Okay, this is sort of the flip side of Darkest Of Nights. So if you've forgotten what went on in the first story, I suggest you re-read it (it's short), then come back to this one. Once again, these are my interpretations. And the dreaded episode Sentinel Too is referred to in this piece. My fevered brain saw it as a parallel.
Sadly, I cannot recommend this season of Homicide: Life On The Street to anyone. To see the show in the glory and excellence that once existed, please watch the reruns on the Lifetime Channel and beginning in the new year, on Court TV.
As usual, comments are welcome.
"So how'd it go?" Blair Sandburg asked as he started making preparations for dinner, phone resting snugly between his shoulder and neck. "Your first day back at work. How did it go, Tim?" His friend, Detective Tim Bayliss of Baltimore, Maryland's Homicide Division, had been shot quite seriously several months before. Although Blair was an observer with the Cascade Police Department clear across the country in Washington, he and his partner, Det. Jim Ellison, had become good friends with Tim and his partner, Det. Frank Pembleton.
Tim was thrown for a second and hesitated before replying. "You remembered?" He had only talked to Blair a couple times during his recovery and vaguely recalled telling him that the doctor had given him a definite date to go back to work.
"That today was your first day back? Sure. I know physically you were prepared to go back, but how did it go mentally?" Blair chattered, wondering when Jim had alphabetized the spices. Hope you sneezed your head off doing it.
"I've always been a mental wreck, Blair," Tim managed to say without sounding too self-denigrating.
"Yeah, I know," Blair replied, as if it was no big deal. And it wasn't. He was convinced that everyone who worked in law enforcement had some kind of mental damage. No one could see what they saw and not be affected in some permanent way. But it was how they managed the damage that made the difference between good cops and bad cops, live ones and dead ones. "But what was your impression when you stepped into the squadroom?"
"That I didn't know the place," Tim said, laughing. "The bosses redecorated, hoping that we would forget how our fellow officers were gunned down in the place."
Tim's voice dropped to a whisper. "Hell, no." He was silent for a minute, then his voice returned to normal. "But I got through it. You know I've been reading up on Zen, trying to make sense of why I lived when others didn't, what my purpose is for surviving." Of course Blair knew. The first time they had spoken after the shooting he had asked about reference materials. He knew Blair, as a student and an "in touch with himself" kinda guy would know the best material for him to read.
"And it helped?" Blair was doubtful that it had. Zen, as a true way of thinking, had its points but he wasn't sure Tim was ready to grasp and appreciate them yet. He was too much in flux to attain any enlightenment.
"It kept the guys from asking too many questions."
"How it felt to be back. How it felt to be alive."
"How does it feel?"
"You sure you aren't a psych major?"
"Just a concerned friend."
"Oh. No wonder I didn't recognize you."
That was a telling statement. Blair abandoned dinner and sat down. "You have friends, Tim. Every time I called your room a different person answered. I even got Gee one time." Lt. Al Giardello was a caring leader, despite an outward gruffness.
"My boss and my co-workers. Probably afraid I blame them or that I'm going to sue the city for that sorry piece of crap they called a bullet-proof vest."
"Who do you blame, Tim?"
Blair sighed knowingly. Tim was in a familiar denial and it would probably take a crowbar to pry the truth out of him. Well, either a crowbar or one mighty stubborn friend. "Who do you blame for what happened?"
"Uh, no one. It was just one of those things that comes with the job, you know? A policeman gets shot. No big deal. It happens. By the way, I have some news that might interest you. We have a bona fide former beauty queen working with the squad now."
"She any good?"
Tim gave a dirty little laugh." I don't know yet, Blair. I just met her. But if looks--"
"That wasn't the 'good' I was referring to," Blair hastily clarified, knowing Tim was trying to distract him from the true focus of the conversation. Can't trick the master obfuscator. "Is she a good cop?"
"Does that matter? You should see how all the guys are panting after her," Tim tried again.
"But out on the street you're going to need more than good looks to back you up, man."
"Uh, who am I talking to again?" Tim queried, having heard many colorful tales of Blair's past conquests.
"You're talking to someone who knows the value of good back up. Being a cop is a dangerous deal. You know that."
An audible rolling of the eyes. "Cops getting shot happens, Blair," he repeated emphatically.
"But it happened to you."
"Yeah, so what? It also happened to Gharty and Ballard," he said, naming two other detectives.
