Vengeance of the Freeway Phantom
A couple days after the good news regarding the Phantom was learned, Ponch's roommate, Johnny Gage, was given his ticket out of the hospital.
But before leaving, the fireman managed to remind Ponch of something. "Hey, you are going to keep your promise about getting me a date with one of your female CHP officers? Right?"
Ponch smiled, "Yeah, sure. I haven't forgotten. But I think it should wait till you're out of that cast, don't you?" Both men smiled and agreed to that sensible line of reasoning.
Johnny's partner and friend, Roy DeSoto managed to get the day off so he could take Johnny home and get him situated. As far as Gage was concerned, his cast couldn't come off fast enough.
Ponch was kept in the hospital for almost two whole weeks. He still hadn't found the courage to have that 'little talk' with Stephanie. Seemed every time he felt he was finally ready, one of his other friends would come along to visit. Plus, Stephanie had to return to work, which lessened his time with her--considerably.
Now came the day of Ponch's release from the hospital. He had made arrangements with Sergeant Getraer to allow Baricza and Jon to assist in transporting him home. While the medical personnel fixed up the release paperwork, one of the nurses helped Ponch get dressed. If it wasn't for his broken leg, still aching shoulder, and he couldn't forget that healing rib cage, he would have been able to manage the task himself.
Anyway, once Ponch was fully dressed and ready to go, the nurse sat her patient in a wheelchair and positioned the uncomfortable contraption by the window, so he could look outside--which was something he hadn't been able to do the past two weeks. Ponch had already placed the call to Central and knew that it could take a while before his two friends were actually available to come and take him home. 'Home', that's where he knew he'd really get the healing time. There were those occasions, such as this one, when he was all alone, that his thoughts always came to how close he had come to becoming just another statistic. It hadn't just all been a bad dream, this was reality.
This Freeway Phantom character truly did pin all the blame on every CHP officer and then allowed himself to develop such a hatred for cops for the death of his brother. The creep really had, willfully and deliberately, carried out his vendetta. Many CHP officers really had been seriously injured. And then there was the tragic death of Officer Jim Stevenson. Ponch couldn't ever forget that! What a waste. And now--?
Baker and Baricza stepped into the room just then. They'd been talking back and forth as they entered, but their fellow officer--who was still sitting by the window--had apparently not heard them as he was so deep in thought. They silently looked at each other, wondering if something was bothering their pensive friend. "Ponch, you okay?" Jon softly spoke as he walked up to him, "Ready to head home?"
"Huh?" was all Ponch muttered as he was startled from his reveries.
Baker smiled, "I said, you ready to go home?"
Ponch grinned broadly, "Yeah! I sure am!"
But neither Jon nor Bear was fooled. This time, Baricza asked, "Ponch, you sure you're okay? Want me to get a nurse?"
That put Ponch into a panic! "No! No! I'm okay. Really. I was just thinking, is all. C'mon! I've got all the papers signed--I just want to go home..."
So, Jon began wheeling him out of the room. Bear grabbed Ponch's bag and the trio headed off down the hallway towards the elevators.
While they were waiting for the elevator doors to open, Ponch suddenly thought of something. "Stephanie, couldn't get away?" he asked, sounding a bit disappointed. He didn't see the look both men behind him gave each other. The seconds of silence got Ponch a little nervous, "Ah, guys, she's okay isn't she?"
"Sure, Ponch," Jon assured him, "Stephanie's fine. She just got a little busy on the San Bernardino Freeway. Minor MVA, is all. But, she'll stop by your place as soon as she can," Baker sighed--er, lied. He never was good at even a little fib. Jon just hoped Ponch hadn't caught on. The elevator doors finally opened and he eased his friend's wheelchair inside. Ponch didn't ask any more questions regarding Stephanie. Both Baker and Baricza breathed quiet sighs of relief, as Stephanie had requested that her conspicuous absence be considered a guarded issue.
"Oh, good I was hoping she would," was all Ponch finally said.
As Jon wheeled Ponch over to their squad car, he determined that he should be placed in the back, where he could prop his busted leg up on the seat.
It wasn't the most comfortable position Ponch had ever been in, but he knew the trip would be short, so he didn't complain.
