CHiPs Chronicles

The continuing adventures of Jon & Ponch

“Trails”


“Betty-” Sergeant Joe Getraer sighed and switched the phone to the other ear as his wife apologized for the umpteenth time. 

“Betty, I told you it’s okay. I understand. Tell your sister congratulations from me. No I’ll be fine. Yes, I think I can manage feeding myself. I love you too. Bye.”

Joe sighed again as he hung up. Just great, he thought. He and Betty were supposed to be leaving on their second honeymoon next week. Two weeks in Hawaii. No kids, no phones no-

“Hey Sarge! Front desk said you had a message for me?” Frank Poncherello interrupted.

“As a matter of fact Frank I have several. From a “Darlene”. She was wondering when ‘Sergeant Poncherello’ would be in. Now you wouldn’t have any idea where she might have gotten the idea that YOU are boss around here now would you?”

Ponch put on his best innocent look. “No way Sarge-not me.”

Joe tossed the pile of messages to him. “Go on, take these and get back on your beat.”

Ponch grinned. “Sure thing Sarge, right away.” He reached for the pile of messages and walked out.

Joe sat back in his chair and returned to his moping. He loved his sister-in-law Elizabeth, but why did she have to have her baby 3 weeks early? Now Betty would be spending their second honeymoon with her and her husband in Santa Fe, and he’d be spending it by himself. Timmy and Christopher were away at camp. It would be just him and two weeks of daytime TV. Was it too late to cancel with the department?

Joe pushed his chair back and stood up, ignoring the paperwork on his desk. He reached in his pocket for some change and walked across the hall to the break room. As he got himself a cup of coffee he noticed Jon Baker sitting at the table, a colorful topographical map spread out in front of him.

“Mapping out your beat, Baker?” he asked jokingly.

Jon smiled, chewing on the end of his pencil. “Hardly. Just going over some trails.”

“Trails?”

“Yeah. I’m on vacation next week, remember? I plan on getting as far away from the city and smog as I can.” he laughed.

Intrigued, Joe looked over his shoulder. “Where you planning on hiding out?”

“Appalachian Trail.” Jon replied, scribbling something on the map.

“What? That’s back east-you mean to tell me you’re traveling 2000 some odd miles just to get away from it all?”

Jon grinned. “You bet.”

Joe eyed the map. “Where is that anyway?”

“Maine,” Jon replied, “Mt. Katahdin to be exact. The northernmost part of the trail.”

“And you plan to hike the whole trail?”

Jon laughed. “Heck no-that would take months. Just from Mt. Katahdin to Monson. Bout a 100 miles or so.”

Joe shook his head. “Baker you’re something else. Poncherello going to be with you?”

Jon looked at his sergeant with disbelief. “You kidding me? Ponch’s idea of wildlife is a night at the disco.”

Joe had to laugh. “Well Jon, your vacation sounds a whole lot better than mine.”

He explained what had happened to Jon, then took his coffee and returned to his office. He was deep in paperwork when Jon’s voice interrupted him.

“Joe? You got a minute?”

“Sure Jon, what’s going on?”

“Well I was thinking-you’ve got nothing to do the next two weeks, and we always said we should get together off duty sometime, and I wouldn’t mind a hiking partner-look, what I’m saying is, would you like to join me for the hike?”

Joe was surprised and flattered. “Jon, I appreciate the offer but 100 miles? I think I’m a little too old to keep up with you.”

Jon leaned against the doorjamb and grinned.

“I dunno Joe. I’ve heard you’re a pretty fair outdoorsman when given the opportunity. C’mon Joe-it’ll be an adventure for both of us. What do you say?”

“Grossie, look at this! You’ve ruined a perfectly good uniform!” Ponch’s irritated voice called from the hallway. Suddenly he appeared at the door, his uniform displaying a large dark splotch.

“Frank, what happened?”

“Grossie’s playing mechanic, that’s what happened!”

Arthur Grossman’s flushed face appeared at the door. “Sarge, it was an accident! Harlan’s out sick and I needed to add some oil to my motor-how was I supposed to know it would splash so much?” He stepped into full view, revealing his own oilstained uniform.

