Mercy Street 1: Night Watch
pre-series. Caroline and Sonny and the aftermath of Vietnam.
The first time Sonny moved out she hadn't said a word. Hadn't fought, or cried, or screamed at him, not like it would be in the coming years. The first time she'd stood silent and empty behind the screen door and watched him go.
It hadn't been the drinking - that wouldn't get bad for another few years. Not the late hours, or the constant worry that he wouldn't come home. Caroline was honest enough with herself to know that. The first time he left, the first time he tossed a duffle bag into his flashy car and headed for the marina, it was the war. If she was being really honest, maybe it was the war all of the rest of the times too. It had changed him. In little ways at first, ways she could overlook, ignore. But after Billy was born things got harder. Sonny stopped sleeping through the night. She didn't notice at first, not until she realized that she was getting more rest than a new mother should rightly expect. She'd told herself that Billy was just a good baby, a good sleeper. Until one night she woke round about 3 am, her bladder aching, alone in the bed. Sonny wasn't up watching tv, he wasn't in the kitchen getting a glass of water, or on the phone with Lou or Scotty. Last of all she tried the nursery. To find Sonny crouched in a dark corner of the room, his gun dangling between bare knees.
Her throat closed. She must have made a noise. Sonny's head snapped up and he whirled around to face her, the dull metal of the gun barrel catching blue reflections from the night-light. For the first time she felt the surge of mindless terror that his prey must feel, caught like a rabbit by those two unblinking eyes narrowed on their target and below that the deep black of the hole where the bullet would emerge, too fast to even imagine. Before she could blink she'd be on the floor, brains scattered - one thing she was sure about her husband, he was a dead shot.
Sonny's aim was unwavering and there was nothing familiar in his face. Nothing she recognized at all. Slim tanned arms held rock-steady in front of him, like he was an extension of the gun, the weapon the only real thing about him. The cheery mobile of green beach glass and coral, the one his mother had made last time she visited, twirled and clicked above his head. The glow of the sea-shell light her cousin Bethie gave her at the baby shower cast the little room overboard, submerged it in nightmare waters. She couldn't even hear Sonny breathe. And in that moment she loved him with an ache that stole her own breath. She was going to die, and Sonny wouldn't survive that. In that moment between heartbeats she saw the blue and white and red flashing lights, the yellow tape, the strangers milling through her tidy little house. She saw Sonny slumped in that corner, his eyes open and empty, half his head gone.
She saw herself. Peaceful.
Billy wailed, a high-pitched whine that meant he was hungry, and she had time to wonder who would feed him with both his parents dead.
Across the room, Sonny blinked. He glanced down at the gun in his hands and swallowed. She didn't dare breathe as her heart beat again and the moment of their deaths resceeded.
He didn't look at her. The gun hit the floor with a solid thunk and her vision overlaid the present as her husband fell back into his dark corner, his hands limp in his lap, his eyes wide and blank. But alive. Alive and breathing in uneven hitches. Billy let out another plaintive cry and she moved toward the crib in a daze, unable to look away from Sonny as she scooped up their child and held him tight to her chest. Billy squirmed against her nightgown and she relaxed her hold, but only a little. Caroline retreated to the doorway again. Watched her husband blink again, slowly, the blue light moving over his ribs as he gulped air like a man who knew he was drowning.
She backed out into the hallway. Billy had gone quiet against her, maybe sensing the tension. The phone was in her hand and she was dialing when she came back to herself. A sleepy feminine voice in her ear. It took her three tries to form words. "I... I need to talk to Scotty."
And like any good cop, Scotty Wheeler was awake and at her door what felt like moments after her call. Caroline was still holding the receiver when he rang the bell. Billy roused as she let her husband's partner in the house. The baby started mewling, softly, a funny animal sound.
Her voice was gone. She stared at Scotty's round face and shook her head.
"Caroline, where is he?" Scotty gripped her shoulder and she crashed back into herself, terrified again, searching her memory of the last few minutes for the sound of a gunblast. "Nursery. Billy's room."
"Stay here, okay hon? It'll be fine. Just stay here."
