In Peace
By Gwenn McNabb
 
Unless you've had to bury one of your children, you can't know what it's like. I think back now to all those mothers and fathers that I've had to face over the past couple of decades and realize that I didn't have a freakin' clue what they were really going through. Now that I've fallen down that same emotional elevator shaft, I wish that I could have done or said something to make it easier. No, that's wrong. There isn't anything you can say that would make the situation better. But I still wish I had known. It was way too easy to put those names and faces into tidy little mental files and push them as far back in my mind as I could.
How does it feel? Well, let me see if I can put it into words that'll do it justice. Someone pulls your ribs apart and rips the heart slowly out of your chest. They wrap it in razor wire and put it back in so you can feel the pain rip through your body with every beat. It tears up your insides until there's nothing else left, just that raw wound no one can see. It hurts so much that you start thinking it's gonna kill you and that's not an entirely bad thing 'cause even that would be better than waking up every morning feeling like that. Grief isn't that merciful, though, and you get to face it again each bright, shiny new day.
You lay awake through the night and try to convince yourself that it didn't really happen, that it was some kind of nightmare meant for someone else. You can almost manage it sometimes, too, except for that gaping hole inside where your soul used to be. I used to try to negotiate my way out of it, too. You know, telling God that if it could be me instead of Cathy, I'd gladly take her place and she could put her life back together and make something of herself. It would have been a loss less painful for everyone involved...there wouldn't be too many tears shed if I suddenly dropped off the face of the earth. Times like that had me wondering if I had died when Claire did, the good Lord would have considered us even and this never would have happened.

"Oh, sweetheart! I can't believe it...a baby girl!"
"You're not disappointed? I wanted to give you a son, I know what that meant to you."
"How could I be disappointed? Look at her! Almost as beautiful as her mother..."

After a few weeks of living with that, something else takes hold. It's anger, churning and heavy in your guts, and you welcome it with open arms because at last you get to feel something besides sorrow. That's how it was with me, anyway. I had a serious hate-on going, and it became my reason for getting up and going to work each morning. If I hadn't had that, there's a very good chance I would have picked up my service piece and ridden that hot lead into the darkness.
It took a while for my hate to get specific. Surprised? Why not just Danny Jones, that dope-pushing prick who took Cath down with him into the toilet? Or Krieger, the ADA from Brooklyn who forced her into setting the guy up and taking the stand? Or even Mallory, the narc who was supposed to be watching her back after the mistrial? It wasn't that easy, though. There were an awful lot of people I passed on my descent, and they all got their fair share.
Want a 'for instance'? Well, how about my devoted partner? Rey never said it to my face, but I could see from the looks he was giving me that he figured Cathy somehow had it coming to her. She was an addict, she stole the pills from Maimonides Medical Centre - she'd made her own bed and all that crap. The black and white world of Reynaldo Curtis doesn't allow for mistakes, not by other people at any rate. I think he was hurting for me, don't get me wrong, but knowing that he felt that way about my little girl...
Worse than Rey, though, was Mike Logan. He had to know what went down -- there wasn't a cop in the city who could avoid knowing. But there wasn't word one from him, not until the day of the funeral at any rate. When I finally got home, I listened to his garbled message on my machine, apologizing for not coming but he wasn't very good at that kind of thing, blah, blah, blah. This is a guy who was more like family than anyone I'm actually related to, and he couldn't bring himself to leave his own pity party long enough to attend mine.
Shit, it even got bad enough that I started hating Cath for going and getting herself killed. How screwed up is that? As if you needed more proof that I was the world's crappiest parent.

"Close the drapes, would you, honey?"
"What's wrong, Daddy? Are you sick? Mommy's gonna be real mad if you're sick again."
"I'm just tired, Cathy. Be a good girl and get your ol' dad a couple of aspirins, OK?"

And there were a dozen others, but all that's beside the point. Each jab in the ribs built the fire higher inside of me, although no one you talk to would have seen it. It was same ol', same ol' when it came to the job. They'd hear me crackin' wise and figure it was OK, Lennie seemed to be pulling himself together, what a trooper. If someone had looked close enough, they might have seen that I was walking the razor's edge, but folks tend to distance themselves from death like it was some dread disease they might catch from you. Or maybe I pushed them away, who knows?
I worked on that hate for a while, sharpening the edge of it against my pain until it was hard and pointed. All the other stuff, the little slings and arrows...those all fell by the wayside. Not that I'm all that forgiving, but I didn't want to exhaust my precious anger on anyone but Danny Jones. Jones, standing there on his corner with his two lackeys, a smug grin on his face at walking away unscathed from the narcotics charges. King Shit of Turd Island, thinking nothing could touch him. The worst part is that he was right - the System, the Almighty System, held no threat. Cath was gone; the DA couldn't touch him in a retrial. I wished differently, but I knew that much was true. Thirty years will teach you how to recognize a lost cause when you see one.
I was still thinking about Jones on the day I went out to Riker's to see Eddie Soto. A two-bit hood, was Eddie, but he could always be relied on to look out for number one and that had worked in my favor more than once when nailing suspects on touch-and-go investigations. A snitch outlives his usefulness when he crosses the line, though, and Eddie had gone way over on his third major arrest.
One minute he's whining about facing sixteen minimum for a third felony conviction and all of a sudden the guy is whispering in my ear about taking Danny Jones down for doing Cathy. He certainly knew how to get my attention, I'll give him that. That's when the wall started to fall on that noble cop routine I'd been hanging onto until then. This wasn't about doing the wrong thing for the right reason; I'd had to help the system along once in a while and I'd do it again. It got me to thinking, though, and gave my anger a whole new focus.