Joe sighed and ran a hand over his face. “Grossman, next time leave the oil changes to a professional. Now both of you get cleaned up. Briefing in 15 minutes.”

As the two men headed for the shower still arguing, Jon tried to hide his amusement. Joe looked heavenward and then straight at Jon.

“Baker, when do we leave?”
**********************************************
Two days later, Jon and Joe stood in Trailside, Jon’s favorite outdoors shop. They were staring at an aisle filled with camping food. If that’s what you could call a small foil package of dehydrated chicken, Joe thought.

Jon grinned as he held up two of the packages. “So what do you think Joe? Beef Stew or Chicken Pot Pie?”

Joe made a face. “Why do I get the feeling neither of them are going to actually taste like what they are?”

“C’mon Sarge,” Jon said with a chuckle, “everybody knows the outdoors makes everything taste better.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.” Joe pulled another packet off the shelf.
“Hmm..Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal. That ought to be okay-how can you screw up oatmeal?”

He followed Jon to the next aisle, where he was scrutinizing several brands of insect repellent.

“Okay, this ought to do it.” he said, reaching for one.

Joe read the can. “Deep Woods Insect Repellent-guaranteed to keep the bugs off and the bites away!”, he laughed, “I wonder if they have any Ponch repellent?”

Jon laughed and shook his head.

“I’m sorry, I probably shouldn’t have said that. It’s just that sometimes I’d-”

“Sarge,” Jon interrupted, “I understand. I spend 40 hours a week with him. You think he doesn’t drive me crazy sometimes? He wouldn’t be Ponch otherwise. ” he smiled and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right Baker,” Joe agreed as they carried their purchases to the counter, “but don’t tell him I said so!”

***********************************************************

“What? Are you crazy Baker? What were you thinking, inviting Getraer on a 100 mile hike in the Maine woods? I thought you were going on vacation!” Ponch laughed.

Jon sat down on the bench in front of his locker. “Hey, I thought it’d be nice to spend some off duty time together- I do consider Joe my friend, okay? And besides, he was feeling down about his own vacation.”

Ponch splashed some cologne on. “That’s always been your problem Jon, you’re just too nice a guy.” he grinned.

Jon laughed. “Sorry Ponch-I’ll try to be more of a jerk in the future, okay?”

Closing his locker with a slam, Ponch began to button his shirt. “Man, what I wouldn’t give to see that-you and Joe alone in the woods. You’re gonna need a vacation when you get back, you know that?”

Jon was quiet for a moment. “You know, if you find this all so amusing, you can still go.the offer is still open.” he smiled.

“Oh, no way partner…I’m not that crazy-I’ll stick to the wildlife on the freeways, okay?”

“PONCHERELLO!” Getraer bellowed as he walked in.

Ponch winced. Jon turned away, trying to hide his grin.

“Problem Sarge?”

You tell me. I have FIFTEEN messages for SERGEANT Poncherello. One of them is from the Captain-it seems this admirer of yours called his office looking for you! So tell me Frank, do we have a problem?”

Ponch gulped. Jon grinned and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Hey try and stay out of trouble while I’m gone, okay?”

*******************************************************************

Friday night, Jon stood in his apartment, surrounded by his gear. Silently, he checked each item off. Pack, tent, sleeping bag, groundcloth, stove, food, first aid kit, Swiss army knife. He stopped and smiled to himself. He was really looking forward to this. Two weeks of freedom from the noise and smell of the freeway. He loved being a patrolman, but the wide-open spaces, the silence, the fresh air-well like his mom had always said, “you can take the boy away from Wyoming, but you can’t take Wyoming out of the boy.” Life’s path may have led him to the city, but he vowed that the city would never change him.
He was glad he’d invited Joe. Joe had grown up in Washington State, surrounded by the Cascades. He knew deep down Joe heard the same song he did. Joe never hid his love for the outdoors-his lavish garden and collection of houseplants at Central were proof of that. He smiled as he finished his inventory of supplies. An hour later, with everything packed and stacked neatly by the door, he finally went to bed.

