Sniper Sniper

By Mady Bay – mbay@binghamton.edu

Written - Spring 1998

Disclaimer – No, I don't own any of the characters from either ChiPs or Emergency!, nor do I claim to. No money gotten here, though it sure would be nice…


Sniper

Sergeant Joe Gatraer called for attention in the line up room.

"Listen up! Here's a list of the stolen vehicle reports for the day," he said handing papers out to the California Highway Patrol officers in the room. He continued with the line up. "Baker, Poncherello, Grossman. You have court appearances next week. Check your mail slots for the case folders. Clark, you have a statement to take for the Carson case, a Mrs. Pressman is waiting in the lobby. And, believe it or not, that's all I have for you this morning," he finished, starting to head out the door.

"Hey Sarge?" called a voice in the back of the room. Officer Barry "Bear" Baricza stood up quickly.

"Yeah, Baricza," Gatraer answered, turning to return to the podium.

"Any word on Danny Woods' case?" Bear asked.

The room suddenly got quiet, heads looking down first, then toward Gatraer.

Gatraer looked down, too, pausing before closing the door to the room. Everyone sat back down as he returned to the podium.

"No, Barry," he said quietly. "But I'll recap what we have so far, to keep you all up to date," he continued. "The investigations unit hasn't found any solid leads since last week's shooting. They are checking through Danny's past cases, but that will take some time, considering he was a twenty-year veteran. Ballistics reported that the bullet was a cop-killer, armor piercing if you will. It is still unknown if Danny himself was the target or if any cop would have fit the killer's bill." Gatraer had to stop a minute to gather his thoughts. The funeral he attended just two days ago was still fresh in his memory. "The note sent to CHP headquarters said 'One down, two to go,' so watch each other's backs out there," he finished, walking out of the room. The rest of the group followed somberly.

***

Bear was on patrol, driving in the passing lane. He was shadowing a small Honda that he was pretty sure was DWI. He was about to turn on his vehicle's overhead lights when the windshield shattered. Bear felt a sharp burning pain in his chest. He couldn't breathe. He was losing control of the patrol car. When he saw a semi enter his field of vision he instinctively ducked down, to lie across the seat. The patrol car went under the semi's trailer, smashing the roof and windows, wedging itself underneath. Bear didn't know that the truck dragged him and his car for almost a mile before stopping. Bear didn't know that 6 other cars crashed to avoid his. All Bear knew was darkness and pain.

***

Paramedics John Gage and Roy DeSoto had just gotten back from their 6th call of the day. Three of those calls were to one of their regular hypochondriacs, an old woman that liked Roy.

"If we go to Mrs. McAvoy's one more time today I'll scream!" a clearly agitated Johnny said to Roy.

"Come on Johnny, she's-" Roy started.

"No! Don't say it Roy. One of these days she's gonna call and we'll be there coddling her when someone really needs our MEDICAL skills!" Johnny said, exasperated.

"Johnny, what's with you today?" Roy asked. "Besides Mrs. McAvoy," he countered.

"I'm sorry Roy," Johnny started, pacing in the kitchen of the firehouse. "It's been a couple of lousy days. First, we lose the basketball games to the CHP guys yesterday. Then, my date didn't work out last night, no thanks to Chet showing up at my apartment. My neighbors kept me up all night with their arguing. And this morning, my car broke down and I was late to work," he said, counting on his fingers. "What else can go wrong?"

Roy was about to respond when the station bells sounded. "Station 51, Station 42, Squad 48. Multiple motor vehicle accident with entrapments. Exit 4 on the Freeway," the dispatcher called out.

Captain Stanley went to the radio and took the microphone. "10-4, station 51, KMG365," he recited.

The six members of the station went to their respective vehicles and headed for the scene of the accident.

***

CHP Officers Jon Baker and Frank "Ponch" Poncherello heard the call for the motor vehicle accident that a motorist had called in. As they approached the scene, they wove their motorcycles in between the stopped cars, making their way to the vehicles involved.

"Ponch, look!" Jon said as he pointed to the truck with the CHP car underneath it.

"Oh, shit," Ponch responded, then picked up his radio mike, "LA this is Seven Mary Three and Four, respond a sergeant to this location, there is a CHP car involved," he reported.

They parked their motors on the shoulder of the road and approached the truck and CHP car.

"Whose is it?" Ponch asked his partner.

"I don't know. I can't tell – wait! It's Bear!" Jon exclaimed. "Bear?! Bear?! Can you hear me?!" he called. "Hang on Bear! We'll get you out!" he continued.

They tried to open the doors, but they were wedged shut. They couldn't see in, either, to check on their fellow officer and friend. They just continued to shout to him, to let him know they were there and that help was coming.

Bear heard someone calling his name. He'd woken up to a world of pain after what seemed like forever in blackness. He was breathing in short gasps between the shoots of stabbing pain in his chest. He tried to call to whoever it was outside the car, but no sound came out. He was vaguely aware of the warm trickle of blood forming a pool on the seat under him. He tried to move to somehow signal them some other way, to let them know he was alive. But he was pinned in good, and any movement he could make hurt all the more. He was pretty sure his legs were broken, as they lay pinned under the dashboard and steering wheel. And his chest….

