May 5, 1998
It had been an unseasonably warm day--close to seventy degrees. The air conditioning hadn't been turned on yet and the squadroom was like an oven. By mid-afternoon, everyone had pretty much given up on doing any real work. Lewis was in the coffee room, attempting to turn someone's leftover lemon wedges into lemonade. Munch was at his desk, engrossed in yet another one of those Roswell conspiracy books. Frank left an hour early to take Mary and the kids out for ice-cream. As for me, I had somehow found the will to finish the papers on the Harper case. I was typing up the last sentence when I heard Ballard call.
"Hey Tim, she said. "Got someone here who wants to talk to you."
My finger slipped on the keyboard, and 'Harper' was now spelled 'Harpee'. I looked up, and Ballard was in front of me. Standing next to her was a tall, well-dressed woman. Her dark hair was streaked with gray and was cut like Princess Diana's.
I introduced myself, and offered
the lady a seat. She seemed very nervous. I figured this person
was either the victim of a crime or a witness to one. I thought
she would be more comfortable if we went someplace quieter. I
shouldn't have been so quick to speak. The
interrogation rooms were all occupied. The coffee room was occupied. Gee's office was occupied. There was only one other place I could think of...
The sun was just beginning to set, and a light breeze was coming in from the east. As we sat down, I apologized for not being able to come up with anything better than the city pier.
"It's all right," she replied. "It's very nice out here. Very...airy."
"So, how can I help you today?"
"Well, I guess I should start by telling you who I am. My name is Emily Britton."
She paused, as if looking for some sort of recognition. I couldn't give her one.
"Of course you wouldn't know me," she continued. "We've never met. But you may remember my daughter, Tara."
The woman got what she was waiting for. Tara Britton was a woman I had dated in the early 90's. She was an art student at the University of Baltimore, and I was on the mayor's security detail.
The memory made me smile. "Well, it's been a long time since I've heard from her. How's she been doing these days?"
"Tara died last December."
Though I hadn't heard from her in years, the news hit me hard. Mrs. Britton went on to explain that Tara had been killed in an auto accident, a few days after Christmas. She was on her way home from work when her car skidded off an icy road.
"It's been very hard for me. My husband passed in '89, and now this. I'm just thankful that I'm not alone..."
Mrs. Britton took a small album from her purse. She flipped it open, and handed it to me. Inside was the picture of a little girl. She looked to be about five or six, and was wearing a green dress with a large bow in her hair.
"That's Lal...Tara's daughter."
She told me that the name is the Hindi word for beloved. It seemed a fitting choice. Tara had an obsession with Indian culture. She loved sitar music and wore a sari on special occasions. I always wondered how she kept it from falling off.
I offered my compliments. "You must be very proud of your granddaughter. You and her father."
Mrs. Britton offered me a sad smile. "I'm afraid Tara never told me who the father was. My daughter and I were very close, but there were some aspects of her life that I wasn't privy to. Tara never discussed her relationships with me. Now, I didn't agree with this but what could I do? All she told me about this man was that he was a good person. After Tara died, I figured I'd never know the truth. Then last month, I was going through some of her old papers when I found an envelope. When I saw what was inside, I knew what I had to do. As much as I love my daughter, Mr. Bayliss, I don't agree with what she did. A child deserves to know who BOTH their parents are.
I now thought I knew why she was here. "Ma'am, I'd be glad to help you find the father. I know some people in missing persons who can help. If you could give me any information you have, I can contact them right away."
"Oh my," Mrs. Britton said, shaking her head. "I think there's been a misunderstanding. I've already found the person I'm looking for."
The lady reached inside her purse and took out another picture. It was an old picture of me.
I couldn't believe what I had heard. "Are you sure Mrs. Britton...how can you be sure?"
She took the 2 pictures and positioned them side-by-side. Lal had brown eyes and a straight nose with a little bump at the tip. Her face was oval, framed with a head of wavy brown hair. Tara and her mother had straight dark hair and green eyes.
"If you need further proof," Mrs. Britton added, "I have no objections to a DNA test."
I didn't know how to react. "Ma'am, what you're telling me...I don't understand how..."
It's hard to describe exactly what my reaction was. I felt this sense of shock, which was quickly followed by a feeling of utter panic. I was in the open air, but I felt like I was about to suffocate.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I have to leave. I have to...get back to work."
The lady gave me a kind look.
I suppose she expected a reaction like this. She wrote her phone
number on a card, then placed it in my hands. Then I went back
inside, trying to pretend that nothing had happened. I finished
the Harper report, dropping it into the first
file cabinet I saw. Munch wandered over. He gave me a funny look, then asked if I was coming by the bar later. I mumbled something--I don't even remember what--and walked out the door.
