Hot under the Collar

*Story takes off from Season 5 Episode 7: Bomb Run

She couldn't stand the suspense and had to ask.

"Okay, straighten me out on Terri. Is she something special to you? I mean the way it looked when you met…"

Bonnie's pulse quickened and her heart ached. Baricza gazed at her as if he felt the same, but quickly answered.

"It didn't make sense."

"Right…"

He changed the subject and prattled on about his ex-girlfriend Terri King, her senseless flying, and her father's relationship with his family. He explained what happened when he asked Terri about her father's brushes with the law. Bonnie sat up taller, her eyes glued to him.

"We didn't break up, we exploded. I thought she was gonna kill me. I haven't seen her since – till yesterday."

Bonnie could scarcely imagine anyone exploding on Officer Barry 'Bear' Baricza. Aside from Jon Baker, he was the kindest, gentlest man she ever had the pleasure of knowing. The idea of this Terri woman somehow using Baricza made her fume. On the outside she played the compassionate co-worker, but her jealousy raged inside and she didn't know what to make of it. She covered it over to the point of lashing out at Ponch. She blamed him and Jon for trying to come between Baricza and Terri by investigating the Kings' airplane. She stormed past Jon as he came into the office and nearly trampled Harlan, the mechanic.

"Woah, Bonnie! Where's the fire? You're looking very hot under the collar. Maybe I should hose you down like an engine."

Bonnie's withering glare could have melted him on the spot. "I'll tell you what you can do with that hose, Harlan! Shove it!"

He backed up with his hands in the air and scurried away. When it came to incensed women, it was probably all Ponch's fault.

Bonnie was sorry for snapping at everyone. Her face glowed red as a tomato. She flushed easily when her emotions were riled. After cooling down in the restroom and later she apologized when Baricza told them about the King's plot. The truth ambushed her that whole morning and she finally admitted to herself that she was in love with Barry Baricza.

In the last year, a romantic tension persisted, even if the only real hints were stolen glances during briefings. Bonnie and Baricza shared a bond. As squad officers they trolled around the streets and freeways in their cruisers. They understood each other just as much as motor officers Jon and Ponch and even Arthur Grossman did. They joked around at the station while stuck writing paperwork together and got into heated games of thumb wars. But nobody ever caught them at it. Goofing off on the job was Poncherello and Grossie's department.

Bonnie and Baricza met often for coffee and lunch to shoot the breeze about zany freeway adventures and other life happenings. The one conversation they purposefully steered clear of was their romantic entanglements – if they had any.

While everyone knew Frank Poncherello was the resident CHP 'hunk' and Jon Baker the handsome 'underdog', Baricza was just as easygoing on the eyes as he was in his personality. His wide smile rivaled Ponch in charm and brightness and she thought it should be freeze framed for posterity. He was very tall, lean, and well muscled with a swagger that reminded her of John Wayne. He talked with a smooth and sensitive country boy tone. If she closed her eyes, she swore Henry Fonda stood in front of her. Baricza laughed whenever she told him but he never denied it.

Bonnie knew that he was a bundle of nerves at the Air show. Not only was Terri stunt flying with her dad, she was responsible for dropping bombs. In Bonnie's opinion it was a stupid act and endangered everyone on the ground. Baricza agreed but told her that stunt pilots liked to push the limits and needed to be creative. There was only so much you could do in an airplane. Bonnie seethed when Baricza wandered off with Terri before her flight. She covered her displeasure over with giddiness and cheered on the other flying acts.

It had to be Grossie's chocolate chip cookies that gave her the sugar high, because whenever she looked at Baricza and Terri, she felt extremely low. Terri clung to him – She rubbed his biceps, stroked his face and squeezed his hand. Bonnie thought his dazed expression was priceless. He was reasonably perplexed at all her amorous behavior. Bonnie suspected Terri was a phony.

Baricza realized that when the third bomb landed, another one went off inside the building at the exact moment. It wasn't an echo. Every bomb Terri drop was timed accordingly so the thieves could make a getaway with the Air show funds. Bonnie and Baricza chased the culprits through the parking lot.

