Curtain Call

Shay Sheridan

For the "Curtain" challenge

Low clouds shroud the day, compressing the sky. On one small area of the manicured grounds the square of uniformed officers, onlookers and friends draws closer together as if pressed by the skyís enormous weight.

The gray leaches individuality from the crowd, veils their faces, blurs the blues of uniforms, until like an old tinted photograph the hues disappear and only shades of gray remain.

Ray Vecchio looks across the casket at his fellow pallbearers, but even this close the curtain of mist between them softens the rigidity of Welshís bulky form and hides the agony on Jack Hueyís lowered face. Ray gives the rest of them a cursory glance; they are nearly invisible. Everything fades, the stars and stripes that drape the casket no longer the colors of service, of blood, of valor. He closes his eyes for a moment and searches for color behind his eyelids, but itís the memory of color he finds, the bright colors of fire, of burning, red and yellow and blue and white, but these are the colors of death. Ray draws a shaky breath, shivering, and opens his eyes again to look into Fraserís face.

Funny. His partner is the only spot of color in all the gray, the only spot that refuses to fade. Itís more than the bright red of his tunic; Fraser burns with some kind of inner flame that keeps him alive in this place of death. For a moment Ray resents that, resents him for it. Doesnít he understand whatís going on here? Doesnít he get it? Doesnít he feel the despair, the anger, the pain the rest of them share?

The moment passes. Vecchio looks again at his partnerís face and knows heís wrong; Fraser gets it, all right. Fraser burns because this is so unjust, so unfair that a life has been cut short. He wants to fix things, and he canít. Fraser wasnít close to the dead officer, but his face says he knew him intimately all the same, because heís known other officers like him, here and at home. Today they all know each other, all the policemen standing at attention around them. Today they are all mourners. All partners, all brothers.

Vecchio looks into his own partnerís eyes and nods. They have their differences, and they will have anger and pain between them to come. But right now they understand each other perfectly.

Snow is falling lightly now, drawing another curtain across the scene, further distancing him from the onlookers. Ray Vecchio watches his partner arrange his face, and Ray draws a curtain across his own heart. If he concentrates, he can keep the anger inside him, waiting. Later there will be time for that, for using his anger like a bright silver blade to destroy the person who killed Louis Gardino. For now he must control it, hide it, close himself off from it, or he will never make it through the day.

A signal, and together they lift Gardinoís casket. Louis Gardino, jokester, occasional irritant, teller of off-color jokes, twice-divorced loser at love, all around pain in the ass. Poker buddy. Police officer. Friend.

The six men breathe together and step forward as one. The snow drops its lace curtain on the scene.

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