at the air above his head with one hand.  The hazy shadow pausing by his head seemed to smile.  Firefighter/Paramedic Roy DeSoto snorted and turned to his other side.

    Without looking back, the shadows drifted toward and then through the door into the locker room, becoming invisible, a mere distortion in space, as they passed through the lighted room.  The two shadows entered the apparatus bay and made for the silent engine where yet two more shapes reposed on the hose bed.  One shade glanced uneasily at the other two before he spoke, his voice noiseless to all but the other shadow beings in the large room.

    "Do you understand your instructions?  Are you familiar with the rules?"

    "Sure, no sweat," one shade replied, resting an arm casually on the deluge mounted atop the engine.  Confidence would have oozed from every pore...if he had had pores.

    The first shade glanced at him sharply.  "How long have you been at this?"  The nonchalance of the figure before him caused a momentary qualm.

    "It's my first assignment," the shape admitted, becoming a little less transparent as he took on a reddish hue of embarrassment.

    "You'll do fine," the first tried to be reassuring, although more to himself than to the other being.  "Just remember to pay attention.  This can be a tricky assignment.  These guys face danger constantly and you have to be on your toes."

    The second shade nodded with a little more enthusiasm, his air of self-assurance returning.

    "Okay," said the first, "now for your commissions.  We're relinquishing temporarily our badges of office to you."  As he spoke the shade became less defined as did his companion.  The other two beings took on the faint but recognizable shapes of the paramedics.  "You," he looked at the shape that resembled Roy DeSoto, "are now the Official Guardian Angel of Paramedic Roy DeSoto.  Roy is cautious, steady, a little hesitant about heights and prone to some self doubt.  You need to assist by boosting his self-confidence and sustain him when he has to do a high rescue.  He is the senior paramedic, although he seldom pulls rank.  Because of that, he tends to take responsibility for any problems that occur.  Occasionally it results in some soul-searching and assumption of unwarranted guilt.  When that happens, try to help him work through the problem."

    The newly appointed OGA DeSoto nodded.  "I think I can do that."

    The first shade looked doubtful, but stood back and allowed his counterpart to speak.  "You have a really tough job," the retiring shape said to his replacement.  You are the Official Temporary Guardian Angel of Paramedic John Gage."  He got a sharp look from his associate at the strong emphasis on the word temporary.  The shape seemed to shrug and then continued.  "Gage is courageous and impetuous, enthusiastic and tends to take risks.  He has a big heart and may be a bit overconfident at times.  You really have to be ready for anything where he is concerned.  Don't get caught napping!  I don't want to come back and find him hurt."  The shade looked sternly at the second transparent image who gulped and then nodded, his show of bravado returning.

    "No sweat," the new OGA Gage replied, crossing his arms in a slightly superior manner.  Ill at ease the former OGA Gage seemed to hesitate.

    "Come on, it'll be all right," the first shade, now almost shapeless without his previous assigned identity, reassured his worried partner.  "We're on vacation and Heaven knows we've earned it!"

    Johnny Gage's temporarily former Official Guardian Angel reluctantly caught up with the other.  "Where do you wanna go?" he asked.

    "Santa Rosa County," the first replied.  "It was really pretty and so peaceful.  I say let's go back there."

    "Okay," his friend said, still a little doubtful.  "I guess it's your vacation too."

    "You've been around Johnny too long," the two newly commissioned guardian angels heard the first one say as the twosome drifted through the apparatus bay door and disappeared into the stillness of the night sky.

    For a moment the two remaining shades sat silently on the engine taking in the environment that would be their part-time home for the next two weeks.  The glance OGA Gage threw at the cab of the big pumper appeared almost hungry.  "You know, I've always wanted to drive one of these things..."

    His counterpart snorted in derision.  "You'd better get used to something smaller.  Paramedics drive the squad."  He nodded toward Squad 51, dwarfed in size and seeming insignificant in comparison to the powerful engine.

    Reluctantly OGA Gage floated down to peek in the passenger's window.  "Bummer," he remarked, "it's just a plain old truck."

    "Hmmph!" OGA DeSoto replied, his arms crossed and his countenance disapproving.  "Didn't you read your instructions?  This little truck carries these guys out there to save lives.  It's full of equipment and medications that can make all the difference in the world to some people.  These two men risk their lives to save others."  He patted the shining hood of the Dodge utility truck in satisfaction.  "We have an important assignment."

    "Yeah, I glanced through the instructions.  What can be so hard about this, anyway?  All we gotta do is keep 'em from gettin' hurt too bad and makin' a bunch of mistakes, right?"  He floated away toward the kitchen.  "Wonder what there is to eat?"

    With a dubious shake of his head, OGA DeSoto followed OGA Gage into the kitchen.  "Would you put that down!" he cried, outraged at the sight of the other shape indulging in a huge slice of chocolate cake.

    Flushing guiltily, Gage's angel tried to hide the small plate behind his back.  "Pud whub dowb?"

    Irritated, OGA DeSoto tapped one translucent foot on the shiny tile floor.  "That slice of cake!"  His stare became a glare.

    OGA Gage gulped, swallowing painfully, "What cake?"

    "Oh for Heaven's sake!" the first angel exclaimed, "You're so transparent.  I can see right through you."  He rolled his eyes and focused on the ceiling as if asking for patience.

    Gage's angel glanced down at his stomach and then through it.  The plate of chocolate cake was clearly visible behind his back.  With a sigh he set it on the counter and glared back at OGA DeSoto.  "I was hungry.  What's wrong with having a little snack?"

    "Look at it," DeSoto's angel replied, exasperated.  "It's DEVIL'S FOOD!"

    With a gasp OGA Gage paled until he nearly faded completely and backed away from the offending plate in horror.  "I-I-I didn't realize," he stammered.  "M-m-maybe we'd b-b-better look in on our assignments."

    Nodding agreement, OGA DeSoto followed him into the long, darkened dormitory and drifted from bed to bed searching for his charge.

    "Hey!  Watch it!"  An angry voice just behind him caused Gage's angel to spin around.  Before him wafted another shade, not before met, his visage a picture of outraged dignity.  "Look where you're goin'!" the shape admonished him.  "You sailed right through me."

    "S-s-sorry," the junior paramedic's angel replied.  "We're new here."

    A snort and series of snuffling noises, followed by a loud resonant snore, emanated from the direction of Firefighter Chet Kelly's bunk.  The man turned on his side and resumed his rhythmic cadence.  The angel who confronted OGA Gage looked fondly at his charge for a moment and then returned his attention to the newcomers.

    "Oh, right, the regular guys were going on vacation."  The shade drifted down to the dormitory floor and seemed to be lost in contemplation.  He scuffed the toe of one luminous booted foot back and forth on the polished tile floor.  "I'm the Official Guardian Angel of Firefighter Chet Kelly," the shape said at last.  "And if you're going to be protecting Johnny Gage, I guess there's something I'd better tell you."

    OGA Gage, curious but not concerned, waited patiently for the other to speak.  Wasn't it all in the instruction packet?

    "My charge, Chet Kelly, likes to play practical jokes on Johnny Gage.  He seems to derive great pleasure from it, or rather from Johnny's reaction.  The pranks are seldom dangerous, at least Johnny's OGA makes sure he comes to no harm, but you may need to restrain Gage a bit.  He has somewhat of a temper, usually vowing to get even, but seldom accomplishing it."

    Hmm, we'll see about that, OGA Gage thought in passing as he nodded his understanding to OGA Kelly.  Why should I stand back and let my charge get humiliated?  He voiced his concern, "Didn't the previous OGA Gage do anything to stop the pranks?"

    OGA Kelly shook his head emphatically.  "It's not your job to interfere with my charge, just to protect yours."

    OGA DeSoto looked sharply at the other angel.  "Don't you ever try to persuade Kelly not to do those things?  I thought that was part of your job."

    "I'm here to protect him," OGA Kelly became defensive, "not to take all of the fun out of life."

    "I see," said OGA DeSoto thoughtfully.  "So if Gage decides to retaliate, OGA Gage should make no attempt to restrain him, right?"

    OGA Kelly looked up in alarm.  "Of course he should restrain him!"

    OGA Gage sputtered in confusion, "B-b-but you just said..."

    "Besides," OGA Kelly continued, "DeSoto usually does his best to restrain Johnny, so you probably won't have to worry about that."

    OGA DeSoto shot Kelly's angel a doubtful look.  "Does it work?" he asked.

    OGA Kelly gave him a noncommittal shrug and motioned toward the apparatus bay.  "C'mon and meet the rest of the guys."  He turned and floated quickly out of the dormitory.  After an exchange of meaningful glances, OGAs Gage and DeSoto followed.

    Crossing the bay once again, the two angels saw Kelly's angel turn and pass through a door.  They hesitated before doing likewise.  The room was dark except for the luminous glow of the four other beings they found there.  One shade sat in a chair, his glowing feet propped on a desk.

    "This is the captain's office," their self-appointed guide explained, "and these are the OGAs for Captain Hank Stanley, Firefighter Specialist Michael Stoker and Firefighter Marco Lopez."  He spoke to the other shades, "Guys, these are the replacements for OGAs Gage and DeSoto."  As they were introduced each shade nodded welcome to the newcomers.  OGA Stanley came to his feet and took on an air of authority.

    "Welcome to Station 51, angels," he told the temporary OGAs.  "I guess you've been briefed?"  He received a nod from each.  "Good, good.  Any questions?"

    "Will we see lots of fires?" OGA Gage asked.  He ignored his counterpart's slight shudder and remembered their chance encounter with OGA Abednego a few millennia back.  There are other beings more comfortable with fire, he reasoned, but sometimes an angel's gotta live dangerously.

    "Sure, sure," OGA Stanley answered the question.  "Of course we see more fires than you will, but you'll also be busier with heart attacks, overdoses, poisonings and the like."

    "That doesn't sound dangerous," snorted OGA Gage, discouraged that what had sounded like an exciting assignment might turn out to be disappointingly tame.

    One shade leaning against the filing cabinet suddenly chuckled, "You don't know Johnny, amigo."  OGAs Stoker and Kelly nodded in emphatic agreement.

    As the captain's angel opened his mouth to impart further information, the lights in the station suddenly came on and the air filled with a deafening pattern of tones followed by orders from the dispatcher.  Both newcomers jumped, their eyes widening to the size of quarters.  "Well, come on!" OGA Stanley shouted to be heard above the din.

    When the angels entered the brightly lit apparatus bay firefighters streamed from the dormitory in varying stages of undress.  The bewildered twosome hesitantly approached Squad 51 and were whirled in a flurry of air as Paramedic John Gage shot past still adjusting one suspender.  He was followed by Roy DeSoto.  Both men paused an instant to don turnout coats before sliding smoothly into the cab of the squad.  A glance at the engine showed three men already aboard awaiting Captain Stanley.  Four angels sat on the hose bed, their faces serious and determined as they anticipated the coming events.  OGAs Gage and DeSoto slid into the cab of the squad to sit beside their charges.  Although a narrow squeeze, by common consent they made themselves thinner so as not to crowd.  OGA Gage was disappointed to see Roy DeSoto behind the wheel.

    As they sped off into the night, sirens blaring, lights flashing, the two replacement angels felt a rising tide of excitement flow through their non-corporeal forms.  Streetlights and neon signs flashed by.  The few cars on the road provided no challenge to Roy's driving as he easily maneuvered the utility truck through the night streets.  Thrilled with the speed and novelty, OGA Gage popped his head up through the roof of the cab and felt the night air flow through his face, his hair streaming out behind.  OGA DeSoto joined him and found amusement in the sight of his counterpart's form flattening slightly and stretching in the breeze created by the vehicle's speed.  "Weeeeeeeeeeee," OGA Gage exulted.

    Seconds later the junior paramedic's angel assumed a greenish hue when a large moth shot into his mouth.  PTEW! "Yuck!"  OGA DeSoto smiled, but wisely kept his own mouth shut.  Together the two shades watched as Squad 51 left the lighted streets of the city and headed out into the stark countryside.

    Light from the full moon and the illumination provided by the vehicles themselves created a strobe effect on the landscape as they passed by.  The angels could see the approaching curves in the road and the mountain that rose on the other side, towering into the darkness.  Ahead a small wavering glow marked the probable sight of the accident scene to which Station 51 was dispatched.  As they approached, the glow grew brighter and proved to be the flashing lights from a police car angled across the road.  A lone uniformed figure stood by a telltale gap in the remains of a twisted guard rail.  Squad 51 braked to a stop a few feet from the officer and the paramedics hurried to his side.  Their OGAs followed.  This was it!

    Paramedics Gage and DeSoto immediately took in the situation as described by the police officer.  Seconds later they were joined by Captain Stanley.  Three angels gathered beside them, silent as they concentrated on the words spoken by Officer Vince Howard.  OGA Howard hovered nearby, alert but somewhat detached.  OGA Stanley nodded to him and received a solemn nod in response, then all focused on the problem at hand.  Officer Howard explained that a late model sedan had swerved off the road for reasons unknown, crashed through the guard rail and plummeted down the side of the mountain.  The vehicle apparently rolled at least once before coming to rest against a small tree.  The sedan's purchase on the edge of a steep drop-off seemed precarious at best.  Vince had been unable to reach the trapped motorist, but heard a faint moan, evidence that she was alive.

    OGAs DeSoto and Gage kept pace with their charges as powerful torches lighted their way down the mountainside.  Skid marks and intermittent divots provided mute evidence of the vehicle's progress to its current location.  As quickly as caution would allow the paramedics made their way toward the sedan, slipping and sliding on the loose dirt and gravel to the overturned car.

    Gage approached the passenger side of the vehicle, the only one accessible.  He gave an experimental tug on the door and was relieved to find it unlocked, opening easily.  DeSoto waited just behind him, his torch providing illumination with one hand as he set up the Biocom with the other.  Johnny bent down and started to enter the car, but pulled back as it swayed and tipped alarmingly.  He waited for the vehicle to stop before, more cautiously this time, crawling inside.  He felt a tug at his pant leg and reached back to free it from whatever snag impeded his progress, but found only air.

    "Get out of here!" OGA Gage yelled in his charge's ear.  "It's too dangerous!"  Johnny blinked and shook his head, then continued toward the injured woman.  A jumble of suitcases and parcels, forming a heap where they had finally come to rest, blocked access to the victim.  Carefully he shoved them toward the back seat, halting when the car groaned and rocked from the shift in weight.  At last he reached the victim.  She was still alive.

    "Would you quit that and come down here to help me!"  A high plaintive feminine voice arrested OGA Gage's attention.  He released Johnny's pant leg and drifted around the car to the other side.

    Recent heavy rains triggered the mudslide that opened up a gaping hollow in the side of the mountain, scooping out the supporting earth beneath a small shelf overhang--the one currently supporting the car.  A cascade of dirt and small stones created a miniature avalanche as Gage moved inside the car, further eroding the sedan's precarious position.

    "Quit staring and help me!" the feminine voice repeated.  "Your assignment is in jeopardy too, you know."

    OGA Gage spotted the source of the voice.  An angel in feminine form strained with all her might to keep the car from hurtling down the mountain.  He set his shoulder to the task beside her and pushed.  The rocking motion of the car stopped, although the dirt beneath them, he noted, continued to melt away like sand in an hourglass.  The analogy seemed particularly appropriate.  Both the victim and Gage were running out of time.

    Above the two angels Gage called out vital signs to DeSoto who relayed them to Rampart hospital.  In dismay Roy noted pieces of the precipice crumble away forming a large crack in the ground at his feet.  Johnny needed to hurry.

    Torn, OGA DeSoto heard OGA Gage and the other angel struggling with the weight of the car but dared not leave his own charge lest the mountain give way further and all three be lost.  He saw Lopez and Kelly, accompanied by their protectors, stumble down the mountain carrying between them a Stokes stretcher piled with equipment requested by the paramedics.  Their angels pulled and tugged on their turnouts as they progressed to keep them from falling.  Above, Captain Stanley and Mike Stoker paid out the line attached to the Stokes.

    Both firemen, with the help of their angels, grabbed hold of the car to steady it as Johnny carefully extracted the victim from her seatbelt, pulled a backboard into place, and inched her cautiously sideways.  He maneuvered the patient onto the board, sliding her gently while Roy reached in to steady the woman's head and secure it to the board with a roll of Kerlix.  Being careful to jar the patient and the car as little as possible, Kelly and Lopez helped DeSoto remove her from the sedan.  With a sigh of relief Johnny emerged from the vehicle, glad to unfold his cramped limbs and put some distance between himself and the rocking deathtrap.

    Sweating and grunting with effort, OGA Gage and the other angel heard DeSoto inform the hospital that Johnny and the victim were now free of the car.  With a mutual look of relief, both angels simultaneously stepped aside and watched as the sedan fell away into the darkness.  Its crashing progress down the mountainside culminated in a final distant sound of crunching metal and then silence.  The two beings nearly fainting with weariness, drifted upward to rejoin their charges, the victim's angel relaxing in the dirt while OGA Gage panted his way to OGA DeSoto's side.

    "You could have helped, you know," he accused his counterpart.

    OGA DeSoto clapped him on the shoulder.  "What if the ground had given way and DeSoto started to slide?  I couldn't leave my charge in a dangerous situation to help yours, it's against the rules.  Besides, you did fine.

    Still panting, his face a picture of disbelief, OGA Gage moved to accompany Johnny back up the side of the mountain.  All four firefighters carried a corner of the Stokes and a piece of rescue equipment as they made their way toward the top, their path illuminated by the squad's searchlight.  Hank Stanley, Mike Stoker and Vince Howard pulled the rope hand over hand bringing the stretcher and the firefighters back to safety.  After strapping the Stokes to a gurney and securing it in the waiting ambulance, DeSoto and his angel climbed in to accompany the victim to the hospital.

    OGA Gage watched Johnny load equipment back into the squad's compartments and scoot into the driver's seat.  He brightened and hopped in beside the paramedic.  Ha ha!  Johnny is driving!  OGA Gage bounced on the seat and patted Johnny on the shoulder.  "Hey, Johnny, we make a great team, don't we?"  John Gage scratched at his shoulder which suddenly itched.  A broad smile on his face, OGA Gage stuck his head through the roof, this time popping up into the flashing light bar.  The angel was drawn into one of the spinning lights like cake mix into an egg beater.  The scenery whirled by at a dizzying rate colored alternately ruby red and stark white.  OGA Gage began to panic and struggled for release from the crazy carnival ride he'd gotten himself into.  With some effort he withdrew back into the cab and settled beside John Gage, his aura a somewhat sickly green, his eyes still trying to focus.  The world tilted crazily and then righted while the unfortunate angel clung limpet-like to the squad's dash in an attempt to regain his equilibrium.  Subdued for the moment, his ebullience having fled, the spirit watched the traffic go by as the sky began to lighten into dawn.

    Behind the wheel John Gage yawned and wiped his eyes, anxious to get back to the station and his bunk.  "Yeah, this is old hat for you, huh?  How come you take such foolish risks?  Don't you know you could have gotten killed back there?  You aren't gonna act like this all the time are you?"  Johnny brushed at his ear, the source of an irritating tickle, and yawned again.  "Hmmmph!  You aren't even listenin'!"  A slight pout on his lips, OGA Gage remained still while his charge followed the ambulance to Rampart and backed up to the Emergency Room doors.

