Well, I'm done leading you on..... here's the rest of the story. Thanks so much for reading and reviewing!
"92-14. Please respond," came over Lundy's police radio.
"92-14 here," Lundy replied into the CB.
"92-14, please report immediately to the Blackcrow Street bridge."
"We're on our way. 92-14 out."
Joe Bill sighed, "I bet that bridge's out again. What do they expect us to do, build a boat to ferry people 'cross?"
"Nah, no boat. I bet they want you to ferry 'em across on your back," Lundy sallied back.
Joe Bill laughed and something in Lundy twinged in pain. A comment like that would have gotten quite a rise out of LaFiamma.
The scene that greeted Lundy and Joe Bill at the bridge was controlled chaos. Lundy maneuvered around two trucks, an ambulance, a rescue truck and ended up beside a tow truck.
Lundy took in the scene before him. Joe Bill was right, the bridge was flooded. He watched a moment as the tow truck attempting to pull a car from the flooded bridge. At the bank of the river, he saw two rescue divers, already in their wetsuits, surveying the water before them.
"Looks like someone went into the drink," Joe Bill commented as he and Lundy jumped from the Jimmy into the water that lay across the road.
Looking around for an officer, Lundy found a patrolman and began to approach him, intent on finding out why he and Joe Bill had been dispatched to the scene. "I'm Sergeant Lundy. Can you tell me why I was dispatched here?"
The officer opened his mouth to reply but a voice called Lundy's name behind them.
Lundy turned around to find Lt. Beaumont approaching as fast as she could through the water under foot. Suddenly Lundy felt chilled to the bone. The look on Joanne's face spoke of anguish and loss. Immediately Lundy thought of the people that he cared about most in the world and the probability that any of them were involved in what had transpired here.
Swinging around to study the vehicles he had driven by, Lundy noticed for the first time that the two trucks sported police lights. Today, the police units, just to be able to maneuver through the city, were using every available truck. Suddenly the possibility that LaFiamma was here soared.
Levon swallowed down emotions that were erupting inside, as Joanne stopped in front of him.
"Lieutenant, why are we here?" Joe Bill impatiently questioned, unaware of the emotions swamping his Lieutenant or his partner.
Without sparing a glance at Joe Bill, Joanne kept her eyes steadily on Levon and swallowed a few times, trying to get the words out. "Two...two cars were stuck on the bridge. Guiterrez and ...." Swallowed the lump in her throat, she pressed on, "Esteban and LaFiamma arrived on the scene and they got the driver of the car and two children passengers from the 2nd vehicle to safety." Here she paused, trying to find a way to say what must be said.
Lundy's eyes darted to the bridge, to the single car being towed, to the ambulance where Esteban stood talking to the paramedics, to the two rescue divers that stood on the bank but made no move to don on their masks and tanks to perform a rescue. Bringing his focus back to Joanne, Levon seized onto her shoulders and demanded, "Where's LaFiamma?!"
"Levon," Joanne breathed in anguish.
Her anguished tone and look of despair ripped through Levon. "No!!" he growled in denial and pushed past her toward the divers.
He stumbled to a halt beside the divers as he saw what had their attention. The jeep was being tossed from bank to bank even as it made it's way down river, unstoppable in its motion.
Esteban spoke from behind Lundy, his voice thick with emotion, "He was trying to rescue the children's mother. It...it happened so fast. The jeep just fell into the river and La.." Esteban's voice faltered. "I...I never saw him surface, Levon."
Lundy clenched his jaw, refusing to let the sob break free. But then, without warning, he spun and landed a right cross to Esteban's jaw, sending the cop to the water covered ground. "Damn you!! You were suppose to protect him!" Levon screamed as he towered over the downed man.
Esteban made no move to get up, to defend himself against any further attack Lundy would make. But Levon's anger was quickly overcome by his gut wrenching sorrow. Without another word, Levon began to walk up the river bank, searching for LaFiamma. It was hard going amidst the water and the muddy crumbing banks but he pressed on, never pulling his eyes from the river.
He wasn't aware that someone was approaching until Chicken called out, "Levon."
