"So this is it." Meg Locke thought to herself. California Highway Patrol, Central Division.
She took a deep breath of the warm morning air and opened the door marked"Officer's Entrance Only" Looking around, she took in the shiny white floors, that rows of wooden mailboxes, and the doors marked "Lockers" "Reports" and "Lunch Room"
"Morning! You new around here?" a voice behind her said.
She turned around to find a tall olive skinned man watching her, flashing a dazzling smile.
"Good Morning. Can you tell me where Sargent Getraer's office is?"
"Sure! Down the hall and to the left. Tell him Ponch sent ya."
Meg smiled. "Thanks-Ponch."
When she reached the office she knocked lightly on the door.
"Good morning. Can I help you?" said the man behind the desk.
"I'm Meg Locke. Lieutenant Bates said you'd be expecting me?"
"Of course!," he shook her hand,"Welcome to Central. Let me show you around. You can do your paperwork after briefing."
He gave her a brief tour, showing her her mailbox, cruiser, and locker.
"If you have any questions, you know w here to find me." he smiled.
"I'll let you get settled. Briefing in 20 minutes."
Meg thanked him and walked back to her locker. After she stowed her things, she grabbed her notebook and pinch book and closed the door with a clang.
She paused to look in the mirror. At 5'3, she has just made the female officers height requirement. Her blue eyes couldn't hide her nervousness. Her shoulder length auburn hair was tucked into a neat knot. She tucked a loose tendril behind her ear, took a deep breath and headed for briefing.
The briefing room was full. Meg spotted Ponch in the middle of a circle of officers, telling an animated story. She found an empty seat near the front and sat down, opening her notebook. "Am I ready for the big city?" she asked herself. "Why do I feel like it's the first day of school?"
Getraer walked in and everyone quieted down.
"Okay, listen up. First off, I'd like you all to welcome Officer Megan Locke, the newest member of the CHP. She comes to us through the National Highway Patrol Officers Exchange Program. She comes from the Colorado Patrol, Cedar Falls."
Meg stood up and smiled. She was about to sit down when someone asked,"Where is Cedar Falls? I've never heard of it."
She cleared her throat. "Cedar Falls is located at the foot of the eastern side of Rocky Mountain State Park. It's pretty small, about 600 people. Our station has a staff of 30."
As she was sitting down, a voice from behind said, "hick."
Her cheeks burned as she bent her head over her notebook.
"Hey," the same voice called," What do you do on slow days? Ticket sheep for loitering?"
Laughter rippled through the room.
"You sure you can handle real police work? This is LA..we actually have crime here." the voice sneered.
Dead silence fell over the room.
"Hey Harris, knock it off!" said the blond man sitting next to Ponch.
"That's enough!" Getraer thundered. "Harris, in my office, now! The rest of you, hit your beats!"
Meg hurried out, fighting tears. Damn it, she scolded herself, why do you have to be so sensitive?
She was headed for the locker room when a voice called, "Wait!"
It was the blond man that had been sitting next to Ponch. He was tall and handsome, blue eyed and smiling.
"Megan, isn't it? Can we talk for a minute?" his voice was soft and friendly, with a slight drawl to it.
"Sure, I guess."
She followed him into the lunch room and sat down.
He held out his hand. "I'm Jon Baker. Nice to meet you. Welcome."
Meg shook it.
"I want to apologize for briefing. Harris was way out of line. I promise you it won't happen again. Sarge will see to that." There was a hint of anger to his voice.
Meg was silent. She didn't know what to say. She felt embarrassed.
"Hey, he said softly," I got the same treatment on my first day too."
"Yeah. I'm from Wyoming. Grew up on a ranch in a small town outside Rawlings."
"Wow..that must have been great!" Meg replied
"Yeah. Even now I still miss it. I left to join the military. Somehow I just never made my way back." he smiled wistfully.
"Hey, there you are!" Ponch burst in, "I've been looking all over for you! You ready?"
"Meg, this is my partner, Frank Poncherello."
Ponch grinned," Ah, we met this morning."
"Hi Ponch." Meg smiled.
"Um, Ponch, I'll catch up to you, okay?" Jon told him.
"Sure partner. Hey Meg, don't let Harris bother you. He's a loudmouth." he winked and walked out.
Meg sighed. "I signed up for the exchange program because I needed a fresh start. Things back home got a little rough." her voice was soft.
"Hey, you want to talk about it?" Jon asked gently.
Meg smiled, "No, I'm alright, thanks."
Jon was silent a minute.
"Hey, do you ride?"
"Horses? It's been awhile." she laughed
"Maybe you'd like to meet my horse sometime?"
"You have a horse? Here?"