"And you don't think they blame the policeman who left his gun in the drawer or the other officers for not getting Junior Bunk before he got them?" Tim's colleagues had been shot in the squad room when a criminal named Junior Bunk had gotten ahold of an officer's weapon and fired off several rounds before being shot and killed himself. In addition to the two wounded detectives, three officers had died. Tim didn't answer so Blair pushed onward. "So who do you blame? Gee, maybe?"
"No. It was imperative to get Georgia Rae Mahoney off the streets. Gee did the right thing in sending us out." Tim was firmly convinced of that. Georgia Rae was Junior's mama... and puppetmaster.
"The vest?" Tim interrupted. "Yeah, maybe I am pissed about that. I mean, the city had enough money to redecorate the precinct but we have to deal with budget supplies. We should have had quality jackets like the FBI, you know. So I guess they do take part of the blame."
"And who takes the rest?"
"Me, I guess. I should have been able to move faster."
"And Frank?" Frank had been the intended target, but Tim had shielded him with his body.
"What about Frank?" Tim asked defensively.
"You don't blame him at all? He was the one who had the shooter in sight, right? He was the one who froze."
"He didn't freeze. Something distracted him. You know Frank. His mind is always processing something. Who the hell have you been talking to, Sandburg? Who told you Frank froze?"
"He told you... I don't blame Frank for that, Blair. I'm his partner... no, I was his partner. In the best of times, Frank wasn't a shooter. Should have seen how hard he worked to get a passing score on the range after his stroke. I knew that and I knew it was my job to back him up. We were both just doing our jobs. I...I know he called to tell you guys I was shot. I didn't know he gave you the specifics."
Blair sighed. The one problem Tim and Frank had always had was a failure to communicate. When they talked, they were good. When they held back, they were just an accident waiting to happen. And the crash had come one night in the middle of a gun battle between the cops and anti-Geogia Rae Mahoney forces. That was the irony of it all-- the cops had gone gunning for Georgia Rae and so had the criminal element of Baltimore because the killing of cops was bad for business. But the two being on the same side had lasted only until the death of Georgia Rae. "Frank called Jim that very night, Tim."
"That right? Then you would think he could find time to call me," Tim murmured. "So what did he talk to Ellison about? How to survive the death of a partner?"
This time it was Blair who paused. Would knowing just how close to the edge Frank had been that night make Tim feel better or worse? "Frank was in a bad way when he called," he hedged.
"I'm glad he thought to call Jim, then. Frank's pretty much non-emotional, but when the dam breaks... Did I tell you about the racist who had blown up a church with little Black girls in it. It took Frank years to track him, but when we got him there was this jurisdictional thing with New York City. Frank was ticked that he was going to lose him, but he swore the man was going to publicly pay for what he had done. Then when he was being transferred, the guy had a heart attack right on the train platform. Frank lost it then. I'm glad he had Jim," he repeated. For some unfathomable reason, Frank, who barely tolerated people only because they on occasion provided answers in his homicide cases, had connected with Jim Ellison. Tim thought it was because of the respect each had for the other. Both were extraordinary detectives. Or at least Frank had been...
"Only because he didn't have you."
Tim gave a bitter chuckle. "Then why isn't he here now? He was there by my bed every day in the hospital, but as soon as I got out, he was gone. Hell, I don't even know where he is or if he's okay." After the shooting, followed by some serious office politics, Frank had resigned from the force. He had supported his partner through his long and often painful recovery, then disappeared.
"So you know where he is? Isn't that terrific," he remarked dryly.
"Jim knows where he is. When Jim Ellison tells you to keep your ass in touch, it's not a request." His partner, a former Army Ranger, was not someone easily dismissed.
"I guess you have a point." Blair could visualize a small smile on Tim's face. "Is Jim there now?"
"No, he's still at the station."
"Oh. I was hoping that maybe he could tell me why. God knows, I've tried to figure out myself."
"Why what, Tim?"
"Why the hell Frank abandoned me!" Shocked silence followed. "Did I just say what I think I said?" Tim asked with a shaky laugh. God, that had sounded so needy.
"It's what you're feeling, Tim. It's no big deal."
"It is a big deal. Damn, I've gone fucking nuts, haven't I? Would you buy the story I'm still on medication?"
"You feel abandoned by your partner. That doesn't mean you're crazy or on drugs. It means you're human, Tim. Believe me. I've been there. I know," Blair said earnestly.