Swinging around, Lundy faced his friend. "He ain't dead, Chicken!" he countered a statement that hadn't been spoken. "I'd know. I'ld feel it. He ain't dead." Then he turned on his heel and continued his mission.
Chicken followed behind his friend. "I know you're hurtin'. Hell, I'm hurtin'. But you know La..." here Chicken's voice got thick, "LaFiamma was doing what he thought was right. Was trying to save those children's mama."
"He ain't dead!!" Lundy yelled without turning around or slowing his increasing pace. Abruptly, the bank crumpled under his feet and he stumbled to the ground and would have landed in the river had Chicken not seized his arm.
Pulling Lundy back onto more solid footing, Chicken knew this was the opportunity he had needed to get through to Lundy. He seized Levon's shoulders and met his suffering friend's eyes, " I know how you feel. You know, I know how you feel. It ain't right. It ain't fair but it's what it is. Lying to yourself don't make it any less the truth." His tone softened, "And it don't cure the hurt."
But Lundy didn't want to hear Chicken's words, to acknowledge their truth. "No!" he growled and tried to break free of the big man's grasp.
Chicken held tight to his friend and gave him a sharp shake. "He's dead, Levon. You've gotta face that."
Levon's screamed, "No! He ain't dead!" even as a tear streaked down his check. With overwhelming anguish, he choked out, "He can't be gone, Chicken."
"I'm sorry, Levon. I know what he mean to you," Chicken's hold turned supportive as Lundy's rage turned to defeat.
"He was family," Lundy declared, the tears evident in his voice. "Like my brother." And Chicken hugged Lundy as his final defenses fell and the sob he had long held back broke forth.
Pain brought LaFiamma back to the land of the living, piercing the unconsciousness that had claimed him. With a moan, his eyes fluttered open and he saw the mud of the river bank, up close and personal.
Attempting to raise his head, a merciless agony streaked through his skull, elicited a more pronounced moan. Raised his hand to hold his head, he was surprised that the limb obeyed without pain.
He remembered everything. The teenage boy. The two children. The mother. And he remembered the car falling forward and his instinctually leap from the jeep, knowing even then that he was abandoning the woman to her unkind fate.
He'd made it clear of the jeep and miraculously been out of it's path as it struck the water. But he had not escaped the whirlpool the jeep had spawned. Before he could truly understand his situation, he was swept under the water and was surging down river.
Finally popping to the surface, he had dragged in air only to be swept under the churning water again and again and again. He was certain he was going to die.
'But I didn't," rang through LaFiamma's head. With new resolve, he forced his arms to support him and crawled from the water's edge to the security of the bank. Acutely aware of the cuts and bruises that covered his body.
Slowly, he sat up, grimacing at the wave of pain his head generated. He quickly assessed his injuries from the bump on his head, to his tender ribs, down to his glass cut knees and bruised left leg. Determining that he hurt all over but nothing was serious in nature.
Finally he turned his focus to his surroundings. "Oh great," he grumbled aloud as he found himself enclosed by woods. He had gone camping only once in his life and had hated every minute of the experience.
Cautiously, he climbed to his feet and listened intently for sounds of civilization. Only birds and rustling wind met his ears. "Just great," he mumbled and walked into the thick woods, limping slightly.
By the time Lundy and Chicken made their way back to the bridge, only two vehicles remained, Lundy's Jimmy and one of the police trucks. Joanne emerged out of the truck at their approach.
"Chicken, can you drive Levon home?" she asked softly even as Lundy refused to meet her eyes.
"Sure," Chicken agreed, having already assigned himself that task from the start.
But Lundy abruptly looked to his Lieutenant. "Esteban....I ...I have to apologize to 'em."
"Later, Levon," Joanne gently suggested.
"No. No, I gotta do it now, before he things I was right, that this is his fault." Levon's voice was emphatic.
"Alright. Joe Bill took him back to Riesner's."
"I'll take you there, Levon," Chicken offered. Lundy nodded and made his way to the Jimmy's passenger side.