    Gage's angel joined his counterpart at the base station desk.  FF/PM DeSoto leaned against the wall cradling a cup of coffee.  FF/PM Gage made a beeline for the coffee pot.  After finding a relatively clean mug, Gage emptied the remains of the pot and glared at his partner when it only amounted to a half cup.  DeSoto shrugged.  While they waited, Dixie McCall emerged from Treatment Room Four and gave them a thumbs up.  Both paramedics nodded, treated her to two weary grins, and turned to trudge their way back down the hall and out through the double doors to the waiting squad.

     The sounds of rhythmic snores filled the dormitory as Gage and DeSoto, followed by their OGAs, headed for their bunks.  The other OGAs, no longer needed, gathered once more in the station office to discuss the night's activities.  After conscientiously watching for the five minutes it took for their charges to fall into an exhausted sleep, OGAs Gage and DeSoto joined the other angels.

    "So, what do you think of being Gage's guardian now," OGA Kelly asked, a slight smile on his face.  It would probably be classified as a smirk, if angels smirk, which they don't, since smirking is not an angelic trait.  OGA Gage comforted himself that it was probably a trick of the light that sifted under the office door from the apparatus bay beyond.

    "I see what you meant," he admitted.  "These guys live dangerously."

    "They don't take unnecessary risks." OGA Stanley felt a bit of justification was in order.  "They always use safety equipment, like the belts and ropes, where possible.  But tonight time was of the essence.  That car wouldn't have stayed there much longer."

    OGA Gage stifled a 'hmmmph'.  He knew exactly why the car stayed put as long as it had.  "Is every shift this exciting?"

    "Well, it all depends," OGA Stanley answered.  "Some shifts are very busy, but not particularly dangerous, like dealing with trash fires or extracting people from the silly predicaments they get themselves into.  Some shifts our subjects are called out for major fires, gas or chemical leaks, explosions, then things get pretty intense.  We really have to stay on our toes.  There's just no way of knowing."  The other OGAs nodded in agreement.

    "What about their days off?" OGA DeSoto asked.  "We don't have much to worry about then, do we?"

    OGA Stanley drew himself up to his full height.  "Always be vigilant," he said in a ponderous tone.  "Vigilance is our watchword.  Anything can happen at any time."

    As if it was a cue to depart, each of the OGAs drifted out into the apparatus bay and then into the dormitory.  They wafted over to their various charges and satisfied themselves that all was well, then separated to check on the equipment that each firefighter would be using for the rest of the shift.

    OGAs DeSoto and Gage wandered over to Squad 51, a little lost.  "What should we be looking for?" OGA Gage whispered to his partner.  "I don't even know what most of this stuff is."  OGA DeSoto shrugged and tried to look knowledgeable as he pretended to examine the driver's seat.  Gage's angel snorted and stuck his head through the compartment doors and then into the drug box, trying to familiarize himself with the contents.  DeSoto's angel popped his head in as well and began reading the labels.

    "What do you suppose all of this is for?" OGA DeSoto mused aloud.  OGA Gage just shook his head and then had a look at the Trauma box.

    "This is where they got that white thingamajiggy that went around the patient's neck," OGA Gage pointed out.

    OGA DeSoto squeezed in beside him.  "Cervical collar," he said mechanically.  At his partner's amazed look he responded, "Some angels listen when people talk."

    OGA Gage would have made a nasty mocking face, but angels do not make nasty mocking faces, so he shrugged and went on to the O.B. kit.  Gage's angel shuddered.  "I don't want to see them use that," he declared.

    "That box," the blondish angel declared with some superiority, "helps bring new human life into the world.  You should be proud to witness it's use."

    OGA Gage didn't feel any particular desire to witness such an event, but he kept silent and moved on to the oxygen tank.  He leaned through the dull green metal of the cylinder and withdrew, his head slightly enlarged and distorted like a balloon.  Gage's angel gave his partner a skewed grin and belched, his head then returning to normal shape and size.  OGA DeSoto rolled his eyes, glad the angelic supervisors were busy elsewhere.

    "Chili today..."

    "Don't even say it!" the former OGA Gage warned his partner as they watched Sheriff Blaine Bitner dig into a bowl of Red Dog, his favorite dish, at the rustic cafe where everybody called him by name.  The sheriff had a bright smile and a personal greeting for them all.  It was easy to see that he loved his job and the people he worked with and for.

    "Don't say what?" OGA Bitner inquired of his guests, glad for the company, but unsure sometimes how to take them.

    OGA Gage looked at the sky as former OGA DeSoto grinned and quoted, " 'Chili today, hot tamale'.  That's what Roy always says.  It always gets a laugh."

    "Not around Johnny it doesn't," the slim dark-haired angel felt called to add.

    "That's clever," OGA Bitner tried to be polite, but was more amused at the friendly banter between the paramedics' vacationing angels.  To tell the truth it got a bit lonely at times riding with just the sheriff.  Additional companions in the cruiser, other than the subdued and rather distant guardian angels of robbery suspects or drunks confined to the back seat, were rare.  OGA Bitner intended to enjoy his guests to the fullest.

    "So did the sheriff ever get his EMT program off the ground?" the former OGA DeSoto queried his host.

    OGA Bitner moved to the other side of his subject as a busy waitress swooshed by.  She was preceded by her harassed looking OGA who was hurrying to help her charge avoid obstacles as she carried a huge tray heavily laden with heaping plates of food.

    "He sure did," the sheriff's OGA replied to the other angel's question, ducking to avoid another waitress whose tray was piled high with dirty dishes.  "The guardian angels in this county are sure grateful to your subjects.  The information they gave the sheriff has made a big difference around here.  Not only are injured people getting help faster, but the community has started pulling together more.  Businesses like this one," the OGA gestured in a wide sweeping motion, his hand going through a plate of fried chicken on its way to table 14, "have had the EMTs come in and train their employees in first aid and life-saving techniques like CPR and artificial respiration.  See Judy over there?" he pointed to the cashier, a woman in her late fifties with salt-and-pepper brown hair, stooped shoulders, and a loud penetrating laugh.  "Judy used the Heimlich maneuver just last month to save a fella that choked on a bite of hamburger."

    Sheriff Bitner ate his meal in relative peace, his busy spoon pausing long enough to acknowledge greetings from patrons entering the restaurant and to wave to those departing.  He scooped out the last bite of Red Dog, took a fast slurp of coffee and dug into his pocket for a dollar bill.  After wiping his lips on a napkin he tossed the dollar onto the square of red and white checkered vinyl that covered the pitted and scarred table beneath and stood to make his way to the cash register.  The sheriff paid for his meal, exchanged pleasantries with Judy the cashier, asked her to give his compliments to the cook, and breezed out the door.  OGA Bitner zipped ahead to the black and white cruiser and watched for traffic as the sheriff entered his car and called in to Mabel, the dispatcher.  The paramedics' former OGAs piled into the back seat, eager to watch the sheriff in action.

    OGA Bitner watched the visitors with some degree of amusement.  They leaned forward in their seats as if expecting non-stop excitement.  He chuckled.  "Better get comfortable, boys.  Things aren't quite as fast-paced here as they are in the big city.  We'll most likely get a couple of calls today, probably a fender-bender or some fella too drunk to drive home late tonight."  He watched the other angels' faces fall.  "I thought you two liked Santa Rosa County because it's so peaceful."

    "We do," former OGA DeSoto rushed to reassure their host.  "I guess we haven't quite figured out how to relax yet," the angel admitted.

    "Yeah," the former OGA Gage added as he looked out the window at the passing scenery without really seeing it.  "I mean we always had to be alert at Station 51.  There could be a serious fire or bad accident at any time."

    "Especially with Johnny," former OGA DeSoto said, but he was smiling.

    Former OGA Gage grunted noncommittally.  "I bet the guys are enjoying their days off too."

    His partner didn't have to ask which guys the angel meant.  For an angel on vacation, former OGA Gage didn't look to be having a very good time.  "Ya know, Roy is probably getting started on Joanne's 'honey-do' list about now," DeSoto's former angel said, a faraway look in his eye.

    "Yeah, and Johnny's probably takin' off for the San Gabriel's to do a little climbing."  Gage's former guardian looked dejected.  "The Temporary OGA better be paying attention.  With Johnny you really have to be on your toes."

    "Oh man!" DeSoto's former angel suddenly exclaimed, slapping his forehead.  "Roy promised to take Christopher to the go-cart track tomorrow.  I hope he remembers."

    "He won't forget," the former OGA Gage soothed.  "Roy's pretty conscientious.  Not like Johnny.  If it wasn't for me he would oversleep half of the time.  I sure hope OGA Gage doesn't let him hit the snooze button three times.  Johnny can't afford to be late again.  And he has a date tomorrow afternoon with Debbie.  I think she has real possibilities.  OGA Gage had better keep Johnny on his best behavior."

    OGA Bitner listened to them with a wide grin.  "Hey, have you two guys ever taken a vacation before?"

    Both angels shook their heads to indicate a negative.  "The Boss said we would be an experimental case," the light-haired angel informed him.  "You know we aren't usually given vacations during an assignment, but he wanted to see if it would increase efficiency, you know, a break every thirty years or so."

    "Let me know if it works.  I haven't had a break in," he nodded at the sheriff, "fifty-three years."

    The former OGA Gage looked at him sharply, "Do you think you need one?"

    OGA Bitner started to speak and then halted as a dark red late model coupe swung wide around the curb ahead and veered into their lane.  At the last minute the driver managed to force his vehicle onto the correct side of the road, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision.  Sheriff Bitner muttered an imprecation and screeched the cruiser into an arcing turn, sliding sideways for a few feet before he flipped on the light rack and siren.  The coupe, seeing the flashing lights now in his rearview mirror, sped up and raced out of sight around the next bend in the twisting mountain road.  As he hit the accelerator to follow, the sheriff picked up the microphone to inform his dispatcher that he was in pursuit and requested a check on the car's California license plate.

    B-Shift wandered in gradually after seven fifteen, beginning with Captain Stewart who stopped by the office to greet Hank Stanley.  Their OGAs exchanged pleasantries.  OGA Dwyer, who had just followed his own subject into the kitchen, floated over to OGAs DeSoto and Gage and introduced himself.

    "Long night?" OGA Dwyer asked the twosome, wondering how the new guy would take to watching over Gage, a truly challenging assignment.

    "Well, there was a call," OGA DeSoto replied, keeping one eye on his subject as Roy downed a cup of coffee and glanced at the clock on the dayroom wall.  Seven forty-five, only thirty minutes until the end of their first shift.

    "Only one?" OGA Dwyer asked.  "You guys got off lucky.  Some nights these guys get called out several times, and it's almost always serious.  Night responses tend to be more intense.  People are more easily upset and darkness can complicate things."

    "I can believe that," OGA Gage assured him, recalling the night's one rescue where the angle of moonlight had created stark patterns of light and dark, the contrasting shadows concealing as much as the moonbeams had revealed.  The path to the damaged vehicle, both rocky and precipitous, had given the angel real concern as he sought to help Johnny Gage keep his balance on the way down the hillside.

    "He just plunged down there," OGA Gage blurted, "as if it was nothing more than a stroll."  Several angel eyes focused on the distraught guardian.  OGA DeSoto hovered uneasily, not sure in what manner the other angel's outburst would be received.

    OGA Dwyer looked at OGA Stanley, a question in his eyes.  "His first assignment," the captain's angel explained.  The angel faces instantly became sympathetic.

    "And he drew Gage?  What were they thinking?"  Eyebrows raised at the implied criticism and Dwyer's angel immediately backpedaled.  "I mean, I'm sure he's qualified.  Headquarters would never send an angel who wasn't capable of looking after Johnny."  Everyone relaxed.  It wasn't the first time some angel had reacted 'unangelically', at least not when it came to guardianship of John Gage.

    "Um, hadn't you better go?"  An angel that hadn't been introduced nodded in the direction of the kitchen door where paramedics Gage and DeSoto were just disappearing, having bid farewell to the other men gathered around the donut plate located centrally on the kitchen table.  Cups of coffee were raised in a farewell salute.  OGAs Gage and DeSoto hurried out after their charges.

    In the locker room the paramedics quickly changed into street clothes and headed out through the back bay door to their respective vehicles.  OGA Gage climbed into front seat of the Land Rover beside his charge, a bit relieved to find the man driving such a sensible vehicle.  He grinned at OGA DeSoto who eyed Roy's Porsche with misgiving before sliding into the little car beside his subject.  The sports car's quiet, perfectly tuned engine started up and seemed to purr before leaving the back parking lot at a sedate pace.  OGA Gage's grin faded when the Rover roared to life and backed out rapidly, braked, and zoomed down the narrow drive between the block wall and Station 51.  He wondered, a little anxiously, what to expect.

    OGA DeSoto watched as the little car approached the more suburban area of Carson.  He gazed approvingly at manicured lawns in a well maintained, if not particularly affluent, neighborhood.  Roy pulled into a short driveway, glancing at a bicycle that had been left out on the lawn all night and a garden hose that snaked across the driveway.  Small infractions, but enough to earn a frown from the man behind the wheel.  The paramedic unfolded himself from the Porsche and went to lift the garage door.  His wife's station wagon sat in the left hand side of the garage.  He noted its dusty condition and mentally added 'car wash' to his to-do list, then returned to pull his sports car into the space next to it.  Not bothering to lower the garage door, Roy threaded his way around the lawn mower, a wagon and a small pink bicycle, training wheels still attached, to the screen door that allowed entry from the garage into the kitchen of his home.  Looking approvingly at the yard tools hanging neatly from hooks on the wall of the garage and the small collection of 'outdoor' toys stowed beneath them, OGA DeSoto followed his charge into the bright sunny kitchen.

    Looking slightly harried but happy, Joanne DeSoto turned a strip of bacon in the skillet, wiped up a bit of spilled juice from the table in front of six-year-old Christopher, and turned to welcome her husband home from work.  Her OGA came forward to greet the temporary guardian of her charge's husband.

    "Hi, you must be Roy's temp," she said in a friendly voice.  Like Joanne, her angel was petite and perky, not at all shy, and possessed of a straightforward practicality that put OGA DeSoto immediately at ease.  Child sized angels looked up from their positions behind each of the children.  OGA Jennifer, clad in pink overalls and white T-shirt, her hair drawn into neat pony tails above either ear, had one finger in her mouth in unconscious imitation of the little girl assigned to her.  OGA Chris gave him an engaging grin from a mouth that was minus one of its front teeth.

    OGA DeSoto listened as his subject regaled his wife with the details of their late night rescue, amazed at how differently the paramedic viewed what seemed to him a harrowing experience.  He noticed that Roy omitted the parts about the steepness of the hillside, the car's tenuous hold on shifting ground and its final plunge into the blackness below.

    "He left out a few parts," the paramedic's OGA commented.

    "He probably always does," OGA Joanne replied.  "Roy knows Joanne would fret if he told her about the more dangerous aspects of his job."

    OGA DeSoto nodded in approval.  "So, what does Roy DeSoto do on his days off?" he asked Jo's angel.

    OGA Joanne began counting off events on her fingers.  "This morning, since he says he got enough sleep last night, he'll take Chris to Little League practice.  Then he usually mows the lawn, spends a little time with Jennifer, and heads for the back yard where he relaxes in the hammock with a book until he falls asleep."

    OGA DeSoto nodded, pleased to note that Roy was a very conscientious father, but felt a bit let down by the lackluster quality of the paramedic's schedule.  He wondered what OGA Gage was doing.  I bet Johnny's days off will be a bit more eventful.

    Johnny tooled the Rover through town to his third floor apartment on the outskirts of Carson.  More urban than rural, the red brick building could almost be labeled as 'quaint' with railings of ornate wrought iron surrounding the small terraces on the upper stories and geranium filled window boxes on the ground floor.  OGA Gage hurried to keep up with Johnny's long legged stride as the fireman breezed through the single barred glass door into the first floor lobby of his building.

    Humming the last tune he had heard on the radio, Gage peered into his mailbox, determined it to be empty, shrugged and, with a disdainful glance at the generally decrepit and unreliable elevator that serviced the building, headed for the stairs.  OGA Gage wafted along easily beside him as Johnny took the steps two at a time.  At the third floor landing the paramedic pulled open the fire door and hurried down the tiled hallway to apartment 3-F.  After an easy shift he had two full days ahead of him and a date with Debbie to go sailing that afternoon.  Life was good!

    OGA Gage took stock of the small but relatively neat apartment while he waited to see what Johnny would do first.

    Gage opened the refrigerator and popped his head in, searching for sustenance.  Not finding anything particularly spectacular he removed a carton of potato salad left over from a take-out chicken meal and the remains of a carton of milk.  The cupboards failed to yield anything of substance beyond a partial bag of stale Chee-tos®.  The OGA eyed his subject's breakfast with dubious eyes.  Well, it could be worse I suppose.  The angel drifted around Johnny's living room while Gage sat down to make quick work of his breakfast.

    After gobbling down the remaining potato salad, he decided to save the Chee-tos® for later and strode into the bedroom to take stock of his available wardrobe.  OGA Gage looked on with interest as his charge shuffled through the shirts on hangers, grumbling under his breath at the inability to find one in particular.  Johnny next stalked into the bathroom and rummaged through the contents of a white wicker dirty clothes hamper.  With an expression of triumph, he extracted a pair of faded Levi's®, a dark blue T-shirt, and a long-sleeved black sport shirt.  He held up each item, frowned at the wrinkled appearance, and took an evaluating sniff, recoiling at the repugnant odor.  With a quick glance at the clock Johnny gathered all of the clothes from the hamper into a wrinkled pillowcase, rooted in the vanity cupboard beneath the sink to withdraw a small box of detergent and a bottle of fabric softener, and headed purposefully for the door.

    OGA Gage hurried after his charge, catching up just as Johnny thrust the full pillowcase into the passenger seat of the Land Rover and nestled the box of laundry soap against it.  The angel perched atop the bundle and bent over to watch the view from the front window as the rugged vehicle tore out of the parking lot.  The pile of laundry shifted and the OGA bounced and swayed with it, his foot knocking over the box of detergent as he fought to maintain an upright position.

    "Slow down, Johnny!  For Heaven's sake, be careful!"

    Gage glanced sharply around the interior of the Rover looking for the source of the tiny buzzing sound.  Finding nothing, he began to whistle.  Ignored, the OGA took refuge in the cargo area behind the seat and resigned himself to holding on, releasing a huge sigh as they pulled into the crowded parking lot in front of the laundromat.  What next??

    Watching Gage do laundry his OGA reflected that perhaps he had been overreacting.  No harm had come from the quick drive of a few blocks.  Likely Johnny is used to hurrying everywhere; he is a fireman, after all, and in his work, speed is often of the essence.  He probably always drives safely and efficiently, even at high speeds.  Yes, surely there's nothing to worry about; Gage won't be performing dangerous rescues on his days off.  An angel could just relax and enjoy the respite.  This two week assignment would be a breeze.

    OGA Bitner and erstwhile OGAs DeSoto and Gage leaned forward in their seats as if to urge the black and white cruiser to greater speed.  Ahead, the coupe laid on the gas and shot forward with a burst of speed, taking the turns of the mountain road by a narrow margin.  Barely dodging an oncoming car, it wavered slightly as the driver looked back at the Sheriff, now just a couple of car lengths off his bumper.  Sheriff Bitner concentrated all of his skill in dogging the coupe until, at last, it skidded to a halt and the driver's door was flung open.  A man erupted from the driver's seat and took off at a dead run just as a 50's era blue pick-up rounded the bend from the opposite direction.  Swerving madly, the pick-up attempted to avoid the fleeing man, but found no room to maneuver.