The Air show: Seven Charles and Seven Adam presently in hot pursuit.

The blue car doubled back with a three-sixty spin. The driver caught his bearings and headed straight for Bonnie's cruiser at full speed. Bonnie wasn't expecting that maneuver. She gripped the steering wheel and swerved hard to avoid a head on collision.

"No! Damn! I meant left!"

The thieves rammed against her driver's side twice. The left side of her body slammed hard against the door when she bounced back and forth. The seat belt protected her from being tossed out of the car like a rag doll. They tried to run her off the road and roll her over. They put their car in gear and sped away. A severe pain ripped through Bonnie's shoulder and she couldn't control her screams.

Baricza sped past Bonnie's car. "Oh, God! Bonnie!"

She wasn't at the wheel. The worst thoughts flashed through his mind. What if she was shot? He immediately called in for back up, and out in the distance he saw two flashing cruisers setting a roadblock. Officer Turner moved in fast on the crooks and they would not escape again.

Baricza circled back to Bonnie's cruiser. He leaped out his car and rushed over. The driver's side door was crushed in and her window shattered. Glass sprinkles covered her. Her radio dangled off the holder. Bonnie lay across the seat and clutched her shoulder. She didn't get to make her dispatch. Baricza yanked the passenger door open and climbed in. He assessed her injuries as he flicked off the glass.

"Bar…Barry, did you…did you get them?"

"We had back-up down the road. But I had to come back for you."

"No, you should have caught them, Barry!"

"Be quiet, Bonnie. You're more important to me than a stupid car chase. We know exactly who they are if they escape again."

She attempted to sit up but her arm radiated pain. She grappled for him.

"Oh this hurts so much!"

"Easy, Bonnie! Let me help you." Baricza slowly moved her away from the mess. She put her face against his neck to keep calm because she wanted to scream her head off. He understood. Her tears drizzled onto his uniform and she gritted her teeth into his shirt cloth while he rubbed her back in soothing, circular motions.

"Everything is going to be okay, Bonnie. You can let it out. Just try not to move, hon, it's a dislocated shoulder. The ambulance is on its way."

"Has this ever happened to you, Bear?" She choked out.

Baricza pulled back to see her face. He pushed hair from her eyes and wiped her tears and smiled to ease her trembling. "Sure it did, twice! The second time I was out flying. I had to land the plane in an orange grove and pop my own shoulder back in. Ya know, I can do it for you. I know a gentler way than the docs. But I don't want to risk it."

Bonnie forced a smile and nodded. "I wish you would, but I understand. You're amazing, Barry."

"I only did what I had to."

Bonnie's eyes widened. "Hey, please don't tell…don't tell the other guys I acted like this. Not even Getraer. They'll never let me live it down. It's hard enough being a woman on the force."

Baricza cupped her chin. "It'll be our secret. I don't mind you being the damsel in the distress. It makes me feel like the dashing hero for once."

"You are a hero, Barry. You never give yourself enough credit."

The closeness between them preyed on Baricza's senses. Despite feeling lightheaded, Bonnie was ready for him to make a move. His dark eyes searched her pretty face and her gaze rested on his mouth.

As two stunt planes passed overhead, Baricza leaned into her as gently as he could and their lips touched.

In the distance, the audience cheered the daring heroics. Ponch climbed down a rope ladder – something he swore he would never do. He helped Terri land the plane while Jon guided them to a safe runway.

In the wrecked cruiser nearly a mile away, two CHP officers intensified their unspoken passions. Baricza caressed her face and held her steady until their deep kisses tapered to soft pecks on the forehead, nose, and chin.

Baricza was the first to concede when they heard the ambulance sirens. Turner sounded over the radio that he was on his way. Bonnie desired to wrap her arms around Baricza and run her fingers through his hair as he did to her, but she was forced to remain motionless. A new wave of throbbing invaded her shoulder. Now was certainly not the time for nausea.

