I was free.
Three months of hell, and I was finally free, but at what cost?
I had lost my family, and I knew I would never be getting them back.
The cost was too damn high, in my opinion, I thought, as I stood up to leave, and found my Captain, standing there with a sad little smile on her face.
I had notified her some time ago, that if this went the way I hoped, that I would be leaving from the department and moving away.
She wasn't happy that I was leaving, and she was losing me but she understood.
She walked up to me and pulled from her purse my gun, and duty shield, as well as my badge case, with identification in it.
Handing them to me, she said,
"Here Mike, these are yours." with a tone in her voice that said she truly meant it, and more importantly, believed it.
She always had.
"Thanks Jeri." I replied, as I took my weapon and put it back on my belt, under my coat and placed the badge on my opposite side, before taking the case and flipping it open looking at what was inside.
I was surprised and looked at Jeri who was grinning.
"You're not out of it yet Mike, and I expect you in tomorrow 3-11 you hear me?" she said, smiling.
"Jeri..." I said.
"Don't you Jeri me, Mike Reynolds, you still work for me until you leave for good." she said, laughing at my stunned look.
I just moved forward and wrapped her in a hug, as she sputtered.
"Now you quit that, I'm your superior officer." she blustered, as I squeezed again, and released her, smiling.
"Thanks Jeri." I told her, as I stepped back.
"No problem Mike, see you tomorrow." and with that she turned and left, while I looked down at the badge in my hand.
I would miss it, a lot I thought, as I put it away, and walked out, thanking all the attorneys who had done such a wonderful job.
It was as Bill and I approached the main entrance, that Kat came out from the shadows and approached me.
I stopped and waited for her, as she came up to me with a determined look on her face.
"Mike, you won in there, but you won't win if you take us on." she said, and seemed to be waiting for me to reply, as she didn't look happy when I didn't.
"Mike, stay away from the boys, and stay away from me. We want nothing to do with you ever again."
With each word, it was a knife plunging into my heart, but I remained silent as she continued.
"Do you understand me, Mike? You are nothing to me; or the boy's anymore." she finished, turning away and stalking off.
"Kat," I called, and she stopped.
For a moment I didn't think she was going to turn around, but slowly she did, and faced me.
"Kat, you can make that choice, and as much as it hurts me, I will respect it, and honor it, but remember that I will al....always love them, and you." I said to her, as my voice broke.
She just looked at me, and I added, "You can reach me through Bill, if you ever need anything."
Still staring at me, and she said with a sense of complete finality in her voice. "Goodbye Mike." before turning and walking away, leaving me standing there in the hall, as the tears began to fall.
I had known I had lost them, but this somehow made it hit home, as nothing until now had.
I no longer had a family, and it left a hole, a big one, angel or no angel.
I went to the men's room, and got myself under control, and cleaned up a bit, before going back out and leaving the courtroom.
I knew I shouldn't be surprised, but it still came as a shock as I exited to find the news crews all around me.
Bill whispered in my ear, that I should say something even though I didn't want to speak with them, but I stopped as they screamed a cacophony of questions at me.
When they finally got it through their thick heads that I wasn't going to speak until they controlled themselves, things began to settle down, and once everything was quiet, I began to speak.
"I am going to issue a short statement, but I will NOT be taking any questions." I told them, and then I began.
"This trial should never have taken place, as the judge said in his verdict. The fact that it did is due to the overzealousness of the prosecutor, to pursue people for this particular allegation. Like many, it turns out to be unfounded, but the harm done to the person accused, is incalculable and far reaching. For this charge is one where a person's guilt is assumed, before any proof is presented to show the person actually committed the crime. Ever since the McAllister case, of a few years back, the witch hunt has been allowed to flourish, and I was simply the latest target of it. There are thousands of people out there, that have been accused of harming a child, and many don't have the resources which I have, to prove those allegations wrong. I hope that this verdict and the comments by the judge, will serve as a wake up call to the authorities in this jurisdiction and elsewhere, to really look at the allegations before pursuing them, but sadly, I don't hold out much hope for that happening. Thank you." I told them, and rapidly made my way to where I could flag a cab.
As Bill and I entered the cab, the reporters, who had not listened, were frantically screaming questions at me, but I ignored them, as I pulled the door closed, and the cab took off with me sitting back with a mixed sense of relief and pain.
