By Gwenn McNabb
There was kind of a strange feeling that would come over the room whenever Tom decided to put in an appearance. Lennie knew even before he opened his eyes in the darkness that his brother was there. It was as if the very air in the room stood still, waiting like Lennie with the same combined sense of anticipation and dread that always accompanied these visits.
"What're ya doing here?" Lennie wearily propped himself up on one elbow and flicked on the small lamp on the nightstand. The red digital clock glowed the time at him -- eleven forty-three. He rubbed at his face, the growth there scratching at his hands as he putting off looking at Tom for as long as possible.
It had been a hell of a night -- appropriately, he decided, it being Hallowe'en and all. All the nut cases seemed to like the idea of blending into the crowds and took advantage of the craziness that holiday inspired throughout the city to inflict whatever insanity seized their fancies.
He and Eddie had been running through a maze for their whole friggin' shift and all he'd wanted when he got home all was a stiff shot and a hot shower. As usual, he'd settled for the hot shower and had collapsed into bed only moments earlier. Just his luck that Tom had decided that tonight was a good night to drop by and say, "Boo."
"Now what kind of greeting is that?" Tom asked humorously, his voice like the echo of wind through a tunnel. The thin T-shirt Lennie was wearing didn't protect him from the icy shiver that worked its way down his spine at the mere sound of his brother's words. Hearing Tom speak was by far the worst part of his brother's midnight intrusions. After ten years, it was the one thing with which he still had problems. Not that having your dead brother drop in for a chat now and again was something one became accustomed to anyway...
"Let's just say that you're not my first choice, Tommy. If I had to be haunted, why couldn't it be Rita Hayworth or someone like that?" Lennie pulled himself to a sitting position and finally worked up enough courage to look at the figure leaning against the far wall.
In true ghost-like tradition, Tom was faintly luminescent; he almost looked like a movie image cast against the wall by a phantom film projector. Certainly not solid, but very clearly there. Decked out in his best, from the dark, close-cut hair to the gleaming brass buttons on his dress blues, the ethereal Patrolman Thomas Briscoe was the perfect replica of the young man they'd put in the ground twenty-some years earlier.
The trace of a smile that played around the apparition's lips faded away and Lennie saw his brother's expression grow stern. "I don't think Rita would have done for you what I did, big brother."
"Do we have to go into that again? Do you think I could forget something like that?"
"I don't know, Lennie. The way you've been acting lately has kind of got me wondering if maybe the promises you'd made to me had slipped your mind."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Lennie growled at his younger brother. "I know my obligations..."
"You might know them, but you've done a piss-poor job at following through sometimes." There were tiny blue sparks dancing around the room now, the static in the air reacting to the angry energy that Tom was throwing off.
He took a few soundless steps towards the bed and Lennie held up his hand, trying to stop his brother from getting too close. He knew what he would see...the three neatly clustered bullet holes in the uniform over his brother's heart. Little blackened portals of death and irreversible change.
"Is this about Ken again?" Lennie put his hand down again when he saw how badly it was shaking. He'd seen his nephew a few months earlier on a liaison to the Special Victims Unit but had steadfastly avoided him since. Maybe it would have been easier to face Ken if he didn't look so damned much like the vision he was seeing right now.
"You know it is."
"He's not a child anymore, Tom. He makes his own decisions."
"But you could have used your influence. He shouldn't be a cop. It's not fair to Joan, it's not fair to Ma. Do you have any idea what it's like for them? You could have blocked his application to the academy!"
"You overestimate my pull. My reputation doesn't exactly sparkle within the department. And who the hell am I to do something like that to Ken? This is what he wanted. You're his hero, all he ever wanted was to be like you."
Tom clenched his fists and his eyes flared momentarily with a harsh white light. "Like me? What, you mean dead on the sidewalk in front of a convenience store, his blood running over the concrete with each beat of a failing heart? Or stiff on a slab in the morgue while his mother collapses on top of him and wails loud enough that he could hear it from the next realm? There was nothing heroic about the way I died. You should have told him how stupid I was to go in without any backup!"
"Oh sure, Tom. I should have driven over to Joan's place on Sundays and over dinner, I could have told little Ken not to be too upset about his daddy dying because daddy really was kind of a moron and it wasn't much of a loss anyway!" Lennie yelled back.
"You should have done something! Whatever it took! You promised me, man! You said you'd make sure he was okay!"
"He's riding a desk in Cragen's unit. He's in damned little danger of getting hurt there, Tom, unless you want to consider the hazards of paper cuts and eating too many bagels."
"This is not something to joke about! I've been there for you all this time, watching your back. If it weren't for me, you'd have blown your head off in that hotel room with your own service piece when you came out of that drunken stupor ten years back! And who do you think made sure you walked away from that car crash with barely a bruise? YOU OWE ME!" There was a smell in the room now, something akin to dirt and standing water and fresh ash that Lennie knew as being distinct to the grave.
"I know, Tom! I won't forget about it, you'll never let me. You crossed back over to save my sorry ass and now you're stuck in here and it's all my fault. But what the hell did you expect from me?" Lennie was getting more steamed, and sat up on the bed, pointing a finger at his ghostly guest. "Tell me this, you sanctimonious son-of-a-bitch! If the situations were reversed -- if I'd have died and you'd have been left behind, and I'd made the same demands of you -- what would you have done for Cathy that would have made a difference?" Lennie's throat tightened and he swallowed hard. Tears shone angrily in his eyes as he glared at his younger brother.
The intensity of the light around Tom's body seemed to fade a bit, and his voice dropped as his anger dimmed. "I...I don't know if anything could have been done. It was her time, that's all." He retreated to the far side of the bedroom, settling amongst the shadows.
"So what makes Ken's situation so special? What makes you think anything I could have done or said would have made any damned difference at all? Maybe he's doing what he was meant to be doing, did you ever think of that?" Lennie let the questions hang between them in the silence.
When his brother didn't answer, Lennie tossed back the covers and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He'd always hated it when he fought with his brother -- that was something that years and even death hadn't changed. He settled his hands on his knees and leaned forward.
"Tommy, I know why you're scared. You're not there to help him if he gets into trouble. He's your kid and you never stop feeling like they need you. And God knows I wouldn't wish what I had to go through with Cathy on anyone, least of all you and Joan. But at some point you're gonna to have to let him lead the life he's chosen, and you're gonna have to let me off the hook for something where I have no control."
Something between a sigh and a moan wafted over from the other side of the room.
Lennie shook his head. "You know, kid -- maybe you should have just let me go when the opportunity presented itself. Used your return ticket to save someone else's life. Or just have stayed where you were. I never did understand why you'd give that up for me."
"Sounds kind of cliché, I guess, but there was too much left for you to do, bro. I couldn't let that happen; I took the same pledges you did as a cop. There were too many people whose lives were on the line," Tom said, a rueful laugh following. "Hell, what was an eternity compared to that."
"We're tied together for good, I'm afraid. At least until...well, let's just say that I've on an extended layover. You should be glad; I was always twice the cop that you were. Well, OK - there was that one unfortunate incident. But this way, you have more than one partner backing you up."
Tom's image had begun to fade. "I'm sorry, Lennie. I know you did your best with Ken. Just try to be there for him now, though, OK? Next best thing to his dad."
"I will." Lennie wished he could go over and throw his arms around his brother's shoulders. He needed to reassure Tom every bit as much as he needed to reassure himself. "See ya soon?"
"Will do. And I'll see if Rita Hayworth isn't hanging about in limbo, too, next time." The chuckle disappeared and Lennie was left alone in the darkness once more.