Notes: This has been an interesting experience. This story is more like a series of connected vignettes. Otherwise, some things would have probably been explored in more detail. It was originally intended to be a long oneshot, but I realized that would not work for this piece and I split it up and expanded each part. Thanks to everyone who has been interested!
Krupke did not come around for the rest of the day, or the next.
Schrank leaned on the windowsill with one arm, staring out the glass. Whether he would admit it or not, it was lonely without Krupke dropping in. There were just doctors and nurses and therapists, people he was just getting tired of seeing. He wanted out; he wanted to go home. Maybe his place wasn't much, but it was still home, and ten times better than here.
Soon after he had first regained consciousness, one of the nurses had nosily asked him if there was a woman worried about him somewhere. He had flatly told her No. She had persisted, thinking maybe there was someone he was having an on-again off-again romance with, but he had continued to deny it.
There really wasn't anyone. He had loved before; it had never worked out. And since then, there had been too many other, more important things to worry about than love. It had no place in his life now.
A couple of officers at the precinct had jokingly asked him if he even believed in love. He had retorted that if it decided to believe in him, maybe he would give it another chance.
He believed that it existed, he supposed; some people certainly seemed to withstand the turmoil of life and stay together. They were either extraordinarily lucky or they knew some secret that the increasing majority of the population did not. He was one of those who did not.
Police work had been his life for years. Krupke had a point, really; what would he do if he quit? What other line of work could he find?
He did not want to stay on just for that reason. He was at the end of his rope. How could he expect that he could keep doing a job that ate a little more of his soul each day? How could Krupke expect that of him?
He swore under his breath. There was too much time to think about their argument. And when he thought it was out of his mind, the casefiles on the nightstand, or even the most initially unrelated thought processes, reminded him again.
Grudgingly, he finally had to admit that Krupke had other points. Everyone was sick of the gang wars; Schrank was not the only one. He felt that he had reached his breaking point, but was he supposed to keep on anyway? Was he supposed to try to find some purpose, some reason to stay on the force? He could not find the answer.
The door opened, admitting that same curious nurse. "Well," she greeted, "it's good to see you up and around. You're making progress."
"As long I'm still stuck here, it's not progress enough," Schrank grumbled.
"Oh now, we're not that bad here, are we?" she said.
Without waiting for an answer she straightened the bed and went on, "Your partner hasn't been by today either, has he? Really, that was a terrible argument the two of you had yesterday. The patients all over this floor were complaining."
"Too bad for them," Schrank said. He glanced at her. "You already know everything that's going on. Why ask me if Krupke's been here or not?"
She wagged a finger at him. "I'm just making friendly conversation, Lieutenant."
"I can have a friendlier conversation with a street gang," Schrank said.
She straightened. "I'd ask if your manners aren't suffering from your injuries, but I've heard you're quite a character," she said with a smirk that clearly displayed her enjoyment of annoying him.
Schrank grunted. "Are you done?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, "unless I should check your temperature." She touched his forehead. "You feel a little warm, Lieutenant."
He walked past her. "I'm fine," he said.
Actually, he was more polite with the rest of the hospital staff. But this particular nurse got on his nerves—and she knew it and delighted in it. He had enough stress to deal with from the hooligans. He did not need to be given more by her.
Right now he also had this argument with Krupke weighing on his mind. He had thought Krupke would come back within a couple of hours. When that had not come to pass, he had thought for sure it would be during the day that had just ended. Now he was wondering if Krupke would come back at all. He had never seen his partner so upset.
He was a prideful person, but over the last few hours he had been wearing down. If Krupke continued to stay away, Schrank just might end up calling him with the intent to apologize. Anyway, by this point he was so conflicted over his decision to quit that he could no longer say he was going to go through with it.
When he finally thought to look around the room again, the nurse was gone. He sank onto the edge of the bed with a sigh. If she had said anything to him upon leaving, he had not heard her. Which was fine with him.
Krupke was also conflicted. He had spent the rest of yesterday and part of today in a sour mood, surprising the rest of the precinct. But at last he had started to calm down—and now he was aghast at himself.