Joanne and Chicken's eyes met and their sadness and concern meshed together. Chicken softly said, "I'll stay with him," before he headed to the driver's side of the Jimmy.
LaFiamma tripped over a root and just barely kept himself off the ground. "I really hate nature today!!" he yelled into the woods but instantly regretted it as it reverberated through his aching head.
Pressing forward, he tried hard to ignore the branches that slapped against him and the underbrush that snared his steps. He wasn't sure how long he had hiked until he heard the truck horn cut through the sounds of the woods.
A smile crept onto his face. "Civilization, here I come!" he exclaimed as he increased his speed.
When Chicken parked in Reisner's garage, he looked over to his silent passenger. Lundy sat perfectly still and eerily quiet. Chicken couldn't even detect the man's breathing.
"You don't have to go in there, not today," Chicken gently counseled.
Barely audibly, Lundy insisted, "I have to talk to Esteban. I have to make things right. Today."
"Alright but let me go get Esteban. Talk to him down here."
Lundy looked down at his hands, "I have to walk in there some time," his voice still insistent but nearing the breaking point.
"Not today ya don't. Give yourself some time."
"You said so yourself. There ain't no cure for this pain." With that said, Lundy got out of the Jimmy and forced himself to walk toward the stairs. Then the Divine intervention occurred.
Joe Bill came out of the door and was followed by Esteban. Esteban came up short at seeing Lundy, not out of fear but out of shame.
Joe Bill took the role of referee. "Now I know you're torn up but none of this was Esteban's fault. It ain't fight takin' it out on him."
"I know," Lundy solemnly replied as he met Esteban's eyes. Esteban came down the rest of the stairs to stand in front of Lundy.
"Lundy, I'm sorry," Esteban began, his voice breaking.
But Lundy spared him the rest of the words, "I know ya are. And I know it wasn't your fault. LaFiamma never walked away from helping someone...no matter the risks. I know that better than anyone." Then Lundy gave Esteban a hug. Stepping back, Lundy added, "Thanks for being there with him." And then Lundy stalked back to the Jimmy.
Maybe in the 1960's you could hitch hike across America, but today, today LaFiamma was finding it impossible to hitch hike an inch. He admitted that his appearance could play a factor in that sad fact.
Giving up, he started to walk toward Houston, uncertain and unwilling to gauge the miles that lay ahead of him. Then he had walked and walked and walked and yet no signs indicated the distance that still separated him from Houston. Needing to give his bruised leg a break, he claimed a seat on a discarded tire on the shoulder of the road.
An 18 wheel truck passed him and then slowed to a stop. At first LaFiamma sat there, stunned. But at the horn blast, he sprang from the tire and made his way to the truck. Climbing in the cab, he came face to face with a white bearded grandfatherly man.
"Son, ya look like something the cat dragged in," the driver greeted.
"I've had better days," LaFiamma conceded.
"Where ya headed or should I just take ya to the first hospital we come upon?"
"If you could, just get me to Houston. I'ld be very grateful."
"Alright, Houston it is," and he put the truck in motion.
"Levon, let me take ya home," Chicken coaxed for the thousandth time as he saw Lundy still nursing his glass of whiskey.
"I don't wanna go home, not yet, Chicken," Lundy objected softly as he sat at the counter of Chicken's restaurant.
"How 'bout coming back to my place? There ain't no reason for us to be here. I'm not even officially open for business."
But Lundy shook his head. Silence fall again in the deserted restaurant. When Lundy spoke again, his anguish filled the whole of Texas. "I shoulda been there with him, not Esteban. I shoulda had the guts to stay by his side." His voice dropped to a whisper, "I really thought it'd hurt less not seeing, not being there." Without warning, Levon surged to his feet and threw the whiskey bottle across the room.
"I wasn't there for him, Chicken, and that's tearing my soul out! I...I shoulda talked some sense into him 'stead of running away. I should have stopped his reckless stunts 'stead of cursing him for doing 'em." He met Chicken's eyes with conviction. "It's not Esteban's fault LaFiamma's dead. It's mine."
"Whoa, Lundy! What happened isn't anyone's fault. It just happened."
"I woulda stopped him!!"