"Oh, God, I've been shot," he thought. He again tried to call out to the people on the outside, but he couldn't get enough air in his lungs to do it.

***

Roy parked the squad on the shoulder of the highway, uphill from the accident scene. Johnny grabbed the trauma box from the side compartment of the squad. They headed toward Captain Stanley, who was talking with a CHP officer.

"John, Roy, you two split up," Captain Stanley instructed. "John, you and Marco take the CHP car under the truck. Roy, you and Chet take the station wagon. The other squads have the other victims," he finished.

"Right, Cap," the four answered, almost simultaneously.

Johnny started heading toward the truck when it hit him – 'a CHP car' he thought. He looked around, searching. He was startled by Marco's shout to him.

"Hey, Johnny, come on!" Marco called.

Johnny saw Ponch and Jon and saw their worried looks. Hesitantly, he asked, "who's in there?"

Jon answered. "It's Bear. We can't see him, but we can hear him breathing."

Johnny didn't know what to do. The last time one of his friends, who was also a CHP officer, was in an accident he'd died. Johnny looked again at the patrol car. Again, a call from Marco brought Johnny back.

"Johnny! I need a hand over here! I think I can get the haligen tool wedged in to open the door!" Marco called.

Johnny quickly ran to Marco's side and helped him muscle the tool back, prying the door open. Despite seeing hundreds, if not thousands of accident victims in his career as a paramedic, Johnny still wasn't ready for the sight before him. He saw Bear, one of his best friends, lying on the seat, covered with glass and blood, gasping for air, gasping for life. His eyes were open. Johnny leaned in.

"Bear? Bear, can you hear me? It's Johnny. Johnny Gage," he said softly, with a tremor in his voice.

Bear did not answer him. He thought he heard something, someone calling his name, but he was too busy trying to breathe to respond. Someone was touching his head, his neck, his arms, his chest. Someone came into his line of sight. 'Johnny!' his mind cried out. 'Johnny help me!'

Johnny felt the warm blood on Bear's chest, saw it on his hands as he pulled out of the car.

"He's got a bad chest wound and he's wedged in there pretty good, Marco," Johnny reported. "Can you get me some more room to work, we gotta get him out soon," he continued.

Jon, who was still nearby came up with an idea. "How about if we deflate the tires, will that help?"

"Sounds good to me," Marco answered.

Jon and Ponch each got out pocketknives and punctured the tires on the patrol car, giving Johnny and Marco a few more inches to work with. Captain Stanley and Stoker in the meantime had gotten the other door open.

"John!" Captain Stanley called. "What have you got?"

"I'll be right back, Bear," John said before going to the other side of the car.

Before he spoke, he took a look at Bear's legs. As he thought, they were wedged below the dashboard and steering column. John knew they were broken. He checked for pedal pulses and was relieved to find them. 'One good thing, I guess,' he thought.

"He's pinned in good and tight, Cap," Johnny started. "Both legs look broken, he's having difficulty breathing and he's bleeding pretty bad, but I can't stop it because of his bullet proof vest. We've got to get him out, now," he finished.

Stanley sensed the uneasiness in Johnny's voice. He knew something else was wrong.

"John, you all right?" he asked.

Johnny hesitated, then quietly said "No," before walking back to the other side of the car.

"Bear? Bear, I'm going to start an IV. I'm going to grab your left arm, okay?" Johnny spoke gently to his friend as he opened up the IV kit.

Bear cried out as Johnny did so and his breathing became more labored.

Sergeant Gatraer had arrived and was talking to Jon and Ponch, getting updated on the incident when they heard Johnny swear.

"Dammit!"

They turned to see Johnny trying to pick up the IV kit he had dropped. Jon saw Johnny's hands shaking. Jon went to help Johnny as Ponch called for Captain Stanley.

"Hey Cap!" he called and met him halfway around the truck.

"What's up Ponch?" Stanley answered.

"It's Johnny. You better get another paramedic, he's not doing too good over here," Ponch said, knowing how Johnny must be feeling. Seeing Captain Stanley's confused look, Ponch continued, "That CHP officer is a close friend of Johnny's."

Captain Stanley immediately called to his other paramedic. "Roy?!"

"Yeah, Cap," he answered.

"You almost done there?" When Roy answered in the affirmative, Captain Stanley told him to take over for Johnny.

When Roy got to the other side of the car he saw that Jon was trying to get the IV kit out of Johnny's shaking hands. Roy went to him.

"It's okay, Johnny, I'll do it," he said softly, looking into his partner's distraught eyes, taking the IV kit away.

Ponch and Jon brought Johnny away from the car and got him to the shoulder of the road to sit down. Johnny just buried his face into his arms and placed them on his knees and sat.

Roy had been able to insert the IV and start some oxygen as well, placing a mask over Bear's face.

He talked to Bear as he did these tasks, trying to reassure him. Roy realized that there wasn't much else he could do until they were able to extricate him from the car. He reached for the biophone and called Rampart.

"Rampart this is Squad 51," he called.

"Go ahead 51," answered the voice of nurse Dixie McCall.

