WARNING! GRATUITOUS ANGST: This is a dark and depressive vignette. If you can't handle something sad at the moment, skip reading this. It'll still be here when you're having a better day.
Thanks for all the concern. I just didn't realize how much time and effort went into putting out zines. Be sure to thank the publishers as well as the writers the next time you order a zine. It's a lot of work.
Hope you enjoy!
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Rainy Day
I know it must be here somewhere because he wouldn't waste the amount of time that he does out here if it wasn't here. Somewhere. I'm not looking for a lot. I wouldn't use up more than my share. I just want a taste of it. Just enough to sleep. Just enough to be able to close my eyes and not be confronted with....
I killed a man today.
I knew it would happen. I mean, I've heard the stories about cops who've gone their whole careers without firing their weapons, hell, without drawing the damn things. But I knew that wasn't going to be me. I wasn't a street/beat cop. I was a detective, a Major Crime detective, partner to Jim Ellison, Guide to the Sentinel. If I had a gun, I was going to have to use it someday. Use it with deadly force. That's what the department shrink is going to say, right?
"Detective Sandburg, yesterday you had to discharge your weapon with deadly force. How do you feel?"
How do I feel? Sad, bitter, angry...grateful I had the gun. That's the part I'm having trouble with. I'm glad I could stop that psycho. I just wish I could have stopped him a second earlier than I did. A second earlier and an eighteen-month-old baby girl wouldn't be dead. A second earlier and Jim wouldn't be up in his room with his hand bandaged and splinted.
God, we thought our luck was going to hold one more time. We weren't even on duty. We were on our way home after an exciting day of paperwork. A quick stop by the local market for some milk. Jim heard the whimpering in one of the apartments above the store.
"Domestic situation, Chief. Call it in."
I mumbled the appropriate words, stuffed the cell phone back into my pocket, and followed Jim up the stairs. He was listening outside a door. He motioned for me to stand aside. That meant he'd smelled evidence of a weapon. I unsnapped my holster for better access.
He rapped gently on the door. "This is the police. Is everything all right in there?"
People sometimes underestimate my partner. They expect him to go into a situation all gung-ho, macho, and loud. But I've found him to be a sensitive (no pun intended), cautious person, especially when faced with the unknown. Or maybe it's the known. Maybe he approaches situations like this so carefully because he knows just how capricious his fellow humans can be. He faces their depravity on a daily basis. So do I. But I don't "know" it as intimately as Jim does.
Like when the door slowly opens and we're allowed to see inside, I stand there shocked and Jim stands there resigned. The woman--wife, girlfriend, lay-of-the-week--was the one who opened the door and now she resumes her place, standing supplicant to the man who holds not only a gun, but a beautiful child with a wet, red face and a heaving chest.
Jim holds his hands out to his sides, showing that he isn't a threat. "What seems to be the problem?" he asks.
"The bitches want to leave. I ain't gonna let 'em," the man growls.
"I have a restraining order out against him. I came to get the baby's things. He should have been at work," she cries. "Why weren't you at work?"
"You were gonna take my baby from me. Nobody takes what's mine."
The gun stroked the back of the baby's head. Profane movements. The world recoils in disgust.
"Come on down to the station and we'll take out a warrant on her for kidnapping," Jim says casually.
"I--I can do that?"
"Sure. Father's have rights, too. Ma'am, if you'll just step back toward my partner." Jim nods reassuringly to the man. "Now, I'll take the gun and we'll head on down to the station, okay?"
"You can have Sarah." He thrusts the girl toward Jim. Jim takes the child, one hand instinctively curling beneath the thick, diapered bottom, the other resting protectively around the back of her head.
Although Jim's back is to me, I can tell he's focused his senses on the baby, making sure she's okay. I'm sure that's why he never notices the man raising the gun.
He sees the movement now, and he turns to protect the child. But it's too late. The gun goes off. The bullet slams through Jim's hand and into the head beneath it. Somehow my gun is out and it's firing at the same time the man is swiveling toward the woman. Red bursts out of his chest like a ketchup packet that's been stepped on. "Spray" is what Forensics is going to call it. It's all over him, and it's all over Jim. Except that that's not all of what's on Jim. Jim is covered in blood. The man's, his, the child's....
I don't have blood on me. The woman doesn't have blood on her either, but she's screaming like she does. I put my weapon back into its holster, securing the snap like I've been taught. The cell phone is in my hand again and I amend my earlier request for backup. I walk over to where Jim is now sitting on the bare wood floor, the baby still pressed against his chest.
"Ambulance is coming," I say, sinking to my knees beside him.
"Doesn't matter." His voice is flat, devoid of emotion. I know what that means. My eyes skirt to the other victim. "You did what you had to do, Chief." I know what that means, too.