"No, you would have joined him. Neither of you back down when lives are at stake."
"Well, then we're both fools." He paled as he realized his tense slip. "Was." He swallowed hard. "He was a fool...thinking the lives of strangers was worth his life!"
Chicken words were soft, admiring, "That was his way, just as it's yours. You both let
compassion lead you."
"To hell with compassion!" In defeat, Lundy slumped back onto the stool and picked up his glass, before murmured lowly, "It's cost me my wife and now it's cost me my best friend."
"Seems the fates are against ya, young man," the truck driver, who LaFiamma had come to know as Jesse, offered as he halted the truck in front of another road block. This was their fourth attempt to find a route to LaFiamma's apartment or Ressner's.
"Tell me something I don't know," LaFiamma grumbled, sighing. A moment later another destination popped into his head. "You have time to try one more place?"
"Yup, just tell me which ways to go," Jesse agreed.
The phone rang at Chicken's. Leaving his seat beside Lundy, Chicken answered the phone with "Chicken's". He fell silent as the caller spoke.
Lundy watched Chicken's expression even as he vainly hoped that the caller was saying that a mistake had been made. Joseph LaFiamma was too young, too smart, too stubborn to be dead. But Chicken's expression grew darker as he listened and Lundy drained his whiskey glass and poured another.
When Chicken bid the caller goodbye, he gently put the phone back on the hook and looked down to the floor.
"I already know it ain't good news, Chicken," Levon lowly broke into the silence. "So why don't ya just tell me and get it over with."
Coming to the counter, Chicken met his friend's eyes. "They finally got he jeep out of the water." A pause. "The woman's body was found inside." Chicken looked away, unable to see the pain in Levon's eyes as he finished, "They haven't recovered...his body yet."
Clenching his jaw, Lundy nodded but couldn't take a drink, uncertain if any liquid could bypass the lump in his throat.
"Well, we gotcha here at least," Jesse laughed and Joe offered his hand to the trucker.
"Thanks so much for your help, Jesse," LaFiamma smiled as he and Jesse shook hands.
"Truth is, I was getting' kinda lonely this run. We both got help when we needed it," Jesse admitted with a twinkle in his eye.
"So, fate wasn't' so mean after all?" LaFiamma prodded in good humor.
Jesse laughed."No. Reckon not. Joe, I know Houston aint' like Chicago but I think that may be the good news. Sometimes what we want outta life aint' what's best for us. Don't be too stubborn to appreciate what God's put before ya 'cause you're too busy missing what He's taken away. Take it from an old man whose stubbornness cost him a lot of blessings 'till he wised up."
LaFiamma's look was contemplative a moment and then he nodded his agreement to follow the sage advice. "Seems to me you're a pretty wise guy. Better take your own advice and reconcile things with your son. You know, appreciate what you have," Joe sincerely suggested.
Jesse was startled to have his own advice boomerang back at him but he too faced the sincere concern he heard in his passenger's words. "Reckon you're right. He'll probably hang up on my 'fore I say a full hello."
Joe smiled, "He won't. Thanks again Jesse," and he climbed out of the truck.
Jesse pulled the truck from Chicken's parking lot, blew his horn and was back on his way.
LaFiamma turned to Chicken's and came up short. He had been so glad to see Chicken's come into view, he hadn't noticed the red Jimmy sitting in it's lot. Lundy's Jimmy.
Conflicting emotions tore through him. A huge part of him was glad Lundy was here, that after today's events he could spend some time with his friend. And yet, another part of him dreaded Lundy's reaction to LaFiamma's actions that day. Lundy'd be pissed, like he had been over the helicopter incident and then there would be the lecturing. LaFiamma wasn't in the mood for any of Lundy's crap and he'd tell him that right up front.
Chicken was making himself busy by cooking up dinner, though neither man was hungry. Chicken hadn't heard the door open, hadn't head the tread of ruined leather loafers as they approached. No he simply looked up to ask Lundy if he wanted onions on his burger. Suddenly the metal turner dropped from his now nerveless fingers.