"Rampart we have a 30 year old male, victim of an MVA. He is still pinned inside the vehicle at this time. He has possible fractures to both legs, a bleeding chest wound and numerous minor cuts and abrasions. He appears conscious, but is unresponsive at this time. Vital signs are BP 100 over 70, pulse 110, respiration 30 and labored. We have established an IV and oxygen at this time," he reported.

"10-4, 51. Keep us informed," Dixie answered.

"Roy!" Captain Stanley called. "We got the roof raised as much as we're gonna get it. We're working on the steering wheel, now."

"Right, Cap," Roy responded. He looked over to his partner, who was still sitting on the road's shoulder, looking miserable.

"Bear? Bear can you hear me?" Roy called. "Bear, we're gonna get you out real soon," Roy said, trying to reassure him.

Bear heard Roy calling to him. 'What happened to Johnny?' he thought, then he screamed out loud as the steering wheel popped, causing his legs to move. Bear lost what little control over his breathing and pain he had. His lungs couldn't take it and sent him into a coughing fit, with blood bubbling up and pooling in the oxygen mask.

"Johnny!" Roy called to his partner as he suctioned out Bear's mouth. "Come on Johnny! I need you over here. Bear needs you over here. Come on partner," Roy coaxed. "Cap!" Roy called, when Johnny didn't respond. "Cap, I really need Johnny's help over here!" he called.

But before Captain Stanley could make it over to him, Johnny had gotten up on his own, making his way over to his two best friends in need. He helped Roy get the backboard in position near Bear's head.

"Johnny, I need you to talk to him and take his head as we pull him out, okay?" Roy instructed.

Johnny nodded to Roy and got close to Bear's head. "I'm back, Bear. I'm back, now. Take it easy, all right?"

Bear was still gasping for air. He heard Johnny's voice, though, and calmed a bit. They started pulling him out, sliding him along the backboard. He cried out several times as his body was jostled. He thought it was taking forever as his legs and chest burned with pain. Finally, he was out, and they carried him on the backboard towards the ambulance.

Roy called for splints for Bear's legs as he cut off Bear's blood soaked shirt to find the source of the bleeding. He cut the straps on the Kevlar vest and removed it, revealing a bullet hole underneath.

"He's got a gunshot wound, here," Roy announced. He was about to call Sergeant Gatraer, when he heard Johnny cursing.

"He's in respiratory arrest!" Johnny said as he quickly grabbed for the equipment bag. He tipped Bear's head back and inserted an endotracheal tube down Bear's throat. He secured it and attached an ambu bag, which he began pumping immediately.

Roy, seeing that Johnny had that crisis under control, continued his care for the gunshot wound, applying a dressing and checking for an exit wound. "Let's get him going," he said at last, motioning for the ambulance crew to bring the gurney over.

"Sarge!" Roy called as they moved toward the ambulance. Gatraer acknowledged him. "Gunshot wound. Through the vest," Roy stated, pointing to the bloody vest lying on the roadway.

Gatraer immediately called all the officers on the scene to his location. They arrived as the ambulance was pulling away. "Baricza was shot. Through the vest. Looks like our sniper struck again. Right now, watch your backs. I'm calling in the special investigation team working on Danny Woods' case and some search teams. Start questioning people. We don't know if Baricza was the target or if any officer would have done," he told them, simultaneously scanning the nearby hills and brush.

"Joe," Jon spoke up. "The note said two more. That sniper could have had his pick of any one of us here for his count. I don't think it was a random shot," he finished.

"I know Jon," Gatraer said quietly. "But I don't want to leave out any possibilities. I'm going to the hospital. I'll call Baricza's dad from there. You take charge of the scene here until the investigation unit shows."

"Right Sarge," Jon answered.

Gatraer got on his motorcycle and followed the route the ambulance carrying one of his officers had taken.

***

The ambulance ride to the hospital was one of the worst Johnny had ever taken. Though he was focused on his task, pumping the ambu bag, keeping oxygen in Bear's lungs, he was still obviously upset. When they finally arrived at Rampart, Dixie met them at the Emergency Room doors.

"Room Four," she instructed as they quickly wheeled the gurney into the building.

Dr. Kelly Bracket was waiting outside and held the door for them to enter the trauma room. They transferred Bear from the ambulance gurney to the exam bed quickly. Dixie hooked up a respirator to the endotracheal tube, taking the burden of supplying oxygen to Bear away from Johnny. Dr. Joe Early entered the room and joined Bracket in a preliminary assessment of Bear's condition. Roy had gently guided Johnny toward the back of the room, to let the doctors and nurses take over care of Bear. Roy did not miss the distress in Johnny's eyes as he watched. Roy tried to get him to leave the room, but Johnny wouldn't budge.

"Kel," Early called, while listening to Bear's chest with a stethoscope. "Chest sounds aren't too good. There's too much blood in there. We're going to have to go in. Carol, how are his vitals?" Early asked.

"BP's 80 over 50, pulse is 120 and weak," she answered.

"He's shocky, let's start another unit of ringers. Dix, call the OR, let them know we'll be on our way up soon," Bracket instructed

Dixie headed to the phone, but before she could reach it Carol yelled out.

"V Fib!"

Johnny lurched forward. "NO!" he cried out. Roy held him back as the trauma team prepared to defibrillate Bear's failing heart.