"Mike, I want you to think seriously about allowing us to pursue damages from this." Bill told me, as I sat there.
I didn't want to think about anything at the moment, as I was filled with a great sadness, over the events which had taken place.
I understood the term 'hollow victory' now, better than I ever had before.
"Mike?" Bill asked, looking at me questioningly.
"Yeah Bill, that's fine, get the SOB's" I told him softly.
I didn't need the money, obviously, but maybe it would cause them to wake up, and take notice, finally of the pain they had been inflicting on so many for so long.
"Alright Mike, I don't think it will ever get to trial, they'll want to settle", he told me, as I sat there thinking.
"Bill, if we were to take it to trial, would it do any good?" I asked him, thinking just maybe that by going to trial that we might be able to actually accomplish something for others. Money wasn't the issue; it was what they were doing to so many people, with their witch hunts.
"Honestly, I don't know, Mike, it might, but I just don't know." he told me honestly, knowing what I meant even though I hadn't said it outright.
"I can tell you this Mike the monetary damages that we'll get from them, will wake them up, and that might be the best thing imaginable." he told me.
I knew he was right, and that it was simply a sad reality that seemed to take place with government in general. You could have all the publicity in the world, but hitting them in the pocketbook usually was what it took to make a difference.
That had been amply illustrated, once again, several months back with the conclusion to a case which had lasted 4 years, involving a little girl, who had been struck and killed in an intersection, where parents and the community had been begging for a stop sign for years.
The city had ignored them repeatedly for whatever strange reason, and rather than spend less than a hundred dollars on putting a sign up, it had now spent millions to pay the lawsuit, plus the money for the stop sign, they finally saw the sense in installing, sadly a seven year old girl had to pay the ultimate price to get their attention.
Maybe this would help, I would hope, as I told Bill, "Make them bleed," which just got a nod from him.
I had the cab drop Bill off at his office, thanking him once again, for all he had done for me, before heading to my home, to collect what personal belongings were left, that I wanted to take.
The movers had been there already, and gotten most of it out. There were only a few more things, which needed to go. Some of which would be picked up, just before I left town, but most I would get today.
I spent the day sorting through stuff, packing some, and keeping the rest. Most of it I placed in boxes, to be picked up on my way out of town, but some of it went in boxes for the movers. The weapons cache I had was the last to be packed up and set ready to go, but I left that in the room which was designed for it, until later.
When I called for the cab again, there was not all that much that I was taking with me, back to the hotel this time.
That last week was bittersweet for me, as I enjoyed what I knew would be my last time as a deputy, with the department I had grown to love.
I savored every moment of it, and even worked over, each day, into what turned out to be 12 hour shifts, just because I didn't want to go back to the hotel and admit it was soon to be over.
I realized that with every hour the end was approaching, and it was on more than one occasion that I found myself returning to the hotel room, wondering if I had made the right decision or not, to leave.
The strangest thing, though, is on those nights when my doubts were at their strongest, I had the sweetest dreams of my little angel, and while I could never quite remember what had transpired, if anything, in those dreams, I awoke the next morning refreshed and relaxed, with that same sense of calm and peace throughout my being, that had been given to me that day at the park.
I awoke to the surety that I had made the right decision, and went through my day content, with only the doubts surfacing once again, as the day wore on and came to a close, bringing me closer to the end.
I had gotten so comfortable with my life, and I didn't like change, yet here it was being forced upon me, and I found, as usual, that I didn't like it.
As the week came to a close, I was fortunate to have one last event happen, that I would keep with me and treasure always, and it was about what we were here for.
It was nothing out of the usual, we got these calls all the time, and they usually turned out fine, although sometimes tragedy struck, sadly.
This one was for a little girl, who had been out playing with her family at a picnic, and had disappeared.
She was only four years old, and being that she disappeared in a public setting, we were all concerned.
The park was large, and had a million and one places where she could be, but there were only so many of us to search, even with a dog, we got nowhere, and were left to combing the woods, hoping to find her.
Many hours later, as it was just getting full dark, I had been assigned to an area beyond the initial search radius, and was walking down an arroyo towards a stream.
I couldn't see anything there, and was about to head up the bank towards another area, when I thought I saw a child, standing near some bushes.