I don't remember much else. There were other cops. Paramedics. The Coroner's Office. Jim made Simon drag me off before the paramedics removed the baby from his arms, but I saw enough when Jim ignored the men standing over him and yanked off his sweater and shirt. Poor Jim. The smell of blood had to be getting to him. The feel of that baby's warm-- If he had run out of the building yelling, I wouldn't have been surprised. But no. He sits there bare-chested, but still bloody, and makes his report to the responding officers while the paramedics work on his hand. The only time his voice grows loud is when they want to transport him to the hospital via the ambulance. He says no. They want to argue. Simon just steers both of us toward his car.
Nobody even bothers to ask me what happened. I should have been relieved, but I found myself wanting to say it aloud, to voice what I'd done. So I confessed to Simon while we waited for Jim in the emergency room. I told the same story Jim told. Almost word for word. I shudder now that I think about it. To explain why you killed someone in such dry, precise terms.
"You doing okay?"
I don't even bother to turn. "That should be my question."
"The pills don't last as long as they used to."
I nod. The yin and yang of being a Sentinel. He has a great, built-in pain management system. On a good day, his hand wouldn't bother him more than a hangnail. But today isn't a good day. His concentration is gone, blown away by the reality of a baby's brains splattering across his chest. He can't control the pain, and his body ignores modern medicine. "I know it's too soon, but go ahead and take another dose. I won't tell if you won't."
"Don't want it."
"Goddamnit, Jim! Don't be such a fucking baby!"
The silence is so complete that I swear I can hear the ticking of Jim's Ironman watch. And what makes me feel really bad is that the ticking doesn't go away. "I'm sorry, Jim."
"No, it's not. She died in your arms."
"Not the first, Chief. But he was yours."
He sways. "Sit before you fall. You should have stayed at the hospital like they wanted you to."
"Sometimes you don't get what you want."
"Oh, you're just full of pithy sayings tonight, aren't you? Listen, man. I know you feel like you should be playing shrink right now and I appreciate the thought, but can't we just let it drop for tonight?"
"Sure. You know me: King of Repression."
"I don't want to repress. I just don't want to talk about it. Not now. I mean the man's dead. Not exactly a rush situation."
"You have a point. If he was on life-support or something, it would be a different matter."
"How? It'd still be my bullet that put him there. You know, I didn't even think about it. The gun came out. I sighted. I shot." I aimed for the heart. It was what I'd learned at the academy. No, it was what I'd learned from Jim. We'd fought about it. The paper targets had lots of sections marked on them. Jim only let me shoot at the heart. I argued that I wasn't trying to become a marksman. He argued that if I had only one target then I wouldn't have to make a choice. "See the heart; take the heart." I thought he was being cruel, but he was right. There was no hesitation on my part when I pulled my gun; I saw the heart and I blew it away.
"It was a righteous shoot."
"Fuck the IA talk, man. Their opinion means squat to my soul."
"Does my opinion matter?"
"I wish it had gone down differently, Chief. I wish I hadn't overheard the dispute. I wish Sarah hadn't died. I wish her father hadn't died. I wish you hadn't had to shoot him. But there are parts I wouldn't change. I'm glad that we saved the woman. I'm glad you weren't hurt. I'm glad I was holding the baby."
"Why? Your hand might have permanent damage. And you didn't stop the bullet."
"No, I didn't. But if I hadn't been holding the baby, you might have been."
"And then you could have taken the shot without killing."
"And Sarah would have died in your arms."
Which was worse, wasn't it, Jim? Eventually, I'll be able to accept what I've done. I won't forget it. I won't take it lightly. But I'll be able to live with it. Holding Sarah. Smelling her baby smells one minute, and her blood the next. Feeling the warmth leach from her lax body. Unable to put her down because you know what the tiny face now looks like. Having your fingers clutched in the soft hair while your palm has become one with her little skull....
"Where is it, Jim? I came out here looking for it, but I can't find it."
"Peace. You always seem to find it out here."
I flop into the deck chair next to his. "I should have known you kept it hidden."
"No. I don't have it, Chief. I come out here so it can find me."
"Oh. How long does that take?"
He shrugs. "Depends. Been coming pretty quickly for the past five or so years, though."
Since I've been around. I'm not so far gone that I don't get that. I smile at him and he smiles back. He's so pale that he seems to glow in the light of the full moon beaming above. My poor Jim. Trying to look after his junior partner, trying to protect his Guide from the harsh realities of warrior life. "The hand hurts, huh?"
I get up and stand behind him. My fingers make slow circles on his temples. I feel him relax and find myself relaxing as well. He's right. I can feel the peace seeking me. There's a glow on the horizon and I know morning is just beyond. I've been waiting on it, but now it seems a bit bright. "You know, it really should be raining," I whisper, reluctant to be in the full sun again.
"Who says it isn't?"
I nod, and when the tension has eased in him, I sit down again.
Together, we watch the rising sun through eyes still wet with rain.