"Clear!" Bracket yelled, paddles in hand.

Bear's body convulsed as the paddles delivered their electrical shock. But only the steady hum of a flat-line could be heard.

"Again! Clear!" Bracket called.

Again Bear's body convulsed. Everyone started breathing again when the soft beeping of a normal rhythm could be heard.

"Let's get him up to the OR!" Early ordered.

After they wheeled Bear out of the trauma room, Roy led Johnny out as well. Johnny leaned heavily against the wall, eventually sliding down to the floor, placing his head in his hands, elbows on his knees.

Roy didn't know what to do. He looked at his partner, his friend, who was now silently crying in the hallway of the emergency department. He crouched down in front of him.

"Johnny?" Roy started.

"I blew it Roy. I couldn't even save my best friend. I choked," Johnny managed to say between bitter sobs.

"Johnny! Bear is still very much alive, thanks to you. And he's got the best doctors in the county working to keep him that way," Roy admonished.

"I lost it Roy! I lost it when Bear needed me!" Johnny practically yelled.

Gatraer was walking down the hall when he saw and heard Johnny. The sight of the distraught paramedic made Gatraer think the worst had happened.

"Roy?" he called, hesitantly.

"I'll be right back Johnny," Roy told his partner before meeting Gatraer in the hall.

Johnny did not acknowledge him.

"Hey, Sarge," Roy greeted him. "Bear's up in surgery now."

"How is he?"

"He wasn't doing too good. He went into cardiac arrest just before they brought him upstairs. He's lost a lot of blood and his lung is damaged," Roy informed him.

"Johnny's not doing too good either, huh?" Gatraer said, nodding towards Johnny.

"Yeah. Listen, I've gotta call Captain Stanley. Let him know we're going to be here for a while," Roy said.

"Sure. Thanks Roy, for everything," Gatraer said, heading toward the waiting area.

Roy went to the nurses' station and used the phone. He called Captain Stanley's cell phone and told him about Bear and more importantly about Johnny's state of mind. He requested the rest of the shift off for the both of them. Dixie had returned to the station. She saw Johnny, still sitting on the floor outside the trauma room.

"Roy? What's the matter with Johnny?" she asked.

"That CHP officer is a friend of his," he answered.

"Oh, God, no," she started. "Come on, let's take him to the staff lounge," she said heading toward Johnny.

"Come on Johnny, let's go down to the lounge," Roy said offering his hand to help Johnny up from the floor.

Dixie took his other arm and they led him down the hall.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Johnny repeated over and over.

"It's alright, Johnny. It's alright," Dixie soothed.

***

In the OR, the doctors struggled to keep Bear alive. The cop-killer bullet tore a hole through Bear's right lung, after breaking through a rib. They had to give him several blood transfusions to make up for the blood he'd already lost. Twice more his heart stopped. Too tired of trying to keep going. Twice more they brought him back. Four hours later Doctors Bracket and Early found their way to the waiting room to give the news of Bear's condition.

Johnny, Roy, Bear's dad, Gatraer, Jon and Ponch stood up when they arrived.

"How's my son?" Mr. Baricza asked.

"We were able to stop the bleeding, remove the bullet and repair the damage to his lung. Right now the orthopedists are stabilizing his leg fractures. He's still in critical condition," Bracket answered.

The group let out their collective breaths, but still stood in sorrow.

"When can I see him?" Mr. Baricza asked.

"It'll probably be a couple more hours before they settle him up in the intensive care unit. I'll have someone let you know," Early answered.

Roy turned toward Johnny, ready to ask if he wanted to get a cup of coffee or something, but Johnny was gone. Roy glanced around, finally sighting Johnny heading down the hall.

"I'll be back," Roy said, excusing himself to follow Johnny.

"Johnny! Wait up!" Roy called after him.

Johnny stopped short in the hallway and waited for Roy.

"Where you going?" Roy asked.

"Home. Gotta get up early for work tomorrow," Johnny said quietly.

"Johnny," Roy started. But Johnny did not acknowledge him. "Johnny, look at me," he tried again.

Johnny tried to avoid Roy's gaze.

"Johnny, why don't you take tomorrow off. I'm sure you could use the break. That way you can come back here to see Bear," Roy said, hoping to find something to say that would get Johnny to respond.

"Yeah, that way I won't screw up another call and kill somebody else!" Johnny spoke, his words filled with self-hatred.

"What?!" Roy said, dumbfounded. He grabbed Johnny by the arm and pulled him into a nearby room.

"You heard me, Roy," Johnny said, flatly.

"Johnny! The only person to blame for Bear's condition is that sniper. There isn't anything else you could have done for him that I didn't do," Roy reasoned. "And think about it, when he was at his worst, when he went into respiratory arrest, who was there? You. You treated him and breathed for him and kept him alive. So don't give me any of this guilt bullshit!" Roy finished.

'Roy cursing?' That got Johnny's attention.

"Look, I'm sorry Johnny, but it's true. You're beating yourself up for nothing. I'm sure I would have reacted the same way if one of my friends were there," Roy said.

"But –" Johnny started.

