What if the worst happened? What if you suddenly found yourself in the midst of the funeral of your loved one? Lori Kem, who has also submitted an excellent Challenge for this issue, takes a look through Lennie Briscoe's eyes, using characters originally introduced in her long fiction,Relative Change. Says Lori, "As a self-proclaimed Orbachian, I love to write for Lennie, and as a 'mature' woman, I wanted to show that people over forty (and fifty and sixty!) can have lively, lusty, love lives just like the young 'uns!"
The sea of blue serge was overwhelming, buttons, badges, and shields shining in the incongruous sunshine. It should be raining -- the sky should be collapsed in tears of mourning for what the world had lost. For what his world had lost. For what the tiny form in his arms had lost. Lost to that bullet no cop ever thought he or she would actually stop. Instead, fluffy white clouds floated slowly overhead in a brilliant blue sky.
The pomp and circumstance had been orchestrated because she'd told him, once, that she remembered that when she was a little girl, she had watched a policeman's funeral in her hometown streets of Chicago. There had been a caisson pulled by white horses with tall white plumes atop their nodding heads, an arch of swords held high in white-gloved hands, and the pipes moaning the traditional "Amazing Grace." She had been captivated by the horses, and breathed in the solemn beauty of what she referred to as "that sad, sad song."
The flag-draped coffin was carried out to be placed on the back of the red-carpeted wagon. Everyone snapped to attention as the pall bearers, led by Detectives Bonnie Byron and Rey Curtis, stood tall in their dress blues, eyes red and faces drawn and somber. Rey was Lennie's partner, and Bonnie was Hannah's best friend, and second-in-command of the Forensic Audit Team Hannah had headed. She was also Detective Briscoe's former lover. Bonnie's eyes met Lennie's, and both stared blankly at the other.
Detective Lennie Briscoe stood in his own dress uniform, beside her brother, Jack McCoy, who was not even trying to hide his grief; and in Lennie's arms was the tiny issue of the brief and loving union of Lennie Briscoe and Hannah O'Neal -- fifteen-month-old Annie, in the navy blue dress with bright brass buttons that Lennie had never seen until this terrible occasion.
Her tiny face, pale as moonlight, just like her mother's, turned up to look at her father. He felt her eyes on him and turned his deep blue eyes down to look into her own midnight blue ones. Her dark hair shown with red highlights in the sun, blowing around her narrow shoulders. They held each other's gaze for a moment as the box that held their hearts passed by and was set carefully upon the caisson.
Lennie held Annie for the walk to the cemetery. It was a short distance, since they'd chosen the small one next to St. Victoria's, right here on Hannah's beloved Christopher Street, for the service and the interment. She'd been walking for six month now, but her short legs would surely buckle with the effort, he felt. Or, maybe, he just wanted to carry her, to feel her in his arms.
She wrapped a plump white arm around his neck, so like Hannah, he thought, looking all around her, pondering it all. They arrived graveside and Father Scolari began talking. Annie sat very still and quiet on the chair next to her father, as she'd been taught to do in church, but whenever Lennie looked down at her, she was watching the horses.
Detective Briscoe couldn't hear what anyone was saying at the services. He saw himself take a pale pink rose that materialized in his hand and lay it across the casket. Then he and Annie were back at Doyle's, Hannah's family's saloon -- condolences, casseroles, crying. He finally took Annie up to bed in the apartment overhead, which now seemed so incredibly cold that he could see their breath curling whitely from their noses, and so empty his footsteps echoed. Annie was asleep before he got her undressed. As he put on the bedtime diaper and night gown, he thought about Hannah. He'd teased her about the gown, "Just when I master those one-piece things with the feet in 'em, you change her to night gowns!" He heard Hannah's laugh, "She's a young lady now, Daddy, and young ladies wear nighties." He slipped the handmade garment on his sleeping daughter now, feeling the softness of the cotton, marveling anew at Hannah's beautifully fine needlework. Tucking Annie into her crib, he reluctantly turned to leave her to sleep. As he made to leave, however, he heard Annie's voice, almost a whisper, "I like dem horsies and dat sad, sad song." Lennie spun back to see if she had really spoken, but she was yawning, eyes closed, slipping back into sleep.
He stumbled tiredly down the hall to the room he shared with his wife -- his room now. Sally Palumbo, an old and dear friend, and the computer wizard for the Audit Team, sat on the end of the bed. She held out a shopping bag, proffering to him. "Take these to her," Sally said. "She needs these. Take them to her."
Lennie frowned, but took the bag, looking down into it and then up again at Sally's blank, somber stare. Near the top was Hannah's white robe with the pink roses embroidered on it. It was covered with blood. Lennie's eyes grew large and he tried to form the questions that flooded his mind, but when he looked up again, Sally was gone, and the apartment was colder than ever. He must be dreaming, he thought. He must have fallen asleep after he brought Annie up and he was dreaming.