Lundy jerked his head up at the clatter of the turned colliding with the floor. Seeing Chicken's stunned expression, Levon spun around to find the source of Chicken's surprise, uncertain if he should pull his gun. His hand froze mid grab.
LaFiamma limped forward, misinterpreting his friend's reactions, he began, "I know, I know. I look like hell."
Levon stumbled to his feet, disbelief and shock surging through him. He was struck dumb, unable to articulate the joy that consumed him at finding his best friend alive and standing before him.
"Lundy, don't even start lecturing me," LaFiamma warned, sure that Lundy was drawing breath to unleash a tongue lashing.
But instead Lundy choked out an anguished, "I thought you were dead."
This brought LaFiamma up short. He looked to Lundy's face then Chicken's and then back to Lundy's. Realizing the depth of their shock and the signs of the aftermath of their anguish, he sobered quickly. "Yeah, well, I thought the same thing."
Levon walked up to his partner, met his eyes a moment before pulling LaFiamma into a tight hug. LaFiamma returned the hug, feeling some of the horror of the day dissolve from his soul.
Pulling back, Lundy kept his hands on LaFiamma's shoulders. "Damn it, boy! Don't ever do that to me again," tears evident in his voice as well as his eyes.
LaFiamma nodded his promise.
Then looking over LaFiamma with a critical eye, Lundy drawled, "We best get you to a hospital."
LaFiamma gave his pat reply, "I'm fine."
"Oh really," Lundy challenged with steel in his voice. "I guess that blood all over you's for show and you're limping 'cause your shoes' too tight."
LaFiamma couldn't hold back a smirk, "I'll have you know, leather shrinks when it gets wet."
Lundy fought between anger and joy but a laugh erupted from him before he knew it. "You're so stubborn!"
"Yeah, well, I'm trying to become an honorary Texan."
"Boy, if stubbornness alone made ya Texan, you'd be more Texan than Sam Houston."
A silence fell, then both men broke into laughter, real heart felt laughter. But soon LaFiamma was trying to brace his injured ribs from moving.
"Whoa, whoa," Levon soothed. "Let's get you to a seat," and eased LaFiamma into a chair. Bending down to be eye level with his partner, Levon accused with iron in his tone and worry in his eyes, "Ya gonna tell me again that you're fine, that you don't need to go to the hospital."
"Doesn't matter. Roads to the hospital are all blocked," LaFiamma answered with a cocky smile.
Levon turned to Chicken in surprise and the black man turned on the tv news for the first time that day. Within minutes Chicken and Lundy knew LaFiamma wasn't exaggerating. Turning off the tv, Chicken brought an alcohol doused cloth to Lundy. "Looks like the hospital's not an option tonight."
With the cloth in hand, Lundy faced LaFiamma. "Alright then, we'll stay at my place till the water recedes. But let's get you cleaned up a bit 'fore we leave." And he pulled a chair in front of LaFiamma, took a seat and raised the towel to a cut on Joe's face.
Before the cloth could make contact, LaFiamma grabbed Levon's hand. "I can do that."
Yanking his hand free, Lundy growled, "Don't be a stubborn mule LaFiamma."
"Lundy," LaFiamma warned.
"LaFiamma I've about.." Lundy began.
"Boys! Boys!" Chicken interrupted, using the tone of voice he had brought to bare on his son so many years ago. Having earned their attention he continued in a soft voice, "I don't think arguing's what you wanna do after the miracle you got handed today."
Both men hung their heads in shame like rebuked schoolboys. Simultaneously they said, "Sorry" and then their eyes met and smiles replaced their shame.
Gently, Lundy wiped away the blood from LaFiamma's check before dabbing the cloth at the true cut on his friend's forehead. LaFiamma flinched but remained silent. Lundy let that silence reign as he continued to clean up the cut and released the clamp of hair that had merged with the dried blood.
"So, you up to telling me what happened?" Lundy gingerly prodded, watching LaFiamma for things he wouldn't say.
Instead of answering, LaFiamma shot back an urgent question of his own. "The woman...the mother, did she make it?" his voice edgy as he leaned forward in his chair, needing to know the answer. Now.