"But nothing," Roy interrupted. "You're not going to do Bear any good if you're not around to help him through this. You saw his dad. He's not going to be able to help Bear, physically. If you're willing, I'm sure they'll both need you," Roy reasoned.

"Oh, God Roy," Johnny cried. "I don't want to bury another friend. I'm afraid," he continued, sinking onto a couch.

Roy sat next to him, tentatively put his arm around Johnny's shoulders.

"Come on. You've got to start thinking positively. You can't keep thinking the worst. We've got to take this one step at a time." Roy didn't know what else to say. He just hoped he was comforting Johnny in some way.

Johnny just nodded as he took a few deep breaths, hoping to calm himself down.

***

Back in the waiting room Jon handed Mr. Baricza a new cup of coffee.

"Why?" Mr. Baricza asked, not for the first time since getting that horrible phone call from his son's commanding officer.

None of the officers in the room had an answer for him. They just bowed their heads and sighed, wondering what the answer to the question was too.

"Joe?"

Gatraer looked up to see who had called him. He saw the familiar face of Lt. Mary Ellen Beck, head of the investigation unit for the sniper case.

"Mary Ellen. Anything new?" he asked, standing up to greet her.

"Well, we've narrowed the search down in Danny's cases. Now we only need to look at the last eight years, since Baricza's been on the force. We're looking for any cases that they worked on jointly and had a third officer with them," she told him. She looked at Mr. Baricza and then at Gatraer, hinting.

"Oh, sorry. Lt. Mary Ellen Beck, this is Mr. Baricza, Barry's dad," he said, introducing them.

"Mr. Baricza. I'm sorry to have to meet you this way," she said, shaking his hand.

"Likewise," Mr. Baricza said quietly.

"How is Barry?" Beck asked.

"He's in critical condition. The bullet damaged his lung, broke a rib. He lost a lot of blood," Gatraer said sadly. "Both of his legs were broken when they were pinned in the car. The orthopedists are stabilizing them now," he continued.

Lt. Beck just nodded her head.

"We got another note at headquarters. 'Two down, one to go,' it said," she told him.

"Great," was all he could say in response.

***

About an hour later Johnny finally returned to the waiting room. He sat down next to Mr. Baricza.

"How are you doing Mr. Baricza?" he asked.

"Oh, not so good, I'm afraid, Johnny. You?" he replied.

"Same," Johnny replied, leaning his head back on the couch.

Mr. Baricza put his hand on Johnny's knee and patted it. The group sat quietly. Occasionally one would get up and pace before finally sitting in silence again. Another hour went by before Dixie approached the group. Mr. Baricza rose up from the couch.

"Can I see Barry now?" he asked.

"Officer Baricza is in ICU now. He's allowed short visits by immediate family only," Dixie informed them. "I'll take you to him now, Mr. Baricza," she continued, her arm out ready to show the way.

"Thank you. Me and his brother, Johnny, will go with you," Mr. Baricza said, quickly grabbing Johnny by the arm.

Johnny was surprised by Mr. Baricza's statement, and wondered what Dixie would say. Dixie raised her eyebrow at first, but then smiled. She didn't say anything to him, but patted Johnny's back as he walked past her to the elevator.

***

Outside the ICU a police officer was on post, guarding against any further attack on Bear.

Inside the ICU Johnny and Mr. Baricza were led to Bear's bedside. Mr. Baricza gasped at the sight of his son. Johnny quickly put his arm around his shoulder and helped him into the seat next to the bed. Johnny, too, was taken back by the sight of his friend.

A respirator was attached to the endotracheal tube secured in Bear's throat. 'The same tube I put in him,' Johnny thought to himself. Wires attached to his bandaged chest connected him to the quietly beeping heart monitor above the bed. 'Just keep beating,' invaded Johnny's thoughts. He saw the raised sheets covering his legs. He heard Bear's screams in his head from when they removed him from the wrecked car. 'No!' He saw the IV lines imbedded in Bear's hands. 'What you couldn't do for him!' he scolded himself, tears falling down his face. At that moment Mr. Baricza grabbed Johnny's hand and squeezed it.

"I'm sorry," Johnny managed to get out.

"I know. And I know you did your best," Mr. Baricza replied.

***

The line up room was quiet the next morning when Gatraer entered. He decided to get the routine business out of the way first.

"Grossman, Harlan wants you to bring your motor by the garage later. He's got some parts for you. Construction has started on the new bridge near exit 9 on the freeway, so be alert for tie-ups in the area. And here are today's stolen vehicle reports," he said handing the papers back.

"Sarge, how's Bear?" Jon asked.

"I was getting there, Jon. I called the hospital before I got here," he replied. "There's been no change since last night. He's still in critical condition. He hasn't regained consciousness yet.," he continued, sadly.

"Any new leads on the case?" Ponch asked.

"Last time I talked to Lt. Beck she told me that they may have narrowed the possibilities down to about 25 possible suspects. They've been poring through case files that Danny and Bear both worked on. Now they have to go through those and try to make another connection," Gatraer informed his shift. "In the mean time, be careful and watch yourselves out there," he concluded.

***

Ponch and Jon were talking on the side of the road as they watched traffic near the construction mentioned in line up.

"You know, we've both worked cases with Danny and Bear. Either one of us could be next," Ponch said.