"It's not like it's the first time he's done something like this," Tim continued, more to himself than to Blair. "He quit before because of politics but Gee and I convinced him to come back. Of course, that was back when he actually listened to me. It was the same thing with the stroke. We had finally become a team, then out of the blue he keels over. We finally make it over that hump, starting to click so well.... Man, we were so good that a few months before I was shot, Frank and I were responsible for breaking the city of Baltimore's largest drug ring. And how did we do it? By accident, a freaking accident. We thought we were following a murder suspect. God, it was beautiful. The mayor's office and the brass scrambling to come up with this story about how the ring had been under surveillance for so many months.... Should have known then he was about to bail on me. But I thought..."
"You thought?" Blair prompted quietly when the silence lasted too long.
"I thought we were friends this time. B.S., before the stroke, we had made it to the stage where Frank accepted me as his partner. I mean, really accepted me. Not just because Gee told him I was his partner, but because he felt it, you know? A.S., I shied away from him. I think I was either afraid of getting too close to him and him dying on me or my system was just reeling from the knowledge that I had gotten so close to him.... Anyway, I rejected him and, lo and behold, I actually saw hurt in his eyes. Frank Pembleton, showing emotion on a personal level. Not because he couldn't right a wrong, not because he couldn't put the dead to rest, but because I hurt his feelings. I trampled on his soul...never thought to have that power, you know? It gave me the strength to get close to him again. I thought it was safe. Not that it was good again until a long time afterward, especially after your partner started influencing him. I truly thought we were friends. I even told my mother--"
"That Frank didn't have friends, but that you were one," Blair supplied. "That touched him, Tim. He felt honored to have you as a friend."
"Damn him, Blair! I understand why he left the force. Hell, I was tempted not to go back myself. Maybe if Frank had stuck around... I had no where else to go, Blair. If Tim Bayliss isn't a cop, who is he? Maybe there was a chance I could have gotten by with being Pembleton's partner in some other venture, but on my own I'm nothing. Damn it, I can't even decide which way I swing, whether I like men or women. That's how pathetically fucked up I am. But you know what I am sure of? I'm sure that I'm a good detective. Working with Frank, hell, just trying to keep up with Frank, forced me into becoming a good-- no, great, detective. But I wasn't good enough, I guess, not for Frank."
Until now, Blair had been content to let Tim speak, admit to what he was keeping bottled inside, but as his friend's pain reached out to him, he knew he had to help. And the only way to do that was to confront his own pain. "It wasn't about you, Tim. It all has to do with Frank and his fears."
"Frank's fears? He wasn't the one who was shot."
"No, but he was the reason you were. And that was even more devastating than a bullet."
"I'm not following you, Blair."
Blair took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I've been where you are, Tim. Not long after you were shot, Jim...Jim packed up all my stuff and kicked me out of the loft. He told me...he said that he couldn't trust me. He didn't want to have anything to do with me."
Tim was shocked. "No. You can't expect me to buy this, Blair. You and Jim, you're the perfect team. A herd of rampaging elephants couldn't separate you." He had once looked at them and hoped he and Frank could share one-tenth of what they had.
"A herd of elephants, no. Fear, yes. Jim got scared, Tim, and he pushed me away. Shoving me out the door was easier and quicker than running himself and I think, despite his fear, he held onto the hope that he could somehow stop it if he hung around."
"My death." Blair shuddered as he remembered the fountain and what led up to it. "You know Jim can do some amazing things."
"Yeah." He and Frank had seen Ellison diagnose broken bones, track a crashing helicopter, and use a dead kid to find a murderer. Amazing was only one of a string of words he would use to describe Jim.
"Well, he had dreams, visions really, of me being killed."
"That must have freaked you out."
Blair wiped away an annoying tendril, tucking it securely behind his ear. "It probably would have, if I had known."
"He didn't tell you? I thought you two confided everything to each other."
"Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. At the time, I was also keeping something from Jim.... Looking back, I can't see why I was so blind to what was happening.... Anyway, maybe Jim would have told me about the visions if it hadn't been for the fact that in them, he was my murderer."
"Get out! Jim would never hurt you. Sheesh, he couldn't have possibly believed--"
"But he did and it scared him, Tim. It scared him so badly that he wanted to get as far away from me as possible. But we were in the middle of a case. He couldn't go away and he knew it was no use in asking me to get away from him, so he arranged it the only way he knew how-- cold, hard, brutal rejection. I'm not even sure if he was conscious of his actions... That same fear is what is fueling Frank now. He's afraid of hurting you, Tim."
