I Don't Care If I Never Get Back
If you know Marie, you know she yells. She's a yeller. Not angry, not bitter, just...loud. Boisterous. Top volume. At precinct shindigs, hers is always the voice that rises above the din to say hello to you with all the enthusiasm she can bring up. The kinda gal you know leans out the door at dinnertime and hollers for the kids so loud, they can hear her in Westchester.
So when she went quiet over the phone... I don't need to tell you how that spooked me.
Just before it happened, her usual stream of talk stopped just for a brief second. And I knew. God in Heaven and the Devil in Hell, I knew what happened even before I heard the shot. I don't care how many years pass -- that silence still creeps up my spine sometimes.
Not today, though. Today's got nothing to with eerie silence. Today is all shouting and yelling and carrying on. Today, my heart can thump wildly for all the right reasons.
He always swore he'd get me here some day.
I'm just glad he was right.
The halls are dingy gray and smell like mildew, which I'd been expecting. In all my life, I'd managed to steer away from this place like a haunted house. I guess I always knew I didn't belong here, that I wouldn't be welcome. But today I do. Today and tomorrow and the day after I do. I might get run out of here on a rail, but today nobody can deny me. I'm a virgin here, unsteady and unready and uneasy for the first time in a long time.
First time since that night, anyway...
No, this place doesn't give me the scary wordlessness of Marie's voice in those spare few seconds. This is more like the street a half-hour later. I'd hung around the phone long enough to hear him yelling for her to get down and her screaming like an angry banshee. I tried calling to her over the phone, drawing everyone in the detective squad over to me as I shouted myself hoarse. Then, I swear I heard a scuffle, though I'll never be sure, and then the shot. One pop, like a firecracker. All the time, witnesses tell us it's like a firecracker and they're right. It's too small a noise for what damage it does. It should sound like an M-80. Or a grenade.
Someone bumps me again as I stand on line and I know it's the jacket making them do it. It's not the first time tonight. I'm an Indian in their cowboy game. A fly in their ointment. They'll all be singing that friggin' 'Who Let the Dogs Out' song ten times louder then the national anthem because it's theirs, their rallying cry. Their way of saying 'ha! We did it!' and I think I can understand a little. Times like these are so rare for them, they get a little out of control. Maybe they'll riot. Who knows? I'm just glad I'm not on duty tonight.
I was going off duty that night years ago... five years. Wow. It was really five whole years ago. I can't remember what I was gonna be doing anymore. Maybe a Knicks game, maybe a date. In the passing days, it doesn't matter anymore what I was gonna do. What matters is what I did do. I dropped everything, made like a livestock truck and hauled ass over to the house. Seems everyone else had that idea, too. By the time I got there, the place was swarming with cops. The 2-7, the 3-1, the 3-9... I saw faces that night I hadn't seen in weeks. And like I said, the tense silence wasn't there. It was easier, though my chest stayed good and tight until I fought my way through. Unlike today, when I should be glad I'm not getting brained with something heavy and blunt, my back got slapped a million times as I passed through the gauntlet, faces looking almost relieved as they regarded me.
I think I started to relax a little when I saw Donnie Cragen and his face, usually worried and stressed into a puss, was smooth and smiling, his wide blue eyes a little watery but no less happy. He didn't say a word to me, just... and I'll never admit it to anyone ever again, so if it gets out I know where it came from, OK? He hugged me. Hard. Like he wanted to make juice from me. Tension returned, but more in a 'why the hell am I being hugged by my captain' kind of way. I... kinda hugged him back. Like I had any choice. A quick guy-hug, slapping him on the back but not sticking around for any of the holding we probably both could've used. I think he got it, because he let me go and let me pass. And in three seconds, I wanted to hug everyone I saw until my arms fell off.
The guy was handcuffed in the world's most uncomfortable position -- squatting with his hands meeting under his crotch. And even if he wanted to stand up, the bar of the fence that the chain was threaded around kind of got in the way. He was bleeding from the back of his head, though that didn't seem to worry anyone around him. A uniform was watching over him, making sure nobody took too many liberties with a kid stupid enough to bring a gun along tonight. I'd see that uniform again, at the station, on the street... crumpled up on my bedroom floor... but that's another story.
I can't believe they're trying to charge me $3.50 here. That's not a hot dog. I've seen hot dogs and that ain't it. MY dogs are twice as thick long and I know it sounds dirty when you say it, but after three days in MY house with the best hot dogs you'll ever eat, this is pitiful. But... I promised, huh? My treat tonight. That was part of the deal... He buys in the Bronx and I buy here. So...
I knew everything would be OK when I head Marie's voice rising above the din, wrapping around my name like there was a bowl of stew inside with my name on it getting cold. She didn't get up and I wouldn't have expected her to, but she smiled like she'd just won the lottery and I guess if you look at it that way, she did.
"Hey, Max... how ya doin'?" Stupid, I know, but back then, that was the first thing in my head and I couldn't stop it from coming out. He laughed and it was music.
"Oh, same old same old," he didn't get up either, staying on the stoop with Marie fussing over him. He had a towel, one of the dishtowels I've been tricked into using more than once in his kitchen before and since, pressed to his temple and a slow trickle of blood escaped down the side of his face before Marie could rush in and wipe it away. "How'm I doin'," he asks. "I got shot, wiseguy, how you THINK I'm doin'?" Blue eyes rolled at me and he smiled a lot, as if he never wanted to stop smiling again.