I called out to him, because he was way too small to be out here alone, when he scampered off into the bushes and I took off after him.
When I got to the place he had been, I couldn't see him anywhere, and began looking around frantically, worried that we might have more than one child missing today, and that was when I saw it.
A foot sticking out from some bushes.
My heart stopped, as I knelt down, and crawled into the bushes to find the little girl, in a small clearing sleeping peacefully.
I breathed a sigh of relief, as I noticed this. She appeared a bit scratched up and dirty, but I couldn't see any other injuries on her, as I smiled gently, touching her arm and calling to her to wake up.
"Que?" she asked me sleepily.
"Mija esta bien, usted lastimo?" I told her with my limited Spanish.
"No, no lastimo, estoy muy bien" she replied.
"Tu mama quieres su nina."
"Mama" she said excitedly.
"Si, tu mama" I said.
"Venga mija" I told her and she took my hand as I pulled her up and back out of the clearing.
As soon as she got out of the clearing she started looking around intently before asking me "donde es el Niño?"
Boy? The one I saw earlier maybe?
"Que Niño?" I asked her.
"El muchacho que me ayudó" the boy who had helped her she told me.
"No se, cuál era su nombre?" I asked her wanting to know the child's name, but she just shook her head, telling me she didn't know but he was white with red hair.
"No se, pero el muchacho es blanco con tiene pelo rojo" she said.
"Esta bien mija, esta bien" I told her, it's alright before picking her up and telling her. "Deja para ir hallazgo su madre" lets go find your mother.
I keyed the radio, and reported the lost child found, giving them my location and soon heard sirens approaching, as I thought about what she had said.
A boy, a white one with red hair, who helped her, it was just too much of a coincidence to me, and as I was thinking that, heard a brief series of soft giggles, and I knew.
This was one busy angel I thought, as some more giggles seemed to musically surround me, before fading away as the first unit arrived on scene.
I had a very upset mother, running and taking the child from my arms, as she said over and over again,
"Gracias senor, gracias."
"De nada. Ella está muy bien, ella se rasguña encima de un poco pero con excepción de ése la no dañan en todos." I told her, letting her know that except for a few scratches her daughter was fine.
"Adios." the little girl called to me, smiling and waving, as the mother took her away, all though, now with her daughter.
"Adios mija." I said back to her, with a smile on my face. "Adios y gracias mi angelito." I said softly, to no one, and everyone, but I was rewarded with the merest hint of boyish laughter, on the wind, as I left the park with a smile on my face.
The rest of the shift was uneventful, and while I shouldn't have been surprised, I was, when I walked in at the end of my shift, and found a farewell party awaiting me.
It was quite nice, and I had a wonderful time, until finally it wound down, and Jeri walked over to me, with a new ID card in her hand, one which said 'retired'.
"You sure you won't reconsider?" she asked me, already knowing the answer, as I just looked at her.
"Yeah, didn't think so. You take care Mike, you hear Me." she said smiling fondly, as I took the card, and held onto her hand telling her,
"Thanks, Jeri, thanks for everything." putting as much of my feelings as I could into it, before letting her go.
She looked at me for a moment, before nodding her head, and quickly turning away, but not before I saw the hint of tears in her eyes.
She was one special lady.
I knew how she was feeling, I had been fighting them all night, and I knew when I got back to the hotel, the battle would finally be lost.
I looked at the card, and then pulled my case out, removing my active duty ID, and replacing it with the one showing retired, then went in and left the former on Jeri's desk, just holding on to it for a few moments, delaying the inevitable, before slowly laying it to rest with a sense of the finality, but also with a renewed sense of the rightness of it.
With a small smile, I made my way out of the building I had called home for the last few years, and was met with another surprise, as Tucker was sitting there, leaning against his unit with his usual cocky grin on his face.
"You finally ready to go, tough guy?" he asked me grinning with a big smile.
I stupidly looked at him, before making the very intelligent reply "Huh?"
"Geez, retired for two minutes, and the brain has already turned to mush." he said, laughing to me.
"I'm giving you a ride tonight." he told me.
"But Tuck, it's..." I started to say.
"It's already cleared with the watch commander." he cut me off, still grinning.