Jon grinned. "No, I keep her in a stable up north in the hills."
"I'd love to!"
"Hey you two," Getraer said, appearing in the doorway,"you,"he looked at Meg, "are supposed to be doing paperwork, and you," he directed his stare at Jon, "should have been on your beat an hour ago!"
Meg stood up." On my way, Sarge."
On her way out she turned to Jon. "Thanks Jon." she smiled and headed toward Getraer's office.
Jon stood up,hand on his baton. "Sorry Sarge. I felt like I owed her an apology. She didn't deserve to be treated that way."
Getraer sighed. "I know. Well, as long as you're still here, I'm going to assign you to ride with Meg for the week. Just til she learns the beat."
"No problem Sarge."
* * *
When Meg finished her paperwork, she walked outside and headed to her cruiser. When she reached it, she grinned in surprise. Jon was leaning against the car, arms folded, waiting for her.
"Hey, I thought you were Ponch's partner?" she said, getting in.
"For the rest of the week I'm yours. Sarges orders."
"Oh, well..in that case..." she looked embarassed.
"Hey," he said, pulling his baton from his belt," "Ponch will get over it."
"Well, if I didn't know better, Officer Baker, I'd say you're already over it." she smiled.
Jon laughed as he got in the car. "Hey, its Jon, ok?"
Aside from a few traffic stops, and two minor accidents, it was a quiet morning. Meg quickly learned her beat, and was beginning to feel more comfortable as a CHP officer, the unpleasant events of the mornings briefing all but forgotten.
As they were about to call in 10-63 for lunch, Ponch roared up beside them.
"Hey Baker, Meg. Ready for lunch?"
"We were just about to call in." Jon said.
"How bout Waverly's?"
Ponch flashed his dazzling smile and rode off ahead.
Jon turned to her. "So, what do you think so far?"
She thought a moment. "I think I may like it here after all."
"Hey, a bunch of us are getting together after work. Nothing special, just going to grab some pizza or something. Why don't you join us?" he smiled. "I promise we'll behave."
Laughing, she replied, "Sure, sounds like fun."
* * *
As she slid into the booth at Waverly's, Meg greeted Ponch with a grin.
"Hi Ponch. Sorry to have stolen your partner."
"Don't worry about it. I could use a vacation." he winked at Jon.
Jon laughed. "Gee, thanks!"
Meg scanned her menu. "I'm starved."
"Have the burrito, its terrific." Ponch told her.
"Hmm..I don't know. I think I'll have the chefs salad."
"Good choice, "Jon replied, "I've had the burrito."
Ponch pretended to be hurt. "What do you know about good food?"
Jon chuckled. "This from a guy who keeps a supply of Ding Dongs in his saddlebag?"
"Hey, sometimes I need the energy!"
As they gave their orders to the waitress, Ponch asked, "How's your first day on the beat going?"
"Great, so far. Actually it's been pretty quiet." she smiled at the waitress as she returned with three ice teas.
Jon took a long drink, then asked," How long have you been an officer?"
"5 years, almost 6. 5 years in Colorado, and 6 months as a training officer at the academy here."
"Really? Sounds interesting." Ponch said.
"Oh, it was. I had some great students."
Her stomach grumbled as her salad was put in front of her. As she ate, she listened as the two men talked. She was impressed by the warmth betweem them.
"How long have you two been partners?"
"About eight years." Jon answered, grinning.
"Yeah, Jon's the one who got me into the patrol."
"Yep," Jon replied, "I'd been on the patrol about two years when I ran into him dirt biking in the hills."
"He could have arrested me, " Ponch went on, "but he didn't. Instead he took me under his wing. Eventually he talked me into joining the patrol. Best thing I ever did."
Meg smiled. "What a great story."
They returned her smile.
Jon glanced at his watch. "Hey, we'd better be getting back out there."
Meg waited as Jon slid out of the booth, then followed
"See ya Ponch."
"Hey, you two be careful out there," he winked, "Meg, Jon tell ya about the get together after work?"
"Sure did, " Meg replied, "I'll be there."
"Great. Later guys."
The afternoon was pretty routine, giving them plenty of time to talk.
"Jon, about this gathering after work..."
"Yeah?" he smiled, his sunglasses doing little to hide the twinkle in his blue eyes.
"I was just wondering, is everyone going to bring dates? I'm..I'm not seeing anyone, and I don't want to be a fifth wheel."
"As far as I know, its just the gang. If I'm wrong, we'll be fifth wheels together, okay?"
Surprised, she blurted, "You don't have a girlfriend?"
"No," he looked amused, "That surprises you?"
