Give It A Try

"No!" Johnny yelled. "You just don't get it, do you?" he asked, taking another sip. Captain Stanley flinched as the beer bottle crashed against the far wall, smashing to pieces. "It's all my fault," Johnny whispered, sliding down the wall to sit on the floor.

"You know that isn't true," the captain began.

Johnny interrupted him. "It is true! Don't stand there and try and tell me it isn't. You weren't there. You didn't see."

For a moment Stanley said nothing, facing Johnny's accusatory gaze with a stony expression. When he opened his mouth to speak, the expression grew puzzled.

When he said nothing Johnny prompted, "Cap?" The other man shook his head. With an explosive sigh, Johnny dropped his hands to the floor and pushed himself standing. "Cap, come on! That's the fourth time you've forgotten that line. We're going to run out of bottles at this rate." He indicated the stack of sugar prop bottles which had been left behind for their use.

"Sorry, Johnny. I guess it still just throws me being up here, moving around a stage." Stanley apologised, looking around at the mostly empty stage. Two walls had been placed stage-left and stage-right, creating the illusion of a room. Upstage there were chairs and stools, left by other rehearsing actors and techies.

Johnny crossed the mostly darkened stage, moving up-stage from his captain towards a stool where a creased book lay. "Man, you have it every time we rehearse it downstairs. How hard can it be to remember 'I know I wasn't there, but I know what happened. Julienne told me everything.'?"

"I wish I knew!" Stanley turned to face Gage, waving the book aside when he offered it. "I know the line, Johnny. At least I do until I walk out here. Then I'm thinking so hard about not being in the line of fire when you throw that bottle, I forget that anything comes next."

Johnny shook his head. "Man, Sue Ellen is going to kill us if we don't have this down."

"She won't kill us. She might flunk us, though, and make us come back next semester."

The rueful look on Johnny's face turned quickly to horror. "Don't say that! Don't even think it!" Suddenly he began to pace, thinking furiously. "We've got to come up with a way to get you through that part. You know the rest of it--"

"Yeah, I know the rest of it. 'She was there, she just didn't want you to know. She wanted you to think she had left, but when Rodney killed Josh--"

"Yeah, all right, you know it." Johnny waved a hand to quiet Stanley's recitation. "Look, you never have trouble staging a fire, so why don't you just think of this as a two-man rescue?"

"A two-man rescue?" The dubious look he sent Gage was clear. "How is a conversation in a bar about a guy's brother being sent up for murder, like a two-man rescue?"

"Well, think about it Cap! How many times do we get called into a situation like this? Someone gets some really bad news, they can't deal with it so they get a little drunk and start making trouble?" Johnny grinned as a smile slowly appeared on Stanley's face. "All you gotta do is talk Webber out of hurting himself, or anybody else. You've done it a hundred times."

"Maybe not a hundred," Stanley corrected, but he nodded anyway. "But I think you're on to something. Lemme think this through...." He walked away, thinking, talking softly to himself. Johnny watched, grinning with self-satisfaction. Finally the captain returned. "OK, let's try this again, shall we?"


Four days later

"You have to promise not to let them know! I only told you under duress."

"We promise," Roy said on behalf of all four firefighters gathered in the breakroom, glancing at each one to verify their concurrence. "We won't let either of them know we're coming to the One-Acts. Seven o'clock, you said?"

"Yes," Sue Ellen nodded. "Canterbury Theatre. Don't come too early, in case they wander around the lobby, OK?" Captain Stanley's sister laid a hand on Roy's arm, as if to extract a second promise. She glanced towards the breakroom door, as if wondering when her luck would run out and either Johnny or the captain would return. Stanley had been called into his office for a phone call from his mother, and Johnny had been sent out to check the squad's supplies before Sue Ellen had come in through the side door. She quickly explained why she'd snuck in, and the four men had been greatly amused to hear about the performances.

"I can't believe this," Chet spoke up. "Johnny and Cap on stage? Together? What's next? Roy and Marco doing Hamlet?"

"Chet, if they find out you're going to be there, they won't show up!" Sue Ellen gave him a threatening glare. "Do you know how hard it was to convince Hank to take my class in the first place?"

"Why did you talk him into taking your class anyway?" Roy shot a glance towards the garage, and saw no sign of his partner.

"I needed to meet an enrollment quota -- they were going to cancel the class otherwise. I was only two short so I asked Hank. This is my first time teaching and I couldn't stand the thought of my class being canceled. I sort of bribed him -- I have to host next year's Thanksgiving dinner at my place."

"What about Johnny?" Marco asked as she began edging towards the sidedoor, anxious to leave before she was caught.