Before long, Ponch was at his apartment complex. Bear and Jon helped him out of the car and then gave him his crutches. He was a bit clumsy yet trying to manage them, but as they opened the door and he went into his living room, his eyes widened when he saw all of the changes that had been made there. "What? Who? Hey, this is great!! You guys?" Ponch stammered, seeing that his living room had been transformed into a temporary bedroom for him. Everything he would more than likely need was right there for him…well, almost everything.
The sound of approaching voices grew louder and louder. At last, Stephanie, Bonnie and Jed Turner appeared from one of the apartment's back rooms. All three had smiles on their faces when they saw how happy Ponch was with their new arrangements.
Ponch noticed right away that Stephanie was not in uniform. He turned to Jon and Bear, looking puzzled. The two co-conspirators simply shrugged their shoulders and tried their best to look totally innocent. Ponch grinned. He'd save any further questions for later, when--hopefully--he and Stephanie would be alone. Ponch crossed his fingers on that one.
Once everyone felt Ponch was settled in and comfortable, they realized they'd better go make themselves visible on the highways again. The on-duty officers didn't want to push the kindness of their sergeant too far.
Stephanie and Ponch soon found themselves…alone.
"I'm glad you liked what we did here," Stephanie said as she sat down beside the sofa bed, "It'll make it a lot easier for you when you get visitors," she added with a smile.
"Thanks. I really appreciate everything you and the others have done for me," Ponch replied, and flashed his thoughtful friend a warm smile of his own. Then he bit his lower lip and reached a decision. He wasn't going to delay matters any longer. "Steph', could we talk a moment?"
"Yeah, sure, what's on your mind?"
"Us?" the woman repeated, looking and sounding confused.
"Yeah! Us. Steph', I don't want you to think that I'm rushing you into anything. But I just want you to know that…that I really…I really would like to get to know you better. I'd like us to--" he stopped there, remembering how tortured she'd been since coming to LA. "Steph', I would never ask you to forget your late husband. You've got too many good memories with him," Ponch paused a moment, giving the woman a chance to reply, but she remained silent. He didn't know if that was good or bad. "Steph', I'd like to spend as much time as I can with you." He had never found it so hard to talk to a woman before. Even though in his mind he'd rehearsed what he was going to say, he just couldn't seem to get the right words to come out. Ponch knew that he was faltering. How was he ever going to get her to realize that he was genuinely concerned about how she felt? 'Actions speak louder than words...' he reminded himself.
Stephanie watched silently as Ponch took her hand in his. She continued to sit there quietly as he flashed her that trademark smile of his. The woman was busy mulling over the things she knew he was trying to get across to her. At last, she spoke, "Ponch, I…You're right. I could never forget Jim. In time, maybe the memories might fade a little, or at least stop hurting so much, but I'd never be able to forget him. I…I do need someone to hold on to now and then, though. But, with the both of us being cops...Well, I don't know if I--"
Ponch stopped her right there and the gentle hold on her hand tightened just a little, "Steph', even if I wasn't a cop, it wouldn't matter. Nobody's life is risk-free! We all take chances. We can't let the fear of dying rule our lives--or hold us back from the things we want or need." Ponch paused a moment again wondering if she'd say anything in reply.
Stephanie realized that Ponch was trying to be as gentle, kind and considerate of her feelings as he possibly could. And she really did love him for that. Her feelings had been a little mixed up lately. Maybe, just maybe, Ponch would be the one to help her get her life back on track again. "Ponch," she finally replied, "I'd like to get to know you better, too. Just make sure you stay as far away from those Phantom-types as you can possibly get. You really scared the heck out of me!"
Ponch grinned from ear to ear. It was so good to finally be home...and to have Stephanie there with him. Ponch knew that, from now on, his own life wouldn't be so 'lonesome'.
Time passed and Ponch finally got the medical release to return to work, although it was light duty. Light duty meaning desk duty. Something Ponch, well, actually no road cop never liked to do. He would rather be out and about on his motor, facing the public and handling all different kinds of situations. But, until his doctor felt he was healed up enough, Ponch realized he had no choice in the matter. 'Course, all his friends were there trying to make his time on desk-duty a little easier to take. Well, as long as Sergeant Getraer wouldn't find them there, that is.
As for Ponch and Stephanie? Their relationship grew as well. Ponch was able to help her sort out her feelings and cope with her tragic loss. The two of them managed to help each other through all the difficult times cops face in their daily lives. They came to share each others innermost feelings--confident in the fact that they'd be understood.
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