She followed him anyway, hovered just outside the room when he went in, his hands empty and held to his sides so Sonny wouldn't see him as a threat. Listened to him talking to Sonny, a low rumble of sound, calm words that had no meaning. And for a long time Sonny was silent. She only knew he was alive because Scotty kept talking to him, wasn't screaming for an ambulance.
Billy nuzzled her breast through her nightgown but he was mostly asleep again, one little fist balled up by his round cheek. Her eyes were hot and dry and aching. She considered carrying Billy to her bedroom but the thought of the empty bed kept her in place, in the dim hall, floating between the rooms of her own house. Then she heard a new voice from inside the nursery, a voice that wasn't Scotty but couldn't be Sonny either. Hoarse and thin and breaking every few words, too panicked to make any sense. The voice of a scared kid. Caroline drifted into the doorway, unable to hear that voice and not look inside.
The room was still dim and blue and at first all she could see was the white t-shirt stretched over Scotty's broad back where he crouched near the crib. Then over Scotty's shoulder she caught Sonny's face, twisted and impossibly young, not her husband at all but a man she'd never seen before.
It was too soon. Sonny launched himself out of the corner, screaming. "Caroline! God, Caroline!" She died again in that moment, watching Scott Wheeler wrap his big arms around her husband in a rough tackle, forcing him back to the floor. She couldn't look away. Sonny fought his partner, growling in terror and rage. He got in a punch to Scotty's jaw before Scotty pinned him against the wall.
"Caroline, take Billy to the living room." How could Scotty sound so calm?
"Sonny?" Could that be her voice? She swallowed, searching for her husband in the man struggling against Scott Wheeler's strong grip.
"Caroline, do as I say. Take Billy and go to the other room."
All she could hear as she turned to obey was the sound of Sonny's sobs.
She would have thought she'd never sleep again but she woke up on the couch, Scotty Wheeler perched next to her. His eyes were drooping, his normally unlined face pale and haggard, like he'd spent years in that nursery while she slept. Billy was gone. She sat up with a gasp.
"I put him back in his crib, hon. He's sound asleep." Scotty's big hands swallowed hers and she started breathing again. Before she could ask after her husband Scotty spoke again. "Sonny's coming with me. We've got an early meeting downtown."
She found her voice, finally, but it still didn't sound right. "Oh. Is he..."
"I'll bring him by later to grab some stuff."
What did that mean? Caroline pulled her hand free. "Where is he?"
"Where is he, Scott?"
"In the shower. Caroline, he's pretty shook up right now-"
She stiffened, her stomach clenched. Angry without quite knowing who she was angry with. "He's shook up?"
Scotty sighed, rubbing his face. "Honey, please."
She was on her feet, blood boiling, before he'd finished. "Don't you 'honey' me, Scott Wheeler. I want to know what the hell is going on!"
"Caroline." All the fight drained out of her at the sound of Sonny's voice, toneless and even and too calm. She whirled to find him standing near the bar that separated the kitchen from the living area, still and withdrawn in a way she hadn't seen since Mike Orgell's funeral. His hair was still damp, slicked back from his forehead, and his green tee stuck to his chest like he'd pulled it on without drying off first. Dark sunglasses hid his eyes.
His holster was nowhere to be seen.
Sonny's gun was tucked into the waistband of Scotty's rumpled jeans, snug in the small of his back. He met her eyes but there were no answers there.
"Caroline, I'm sorry." Sonny didn't move from his place across the room. "I don't... I..."
It was too much. "You're sorry?" She sat back on the couch, wrapping her arms around her breasts, suddenly aware of being half naked in front of her husband's partner. "Sonny, you scared me."
She wanted to rip those damn shades from his face. She wanted him to hold her, to lie to her. "Are you coming back?"
Sonny stared at the floor, then glanced at Scotty. "Yes."
Caroline nodded. "But not right away."
"No. I'm... I'll be... on the boat. For awhile." With that he turned and left the house.
Scotty captured her hand again, briefly, before he stood. "I'll look after him. He'll be okay."
The door shut behind him with a soft snick. Caroline sat on the couch, mind empty, until Billy cried for his breakfast.