    Sheriff Bitner swore and dove back toward the hastily parked black-and-white.  He watched helplessly as the pick-up struck the fleeing man, who flew over the hood, and landed on the narrow shoulder of the mountain road before rolling, in seeming slow motion, over the edge and down.  The sheriff, his OGA sticking as close as a second skin, hurried to the side of the road and scanned the terrain below.  Former OGA DeSoto swiftly joined them to assist, if needed.  Both angels watched as a non-corporeal form seemed to float upward from the mountainside before disappearing into the sky.  Having seen the phenomenon many times, they recognized it as a guardian who no longer had an assignment.  The man had died.

    Blaine Bitner could see the male suspect in the bushes below, his limbs tangled, his head at an unnatural angle.  All instincts told him the man was beyond hope.  So did his OGA.  Ropes and additional manpower would be needed tor retrieve the victim, or his body.  Behind the sheriff, a teenage boy blubbered incoherently; the driver of the pickup.  Blaine recognized him.  The boy's OGA had gathered the young man in his arms and murmured words of consolation as the sheriff led him back to his truck and told him to stay put.

    "Hey, over here!"  Former OGA Gage called from the direction of the red coupe, only his bottom half showing, his top half in the back seat of the car.  Former OGA DeSoto hurried to join him and then called out, "Hey, there's a child in here!"

    Having learned over the years to pay attention when a nagging voice inside his head told him to do something, Sheriff Bitner changed direction and detoured to check out the red car before calling dispatch for assistance.  He found a little girl about three years old huddled in the back seat, her hands and feet bound with duct tape, a swath of tape covering her mouth and wrapped around her head like a silver gray bandage.  Blond curls in wild disarray, streaks from dried tears leaving trails in her dirty cheeks, the child was wide-eyed and terrified.  Beside her on the seat, enveloping her in a protective embrace, a small, delicate angel perched with a defiant glare.  The angel's pink shorts and white top with matching tennis shoes and lace trimmed anklets, were spotless.  The identical clothes of her human subject were grimy and torn.  Nearly all of the child's exposed skin was covered with bruises and scrapes.  Bitner swore for the second time in two minutes.  The angels neither blinked nor blamed him.

    Former OGA DeSoto felt a terrible yearning to see Jennifer DeSoto and knew that Roy would have experienced the same longing.  His glance met that of former OGA Gage.  He knew they were having kindred feelings.  Did they really need a vacation?

    Blaine reached in from the open driver's door and unlocked the door behind, then opened it and gently reached toward the child, who still cowered and shook.

    "Tell her she can trust him," OGA Bitner prompted the child's angel.  "Tell her he's a good man who will help."

    The pint-sized OGA whispered into the child's ear and kissed her forehead, still clinging to her charge as the sheriff gently took the girl into his arms and carried her to the cruiser.  He sat her on the driver's seat and leaned through to clutch the radio in one angry hand.  In a voice both forcibly controlled and purposeful, Bitner told Mabel to send the volunteer fire department, an ambulance, and the parents of Seth Applegate, the teenage driver of the blue Chevy truck.  He also asked for someone from child welfare to meet the ambulance.  China blue eyes still brimming with tears, the child listened as Mabel acknowledged.  The little girl flinched but remained still as the man in uniform, as carefully as he could, released her from her bonds.  All three adult angels stood by, offering comfort and protection.

    Former OGA Gage was heard to mutter, "Vacation!"  He would have sounded bitter, if bitterness was an angelic trait.

    OGA DeSoto wandered around the living room, floating a few inches above the gold shag carpeting.  Kneeling before the Danish Modern coffee table a foot or so in front of the sofa, Jennifer DeSoto concentrated on the cards in her hand.  Her angel, with an indulgent smile on her freckled face, sat Indian style beside her charge and observed the ongoing game.

    Seated across from his daughter, Roy DeSoto appeared to frown at his own cards with displeasure and then reached across to draw one from his daughter's hand.  He paused, touching each card in contemplation while surreptitiously watching Jennifer's face.  As he touched the second and then the third cards in her hand she frowned a bit.  As he tapped the fourth card her eyes crinkled while trying to keep a straight face.  He paused and then went on the fifth card.  The small brow fell in disappointment.  After appearing to deliberate again, Roy confidently chose the fourth card and drew it from her hand.  Jennifer crowed with glee and Roy found himself staring, as he knew he would, at the picture of a woman in a hideous high-collared purple dress, her white hair drawn into a bun and a severe expression on her wrinkled face.  The Old Maid.

    Roy's guardian angel thumbed through a stack of LPs on the console stereo positioned along the back wall of the paneled living room.  Tchaikovsky, Bach, Beethoven, some Herb Alpert, the Lettermen, sound tracks albums from several musicals, Frank Sinatra, Mitch Miller, Andy Williams.  It seemed to be a rather diverse collection.  He turned politely to OGA Joanne, hovering at his side.

    "Roy likes pop and easy listening, along with some classical and a bit of jazz," she explained somewhat unnecessarily.  "Joanne is more into soft rock."  She pointed to a couple of Carpenters albums.

    "I see," OGA DeSoto said thoughtfully.  He bent down and popped his head into the record cabinet beneath the turntable.  "They sure have a lot of records."  He continued to peruse titles.  "Who is Julie London?"

    "One of Roy's favorites.  She sings mostly 'blues'."

    "Bobby Troup?"

    The two angels chatted companionably throughout the day as their charges performed various household tasks and spent time with the children.  The most dangerous exploit Roy got up to was mowing the lawn.  Joanne helped him wash her car and the two adults indulged in a water fight while the kids and their angels cheered from the sidelines.  OGA DeSoto wished for a something a little less tame.  He wondered how OGA Gage was making out.

    In the waters off Catalina Island, OGA Gage held tight to the railing as the sailboat dipped and rose in the swells, the water becoming choppy in a rising breeze.  Despite the sunny warmth of the day and the azure of the water, John Gage's complexion faded to ghastly pale before becoming decidedly green.  Why didn't the former OGA tell me that Gage gets seasick, the angel wondered.  I could have talked him out of this.  A look at his exasperating client made him rethink.  Maybe I could have talked him out of this.

    Gage's date, Debbie, sat half reclining on the deck of the sailboat, a life vest, which she had refused to don since it would interfere with her tan line, sitting neatly at her feet.  Eyes closed, she displayed to advantage a very brief hot pink bikini.  All in all, she made quite a picture; a picture which Johnny Gage was way too seasick to care about.  OGA Gage tried not to look.  At either of them.  Instead, he drifted up the mast and walked out on the spar to take a seat beside Debbie's OGA who was clearly enjoying the brisk wind, her aura sparkling with a dusting of spindrift.

    "You should have kept him from making this date you know," OGA Debbie admonished OGA Gage.

    "I didn't know he would get seasick!" OGA Gage responded, splaying one hand across his chest, using the other to hold tightly to the spar.

    "How could you not know?" she exclaimed.  "Hasn't he ever been sailing before?  What kind of OGA are you?"

    The criticism stung more than the wind driven spray.  "A temporary one," he retorted.  "As temporary as possible."

    "I never heard of such a thing," gasped OGA Debbie.  "What happened to his regular angel?"  Her voice dropped to a tone of confidentiality.  "Was he... removed?"

    OGA Gage took umbrage at the question, quite forgetting that he would be immensely relieved to have the regular OGA back on the job.  "No, he wasn't 'removed'," the angel replied in a less than angelic tone.  "He's on vacation."

    "Angels don't get vacations," OGA Debbie stated.  Her attitude could have been called scornful, if scorn had been an angelic trait.

    OGA Gage struggled with a rising temper, also not an angelic trait.  "It's an experiment.  The Council of Angels decided to see if periodic vacations would increase efficiency."

    "In the middle of an assignment?"  OGA Debbie cast him a disbelieving look.

    Below them, John Gage struggled to the side of the sailboat and began vomiting into the water.  OGA Gage turned pink with embarrassment, then drifted down to try and sooth his charge, murmuring words of encouragement while trying not to watch.  Vaguely he registered the sound of high-powered engines approaching across the channel.  At nearly the same time he heard OGA Debbie shout, "Look!"

    OGA Gage focused on the direction of her gaze and spotted two speedboats rapidly approaching on a collision course.  Quickly he gave John Gage an ungentle shove that propelled him to the other side of the boat, tripping over Debbie and sending them both overboard as the sailboat turned turtle.  With all their might, the OGAs tugged their charges downward toward the murky depths.  Overhead, water churned and fiberglass splintered as one of the power boats overran the smaller vessel, then faltered for a moment before gunning its engine and pulling away.  Gage's angel kept a firm hold on his charge's ankle as Johnny struggled to return to the surface, still unaware of how and why he'd toppled into the drink.  The OGA maintained a determined grip even as Johnny began to lose consciousness, noting that Debbie's OGA followed suit.  When danger had passed, the two OGAs assisted their charges upward to the water's surface, disaster having been averted.

    John Gage gasped for air, then noticed Debbie splashing frantically, trying to stay afloat.  His illness forgotten, the paramedic swam to her side and pulled the frantic woman toward a large floating piece of fiberglass, nearly all that remained of the trim little sailboat that Johnny had rented for an afternoon.

    OGA Debbie sought to soothe her charge while glaring at OGA Gage.  OGA Gage whispered words of encouragement into his client's ears.  John Gage looked at the distant harbor, the bits of wreckage dotting the water, and the dearth of any vessels near enough to offer help.  With an exclamation of dismay, he felt the back pocket of his jeans and suffered a bout of renewed nausea.  His wallet had disappeared with the boat.  The rescuer was most truly in need of rescue.

    Johnny Gage was having a bad day.  He seemed oblivious, but his OGA was sure there had to be some mistake.  No one angel alone could possibly guard this man.  After a humiliating rescue by the Harbor Police the day before, during which time Officer Weems plied Debbie with blankets and sympathy, and her angel turned a very cold shoulder on OGA Gage, the OGA had tried to be philosophical.  It was just one day.  One brief segment of a man's life.  A virtual micro-drop in the ocean of time that was eternity.  So why did it seem to last so long?  And then there's today.

    The sun had not long cleared the horizon when John Gage started up the rock face, his OGA determinedly keeping pace.  The plan was to eat lunch atop the precipice, take some pictures of the view, and rappel back down.  That was the plan.  OGA Gage was no longer certain they would make it to the top, much less carry on with the rest of the agenda.  Four times already in the last hour he had caught Gage's foot as it slipped.  Now he looked at the slender pitons with a jaundiced eye, sure they would never hold.  Was the rope beginning to fray a bit?  Surely Johnny's arms were starting to tire.  The angel had a desire to mop the perspiration from his own brow.  But angels do not sweat.  With what could have almost been mistaken for an angelic sigh, the OGA put his shoulder to Johnny's rump and heaved upward, lending his subject what seemed like a burst of energy.  The additional impetus brought them to the top.

    After a brief rest and a few sips of water from his canteen, Gage withdrew a brown vinyl camera case from his backpack, opened the hasps and withdrew his Cannon 35mm SLR.  He removed the tubular lens case, unsnapped the lid, and carefully withdrew the long 300mm telephoto lens.  After twisting the bayonet mount in place, Johnny took off the lens cap and stood to take in the spectacular view.  In the distance he could make out L. A. Harbor, the water like glass beneath a perfect blue sky.  OGA Gage shuddered.

    "Why don't you take a picture of that lone pine tree, Johnny?" the angel suggested.

    Gage shook his head to dispel the buzzing, but obediently trained his camera at the single tree that clung with great tenacity to the face of a nearby cliff.  The shutter clicked.  Then Johnny trained his camera again on the distant water.  Pausing to write down the aperture setting and shutter speed of each exposure, Gage took picture after picture until the sun began to climb toward noon and the brighter light faded and bleached the jewel tone colors to mere pastel.

    Wiping the sweat from his brow with the sleeve of his white tee, Gage took another drink from his canteen, then rummaged in his backpack and pulled out the paper bag that contained a apple, two sandwiches and a stack of oatmeal cookies.

    OGA Gage was feeling sorry for himself, or he would have been if feeling sorry for oneself was an angelic trait, which it wasn't. "How did you get so lucky?" OGA Gage asked, his voice whining just a little bit.

    "What do you mean?" replied OGA DeSoto, mystified.

    "Over the last two days, Gage went sailing and nearly drowned, then he went mountain climbing and almost fell.  Several times.  Then on the way home he nearly crashed his Land Rover trying to pass on a narrow road.  Then he stopped to help a lady with a flat tire.  The jack broke and I had to keep the car from falling on him.  We got home to his apartment that is on the third floor and hot as... um.  Hot as ...  Well it was really hot, so he turns on this relic of a fan, which has wiring from the dark ages, and it catches fire!  This fireman put out a fire in his own living room.  Then he stops at a donut shop on his way to work, flirts with the woman behind the counter and spills coffee on his lap on the way to work.  I won't mention the language that inspired..."

    "Please don't!"

    "How did you manage to get the one who plays it safe and gets to drive the squad, and never has any accidents, and I get assigned to this ...this daredevil?"

    "Watch your mouth!" OGA DeSoto warned, offended at the implication as well as the language of his counterpart.

    "Okay, okay," OGA Gage relented.  "Hey!  Wouldja mind trading places and letting me guard the boring...er cautious one while you mind this uh...incautious one?"

    "The assignments were given for a reason," OGA DeSoto said doubtfully.  "We can't just swap places.  Besides, we've already begun to bond with our subjects."

    "Just until the next shift?" Gage's angel plead, giving OGA DeSoto his best angelic crooked grin.

    "Let me think about it," OGA DeSoto said.  It was tempting.  Very tempting.

    During the course of the shift the squad kept very busy and the OGAs worked conscientiously to keep their assignments safe.  The station responded to a structure fire.  Gage went in and rescued a little girl, then plummeted over the stair railing when the landing gave way.  There was a woman stuck in a tree.  She had been spying on her husband as he met with his mistress.  Gage climbed up after her and met with a left hook that nearly blacked his eye.  Supposedly the woman was striking a blow for all women against all men.  Johnny overcame his inclination to leave her in the tree and brought her safely to the ladder where Marco helped the angry woman the rest of the way to the ground.

    The next call was for a man bitten by a dog.  Several dogs.  Roy kept the animals at bay with a fire extinguisher while Johnny ran in to carry the man to safety.  The bites were, surprisingly minor, but Johnny lost some of the material from his pant leg on the way out.  At least one of the dogs hadn't been cowed by a fire extinguisher.

    At the hospital base station desk Gage idly played with a pencil while Roy and Dixie discussed a recipe for Coq au vin.  The OGAs watched idly as patients' angels hovered over their charges in the waiting room and the OGAs of the hospital staff busily helped their assignments avoid x-ray machines and hurry on their many errands.  The place that was busy and crowded for people at most times was doubly so with the unseen presence of all of their angels.

    An uncommonly pretty nurse passed the base station.  Not having seen her before, Gages head swung to follow her as if on a pivot.  Dixie's angel smiled indulgently as Johnny took off in hot pursuit, his OGA, dutifully if unwillingly, following closely behind.  The nurse's angel rolled her eyes as Gage made a fairly trite and obvious bid for attention.  Which didn't work.  Not even close.  OGA Gage blushed for his client.  Why couldn't he be interested in chicken with wine sauce?

    After a quickly bolted lunch of hot dogs and potato chips at the local sidewalk establishment, Squad 51 responded to a heart attack, a car crash, a gas leak (with Engine 51) and a false alarm at a local Junior High School (also with Engine 51).  By the time supper came around, which was Chet Kelly's fried chicken, OGA DeSoto was nearly ready to capitulate.  DeSoto had manned the BioCom while Gage treated the heart attack victim.  He had pulled the victim from a burning car while DeSoto went for the Stokes stretcher.  Gage went in first at the gas leak, followed by the engine crew, while Roy questioned the landlord.  Gage had taken all of the risks that day while DeSoto did the paperwork.

    After helplessly watching his charge being doused with water, twice, having his coffee salted and his bed short sheeted, all courtesy of the "Phantom", OGA Gage was ready to roar at OGA Kelly.  Kelly's angel looked smug.  Or he would have if smug was an angelic trait.  Which it wasn't.

    The paramedics' angels huddled beside their charges in the squad as the tired men headed home after a late night run.  Child fell out of bed.  Could have been serious, but wasn't.  OGA Gage gave the other angel his most pathetic pleading look as they rode through the quiet streets of Carson at four in the morning.

    OGA DeSoto focused on his charge.  Roy drove the squad like he appeared to do everything--conscientiously and methodically.  His next days off would probably be like the last, filled with mowing grass, washing his car and reading or watching television.  Johnny, on the other hand most likely had more interesting plans.  What harm could come of it?  Roy's angel nibbled the inside of his jaw in an unconscious imitation of his charge while he deliberated OGA Gage's proposal.  If something goes wrong we'll be in a heap of trouble.  But what could go wrong?  We're angels, for Heaven's sake!  "Deal!" he said suddenly.

    "Ha ha!" OGA Gage crowed.  "You won't be sorry, Pally, I promise.  Yes sir, I bet these two guys won't mind at all.  I'll take good care of your assignment.  It'll be a nice slow two days.  Yep.  No risky business for Roy DeSoto.  No way!  Just peace and quiet at his house.  Total relaxation."

    OGA DeSoto looked doubtful, but stuck to his agreement.  The squad backed into the apparatus bay to rest beside the silent engine and the two angels followed their charges into the dormitory.  Weary bodies shed turnouts before crawling into their respective bunks, soon adding their snores to the ongoing chorus.

    OGA Gage subjected a bleary-eyed senior paramedic to a rapid, albeit inaudible, monologue all the way from the latrine to the coffee pot.  "...so ya see, Roy, it's nothing against you, but OGA DeSoto and I want to trade places for a few days.  It's only until next shift, and I promise he'll take good care of Johnny--he'd better!  He'll be watching over your partner, but I'm sure it won't be as ...er satisfying as being your OGA.  You understand, don't you?  It's just a temporary arrangement.  It'll be over in no time."

    FF/PM DeSoto shook his head and cleaned his ear with one finger in an attempt to clear up the tinny buzz that seemed to echo through his head.  The sound made him vaguely uneasy - it sounded a lot like John Gage.  Shrugging, he glanced at the clock, impatient for the minute hand to make its way once more around the dial.  One more hour until the end of shift, providing no more calls came in.  In a childlike gesture that would more easily be attributed to his partner, Roy crossed his fingers.

    A little more energetic than his counterpart, Johnny Gage entered the kitchen, shirttails flapping in the breeze he created, and headed for the wake-up juice.  He reached back to scratch one shoulder absently before cradling the hot brew between both hands and inhaling the rich aroma.  He took a sip, analyzed...strong and black, enough to chase the fuzz from your brain, but not powerful enough to curl your fingernails.  Cap made the coffee.  Gage scratched again and shook his head to clear what seemed to be a low hum.

