Keeping Watch

Shay Sheridan

For the Due South Secret Santa challenge. Beta by Lynnmonster.


The soft voice is just below audible level. In some ways it drives him crazy, not being able to hear what Vecchio is saying into the phone; at the same time he's vastly relieved not to be able to make out the words. What's happening is private, and it has nothing at all to do with him.

That, in itself, galls him. He's been almost a passive observer in all this; his objections have been politely shuttled aside and obfuscated in a fog of Federal mumbo-jumbo. He's raised issue after issue, but in the end it's been a done deal from the very start.

From his office, Welsh can see Vecchio in three-quarters-turned away silhouette, as the cop hunches over his desk and speaks into the receiver. The bullpen is in shadow, but an overhead lamp outlines him, shining through his thinning hair. Welsh smiles. If Vecchio knew how the lamp reflects off his bald spot, he'd shift away from the light.

Ray Vecchio. A real mixed bag as a cop, tough, determined, funny, brash. A family man, the right kind of family, not the mobbed up kind. Smart as hell. Vain, too, maybe, with his love of designer labels and expensive colognes, but a good cop. An honest cop.

An honest cop now, anyway. Since the Mountie.

And that makes what was going on in the bullpen pretty damn painful to watch. Vecchio, hunched and tense, talking on the phone to the person who's helped him become what he is now, a decent guy and dedicated police officer. He's speaking with the man who has been his closest friend in the world. Lying to him.

All things considered, Harding Welsh reflects, sooner or later being a cop means having your life go down the toilet.

He hates watching it happen, though.

1995

Cold. Goddamn fucking freezing cold.

He's cold, in his hands, the back of his neck, his feet. Damn. He's cold inside, too, through and through, though it has fuck all to do with the weather.

Vecchio passes, close enough for the lieutenant to see what's in his eyes. Unlike Huey, who is a shell of himself, an empty vessel filled only with pain, Vecchio seethes with fury. He burns with anger so intense he doesn't look cold at all.

The lieutenant feels the others fall into place beside and behind him. He turns slightly to look at Fraser; the Constable's face is frozen, too, into a mask of duty, the same kind of mask that he's made sure is on his own face. He was the first man here today; he'll be the last one to go, and his face is getting tired from holding everything in.

The Chief signals them to begin. Welsh takes his place. The flag flutters in the icy wind and he hopes it won't fly off the casket before they take it off and fold it and hand it to the parents. That would be a fiasco. The wind stings his eyes; at least that's what he assumes is causing them to tear. He blinks rapidly until his vision clears.

He bends and lifts, straightens his spine, and sets the pace.

And so they move forward in formation to lay Detective Louis Gardino into the frozen ground.

1989

He finds Captain Lurie behind a line of squad cars, drinking coffee and laughing. Pretty calm, to Welsh's mind, when you consider the situation. "What's the story?"

"Hostages. Break-in gone bad. One a' my office rs got inside, though. What're you doing here?"

"Heard it over the radio on my way home. If you don't mind my asking, sir, what's the current status?"

"Waiting for the Hostage Negotiating Team to get here." Lurie takes another mouthful of coffee and makes a face. "Bunch a' tight-assed fuckwads, you ask me."

Welsh frowns. "Well, I know that's standard procedure, but...isn't there anything we can do in the meantime?"

"Have some coffee."

It strikes him, not for the first time, that Lurie's an asshole. But -- "What's doing with the guy you sent inside?"

"We didn't send him in. He went in, despite my orders. Caught one in the leg, the idiot. Serves him right."

Welsh thinks that's pretty harsh. Sounds like the guy was taking initiative, while Captain Lurie sat on his thumbs and waited for someone else to do the work. "You in communication with him, Captain?"

"Yeah. Says he's still mobile." Lurie spat. "That moron! Told him to stay still, but I swear that kid. . ."

Welsh thinks if he hears one more word against the brave officer he might do something he regrets. "Who is it?"

"Name of Kowalski." Lurie shakes his head in exasperation. "A pain in the butt. Who knows? Maybe he'll get lucky. Knows which end of the gun to point."

Kowalski. Welsh'll remember that. Bravado's no good, but honest to God bravery is what he wants in a police officer. "Yeah, but still, if he's been shot, maybe somebody ought to--"

The Captain whirls on him. "Jesus, Welsh, Kowalski wants to rush in like an idiot, let him. Not gonna risk anyone else for one fool kid. Got it?"

"Sure, Captain. Got it," Welsh says, but he's thinking, the day will never fucking come when I let one of my men risk his neck without giving him backup. "You don't mind, I think I'll stick around."

1985

For what has to be the fiftieth time, Assistant State's Attorney Bronstein gets up and paces the hallway. Welsh doesn't even look up this time, because he knows the path the guy's gonna take: Down the hallway to the fire extinguisher. Pause. Look down corridor toward jury room. Turn. Walk to courtroom door. Pause. Look in. Stop. Walk back to waiting room. Repeat.