Levon met Joe' s eyes and sadly shook his head.
Joe closed his eyes and hung his head in anguish. A million "if only" s running through his head.
Lundy put his hand on LaFiamma's shoulder, "You saved the teenager and the two children. And you risked your life to try and save the mother. You did everything ya could, LaFiamma," Lundy consoled.
But immediately LaFiamma started to shake his head, "No, no," he began to mumble and held his head in his hands. "I should have gone to the jeep first, the teenager could have waited. Damn it!" And LaFiamma surged from the chair and limped toward the door.
Lundy was about to take up chase when LaFiamma halted. With his back to Lundy, LaFiamma's voice was soft and pain filled, "I abandoned her, Levon. When I knew the jeep was going in....I only thought about my survival. I jumped clear, knowing.." his voice faltered. Marshalling his emotions, he confessed, "I jumped clear knowing she'd never make it without my help. I choose my life over hers."
Lundy felt the emotions emanating from his friend and he hurt for him. He wanted to say the right thing, to somehow make the horror that was reality into some great reassuring bed time story. He couldn't. Instead, with a shaky voice, he spoke what was in his heart, "I'm glad you did." Then with unwavering conviction, "I thank God that you made that decision."
LaFiamma spun around to face Lundy in shock. "I'm a cop!"
Levon stalked to LaFiamma. "You're also my best friend. If you're waiting for me to say you shoulda sacrificed your life for hers....hell'll freeze over first."
"Lundy it's my job to put civilian lives above my own!"
"You did that!" Lundy thundered back. Then, trying to regain some composure, Lundy looked away a moment before refocusing on LaFiamma. "You risked your life to save that teenage boy and you risked it again to save those two children. And you risked it a third time trying to save that woman. When that jeep headed for the water, there was no more risks to take, no more odds to bet against. There was only the thread of hope that you'd survive at all." Then using some of LaFiamma's own words, Lundy stated, "You could'na saved her."
The words cut to the truth LaFiamma struggled to come to terms with. He hung his head. Gently, Lundy put his hand at the nape of LaFiamma's neck. LaFiamma raised his head as a tear tracked down his check.
"Let's get outta here, get you cleaned up and in my guest room's bed," Lundy suggested with compassion
LaFiamma took a steadying breath before he nodded in agreement.
Lundy turned to see that Chicken was concluding a phone call. "Who ya been calling at this time of the night?"
Chicken almost gave a look of exasperation, almost. "Didn't you ever learn that there's never a bad time to learn good news."
Suddenly Lundy was struck with his lapse. "Joanne! Esteban!"
Chicken smiled, "They've been told 'bout the miracle," and his eyes alighted on LaFiamma. LaFiamma gave a weak smile as his emotions rages. All at the same time he felt embarrassed by the attention, guilty for surviving and yet elated to be alive.
As Chicken approached the two men, Lundy held out his hand. "You're a good friend, Chicken. I wouldna made it through today without you."
Chicken shook Levon's hand and gave him a pat on the back before he stood before LaFiamma. "My grand daddy use to say 'Home's where ever you're missed.' Well, let me tell you, you were gonna be missed by a whole load of people here in Houston. Missed deeply and forever."
A genuine smile flew onto LaFiamma's lips. "Thanks Chicken," and he found himself engulfed in the big man's gentle hug and released just as quickly.
"You boys best get going," Chicken said as he gave a look to Lundy.
"Goodnight, Chicken," Lundy bid as he came up to collect LaFiamma.
"Later Chicken," LaFiamma said as he and Lundy headed out into the night.
Chicken smiled as he watched Levon follow protectively behind LaFiamma, ready to aid his friend if he faltered. Two stubborn men who were as different as daylight from dark. Two men that were close as brothers.
Lundy drove carefully through the dark, water logged roads. "You got any broken bones you haven't told me about?" he asked casually, hoping to get the truth.
"No, don't think so," came LaFiamma's voice across the darkened interior of the Jimmy.
"Saw blood on your legs."
For a moment silence fell in the dark. "Had to crawl over glass to get in the jeep."