"I know. I was up all night wondering if I would be next. Wondering why I even bother to wear my vest, if it won't do me any good," Jon said bitterly.

"At the very least it'll save some broken ribs if you dump you bike," Ponch muttered.

Jon nodded and started driving up the shoulder, ready to ride in traffic again. Ponch followed.

***

At Station 51, shift change was in progress. Paramedic Craig Brice had shown up for his overtime.

"Brice, what are you doing here?" asked Chet.

"I'm covering for Gage. I heard he lost it on a call yesterday. Didn't think Gage was the type," he said smugly.

Roy heard the remark. He honestly thought he was capable of punching him at that moment, but held back.

"If you MUST know, Brice," Roy seethed, "Johnny did NOT 'lose it' yesterday. The victim in the accident was a close friend of his and we thought it best at that time for him to step back a bit," Roy finished, almost nose to nose with Brice.

"I'm only saying what I heard," Brice said defensively.

"Well you tell the people you HEARD it from what I told you, and tell them 'I' was there," Roy asserted before heading to the kitchen. Chet followed him.

"Man, Roy, you looked like you were ready to deck him," Chet remarked.

"You don't know how close I came," Roy said flatly.

"Yeah, I guess we've all wanted to at one time or another," Chet said. "How is Johnny? Have you talked to him?" he asked.

"He called me this morning," Roy answered quietly, looking around for Brice. "Just before calling the Cap. I guess he's gonna take a few personal days until he gets his head together. He's really upset."

"Yeah. How's Bear?" Chet asked.

"Johnny said he's still critical. I guess he spent the night there with Bear's dad. Dixie finally ordered them both home when she found out that they were still there when she came in this morning for her shift," Roy said.

"And Johnny knows better than to mess with Dixie," Chet said with a smile.

***

Bear felt strange, like he had the spins. Strange noises were invading his dreams, making them nightmares.

Then he felt the pain. It consumed him. He didn't want to open his eyes. Maybe if he didn't everything would go away. Then he started gagging. Something was in his throat, choking him. Panic-stricken, his eyes flew open and he brought his hands to his mouth, to remove the offensive device. Almost immediately two nurses rushed to his bed, and grabbed his arms, placing them in restraints.

"Officer Bariciza, try to relax. You're on a respirator. You need it to breathe for you for a while," one soothed.

"We'll give you something to make it more comfortable," the other said as she made sure all the tubes and wires were still in place.

Bear closed his eyes tight, trying to fight back the pain and the nausea the endotracheal tube was causing. The second nurse injected a sedative into one of the IV's and a few minutes later Bear was asleep again.

***

Johnny rolled over once again in his bed. Despite being awake for over 24 hours, he couldn't sleep. He was worried about Bear. Worrying about burying another friend of his. And despite the hundreds of times that Roy told him he didn't do anything wrong, he still believed he was partially to blame for Bear's condition. The phone call startled him, roused him from his guilt trip.

"Hello," Johnny said glumly.

"Johnny, its Dixie McCall," said the feminine voice calling.

Johnny thought the worst. "Dix?" he said, with dread in his voice, wide-awake now.

"Calm down, Johnny. I have good news," she started. "Barry woke up a little while ago."

"How is he?" Johnny asked urgently.

"He's still critical, but the fact that he woke up so soon is a good sign," she said.

"I'll be right down," Johnny told her.

"Don't you dare," she admonished. "I know you. You probably haven't slept at all yet, have you?" she asked.

"Well –" he started.

"Well nothing. Barry has been sedated so that he can get some rest. You won't accomplish anything by coming down here," she told him in a tone he knew not to disobey.

"Okay, Dix. Thanks for calling," he said before hanging up the phone. He felt a little better, but was still unsure if he would sleep or not.

***

That evening Johnny and Mr. Baricza sat at Bear's bedside. A few times during the couple of hours they'd been there they had seen Bear open and shut his eyes. Dr. Bracket wanted to keep him sedated for a little while longer, to let the respirator breathe for Bear. That way Bear would be more comfortable and get rest. They spoke to each other and to Bear, too, hoping that he'd know that they were there for him.

Lt. Beck showed up around 7:00 PM.

"Lt. Beck," Mr. Baricza said, rising to shake her hand.

"Hello Mr. Baricza. How's Barry?" she asked.

"Better. At least that's what the doctors said," Mr. Baricza told her.

"Have you found the guy who shot him yet?" Johnny asked her.

"No, not yet. And you are?" she replied to Johnny.

"John Gage. I'm a friend of Bear's," he said.

"You're a paramedic with the fire department, right?" she asked.

"Yeah, how'd you know?" Johnny replied, intrigued.

"Part of the case file, we got copies of all the medical reports," she answered.

"What can we do for you, Lt. Beck?" Mr. Baricza asked.

"I heard that Barry had regained consciousness. I had hoped that I might have been able to talk to him," she replied.

"Well, he's been sedated. And he's pretty well out of it when he's conscious, too," Johnny told her.

"Oh," she said, mildly disappointed. "Goodnight, then," she said.

Johnny watched her as she left ICU and paused to talk with the officer guarding the entrance. Johnny and Mr. Baricza stayed until the visiting hours were over and the nurses made them leave for the night.

