Thank you to everyone who has followed this story and sent me comments and reviews. They mean more to me than I can say. I have the opening scene of a new story in my head, but I don't know what's going to happen yet. When I find out, I'll let you know.
After finagling the schedule with the other shift captains of Station 51, Hank Stanley arranged for his crew to be off the day of the hearing in order to support their friend and coworker. The afternoon Michael Reynolds was to confess and receive his sentence, the firemen waited outside courtroom three, trying to make small talk as they waited for Johnny to come out of the restroom.
"You going to be OK?" Roy leaned against the cold industrial white bathroom wall as his friend splashed cold water on his face.
John looked up at Roy's reflection in the mirror. "I have to do this, Roy. For me and for Bonita."
When they joined their friends in the hallway, John saw Dixie and Dr. Brackett were there, too.
"How are you doing, tiger?" The platinum-blonde nurse rubbed his arm.
"What are you doing here?" he asked the pair.
"John, we saw the aftermath of what happened when Reynolds left you in your car. We want to see you get the justice you deserve," Dr. Brackett replied.
The double doors opened, and Vince Howard let them know the proceedings were about to start. Flanked by Captain Stanley on his right and Roy on his left, John sat down toward the back of the gallery as Chet, Marco, and Mike slid in behind him. Dixie and Dr. Brackett sat together in the row in front of him. It was as if his friends wanted to buffer him from what he was about to hear.
Already seated at the defendant's table up front, Michael Reynolds had his head down as he leaned over to his attorney. Everyone rose when the judge entered the courtroom. He spoke, the court reporter typed, but it was all a buzzing noise in John's ears until he heard that voice. The man's voice.
"There is a piece of land near Emerson Canyon Park that belongs to my grandfather. The house isn't there any more, but that's where I grew up. That park was like my backyard. I know every inch of it.
"My mother," he said with disgust, "wasn't around much when I was little, and she wasn't around at all after my dad left. It was just grandfather and I. That mean old man was the most important person in my life. I did everything for him.
"When that housing development went in, the price of the land skyrocketed, but grandfather didn't have a clue. I had put him in a home by that point. Bonita Williams was his physical therapist, and she resembled my mom, I guess. He would get confused and call her Judy." Michael literally simmered with rage. "I had done everything for him, paid his bills, made sure he got the right care. Then he…he told me he had decided to leave the land to her. I had just found out when she called to ask about my watch. My watch! The only thing grandfather had ever given me. She said he missed his watch and wanted it back. Then she offered to come get it."
"She came over to my house on June 22. I let her in and told her the watch was in the bathroom. She went with me to get it. Then I shot her." Michael tried to keep his voice even, but his hatred came through loud and clear. "She was dead instantly. I put her in an old suitcase and cleaned the bathroom. Then I drove her car to the LAX long-term parking lot and took a bus home. That night I took the suitcase to a spot I knew in the park. I had brought wood from home for a bonfire, and I put her on top of it. I set the kindling on fire."
"He killed her…over land and a watch?" John whispered incredulously.
"After the fire department came, I hung around. I saw John Gage find my watch. I guess I dropped it. After I left the park, I put the keys to her car in the suitcase and left it in a dumpster behind a supermarket in Long Beach," he continued. "I found out the names and addresses of everyone at Station 51 through my job in the county personnel office. I went to Mr. Gage's apartment to get the watch back and forced him to drive his car to the fire station when I found out he kept it in his locker. He didn't want to cooperate but then he did because I threatened the lives of Roy DeSoto's family and some other people."
John heard the swift intake of air to by his partner; Roy hadn't known that part.
"After he got the watch, I got sick. Mr. Gage diagnosed me, and I went to Rampart Hospital to get treated. When I went in, I left Mr. Gage tied up in his car."
John leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. Several hands patted him on the back. The judge was speaking, but he wasn't listening anymore. It was over. All over. He didn't sit back up until the deputies led Reynolds from the courtroom. Finally, John saw his abductor's face.
"He looks…normal, just like you and me," he said, noting Michael's average features, short brown hair, and blue eyes.
"But he's not like you and me," Roy said, watching his partner's ashen face carefully. "He killed someone without giving it a second thought. You were willing to sacrifice yourself for Jo and the kids without a second thought."
Johnny met Roy's light blue eyes and saw gratitude. "Roy, it never crossed my mind to do otherwise. I love them."
Noticing John was wearing the delicate string of beads, Roy asked, "Are you ever going to tell me the story behind that necklace?"
John smiled. "Maybe. Some day."
Summer blooms peeked out of every corner, the canyon rocks glowing with vivid flowers. Johnny stood at the trailhead, watching the DeSotos' paneled station wagon pull into the parking lot. Chris and Jenny waved from inside the car, and he waved back.
"Uncle Johnny, mommy says we're going to have a picnic!" Jennifer shouted as she opened her door.
"That's right, pumpkin pie."
"I brought the baseball and gloves!" Chris announced.
Joanne gave John a kiss on the cheek. "Are you sure you want to be here?"
He nodded. "I'll always remember what happened, but this is a beautiful place and I don't want bad memories keeping me away. Especially when the park is going to get bigger."
"What do you mean?" Roy asked as he lifted a picnic basket and plaid blanket from the back of the Buick.
"Detective Molino called. Reynolds' grandfather passed away. It turns out he really did change his will and left that land over there to Bonita. Her only relative is a brother who lives out of state, and he's making arrangements to give the land to the county to make it part of the park. In Bonita's memory."
"I'm glad," Roy said. As he joined his family, he gave the gleaming white Rover a second glance. "I have never seen your car this clean, Junior."
"You ain't seen anything yet. Look at this!" John opened the door and with a sweep of his arm revealed a pristine interior. "Dr. Brackett got it detailed. Said something about since I insisted on driving a rust bucket, it might as well be a clean one. I guess he felt bad because he walked by and didn't know I was in there, even though I told him there was no way he could've known."
"How long do you think it will stay this way?" Roy teased.
"I dunno. Maybe a few days?" John laughed. "What did you bring to eat, Jo?"
Joanne linked her arm through Roy's. "All of your favorites. Which means a little of everything."
"I'm hungry! I found a really great spot a little ways up the trail. So," Johnny said, leaning over to look both kids in the eyes. "Who wants to take a walk in the park?"