Trying not to put LaFiamma on the defensive, Lundy's voice got soft, gentle, like he used on skittish horses. "And the limp?"
"Hit it on something swimming to the car."
Silence fell again.
"You ready to tell me everything?" Lundy's voice offered support and safety and compassion.
But the reply that Lundy received was silence and he let it stand. He almost jumped when LaFiamma began to quietly speak.
"You already know what happened at the bridge, right? You want to hear what happened after that."
Like a tidal wave, the tragic terror and anguish of the day washed over Lundy. His voice was thick as he replied, "No....no." He paused before confessing, "I wasn't up to hearing the details."
In surprise, LaFiamma looked to Lundy. He could hear the anguish in his friend's voice, could feel the other man's pain in the words he spoke. For the first time LaFiamma was starting to intimately comprehend what Chicken had said. 'You were gonna be missed.....deeply and forever.' Even after all the arguing, even after the helicopter incident, even after splitting up as partners, Lundy still gave a damn about him.
Lundy gave a sharp look to his friend, worried about he lack of a response. "You alright?" Real concern and real compassion echoed in the words.
Instead of answering Lundy's last question, LaFiamma complied with Lundy's initial request. He related all the day's event with only the facts, leaving his reactions, his emotions or his what ifs unspoken.
Lundy found he was glad for the 'facts only' story. He had felt enough emotions today to last him the rest of his lifetime.
Nothing was said for a long time then LaFiamma questioned, "But the teenager and the two kids, they're OK?" Suddenly he needed some reassurance.
"They were'nt hurt. Not a scratch on 'em." But Levon knew what still tore into LaFiamma's heart, just as he knew it always would. "She woulda chose her children's lives over her own. You know that."
"Yes," LaFiamma replied with true conviction. Lundy shot a look to his partner, searching for insight into that conviction even though deciphering any expressions in the dark was impossible. LaFiamma answered the unasked question. "She...she was conscious when I got to her like I told you." He drew in a deep breath before continuing. "She asked me, first thing, if her kids were safe."
A sigh of relief emerged from Lundy. The woman, with her last breath, had lessened the load LaFiamma would have to bear. Lundy sent up a thank you to God above.
"I wanted to save her too," LaFiamma quietly added.
"I know ya did and so did she. But she also knew you saved her children and that mattered more to her than her own life being spared."
"I know," LaFiamma conceded and the two men fell silent.
LaFiamma entered Lundy's kitchen wearing a borrowed pair of shorts and a T-shirt that had "Property of Texas" stenciled across it. "I feel like a Texas prison inmate in this shirt," LaFiamma grumbled, glad to be back on the familiar ground of arguing with his best friend.
"Sorry, I just sent my "Texas and Proud of it" shirt to the cleaners," Lundy sallied back. "Now shut up and sit down so I can tend to ya." Lundy pulled out the kitchen table chair that was beside him.
LaFiamma sat as he was ordered to do but he didn't shut up. "Tend to me? You call pouring whiskey on my cuts, tending to me?"
"Nah, I'm gonna cauterize the wounds. I got a fire going outside with my Bowie knife in it." Levon always gave as good as he got.
"Funny, Levon. Real funny," LaFiamma shot back but the two men's eyes met and they couldn't help smirking which almost immediately lead to laughter.
"Sorry to disappoint ya, but I got a first aid kit," Lundy said when he had controlled his laughter.
"Oh, I'm fine with that."
As Lundy treated the cuts on LaFiamma's legs, LaFiamma tried not to jerk away from the sting of the disinfectant. He thought talking might help him better ignore the pain.
"What did I do that pissed you off so badly?" his tone striving to be conversational. Lundy looked up sharply from his task, surprise and regret on his face. LaFiamma continued, "You were relieved when the Lieutenant split us up."
Temporarily abandoning his task, Levon leaned back in his chair and faced Joe. Facing his friend's question was a harder task. A task he wasn't sure he was up to...until he remembered the way he had felt when he thought LaFiamma was dead.
"I was afraid," Levon confessed and he ran a hand through his hair. He had LaFiamma's full attention.
