BIG BROTHER

He didn't call himself chuck anymore. It was just Charlie now. But he still saw traces of "Chuck" in his tall frame and red, if thinning, hair as he got dressed.

It was going to be a busy day, but then again, things had gotten very busy in Chicago as of late, between the riots at the Democratic Convention and the black community's reaction to the Black Panther raid last December. At the moment, Charlie was more concerned with his own caseload-a local gang feud, an as-yet unsolved string of robberies, and a recent shooting. Yeah, there was enough to keep a local detective busy.

Charlie walked into his squad room, giving nods and muttered greetings as he sat down at his desk. The shooting and the robberies were relatively straightforward; the gang unit was handling the feud. It was the date on the desk calendar that got his attention.

March, 1970. Fifteen years? It couldn't have been that long already. Charlie's mind went back in time…

"Mom, Dad…I have to do this." He could see the look of worry on Mom's face, while Dad looked more hurt-almost betrayed.

"What about the family business?" he demanded. "You're the oldest. I wanted you and Richie to have it someday…"

"I'll come back," he'd replied, although even then he hadn't been sure that he would. "Dad, this is my life. It's what I want to do."

"But a police officer," Mom objected. "It just sounds so dangerous. Howard, talk some sense into him."

Instead, Dad looked at him with new understanding-and a strange kind of sadness in his eyes. "If this is really what you want..." He looked back at Mom. "Marion, I'm afraid our youngest son has grown up."

"I'll be okay," Charlie tried to reassure them. "And I'll be back…"

That had literally been the last time he'd spoken to them, or Richie, or any of his friends. He'd kept in touch with Arthur Fonzerelli, Richie's best friend who had become like an older brother figure in his place. Maybe that had been for the best-the Fonz had always been cool, tough, and had been a better teacher about life for Richie than he probably would have made. Charlie knew that Richie had joined the Army for a while, before moving out to California to become a screenwriter. Fonzie was running Al's. Ralph Malph was doing stand-up in San Francisco these days, he'd heard. Potsie-no, he went by Warren now-was finding his way as a singer. Little sister Joanie and Charles, who still went by his old nickname "Chachi," were happily married in Madison.

He sometimes wondered why it had been so long since he'd made that promise. It was as if something or someone had deliberately kept him away, as if he hadn't been popular enough or something…

Charlie shrugged, smiling at the memories he did have. "Oh, happy days," he said to himself.

THE END