What right did he have to yell at Lieutenant Schrank like that? He did not know how deeply the gang problem had scarred the other man's soul. Maybe Schrank really could not take anymore. How could Krupke judge Schrank for feeling he had to quit?
A tap on the shoulder startled him out of his mind. He whirled around, his eyes wide.
"Sarge, are you okay?" Officer Keaton asked, clearly concerned. "You've been spaced out ever since you got in today. And yesterday you were grouchier than I've ever seen you."
Krupke sighed, pushing his hat back on his head. "I'm okay," he said.
Keaton sat down in a nearby chair. "Is it about the Lieutenant?" he wondered. "I thought Captain Black said he was getting better. He seemed alright when Bradley and I went to see him."
Krupke shrugged. "He's getting better, I guess." He could not bear to tell the kid what Schrank had told him. Anyway, it was not his place. Schrank would notify the Captain when he was ready.
Keaton was still unconvinced. "You guess?" He frowned. "Did something happen, Sarge?"
"No!" Krupke grunted, much too defensive. He turned away, pulling out his desk calendar. "What would've happened?"
"I can't imagine," Keaton said. "I really can't. But Sarge, if you know something and you're not saying, is it something we need to know?"
"I'd tell you if it was, wouldn't I?" Krupke said.
Keaton rocked back. "Yeah," he consented. "Yeah, of course. I'm sorry, Sarge." He stood. "Well, I hope both of you are going to be okay."
Krupke looked up at him in surprise. "Me? The Lieutenant was the one who got shot."
Keaton nodded. "And I guess it's not always easy to remember that other people are hurting too," he said. "But I know you've had it rough, worrying about Lieutenant Schrank and trying to catch the shooter and all that."
Krupke averted his gaze. "It's nothing when you think about what Lieutenant Schrank's been through," he said.
"Maybe," Keaton said. "But I don't know; everyone has their own trials, I guess." He turned to leave, walking up the corridor.
Krupke stared after him. He was surprised, and yet in another way, maybe he wasn't. Officer Keaton had shown concern towards him from the beginning. Officer Bradley, by contrast, had been more like Krupke himself—concerned solely with the Lieutenant and not thinking about how Krupke might be hurting.
He smiled a bit. It was kind of nice that someone had noticed him too.
He got up. He was not going to have any peace with himself until he settled this latest problem. If Schrank would see him, he had to apologize.
Anybodys was lurking around the hospital property when Krupke arrived. He glared in her direction but otherwise ignored her as he headed up the steps and inside the building. The Jets were going to keep nosing around until they were sure that they would not be blamed for what had happened. Then they would back off and not care anymore.
In spite of what Schrank said whenever he completely lost his temper, all he really wanted was to stop the Jets and the other gangs from making terrible, irreversible mistakes. They, of course, did not see it that way; at best they probably saw Schrank as someone interfering with their fun and their precious streets—at worst, a rotten cop who deserved whatever was done to him. As far as Krupke was concerned, if not for that concern of being wrongly accused, they would have all likely wanted to dance on Schrank's grave had he died.
Krupke might not be embittered as Schrank was, but he was definitely not fond of the gangs himself. Sometimes he wondered if they were not hard enough on the kids. They had tried being kind, they had tried making threats, but nothing worked. Schrank had said they were an immovable mountain—they always banded together on everything and would not be shaken. Even more innocent ones like Baby John did not want to betray their gangs and refused to crack.
Everything was quiet in the hospital when Krupke walked into the lobby and down the hall. With night coming on, most patients were dozing off to sleep. The light was on in Schrank's room, however. Krupke knocked on the door.
"Come in," an exhausted voice answered.
The last thing Krupke expected to see when he pushed the door open was Lieutenant Schrank leaning against the wall with his right arm, haggard and weary. When he caught sight of Krupke a brief flicker went through his eyes. "I was starting to think I'd never see you back here," he said.
Krupke stepped inside, letting the door shut behind him. ". . . I'm sorry, Lieutenant," he said. "I don't know what got into me. I should never have exploded like that."
Schrank shrugged noncommittally. "You had a point," he said. "Maybe I am just being selfish. I'm sorry too. I'm not going to try to have you bounced off the force."