"Ok." I told him, not going to argue, as I put my bag into the back, and climbed into the front seat with him.
We pulled out, and the next surprise occurred with him turning on his lights and siren, but that was followed with another one when the units pulled out in front and behind us, as we left the station all code 3, and I realized quickly that the battle was lost a bit earlier than I planned, as they escorted me with tears falling, back to my hotel.
When we got there, I turned and said, "Tuck, this...." but he cut me off again. "Go on, get out of here, and try to stay out of trouble." he told me gruffly.
"Stay safe, Tuck, and thanks." I told him, looking at him as he just nodded his head. There didn't need to be anything else said, as I clapped him on his shoulder, and got out of the unit.
"Take care Tuck, take care." I said, as I shut the door.
I heard, "You too, cowboy." as the door slammed, and I watched him leave and with it the last of my life here, as I watched the flashing lights out of sight.
I went in, and up to my suite, where I relaxed a while, taking out my badge case, and just staring at what now lay within for an interminable time, before finally shaking myself out of it and heading off to bed.
Tomorrow would start a new chapter in my life, hell a new book; I just hoped I was ready for it.
I awoke the next morning, relaxed and at peace, knowing that once again I had been visited by my angel in my dreams, and knew I was ready to face what lay ahead.
I got showered and packed up, requesting room service, and having a final meal here, as I waited for the arrival of the coach and Suburban, that was due at eleven.
Finally, the phone rang, and it was the front desk, telling me that both were present downstairs, and I had them send a bellboy up for my things.
When I got to the lobby, I checked out and had the bellboy bring my things out to the coach, which was parked alongside the building, where he loaded them inside, as I took care of the final paperwork for the vehicles, and did my inspections of both.
They were perfect, and it was with a sense of adventure taking over, that I climbed into the coach, and looked around, going through the entire thing several times, looking at everything, while the salesman made a point of explaining a number of things to me, about certain features, before finally leaving me to unpack and get settled in.
Once that was done, I headed to the house, and got the remaining belongings that were there, and stowed them away, before tackling the weapons, which were going into a specially designed compartment, in the coach.
Once that was done, it was almost time for the bank manager, who showed up promptly, with the case, containing the cash I had arranged for him to bring me, to his repeated attempts at discouragement.
I invited him inside, where I counted it, and then thanked him, and I was ready to depart, as soon as I had it stowed in the safe.
Fortunately, the motor coach company had provided a remarkable level of service, so after picking out specific things and such, I had a fully stocked unit in terms of utensils, dishware and the like. Now all I had to do was stock it with food.
I stopped at an Albertson's on the way out of town, and went in, buying enough food to feed an army, but especially stocking up on favorites, like Chorizo, tamales, steaks and other favorites, not to mention Pepsi.
There was a caniceria next door, where I added some carnitas to my stock, before heading back to coach and spending about an hour, putting everything away in the fridge and special freezer I had installed.
Finally, nothing was left to do but leave, and I slowly sat down in the driver's seat, taking a deep breath, and with some trepidation, taking the final step, putting the thing in drive.
I sat there for several minutes, with my hand on the lever before finally moving it, and beginning the new adventure, and I could swear I heard a giggle, as I finally got around to going.
The next year, and several months were spent going around the country, and seeing various places, stopping where I felt like, for a day or a week, sometimes longer.
I hit casinos from Nevada to Florida, and points in between, finding some I liked more than others, but having some fun along the way.
I originally left Los Angeles on Interstate 10, up to 15 and then 40 out of Barstow, driving into New Mexico, where I found the first one in Acoma called Sky City. It was just a small place, but they were really nice. I spent a few days there, before continuing on out to Oklahoma, and ran into more there.
All in all it was a good time, with no worries and nothing to distract me.
The gambling was more to get out and socialize, than anything else, and I enjoyed it.
I traveled on East, from there through Arkansas, Tennessee. North Carolina and down into Florida, where I parked on top of a beach for a while, before leaving there and heading back out and about.
I didn't want to go onto the Eastern seaboard at all, so I went out 10 to New Orleans, where I stayed a while, enjoying plenty of gumbo and meat pies, before heading up 55 to 74 and Davenport Iowa, where I met up with I-80.