He was suddenly blinded by the tears that would no longer stay behind his eyelids and he careened toward the bed to collapse. His shoulders heaved and the sobs wracked through him uncontrollably. Sure everyone will miss her, but not like this, not for the reasons he would. No one else will miss the way her mouth tasted beneath his, the way she called his name when passion erupted in her under his hands. No one else would miss her softness, her yard of silky black hair across his pillow, her tiny hands on his body. They wouldn't miss her every moment of everyday for the rest of their life. Just him. He hugged the shopping bag against him and cried until long after the moon stopped shining through the skylight over the big four-poster.
"Lennie?" a voice from far away, gentle, quiet.
He must be dreaming because it sounded like her, calling him from heaven. An angel's voice, accompanied by strains of music, like tiny temple bells -- Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound. No, not sweet -- sad; sad.
He felt himself stand. He tried to move, but it felt like he was walking through water. On the bed sat the shopping bag -- the one Sally had given him.. With trembling hands, Lennie took it, but was too frightened to look into it. He clasped it close to his chest and headed downstairs.
He walked the short way downstairs to Doyle's front door, but once outside knew that he wasn't on Christopher Street at all. It was pitch black, the blackest black, more than midnight or tar or the cat in the alley were black. He shuffled carefully still clutching the bag in one hand, the other hand feeling in front of him. Sounds came from overhead -- "Dr. Bregman to the OR, Dr. Bregman to the OR" -- Ms. Sherrill, line three, Cathy Sherrill, line three, please" -- then three tiny "pings" and the eerie feel of something or someone brushing by him. A hospital. That was it; he was in a hospital. But why was it so dark? He was scared, and the bag he held onto as though it were a life line in the darkest of seas, was damp, alarming him so that he almost dropped it. It was as though the bloody robe continued to bleed.
He stopped moving, frozen in fear. "Help me, somebody? Somebody, please, help me!" He heard his voice over and over, growing more and more frantic. Then hands on his shoulders, a voice from the pitch overhead.
"Lennie, it's okay, wake up, Lennie" Sid Green was hovering over him. Lennie smelled the acrid scent of ammonia and came fully awake then, sitting up to the dawn-filled waiting room in the ICU ward at St. Vincent's. He held the shopping bag and remembered now that Sally had put in some things she thought Hannah would need if -- when -- the coma subsided and she awakened. On top of the bag had been the white robe, bloodied, like her dress and coat after the shooting; in reality it was clean, and filled with the scent of his sweet wife, and he had balled it under his head and laid down on the garish orange naugahyde sofa to rest. He laid it back in the bag, but not before he looked carefully to see what had lain under it. A nightie, slippers, lotion. No blood. He heaved a sigh.
"She's awake, Lennie" And she's asking for you," Sid was beaming at him. "She's answered our questions with all the right answers. She's going to be fine."
Sidney sat down beside Lennie on the orange monstrosity, and was talking again. "It was the blood loss that caused the coma. Even though they removed her spleen first and got all the nicks repaired as quickly as possible, she lost so much...
"Yeah, I could tell by looking," Lennie cut him of, swallowed hard and went on " that she was bleeding to death on that parking garage floor, a bullet in her -- "
"Well, go to her now, my friend, and kiss her and assure her that you and she and Annie will live happily ever after. And after nearly three pints of blood, a six hour surgery, and nearly three days in a coma, she needs your strength and reassurance."
Lennie stood up to leave, still carrying the now much-scrunched shopping bag. He paused to embrace Sid in thanks. He walked with quick, light steps to the glassed-in cubicle that housed his wife to be greeted by her soft smile and big brown eyes, closed to him now for far too long. He set the bag on the floor and took her face in his hands, kissing her mouth, her cheeks, chin, forehead, eyelids and back to her mouth. She held him with her free hand and returned this last kiss with as much strength as she could muster.
Her long curls were escaping the surgical puff they had placed on her head, and he brushed a few back from her face.
"I been missin' you, Chicago," he smiled. "You been missin' me?"
"Yes," she whispered. " I could hear you, most of the time, when you were talking to me -- I just couldn't make the sound to answer!"
Detective Briscoe closed his eyes and sighed loudly in thanksgiving. She yawned and reached to hold his hand. Sleepily, she asked, "Bonnie? Is everything okay? Did she get the collar?" The potential car jacker had had his gun pointed at the back of Bonnie's head, but when he heard Hannah behind them, he'd pushed Detective Byron down and whirled to fire on Hannah. She wasn't conscious to hear Bonnie return the fire.
He grinned sideways -- once a cop, he thought. "Yeah, Sweetheart, she's fine, and she got the bastard cold. Don't worry."
"Annie?" Hannah whispered.
"She's fine; everyone's fighting over who gets to take care of her next!" Lennie smiled at his wife. "I told her Mommy had to go on a trip for a little while, so get a good story ready!"
Hannah smiled and yawned.
Now, the nurse came in and he was gently asked to wait outside while she examined Hannah, before she fell asleep again. He left reluctantly, vowing to be back as soon as they let him.
He bent over the water fountain in the hall and drank deeply. Too real; too real. I could see the white feathers on the horses, for Chrissake -- he shook his head. The darkness, the freezing cold, Annie's voice, the blood in the bag.... A tear slipped down his cheek and, as he brushed it away with a shaky hand, he laughed out loud.