"Well, a little, I- I haven't known you long, but I think you're a great guy. I-" she stopped, blushing, wishing she'd kept her mouth shut.
"Hey, thanks,"he said softly, "I guess I haven't found the right one yet."
Before she could say anything, the radio beeped.
"7-Mary-2 and 3, Officer needs assistance. Eastbound Ventura freeway, near callbox 8."
"10-4. Mary 2 and 3 responding."
When they arrived, they found Ponch struggling with a large, obviously intoxicated motorist. Meg started traffic control as Jon ran to help Ponch.
"I....tried to....give him a sobriety test..." Ponch shouted breathlessly, "he took a swing at me."
Jon grabbed the man and tried to pin him to the hood of the cruiser. Meg turned in time to see him reaching in his shirt.
"Jon, look out!" she shouted.
Ponch tried to grab his hand, but it was too late. The man must have weighed 300 pounds, all of it muscle. He turned, switchblade in hand, and went for Jon's face .
* * *
Jon let go and fell to the ground, hands over his face. Ponch reached for his gun.
"DROP IT. NOW!!"
The mans eyes widened in terror at the sight of the gun. He dropped the blade. Meanwhile, Meg had grabbed a hankerchief from her back pocket and ran to Jon. Blood dripped down the front of his uniform from a gash in his right cheek.
Meg pressed the cloth to his cheek. "It doesn't look too bad. You might not need stitches."
Ponch ran over. "How is he?"
"He's fine." Jon answered.
"Hey, Baricza's on his way. Sarge says to take him over to the hospital to get checked."
"Hospital?" Jon began to protest.
"Hey, " Ponch said, relieved Jon was okay, "don't make me call an ambulance."
Jon grumbled as they helped him up.
"See you back at the station." Meg called as they drove away.
* * *
At the hospital, Meg sat in the crowded waiting room as Jon was being treated. She was holding his gloves and baton. The tan leather was worn,and soft. She closed her eyes as she remembered his bloody face and uniform. She shuddered at the memories it brought back.
" Hey, are you okay, Locke?"
Her eyes flew open. "Sargent! Yes, I'm fine. Still waiting on Jon though." As she spoke, the door to the examing area swung open and the doctor walked out." She stood up quickly.
"Doctor, I'm Baker's sargent. How is he?"
"Officer Baker is fine. That cut was rather nasty, but stitches aren't necessary."
The doctor looked at Meg. "Are you his partner?"
"I- yes." she stammered.
"Good. You can go see him out." the doctor smiled.
"Thank you doctor,' Getraer said, relief in his voice. He turned to Meg. "I'll see you two back at the station."
Meg nodded and headed in to the exam area. A nurse pointed out his cubicle. Quietly, she pushed back the blue curtain and walked in. Jon was sitting on a gurney, buttoning his shirt. A large white bandage covered one tanned cheek.
"Hi," she said softly, "you okay?"
"I'm fine. Doctor said I'm free to go." he smiled.
Meg wasn't listening. She was staring at her blood soaked hankerchief lying on the table next to him. She remembered another time...another hospital.....
"Meg? Hey, are you okay? Meg?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Sorry."
He touched her shoulder. "Hey, I'm fine. It was just a scratch."
Meg smiled, "I know. I'm sorry..I just zoned out for a moment."
She handed him his gloves and baton as they walked out to the car. Meg was silent as they drove to the station.
"Hey," Jon spoke up,"sorry to have ruined your first day."
"Don't be sorry...you didn't. My day was pretty good. So was the company." she smiled.
Jon grinned, then winced a bit.
When they walked into the station, Jon was instantly surrounded by Ponch and Getraer. Meg left them to go do her day's paperwork. After she finshed, she walked to Getraer's office and handed them in. As she turned to go to her locker, she ran into Jon, dressed in street clothes.
"Hey great, you're still here. Bonnie's waiting for you in the locker room. She'll give you directions to the club."
"You're still going?"
"Sure. I feel fine. " he smiled.
"Great, I'll see you there."
Meg got the directions from Bonnie, and headed home. When she got there, she locked up her gun, and took a quick shower. She dressed in jeans and a soft pink silk shirt. She brushed her hair out, sweeping the sides back in a gold barrette. She spritzed some perfume on, tugged her brown leather ankle boots on, grabbed her purse and headed out.
Just under 30 minutes later, Meg's forest green jeep pulled into the club parking lot. She swung into a space next to a blue pickup and stepped out. She grinned as she headed toward the club. Country music spilled out from the entrance. The building itself was meant to look like a huge old barn. Tossing her keys in her bag, she hurried in.
As she walked into the club, one of her favorite songs started playing. She sung along softly as she searched for the table. Spotting it, she hurried over.