    "So you see, Johnny, it's only for a couple of days.  Why, before you know it, OGA Gage will be back on the job watching over you.  Meanwhile, I'll keep an eye on you, and we'll have some fun, huh?"  He clapped Johnny on the back a little harder this time.  Startled, Gage recoiled spilling a bit of coffee on the front of his fresh uniform shirt...his last.  He frowned and set the cup on the counter before reaching for a towel to clean up the mess.  Stain or wet spot?  Neither was a good way to start the day.  Maybe it would stay quiet until shift change.

    A guilty blush gave DeSoto's OGA somewhat of a reddish aura as he backed away from FF/PM Gage.  OGA Gage stared accusingly at his counterpart.  Both watched Johnny make an attempt to rid his shirt of coffee stains.  "Maybe this isn't such a good idea," OGA DeSoto declared, shifting uncomfortably.

    Alarmed, OGA Gage quickly replied, "Nah, ya just have to be a bit more careful, that's all.  This kind of assignment takes a little getting used to.  It was just a tiny slip.  No big deal.  Not like ...you know."  He nodded to indicate a shared memory and OGA DeSoto shuddered.  Nobody wanted to talk about the angel who was in disgrace for leaving a cleaning rag in the herald trumpet.  At an important assembly, the Herald Angel nearly fainted with the effort, but all that came out of the great golden trumpet was an embarrassingly inadequate "Pffffft".  The angel responsible found himself transferred to the road department where he would be polishing gold paving stones for a few millennia.  No angel was sure, but some thought they heard Gabriel mutter, "Try leaving a rag in that!" before he walked away, his trumpet resting on one shoulder.

    OGA Gage leaned forward eagerly watching the passing traffic.  There had been no further calls for Squad 51 that morning.  Dwyer and Wilson showed up to relieve Gage and DeSoto promptly at shift change, so with a high five in anticipation, the OGAs followed their charges into the station's back parking lot.  OGA Gage nearly clapped his hands when Roy climbed into the Porsche.  OGA DeSoto watched them depart with a pang of regret, then shrugged and drifted into the front seat of the Land Rover, catching hold of the arm rest as John Gage hit the accelerator and zoomed out onto the street.

    The Porsche made its way through morning traffic and headed out into the residential district.  Roy drove carefully, the needle of the speedometer staying a cautious one mile per hour below the posted limit.  At his side, now relaxing against the seat back, now leaning forward as if to urge the small vehicle forward, OGA Gage kept up a running, one-sided conversation.

    "Yes sir, Roy, we'll have a nice relaxing two days.  A little baseball with the kids-- you have two, right?  A little yard work...  maybe hit the beach.  We could take Joanne for a spin or somethin'.  Lots of fun things to do without gettin' dangerous, right?"  OGA Gage hummed for a few minutes before singing along with the disco tune running through his brain, "Heaaaaaven must be missing an aaaaangel...  Hey, did you see that!  Wow!  Check it out!"  Another convertible whizzed past, this one a metallic blue Corvette, the driver wearing trendy shades, rock music with a heavy bass blasting from the radio.  OGA Gage nodded in time to the music, tapped out the beat on the dash and urged, "C'mon, Roy, let's catch up!"

    Roy stepped on the gas, accelerating until the 'Vette was a mere two car lengths ahead.

    "Yeah!  Now that's more like it!"  OGA Gage continued playing drums on the dash and failed to notice L. A. County's finest parked on a side street.  The discordant blare of a siren soon drowned out the sound of the rock music.  Stunned, Roy glanced down in disbelief at the speedometer before pulling smoothly to the curb.  Moments later he gazed up into the eyes of officer Vince Howard.

    OGA Gage, feeling guilty for getting Roy in trouble instead of keeping him out of it, nonetheless chuckled to hear Vince ask Roy where the fire was.  Only someone who knew him well would see the amusement in Officer Howard's eyes.  OGA Howard, his arms crossed in a disapproving stance, glared suspiciously at the other angel before asking, "Aren't you supposed to be with Gage?"

    "Uh...er...um...we sort of swapped places for a couple of days," OGA Gage sputtered, failing to meet OGA Howard's gaze.

    "You're allowed to do that?"  The tone expressed doubt.

    "Uh...well, we just...uh decided.  It's only temporary."

    As Roy signed the citation and pocketed his license in preparation to depart, OGA Howard observed, "You aren't the regular guy, are you?  Hey, don't get caught.  And if you're smart, you'll switch back pronto."

    OGA Gage waved an airy acknowledgement.  Roy pulled away from the curb at a sedate pace and resumed his homeward journey.  Joanne wouldn't like this.  With any luck she'd not find out...ever.  He reached over and tucked the ticket into the postage-stamp-sized glove box.

    "Slow down, Johnny, you're speeding!"  OGA DeSoto reached down to pull back on the accelerator pedal.  Johnny, to his own surprise, slowed the Land Rover and drove the rest of the way home well under the speed limit.  He turned into the small parking lot in front of the three-story brick building that contained his apartment, removed his sunglasses and squinted up at the second apartment from the end on the third floor.  Tess Withers lay sprawled across a blanket on the narrow platform that served as a balcony.  Clad in a brief bikini to take advantage of the morning sun on her day off, Tess made an inspiring vision.  The day wouldn't be complete if Johnny didn't hit on her at least once.  Their balconies side by side, Johnny and Tess often took the opportunity to have impromptu chats over the railings.  Johnny always asked her out.  Tess always declined.  It was kind of a tradition.

    Whistling off-key, John Gage entered the lobby and checked his mailbox before climbing the two flights of stairs and negotiating the narrow corridor to his apartment.

    Nothing special in the mail.  OGA DeSoto looked over Johnny's shoulder, curious at the kind of letters he received.  Phone bill, ad for life insurance, the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, a post card reminder of a dental appointment...he saw Johnny grimace...and a sweepstakes entry form.  OGA DeSoto rolled his eyes.  Who falls for those things?  Gage opened the door of his apartment, chucked his mail on the kitchen counter and crossed to open the drapes.  The way he threw them wide, opened the balcony door to let in sunshine and fresh air, and stepped out to inhale deeply caused the angel to nod in approval.  Nothing dark and confining for Johnny Gage, no sir!  He patted Gage on the shoulder before checking out the view.

    With a huge gasp, OGA DeSoto clapped one hand over his eyes and then realized he could still see through his fingers.  He squeezed his eyelids shut instead.  On the next balcony over a young, blond, bountifully endowed lady in her early twenties lay out to sunbathe wearing little more than a couple of strings and a smile.  The angel stepped in front of Johnny, his back to the girl next door.  "Johnny, for Heaven's sake, she's almost naked!"  A wolfish grin spread across Gage's face.

    Johnny greeted Tess, leaning on the railing to take in the full picture.

    She returned the greeting, then sat up and reached for a glass of water placed on a small occasional table near the sliding glass door that led to her apartment.  OGA DeSoto's eyes were drawn to the long, shiny, red fingernails on delicate hands that seemed to flutter as their owner used them to emphasize every word she spoke.  As always, Johnny's persistence amused Tess, and she enjoyed the attention, but his boyish enthusiasm and charming grin left her otherwise unaffected.  She kept the flirtation lighthearted and impersonal, refusing his advances with wry humor and a friendly smile.  Her six-foot-four-plus boyfriend, who could have easily been a linebacker for the Rams, would tolerate nothing more.

    Johnny, fully aware of the man's possessive streak and massive size, was careful never to go beyond a teasing repartee and, for his part, accepted her refusal with good grace.  He did have some sense of self-preservation, after all.  From behind Johnny, OGA DeSoto fretted and paced, attempting to gain Gage's attention without staring at the scantily clad human before him.

    The two neighbors chatted for a while about their work days and plans for the days off before Johnny rubbed one hand over his eyes and let loose with a huge yawn.  He grinned and asked her to go bowling with him that evening.  She said no, as usual.  The paramedic yawned again.

    "Would you go back inside!"  OGA DeSoto screamed at Johnny, pounding on the fireman's shoulder, at last seeming to gain his charge's attention.  "She's positively indecent.  Bowling!  What kind of an invitation is that for a girl?  Look at her fingernails, for crying out loud.  Would a girl with fingernails like that want to go bowling?"

    Johnny found his gaze shifting from its usual ogle to the bright, carefully manicured tips of Tess' fingers.  He frowned and rubbed the slight twinge in his shoulder.  Had he strained a muscle sometime during the last shift?

    Gage bid Tess a sleepy and confused goodbye then turned and went back into his apartment wondering if he had lost his mind for staring at her fingers when there were so many more interesting parts of the landscape to examine.  With a sigh he poured a glass of milk, chugged it down and hit the couch for a nap.

    OGA DeSoto began a quick exploration of the apartment, careful to avoid passing any windows that overlooked the balcony next door.  The tour didn't take long. Green tiled floor, shiny from a recent wax job, reflected white kitchen cupboards topped with a plain white Formica-covered counter, bare but for the stainless steel percolator that held lonely vigil beside the stove.  A quick glance showed nothing more of interest, although the angel popped his head through the refrigerator door to examine its contents.  A half-empty jar of jelly, mustard, catsup, mayonnaise, two hot dogs on a plate, five remaining cans out of a six-pack, a container of leftover Chinese take-out of indeterminate age and an open carton of milk gave evidence that his subject possessed less than gourmet taste.

    He left the kitchen and floated down the short narrow hallway to Johnny's bedroom.  It surprised the angel to find Gage's bed neatly made, a faded patchwork quilt pulled up to kiss the edge of a thin feather pillow.  Leaning against one wall a full backpack seemed to be awaiting the next outdoor adventure.  Maps and magazines vied for space on the small dresser with a trinket box, a couple of framed photographs, a thirty-five-millimeter camera complete with flash, and an autographed baseball in its display case.  OGA DeSoto didn't bother looking into the bathroom.  Instead he returned to the living room and, plopping into the one easy chair, stared at the now sleeping Gage.  The room lay silent except for a gentle snore emanating from the direction of the worn brown sofa.  His services as a guardian angel obviously weren't going to be needed for the next few hours.

    Maybe this was a mistake, the OGA thought, rising to the ceiling to get an angel's eye view of the situation.  I wonder what OGA Gage is doing right now?  How would he have handled seeing Tess on her balcony?  OGA DeSoto shuddered, not wanting to think about the other angel's possible reaction.  He had an uneasy feeling his counterpart would have approved.  Still, he's probably enjoying today more than I am...not that I'm jealous.  Jealousy is not an angelic trait.  I'm merely er...wishing things were a bit more exciting, that's all.  Bowling!  He snorted, the pouf of air causing a small spider suspended from a delicate strand to hang on for dear life.  OGA DeSoto would have been pacing, if he were corporeal.  Instead he wafted silently back and forth across the room passing through a beam of sunlight, sending the dust motes into a frenzied dance in mid-air.  How can I help Johnny on his days off?

    OGA Gage wished for the hundredth time that day that he'd never asked to switch assignments with DeSoto's angel.  The image of beautiful and peaceful days the senior paramedic would be spending with his loving, sedate family disintegrated as soon as the Porsche turned into the driveway.  Pandemonium reigned when twenty children, or at least it seemed like twenty, exploded from the front door of the DeSoto home, all determined to garner Roy's undivided attention.

    Joanne DeSoto, looking somewhat the worse for wear in slacks that bore smears of either jelly or spaghetti sauce and one of Roy's old T-shirts, descended on her husband, her determined expression one of ill tidings.  She informed him that her mother and sister, complete with nieces and nephews, had arrived to spend a couple of days while their house was fumigated.  At least her sister's house was being fumigated.  Mother was just there to 'help out'.

    Roy resisted the urge to turn the key in the ignition of the Porsche, go back to Station 51, and beg for overtime.  Instead he pasted on a long suffering smile, exited the small vehicle and kissed his wife good morning.  Then, shoulders drooping in anticipation of the coming unpleasantness, he waded through a sea of sticky-fingered children, greeted his own kids with hugs, and passed through the front door into his home.  Wearing a puzzled frown, OGA Gage followed.

    Like a circus on parade the children, squalling and bickering, along with noisy pets and loud toys followed Roy into his home...his sanctuary.  OGA Gage waded through the mess in dismay, hurrying to quickly move obstacles so that his charge wouldn't stumble.  Was this what DeSoto's angel faced each day?  Now attack came from a different direction.  A woman with graying hair and a thoroughly sour expression began to harangue his charge, her voice strident and belligerent.  Without stopping for breath, the woman he greeted glumly as 'mother Hansen' berated the paramedic for everything from the smallness of his house and paycheck to the unrestrained behavior of his children and a few incidentals in between.  The OGA wondered how Roy could possibly be responsible for the condition of the street.  If I had solid fingers, he thought, I'd put them in my ears.  How does Roy stand this?  Does it happen very often?

    His mother-in-law following in full voice, his wife trying to intervene, the children happily engaging in swordplay with plastic bowling pins, Roy headed for his only sanctuary.  He shut the bathroom door and switched on the fan, reducing the noise beyond to the level of a political convention...or a minor riot.  The angel watched from the ceiling, smiling a bit when the breeze from the fan tickled as it rushed through his shape.  Roy sat on the toilet lid, his chin resting on a clenched fist propped up by an elbow on his knee.  He looks a lot like Rodin's model, OGA Gage thought, remembering the man who posed for 'The Thinker', but a lot sadder.  It was true.  Never had the angel in all of his existence seen such a woebegone countenance.  Okay, angel, it's time to do your stuff, right?  Right! he answered himself.

    The angel floated down and knelt before his charge.  He closed his eyes, gathered all of his strength and inner peace, then blew into Roy's face.  "Courage and resolve," he whispered, his words flowing with his breath into the nostrils of the man slumped before him.  The guardian angel opened his eyes and concentrated on his charge.  As he watched, the bleak look faded from the paramedic's face.  The man's shoulders drew back, his backbone stiffened and his chin set in determination.  Roy stood up to his full height.  OGA Gage could have clapped his hands in glee.  This is more like it.  Now!  The angel rubbed his hands together, anxious to get to the task.  He cleared his throat.

    "Roy, you have something to tell that old biddy out there."  For a moment the harried look returned.  "Courage and resolve, remember?  You can do it.  Don't worry, I'll tell ya what to say."  Roy looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded as if making a decision.  He unlocked the bathroom door and walked out into the center of the din.  Points for a good start, the guardian angel approved, smiling as he shadowed the fireman's every step.

    The head of the household stopped, gazed at the wreckage that had been his living room, and emitted a huge sigh, beginning to waver in his resolve.  "Roy, you can do this!  Take a deep breath."  The paramedic inhaled deeply, seeming to gain in height.  "Good!" his protector encouraged, "Now get their attention."  Roy clapped his hands and asked for quiet.  The noise continued and his mother-in-law emerged from the kitchen, intent on renewing the attack.  The angel rolled his eyes.  "'I said be quiet!'  Don't just say it, Roy, yell it!"  Roy roared the angel's words to be heard above the commotion in his home.  There was instant silence.  Stunned faces turned toward the man of the house.  "That's better," OGA Gage said, his words once again repeated by Roy DeSoto.

    Roy's eyes traveled around the room, noting discarded toys strewn about the furniture, half-eaten bowls of cereal on end tables and crumbs from countless Pop-Tarts® littering the light green carpet.  He glared accusingly at the perpetrators.  His children hung their heads.  His nieces and nephews appeared confused.  OGA Gage became aware that the room was filled not only with Roy's family, but also with their guardian angels, each on full alert.  OGA Gage gave them all a disarming crooked grin.  Some grinned back.  Others remained wary.  Gage's angel shrugged.

    Joanne looked stunned but her mother was made of sterner stuff.  Undeterred by Roy's unexpected show of authority, Hester Hanson began her traditional tirade, crossing the room to stand toe-to-toe with her son-in-law, guardian angel hovering nervously at her side.

    Disgusted, OGA Gage took up the counter-attack.  "Tell 'er ta shut up, Roy."  DeSoto obliged.  The woman blinked as if slapped, then fell silent.  "Tell 'er ya expect better manners from guests in your home."  The paramedic complied.  "Tell 'er ya like your house, ya like your job, and ya like your neighborhood, but you're rapidly beginning to dislike your mother-in-law."

    Joanne gasped, unable to believe what she'd just heard.  The look on her mother's face, however, could be rated 'priceless'.

    "Tell 'em you want this mess picked up now.  Emphasize 'now'.  Tell 'em after that they can find something to do quietly while you take a much needed nap after working hard all night."  Like a faithful parrot Roy repeated OGA Gage's words to the human occupants of the living room.

    Joanne's sister came forward to object to his tone in speaking to her children.  "Tell 'er if she doesn't like it, she can find a motel."  Roy's partner's angel was on a roll.  Elaine sucked in her breath, unused to such treatment from her sister's erstwhile docile spouse. 

    "Now, glare at 'em again and make an exit.  No!  Don't look back.  Walk straight up the stairs to your bedroom as if ya know they'll obey."  Roy made it halfway up the stairs before he let out his breath in a WHOOF, his shoulders sagging, body tired as if he'd just run a marathon.  Unable to believe his own behavior, the senior paramedic resumed his ascent to the second floor of his home almost in a trance.  His dumbfounded wife followed at a safe distance after affirming that the house was rapidly being restored to order.

    OGA Gage floated through the bedroom door in a cloud of triumph.  Yes! he gloated.  No more doormat in your own home, Roy, chortled the angelic being.

    Joanne's OGA eyed him skeptically before deciding to confront the temporary replacement.  "How is it," she asked in a voice loaded with suspicion, "that Johnny's angel is watching over Roy?"

    John Gage awoke from pleasant dreams with a smile.  Bright rays from the afternoon sun played on his cheek like a lover's caress as they filtered in through the sliding glass patio door and made their way to the worn sofa that nestled against the south wall of the living room.  A quick glance at the clock hanging just above the TV aerial revealed the hour to be after three o'clock.  He yawned and stretched, reaching first to the left and then right, releasing the kinks one arm at a time.  No call-out tones or ringing telephones interrupted this much-needed nap.  Johnny found himself fully refreshed.  A low growl erupted from his mid-section.  Another country heard from.  Gage arose from the sofa and padded into the kitchen.  The refrigerator yielded a disappointing selection.  He would have to go to the market.

    After a less-than-encouraging review of the contents of his wallet, the paramedic slipped into his worn sneakers, donned a clean shirt from the closet, rolled up the sleeves, and turned toward the door.  He stepped into the hall, felt for his car keys and halted.  After scooping up his key ring, eyes rolling at the thought that he had almost locked himself out, Johnny whistled his way down the stairs and out to his Rover.

    OGA DeSoto dogged the steps of his temporary charge as he prepared to leave the apartment.  A quick glance revealed the forgotten key ring laying on the kitchen table with the other items discarded from Johnny's pocket before he lay down for a nap.  Angel to the rescue!  "Hey, Johnny, keys!"  The OGA watched in satisfaction as the fireman stopped, checked his pockets and pivoted back to retrieve the key ring.  "Hey, where are we going?  Sounds like you're pretty hungry.  Why don't you try something different for dinner?  Hamburgers and hot dogs get old after a while."

    Johnny rubbed his ear to get rid of the annoying buzz.  If this kept up he would have to see Brackett or Early, though if Morton was on duty he would rather put up with the buzz.  His stomach rumbled again.  Squinting against the glare of the bright afternoon sunlight, Johnny retrieved his shades from the dashboard and put them on his face, pausing to glance in the rearview mirror.  He sighed.  Well, he'd forgotten to comb his hair, but it had looked worse.  He ran his fingers through the dark mop managing to at least smooth down the flyaway locks.  It would do for a trip to the market.  Lately the cashiers were all grandmotherly types anyway.  Gladys was okay though.  Gage reflected on the busty, forty-something redhead with mischief in her eyes and clothes that clung like a second skin.  He suspected her disposition to be not at all that of a grandmother.  If she was a few years younger...