Baricza stood dumbfounded. "Bonnie, I…we…uh…wait here. I carry ice packs. I almost forgot!"

He ran to his car and gripped the window ledge until his knuckles whitened. He smacked his lips together and tasted her fruit flavored gloss. This couldn't happen between them, not while they were both CHP officers, but it was bound to boil over sooner or later. He grabbed a pack and rushed to her side. He cracked it and placed it directly on her shoulder.

"This should numb it a bit, but the pain won't really stop until you get it back in place and take some painkillers." He raised her left hand. "Keep it tight and still. Let the cold hit you directly."

"Thanks, it feels better already."

A single tear rolled down her cheek. Their kiss was forgotten. They would eventually have to sort out their feelings. And protocol or no protocol, she wanted him to more than anything.

The spoke fast at the same time.

"Barry, we really have to…"

"Bonnie, listen, what we just…"

"Officer, what's the problem?" A young EMT hurried over with his kit.

Baricza stepped away from the car and rubbed the back of his neck. "She has a dislocated shoulder and a few scrapes. But Officer Clark is a tough cookie. I think she'll be just fine."

"I'm even tougher than Grossie's cookies. If that's possible." Bonnie managed to joke. She felt about ready to pass out.

Baricza laughed. "I think all our fellow officers will have chipped teeth by the end of the Air show. I'll follow you to the hospital, Bonnie. We'll get through this."

One week later

At the end of her shift Bonnie gratefully put on her street clothes and left the station. She didn't want to be out of work for too long and Getraer relegated her to desk duty while her shoulder healed. She developed immediate respect for desk workers and all the headaches they dealt with. Tonight she looked forward to a drama-free evening at home and snuggling up with a good mystery. The hot bubble bath would have to wait until the sling came off. She planned to top the night with some red wine and vanilla cream-centered bon-bons in bed while she watched the late show. The doctors warned her to take it very easy. Now that the acute pain was gone she would also need rehabilitation. Ponch graciously offered his services when she was ready and she couldn't resist him.

As she neared her car Baricza sprinted over. She took a deep breath. She intentionally avoided him for the last few days. He didn't question it, but the reason was obvious. They both made a conscious decision to forget the kiss ever happened. But it did happen, and it was filled with intimacy and admiration. She saw it in his eyes every time he passed her desk and smiled at her.

"Bonnie, I know you have to go but…err…well, if you need anything, all you have to do is ask and I'm there. I don't think I told you that."

"I know that, Barry. You don't have to say it. You've been there for me since the air show."

"You were a big help catching the crooks."

"It was all in a day's work. I don't think I was much help at all."

"Naww, you slowed them down for me, Bon Bon."

"I guess I did." She rummaged through her purse for her car keys and winced. She bit her lip and ignored the ache. She didn't want Baricza to see her weak. Unlike some of the officers, he didn't chide her or get competitive over the fact that she was woman trying to do a 'man's job.'

"It was a team effort, Bear. But Ponch and Jon stole our thunder as usual." She smiled. "I heard that plane rescue was amazing."

"That goes without saying."

Barry's jaw tightened as he reflected on her accident. He stroked her collarbone. Bonnie tilted her head so her cheek rubbed against his hand. Baricza's fingertips were calloused and his palms a little rough in spots, but his touch was nothing but gentle.

"How's your shoulder holding up?" He lowered his hand.

Bonnie laughed. "Well, it's still holding up my arm, but it's sore and I'm not allowed to go kayaking or anything like that any time soon. Sarge says I can be back on the beat next week when the sling comes off. If it does. The doctor says everyone heals differently, but I need a mobility balance too."

"That's great news. I miss you out there." He admitted. "You know, Ponch and Jon aren't the only good team on this force. Us patrol officers have to stick together too, right?"

"You bet. And we do." They stared down at the gravel a little unsure of what to say next. Bonnie caught his eye sympathetically.

"Barry, how are you holding up? I mean with Terri and everything?"

