I never did answer Stan, not that it mattered. He pulled me up by the arm and handled me to the door. What a guy. As the desk sergeant, he practically ran the station. Truthfully, Stan was so respected; he might as well have been the commissioner. Nobody dared so much as butted heads with Stan. I always got a kick out of the fact that he went from Sarge, during the war, to Sergeant Law when he came back home. There were any number of ways to give the guy a nickname, but most people called him The Law when they weren’t sticking with Sarge, which was typical. He’ll always be Sarge to me. In fact, he’s pulled me out of much worse than this.
As Sarge walked me through the station, I could see Eddy watching us. When we got closer, he handed me a rag full of ice. If he wasn’t so close to me, I might have assumed it was a grenade. I’m not going to let my guard down, but this might put off our impending showdown, if only for a few days.
When I put the ice up to my eye, a ringing invaded my ears and, once it cleared, the echoes of footsteps took its place, the same echoes I heard the night I met Emily. The echoes seem to be haunting me somehow, but I can’t put my finger on it exactly. When I think about it, I wonder if the echoes belong to me, or they are simply in my mind. I’m not sure I like either one of those scenarios. They’re excruciatingly loud, like a ticking clock in my head. Perhaps each step is merely a tick on the clock to my demise. That makes sense to me, but it certainly doesn’t bring me the slightest comfort.
“Hop in. I’ll give you a ride,” Sarge suggested, as he opened the door to a squad car.
“No, thanks. I’m going to walk for a bit and clear my head. I’ll catch a cab or dive into the subway later,” I replied. He sighed loudly, and at that point, I realized that it wasn’t a suggestion at all.
“Get in the car. That’s an order,” he demanded, before ducking into the car and slamming his door. I knew that was no suggestion.
Obviously, I got in the car. I’m willing to bet that I’m in for quite a ripping as well. “Thanks for the ride,” I said, hoping it would buy me some goodwill. If not that, maybe it will serve as a down payment. I’ve never been one to hold my breath, and I’m not going to start today.
“Save your thanks. Have you been having a drink, or have you been drinking?” Sarge asked. By the way, he knows nothing of subtlety.
“Gee, let’s get straight to it then,” I replied sarcastically. Suddenly, he slammed on the brakes while pulling off to the side of the street. It seemed a little too dramatic for my taste. Unfortunately, my taste doesn’t count for much these days.
“I just sprung you from a murder charge, wiseass, so the formalities have long since flown out the window. Let me ask again. Are you having a drink, or are the drinks having you?” Sarge asked, again. I’m not charming my way out of this. I’m not charming at all when it comes to Sarge.
I put my head down because I just couldn’t look him in the eye. “I’m not fully in control of it,” I admitted. It was something of a half-truth, but half of the truth was better than none in my estimation.
Sarge killed the engine. Here we go. “Do you remember that I used to coach baseball during the summer?” he asked. I nodded. “During the war, I saw seven soldiers die, kids really, that I coached back when they were all ten or twelve years old. That doesn’t count the ones I didn’t get to see die,” he said, successfully making me feel like even more of a bum.
“Did you want to see them die?” I asked, genuinely curious.
His chin started to quiver, and he took a second before he answered. “Yes and no,” he replied. Then, he stared straight ahead, undoubtedly piercing through everything he saw. I recognize that stare. It knows all of us. It’s as if we’re searching for something in that stare that we knew would never come. It was the saddest sort of gambling somehow. It never pays out. Not once.
“What does that mean?” I asked. I wanted to snap him out of it, but I also needed the benefit of his wisdom, even though I might not want to hear it.
“Well, you know how it goes. Some of the men die instantly, and some of them die slowly, painfully. I’m not an egomaniac, but I’d like to believe that it means something to have someone you know close by when you’re dying, especially in a strange place,” he explained.
“I’d like to think so too,” I agreed.
“As much as it broke my heart to see those kids dying, it hurts more to see you like this, Chet. How do you think the fellas would see you?” he asked. He was honest, but that felt like a low blow, which is fitting. I’ve been feeling rather depressed for quite some time now, in every sense of the word.
“The fellas are dead. We don’t get to see them anymore, so I don’t see why I should have to see them in my dreams. When I drink enough, I don’t have the nightmares,” I explained. Sarge let me finish talking, but he was writhing in his seat all the while.
“They’re not all dead!” he yelled. His face was an inferno, and his eyes would’ve killed me if they were able. Afterward, I was unsure if he was saying that only to me or to himself as well, on some level. “Listen, why don’t you get some help? There are programs out there for this sort of thing. We all have nightmares. You’re not the only one,” he added. I was somewhat touched that he was trying to help, but I was a little annoyed as well.
“I’ll look into it,” I said. Sarge’s face immediately transformed into a disapproving frown.
“Let’s go now. I know a guy. I’ve mentioned you to him before,” he replied, putting me on the spot.
“Who else have you mentioned this to?” I asked, fearing his answer.
This guy was giving me the looks today. This time, he seemed offended in a matter-of-factly manner. “If you’re talking about Alice, don’t worry. I haven’t said anything to her, but she’s not stupid. She’s still single, you know,” he replied, with a not so subtle hint. Like I said, Sarge isn’t one for subtlety.
What a twisted web. The Alice he mentioned was his niece and the love of my life, once upon a time. Obviously, we did not make it to the happily ever after part. Alice Grace was everything a guy could want. She was beautiful, smart, funny, in her way, and she was somehow a pushover and tough at the same time. I may have been too lousy of a detective to know that Greene’s name was Fred, but you can bet your life that I knew that she was still single.
I decided to ignore the topic of Alice. “I can’t meet your guy. Not now,” I said.
“Why not? What’s more important than your health?” he asked, making a good point.
I wasn’t sure how to answer that. I can’t deny that I owe Link the favor that he asked of me, but I can’t keep up this pace forever. On the other hand, all he’s asking me to do is talk to a friend of his. That doesn’t sound so terrible. I wish he didn’t bring Alice into this because I don’t want her to see me like this. Speaking of my health, I’m not sure that I would be around if it weren’t for Link, but at the same time, I know that I wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for Sarge. In life, situations like these are mired in gray. Any decision that I make will be both right and wrong. At least I can look forward to being a little right.
Copyright © 2016 by Adam L. Cobden. All Rights Reserved.
“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”