    OGA DeSoto blushed and decided right there to stop reading John Gage's mind.  Better to concentrate on his actions, the angel decided, that's work enough.

    Few customers patronized the supermarket at that time of the afternoon so Johnny's attention strayed little from satisfying the rumble in his stomach with the least possible damage to the contents of his wallet.  Frowning at the wobbly buggy with a squeaky wheel that always seemed to be the next available, he nested it back in line, grabbed a shopping basket from the stack by the door, and headed immediately for the deli, intent on purchasing something cheap and ready-made to quickly satisfy the insistent pangs of hunger.  When he found no deli assistant waiting behind the counter to serve him, Johnny sighed and bent over to scan the available offerings while waiting to be noticed.  A bowl of boiled eggs sat in the back of the refrigerated display case.  They were cheap enough.  "Too much like eyeballs."  Johnny shuddered at the mental image while wondering where it came from.  Hmm, ham salad?  "Too fattening!" the thought popped into his head.  He started to move on then straightened, rubbed one hand across his lean stomach and looked down in puzzlement.  Too fattening?

    "Okay, maybe you don't have to worry about 'fattening'," OGA DeSoto admitted, glancing down at his own slightly thicker albeit transparent waistline.  "But 'healthy' is important!"  He examined the items displayed under the florescent lighting of the glass-topped case.  "What about tuna salad?  It's pretty healthy stuff."  Quickly, before Gage could change his mind, OGA DeSoto intoned, "Ring the bell."

    As Johnny reached to ring for assistance he noted the deli attendant saunter out from behind the mysterious double-doored back room where, hidden from public eyes, meats were prepared for sale and from whence the cuts magically appeared pristinely wrapped in cellophane.  Still surprised at his own choice, Johnny heard himself order a half-pound of tuna salad.  The clerk's heavy eyebrows rose nearly to his thinning hairline.  He peered more closely at the paramedic as if looking for the flush of fever.  Discovering nothing amiss, or at least nothing unusual, with Gage's appearance, the man quickly scooped tuna salad into a thin plastic container, weighed it, plunked the lid on and scribbled the price on top with a grease pencil.  He shoved it across the counter with a remark about Johnny's departure from routine, glancing with meaning at a large roll of cut-rate bologna, it's bulk not much reduced since the fireman's last foray to the store.  With a shrug Johnny retrieved his order and laid it in the bottom of the red plastic shopping basket he carried in his left hand, then headed toward the bread aisle.

    "Not white bread!" OGA DeSoto cried out.  "Whole grains are much better for you."  To his satisfaction Johnny's hand wavered over his favorite brand of 'enriched' bread touted to build strong bodies in twelve ways, and then reached for a loaf of whole wheat.  He noted the price difference with a frown and turned back to the familiar white plastic package gaily bedecked with spots in primary colors.  "Johnny!  You'll save now, but pay later, mark my words!"

    Gage rubbed his ear again, then determinedly placed the cheaper loaf in his basket and made for the produce section.  Two bananas joined his other selections, followed by a package of carrots and an apple.  Johnny sauntered along the aisle, lips pursed in a silent tuneless whistle.  Potatoes?  Johnny picked up a large Idaho baker and examined it, weighing in his mind the virtues of a fluffy spud dripping with butter against the cooking time involved.  He sniffed.  It smelled okay.  "Potatoes are very high in potassium," the voice in his head sang out.  Potassium?  Gage's face screwed up in a puzzled frown.  Where the heck did that come from?  Impatient to get home and assuage the ever more vocal demands of his stomach, Johnny placed the potato back in the company of its fellows and swiftly rounded the end of the aisle.  He headed toward the bakery section, still wondering where he'd come up with 'potassium'.

    Frowning at his temporary charge's lack of enthusiasm for his suggestion of Solanum tuberosum Linnaeus, the potato, OGA DeSoto paused momentarily to regain his determination.  Hmmph.  Johnny has to be influenced for his own good.  Why even Linnaeus was grateful for the information I gave him about the humble potato!  He looked up from his ruminations to find Johnny disappearing around the end of the aisle and hurried to catch up with his subject.

    "Johnny, look out!"  Too late the angel reached to pull the paramedic out of the way of the twenty-something-year-old woman marching determinedly toward produce, shopping basket swinging with each stride.  BANG!  Two bodies collided --Johnny's and one belonging to the very tall, slender brunette wearing a very brief skirt that showed off extremely long legs.  Gage's basket dropped unheeded to the floor as he reacted by reaching for the startled woman to keep her from falling.  He had time to take a quick inventory before he was jerked off balance, a tug on his left arm pulling him away from the brunette.

    OGA DeSoto clutched his subject's arm and jerked him back.  The paramedic yelped, tripping over the dropped and momentarily forgotten shopping basket.  Johnny struggled for a handhold before falling heavily to the floor.  On the way down he managed to grasp the edge of a shelf containing a display of baking supplies.  In seeming slow motion Gage watched the metal shelf come away in his grasp and its contents tumble and topple toward him.

      This isn't going as well as I'd hoped, the OGA reflected as he landed beneath Johnny, his non-corporeal form providing no cushion when it flattened to paper depth beneath Gage's gluteus maximus.  He vainly attempted to divert the objects from the shelf with one hand before they impacted on his charge.  Two sacks of flower and a sack of sugar burst in Johnny's lap and a bottle of oil shattered on the floor at his side sending an oozing slick toward the seat of his subject's Levis.  What next!

    CRASH!  WHOOF!  Bottles of cooking oil and bags of flour and sugar hit alternately the floor and the hapless paramedic.  Johnny looked up to see a stack of cookie sheets teeter precariously on the shelf above before deciding to join the other products on the floor in a tinny cacophony that echoed through the store.  Employees seemed to appear from every direction.  Now they show up!

    The brunette reached down for an undamaged bottle of vegetable oil that rolled across the floor to stop at the toe of her very white tennis shoes.  She picked up the bottle, examined it for cracks and placed it in her own basket then, skirting the disastrous mess on the floor that included the flour and sugar bedecked fireman, she resumed her brisk foray toward produce.

    Amid an audience of checkers, bakery workers, the day manager, and the deli clerk, Johnny got to his feet and apologized for the mess.  He brushed the cake ingredients from his jeans as well as he could, picked up his basket and hurried to vacate the area.  En route he passed a stock boy, broom and mop in hand, lugging a bucket of soapy water.  Gage shot him an apologetic look and ducked into the cereal aisle.

    "Don't give it another thought, Johnny," OGA DeSoto told his embarrassed subject.  "She was just plain rude.  It was her fault for not looking where she was going."  He was encouraged to see Gage square his shoulders, shake his head and concentrate once again on his empty stomach.  "What's next?"  Johnny rubbed his ear then shook his head, concerned once again about the persistent tinny buzz.

    The paramedic added to his basket a box of cereal, puzzled by his choice of a high fiber brand, and a pound of coffee, shaking his head at the ridiculous impulse to buy decaf...which met with immediate failure.  He paused at the dairy case to add a quart of milk and a small package of cheese slices, then headed for the checkout  The cashier was not Gladys but a woman who could have been her mother.  Johnny sighed and emptied his basket onto the belt under the disapproving eye of the small seventy-if-she-was-a-day woman at the cash register.  He recognized her from the group of people who hurried to the back of the store at the sound of the crash.

    When the amount of his purchases came to just shy of ten dollars Johnny glared at the expensive box of cereal and tub of tuna salad before pulling two wrinkled fives from the meager contents of his wallet.  Just enough left to buy a quarter of a tank of gas for the Rover, pay for two lines of bowling, and ante up for his share of groceries next shift.  Good thing next shift would be payday.  He looked up as the cashier gave a melting smile to someone behind Johnny in line.  He turned to see the leggy brunette grinning at the cashier with the blue-tinted silver hair.  Johnny's trademark crooked grin didn't quite make it to his lips.  The cashier tapped her fingernails impatiently on the cash register while Gage contemplated with regret the money owed before handing it over.  She bustled as if in a hurry to get rid of him and wait on a "good" customer.

    "Let's get out of here."  For the first time that day Johnny wholeheartedly agreed with the annoying little voice that persisted in tickling his ear and echoing inside his head.  He scooped up the bag of groceries and headed out to his Land Rover.

    After a restorative nap Roy sat down to lunch on toasted cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup.  Still in awe, or perhaps shock, at his recent behavior, six children and two women crowded around the small table in the DeSoto kitchen.  Joanne leaned against the kitchen counter contemplating her husband and his unusual behavior.  Only the occasional slurp and smack as a child sucked in a noodle from beginning to end, followed by a nervous chorus of childish giggles, broke the silence in the room.  OGA Gage looked on proudly.  Joanne's OGA still glared at him in suspicion, but suspicion tempered with a tinge of reluctant admiration.

    Joanne broke the silence to inform Roy that the toilet had backed up again while he was asleep and resisted all of her efforts with a plunger.  Roy glanced around uneasily.  Two days before payday left little extra cash for an expensive plumber.

    "Roy, you can fix it," OGA Gage reassured him.  "Tell Joanne not to worry, it's probably something simple."  Somewhat amazed at his own words, Roy did just that.  He didn't blame his wife for her surprised reaction and lack of confidence in his handyman skills.  Trying the do-it-yourself method of home repair was more in Johnny's line, as was the inevitable disaster that followed.  Roy DeSoto had learned long ago that it was better to avoid telling his well-intentioned but unskilled partner about his domestic woes than to endure Johnny's cheerful tinkering and end up calling a professional afterwards.  "Let's see what the problem is," OGA Gage prompted.

    Not repeating the small annoying voice in his head this time, Roy wiped his face with a napkin, pushed his chair back and headed uncertainly toward the bathroom, a line of curious children marching almost single file behind him, Joanne bringing up the rear.  Hester and Elaine elected to wait in the kitchen to pelt Joanne with "I-told-you-so"s at the appropriate time.

    After an hour of vigorous plunging and snaking to no avail Roy sat back on his heels ready to admit defeat and have Joanne search the Yellow Pages for a plumber.  "Maybe we should take it apart," a small voice whispered inside his head.  "NO!"  OGA Gage reeled in reaction to the silent shout that filled Roy's mind, nearly deafening the angel who rose to the ceiling in recoil.  "Grouch!"

    Roy rooted through the cupboard under the bathroom sink, muttering imprecations against toilet bowls, plumbing problems and home repairs in general.  He tried not to heed the little voice that whispered, "Maybe Johnny can fix it this time."  With a grunt indicating success he withdrew a dusty bottle of drain cleaner.  "That's the ticket!  Pour it in and we'll have this fixed in a jiff!"  Unable to explain why, without reading the directions Roy unscrewed the cap and poured in the entire bottle of crystals.  Both the paramedic and the OGA watched as the water bubbled and boiled.  "Flush it now!" the OGA cried.  Roy placed a hand on the handle.  It vaguely occurred to him that this would not be a good idea.  "Flush it, c'mon!" the angel urged, excited by the churning action inside the bowl.  Roy depressed the handle.  The foaming mass rose and overflowed.  With a cry of distress, Roy evacuated the bathroom as the floor became a pool of caustic acid water.  He threw a bundle of dirty towels into the mess to block passage into the hall and quickly exited the room, closing the door behind him.  With a sigh the fireman leaned against the door, wondering what to do next.  Discouraged, OGA Gage leaned beside him.

    Roy felt a tug on his pant leg.  He looked down to see Joanne's niece gazing up at him in distress, a shuffling dance in place adding emphasis to the urgency of her need.  He called his sister-in-law.  With a glance that revealed her opinion of Roy's prowess as a handyman, Elaine took her daughter by the hand and quick-marched the little girl to the neighbor's house.  Roy watched them leave, reasonably certain the neighbors would receive a full account of his worth, embellished by Jo's sister.  He sighed.  OGA Gage stuck his tongue out at the back of the small angel as she followed her charge out the door.  "I saw that!" the little girl's guardian called back over her shoulder.

    A dissatisfied expression on his features, OGA Gage listened as Joanne tried to coax a local plumber to agree to come immediately.  Her OGA looked smug.

    "Gloating is not an angelic trait," he informed Joanne's angel.

    "Neither is pouting," she retorted, her smile just a little bit superior.

    OGA Gage splayed one hand across his chest, a look of deep injury on his face.  "You think I'm pouting?  Me?  I'm not pouting.  In fact, I was just about to suggest that..."

    "Ahem," a small blond angel with pigtails and a missing front tooth joined them.  "Are you arguing?"

    "No!" OGA Gage gasped, horrified.  "Of course not!" Joanne's angel declared.  They floated to opposite sides of the small crowded living room, managing to avoid looking at each other, both auras appearing a trifle on the red side.

    When no plumber agreed to come sooner than the next day, Joanne cast a frustrated look at the house full of children who had just consumed lunch complete with Kool-Aid® and realized extreme measures would need to be taken, and soon.  Her OGA slapped her forehead as she listened to the muted conversation being conducted over the phone.

    "What's the matter?" OGA Gage inquired of the distraught angel that resembled the diminutive red-headed Mrs. DeSoto.

    "She called Johnny," came the despairing reply.

    "And that's bad?"  Gage's OGA looked confused and a little affronted.

    "That's bad," the other angel confirmed.

    Doggedly Roy opened the bathroom door and surveyed the damage.  Well, at least the floor would be clean.  He took the high road, stepping on the pile of towels before climbing to the side of the bathtub.  From the tub he was able to reach and open the bathroom's lone window.  Jo thoughtfully handed him a small box fan to wedge in the window facing outward to augment the inadequate built-in model humming for all it was worth overhead.  Roy plugged in the extra fan, bracing himself with one hand on the opposite wall while using the other to reach the outlet over the sink, thankful for the small appliance's long cord.  Below him a sea of toxic water seethed an inch deep on the bathroom tile.  Having reached the wall and plugged in the fan, he wondered how to regain his balance on the side of the tub.  Asking Joanne for help didn't appeal, but there didn't seem to be an alternative.  He opened his mouth to call for assistance.  Before any sound came out the doorbell rang.

    OGA DeSoto watched with interest as Johnny kicked off his shoes, doffed the confining socks and wiggled his toes to let them celebrate their freedom.  Wrinkling his nose in distaste at the mess and the memory, Johnny shucked off his jeans, still a bit white from cake ingredients, and threw them into the corner of his room, then donned a fresh pair from the dresser drawer and left the bedroom.  He whistled as he set up a TV tray in the living room in front of the couch and just opposite the television.  Gage rubbed his hands together, flicked on the set and pushed the preset buttons to scan the channels.  A rare Saturday off generally wasn't spent before the tube, but with no available money, chicks were out.  He couldn't even afford to go Dutch.

    Johnny's protector du jour observed as his subject ran through the buttons with practiced speed.  On the first channel a well-known but no longer popular actor did his best to hawk aluminum siding.  On the second a posse pursued desperadoes across the deserted open prairie.  Johnny grimaced and pushed the next button.  CRACK!  A batter connected to send the baseball over the wall in left field.  The camera zoomed in on the scoreboard.  Gage snorted, moving on to the next channel.

    "Wait, wait!  Go back!  That was the Angels!  Hey!"  OGA DeSoto shouted in Johnny's ear and pummeled him enthusiastically on the back.

    Johnny shook his head to get rid of the annoying buzz and rubbed his shoulder to ease a sudden throb.  He skipped past a country music show, hesitated long enough to watch one heat of drag racing, then clicked the last button and sighed.  Ah!  He hadn't missed the Dodgers' game.  Hustling to pull food items from the shopping bag, one eye still on the television, Johnny quickly threw together two tuna salad sandwiches, tossed them on a plate to which he added the apple and one banana, turned to put away his other purchases and headed for the living room.  Gage plopped down on the couch, pulled a sandwich from his plate and started to take a bite.  It couldn't be!  It was the Angels' game!  He could have sworn the TV was on the channel for the Dodgers.  Shaking his head at the mystery, Johnny rose from the couch and switched back to the Dodgers game.  Still top of the first inning.  He hadn't missed much.

    Drumming his non corporeal fingers impatiently on the back of the couch OGA DeSoto watched the Dodgers with Johnny, smiling halfheartedly at Gage's enthusiastic, albeit misguided support.  "Don't you need some milk to wash down that tuna, Johnny?" the angel inquired.  "Tuna salad can be dry sometimes.  What about a nice, coooold glass of milk?"

    Johnny brushed the crumbs from his fingers and headed for the refrigerator for the carton of milk.  He poured a glass brim full, sipped a bit so it was safe to carry, and returned to his late lunch and the game.  What on Earth!  The crowd went wild as the opposing player struck out.  But...the television was back on the Angels' game again.  Johnny stared wide-eyed.  What was wrong with the TV?  He stood and moved once again to change the channel.

    "No!  Johnny, for Heaven's sake!  These are the Anaheim Angels!  Nolan Ryan!  Have pity!  You can't change the channel on Nolan Ryan!  Aw nuts!"  Johnny pushed the preset channel button with a decided snap, returning to the Dodgers' game.  With eyes glued to the set, waiting for whatever happened to his television to happen again, Gage almost forgot to pay attention to the game.  Eventually, when it seemed the tube would behave itself, Johnny relaxed and finished his lunch.  He tipped back the glass of milk to catch the last drop and relaxed against the back of the couch.  A well-known beer commercial appeared on the screen touting the flavor and purity of the product as a bear ambled across a rushing mountain stream.

    "Hey Johnny, that was a really big glass of milk you drank," OGA DeSoto whispered into Gage's ear.  Shhhhhhhwwwwwhssssss.  With some accuracy the angel imitated the sound of running water.  He smiled as his ploy worked.  With a backward glance at the television and the current block of commercials, the paramedic stood and headed quickly for the bathroom.  OGA DeSoto beamed.

    Johnny wasn't really surprised when he returned to find the Angels game blasting from his TV set.  Mystified, stumped and more than a little irritated, but not really surprised.  He casually strolled toward the television, reached down to switch the channel back to the Dodgers' game and returned to the couch, pivoting sharply a couple of times to make sure there were no further changes.  OGA DeSoto, pausing in front of the television, gasped once and paled, sure that Johnny must be able to see him, so hard the man stared in his direction.  Then he realized that Gage could see the television screen right through his angelic transparent form.  The angel smiled.  "Johnny, some day you'll thank me."  OGA DeSoto reached down and depressed button number three.  An Angel outfielder neatly caught a fly ball for the third out.  OGA DeSoto drifted back to the couch and sat down beside his subject.

    With a cry of disbelief Johnny sat forward on the couch glaring at the traitorous piece of technology.  There must be a rational explanation.  Televisions just don't change channels on their own.  He decided drastic measures needed to be taken.  No piece of furniture would dictate terms to Johnny Gage, no sir!  To counteract the unorthodox behavior of his portable TV, the paramedic rose to change the channel once again, this time holding down the bottom button on the panel.