Baricza gazed thoughtfully at her. "The truth?"

"The truth. I don't think you know how to lie, Barry."

"Why should I lie? It still hurts, Bonnie. I hadn't seen her in nearly ten years. All those old feelings came rushing back and then she really came on to me. I thought she was serious and I was ready to cling on hook, line and sinker."

Bonnie wanted to hug him on the spot. "I don't blame you, Barry. You loved her. You wanted to marry her and she broke your heart. What's gonna happen to Terri now?"

"She'll get off easier than her husband and his partner. Her father, well…he paid for all his crimes. My dad took his death pretty hard. He didn't view King as a criminal. He was still just his friend and combat partner from Korea."

Bonnie swallowed hard. She hated to see Baricza hurt. She gripped his arms. "Barry, I'm very sorry. But…it's her loss!"

Baricza shrugged and twirled his mouth wryly. "Yeah, it is a big one for her. She loved her father very much; I'll give her that. They became much closer after her mother died."

Bonnie wanted to pinch him. "No, silly. I meant you! She lost you. She chose a criminal path and you were being a good cop. Never forget that. You deserve so much better. And you'll get it one day."

Bonnie stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. "See you Monday, Bear."

The intense, warm feelings he felt when they shared a kiss hit him again like lightning. He would not let Bonnie Clark slip through his fingers.

"Bonnie, wait a sec!"

He clutched her hand when she was about to open the door and their fingers intertwined. He caressed her thumb.

"Would you like to have dinner tonight? Are you up to it?"

"Barry, I don't know if we should."

"It's nothing fancy really. Ponch told me about this great new Spanish restaurant and…I…well, I've been itching to try it and…"

Bonnie smiled and cut him off. His stammering was too cute and it was useless to play coy. "Yes. I'll have dinner with you any time, Barry. I'm glad you asked first."

"My mom always said that's how a gentleman does it."

"And she raised a fine one."

The wind eased out of him and Baricza's whole body went lax. He grinned like a fool, but he didn't care. Bonnie toyed with the blue kerchief around her neck and Baricza licked his lips and leaned down. She rose higher and pursed her mouth.

The station house exit banged open and Ponch and Jon came out laughing. Bonnie stepped back and Baricza straightened up and casually put his hands on his waist. Little did he know that his frequent stance gave Bonnie the shivers.

"Very good, Bonnie. So it's a date, then."

He opened her car door and peeked at the others. Ponch and Jon actively put on their helmets and gloves, but all the chatter and laughter ceased. Baricza rolled his eyes. He knew better. They lingered to hear the good word from him.

Bonnie giggled as she entered the car. She observed Ponch. He leaned forward and squeezed the life out of the breaks while nearly salivating for her answer. Jon lowered his head and nudged his kickstand up and down impatiently. They probably knew all about the kiss. The men at the CHP gossiped more than old ladies at bingo night.

"It certainly is a date. You saved me from another night of finding out whodunit with Agatha Christie and gaining two pounds with Johnny Carson. Pick me up at seven, Bear. At least I can gain two pounds eating rice and beans with a dear friend."

"Just a friend?" He had to ask.

"Okay, a dear friend. One step at a time. We'll definitely get there."

She winked at him and waved to the others as she drove off.

Ponch and Jon strutted to Baricza. He stood motionless with his hands still on his gun belt.

"Now that's the face of a man hopelessly in love!" Ponch announced.

Jon patted his back. "That looked very positive. What did she say?"

Baricza broke his stupor. "It's a go, boys. I'm in like Flynn."

Jon proudly shook his hand. "I knew you had it in you, Bear. We all saw this day coming for years now."

Baricza looked at his friends astonished. "You did?"

"Sure, but sometimes you can't rush these things, ya know?" Jon laughed.

Ponch hooted and pumped his fist. He grinned from ear to ear. "I think you better go have yourself a drink of water, pal, or maybe I should turn on Harlan's hose, cuz you're looking mighty hot under that collar."

The End.