*******************************************************************

The alarm jangled at exactly 4am. Jon jerked awake, and then relaxed, yawning. Damn. He’d been dreaming about riding with Roy Rogers to a showdown at noon. Oh well, he thought, swinging his legs over the side of his bed and standing up, maybe another time. He stretched, then bent over to touch his toes. Coffee. Coffee would be good. He shuffled to the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot. As the aroma began to fill the small apartment, he swallowed his vitamins, then poured himself a steaming mug, its worn surface proclaiming “Horse Sense is Common Sense”.

A half hour later, his hair still damp from the shower, Jon hoisted his pack onto his shoulders and headed out the door. Vacation, here I come, he said to himself.

He pulled up to Joe’s house a few minutes later, George Strait playing on the radio. He waited while he tossed his gear in the back of the truck and climbed in.

“Mornin Sarge. Ready?” he said cheerfully.

“You bet. What time do you think we’ll get there?”

“Oh, probably around 3 or 4 this afternoon. I made reservations for us at a little in about 2 miles from trailhead. Then tomorrow we’re off.”

“Terrific. Peace and quiet here I come!”
*******************************************************************
The next morning they set out. By noon they were deep in the Maine forest, surrounded by the symphony of birdsongs, the rustle of leaves, and the snap of twigs under their boots as they walked. Jon took a deep breath, his lungs filling with the rich clean smell of pine and sunshine.

“You know, if someone ever finds a away to bottle this up, they’d make a mint.”

“Yeah, but what fun would that be?” Joe replied with a smile.

They came across a clearing and sat down for a rest. Jon pulled out his bag of Gorp and offered some to Joe. He took a handful of the sunflower seed, raisin, and M&M mixture and chewed thoughtfully.

“Hey do you-”

“SHHH” Jon hushed him, pointing to a clump of bushes ahead on the trail. A doe, the sunlight glinting off its tawny coat, stared back at them, as it chewed on the tender leaves of a nearby branch.

The two men watched the magnificent animal in awe as it walked slowly toward them. Jon reached behind him and pulled some blackberries off a nearby bush, ignoring the sharp sting of the thorns that pricked his hand. He held the berries out and spoke softly, careful not to move.

“Here girl, is this what you’re looking for?”

The deer stopped and stared at Jon for a moment, then cautiously walked over and gobbled the berries from his hand. Joe reached out and stroked her velvety nose. Suddenly she turned and disappeared into the brush.

“Wow.” Joe said softly.

“Yeah, beautiful, wasn’t she?” Jon replied.

The sharp crack of a shotgun firing startled them both.

“What the hell was that?” Joe asked.

“Sounds like poachers. Hunting season isn’t for another few months.”

Joe thought of the deer they’d just seen. “I hope she got away.” he said quietly.

Jon swallowed hard. “Me too.”
*******************************************************************

As sunset approached, they made camp. As Joe finished setting up the tent, Jon set the stove up and pulled a packet of beef stew out of his pack. He dumped it into a pan, added some water from the canteen, and set it on the burner.

“Jon, seeing as I’ve never eaten your cooking, do you have anything to warn me about?” he grinned.

“Hey, I’m not that bad!” Jon smiled, “hey, there’s a fire ring here, so why don’t you gather a few twigs and branches off the ground and we’ll make ourselves a little campfire?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

A half hour later their little fire was crackling merrily, as they sat back and ate dinner. Joe took a small forkful and chewed hesitantly before a surprised look came over his face. “Hey, this isn’t half bad!”

“Told you so.” Jon said with a satisfied grin.

Later, dinner finished, the two men sat surrounded by the warm glow of the fire. The silence of the woods, save for the mournful hoots of an owl, was oddly relaxing. Jon closed his eyes for a minute, letting the sounds and smells of the forest take over. The rich smell of the sun warmed earth, the crisp scent of pine, the wind whistling gently through the trees-he found it all wonderfully exhilarating. Opening his eyes, he looked up into the night sky, its western edges still kissed with pink. The stars smiled back.

“Hey, isn’t that the Milky Way?” Joe asked, pointing.

“Yep, and over there’s the North Star.”

“And there’s the Big Dipper. And I think that’s Cassiopeia.”

Jon looked over at him, “Hey, you’re pretty good.”

“I try. Betty’s 10 times better. But I can identify more plants than she can.” he laughed.

Jon didn’t respond. He looked back up at the stars. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Joe spoke.