"It wasn't his--"
"It was, Tim. Not only did he not protect himself, he didn't protect you. How dangerous is that, man? He felt the weight of you falling into his arms. Your blood spilled onto his skin. Your life was almost forfeited for him. And the guilt was all his. You may not admit it, but he does. He knows. Whether you face it and forgive him or not, he will always know. Just as he thinks he knows the danger you will be in if he stays close to you. In his mind, he is a liability to you. If he continued being your friend, you may have convinced him to be your partner again. Even off the force, you would trust him to be your back up, and that would mean you would be vulnerable. He wouldn't put you in that position again, so he ran."
"So this is all for my own good?" Tim sneered. "I'm not buying it. If Frank thinks he is such a threat to me.... What about Jim? I'm assuming you're calling from the loft now?"
"Yes, but that's because...because I died anyway, Tim. Suddenly, the futileness of running was thrown into his face. Actually, it was more like a brick upside his head. Being apart from me just meant he had to go farther to save me."
"Wait a minute. What the hell do you mean you died anyway?"
"I drowned in a fountain on campus. Then I was revived." To make a long story short.
"So then Jim just invited you back home? How nice of him." Tim was angry on his friend's behalf. He knew what it felt like to die or at least think you were dying.
If only it had been that easy. "The first step to coming home, Tim, was for me to understand Jim's motives, to accept the love which misdirected him, and to forgive him and myself."
"Forgive yourself for what?"
"For not recognizing his fear. For not going with my instincts. For backing off when I should have pushed."
"Sounds a little self-sacrificing to me."
"Oh, and not blaming Frank, at all, isn't?" Blair heard him mutter a curse. "I fully accept Jim's share of the blame. He was wrong. He should have had more faith in us, in our partnership. He should have talked to me and not shut me up every time I tried to talk to him. He let instinct take over when reason should have ruled. He knows that. I know that. And I have forgiven him for all his errors. Whether he has forgiven himself, I rather doubt it. Jim kinda holds onto guilt for way too long. And once I convinced him that I was in the wrong too-- man, I had to scramble through that conversation-- he forgave me."
"I'm happy for both of you, but it took the two of you working through the problem together, right? My partner left."
"Before we could work on it together, Tim, we had to work on it on our own. That's something you can do. You can admit that Frank has blame in this. You can admit that you're angry that he left. And you can come to the realization that his leaving was not caused by something you did or some flaw in your personality. He left out of fear, fear of hurting you."
"Yet, in leaving he hurt me just the same."
Blair smiled. Finally, some headway. Tim was admitting he was hurt. "I know that and I'm sure that wherever Frank is, he knows it too. But you have to get your guilt under control so that when he returns, you will be able to help him with his."
"Is Jim going to be giving him this same speech?"
Blair laughed. "I'm reasonably sure Frank will get an earful from Jim."
"Damn. I don't know how you guys do it. When we first met, you told me you and Jim had gone through everything. I'm starting to believe you."
"Yeah, Jim and I always seem to take the expressway to partner hell. But we learn from it, then unselfishly share our knowledge with our friends. Are we the best or what?" he asked flippantly.
"Yeah, you are," Tim replied solemnly. "Now, I think I should be hitting the sack. I'm not used to keeping work hours yet."
"Sorry, man. I forgot about the three hours difference. I didn't mean to keep you talking for so long."
"I'm glad you did, Blair. Thanks. I think I have some thinking to do while I wait for Frank to bring his ass home. Good night."
"Good night, my friend."
Blair hung up the phone and was checking a pot on the stove when Jim stepped inside the loft. "Hey, Chief," he called as he slipped out of his jacket. "How was your day?"
"Fine, man. How was yours?"
Jim grinned. "In other words, how much paperwork are you facing tomorrow? It was a slow day, Chief. My desk is relatively clear."
"Music to my ears, man. Dinner will be ready in a few."
"Take your time. I'll just see what's happening on the news."
Jim settled in front of the television and was surprised when Blair walked up behind him and clasped his shoulder. He turned around to face his partner. "What's up?"
Blair shrugged. "Just wanted to say thank you."
Jim ran the day's events through his head and couldn't come up with anything special he'd done. "For?" he prompted when Blair started to walk away without clarifying the statement.
"For coming home."
Jim watched his partner head back to the kitchen and shook his head. Apparently, he had once again unwittingly stumbled into the Sandburg Zone-- a place where rhyme had no reason and logic was a beachball to be tossed about. Turning his attention back to the TV, he nevertheless kept his senses focused on a certain long-haired anthropologist he called partner... and friend.
Yeah, he was glad he came home too.