"I didn't think you meant it," Krupke said. "But you had a point too. I don't whether you're being selfish or not." He hesitated. "I know I was."
Schrank stared. "What are you talking about?"
Krupke glanced away. "I've been worried about you ever since this started," he confessed. "For a while there, no one even knew if you were going to make it. When you woke up I thought it meant you were going to be okay. But then you sprung that news on me that you were quitting, and . . . I don't know, I realized you must be hurt more than I'd even thought. So I worried more."
Now a frown crossed Schrank's features. "This hit you a lot harder than I knew," he said. "I realized you were upset, but . . ."
Krupke shrugged. "I wasn't going to say anything," he said. "And then somehow it . . . it just all came out."
Finally he looked back to Schrank. "I've been thinking about it ever since you brought it up," he said. "I don't want you to leave."
Schrank blinked in surprise. Then understanding flashed in his eyes. "When you were going on about the others looking up to me, you really meant . . ."
"I meant me." Krupke sighed and looked away again, awkward. "The others do too, but I was thinking about me."
Schrank shook his head. "I had no idea."
Krupke looked back. "Even though I don't want you to leave . . . if you really feel like you can't handle it anymore, then you shouldn't stay," he said.
"I thought I knew what I was going to do," Schrank said. "I don't anymore. Maybe I'll leave. Maybe I won't."
"I'll respect whatever you come up with," Krupke said.
Schrank looked to him, for a moment not speaking. ". . . Thanks," he said at last.
Things went back to some semblance of normalcy over the next couple of days. The physical therapy sessions were going well; Schrank was finally starting to be able to move his left arm without too much pain. And he was demanding to be released. The doctors at last agreed—provided he had someone who could drive him in each day.
Krupke was more than happy to say he would do it. It was a relief to see that Schrank was showing such improvements.
And maybe, he hoped, Schrank was starting to feel better about other things too. He had said nothing more about leaving, nor did Krupke. But he did not seem as actively upset as he had before.
It was that night, when Schrank was getting ready to leave the hospital, that Krupke arrived with surprising news. He himself was still reeling.
"We got the kid who shot you," he said after exchanging greetings with Schrank.
Schrank started to attention, stunned. "You did? How?" he demanded.
"He turned himself in," Krupke said. "You know, we checked his house more than once, but he always managed to not be home. A lot of them were that way, though, so I couldn't even say it meant anything for that one."
Schrank was barely listening to that part. "He turned himself in?" he echoed in utter disbelief.
Krupke nodded. "Yeah." He paused. ". . . And he's out in the hall," he reported. "He wants to talk to you."
Schrank was suddenly not sure what was more shocking. He fell back, turning to face the door.
"Are you gonna talk to him?" Krupke asked.
"Let him in," Schrank said with a resigned, what are we in for now? gesture.
Krupke opened the door. Another officer escorted a nervous fifteen-year-old into the room. He twisted a faded baseball cap in his hands.
"What's your name?" Schrank asked, gruff.
"Will, sir. Will Monroe," was the reply. "Lieutenant, sir . . . I'm sorry about what . . . what I did." He looked down, staring, guilt-ridden, at the floor. "I wasn't even really thinking. When I heard your voice, Lieutenant, I just turned and fired without a second thought. And then I . . . I was so upset that I ran and kept running. But I couldn't live with knowing what I'd done, so I . . . finally came to Sergeant Krupke and turned myself in."
"What are you going to do when the ruckus from this settles down?" Schrank asked, his expression and tone betraying none of what he was thinking.
A shrug. "I don't know," Will said. "But I'm not going to go back to the gang. I can tell you that right now, sir. I can see now how stupid I was for going along with them in the first place."
"Uh huh." Schrank peered at him. "So what are you saying? That shooting me down made you realize Krupke and I'd been right all along?"
Will looked up, shamed. "Yes, sir."
Schrank sighed, weary. "Will you stick with that?"
"I will, sir!" Will exclaimed. "I'm going to try to get the other guys to listen, too." He backed towards the door.
"If you have better luck than we did, it'll be a miracle," Schrank said dryly. "Go on, get going."