"Hey Meg! Great song, huh?" Jon greeted her.
Before she could respond, Ponch said "Hey Meg, you made it! What can I get you?"
"Just a soda, thanks."
As she sat down, Jon touched her shoulder.
"Meg, meet the rest of the gang. This is Grossie, Bear, Jed, and you already know Bonnie." he smiled.
"Nice to meet you all." she replied, shaking hands and returning smiles.
"Grossie held up his beer. "A toast, to Meg. Welcome to Central!"
Glasses clinked as Meg flushed slightly. "You guys are really great. You're not what I ah..expected."
"Yeah, we know," Baricza said. "we want you to know that Harris doesn't speak for any of us." he smiled.
"I know...I probably just overreacted anyway. I was so nervous."
"Tell us more about Cedar Falls." Jed suggested.
"Well, being so near the park, we get a lot of tourist traffic. We generally see a lot of poaching, drug offenses, rustling, DUI's, run of the mill stuff. And since part of the park falls in our jurisdiction, we keep busy. But we love it. It's impossible to get bored, yet there's still that small town coziness."
"Wow, the Rockies! What a beat!" Grossie exclaimed."sounds terrific!"
"Well, Meg said grinning, "it has it's peaks and valleys."
She ducked to avoid a flurry of balled up napkins.
"Sorry, I couldn't resist." she laughingly apologized.
" Hey, anyone hungry?" Ponch asked.
A few minutes later, they were digging into pizza and ribs.
"So, when am I going to get my partner back?" Ponch ask with a grin.
Meg returned his grin. "Sarge says he's mine for the week."
Ponch leaned toward her. "Hey, do me a favor,go easy on him, okay?" he winked.
Meg laughed, shaking her head. "I'll try."
Suddenly the stage up front lit up. v "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Stillwater Saloon! Tonight for your dancing pleasure, we have our very own DJ spinning the best in country music. Feel free to request your favorites!" a voice boomed.
"Cool! Let's dance!" they headed for the dance floor. Meg eagerly joined them. She loved to dance. She was having a great time. Suddenly the song ended and a ballad came on. It was one of her favorites, "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye" She started back to the table with the others to enjoy it when someone took her hand.
"May I have this dance?" Jon asked softly.
Meg smiled. "Sure"
He led her back to the floor, and they began to dance slowly.
/ Kiss me each morning for a million years..../
Meg smiled. "You're a great dancer."
"Thanks. You look nice tonight."
Meg blushed. "So do you."
Meanwhile the group at the table watched in amusement.
"Has Jon ever dated a fellow officer?" Grossie asked.
"Not that I know of." Ponch answered, "why?"
"I sense definite chemistry happening there."
"Grossie, they haven't even known each other 24 hours yet. C'mon!" Jed retorted.
"Yeah Grossie. They're just friends." Ponch added.
Meg noticed the animated conversation. "I wonder what they'e talking about." she asked.
Jon smiled. "Well, Grossie's probab;y taking bets on when the wedding date will be, and the others are making them. "
"Wedding date? " Meg exclaimed.
Jon laughed. "Yep, that's Grossie."
Suddenly, a woman danced into Meg, causing her to pitch forward into Jon. Without thinking she threw her arms around his neck. He put his arms around her waist to steady her
"Whoa. You okay?" he asked.
"Yes, just lost my balance, I'm sorry." she said, moving her arms.
"It wasn't your fault. Relax." he smiled.
The music ended, and they walked back to the table.
"Hey looking pretty good out there you two." Grossie smirked.
Meg blushed. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly 11.
"Oh geez, I gotta get going. Lieutenant Bates wants to see me in his office at 6 am."
"6am? Doesn't the man ever sleep? Bonnie asked.
"Beats me, " Meg replied. "All I know is he expects me there for an official welcome."
"Good luck." Ponch said.
Jon stood up. "C'mon, I'll walk you out. Night everyone"
"Night guys. See you tommorow." Ponch said.
Meg and Jon walked out into the cool night air.
"Where you parked?" Jon asked
Meg pointed out her jeep.
"Hey, whatta know, right next to me."
"That's yours? Great truck." Meg told him.
He waited while she unlocked her door.
Meg turned to him. "I had a great time tonight. Thanks for inviting me."
"Oh, anytime. You're one of the gang now." he smiled.
"Well, guess I'll see you in the morning. Good night."
"Night." he waited til she got in before climbing in his truck and following her out of the lot.
* * * *
The days that followed quickly turned into weeks, and the weeks into a month. Jon had recovered from the knife attack without any permanent scarring. He was waiting to testify against the attacker, who was claiming no memory of the attack.