“Hey Jon, you okay? Did I say something wrong?”

Jon looked down and began poking at the fire. “No, its not you. It’s me. I’m jealous.” he said quietly.

“Jealous? Of what?”

Jon tossed the branch he’d been poking the fire with down in disgust. “Oh I don’t know. I’m 34 years old, and I’m still living a bachelor’s life. I always thought I’d be married by now. It scares me sometimes.”

Joe had never heard the normally private Jon speak so candidly. “Jon, I wouldn’t worry. You’re just taking your time. I wish I had. Then my first marriage never would have happened and a lot of pain could have been avoided.”

Jon looked up. “First marriage? Oh..Ellen’s mother?” he said softly.

Joe nodded. “We were only 18 when we got married. Ellen arrived 3 months after my 19th birthday. It was all too soon. We were kids who had no business being married, let alone parents. We tried, damn we tried. The divorce was final on Ellen’s third birthday. I don’t regret having her, I only wish…well you know. I didn’t meet Betty til I was 30. Married her 4 years later. Trust me Jon, you’ll be just fine.”

Jon looked at Joe. “Thanks Sarge.”

Joe chuckled. “And besides, I’m the one who’s jealous.”

“What?” Jon exclaimed in surprise.

“Sure, I mean look at you. You’re the best damn officer Central has ever had. And I’m not getting any younger. One of these days it’s gonna be Sargeant Baker running things.”

Jon flushed. “I um…well sure I’d like to be Sargeant someday, but I don’t think I could ever replace you.”

Joe grinned. “Well not anytime soon anyway.”

“No way Sarge. The guys would never forgive me. They’ve gotten you broken in just right.” Jon said with a chuckle.

Joe laughed then suddenly went serious. “Jon, I just want you to know that I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have take over Central then you.”

“Thanks Sarge, that means a lot.” Jon said quietly.

“Hey, do me a favor, will ya? We’re not on duty, and I don’t see a badge in sight, and besides, all my friends call me Joe, okay?”

Jon smiled. “Okay Joe.”

*******************************************************************

The next morning Joe woke first. After putting a pot of coffee on the stove, he yawned and looked around. The morning was spreading its gentle rays across the forest. The trees were alive with the twitter of birds and the chatter of squirrels as a new day began. Joe slipped into his boots and decided to take a morning stroll. He was studying a particularly fine specimen of fern and writing in the journal he’d brought when the sharp crack shotgun fire jarred him out of his thoughts.

“Hey!” he shouted, “there are people over here! Hold your fire!”

The forest was silent for a moment, and then another crack. This time it hit a nearby tree and severed a leafy branch. Joe dropped to the forest floor and yelled again.

“There are people here! Hold your goddamned fire!”

He crawled across the bed of pine needles covering the forest floor, trying to find a rock or fallen log to hide behind as more shotgun fire rang through the trees. This is unbelievable, he thought. What in the hell did they think they were doing? He spotted a big boulder out of the corner of his eye. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to cover him until he could figure out how he was going to get back to camp without getting his head blown off.

He stood up and took a deep breath, ready to make a run for it. “Hey! I’m a police officer!” he shouted, “hold your fire!”

He started to run. Just as he reached the rock, a stabbing pain ripped through his chest. He stumbled forward, reaching toward the rock as everything went black.
*******************************************************************

Jon had been jarred awake by the gunfire. He ran out of the tent, jamming on his jeans and boots.

“Joe! Joe! Hey Joe where are ya?” he yelled.

Silence answered him.

“Joe! Joe can you hear me?”

More silence.

“Damn it!” Jon cursed. He shoved his arms into his shirt and looked around. “Where the hell is he?”

Suddenly his eyes caught footprints heading towards a path to the right of the tent. He took off on it, calling out Joe’s name over and over. In a few minutes reached the clearing Joe had been in and stopped in his tracks, his stomach turning, his heart in his throat.

Joe was sprawled face down across a large boulder. Beneath him, a large dark splotch was slowly spreading over the rock’s surface.

“Jesus no…NO!!” he yelled, running to him. He gently lifted Joe’s body from the rock and laid him on the ground. He saw the large bullet wound below Joe’s left shoulder and swore. Oh God..oh God help me.

