Chapter Seventeen

One Year Later

Roy DeSoto carefully guided the family station wagon up the gravel road to Johnny's ranch. Based on the number of other vehicles parked near the sprawling cabin, they weren't the first to arrive.

"Daddy, we're late!" Jennifer screamed in his ear, hanging halfway over the front seat.

"Jennifer Anne DeSoto, park your tush back in that seat," Joanne ordered, her finger pointed to where Jen normally sat when they drove anywhere.

"We're not late. I can see two more cars coming up the road behind us." Roy watched both his children popping up to look out the back of the car, trying to see who it might be.

Once parked, Roy let Chris and Jen run to the cabin, shouting Johnny's name to announce their arrival. He and Joanne followed at a slower pace, his arm slung around her shoulders.

The newly arrived cars parked close by, disgorging Mike Stoker and Holly, his date, from a white sedan, followed by Kelly Brackett and Dixie McCall from the doctor's emerald green sports car. They exchanged greetings as they reached the steps to the porch.

It had been a rough year for everyone, including the fire department itself. The investigation into how J. C. Carlyle had been hired despite his history in San Francisco had revealed a combination of people who either ignored or covered up pertinent facts during the hiring process. It also led to the discovery of a former captain turned Battalion Chief from the notorious Station 118 who had directed Carlyle's application to like-minded people to enable his acceptance. Discipline actions for those involved included suspensions, reassignments, demotions, and some firings. And forced retirement for the Battalion Chief.

"He got off too easy," Chet sniped, sitting near the grill currently heating up.

Marco shrugged. "He made a deal, named names."

Johnny observed softly, "Procedures are changing, Chet. They are writing new regulations prohibiting hate speech within the department."

"Yeah, yeah, we all heard the speech. 'It's a different world, filled with all races and some women stepping up to protect the county. We can do no less.' Sounds good." Chet took a sip from his beer bottle.

Roy moved to where the other men sat, having caught Chet's comment. "You don't believe it?"

"The proof will be in how they handle the first serious non-violent complaint they receive." Marco lowered his voice, leaning forward to keep the conversation among the four of them. "I have serious concerns about this working considering any complaint has to be submitted to their immediate superior."

"Captain Stanley is a good man, a fair man. Many of the other captains are as well. But we all know that isn't true across the department. You're worried what will happen if the captain receiving the complaint is part of the problem."

"Frankly, I'd be seriously worried if I was still on the job," Johnny said, waving his right arm with the supportive brace he now must wear.

Marco got up to check the grill's temperature. Pleased that it was hot enough to begin cooking, he pulled out the burgers and franks from the red cooler sitting nearby. "There needs to be oversight. The Union needs to be involved. I think they are pushing for inclusion in the process."

"When is Carlyle's trial for the assault, John?"

"It is scheduled to begin next week. The department wants him to settle, but so far he's fighting any type of punishment."

Roy frowned. "You're not dropping the charges!"

"Chill out, Roy. I have no intention of doing so." Johnny shook his head. "I've already paid too much for trying to avoid a fuss."

"Roy, are you coming back to the Station? The openings were announced yesterday, we could use you." Marco flipped the meat on the grill as he spoke.

"Jo and I talked it over. I'm staying with teaching for the time being. I just don't feel like doing the job without Johnny beside me."

Johnny's ears grew red as his grin spread across his face. "Pally, that's stupid. You're too good a paramedic to give up on it just because I'm not with the department anymore."

"That's a big part of it, I admit. But I've lost a lot of confidence in the people in charge. Who knows who might be assigned to work with me? Thanks, but no thanks. I've gotten used to the regular hours, the ability to train others to step up and do the job."

"You said for the time being. Are you considering something else?" Chet asked.

"I'm…I'm actually considering putting my name up for a Captain's position."

Roy was pleased by the positive response to that announcement.

"Food's up!" Marco announced.

"My cue to get the salad out of the kitchen. Be right back." Johnny headed to the sliding glass doors at the back of the cabin.

"Do any of you know how much time Carlyle might get if he's found guilty?" Mike Stoker asked, joining the group.

"I spoke to the prosecuting attorney when I was prepping for my testimony," Marco answered. "He might not do any time at all."

The angry response had him holding his hand up to keep their feelings in control. "Yeah, I get it, but the reality is that he has a clean record, no arrests. Worst case, probation for a couple of years and some community service. Probably court mandated anger management."

"And best case?"

"One, maybe two years. Even John doesn't think they'll get a guilty verdict for attempted murder. Carlyle and his buddies were incredibly drunk."

"I heard his paramedic certification has been revoked, so that's something," Mike offered. "He won't be able to get a job in almost any fire department that I can think of, thanks to the publicity over this."

Roy slammed his beer bottle down onto the picnic table. "So, he ruined Johnny's life and tore up both the station and the department only to walk away scot-free. It's not right!"

"I'm alive. I might have had to leave what I loved to do, but I had something else I loved to fall back on, raising and training horses. I still have my friends." Johnny placed the huge bowls of salad on the table, resting his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I refuse to let that bastard win by focusing on the negative."

The others began nodding, gathering around as the group of friends they still were despite the changes to their lives.

June 2019

A/N: I know this ending might not please a lot of readers. It is a bit more realistic than many would like.

I have rewritten this chapter over and over and over again, not satisfied with how it came out. I've known from the beginning that Johnny would not be coming back to the department, but I just wasn't able to get the words to work like I wanted. I hope this isn't a complete disappointment to everyone, but it is what I had planned even back when I first started writing this story back in 2008.