Meg was standing by her mailbox, going through a stack of memos and letters. Tossing some junk mail in the trash, she yawned. She hadn't been sleeping too well. Her dreams were filled with scenes from the attack: the blade, Jon's bloody face, the hospital. And then sometimes, Jon's face would turn into Joe's. Oh Joe, Meg thought...if only...
Meg shook her head to clear it. She come here to get away from all that, from the memories, and the nightmares.
"Hey," said a cheerful voice.
"Morning Jon." Meg replied with a smile.
"Sarge just put the new duty roster up." he said, pulling his mail from the box.
"Really? I'll have to check it out after briefing."
"We both have this weekend off. I was wondering, you still want to meet Ol Grey?"
Meg looked up from her mail. "Sure!" she grinned.
"Okay then, how bout Saturday at 8?"
He smiled. "I'll pick you up."
"Hey you two," Ponch said, "coming up behind them. "have you seen the new schedule? I have to work this weekend. That means I gotta cancel my date with Lisa." he reached for his mail.
Jon adjusted his baton and grinned. "Tough break partner."
Ponch pulled a purple, heavily scented envelope from his box. He sniffed it and grinned.
"Ah, Lisa?" Jon asked.
"No, Linda!" Ponch replied, tucking the envelope in his pocket.
Meg sneezed. " I'll leave you and "Linda" alone." she grinned and patted his shoulder as she walked away.
"Ponch, if you're gonna carry that around all day, do me a favor. Ride downwind." Laughing, he headed for briefing.
Later, as Ponch took a seat next to Jon for briefing, Meg, sitting ahead of them, began to sneeze. And sneeze.
"Bless you Locke. Shouldn't you be taking something for that?" Getraer asked.
"Thanks Sarge. I think it's Linda." she grinned, then sneezed again.
Jon hid his face behind his notebook, shoulders shaking with laughter.
"Linda?" Getraer asked, confused.
Sheepishly Ponch pulled the envelope out of his pocket and walked up to the front.
"She means my letter from Linda." he said, handing it to him.
Getraer began to sneeze. "Frank! Get that out of here! "
By now, most of the room had joined in Jon's laughter.
"Okay, settle down!" Getraer sneezed, then glared at Ponch.
After briefing, Meg, her spirits lifted, stood in front of the duty roster,humming and taking note of her next two weeks schedule. She walked to reports and began to finish up some paperwork. Somewhere down the hall, a radio was playing. She began to sing softly as she hurried to finish up and hit her beat. As finished, so did the song. Suddenly she heard clapping. Harlan, Grossie, Jon and Ponch stood in the doorway.
Meg blushed. "Excuse me."
"Hey, " Ponch called, "you should enter the next department talent show." he laughed.
As she emerged into the sunny morning, Ponch and Jon were waiting.
"Meg, sorry if we embarrassed you." Jon called.
She grinned. "It's my own fault. Bad habit."
In the safety of her car, she let herself laugh.Talent show indeed!
* * * *
Saturday morning at 7:45 Meg waited nervously for Jon. It had been a long week.They'd responded to 3 major accidents, pulling a total of 5 bodies from the wreckage. Seeing all that blood, all that death...Meg wondered if she'd ever learn to deal with it. The doorbell rang, jarring her.
"Ready? " Jon asked with a smile. He was dressed in jeans, boots, and a red, blue and green plaid shirt.
Meg grabbed her purse. "Lets go."
After they got on the freeway, Jon popped a Patsy Cline tape into the stereo.
"Mind? I love Patsy!" she smiled.
He laughed. "I've been trying to get Ponch to appreciate her for years."
Meg couldn't restrain herself. "Maybe if you sprayed the tape with some really strong perfume..."
Jon burst out laughing. "You know, he carried that thing all day. I made him ride about a mile downwind."
Meg shook her head, laughing. "Ah Ponch, he's one of a kind, isn't he?
"Yeah, you can say that again." Jon grinned.
About 45 minutes later, they pulled into a group of wooded stables. Meg looked around as she stepped out.
"Wow, this place reminds me of home."
"Me too. That's why I picked it. C'mon, this way."
He led her into one of the smaller stables. Immediately, a gorgeous gray mare neighed softly.
"Hey girl." Jon said, patting her mane as he fed her some carrots. He motioned Meg over and handed her some sugar cubes.
"Hi there." Meg said softly, holding the cubes out. Ol Gray gobbled them up. Meg grinned.
"What a beautiful horse."
Jon smiled as he swung the door open and led the mare out. Meg followed them into the yard. Jon led the horse over to the truck. He opened the back and pulled out a saddle. Meg stood by silently as Jon put in on Ol Gray and adjusted it. After putting some things in the saddlebag, he swung himself up. Then he grinned and held out his hand.