"Hank mentioned he had really bad stagefright... so I suggested he take my acting class to help him get over it." She suddenly smiled. "He's really good, too. Of course he hasn't had to perform in front of a theatre full of strangers yet." With one last glance towards the other door, she gave them a grateful smile. "I'm really glad you can be there. I think they'll do great. The entire audience is going to be family and friends. Hank and Johnny shouldn't miss out on having a cheering section. I better go before one of them catches me here! Seven o'clock, don't forget!"

"Believe me, we won't." Roy grinned. "We wouldn't miss this for the world."


That night

Roy and Joanne walked into the Canterbury Theatre lobby ten minutes before curtain. Scanning the crowd he quickly found the others huddled together near the auditorium doors. Marco had brought his girlfriend, Rosita, and Mike was with a woman Roy didn't recognise. He and his wife hurried over.

"Hey, guys," Roy greeted his friends. Before anyone could return the greeting Chet pointed over Roy's shoulder.

"Looks like Sue Ellen was busy handing out invitations!"

The others looked over and saw Dixie and Kelly Brackett heading their way.

Roy shook his head. "Oh boy, I hope Johnny and the captain don't blow it."

"Relax," Joanne said. "Sue Ellen said they were doing fine. She wouldn't have invited us all if she thought they were going to blow it."

"I don't know," Chet interjected. "Didn't Cap say he and his sister used to fight a lot?"

"That was when they were ten and five years old," Roy reminded him. "I don't think she'd set them up like this...." he trailed off somewhat doubtfully.

"Why don't we go find our seats, and find out just how good they are? Come on, Roy," Joanne gave her husband's arm a tug. He went with her, the others following along behind. They were able to find seats easily; the large theatre had been borrowed for the class' final exams and with only friends and family attending more than half of the seats were empty. The group filed into a row to themselves near the back and settled in to wait and read through the programs handed out at the door.


"I don't think I can do this, Cap." Johnny whispered almost an hour later. They'd been watching from the wings as their classmates gave their performances. Each one-act was five to ten minutes long, which seemed like no time at all to Gage, who was dreading the arrival of his turn to take the stage. Now, with only two more groups ahead of he and Captain Stanley, they had gone downstairs to the dressing rooms to make sure everything was ready. The students were helping each other with costumes and make-up, and most of the evening Johnny had entertained himself by helping the pretty girls get ready. Between zipping them into dresses and psyching them up for their performances he was having the time of his life.

Had been, until he and Cap went up to watch some of the scenes and he realised that he was going to have to go out there and perform in front of a hundred people.

"Relax, Johnny. You'll be fine."

"I won't be fine. I'll freeze like I do every time someone puts me oncamera. You know I will," Johnny looked at his captain as if begging him to find a way out of this.

"John, listen to me. You know your lines. Heck, you know *my* lines. Don't worry about the people in the audience--'

"Easy for you to say. You finally got your act together -- er, no pun intended," he added when the other man grinned. "But *I'm* going to humiliate myself! Do you think it's too late to break a leg or something?"

"Unfortunately, pal, you're a trained paramedic. If you broke a leg I'd just have you patch yourself up and go on anyway."

"Thanks a lot, Cap."

"Seriously, Johnny, why don't you take your own advice?"

"Huh?"

"You told me to pretend we were on a rescue. Why don't you think of it the same way?"

Johnny thought it over for nearly a second, then shook his head. "Won't work, Cap. I'd be the one being 'rescued'. If I pretended I was on a rescue, I'd talk myself out of causing trouble."

"Good point." Stanley thought it over, nodding when Josephine told them they were up on five minutes. He ignored Johnny's resumed look of terror. "What about thinking of it as a training session?"

"What?" Johnny's terror turned to complete confusion.

"Sure, you're training me to go into a rescue. You have to give me a hard time so I can learn how to diffuse a situation safely." He clapped Gage on the shoulder. "You can give me a hard time, can't you, Johnny?"

"Well, sure," Johnny began doubtfully.

"See? There's no problem. Let's go get started." Stanley said, using his best captain's voice of command. They headed for the stairs.


The bar was dimly lit, most of the patrons were avoiding the back corner where the disgruntled man stood, waving his beer bottle and yelling drunkenly. His friend had arrived to take him home. At first the drunken man ignored his friend, yelling out injustices at the world in general and the uncooperative bartender in particular when he wouldn't bring him another beer. By planting himself in between him and the bar, his friend gained his attention and tried to talk him into calming down. Glass shattered against the wall but his friend persevered, telling him the deaths weren't his fault, that his brother's arrest was nothing he could have prevented. He refused to believe, convinced of his own guilt, but finally allowed his friend to take him out of the bar and head for home. As they left he kicked an overturned chair. "It isn't fair," he said. "It never is," his friend agreed.