“Joe, Joe can you hear me? Joe?” Jon said, taking off his flannel shirt. He ripped it into strips and wrapped it tightly around Joe’s bloody chest. Got to stop the bleeding. His mind was working on autopilot, doing everything a good cop is taught to do. Jon put his head to Joe’s chest and barely held back a sob. He wasn’t breathing!

“Damn it to hell-you’re not gonna die on me!” he said angrily as he started CPR, pausing every few seconds to give him mouth to mouth. Joe suddenly coughed, and a little blood dribbled out of his mouth. He was breathing!

Jon looked around. “I gotta get you out of here Joe. Just hold on, okay? Hold on!”

He checked the bandages one more time, then hoisted Joe into a fireman’s carry. Somehow they made it back to camp. Jon wrapped his sleeping bag around Joe and sat back.

“How the hell am I going to get you out of here?”

It was a good 35 miles back to the trailhead. They had yet to see any other hikers and probably wouldn’t any time soon. Wait a minute, Jon thought-the poachers! That was it. Those SOB’s were going to help them whether they wanted to or not.”

“Jon…” Joe’s voice rasped.

Jon knelt beside him. “You’re gonna be okay Joe. I’m gonna go get help. Just hang in there, okay?”

“I got shot, didn’t I?” he whispered.

“Yeah.”

“Jon, if I don’t-tell Betty I love her.”

“No,” Jon said, “No I won’t. You can tell her yourself, okay? You’re gonna be fine!”

Joe closed his eyes. Jon checked his pulse and tore up another shirt to make fresh bandages. When he was sure everything was fine for the moment, he took off into the forest. Okay Jon, how do you catch a poacher? Easy, just make like a deer-and pray the jerk has bad aim. Jon crouched down in the brush, tugging on the brown cordoroy shirt he’d dug out of Joe’s pack. He stayed there silent, waiting for the sound of twigs snapping under foot.

“Shit Jake, you should have listened to that guy-what if he really was a cop?”

“Relax, wouldya? I scared him off. I’m not here to hunt people, just deer.”

Jon clenched his fists. He felt like he was in Nam all over again, waiting for the enemy. When they got close enough he stood up.

“Well then I guess that means you won’t shoot me.”

The two men looked startled. “What the hell are you doing? You some kind of psycho?” asked the one called Jake, adjusting his dirty orange feed cap.

Jon took a step forward, reaching into his back pocket for his badge. “No, I’m some kind of cop. You’re under arrest for poaching and attempted murder.”

“What? You’re crazy!”

“One of you shot my friend-he needs help. And you’re gonna give it to him.” Jon’s voice was icy.

Jake raised his shotgun. Jon ran forward and grabbed his arm. The two men fell wrestling to the ground as the gun went off. There was a squawk and a flapping of wings as a startled bird family flew away. Jon threw a punch. Jake fell back with a groan as blood began to spurt from his nose. Jon stood up and looked at Jake’s companion, who was staring at them both dumbly. He grabbed the gun and hauled Jake up.

“Where’s you truck?”

Jake groaned again. “About a mile back by the switchback.”

“Okay boys, we’re going for a ride.”
*******************************************************************
Jon sat in the small police station and sighed. He looked up as the desk sargeant returned and handed him his badge.

“Sorry about that, Officer Baker, but you can’t be too careful these days. You understand.”

“Sure do.”

“We appreciate you bringing in those two fools. Rest assured they’ll be prosecuted fully. Sure sorry your friend got hurt.”

“Me too,” Jon said, “but he’s gonna be all right.”

“Good to hear.”
*******************************************************************
Jon sat next to Joe’s bed, watching him sleep. He looked awful, but the doctors assured him he was going to be just fine. Betty was flying in from New Mexico tomorrow. Jon said a silent prayer of thanks. I hope I never come that close to losing a friend again. Suddenly he chuckled. Another vacation bites the dust. Oh well. It had been great while it lasted. As he stood up to go find a cup of coffee, Joe’s eyes opened. He looked at Jon and then began to speak.

“Damn Baker, you look awful.”

Jon smiled. “Thanks Sarge.”

-0-

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October 20, 2011 - Posted by | Fiction

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