"C'mon." he said.
Meg walked over. "What do I do?"
"Just give me your hand."
He swung her up in front of him. She settled against his chest, not knowing what on earth to say.
She nodded dumbly.
Reaching around her waist, he grabbed the reins and gently guided the mare into the woods. They rode silently until they came to a wooded clearing next to a brook. Jon stopped the horse and swung down, then helped her down. Reaching into the saddlebag, he pulled out a blanket and a thermos. He spread the blanket out and they sat down.
"Its beautiful here." she said
"Yeah. I come here when I need to think," he looked at her. "or talk."
"Meg, something is bothering you. I know it. The way you reacted when I got attacked; it wasn't me you were seeing. And the other day at the mailboxes. You were white as a sheet. And you said yourself you'd had some rough times in Colorado." his voice was gentle. "C'mon Meg, talk to me. You'll feel better."
Meg was stunned. Tears welled up inside her. Maybe he was right. Maybe it was time to tell him about Joe. She looked into his blue eyes and began to talk.
* * *
"It's been about a year now since I lost Joe." her voice was soft.
"Joe McQuaid. My...my fiance," she took a shuddering breath, "we were partners for almost 2 years, but when we fell in love.." she looked up. "You know the rules."
She swallowed hard and continued. "He was on a call. A motorist was threatening to jump off an overpass. He had a warrant out on him, and I guess he decided there was no way he was going to jail. Anyhow, I got called to assist. When I got there, Joe and his partner were trying to talk the man down. He went to jump, and Joe caught him and pulled him back up...the guy got so enraged he...he...." Meg got a farway look in her eyes, "he pulled a knife. Before anyone realized what was happening, he started stabbing Joe...over and over..." she closed her eyes. "I don't know how I managed to call the ambulance, but I did. There was blood everywhere. Joe's partner had to shoot him to stop him....I held Joe til the ambulance came......he kept trying to talk...I'll never forget that horrible gurgling sound. Next thing I remember I was in the waiting room. I had Joe's blood all over me....Steve, Joe's partner, and our Sarge were with me...we waited and waited...." she gulped, fighting back tears. Finally the doctor came....he said Joe was DOA...I was so angry....I...I...never even got to say goodbye!.....I....when you got hurt, I guess it brought it all back to me...seeing all that blood...." she reached out and touched Jon's cheek where he'd been cut. " I can't get it out of my mind..I keep having nightmares about you and Joe...."she stopped, tears streaming down her cheeks, "I miss him so much... why...why Joe???" Meg's voice dissolved ito sobs. Jon pulled her against him. Meg buried her face in his shoulder and cried. She cried until no more tears would come.
"I-I'm s-s-sorry." she wiped her eyes.
"Geez Meg, you have nothing to be sorry for...I've been there. I know what you're going through."
"Yes. I had a partner before Ponch. Gary. He was killed in the line of duty too. By a damned speeder. He was only 28! Its been years, but.....I blamed myself. I thought I could've...should've prevented it. Somehow. I'd ticketed the guy who killed him twice. He lost his license, but he was still out there. I'll never forget what happened. One minute we were talking about the big Raiders game we were going to...next minute his motor is skidding across the freeway. He got thrown into the guardrail. He died right there. The...the day of the game I was a pallbearer at his funeral." He looked up at her through a haze of tears. "I still sometimes wonder if it shouldn't have been me...."
"Oh Jon!" she held him as sobs wracked his body. Together, there in the woods, they grieved for their lost partners.
"You know," he said, holding her hand tightly," after Gary died I went to crusier patrol. I hated motors...it took Ponch to get me back on one. "
"I understand." she said softly.
"If Ponch ever...or you..." he started.
"No!" Meg interrupted sharply, "Jon, neither one of us needs to be thinking that way. Thats not living! That's just surviving. I personally think there's a lot more joy in living."
She began to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Jon asked, confused.
She sighed. "Meg needs to listen to her own advice."
He grinned suddenly. "I see what you mean."
Meg took a deep breath. " I feel so much better....lighter somehow."
He gave her a quick hug. "Me too."
Meg laid back and looked up into the sky. "Be well, Joe and Gary..til we meet again."
Jon squeezed her hand.
Meg watched the clouds scudding across the sky. "Looks like rain."
"Yeah, lets get out of here, " he smiled. "how does lunch sound?"
"Terrific! I'm starved!"
"C'mon." They packed up the saddle bag, then slowly rode out of the woods.
