On A Note Of Silence
"All was silent as before. All silent save the dripping rain." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It's raining, sheeting against the ground, pouring down on him. He knows he should be able to feel it but there's nothing, no sensations at all.
His hands are dripping red, blood mingling with rain, running from his open palms to stain the pavement. He stands motionless, an axed tree in the instant before it falls.
Somewhere in the darkness he hears a voice, odd and strange, a voice he thinks was once his own, forming a single word like a gasp for air.
And then there's silence.
He's just a kid the first time he sees him, a blue-eyed rookie who's never seen a man die or inflicted harm upon anything. He's innocent and naive won't last a week and it makes him sick because he knows the kid is too good to be in this line of work, too decent to not die young.
Danny Williams. Even the name brings to mind a round-faced kid on a surfboard, or a student with his nose buried in books. The gun and badge look absurd, like a child playing cowboys and Indians, acting out a part. But the bullets are all too real.
Steve feels very old and world-weary, still a young man himself but one who's seen too much. So he's harder on the kid than the others, expecting more, pushing him further as if he can force ten years of experience into a week, keep him alive longer by giving him the wisdom to cling to life in the grit and grime they work in.
Despite everything, or maybe because of it, Danny lives past that week, past the next, past the one after that, and more, the years falling past until Steve almost forgets his first thoughts.
He toughens up, reflexes honing to a razor sharp point, with the skill of one who is used to survival in a concrete jungle. But he keeps a scrap of the innocence tucked under his heart like a badge, something that sets him apart, an Achilles' heel perhaps, or maybe the only proof of goodness in humanity that Steve has left to cling to.
One day he stops calling him Williams, or even Danny, and he simply becomes Danno. He doesn't know where the name comes from exactly, only that it slips off his tongue as easily as if he's always called him that, like a big brother nicknaming a new sibling.
And then he commits the unpardonable sin, breaks the only rule he's lived by. He allows himself to care.
He doesn't know when he starts showing weakness in front of Danno.
To the others he's hard as stone, as unmoving as a wall, undoubtedly in charge and able to handle any situation. Only around Danny does he falter, does his step slow, does he trip, or even once weep.
But Danny never judges, never jabs at weakness. He accepts it. He looks through it, piercing the armor and finding the weak places, strengthening them, backing him up, supporting him when he falls.
And after a while Steve realizes that the reason he never masks his weakness is that he trusted Danno enough to do exactly that.
It's the instant between his own life and killing a man, a weighed decision made across a microsecond of time as Danny's gun is pulled and fired and a man falls.
He knows it's a criminal, a man destined for a life behind bars, a man who'd have taken his and Danny's lives but it's still blood on their hands, a human life destroyed.
They're cops, and sometimes cops have to kill. He's knows this as he knows his own name, firmly engraved on his badge and written into the silent code of all men who do the dirty work of humanity, keeping the rest of it safe even at the expense of their own souls.
He looks over at Danno, at the grim sorrow etched into his eyes as he studies the face of the dead man, the man he killed.
"Just a kid." Danny shakes his head. "He was just a kid."
And he feels sick to the core because he remembers when Danno was just a kid and still young.
It's his eyes that see it first, the scene every cop knows they'll face but pray they never do. A young couple, face down on the ground, hands reached out toward each other, already stiff and cold.
He enters the next room and fights back the urge to vomit. Blood splatters the walls of the nursery, the crimson droplets staining frolicking lambs against a green field, the horror smeared within the tranquil background like a morbid joke.
The child, barely two, lies in the cradle, and he isn't even sure if it was a boy or a girl, not with the damage a shotgun can inflict upon a fragile body.
It's senseless and he wants to scream, to curse, to strangle whoever did this, whoever snuffed out the lives of a family, of an innocent child, so brutally. But he only clenches his fists and stands motionless.
And then Danny kneels and pulls the blanket off the child's bedstand, a blue quilt embroidered with "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep", and gently covers the tiny broken body, a last kindness that cannot be felt.
They're in a little building in some back alley, handcuffing a prisoner.
He doesn't have to be told what this place is, he can tell by the almost see-through clothes of the girl curled up in the corner, by the bruises staining her face, and the cheap bottles of liquor tossed carelessly in the corner. He's seen a hundred more like her, selling heart and soul and body for another fix, pain to tamper down more pain, pretending not to notice as the men get rougher and the nights grow longer.
Only this one is still a child, fourteen if she's a day, just a frightened little girl lost within a world she's already seen far too much of. He should go to her but he can't find the strength.
And then Danny reaches out and touches the girl, spreading a blanket over her, gently covering her up and helping her to her feet.
It's twelve years almost to the day from the first time he set eyes on Danny Williams.
In later years he can't remember the circumstances of the event, only the outcome. He dimly remembers a chase, a firing gun, a bullet.
And then Danno falls.
There's no moment like in the movies where he clutches his chest and wavers dramatically. There's no gasped final words as if death is kindly giving time to make peace. Instead there's a flash in the darkness, a sharp exhalation of air, and Danno crumples like a marionette with the strings cut, hitting the pavement bonelessly.
He's gone by the time Steve reaches him, dead before he turns him over and feels for a pulse, even as he knows by the sightless and frozen gaze that it's much too late.
Another tackles the man with the gun and takes him down, cuffing his arms behind his back and prying the weapon from nerveless fingers.
"Book him." He notes that the final word of the sentence is gone, cut away like an amputated limb. His voice hardly sounds human, twisted and mutilated with anger, and a hollow realization of death.
They bring out a sheet and cover the still body, and someone's hand reaches out and closes the blue eyes. He sees something shining on the ground and bends to pick it up.
It's Danno's badge, bright and clear in the rain, sparkling into the darkness.
He holds the badge in his hand, running his thumb over the numbers. His fingers clench around it, considering crushing the metal to dust, opening his hand and letting it blow away. But something stops him.
Maybe it's the memory of a frightened child accepting Danny's hand, the first touch in her life that hadn't meant abuse. Maybe it's the clear eyes of the teenagers on the streets, the kids who might have been on drugs if the pusher wasn't behind bars. Or maybe it's the good mingled within the bad, the ones who lived weighed against those they couldn't save.
Maybe it's respect for Danny, for all the years. They have to mean something.
He stands there, strangely empty, as if something infinitely precious has been stripped from him, leaving him hollow and exposed.
Danno was only one detective, one man, one friend. It's strange how one person can fill up so much space in a crowded world.
Or how their death can make it all seem so cold and empty.
He's an old man, long retired, stooped with the years that have seen the once mounded grave level with the earth and grass and flowers cover the outline.
Yet he still comes to place a lei upon the grave, to honor the life and death of a man and a friend. His hand finds the marker, touches it gently, and for a moment he can see that first day so clearly, the wide blue eyes and the smile. He notes that for the first time in so many years, the memory no longer hurts.
He stays for only a little while, enough to remember. There will be other times, shorter and longer visits. But today it's enough. He touches the gravestone once more.
He leaves in silence.