    OGA DeSoto tapped his foot in frustration.  There had to be a way.  His countenance brightened.  With an angelic finger the OGA reached up to tickle Johnny's nose.  Gage rubbed at the irritating itch with his free hand.  The angel reached down to gently stroke the bottom of his subject's bare foot.  With little grace but much determination, Gage stood on one foot, bringing the other up to within scratching range while maintaining a firm pressure on the channel button.  From that angle he couldn't see the screen very well, but the paramedic remained stubbornly determined to be top dog in his own home.

    A knock at the door brought a moment of indecision.  Johnny hesitated before leaving his position to answer the summons.  No one stood in the hall.  No packages awaited his attention.  Upon his return he had to admit that the TV won this round.  With a deep sigh, Johnny capitulated to the whim of his obviously possessed television and watched the remainder of the game.  Little comfort that the Angels won.  He wondered how the Dodgers' game went.

    The phone call, when it came, found Gage almost relieved for the interruption of his weird-and-getting-weirder afternoon.  Just enough worry in Jo's voice, mostly frustration though, he reasoned, to make John Gage drop 'everything' to hustle over to the DeSoto house.  Jo's reluctant admission that her mother was on the premises caused him a moment's pause, but Johnny squared his shoulders as if bracing for battle and bolted for his trusty Rover to ride to Roy's rescue.

    Sheriff Blaine Bitner cast an appreciative eye at the calm waters of the lake reflecting an almost sapphire blue late afternoon sky and took a deep breath, filling his lungs with sweet fresh air.  There wasn't a place on earth he'd rather be or a job anywhere to beat being sheriff of the prettiest county in the State of California, at least in his opinion.  A practiced flick of his wrist sent his lure sailing out over the water to land with a faint PLINK, disturbing the mirror smooth surface.  A tiny rippling wake followed the shoreward progress of his line as he slowly reeled it in.  His black and white squad car sat nearby, its trunk open and ready to receive hastily packed fishing gear if a call came in.  Thus far the weather, fate, and Mabel the dispatcher had been kind.

    Former OGA Gage propelled himself through the slightly murky water going nose to nose with a fish here and there, jumping over rocks and enjoying the tickling sensation of the water plants as they passed through his form.  A fishing lure whizzed by.  The vacationing OGA turned to watch as it caught the attention of a large striped bass, then followed both fish and lure toward the shore.  Soon he was walking bent practically in half as he urged the unaware fish toward the sheriff's hook.  "C'mon, take a bite!  You know you want that tasty bug."  The fish seemed to jump toward the fleeing lure then danced this way and that as it attempted to tug its prize back toward deep water.  "Gotcha!  You're dinner now, fish!" the OGA crowed, standing to throw a victory fist into the air.

    "Don't you feel even a little bit sorry for that poor little Morone saxatilis?" the erstwhile OGA DeSoto inquired.

    "Poor little...  Would you knock it off with the Latin already!  There aren't any senior angels around here to be impressed.  Anyway, he was pickin' on some of the minnows."  OGA Gage waded into the shallow water near an overhanging bank and lay on his back just beneath the lake's placid surface.  He watched the trees overhead sway gently through a lens of clear, nearly still lake water.  A Whirligig Beetle propelled itself in busy circles overhead, rippling the smooth surface and throwing the trees above into a weird dance.  The former OGA Gage smiled at its antics.  Maybe they should be called 'frantics', he mused.  Wonder where he's tryin' so hard to get to, but ends up goin' in circles anyway.

    "Is he always like that?" OGA Bitner asked his other visitor.

    The former OGA DeSoto eyed his partner with affectionate resignation and sighed a tiny bit.  "He has been ever since he took on his assignment.  He bonded so well and so quickly with Johnny Gage, has been with him since birth, that they pretty much think alike...at least in the ways that angels may think.  As for the other kind of thoughts, well let's just say OGA Gage is pretty tolerant of Johnny's less-than-angelic ruminations."

    OGA Bitner chuckled.  "Is there anything that doesn't fascinate him?  I thought he would stop to sniff every wild flower in the meadow earlier when the sheriff stopped to...er relieve himself.  It took some doing to delay my subject long enough for you to get OGA Gage back to the squad car."

    The other OGA smiled at the memory, but also recalled the multitude of conversations he'd had with his partner earlier in the day.  OGA Gage...former OGA Gage, he reminded himself, asked no less than twenty times since they left whether he thought they ought to go back.  There's such a thing as being too bonded, Roy DeSoto's former guardian reflected, unwilling to admit that the same uneasy thoughts preyed upon his own mind off and on.  He brought himself back to the present.  "Hiding the keys under the seat was quick thinking," OGA DeSoto commented.  "I'm just glad that there were no urgent calls affected by OGA Gage's delay."

    "Believe me," OGA Bitner informed him, "guest or no guest, if there was a call the sheriff's keys would have been back in the ignition in record time and your friend there would be finding his own transportation... when he was done smelling the flowers of course."

    The erstwhile OGA DeSoto stiffened at the seeming criticism of his partner, but relaxed to see that the other angel's expression held only amusement.  He'd been frustrated by his partner's proclivity toward exploration himself a few times.

    Mabel's voice blared from the black and white's radio summoning the sheriff from his afternoon fishing break.

    Blaine Bitner started to reel in his line then lay the pole down and ran for his radio.  Mabel's voice came across tense and urgent.  It must be something bad.  He pictured his usually unflappable dispatcher, seated behind the radio console she'd manned, or rather 'womanned', for the last twenty years.  The dispatch service now expanded to include a special frequency to summon volunteer EMTs, Mabel would be at the desk come hell or high water, keeping them all in touch.  Married to the fire chief, mother-in-law to Blaine's daughter, she'd seen it all.  Fires, deadly crashes, robberies, even a couple of killings... nothing seemed to ruffle Mabel.  But this time the dispatcher sounded worried, and that worried Blaine.

    Former OGA Gage drew back with a jerk and a startled gasp as the face of the once OGA DeSoto plunged into the mirror-still water centimeters from his own, interrupting his quiet study of a California Spreadwing dragonfly.  "The sheriff has a call," the other angel informed him in a voice that brooked no delay and offered no explanation.  OGA Gage immediately left the water and followed his friend to the sheriff's car.  At that they made it with little time to spare, entering the back seat just as the black and white sped up the dusty dirt lane toward the highway.  John Gage's former OGA glanced back to see the sheriff's fishing pole and tackle box reposing on the sandy shore where he'd dropped it, his stringer containing the striped bass and two other fish trailing away into the water.

    A flock of children and small angels stampeded through the living room to the DeSoto's front door in answer to the ringing doorbell.  Joanne and her OGA hurried to reach it first and greet John Gage before he could be mobbed.  After sending the children outside to play, OGA Gage heard her explain the problem to Johnny as they approached the bathroom.  Wearing a belt full of tools and carrying a huge toolbox Gage approached and then paused at the bathroom door.  Roy managed to push off from the wall and, his arms creating a windmill effect, regain his balance on the side of the tub.  Without a word he removed to the doorway while OGA Gage settled to watch carefully over his former subject's shoulder.  OGA DeSoto hovered at his side.

    "I told ya we should have taken it apart," the OGA floated over to whisper in Roy's ear after watching Johnny mop up the mess on the bathroom floor, wipe it dry and then start in on the job at hand.  Gage turned off the water and emptied the tank and bowl with a small coffee can.  Then the junior paramedic removed the tank, unbolted the basin and set it aside.  A few moments work with a plumber's snake brought up one of Roy's work gloves.  Gage grinned and handed the offending item to Roy who took it by thumb and forefinger to dispose of in the garbage can.  Joanne, with an apologetic look, explained that she'd seen Elaine's youngest daughter carrying it around earlier.  Roy frowned.

    Joanne's OGA wafted over to join the paramedics' angels near the door.  The trio watched as Johnny reseated the toilet bowl on the protruding bolts and tightened down the nuts before covering them with the egg-shaped protectors.  He mounted the toilet tank back in place, turned on the water valve and watched as it filled, raising the float.  Finally Gage put the seat and lid on the bowl, screwed it down tightly and paused with a hint of drama before depressing the flush handle.  The water exited the bowl with a roar of success, emptying without obstruction down the pipe.  The bowl filled again.  Johnny smiled at the group gathered in the doorway and bowed, arms spread wide in triumph.

    Roy didn't know whether to be relieved or angry at being shown up by his best friend.  The happy faces on the children as they lined up to test his partner's work told him he should not only be happy, but grateful.  His ego said otherwise.

    "I can't believe John Gage actually fixed something and that it works," Joanne's angel admitted, shaking her head in disbelief."

    "Hey, John Gage is a man of many talents," OGA DeSoto informed her, trying to disregard the blatant disbelief on her face and ignore the snort she emitted that bordered on contempt.  "Besides, I've been working with him.  When I get done you won't recognize him.  He'll be a new man!"

    Not wanting to be accused of sulking, OGA Gage remained silent, but managed to produce a more cheerful demeanor.  I've made progress with Roy.  This is a minor setback, that's all.   For some reason Joanne's OGA didn't seem to believe him.

    OGA Gage climbed onto the back of the Porsche and prepared to hold on as Joanne sat beside Roy on the front seat and Jo's OGA perched behind her.  The atmosphere was still a bit chilly, but Roy and Joanne were glad to get away from the madness for a bit while Jo's mother was there to watch the kids.

    "Hey, how about a little bit of rock'n'roll, Roy?"

    "Rock music?  Roy?"  Joanne's angel rolled her eyes.  "You must be kidding!  "Roy would never..."  She fell silent, mouth open in shock, as Roy snapped on the radio and found a hard rock channel.

    OGA Gage grinned in triumph.

    Roy navigated the city streets through town until he reached the 405, then headed north.  An exit, a few more turns, and the Porsche emerged onto California 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.  Jo remained silent, not sure what to expect next.

    "She probably thinks he's going through some sort of mid-life crisis," OGA Joanne remarked.  "Is he?"

    "How the h... er... how should I know?" OGA Gage responded giving his best 'bewildered' look.

    "Don't you ever read his mind?"

    OGA Gage shook his head emphatically.  "I took a peek at Johnny Gage's thoughts last time he looked through a magazine.  No angel should go there!"

    OGA Joanne actually chuckled.  "I can just imagine."

    OGA Gage really hoped she couldn't.

    "But you should be able to dip into Roy's thoughts without any problem; let me tell you, the guy is strictly rated 'G'.  Besides, it would be good to know what he's up to."

    Not wanting to shirk his duties, OGA Gage closed his eyes and took a peek into Roy's mind.  OGA Gage's aura altered from pale blue to nearly tomato red, his eyes nearly popping from their sockets.  He if the things Roy was thinking were even anatomically possible.  The angel quickly withdrew from the very carnal images racing through Roy's mind.  Best just to deal with protecting his client from physical harm.  Safer for an angel all the way around.  He gulped and looked at OGA Joanne to find her staring at him, openly curious.

    "Not G-rated after all?"

    "No," he rasped.  "Not even close."

    The Porsche whipped around a curve hugging the center line as the landscape dropped abruptly away to the west.  The Pacific Ocean stretched out to their left blue and vast and sparkling in the afternoon sun.  Air fresh with sea spray kissed their cheeks as the sports car made its way up the coast.  Finally Roy turned inland toward the mountains and navigated a narrow trail until he located a lookout point that offered a view for miles up and down the coast.  For a while he and Joanne just sat holding hands.

    "I can't remember the last time they did this," Jo's angel remarked.  "Certainly not since the kids were born."

    "It's kind of romantic, isn't it?"

    "Yeah.  I wonder what came over... you didn't tell him to do this, did you?  I mean, it's pretty out of character for Roy.  In fact, it seems more like something Johnny would do."

    "Hah!  Don't look at me," OGA Gage exclaimed, splaying one hand across his chest.  I didn't tell him to do anything.  This was all his own idea."  Jo's angel was giving OGA Gage that skeptical look again.  "What?"

    "A little more to the left, Johnny," OGA DeSoto advised.

    Johnny frowned and adjusted his feet on the approach.

    "Now straighten your wrist and lift your head a bit.  Keep your eye on the pocket."

    Johnny turned a little to the side so that his wrist was farther from his body and stared at the space between the one and two pins.

    "Take a deep breath and start your approach.  Don't forget to bend and glide!"

    Gage took four short steps, his motion jerky as if unaccustomed to the exercise, and released the ball with a two foot loft - straight into the gutter, then stood rooted on the foul line in open-mouthed astonishment.  For the fourth time in six frames he'd scored exactly zero.  The guys at the score desk, a team from the L. A. County Sheriff's Department, hooted and jeered, remarking that Gage was bowling like a girl.  It was a big departure from Johnny's usual snappy three-step gliding release that almost always made a sweet, wicked backup into the 1-3 pocket.  He was even accused of trying to throw the game for the Fire Department team.  Gage trudged back behind the lanes and took a seat, head down, to wait for the next frame.  He felt a now familiar itch on his right shoulder.  These days off couldn't possibly get any worse.  Could they?

    "Maybe you should stop giving Gage any more advice," remarked an OGA assigned to one of Johnny's teammates.

    "Yeah, at least about bowling," another chimed in.

    "We're gonna lose this week for sure."

    "Those cops are gonna murder us."

    "And it's gonna be Gage's fault."

    "I think he wants to lose."

    "Yeah, after all, this angel is DeSoto's OGA, not Gage's."

    "Why is that, huh?"  All five of the OGAs from the Battalion 14 A-Shift team glared at OGA DeSoto.

    "He needs to work on his approach," OGA DeSoto explained.  "I was trying to help him bowl like the textbook says.  His approach is too short.  His release is too early.  He doesn't watch the ball..."

    "He has his own style," replied one of the OGAs from 110's.

    "It works for him," added the OGA from 99's.

    "He has a 265 average," stated OGA Bellingham from 45's.

    "He did," agreed OGA McConnike, "at least until you started 'helping' him."  All of the OGAs converged around OGA DeSoto.  "So stop already!" they cried in unison.

    "Grouches," grumbled OGA DeSoto as he took a seat behind Johnny.  It would have looked like he was pouting, if pouting was an angelic trait, which it wasn't.

    The next afternoon OGA Stanley met OGAs DeSoto and Gage as the squad pulled into the apparatus bay after a run and bid them into Cap's office.  "I've got two words for you guys," he said without preamble, "switch back.  Now!"

    "Actually that was three words..." OGA Gage began.  He looked up and noticed that all of the other firemen's angels had entered the room and were glaring at him.  Well, actually, at him and OGA DeSoto.  "What?"

    "DeSoto fixed hot dogs for lunch," OGA Lopez said with an accusing look.

    "What's wrong with that...?"

    "And started talking with his mouth full," OGA Lopez added.     "Gage made the coffee!" OGA Stanley accused.

    "Was it bad...?"

    "They never let Gage make the coffee," OGA Stanley stormed, or would have if storming was an angelic trait, which it wasn't.

    "Well Roy drank it without complaining," OGA DeSoto defended his temporary charge.

    "Exactly," OGA Stoker nodded.  "Without complaining.  And without cream."

    "What's the big deal...?"

    "Hey, pal," said OGA Kelly pointing at OGA Gage with an accusing finger, "DeSoto dismantled my water bomb.  In fact he took it out of Gage's locker and put it in Chet's.  He.  Put.  It.  In.  Chet's.  Locker!"

    "Well, it only seemed fair," OGA Gage began.

    "Kelly got wet!" OGA Kelly exclaimed, as if this explained everything to the mystified paramedics' OGAs.

    "Well that part wasn't so bad," OGA Stanley admitted.


    "Tonight Johnny's fixing dinner," OGA Lopez said, shaking his head.

    "So what's wrong with that?"

    "He might actually try to fix dinner!" OGA Lopez explained as if to a slow-witted child.

    "Well, they said the green stuff he fixed one time was pretty good," OGA Stoker chimed in.  They all glared at him.

    "Switch back now," OGA Stanley ordered.  Just then the tones sounded calling out the squad for a child trapped.

    "Hey!  I want to talk to you guys," OGA Dixie McCall said.

    "Who, us?" asked OGA DeSoto.  OGA Dixie presented them with a smile that could be called sarcastic, if angels were sarcastic, and crooked her index finger in a beckoning gesture, then motioned for them to join her at the base station where her subject was staring at Roy DeSoto in open-mouthed astonishment.

    "Roy just made a pass at Dixie!" OGA Dixie accused.

    "Well all right!" exclaimed OGA Gage.  At the astonished looks of the others he amended, "I mean, that's terrible!  But she is a very pretty lady."

    "And he's a married man," OGA Gage reminded him sternly.

    "And now even Johnny's chastising him for it," OGA DeSoto added, somewhat relieved that he had been such a good influence on Gage, even if his counterpart had had a deleterious effect on DeSoto.

    "Well, admitted OGA Dixie, "Johnny has always had kind of a double standard when it comes to women.  It's okay for him to ogle and chase the ladies, but not for anybody with a wedding ring on his finger."

    "Makes sense to me," stated OGA Gage.  "Er... not that Johnny should have impure thoughts about the opposite gender either," he qualified.  "Because that would not be appropriate behavior.  Especially not for a public servant.  Or anybody else."

    OGA Dixie was soundlessly tapping her foot while waiting for OGA Gage to run down, and to quit digging himself into a deep, dark hole.  "The point is that Roy is acting very out of character.  I'm surprised OGA Stanley is letting you get away with swapping assignments."

    "He isn't...exactly," admitted OGA DeSoto.

    "I think the last words he said before we left the station were, 'switch back now'," added OGA Gage.

    Gage and DeSoto left a totally confused Dixie McCall at the base station and returned, arguing vociferously, to Squad 51.  Their angels trailed behind, uncharacteristically silent.

    The next afternoon OGA Stanley met OGAs DeSoto and Gage at the door as the squad pulled into the apparatus bay after a run and bid them into Cap's office.  "I've got two words for you guys," he said without preamble.  "Switch back.  Now!"

    "Actually that was three words..." OGA DeSoto began.  He looked up and noticed that all of the other firemen's angels had entered the room and were glaring at him.  Well, actually, at him and OGA Gage.  "What?"

    "DeSoto fixed hot dogs for lunch," OGA Lopez said with an accusing look.

    "What's wrong with that...?"

    "And started talking with his mouth full," OGA Lopez added.     "Gage made the coffee!" OGA Stanley accused.

    "Was it bad...?"

    "We never let Gage make the coffee," OGA Stanley stormed, or would have if storming was an angelic trait, which it wasn't.

    "Well Roy drank it without complaining," OGA DeSoto defended his temporary charge.

    "Exactly," OGA Stoker nodded.  "Without complaining.  And without cream.   Or sugar."

    "What's the big deal...?"

    "Hey, pal," said OGA Kelly pointing at OGA Gage with an accusing finger, "DeSoto dismantled Chet's water bomb.  In fact he took it out of Gage's locker and put it in Kelly's.  He.  Put.  It.  In.  Chet's.  Locker!"

    "Well, it only seemed fair," OGA Gage began.

    "Kelly got wet!" OGA Kelly exclaimed, as if this explained everything to the mystified paramedic OGAs.

    "Well that wasn't so bad," OGA Stanley admitted.


    "Tonight Johnny's fixing dinner," OGA Lopez said, shaking his head.

    "So what's wrong with that?"

    "He might actually try to fix dinner!" OGA Lopez explained as if to a slow-witted child.

    "Well, they said the green stuff he fixed one time was pretty good," OGA Stoker chimed in.  They all glared at him.