* * * *
Later, at Jon's apartment, they munched on take-out chicken and talked. Meg talked about Joe and Jon talked about Gary. They shared the good things, the laughter, the silly things. Meg hadn't laughed like this since before Joe died. Grinning, she wiped her hands on a napkin and pushed her plate away.
"Joe would have liked you." she said softly. "You and he would have really hit it off."
"Yeah, Gary would have liked you too. In fact, he probably would have decked Harris that day in briefing." he laughed. "Then he would have asked you out."
"To tell you the truth, " Meg said, carrying her plate to the trash, " I very nearly decked him myself that day. But I thought that'd be making the wrong impression." she grinned.
Jon ran a hand through his tousled hair. " Meg..I...I never really talked about Gary like that before, except with Ponch. I owe him, and you a lot."
"I haven't talked about Joe at all...and it actually felt good to talk about the good times." she smiled. "thanks for listening. You've been a good friend."
A crack of thunder startled them both. Rain began to pound on the windows.
"Guess we made it back just in time, huh?" Jon said
They were silent. Suddenly Jon spoke. "Meg, I think Joe would approve."
Before she could say anything, the phone rang.
"Hello?' Jon answered. "Oh, hey Ponch."
Meg got up and walked out to the balcony. The rain had stopped. She took a deep breath of the sweet moist air. "Joe would approve."
"Hey, Ponch wants us to meet him at Central when he gets off. Okay with you.?"
"Yeah, sure," Meg said." Joe would approve of what?"
He smiled. "Of you getting on with your life. Of you getting on with living."
Meg looked at him. "Yes, he would. So would Gary."
He grinned. " I know. I just told you what Ponch told me. I've never forgotten those words."
She smiled. "You and Ponch are lucky to have the friendship you have. It's a precious thing."
"I know. He's the best friend I've ever had. But don't tell him I said so." he laughed.
Meg reached out and gave him a hug. "Thank you for this day. I'll never forget it."
"Me either." he brushed a kiss against her cheek.
An awkward moment passed.
"Well, why don't we check out whats on TV? Ponch won't be off for another hour or so."
She follwed him inside. "Ponch told me you didn't have a TV."
"I didn't. I finally broke down and got one so I could use the VCR and watch my old westerns." he grinned.
"I love those old movies! Especially John Wayne."
A few minutes later, Jon had popped "The Sons of Katie Elder" in and they had settled on the couch. Meg was absorbed in the movie when she realized Jon was watching her.
"What?" she asked with a smile.
"Nothing." he said, getting up. "excuse me."
He walked back to the couch.
"Tell me what you were thinking."
His cheeks reddened. " I was just thinking about you. How glad I am the exchange program sent you here."
"Funny, " she said, "here I am thinking about permanently applying to the patrol." she smiled.
"Really? You'd give up Cedar Falls?"
"Yes,"she replied, "I feel like this is my home now. I never thought I'd feel that way, but I do." she smiled.
* * * * *
When Ponch arrived at Central Monday morning, he found Grossie enthusastically passing around copies of the latest "Highway Patrolman" magazine. Meg and Jon were standing by the mailboxes, heads bent over a copy. Ponch sighed. He'd better find himself a copy fast, or Grossie would be hounding him all day. As he headed over to Jon, he noticed Meg had left.
"Hey partner, what's up?" he asked, motioning toward the magazine.
"Oh, Grossie's latest. 'Top 10 Reasons to Become a Highway Patrolman." he laughed.
"Oh, can't wait to read that one. What's it say?"
"See for yourself," he replied with a grin, handing Ponch his copy.
A desk officer came and handed Jon a note. As he read it, his face became grim. Without a word, he hurried away.
Damn, thought Ponch, shoving the magazine in his box. Something's wrong. Very wrong. Jon missed briefing and it wasn't til Ponch had been on patrol nearly an hour that Jon finally rode up beside him.
"Hey partner, where ya been? Everything okay?"
Jon parked next to Ponch and pulled off his helmet,tossing it on his handlebar. He took off his glasses,revealing troubled eyes.
"I've been on the phone with my Uncle Pete all morning. Dad had a heart attack- a bad one. "
"Oh man...Jon, I'm sorry.."
"I was all set to jump on the next flight to Wyoming. Caroline and Wes got there last night. They weren't able to get a hold of me til this morning. Uncle Pete wants me to wait. Said Dad's expected to pull through." he began slapping his gloves against his thigh.
"What are you going to do?"
Jon sighed heavily. " Wait. Dad's a fighter. He'll be okay." he said, trying to convince himself.
