The phone rang. Dietrich reached over the untidy stack of papers on his and Ron's desk and picked it up, hoping for an update with good news on Barney's condition, but instead it was Liz.
"Arthur, where's Barney? Don't tell me he's started home on time, because I just won't believe it." Her voice was light and joking—Barney habitually worked late—but Dietrich could hear the worry; perhaps she had heard it in his own voice.
He hated this.
"Liz, Barney's been shot. He's on his way to the hospital now. He—"
It was a relief when Liz came out of momentary shock, interrupted him, and began peppering him with questions—easier to explain then, less thinking required. What happened?—a man with a gun in the precinct office. How bad?—stomach wound, two shots, we don't know. Anyone else hurt?—no, everyone's shaken, but OK. Hospital?—Bellevue.
She'd just asked about the exact circumstances of the shooting, and he'd just started to try to explain how Barney was the reason they were all fine, how Barney had distracted the gunman at a critical moment, how he'd gotten shot for his efforts, when the phone on Wojo's desk rang.
Wojo picked it up, and Dietrich paused to see if this was the hospital.
Wojo was suddenly crying into the phone. The sight was like a punch in the stomach to Dietrich. Ron was staring at the phone in Wojo's hand like it was a poisonous snake. Dietrich realized he'd stopped talking to Liz, and he wasn't hearing what she was asking him.
He told her he'd be right back, and put his hand over the reciever.
"What is it?" he said. He knew, he should have known, too much blood, only the slimmest chance with a wound like that—
Ron had the other phone now, held with his shoulder, one hand taking notes, the other on Wojo's shoulder. Wojo was still weeping.
"I un-understand," Ron was saying into the phone, then noticed Dietrich trying to get his attention.
"Oh God," Ron closed his eyes briefly. When he looked back at Dietrich, he spoke the words but sounded like a small child who didn't believe them. "He—he didn't make it. Lost too much blood—"
Dietrich motioned to the piece of paper Ron was writing on, and Ron handed it over, then mechanically began taking more notes on a fresh page.
Dietrich spoke into the phone he held. "Liz. I'm sorry. We just heard from the hospital. Barn—Barn is dead."
Ron Harris was ridiculously glad he didn't have to talk to Liz. He found himself grilling the guy from the hospital as though he were a suspect, then caught himself as he looked down at his second page of notes.
He thanked the man for calling and letting them know, glancing over at Arthur who was still talking to Liz. The hospital guy then started to sound sympathetic, and at that Ron got off the phone with him as fast as he could.
He noticed Wojo's shoulder shaking under his hand. No. A dream. Some kind of mistake. Wojo's always getting worked up over nothing…Unreal.
Ron wondered if he should be crying. Screaming. What was the protocol when your boss was shot dead in front of your eyes. No. Couldn't be. Can't—
He saw Arthur hang up the phone. On Arthur, the shock and grief looked like exhaustion. A part of Ron's brain was suddenly, morbidly curious about how always calm and cool Arthur Dietrich was going to cope with this.
Wojo felt as though his insides were being twisted and hit against a brick wall, then thrown into a deep well. He was bawling his head off, in front of the whole world, and he didn't care.
What was he gonna do? Barney—smiling, fussing with him, reassuring, throwing a righteous fit—Barney belonged here, he couldn't be gone. Done in by some two-bit hoodlum—it wasn't right. Surely it was some kind of mistake. Really, it was one of those TV injuries, he thought as he watched Ron's hand shake taking notes, with lots of blood but just a graze—that's what it should have been, not that terrible sight, sprawled on the floor, half supported by Arthur who hadn't let go until the medics had arrived. Then he'd seen the horrible wounds, and part of him had known it was over then.
He must have said it aloud.
Wojo is the wisest one of us, Dietrich thought as he turned to his two fellow detectives. Ron was at a loss, blank, unable to cope with Wojo's open show of grief.
There was a huge, empty hole inside Dietrich and in the vicinity of Barney's office, both at once, and everything else was numb. Absent. Distant no feeling no he wouldn't escape there
He got up to move closer to Ron and Woj, stationing himself on the other side of Wojo. Solidarity. To save himself.
It was, of course, not really happening. It was a test his subconscious was giving him, an opportunity to set his priorities in order. Wojo was reassuringly solid under his hand—was he receiving or giving more reassurance?—both at once—without that solidarity they'd fall into that widening abyss coming out of Barney's office—wouldn't be safe—so very easily could not have been—the blood on his glasses, Barney's blood, it was everywhere, on him, the walls and the couch in the office—could easily have been Wojo's, or Ron's, or his own. Sheer chance, fate, no, no, no, it is not real.
Ron hated himself for how relieved he was to be questioned. Except for the part about, about that, there was safety in hiding behind the professionalism, being precise, specific, correcting the assumptions the homicide detective made. He was cracking, of course. He'd always known that when real life hit he would cope badly, or not at all. That's why his writing—his melodramatic, trashy writing—worked for him: it wasn't real. He could do without reality. Blood on the Badge, really now
He stole glimpses where Wojo and Arthur were being questioned. Wojo's questioner was speaking gently, apologetically, and though he'd stopped crying for the moment Wojo's expressive face still unmistakably registered all the grief and anger he was feeling. Ron marveled at his ability to do that.
Arthur's words to his questioner interrupted Ron's thoughts. "I'm fine. Really. It's not my blood." He said this unnaturally loudly as he stood to get away from his questioner who must, Ron figured, mistakenly think Arthur himself was injured.
I'm not the only one who is cracking, Ron thought. He saw Wojo go to stand by Arthur and put a hand on his arm, saw Arthur sit back down, somewhat calmer.
We've all lost it.