***

Gatraer informed the shift of their routine line-up items before addressing the sniper case.

"Just so you know, there was some good news yesterday. Baricza woke up a few times. He's still listed in critical condition, but the doctors said that he is improving," Gatraer said to the applause and "all rights" about the room. "Lt. Beck from the investigation unit said they've narrowed the possible cases down in their search for a suspect, so that's good news too. But never the less, watch your backs out there and make sure you're wearing your vests," he finished on a more somber note.

***

Ponch and Jon were ever wary as they patrolled the highways. They were both looking toward the sides of the roads, wondering if one of them would be next.

"Ponch, this is ridiculous," Jon began. "I'm spending more time watching the hillsides than I am the cars."

"I know what you mean partner," Ponch responded. "Why don't we break for lunch. My treat," he offered.

"You treating?" Jon said, incredulous. "I can't pass that up. Let's go," he said, turning off the exit ramp.

***

Later that morning, Johnny and Mr. Baricza were back in ICU. Earlier today, Bear had the respirator removed and he was now breathing on his own. His breaths were still a little labored, but that was to be expected, and thought to improve over the day. He was still groggy, not staying awake for more than a few minutes at a time. He smiled, or tried to, when he first saw his dad and Johnny at his bedside.

"Hey," Bear rasped, his voice edged by the soreness left by the endotracheal tube.

"How are ya, son?" his dad asked, holding his hand.

"Been… better," he whispered. "John… thanks," he continued, looking at Johnny.

"Yeah, sure," Johnny said, still unsure of himself, but smiling for Bear.

Before they knew it, Bear was asleep again. About 45 minutes later, Johnny and Mr. Baricza were startled by Bear crying out.

"NO!"

"Bear? Bear? It's all right," Johnny soothed.

Bear's eyes opened wide and he was gasping for breath.

"Baker… Baker…" Bear gasped out.

"Bear, calm down, it was just a dream," his father said, trying to calm his son down, fearful that he'd injure himself further somehow.

"Baker…Jon's next…" Bear said again, getting quite agitated.

"Bear, please," his father tried again. He started to reach for the call button for help from the nurses.

"No! Listen… please," Bear pleaded, fighting off the pain as he tried to sit up.

"I'm listening Bear," Johnny said, standing next to him now. "What about Jon."

"The sniper….Jon's next…. I know…. who…. it is," he managed to get out.

"Okay, Bear," Johnny acknowledged him. "I'll call Gatraer, now," he said as he gently pushed Bear back onto the bed.

As Johnny left the ICU, Bear closed his eyes and relaxed, hoping now that he was right, and in time.

***

Gatraer was in his office, going through the daily reports when the phone rang.

"Sergeant Gatraer," he answered.

"Sarge, this is John Gage, from station 51," Johnny said on the other end of the line.

"Yeah, John, what can I do for you?" Gatraer asked.

"Bear woke up this morning, he said he knew who the sniper was," Johnny said, a serious tone in his voice.

"He did?" Gatraer asked, sitting straight up now.

"Yeah, but he also said that Jon Baker is next. He was really upset," Johnny finished.

"I'll get Baker right in," Gatraer responded. "Did Bear say who the sniper was?"

"No, but he was adamant about Jon being next," Johnny continued.

"Okay, John, thanks. I'll call Lt. Beck. She'll probably be down to talk to Bear in a little while," Gatraer informed him. "How is Bear, this morning?" he asked.

"He's hurting. I don't know how much Lt. Beck will be able to get from him today," Johnny said. "Between the pain-killers and the sedatives, he's in and out, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah, I understand. Listen, thanks for calling Johnny. I'll get Baker off the road right now.

***

Jon and Ponch had begun their lunch when they were called on the radio.

"LA Seven Mary Three and Four," the dispatcher called.

"Seven Mary Three and Four, go ahead LA," Jon answered.

"Landline Sergeant Gatraer immediately," the dispatcher ordered them.

"10-4, LA," Jon responded.

"Well, I guess you won't get your free lunch after all, partner," Ponch said as they headed toward the diner's phone.

***

Lt. Beck headed for Rampart as soon as she hung up the phone with Gatraer. The sooner she had the name of the sniper, the sooner she could find him. There was a small part of her that wondered if Bear was right, and did know who the sniper was. She hoped he was awake, too. She arrived at Rampart about 30 minutes later and headed up to ICU. Johnny stood up and met her when she entered the ward.

"Mr. Gage, nice to see you again," she said, offering her hand.

"You too," Johnny replied, shaking the offered hand. "You've got good timing. It looks like he's going to wake up soon," Johnny said as they walked to Bear's bed.

In fact, Bear opened his eyes just as Lt. Beck got to his bedside.

"Hi Officer Baricza, I'm Lt. Beck, from the CHP investigations unit," she started. "I was told you think you know who the sniper is."

"Baker… is he … okay?" Bear got out.

"Last I knew, yes. Sergeant Gatraer had talked to him and ordered him in from patrol," she answered. She looked at him expectantly. "Have you got a name for me?"

"Bernham… Jeff…Bernham," he said. "He was…a cadet…..We failed….him. Danny… and me…. for firearms,….Jon…..for EVOC," Bear said, between gasps for air.