"What happened?" I took a spot on the step near him as the EMTs rushed in to tend, approaching cautiously because his wife had this turf just fine and didn't need their help. It took some convincing, but eventually she relented, letting the professionals do their do. Of course, it took convincing from me and Max AND Donnie to break them through...
"Senor Piece-of-Crap over there tried to 'convince' me not to testify tomorrow," Max pointed a pudgy hand over to the captive perp who was taking more than his share of kicks in the ass that night. I looked over and met sea green eyes above the skel, almond shaped emeralds... again, another story. One that has Max standing up for me in a church, of all places, while those eyes peer out from under a veil and there's his and hers towels and a bunch of drunk Irish cops making the Marriott rethink hiring out to wedding receptions... But I'm off the subject again...
Max nodded to the gun on the sidewalk and a pair of blood spatters. One was his - I could see where the bullet grazed him when the med guys pull the towel away and whistle. Close call, they said. Guardian angel's on overtime tonight. Max looked at Marie and said something under his breath like 'you're darn tootin',' but I know it couldn't be that. That's not something I think he'd say.
"So...?" I had to press. I had to know why my partner was alive and why I felt like dancing a friggin' jig in the middle of his street.
"So... he tries to get me to turn around and get on my knees... the next thing I know, I see Marie at the window. I yell for her to get down, she disappears and not three seconds later, she runs up behind that guy and brains him with her mother's crystal vase. BAM!" He had to put in the 'BAM'. He's since told me it was his favorite part.
"So, what happened there?" I pointed to his damaged temple with a nod.
"As he's goin' down, he gets one stray shot off and 'bingo'." I know for a fact that 'bingo' is not his favorite part of the story. "I keep tellin' Marie it's nothing... but you know her." Yeah I know her. I'm gonna name three kids of mine after her. She saved his life that night and I think I finally understood that day how she felt. Every night, when he came home in one piece, I like to think she thanked God or whoever is in charge that I'd kept him safe. That she felt good about letting him out the door in the morning because she knew I'd be looking out for him. I'd have his back. It's dumb, but I think I felt that way about her that night. Like I could trust her with my partner.
When we finally retired his slimmed down ass -- more of Marie's insisting got his weight down in an effort to try and keep him around longer -- I spoke, giving some long-winded, half-bagged speech about how Max was the best and I don't know where I'd be today if that night had gone wrong. He saw me through a lot in the last few years he had on the streets. Saw me through the old man's funeral, through my sister's wedding... through MY wedding... hell, he'd been the one to fix me up with Angeline in the first place. He drilled me every day when I was taking the sergeant's exam, practically sharpened my pencils for me the morning of the test... After he hung it up, he even helped me break in the new kid I'd be running with. Too much, this guy.
And really, I don't know what would've happened to me if that night had gone different. I don't know how I'da been able to handle another partner back then, one who didn't know me so well, who didn't know how to handle Max's wild colt. Without Marie and the kids as my family, a family more real and loving than my own ever was. Who knows where the hell I'da wound up. I can't even say for sure I'da stayed at the 2-7. Really, how could I if Max was... if he hadda...
It's something in my eye. Shut up.
Through the door, it's green, but it's not my green. Not my house. A voice inside me tells me that I don't belong here and I don't need to listen to it to know that's true. Never in a million years did I ever think... but we had a deal, right? If it got this far... and it has... I trudge down the cement steps in the late October chill, wishing my jacket was heavier and wishing I'd brought the leather coat. But for this occasion, you break out the good duds. I get a few boos as I descend, heading for the front row, my little cardboard box in hand. I don't care. I flip 'em off over my shoulder, not even looking back. This is only partly about the grass, the brick, the bases. This is way more important than just baseball.
Blue eyes meet me on my way down, his still-kinda-meaty arm draped across the back of my empty seat, daring anyone to try and take it. "What the hell, Mike? You didn't have to kill the pig for these things, didja?"
"Max," I smile as I plant my butt in the hard, cold plastic seat on the third-base line in Shea Stadium, "I'll give you fifty bucks if there's anything even remotely animal in these dogs." He smiles like he never wants to stop again, like getting me to Queens is an even neater trick than getting me to the church on time. Crow's-feet crinkle in the corners of his eyes, one a little deeper than the rest, a divot there to remind the both of us how close it got. He leaves his arm up on the chair and I don't mind one bit.
"You're on," he takes the hotdog from me and bites into his, letting out a sauerkraut sigh of relief as he settles back in his chair. We must make quite a picture, one that'll be on the Diamondvision if I'm any judge of the way things go. Be on the cover of the Ledger in the morning. 'Friendly Rivalry' or some crap like that. Him in his bright blue and orange, me in my navy and white, caps perched on top of our heads and big stupid smiles perched on our faces.
It had to be this way. No wives, no kids. Just him and me. Max and Mike over the dugout, hollering for their teams in a way that could only make Marie Greevy proud. We're gonna be loud and boisterous and rude tonight. We have to be. There is no other way to do it. Three games in the bag, three more after tonight and you can bet we got seats to all of 'em. If ever there was a time to be in New York, the first World Series of the new millennium is it. Even if I have to sit in Shea, smack dab in a sea of Mets fans, wearing Yankees gear. But hell... You'd expect anything less? Those're my boys out there.
A plane soars overhear, drowning out everything. And I figure... there ain't a better place to be tonight. I look over at Max as we're temporarily deafened by the air traffic and he looks at me. We both laugh, but I don't know what at.
Nope. No better place in the world.