    "Switch back now," OGA Stanley ordered.  Just then the tones sounded calling out the squad for a child trapped in a laundry chute.


    Sheriff Bitner screeched his cruiser to a halt exactly one block from the two-story brick building that housed all county services for Santa Rosa County.  Every window in the building had its shade drawn as if the building itself had its eyes tightly closed.  Mabel's final transmission before the radio went silent was that a man had entered the building through the back door and herded the county records clerk, the commissioner, surveyor and fire chief into the upstairs conference room.  And the social worker along with the little girl.  Mabel had been in the bathroom.

    Backup arrived in the form of Blaine's deputy Alan Tippet and two state patrolmen, all of whom had been at the cafe slurping coffee and swapping news when Mabel's call went out.

    Shadowed closely by their angels, Tippet and the two patrolmen ran along the sidewalk to approach the county services building from the adjacent row of stores and offices.  Protected by overhangs, canopies and porches from anyone watching from the upstairs windows, the two patrolmen watched from the left side while Tippet slipped down the alley and around the rear of the building to join Sheriff Bitner in watching the building from the right.

    OGA Bitner and former OGAs Gage and DeSoto waited beside the sheriff alert and poised for action.  OGA Tippet joined them as the sheriff and his deputy conferred on the best course of action.  The state cops waited for a nod to call for additional backup.  With no hesitation Blaine gave it.  Mabel had only reported one gunman, but there could be more.

    Upstairs a window blind twitched as if someone was keeping watch.  One of the patrolmen slipped away to block the street with his cruiser just out of sight of the county building.  Tippet left to do the same with the sheriff's car on the other end.  Miraculously only one door opened among the neighboring shops and offices that lined the street, and it closed again immediately at the sight of the flashing lights at either end of the block.

    "Do you have this kind of day very often?" former OGA Gage asked the sheriff's angel.

    "Not since about ten years ago when a couple of fellers that robbed a liquor store holed up in Miss Axminster's boarding house," OGA Bitner replied without taking his eyes off the door of the county building.

    Deputy Tippet and his OGA appeared suddenly and briefly on the roof of the Gazette, the only other two-story building on the block directly across the street from the county building.  Built on slightly higher ground, the roof of the local newspaper and print shop gave Tippet a strategic advantage.

    Additional state patrolmen arrived and were directed to set up a perimeter, then Blaine removed a bull horn from the trunk of his car and hailed the gunman.  A shot rang out from the second floor window a fraction of a second before the rear passenger window of the sheriff's cruiser exploded in a shower of glass.  OGA Bitner diverted the worst of the shards away from his charge, but two small cuts appeared on his cheek.

    With a pang former OGA Gage remembered a rescue with an officer down and the shooter barricaded in a third floor apartment.  The angel had run beside Johnny to get to the policeman, who was rapidly loosing blood.  The shooter fired at Johnny but missed - barely y.  The one-time OGA Gage vividly recalled watching the bullet pass the paramedic's left ear just below the rim of his helmet.  His mission of 26 years had nearly ended there.  Suddenly he felt a powerful longing to see John Gage, to know he was safe.

    "Reminds me of that guy in the apartment," former OGA DeSoto said as if his mind was exactly on the same frequency.  After four years working so closely beside each other, it probably was.

    "Yeah," agreed former OGA Gage, "me too.  But he didn't have hostages."

    "And the police can't use tear gas..."

    "Right!  If there's a fire, the engine is inside the building."  Both angels sighed.

    "Don't worry," OGA Bitner reassured the visiting former OGAs.  "Blaine will get that guy and save everybody in the building.  Just you wait and see."

    The two vacationing OGAs nodded and smiled but secretly they weren't too sure.

    DeSoto's former OGA started tapping his finger soundlessly on the open car door.  "Maybe we should get back to L. A. County," he ventured.

    "Yeah," his counterpart agreed.  "Wait a minute, we haven't even been gone a whole week.  What about our vacation?"

    "What about it?  What if some yahoo starts taking potshots at our guys?  Do you trust the new guys to keep 'em from getting hurt?"

    "you were the one that said they must be qualified," former OGA Gage pointed out.  "You told me not to worry.

    Former OGA DeSoto looked away.  "I was being optimistic."

    "Maybe we ought to get back."

    The silence was heavy.  "Yeah."


    The two angels turned to OGA Bitner.  "We need to get back to L. A."

    "Now?  And miss all the excitement?" the other angel asked, somewhat surprised, although to be truthful, it wasn't completely unexpected.  He couldn't imagine leaving the protection of Sheriff Bitner to a stranger for a whole day, much less two weeks.

    "Well, you said the sheriff would take care of it," former OGA DeSoto reasoned.

    "I was being optimistic."

    "Yeah, there's a lot of that going around," former OGA Gage muttered, or would have, if muttering was an angelic trait.

    Suddenly shots rang out from inside the building, and then silence.  Outside the tension grew.  Police cars, lights flashing not quite in sync, blocked the street at either end of the block and lined the alleys.  Occasional bursts of conversation from police radios pierced the silence.  A puff of hot breeze made its way down the middle of the street and swirled itself into a dust devil, picking up a few dry leaves and a gum wrapper before dropping them a few feet away and moving on.

    The angels had temporarily abandoned the plan of returning to L. A. immediately.  The gun shots had upped the danger ante considerably.

    Sheriff Bitner adjusted his hat and grounded the bull horn.  He requested cover and announced his intention of going into the building, unsnapping the holster on his hip with a practiced hand.

    Angels and humans alike were tense and expectant as Blaine made his way along the sidewalk, hugging the sides of the buildings, to he front door of the community building.  Slowly he pushed open the glass door and glanced at Deputy Tippet on the roof of the newspaper office across the street.  Tippet nodded, a motion that meant everyone was primed and ready for action.  The door swung open and Bitner, his angel leading the way, entered the front office, followed by former OGAs Gage and DeSoto.

    The combination reception and dispatch desk sat deserted, the switchboard dark and silent.  They passed into a corridor, the sheriff's own office on the left, that of the fire chief directly opposite, both quiet and vacant.  The county clerk's office was visible through an access window, the door to the records vault ajar in the background, evidence that the clerk had not left willingly.  Across the hall, through an open doorway, a vending machine hummed next to an outdated, but still functioning refrigerator.  On the stained surface of a small cafe type table a cigarette had burned itself nearly to ash as it rested in the slotted side of a hard plastic ash tray. Beside the ashtray sat a half empty cup of coffee, cold now.

    The only remaining unchecked rooms were the men's and women's restrooms.  Bitner gave them a quick look-through to be thorough, then focused on the end of the corridor.  Two stairwells split the hall, the one on the left going up to the second floor, the one on the right leading down to the jail.  There had been movement on the second floor.  Blaine chose "up".

    Through the open door of the conference room the OGAs could see the shooter, a middle-aged man, unshaven and unkempt, his jeans smudged with grime, a once-red T-shirt, ragged and stained, hanging loosely on a frame that appeared shrunken and gaunt.    Eyes like live coals in a tired, desperate face, the man stared unwaveringly at the little girl even as he aimed a 38-Special at the frightened social worker.  The shooter's angel looked on sadly.  He was a reflection of better days when the man's clothes had been pristine, his body tall and well-formed, hair neat and face clean-shaven.  The child's angel watched them both without fear.

    "Her father?" former OGA Gage ventured.

    The little girl's angel nodded sadly.

    Before the shooter's OGA could warn him of approaching danger, Sheriff Bitner slammed into the room and took an offensive stance.  The man dropped his automatic and raised shaking hands above his head, offering no resistance.

    "We heard shots...?" OGA Bitner commented to Mabel's OGA.

    A diminutive angel with salt and pepper hair styled close to her head smiled tightly and stood, even as her charge did the same.  "It was the water fountain.  You know how that thing clangs and bangs and shakes before the refrigeration unit kicks in?"

    OGA Bitner nodded.

    "Well, the shooter was nervous and the old water fountain startled him.  He emptied four shots into it before it went silent."

    The former OGAs smiled in relief.  Gage's former OGA turned to look at the decrepit gunmetal gray water fountain that stood in a lonely state outside the door.  The housing had jagged holes torn in four places.  The tile beneath was buckled and stained by frequent standing pools of rusty water where the plumbing had leaked.  Rags showed underneath where they were wrapped around the pipes in a jury-rigged attempt to stop the leaks.  "It looks like the guy might have done you a favor," the angel remarked, his crooked grin prompting a like response from Mabel's OGA.

    "That old relic isn't much of a loss," the county clerk's OGA chimed in.  "Maybe now we'll get a new one."

    "Wanna bet?"  OGA Mabel was skeptical.

    The stranger's OGA whispered words of comfort and encouragement as his charge was led down stairs to be booked.  The child watched with tears running down her face.  Former OGAs Gage and DeSoto looked on as everyone and their angels returned to work.  It seemed both anti-climatic and surreal.

    "I wonder what that was all about," former OGA Gage queried the room at large.

    Some angels turned back to look at them in confusion.  "Who are you guys and where are your assignments?" asked the social worker's angel, suddenly suspicious.

    "We're from L. A. and we're on vacation," Gage's former angel volunteered.  That drew stares from all the angels in the room.  "Well, we are, he insisted.

    "Come on, junior," former OGA DeSoto urged.  "Time we got back to L. A."

    "But I wanna know what that was all about."

    "So write a letter."

    "Angels don't write letters..."

    Can silence be aggressive? OGA DeSoto wondered as he stared at the occupants of Station 51's dayroom.  The shift that started as 'rocky', progressed through 'explosive' and finally settled down to 'uncomfortable'.  Gage smoldered, muttering under his breath while making furious jabs at the potato in his hands, one of several slated for the stewpot and the evening's dinner.  The pieces of potato that came away under his attack resembled slices more than peelings.

    Firefighter Marco Lopez watched in dismay the growing heap of parings and the diminishing amount of potatoes that would be available for his Irish Stew.  He shook his head and remained silent, giving John Gage and his temper a wide berth.  He turned to the kitchen counter and discovered a few crumbs cluttering the surface, evidence of a raid on the cookie jar.  Somebody wouldn't appreciate his stew tonight.  Marco's brow furrowed both at the prospect of his efforts going unappreciated and at the air of smoldering silence filling the station that threatened to erupt into yet another angry confrontation.  With jerky motions underlined by muttering under his breath in Spanish, Marco attacked the few dishes accumulated in the sink.

    The earlier confrontation between Firefighter Chester B. Kelly and Firefighter/Paramedic John Gage resulted in a cease fire stringently enforced by Captain Stanley.  OGA DeSoto took a tentative peek into Gage's thoughts and discovered the formation and consequent discard of a dozen or so evil and convoluted plans to avenge the water bombs that had rendered him 'laughingstock du jour'.  The angel glanced at Roy DeSoto, his own charge again, albeit reluctantly.  I'd just started making headway with John Gage, and then OGA Stanley horned in.  I wonder what 'switch back or else' meant?

    "What are we gonna do about this?" OGA Gage hissed, sotto voce.  He floated over to keep his counterpart company.  The word 'this', accompanied by a broad, all-encompassing gesture, included not only Chet Kelly's constant and malevolent glare, but Johnny's vicious massacre of the vegetables in lieu of his opponent's head and the oppressive atmosphere that pervaded the entire dayroom.

    Firefighter/Paramedic Roy DeSoto, his glum disposition a notable departure from his usual even temper, stared unseeing at the L. A. Times, its rustling pages the only break in the station's tomblike silence.  OGA Gage watched him sadly.  He's come so far and now this.

    Both angels took a seat on the table, elbows on knees, chins resting on palms, faces much too woebegone for heavenly beings.  The Boss wouldn't like this at all.

    Hank Stanley, a wary eye on the two former combatants, shuffled through a stack of memos, laying some aside to file, some to post on the bulletin board, and some to become crumpled missiles destined to feed the already nearly full wastebasket.  He blinked as a potato peeling landed center mass in the stack yet to be sorted.  His angel heard him mumble the word 'twit' and give the youngest member of his crew a dirty look, but otherwise the long suffering captain remained silent as he removed the vegetable paring and set it aside.

    Chet Kelly fondled the velvety ears of the sympathetic Basset Hound that shared, or rather dominated the couch, his head in Chet's lap, tail lazily making a half-hearted tap against Roy's newspaper.  For once Henry's sorrowful expression was not the saddest one in the station.

    Lopez carefully, soundlessly wiped and stowed away the last of the dishes, opening and shutting cabinets as he moved around the kitchen nearly as silent as the angels themselves.  Firefighter Specialist Mike Stoker leaned against the kitchen counter, making way occasionally for Marco to open a cupboard or wipe down a countertop.  The engineer moved out of the way, then repeated the action a few moments later in another location.  Eventually Stoker snatched an apple from a bowl on the countertop and headed wordlessly toward the apparatus bay, OGA Stoker following without a backward glance.

    "Well, gentlemen, what are you going to do about this?" OGA Stanley confronted the duo of downcast angels dejectedly perched on the dining table.  Backing him up OGAs Kelly and Lopez stood, arms crossed, determined, behind the captain's angel.

    "Us?" OGA DeSoto squeaked, splaying one transparent hand across his transparent blue uniform shirt.  The face resembled Roy DeSoto, but the gesture was pure Johnny Gage.

    OGA Stanley's eyes narrowed.  His posture declared a total lack of sympathy.  "You!" Hank's angel affirmed, his glance taking in both of the paramedics' OGAs.

    "But Kelly started it!" OGA DeSoto protested.  "His water bombs soaked Gage's last two clean shirts.  OGA Kelly should have persuaded Chet not to do it."

    "Hey!  I already told you pal.  I'm here to keep Kelly from getting hurt, not to take all the fun outta his life."  OGA Kelly's eyebrows knit together in a frown as he pushed an accusing finger through OGA DeSoto's chest.

    "Well that doesn't mean you let him hurt people either!"  OGA DeSoto said, floating into Kelly's angel's space until they stood nose to nose, or would have, if they had noses.  In fact, OGA DeSoto could have been described as being indignant.  If being indignant was an angelic trait.  Which it was not.

    Ignoring OGA DeSoto's protest, OGA Kelly turned back to his original opponent.  "You," he glared at OGA Gage, "had DeSoto move the third water bomb to Kelly's locker.  That's definitely cheating!"

Gage's angel retorted, his angelic voice rising to a strident, very un-angelic level.

    The others drew back shocked.  A soft angelic chorus stirred the air of the dayroom with simultaneous indrawn breaths.

    OGA Stoker hurried in from the apparatus bay, his face all concern.  "What in Heaven's Name is going on?" he demanded.  "I can hear you angels all the way out on the engine.  Do you want THEM," he raised his eyes to the ceiling, "to hear you?"

    Angelic silence immediately claimed the station.  OGA DeSoto, subdued but by no means conquered, turned his back to OGA Kelly who frowned at the obvious snub.  OGA Gage, his duty remembered, placed an arm about John Gage's shoulders and whispered in his charge's ear, "Calm down, Johnny.  It was only water.  Chet Kelly isn't worth staying mad at.  Remember, you're a team here...brothers!"  Johnny absently swatted at the air near his ear with the potato peeler.

    OGA Kelly, feeling ill used indeed, snorted and headed for the sofa, sliding himself beneath Henry's lazy sprawl to take a seat next to Chet.  He saw the dog's raised eyebrows.  "Don't look at me that way!"

    Henry yawned in response, thumped his tail once against Roy's newspaper, and closed his eyes, unconcerned with any facet of human or angelic behavior that did not involve food.

    With an uneasy glance at John Gage, OGA DeSoto hovered near his own charge, first humming, then tapping his foot and snapping his fingers.  Roy remained oblivious.  OGA Stanley spared the restless angel a condemning glance.  At a loss DeSoto's angel drifted back to the dining table and perched on the edge.  He started to snap his fingers, then caught a warning glance from OGA Lopez and ceased the restless motion, propping his chin on his hands, resting his elbows on his knees.  A few moments later OGA Gage joined him.  Like glum bookends they sat in morose silence.

    Now where have I recently seen someone in this position? OGA Gage wondered.  Oh yeah.  Roy DeSoto...in the bathroom.  The Thinker.  He smirked.  "Well at least Roy got his toilet fixed."

    OGA DeSoto noted the amusement on the face of his counterpart.  The memory of Roy's mother-in-law and Johnny lobbing wet towels at each other in the DeSoto living room brought a reluctant smile to the angel's transparent lips.  "Yeah, and a few other things got fixed too."  OGA DeSoto started to snicker.  OGA Gage joined in.  Giggling like guilty school boys the two angels finally broke out into guffaws.

    "Johnny called Joanne's mother an interfering old cow," Roy's OGA gasped, holding his sides.

    "And Roy backed him up," Gage's angel recalled, his eyes twinkling like twin stars.

    The other OGAs gathered in a puzzled semi-circle around the two laughing guardians.  The sight of their inquisitive co-angels sent both into fresh spasms.

    "She looked like somebody hit her in the face with a brick," OGA DeSoto cackled.

    "I think it was a hand towel," OGA Gage managed between bubbling bouts of laughter, "it said Holiday Inn."

    "Twits!" OGA Stanley opined.  But an examination of the room at large revealed a lightened mood all around.  Roy, no longer scowling, concentrated on the crossword puzzle section of the newspaper.  Kelly, his brow cleared of its brooding furrow, coaxed part of the comics from Roy and even grinned a bit as he read them.  Marco began to hum tunelessly under his breath while pulling a stock pot from a lower cupboard and setting it on the counter.

    Johnny rubbed an index finger beneath his chin lost in thought, the mutilated vegetables forgotten.  The vision of Jo's mother chasing Roy with a plunger in what he would always think of as the 'Battle of the Bathroom' brought a grin to the paramedic's lips.  He wondered if Jo's headache had gone away yet.

    Gage once again wielded the vegetable peeler to whack a few strips off an untouched potato.  A gleam of mischief entered his eyes as he shifted his sights from the pile of parings before him to the sofa a few feet away.

    Finished with the crossword, an easy one because it was Monday, Roy turned the pages to examine the contents of the financial section.  Not that he was interested in the world of Wall Street, but with the housekeeping chores finished, including the messes caused by Chet's water bombs, the squad's maintenance completed by C-Shift, and supplies replenished after their last run, there simply wasn't anything else to do.  Roy didn't feel so dedicated as to grab a rag and start polishing the squad.  Suddenly a potato paring landed damply in the middle of the Dow-Jones Industrial Averages.  Eyebrows raised, Roy picked up the peeling between thumb and forefinger before setting it carefully on the arm of the couch for later disposal.  SPLAT.  This time a larger portion draped itself over an image of the Stock Broker of the Year.  She looks like she's wearing a potato crown.  Roy almost broke down and smiled.  He glanced over at Johnny to see a full-fledged grin plastered across his partner's face.

    Johnny's eyes sparkled in fun.  He nodded indicating Chet Kelly, took careful aim, and launched a long paring that landed in the vee of Chet's blue uniform shirt.

    Chet, wearing an angry scowl, removed the piece of potato peeling and flicked it back in Johnny's direction.  Undaunted, Gage sailed a paring with perfect accuracy toward Roy and then quickly flicked another toward Kelly, this one landing across the bridge of Henry's velvet nose.  Johnny shrugged at the dog in apology.