"Afraid?" LaFiamma echoed. "Afraid of what?"
Lundy boldly met his friend's gaze, "Afraid you'd get yourself killed and I'll be there to see it. Unable to do a damn thing to stop it...to save you." Levon swallowed hard. "Like Esteban had to do today."
LaFiamma had no come back to that, no excuse and no denial.
Bitterness crept into Lundy's tone. "I thought it'ld hurt less if I wasn't there, if I wasn't left standing there watching you fall from a helicopter....watching you get swept into a river and not resurface." The two men's eyes met unflinchingly. "But I was wrong. It hurt more thinking I hadn't been there for you."
"There wasn't anything you could have done today," LaFiamma insisted.
But Lundy shook his head. "I shoulda been there, shoulda been man enough to be your partner and said to hell with how vulnerable I feel knowin' ...." He broke off and looked down at his hands.
"Knowing what?" LaFiamma prodded. "Knowing that I take risks? That my judgment's not the best?" There was no defiance in LaFiamma's tone but self-rebuke.
This brought Lundy's eyes snapping up to LaFiamma's. "No," he emphatically refuted, angry that LaFiamma had given those misconceptions an instant of life. "Knowing you're my friend...my best friend."
The confession caught LaFiamma by surprise. Sure Lundy had called him his best friend back at Chicken's but that was his relief talking, was part of his tactics to ease LaFiamma's pain. LaFiamma hadn't put much stock in it. He couldn't afford to. But now, here, Levon's confession had no agenda or excuse. It was simply the truth.
Seeing LaFiamma's surprised face had Lundy chuckling. "You didn't think I had the guts to admit that, did you?"
LaFiamma floundered a moment before he answered, "No. No I didn't."
"Don't let it go to your head, LaFiamma," Lundy warned.
"Hey, I am just as unhappy about you being my best friend," LaFiamma returned in mock frustration. Both men broke into smiles and chuckles.
"If it gets out we're friends, our reputation will be ruined," Lundy cautioned.
"With all the arguing we do, they'll never suspect a thing," LaFiamma reassured.
"So how 'bout you do your best friend a favor." Lundy serious look seared into LaFiamma. "Have a care for your own life. I'm not oppose to the way you do your job, or your compassion or your drive but I want ya to survive to do it again the next day and the next and the next."
The desperately earnest request cut deeply into LaFiamma and rebuked him for the foolish risks he had been taking. "Sometimes I just act without thinking," he admitted. "It's hard to change a habit like that...without someone there to hold me back, you know, to knock some sense into me." He eyed Lundy a moment before he ventured, "Holding me back's not Esteban's style."
"Yeah, which is why I told Joanne you shouldn't be partnered together. Two hothead..that's you two." Lundy sighed in resignation. "It seems I'm the only one that's any good at stoppin' you from doin' something stupid." A wide smile grew on Lundy's face.
"Partners?" LaFiamma questioned as he held out his hand.
"Partners." Lundy firmly stated as he shook LaFiamma's hand.
As Lundy returned to 'tending" LaFiamma's injuries, their usual banter fell back into place.
"I get to pick where we eat lunch tomorrow," LaFiamma announced.
"How you figure that? You picked the day we got split up," Lundy argued.
"Yeah, but we never made it to lunch. So it's technically still my turn."
"That's not the way we play it and you know it!"
"I know we're eating Chinese tomorrow," LaFiamma gloated.
"No way! I know the rules..." Lundy countered even as he felt a rush of happiness wash over him. He had his partner back.
"What are you smiling about?" LaFiamma suspiciously demanded.
"I'm thinkin' how good Chicken's BBQ ribs are gonna taste tomorrow at lunch."
"Keep thinkin' Lundy. You'll be using chopsticks tomorrow." But LaFiamma wasn't really thinking about lunch. No, he was thinking about Chicken's words and Lundy's confession. Suddenly Houston wasn't such a bad place to call home after all. Truth was, for some time now it hadn't been bad. But after today, Houston was starting to put Chicago to shame. 'Property of Texas'? He could live with that.
I'll love to hear what you think. Witty@epix.net