"So, he swore revenge or something?" Lt. Beck asked.

"He said…. he'd …show …us….some ….day," he rasped. "He showed….me… and Danny….how good…he could….shoot."

"All right. I'll check it out," Lt. Beck said, getting ready to leave. "Take care, now."

Johnny turned back to Bear. Bear was holding his chest, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Bear? What's going on?" he asked as he pushed the call button for the nurse.

"Hurts!" was all Bear could get out.

The nurse arrived with a painkiller for Bear. Soon he was sleeping again.

***

When Ponch and Jon arrived back at the CHP offices, Gatraer met them.

"Lt. Beck just called me. They're getting a search warrant ready for Jeff Bernham's house," he said.

"Jeff Bernham?" Jon and Ponch said, almost simultaneously.

"Yeah, Baricza thinks he's the sniper. Lt. Beck did a background check on him. He was just released from prison 3 weeks ago," Gatraer said.

"Prison?" Jon asked, incredulous. "What for? I mean, he couldn't pass the academy, but he seemed decent enough," Jon said.

"How about impersonating a police officer, and assault with a deadly weapon?" replied Gatraer.

"But why does Bear think its him?" Ponch asked.

"I don't know. Lt. Beck said Bear told her that after you, Bear and Danny failed him at the academy he told Bear that he'd 'show you' someday," Gatraer said.

"And by shooting Danny and Bear, he showed them that he could shoot, now," Jon said. "I wonder what he'd had in store for me?" he said, mainly to himself. "Joe, I want to be there when they do the search," Jon continued.

"No, Jon, it's too dangerous," Gatraer responded. But then he saw Jon's determined look. "Fine, just make sure you stay out of the way, understood?"

"Yes sir," Jon replied.

***

A few hours later, with more background investigation done and a search warrant obtained, the investigation team, accompanied by Jon and Ponch, arrived at the residence of Jeff Bernham. Bernham was seen looking out the window when the group arrived. After a few knocks on the door, the team heard a door slamming at the back of the house. Then they heard a car engine start. Jon and Ponch were on their motorcycles immediately, and followed Bernham as he sped away from his house.

"LA Seven Mary Three and Four in pursuit of homicide suspect," Jon reported on the radio, later giving his location and direction of travel.

They followed Bernham with lights and sirens on throughout the neighborhoods. Bernham disobeyed every traffic control device along the way, causing several accidents and near misses. Jon and Ponch were able to catch up to him though, when Bernham swerved to miss a garbage truck and ran head on into a tree.

Jon and Ponch approached the car with their weapons drawn.

"Get out of the car! Get your hands where I can see them!" Jon ordered.

Bernham slowly opened the door to the car and stumbled out.

"Baker, Baker, Baker," Bernham muttered. "It would have to be you making me crash my car."

Ponch pushed him down on the ground and handcuffed him. He started searching him for weapons.

"You crashed your own car, Bernham. That's why you failed my Emergency Vehicle Operations Course, remember?" Jon said.

Bernham didn't say anything more as a patrol car arrived to take him away. Lt. Beck also arrived, to check on Jon and Ponch.

"Did you go into the house?" Ponch asked.

"Yeah. Bernham's our guy all right," she said. "We found a case of cop-killers in the house. We also found surveillance pictures of Woods, Baricza and you, Jon," she finished.

The investigation team stayed at the house gathering evidence. Ponch and Jon stopped in briefly to take a look, but then headed back to the office to start their paperwork.

***

Two weeks later and Bear was moved out of ICU and into a private room. His legs had been set and placed in casts now and he was scheduled to start physical therapy in a couple of more days. The crowd of people pouring into his room, all of a sudden surprised him. His dad, Johnny, Jon, Ponch, Gatraer, Grossman, Harlan, Bonnie, Jed and Lt. Beck all crowded in.

"What's going on?" he asked.

"Well, we thought you needed to celebrate your first day out of ICU," Johnny said, standing next to Bear's bed.

Bear smiled. "Yeah, well don't let Nurse McCall find out you're all in here, or you'll get it for sure," he warned them.

"Who do you think organized this party?" Jon asked, pointing to the door.

Roy and Dixie came in the room carrying a cake and a couple bottles of soda.

"It's a celebration of sorts," Gatraer started. "Combination 'Get well Bear' and 'Hooray for the grand jury indictment for Jeff Bernham on murder and attempted murder of police officer charges' party," he finished.

Bear's smile faded a bit. "I still can't believe he would do it, sometimes," he said.

"Well, we found out that he had been in a family of cops. He couldn't face the fact that he couldn't be one too," Gatraer offered.

"Listen, I just want to say thanks to all you guys, for helping me out," he said to the group, then to Johnny and Roy he continued "for saving my life."

"That's what we do Bear," Roy said.

"Well," Dixie said interrupting the sentimental moment. "If you guys don't want to be late for your basketball game, you better cut this cake!"

"You got a game tonight?" Bear asked.

"Yeah," said Johnny, smiling. "And with you laid up here for a while, my team might actually have a chance to beat you guys!"

The room was filled with laughter now as the cake was cut and the conversations turned toward basketball.