"This isn't fair. My lawyer said people like me -- first offense, you get probation."
"It's politics, Cath. If I didn't wear the badge, they'd probably cut you some slack."
"Being your kid just doesn't have an upside, does it?"

I was still laying awake in bed at night, but that particular night I filled the hours with fantasy scenarios of how best to end Danny Jones' parasitic existence. I wanted it to be slow and painful; I wanted his final moments to be filled with the same kind of fear I know Cathy must have gone through. So far as I know, Jones and Soto ran in different circles; there would be no way to connect one to the other. It could be done and I was willing to bet that damned few boys in blue would bust their asses trying to figure out who had killed a low-life mook. Sure, someone might give me a bit of a look when it went down, but I've become pretty good at covering my ass.
I played telephone tag for a few days with Harry Spivak, the Brooklyn detective who'd busted Eddie. When we finally connected, I asked him to meet me at the cemetery where we were holding the unveiling of the gravestone. He figured I had something that would help him put Soto away for good and I didn't tell him any different. I think I needed him to be there, wanted him to understand why I would ask him to look the other way in one of his cases. Harder to say no if the grim reality is staring you in the face, or so I thought anyway.
But something about that day was different from all the others. Being there with our friends and family made it real for me. Cath's death, I mean. I stood with Gloria at the side of the grave while the rabbi recited Kaddish, and seeing my little girl's name spelled out on the cold gray stone drove it home harder even than seeing her body at the crime scene. It hadn't been all that unusual for me not to see Cathy for long periods of time; not that I blamed her for that, I knew I was an eternal disappointment. But I finally had to face the fact that she really was there under all that dirt and sod, and she wasn't going to come back to me, no matter what I did. It was too late for regrets, too late for reconciliation, too late for vendettas. The beautiful blue-eyed girl whose last words to me were to say she was sorry I ever had her - she was beyond all that now.
The rabbi wrapped up the service and I sent my ex-wife on ahead to her brother's house where the family was gathering. Spivak made his appearance at that same time and I asked him to wait for me at my car. I stood there by myself for a while, praying to a God I was no longer sure existed for a sign that I should take matters into my own hands and wreak a little vengeance on his behalf. Nothing but the distant sound of car doors slamming as the mourners left the cemetery answered me back and I decided that maybe I'd lost the right to knock on that particular door a long time ago.
I walked back to my car and leaned on the roof, looking at Spivak on the other side and not really knowing how to begin. He looked at me expectantly for a bit before he said anything.
"You got something that's gonna help me with Soto?" he asked, getting right to business.

"Look, it's just...I see dead people all the time, only they're already dead when I show up.
See, then it's my job to go find the bastard who did it. Now, this morning I watched a guy get killed and I wasn't supposed to do anything about it. I don't know, I guess I'm better when they're already dead.

As soon as he spoke, I knew it was all over. There was no way I could force myself onto the slippery slope; I'd been a cop too damned long. I tried to hang onto the hate, I did...it had fed me for weeks and weeks, it wasn't given up easily. But in the end, it faded away, dissolving like toxic waste in the Hudson.
You can tell me I turned chicken, I guess, and maybe you'd even be partly right. But it struck me that maybe Cath deserved better from me than revenge. It sure as hell wouldn't be much of a tribute to chuck away whatever career I had left and pretend to myself that the sacrifice would do anybody any good. Where would that have left me, do you think? A guy like me, I've pretty much screwed up everything else in my life. The job is the only thing I know is mine.
I had one last chance to make her proud of her old man, and damn the pain. It was OK to feel that, better than burying it underneath my hate, I finally realized. I still wanted to see Jones pay for what he'd done, but I couldn't make myself to go in through the out door to do it.
"Not really," I answered. "I just wanted to know how solid your evidence is against him."
Spivak snorted. "About as solid as it gets. Only thing we're missing is the 'I Did It!' tattoo on his forehead."
I shrugged and looked around. "I figured as much after I read the report. But he's one of my snitches, I have to at least be able to say that I talked to you about it, you know?"
He knew I was snowing him. "Uh huh. And you hauled me all the way down here to ask me this?"
"No," I said. "I was going to ask for your help with something. But I think I'm going to have to handle on my own. Sorry to have wasted your time." Finally I could meet his eyes. Probably my own, too, the next time I passed by a mirror.
He contemplated that for a few minutes, then walked around the car to where I stood. "If you change your mind, you know where to find me." He stuck his hand out and I shook it.
"I won't, but thanks for the offer."
I watched him stroll over to his own car and drive off before I walked back to Cathy's grave. I knelt down and ran my fingers over the carefully manicured blanket of grass before I left.

"I don't want to go, Daddy! I want to stay with you!"
"I know, sweetheart. Please don't cry. You'll like the new place, you'll see."
"If I go away, you'll forget about me."
"Honey, that could never happen. I'll love you wherever you are. You'll always be my baby."
"I love you, too."
"Go on, Cath. They're waiting for you. It'll be OK."
"'Bye, Daddy."
"Bye, sweetheart. Bye."

end

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