For the rest of the week, Jon lived in a daze. The reports from home weren't good. Ponch and Meg tried to help, and all of Central was behind him, but Jon barely noticed. His mind was a million miles away. He realized there was a very real chance he was going to have to say goodbye to the Patrol. Uncle Pete couldn't run the ranch himself, and it looked like dad was going to have to retire. He'd been relieved when they told him dad was upgraded to stable, but Caroline had put it bluntly: "Dad's never going to be the same. The attack took a lot out of him. He's not young any more."
Jackson Baker was 68 years old. Refusing to accept a retiree's life, he continued to spend 12 hour days on the ranch he loved. Jon and Caroline had grown up there. Their mother had died there. That had been the only time Jon had ever seen his dad take a day off. For 3 days he grieved, then he "got back to the business of life." Jon had always assumed he'd work on the ranch when he graduated from U of Wyoming with his degree, but 'Nam had changed all that. After his discharge, in '74, his sole possessions consisting of 3 duffel bags, a Purple Heart, a Medal of Valor, and $400 , he found himself living with his sister in LA. He'd started taking classes in Police Science, decided to apply to the Patrol, and here he was. He occasionally felt a tug in his heart for home, but he'd long since realized that while his heart would always belong to Wyoming, his life was the Patrol. He loved the CHP and all it stood for. He knew had the best job in the world. And he'd grown to love "the gang". To him, they were as much family as Dad and Caroline. A part of them would stay in his heart forever.
* * * *
It was a beautiful California morning. The air was cool and sweet. Sunshine danced off motors and cruisers, and the sky wasa deep cloudless blue. But Jon didn't notice. His heart was heavy, and the letter he carried felt like a lead block.
"Hey partner!" Ponch called, grinning. "ready for another Monday?"
"Sure Ponch." he responded half heartedly.
"Morning Jon." Meg greeted him with a smile as she emerged from the locker room.
"Morning," he replied, his voice a whisper. Their friendship had just begun, yet he was going to miss her as much, if not more, than anyone.
"Hey Jon. Want to join the football pool?" Grossie greeted him.
He tried to smile. "Not this week Grossie."
When he reached Getraer's office, he raised his hand to knock on the half closd door, paused, swallowed hard, and knocked.
"C'mon in." Getraer called.
"Jon!," he said in surprise, "why aren't you in uniform? Briefing's due to start in a few minutes."
Jon sat down. "I'm- This is my letter of resignation."
"WHAT?" Getraer cried in surprise.
"Sarge, you know about my dad. I've got to go back to Wyoming, help him out. My uncle can't do it alone. I'm leaving later this morning."
Getraer didn't know what to say. He took the letter and stared at it dumbly. He understood Baker's reasons, but damn it! One of his best officers!
"Baker,you were-are- one of the finest patrolmen I've ever had the honor to work with. We're-I'm going to miss you. Things won't be the same without you." an idea came to him.
"Thanks Sarge, that means a lot..." Jon started.
"Jon, would you consider changing this to an extended leave of absence?" Getraer asked.
"Sarge, I..I honestly don't know when or if I'll ever be back. Dad needs me."
"I know Jon, but if you are ever able to come home again.."his throat tightened. "we'll be waiting."
Jon couldn't speak. The lump in his throat was too big. He just nodded.
Ponch burst in. "Sarge, we're-" he stopped, seeing Jon and Getraer's expressions.
"What's going on?" he asked quietly.
As Jon told him, Ponch's eyes began to shine with tears. When he finished, Ponch walked over and threw his arm around his partner.
"Hey Partner, you do you what you need to do. Just don't forget. Once partners, always friends. "
"Yeah," Jon answered softly.
"I'm gonna miss you man." Ponch said softly.
The two partners hugged. 6 years of love, laughter, tears, and friendship came down to a single moment. They'd seen it all..been through it all.
"Take care of yourself, Ponch."
"Yeah, you too. I'll..I'll write."
"Yeah, you better! I'll give you a call now and then." Jon replied.
He stood up and walked to Getraer. "Sarge...Joe.." he held his hand out.
Getraer started to shake it, then pulled him into a rough hug. "Take care Baker."
When they told the officers waiting in briefing, there was stunned silence.
"I can't believe it, "Grossie said, "no more Jon and Ponch."
Meg hugged him." We'll be thinking of you. Please stay in touch." she whispered against his cheek.
"Count on it," he whispered back, kissing her.
There were hugs and tears all around. Finally Jon walked down the hall and out to the lot. As he reached the truck, he turned, taking one last look at Central and the family he was leaving behind. After a final wave to the group assembled at the door, he got in the truck and slowly drove off, his cheeks wet.
* * * * *
Later, after briefing, the lot emptied of motors and cruisers, leaving behind a single motor, glistening in the sun, a helmet hanging on its hand grip, a pair of tan gloves resting on the seat.