    All thoughts of reading the paper gone, Chet used his perfect pitching arm to zing the vegetable remnant back toward Gage.  From seemingly out of nowhere another paring landed on Chet's own nose.  He blinked in confusion then removed the offending item.  Kelly shot an accusing glance at Roy who seemed oblivious, totally preoccupied with the newspaper.

    SPLAT!  Another paring slapped against the L. A. Times.  Chet grinned.  Johnny had done it now!  In amazement Kelly watched as Roy calmly picked up the peeling and, with a flick of the wrist, sent it sailing toward Chet.

    Smiling ear to ear, Johnny shifted fire and with the expertise developed from practice, launched a paring in the direction of Marco's freshly cleaned countertop, landing it into the waiting stock pot.

    With a cry of indignation Marco turned to give Johnny a piece of his mind, only to be pelted with parings from the pair on the couch.  Johnny giggled and lobbed another peel in Marco's direction before taking aim again on Chet.

    "Food fight!"  OGA DeSoto hopped off the table happily heading to counsel Johnny in regards to distance, bearing and altitude.  OGA Stanley interposed his transparent form, transparent hands on transparent hips, and frowned.  With a weak smile DeSoto's angel reversed direction, crossing to his own charge who, he was delighted to find busily engaged in the spirited exchange of fire.

    Hank Stanley refrained from taking part but, with a sigh of relief, decided his men needed to clear the air, even if it meant trashing the dayroom.  With a pointed glance at the mess on the floor and a reminder for the 'twits' to call him when the kitchen had been cleaned up, Captain Stanley headed for his office.  Almost reluctant to miss the fun, OGA Stanley followed.

    Firefighters and the dayroom were adorned with potato peelings when Station 51 was toned out.  Man hanging from the roof of a building.  The firemen and their angels got serious real fast as they hurried to the engine and squad.  In the kitchen, Johnny slipped on a stray paring and went down hard, but shook it off and scrambled to his feet.  Cap was just handing Roy the call details when Johnny threw himself into the squad, OGA Gage lent a steadying hand to prevent another mishap before he, too, squeezed into the cab of the squad.

    All business now, the OGAs leaned forward as if their urging could help the squad arrive more quickly.

    "Wonder what the guy is doing out on the roof?" OGA Gage ventured.

    "Who knows why people do crazy things like that," OGA DeSoto replied.

    The structure turned out to be a low-rise office building.  A lone figure dangled from the roof's overhang, a delicate looking cornice, feet kicking in a vain attempt to find purchase on the brownstone blocks that made up the building's facade.  Gage was out of the squad in an instant yelling for the man to hold still and hang on.  OGA Gage followed as his subject ran into the building, shrugging a coil of rope over one shoulder bandolier style while he attempted to fasten his safety belt on the fly.  Another belt hung from his by its carabineer.  DeSoto followed at a swift but steady pace, toting an additional coil of rope and his safety belt.

    John Gage yanked at the door to the stairwell that accessed the roof.  Nothing happened.  He pulled again before realizing that the heavy door was securely locked.  Gage called for an axe, a request which Roy quickly relayed via Handy Talkie to the engine. Captain Stanley sent Kelly.

    "Are they going to get to him in time?" OGA Gage asked Kelly's OGA as the angel swiftly floated up the last flight of stairs beside his charge.

    "If they do it's gonna be close," Kelly's OGA replied.  Kelly, meanwhile took a swing at the stairwell door while informing the paramedics that Truck 99 was on its way and everyone else was below manning the Lifenet.

    Gage and DeSoto hustled back down the stairs to meet the ladder truck.  With a shrug, Kelly continued hacking away - just in case.

    The paramedics' OGAs expected to see the victim safely in the canvas circle or in a tangle of broken bones on the ground by the time they reached the sidewalk, but he still clung tenaciously to the ornate cornice.  Truck 99 roared onto the scene and swiftly began to set up the aerial ladder, grounding and stabilizing the truck on the cracked asphalt of the busy street in the center of Carson's business district.  Spectators gathered in clumps on the sidewalks to watch with a mixture of excitement and horror, ready cheer if the rescue was successful, and to murmur sympathetic platitudes should the victim fall to his death.

    When the ladder was fully extended as closely as possible to the roof, Gage began climbing toward the victim, his OGA just behind.  Both were amazed at the man's ability to hang on.

    Johnny soon reached the top of the ladder and began uttering soothing words to the victim as he encouraged the man to loosen his death grip on the building's ornate cornice.  The man's OGA turned alternately white as a sheet and green as a gourd.  It was curious to meet an angel who was afraid of heights.  It also explained the victim's tenacity.  The angel's grip covering the man's own was nearly fused to the roof.  OGA Gage pried loose the angelic fingers, even as he kept an alert eye on John Gage.  At last the two humans and their angels were perched atop the ladder with Gage attempting to coax the victim into moving down.  To no avail.  The man's clamped onto the ladder's rails and refused to move.  OGA Gage could feel the frustration his subject was emitting in nearly tangible waves.

    Roy DeSoto and his OGA began the assent to assist.  Perhaps Roy's calm persuasion would succeed where Johnny's impatient urging had failed, OGA Gage reflected.

    Down on the street an ominous rumbling began and deepened growing to a roar that could be heard even above the noise of the apparatus, the traffic and the crowds.  The earth began to shake and tremble; light poles swayed drunkenly.  Bits of masonry crumbled and tumbled from the roof, pelting the firefighters and onlookers below.  Cracks in the pavement grew wider and shifted.  And Truck 99 began to rock with the undulating earth.

    "Earthquake!" OGA DeSoto cried.

    OGA Gage closed his eyes and begged for added strength.  Was it permissible for an angel to be terrified?

    Former OGAs Gage and DeSoto shimmered out of Santa Rosa County and into Station 51.  The apparatus being absent, they knew the firemen had been called out.

    "What kind of call do you suppose they are on?" Gage's former angel wondered aloud.  He drifted around the apparatus bay and stopped in front of the huge map of L.A. County.  The street names brought to mind hundreds of rescues he'd been on with Johnny, whether dangerous, routine or just plain silly.  Recalling some of the silly ones brought the glimmer of a crooked grin.  He even missed the false alarms.  The angel couldn't wait to see Rampart again and get an update from OGA Dixie on all the things that had happened in his absence.  Not to gossip per se.  No!  Gossiping was definitely not an angelic trait.  But he was interested in the people that Johnny interacted with on a routine basis.  Who was partnering FF/PM Brice now?  Did any nurses go out with Johnny while his usual OGA was on vacation?  What progress had been made toward organizing a benefit carnival to raise money to refurbish the pediatric playroom?

    And there was the niggling question, how did the new guy fare with Johnny as a subject?  How did he handle the Phantom?  Did Johnny get hurt?  Was the new guy... gulp!...a better guardian?  Immediately the OGA sought to banish his doubts.  Jealousy!  Not angelic!  At all!  Even a little bit...

    DeSoto's previous angel floated in from the kitchen, not really focused on where he was.  "Wonder what Joanne and the kids are up to?"  Former OGA DeSoto sighed, sounding a little forlorn.

    "We could stop there first, before we officially come off vacation," the anxious-to-get-back-in-the-saddle OGA Gage proposed somewhat reluctantly.  "We're back early anyhow."

    "We could, couldn't we!" once-OGA DeSoto enthused.  "There's no special place we have to be yet."

    They were about to shimmer over to the DeSoto house when an emotion of great force tore through the OGAs, driving away every other thought.

    "Fear!" OGA DeSoto cried as if the word was wrenched from his very heart.  "They're afraid!"

    "Let's go angel!" Gage's one-time protector cried before the two spiritual beings disappeared.

    DeSoto struggled upward while the ladder shuddered and rocked, his OGA flitting everywhere at once to prevent his charge pitching earthward.  At the top, the patient whimpered and hugged the ladder for dear life.  Gage tried to pry the man's hands away, yelling for him to let go.  OGAs Gage and DeSoto whispered in the ears of their charges, offering encouragement while doing their utmost to anchor them to the ladder, which was now groaning and starting to sway.

    OGA DeSoto looked down in horror to see the pavement beneath the ladder truck buckling and beginning to sink.  A horrible grinding sound split the air.  "Quick, Roy, back down the ladder!" OGA DeSoto screamed into the paramedic's ear.  OGA Gage echoed the same instructions to his charge and both firemen tried to move their petrified limbs back down toward the fire truck.

    "No!  Up to the roof," a voice boomed in Gage's head.  "Hurry!"  Johnny obediently reached up toward the next rung.  His feet, however refused to move.

    "Up, Roy!  You've got to get to the roof."  DeSoto looked confused, but reached upward, only to find that he, too, was rooted to the ladder.

    "Where are you going, Roy!" OGA DeSoto yelled as he tugged downward on the leg of the paramedic's turnouts.  "Get back here.  You've got to make it down the ladder before you fall."

    "Up to the roof!"

    "Down to the ground!"



    Johnny shook his head to clear it of the urgent but conflicting pleas.  His helmet slid off his head and plummeted to the ground below, bouncing once, twice, three times before it lay still on the cracked asphalt.  Gage shook his head again, this time in regret for the loss of his helmet.  Cap would not be happy.  When this shift was over Johnny was definitely getting medical attention - unless of course Morton was on duty.  But he was not, repeat not, going to tell anybody he was hearing voices.  One of them even sounded like his own.

    The ladder suddenly lurched and Johnny's feet slipped from the rungs, leaving him to dangle and swing in the air for a few anxious seconds.  Gage felt a steadying hand on his rump, pushing him back toward the ladder where he regained his footing.  Good thing Roy had his back!

    Still ten feet below Johnny, Roy gasped and held his breath as he watched his partner's feet slide off the ladder and then, miraculously, slide right back on as if the ladder wasn't swaying like a metronome gone wild.  Gage's guardian, his shoulder still supporting Johnny's backside, pulled the paramedic's feet back to the rung from which they had slipped and held his position until he was sure his charge was secure.

    Tortured metal shrieked and gears stripped as the tillerman tried in vain to bring the ladder under control.  The OGAs suddenly realized the hopelessness of bringing the paramedics and the victim safely down to the street.

    As John and Roy struggled to keep from falling and the victim clung limpet-like to the shuddering and swaying ladder, OGAs Gage and DeSoto suddenly changed their urgent pleas.  "Up!" they cried in chorus with the other angels.  "Get to the roof!"

    Their feet and hands no longer inexplicably anchored to the ladder, and the voices shouting in their heads for once in accord, Gage and DeSoto scrambled their way to the top.  As the cornice came within reach, they each lunged and clung with one hand, reaching down with the other to drag the victim back to his original position - hanging from the roof some fifty feet above the street.

    The three men and their OGAs watched in horror as, with a groan the ladder swayed and fell away beneath them before the entire rig tipped and rolled onto its side in slow motion, a dying behemoth struggling to remain upright, but finally surrendering to the inevitable.

    Shouts and screams of terror rose from the crowd gathered on the street as they scattered to avoid the falling ladder.  The tillerman jumped clear with barely a second to spare, hitting the pavement a few feet from the out-of-control fire truck, momentum carrying him first at a roll and then a frantic crawl to safety.  The truck, it's driver's side door facing the sky, its ladder laying down the center of the street, a twisted testimony to a rescue gone horribly wrong, sank a few feet into the broken asphalt.  The tillerman and engineer wiped sweaty faces and sat on the curb, their angels beside them offering comfort and solace.  Now all eyes turned once again skyward, almost afraid to look, to see what had happened to the three men who were perched atop the ladder just before it gave way.

    The paramedics and the man they were supposed to be rescuing dangled from the roof like clothing pegged out on a line, feet kicking wildly, seeking to find purchase on the brownstone facade of the building.  OGAs Gage and DeSoto ducked in and out like players in a game of dodge ball, trying to avoid the flailing legs in order to boost the firemen onto the roof.  Unangelic expressions of frustration, for which they could probably be forgiven, erupted from them before they finally each gripped one of Gage's legs and heaved.

    Chet, who had hacked his way to the roof, added his strength to help pull the victim up as OGA Kelly held on to keep the fireman from being pulled over the edge.  Suddenly Gage, in a surprising burst of strength, threw one foot over the top of the cornice and tumbled onto the roof as if tossed there by an unseen hand.  He bent double to gulp down a breath of air before hurrying to assist Roy.  Former OGA Gage flew to assist OGA DeSoto in saving Roy.  The two angels pushed from beneath with all their might to bring everyone to safety and then faced their temporary replacements.

    "We're back," puffed former OGA Gage.  Truth be told, he would have sounded smug, if being smug could pass as an angelic trait, which it does not.  Additionally it is difficult to gloat while sucking wind.

    "You guys are early," exclaimed OGA DeSoto.  "We haven't been on the job even a whole week yet."

    OGA DeSoto smiled a bit sheepishly.  "I don't think going on vacation is really all it's cracked up to be," he said.  "We're ready to get back to work."

    "But you can't just come back and take over," OGA Gage blustered, or it sure seemed like a bluster, along with being a bit belligerent, neither of which could be considered particularly angelic.

    "Why not," Gage's former OGA asked, facing his replacement.  "They are our PERMANENT assignments, after all.  You guys are just temporary."

    "Suppose we're not ready to leave just yet," OGA Gage said.

    "We can't both be guardians for the same subject," the former guardian stated, his voice raising ever so slightly."

    "So why don't you guys find something to do for the rest of your vacation and let us do our jobs?"

    "Oh yeah, I can see just how well you were doing your job," Gage's erstwhile angel commented, definitely sounding 'snit-ish'.

    "We were doing all right," OGA Gage clenched his jaw.

    "Angel," OGA DeSoto hissed, hoping to prevent a clash before The Council took notice of such an inappropriate discussion between two angelic beings.

    "All right?  All right?  If we hadn't intervened these guys would have died!"  Gage's former OGA moved up to stand toe-to-toe to his replacement, his face leaning in until their noses were nearly touching.

    "Angel!" DeSoto's former OGA joined his substitute in trying to ward off an ugly confrontation.

    Meanwhile Roy and Johnny busily checked over their patient and bandaged some scraped knuckles.  The patient's OGA listened to the other angels with interest, since his charge was out of danger for the moment.

    Words grew more heated between the two angels who were assigned to ensure the safety and well-being of John Gage; the very air fairly crackled with animosity.

    Suddenly the atmosphere discharged a brilliant bolt of lightning followed by thunder in a deafening crash that echoed through the Los Angeles sky, reverberating off the surrounding buildings, and bringing the angelic argument to a rapid, chastened halt.  They'd just been warned.  For a few moments all four angels just stared at each other, cleared their throats, looked down at their feet, up at the sky.

    "So...  Ah...  How'd it go?" former OGA DeSoto asked, trying to look affable.  "While we were gone, I mean.  Were there lots of runs?"  His partner remained silent, trying to affect an attitude adjustment.

    "All in all it went pretty well," OGA Gage replied, crossing his fingers behind his back.  Unfortunately his crossed fingers were visible through his transparent form.

    "Angel!" OGA DeSoto said sternly.  "Were you fibbing?"

    Four angels gasped loudly.  "No!" OGA Gage denied the accusation vehemently.  "Not at all!  I didn't think it went so badly.  These guys are safe and sound and all in one piece.  There were no major catastrophes..."

    "That depends on how you define catastrophe," muttered OGA DeSoto.

    Former OGA Gage eyed him suspiciously and wondered what he meant.  "Anyway," he said, "we're back now and you guys can head back to... to wherever you're supposed to report to."  He looked more than a little bit smug.

    "It's not that we're not grateful, angels," the former OGA DeSoto hastened to explain.

    The two temporary OGAs capitulated, albeit with less grace than might be expected from heavenly beings.  The returning guardians tried not to look too eager, but failed.  The paramedics, meanwhile, were on their way down the stairwell, their patient strapped to a gurney for a trip to Rampart.  Before their charges could disappear from their sight, the former OGA DeSoto said quickly, "I hereby relieve you as Official Guardian Angel of Roy DeSoto."  Immediately he began to look more like Roy as the other angel became amorphous.  Johnny's former angel made the same statement to his substitute, once again taking charge of John Gage, then together they hurried after their human assignments, happy to be back at their old jobs.

    The two now jobless angels looked on as their temporary assignments disappeared from view.  Their auras turned a little bit blue.  Then with almost a sigh, they flew upward into a bright, sunny L.A. County sky and vanished behind a cloud that somewhat resembled a Volkswagen Beetle or a large potato, depending on the point of view.

    "Well, I certainly am glad to say that things are back to normal around here," OGA Stanley proclaimed as the six angels belonging to 51's A-Shift gathered in the captain's office after weary firemen collapsed on their bunks for some much needed sleep.

    "Yeah, it sure is good to have you guys back," OGA Lopez said, beaming.

    "Maybe now Gage and DeSoto can start acting like themselves again," OGA Kelly added.

    OGA Stoker commented, "I think they kind of made things interesting."

    "Interesting!"  OGA Stanley looked to the ceiling for patience.  "I think we can do without any more vacations around here for a good long while.  Like... forever?"

    "Hey, OGA Gage, how come you guys came back so soon?  You didn't even last a whole week.  Not that I'm complaining," OGA Kelly hastened to add.  "Any longer with those guys and the poor Phantom would have had a nervous breakdown."

    "Well the Phantom can relax," OGA DeSoto reassured the other angel.  "OGA Gage is back on the job."

    "Oh, I don't know," OGA Gage commented.  "I think it was a good thing that Roy interfered with the Phantom's water bomb."

    "Partner," OGA DeSoto said, shaking his head, "one misdirected water bomb won't begin to make up for all of the trouble those guys caused.  Take Joanne's mother for example.  She won't forgive Roy for a long time. If ever.  And what about the speeding ticket Roy got from Vince?  How's he gonna explain that to Joanne?

    "Word is that Debbie never wants to see Johnny again after the boating disaster," OGA Lopez informed them.

    "And there's talk of kicking Gage off the bowling team," OGA Stoker admitted.

    The station was quiet for a while as all of the angels reflected on the havoc created by two guardian angels going on vacation.  They all figured that this experimental vacation program wouldn't be tried again for the next few millennia.

    "I wonder what will happen to those other angels?" OGA Lopez ventured.

    "Would you believe they already have new assignments?" OGA Stanley informed the room at large.

    "They're going to be guarding people again?  After this?" OGA Gage exclaimed.

    "No.  OGA Stanley chuckled.  "No."  Their new assignments..."  He shook his head and laughed.  "Their new assignments are..."

    Suddenly the tones rang out in the station and the lights snapped on, flooding the dormitory and apparatus bay with light.  Firemen jumped from their bunks automatically donning their turnout gear and headed for the engine and squad as the dispatcher read off the details of the call.  The firemen returned to their bunks on autopilot when they realized the call was for the paramedics only.  Firefighter/Paramedic Gage slid into the seat beside DeSoto and Squad 51 sped out into the night.

         They sped past neon signs and lighted windows, dark parking lots and darker alleys, finally pulling to the curb in front of a two-story brick building.  As the paramedics hurried inside, OGA DeSoto noted two dogs of indeterminate breed snarling over the contents of an overturned garbage can in the adjacent alley and pulled up short.  He gestured in their direction, smirking.

    OGA Gage looked to see what his counterpart found so amusing.  "Well I'll be dar... I'll be!"  The junior paramedic's angel emitted a very non-angelic giggle.  Beside the two dogs were two dog-shaped angels looking very sad... and very familiar.

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