It was when I got to Des Moines that I stopped, just east of the city in a town called Altoona, and found out what an Omaha Steak was, at a truck stop there called Bosselmans.
If you have never had one, it is an experience to be relished.
I also spent some time at the casino next door, which actually paid quite well, and the people were very friendly.
I eventually moved on west through Nebraska, and Wyoming until I came to Utah.
I found the state beautiful, and went a little off my route to park in a city called Ogden, taking several day trips in the Suburban, and really liking what I was seeing. The people were extremely friendly, some of the nicest I had ever encountered, as a matter of fact. I could picture myself settling down out here.
I had heard a lot about Mormons, and while I didn't share their beliefs, I also didn't have any problem with them either. There was much to admire, I thought, as I learned a little about them. Their sense of family, and caring for children was certainly something they could teach to others.
I couldn't live without my Pepsi though, although one gentleman was quick to point out, when I jokingly said that to him, that I was misinformed and there was no prohibition against soft drinks.
I didn't know, but just the peace that seemed to be present amongst them was something quite special to behold, they held their children, and weren't ashamed of it. That in itself was remarkable to witness, I thought.
Soon enough though, my time there came to an end, although I was considering coming back, maybe permanently, for now, I headed on out into Nevada and the adventures there.
I spent a couple of weeks in Reno, and then on to California, where I went up 101 into Oregon and Washington.
The coast was beautiful, and I made it a point to stop in Bandon, with their cheese factory, and was introduced to cheese curds, which I found delicious, and bought a bunch to freeze.
On up to Astoria, and then across by ferry to Port Angeles, ending finally, in Seattle, where I thought about where I wanted to go next.
The choice was on up into Canada , and across it going back east, or to head east into Idaho, and Montana.
I don't know why, but suddenly after a pleasant night's sleep, I woke up with an overwhelming urge to go out I-90, so I packed up and headed out.
I got into western Montana that afternoon, and the scenery was spectacular. I fell in love with it in an instant, as I stopped just inside the border, at the Silver Dollar saloon, and found out that they have gambling there as well. It was a nice little place, and had coins embedded within the bar counter top, which I thought unique as well as a decidedly western flavor.
After staying there for a while, I moved on to the outskirts of Missoula, and found a nice place to set up shop at for a while, before taking out the truck and deciding to explore a bit.
I drove around for a bit, checking the area out, and thought it looked really nice, as I went from one end of the city to the other. I finally decided to go out from the city a bit, and hit a highway that looked promising, just driving and taking in the beautiful wilderness that spread out in front of me.
I had been on this road for about seven miles, when I saw some flashing lights up ahead. Some local got himself a ticket I thought, as I rapidly approached the traffic stop.
It was as I got close enough to make out the scene, which my blood turned to ice, as I saw the tableau presented before me.
The officer was down, and there was a male beating him on the ground, the officer wasn't moving.
I sped up, and slammed on the brakes, skidding to a stop, as the suspect looked up to see what the interruption was, but I was already jumping from my vehicle before he had a chance to say what.
Now that I was closer, I could see that the officer appeared to be in bad shape, and I didn't waste any time arguing with stupid, who had started to stand up, as I came charging at him.
I simply took my gun and cracked him up beside the head with it, sending him to la la land for the time being, I just didn't have time to deal with his crap right now.
Not being a cop anymore, had it's advantages, and not having to play nice was one of them, as I quickly knelt down and checked the unconscious form below me.
Damn he was hurt bad, I could tell that, and blood was everywhere, as I grabbed his radio and ran for my Suburban where I had a fully equipped trauma box, hitting the emergency trigger button as I did, calling into it,
"Police dispatch, I have an officer down, repeat, I have an officer down, 7 miles northwest of Interstate 90, on Rt. 41, request paramedics, ambulance and immediate assistance to this location. Dispatch, if you have life flight out here, you might want to get them in the air. Be advised, I have a suspect down as well, but you can take your time on him." before releasing the button, as I grabbed the trauma box and rushed back to the officer.
I knelt down, as the dispatcher was putting it out and asking me to identify myself, but I ignored it, for the moment, with more pressing things to deal with, like stopping the bleeding.
This did not look good, was my thought, as the radio blared a sadly familiar code.
"Attention all units, 999, officer down, 999." into the still mountain air, and the blood continued to flow.