Turnaround

Shay Sheridan

For the "180 Degrees" challenge


"Fuck! Let me go! Somebody do something, for Chrissakes!"

Welsh started to lunge toward the fiery building, not noticing the flashing lights on the Fire Marshall's car as it rounded the corner, not hearing the horn blare out a warning. He made it a couple of steps, but arms grabbed him, several pairs of arms, and hauled him back onto the sidewalk.

"They are, sir, they are, they're doing everything they can."

Jack Huey stopped talking, because the look in Welsh's eyes was beginning to scare the crap out of him. He knew what it was like to feel impotent as something horrible and life-changing unfolded in front of you. He knew, and he couldn't look any more. "Going to help," he mumbled to no one in particular, and turned to run across the street, knowing he was a coward, but unable to deal with the fact of Welsh falling to pieces in front of him.

A soot-covered Vecchio was coming out of the school, pushing people in front of him into the arms of waiting firemen. All of them were coughing; Vecchio sounded like his lungs were coming up.

"How is it in there?"

Vecchio ran a hand through the singed spikes of his hair and coughed a curse. "It's hell, fucking hell, what do you think?"

"Are any kids. . ." Huey hated asking; he figured he didn't really want to hear the answer

"Got most of 'em." Vecchio stopped, bending over, sucking in a raspy breath.

"What about. . ." Huey let the end dangle, but glanced across the street where Welsh was still struggling against the hands holding him. "Welsh is losing it."

Vecchio followed the look and shook his head. "Don't know." He wiped his sooty face, leaving a white streak. "Didn't see her. Got shoved out when the fire company got here."

"Where's Fraser?"

"Still inside." A shadow crossed the sooty face. "Jesus, where is he?"

"Let me go, let me go!"

Vecchio's eyes came up and Jack read disbelief in them. The voice was coming from Welsh, but it wasn't his basso boom; it was shrill, keening almost, and Jack watched the cops holding Welsh try to look up, down, away, anywhere but at the man struggling against them. Clearly they were freaked, just like he was. Out of the corner of his eye, Jack saw Vecchio frown. Yeah, freaked like Vecchio was. Welsh wasn't like this, wasn't supposed to be like this, it was wrong, it went against what they knew, against nature, maybe. Huey nodded to Vecchio and then trotted back across the pavement.

He heard the other cops trying to reason with the lieutenant, their own voices pinched and thin. "Lieu," one of them was saying in a tone usually used on five-year-olds, "Relax, the pump truck's here--"

He didnít get any further. Welsh pried one huge hand free and grabbed the luckless patrolman by the collar. "'Relax,' you worthless piece of shit?"

Huey watched as the young cop paled and pushed away. The others kept their hands where they were, holding the lieutenant as his struggles continued, but nervous, now, and unwilling to say anything.

A sound was coming from the big man, something hard, no, impossible to listen to, and Huey tried not to listen, because the sound of Harding Welsh breaking into pieces was too much to bear.

"Joelle," he wailed, "My Joelle, baby, my Jo. . . somebody please, please somebody--"

"Lieutenant."

Huey looked up at the voice.

"Lieutenant. Listen to me."

"Joelle, my granddaughter, somebody--"

"Lieutenant Welsh. Harding. Look at me."

The voice was strong, and sure, and somewhat commanding. Welsh's watery blue eyes tore away from the sight of his granddaughter's school going up in flames and turned, slowly, to the man next to him. "Joelle's in there, she's inside--"

"--I know. I know, Lieutenant," Tom Dewey said calmly. "I want you to listen to me for a second, okay? Guys, give us some space."

Huey watched, rapt, as the other cops backed away and Dewey stepped in. Dewey had one hand on Welsh's back, and Welsh was letting him keep it there, and Welsh was listening to Dewey, which was some kind of miracle, since no one ever listened to Dewey, because you could go nuts listening to Dewey's inane chatter. But Dewey wasn't saying his usual crap right now, he was speaking quietly, soothingly, and Welsh, who told Dewey every day what a moron he was, was listening.

"Do you remember," Dewey was saying, calmly, seriously, "when I told you about my brother, about him dying in that crash, and I couldn't get him out?" There was no answer. "You have to remember that, boss, don't you? No, come on, look at me, not across the street."

"Yeah, sure, sure. I remember."

"What did you say to me, then? Do you remember that?"

"I said. . . I said. . ." Welsh's eyes drifted again, and Dewey gently turned him so he faced away from the school.

"You said, 'there are some things we just don't have the power to control, or to change. It's stupid and arrogant to think we can.' You don't strike me as arrogant. And I know what stupid is, and you're not it, Lieu."

"She's six years old, Dewey. Six years old." Huey felt his gut contract in pain as he watched tears course down Welsh's face.

"I know. And everyone is working hard to get her. To get them all. Let them do their work, Lieutenant." Dewey's hand was on his boss's shoulder now, squeezing gently. "Can you do that?"

Welsh still looked like a zombie, but he nodded, and leaned in to rest his head on the smaller man's shoulder.

"I know boss. Believe me." Dewey pulled a Kleenex out of his pocket and handed it over.

There was a muffled cheer across the street, and Huey looked up. So did Dewey, and relief washed over his face. "Hey, Lieu. Fraser's got her. Fraser's got her, boss. She's okay. Do you hear me? She looks okay."

Welsh pulled away without a word and went barreling across to the school. Huey watched his boss pick up a dark-haired child and enfold her in his massive arms. From across the street it looked like both were sobbing.

Huey walked over to his partner. "I saw what you did. That was. . . amazing, Tom."

Dewey jumped. "Jack, I, uh. . ." Like a shade being drawn, the familiar glib idiocy settled over Dewey's features. "Oh, that? Nothing. Just Tommy to the rescue, that's all. Hey -- let's go get a piece of the glory, huh?" Dewey shot him a fatuous grin and jogged away toward the crowd in front of the school.

Jack stared after him. "Yeah, sure, nothing." Absurdly, there was a prickle behind his eyes. He shook his head. Shit, Tom. Don't make me like you. He frowned after his partner. "Damn it all to hell."


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