Bronstein's getting on Welsh's last nerve, because he thinks the ASA could've done a stronger closing and Seth Bronstein knows it, too. That's why the guy can't keep still. Welsh is afraid if he looks at Bronstein he might lose the fragile hold he has on his temper. His temper is a dangerous thing, anyway, and he's only recently gotten hold of it, after a couple of run-ins with fellow officers and more than a couple visits to the shrinks. And quitting drinking helped, too, though he didn't quit early enough to save his marriage. Sergeant Welsh is on track to make lieutenant, and he doesn't want to screw that up as well.

Despite that motivation, he's been waiting for the jury to come back for two days, and he's defied several orders from his lieutenant to get back to the station and get to work on other cases. He just can't leave.

He can't leave them.

Mandy and Candy Robinson raise identical brown faces to him and smile.

Welsh isn't a "kid" person, but these two are special to him. He squeezes Mandy on the arm and pats Candy on the head. The ten-year-olds are depending on ASA Bronstein, on a jury of strangers, and on the courts to give them justice for their mother, who was one of Welsh's police officers, and to keep them safe from their estranged father, who's accused of her murder. Welsh knows that mostly they're depending on him; after all, he's "Uncle Hardy" to them, and he's the guy who found them hunched over their mother's bloody corpse and carried them away to safety. They expect him to bring a happy ending to their ordeal.

He hopes he can deliver. Right now all he can promise is not to leave them, not until all this is over.

And then, suddenly, it is over. Bronstein's second chair, Stella something, sticks her head in the door and tells them the jury's back. Welsh takes each girl by the hand and walks them back into the court room. Their he ads are held high with a dignity he's rarely seen even in adults.

In the courtroom he hears words he cannot comprehend, words like Not guilty and You're free to go. And then he hears the crying from the two little girls as their father closes in on them to take them away, and the final, wailing words from Mandy, You said you'd help us, Uncle Hardy, you said, you said!

Harding Welsh goes out into the corridor and punches the wall so hard he cracks a bone in his hand.

1976

"Jimmy-- Jimmy! For Chrissakes, Jimmy!"

A flash. A gunshot. A life, a vibrant, funny guy changed in a heartbeat from a healthy human being to a corpse, or at best maybe a paraplegic.

Officer Welsh doesn't know that for sure because he's not a doctor , but looking at Jimmy, he does know that things ain't good. Right now all he cares about is that blood is pumping out of his partner's belly far too fast and he's determined to make it stop.

Where's the fucking bus? Somewhere, too far away, he hears sirens, but at the moment he's busy shoving his fist and his shirt into the wound, and blood is still spreading hot and red over his hands, soaking the ground, soaking him. Jimmy Finnerty's gone white and his lips are edging toward blue, and he keeps moaning Don't let me die, Hardy, fuck you, don't let me die! and I'm cold! I can't feel my legs, Hardy, am I dying? And he's repeating over and over, "I won't let you die, Jimmy, you're my partner, you'll be okay, you'll be fine" even though he knows it's a lie. Seconds drag on, minutes, hours, it seems like, and where's the goddamn ambulance?

"Hardy..." Jimmy's voice is getting fainter, but his hand still clutches Harding's shirt tightly. "Don't leave me, goddamn you, Hardy. Don't leave me alone! Please? Please?"

"No, no, Jimmy," he whispers, "I won't leave you. Never. Never."

He's still holding him when the ambulance arrives, still talking to his partner when the paramedics take his arm and pull him away so they can work, and still saying I'm here, Jimmy, I won't leave, when they try to calm him down and tell him he did a good job, he stopped the bleeding, Jimmy's gonna be okay.

1996

Harding runs a hand over his face, rubs his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose to ward off the headache threatening to overtake him. Sounds like Vecchio's voice has gotten gravelly, like he wants to say something really important, but emotion is clogging him up.

Welsh can't bear it. He wants to leave, but he won't. He might have been left out of the loop, but Vecchio's his man, and this is his responsibility, and his burden to carry.

He'll be here to the end, the very end.

Vecchio hangs up, grabs a bag with his personal belongings and pushes back the wooden chair with a raw screech . He pauses for a moment, looking at his desk, and Welsh knows he's thinking he might never see it again.

Vecchio crosses toward the exit, but pauses a second to look at his boss. His former boss, now. The light from Welsh's desk catches the angles of Vecchio's face, the set of his jaw, and Welsh thinks maybe Vecchio regrets his decision. Too late now, though.

"Lieutenant--" Vecchio begins.

"Anytime, Ray," Welsh says. "I'll be here if you need me. I'll always be here."


redchance @ aol.com
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