Will nodded. ". . . I wish I'd listened before, when you and Sergeant Krupke were talking about what would happen if we stayed in the gang," he said. "Goodbye, sir. I hope you get better soon." He backed up without turning, as though he did not want to face away from the man he had shot. The officer opened the door and Will scurried into the hall with him, letting the door shut behind them.
Schrank turned away, shaking his head. "You know, it's like I've been saying," he said. "There's nothing anybody can do to get through to these blockhead hooligans. It doesn't matter what I say, or you, or their parents. We can talk till we're blue in the face and we won't make a dent. But when they go out and shoot each other down, suddenly they realize maybe we're not just clueless old people after all."
"It looks that way," Krupke admitted.
"Crazy kids." Schrank glanced to the window without really seeing anything out of it. "What kind of world is this, when violence is the only thing that gets through their thick skulls? I used to think I was wrong about that being the case. Instead I've learned all the more that it's true."
Krupke shifted. "Are you . . . still planning to quit?" he ventured at last. It might still be a touchy subject, but Krupke hoped that since Schrank had started talking about something directly related it would be alright to bring it up.
Schrank did not seem surprised. He raised one hand in a weary half-shrug. "Oh, I don't know," he said. "The last thing I want those punks to think is that they've finally worn me down all the way. One of the worst things you can do is make them think they've won."
His manner was definitely different than before, when they had fought. Once again he was resigned and tired instead of fiery. Was that a good sign?
His eyes narrowed. "You know what's really at the heart of what's bothering me?" Krupke shook his head. "I figured it out. It's not the gangs or the vain searches or even the rumbles—it's that I couldn't save myself. I've got nowhere with the gangs; none of them will give me the time of day. But I thought I could at least protect myself from them.
"I had my gun right in my hand that night, in case I'd end up needing to use it. But that kid turned and fired before I even had time to react."
Krupke was silent, stunned by Schrank's admission. He turned it over in his mind, thinking on what he could say in reply.
"I've felt the same," he said. "I've been beating myself up because I wasn't able to see what was coming in time to do something about it. And I think . . . that may have been what really set me off the other day."
Schrank looked to him in shock. "There was nothing you could've done," he said.
"I know. And you couldn't have, either. Sometimes that's how it is—you really can't do anything," Krupke said. "There's other police who've been shot down like that. It's not that they did anything wrong or that they could've stopped it at all; it's just one of those things."
"Yeah, but I thought it wouldn't happen to me," Schrank grumbled. "I thought I was prepared. I just wasn't prepared for failing in one more way." He stared out at the glittering Manhattan night. "I've felt like a terrible cop for years. This was just kind of the last straw. If it hadn't been for that, I probably wouldn't have decided I really would quit."
"You're not a terrible cop," Krupke declared. "You've kept going when things are rough. I've heard some of the officers say they wonder how you do it. I've wondered too."
"Join the club," Schrank said wryly. "I wonder myself." He hesitated, going through one last debate with himself. But, he realized, he had already made his decision. And this time he would not be changing his mind again. ". . . However I do it, it looks like I'll still be going at it for a while yet."
Krupke looked at him in happy amazement. "You're staying?" He had hoped for that conclusion, and even though he had started to think it more and more likely over the past days, it was still a joyous surprise now.
Schrank nodded. "Yeah, I'm staying. The precinct is stuck with me."
He was healing, emotionally now as well as physically.
Anybodys was leaning on the lamppost just outside the hospital when Krupke walked out to bring the car around. She pushed away from it, moseying over to greet him. "Hey, Sarge!" she chirped. "You got the guy, didn't you? I saw Officer Bentley bringing him out."
"Yeah, we got him," Krupke said. At the moment, he wasn't even frustrated to see her. "And lucky for you, he said the Jets didn't know anything about him."
"Of course we didn't!" Anybodys said.
Krupke peered at her. "So if you know we got him, what're you doing still hanging around?" he frowned.
She shrugged. "I was just wondering, how's the Lieutenant today?"
"He's getting better," Krupke said. "And you'd better tell your friends to stay out of trouble, because he's coming back."
Anybodys grinned. "Good! Then things'll start going back to normal around here. It's about time."
Krupke had to agree with that. It was, indeed.