May 16, 1998
It's almost been two weeks since my encounter with Mrs. Britton. I haven't called her back, and I haven't told a soul what was going on. I've been going around like a zombie and I guess I looked like one too. The rumors were flying in the squadroom. "Look at Bayliss--he's messed up over some girl again." If they only knew. Then to top it all off, Frank cornered me on the stairwell at the end of the shift.
"What's the deal with you?"
I tried to laugh it off. "What are you talking about?"
My partner rolled his eyes. "Don't play dumb with me. You've been going around all week like your head's in the fog. You're late every day, you don't eat lunch, and you were WAY off in the Box."
"What do you mean Frank? We nailed the guy."
Frank laughed. "I nailed the guy. YOU hardly uttered anything coherent. If you're going to be like this, I might as well be working solo."
I suggested that it was something worth trying. I tried to get past him, but he wouldn't let me go.
"Uh uh, Tim. I know you. What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I insisted.
"You 'IN LOVE' again," he smirked. "Oh God, not another Emma Zoole."
"Come on, Frank!"
He wasn't giving in. "Either you start talking or you can forget about us working together on any more cases."
We went back upstairs into an
empty interview room. There, I told Frank everything.
He gave me the look--the one that says "Man, you've screwed up now."
I tried to explain myself. "I know what you're thinking, Frank. You think I'm really, really stupid and irresponsible. Well you're wrong. I'm going to deal with this situation. If the child turns out to be mine, I will take full responsibility. I know there's the matter of child support and I'll come and see her, of course. Take her playground and the circus and stuff like that."
Frank laughed. "You think that's all there is to parenting?"
"No, but it's a start."
Frank passed his hand over his head. "Look, I know you don't want me butting in on your personal life, so I won't. But if you ever need any advice, you know where to find me."
With that, Frank left. While
I was relieved that I finally told someone, I still had all these
questions floating through my head. I thought about Tara, about
the reason we broke up. It wasn't an ugly split. Tara graduated
and was offered a job at a prestigious New York art
studio. Meanwhile, I was working on getting into Homicide. We became so absorbed by our own agendas that there wasn't time for anything else. Despite what happened, we had three good years together. I always thought that no matter what, Tara could always come to me. Why didn't she come to me?
May 19, 1998
I went downtown this morning, to take the paternity test. The attendant, a young woman in fuschia scrubs, led me to a small room. She handed me a long cotton swab and told me to scrape the inside of my cheek. They call this procedure a "Buccal scrap." I was told that this is how the DNA is obtained for testing. The attendant then explained what would happen:
"What we're going to do is run a series of 'probes,' tests comparing your DNA with the child's. If the two samples fail to match on two or more DNA probes, then you are not the father. However, if the two patterns match on every probe, the likelihood of paternity is 99.9% or greater."
I was told the results would be ready in about ten days. In the meantime, I'm going to try to put it out of my mind. It's going to be business as usual. I don't plan on telling anyone anything until I know for sure.
May 29, 1998
This afternoon, I was in the
breakroom with Kellerman and Ballard when I got the page from
the lab. I tried to excuse myself discreetly, but I ended up
nearly falling over the table. There I was, wiping coffee off
of Laura when Mike started whining about his sandwich. Then Frank
came in. Without saying a word, he handed Mike five bucks.
"You're welcome. Now give me the keys. No way I'm letting you out on the road like this."
A half-hour later, I was sitting in a fashionably-decorated office across from a man in a white lab coat. In his hands was a piece of paper.
I nodded, and he began to read.
Most of it sounded like gibberish--I had to tell him to get to the point. The last thing he said were the words that turned my whole world inside out. When I came out of the office, Frank took one look at me and he knew. I was such a wreck that he had to take me home.
"Don't worry," he said. "I'll tell Gee that you ate some bad tofu."
June 9, 1998
Mrs. Britton lives in Lake Evesham,
on the city's north side. Driving into the neighborhood was like
entering one of those Norman Rockwell paintings. I saw retired
couples walking their dogs, children playing on the sidewalk,
doctors and lawyers headed off to work in their shiny new cars.
I parked my red Jeep in front of a huge white Victorian at the
center of the block. As I made my way up the sidewalk, I nodded
to the neighbors. They eyed me with suspicion. Then Mrs. Britton
came out of house, all smiles. She must've spotted me from
inside. I straightened my tie, and kept reminding myself to stand up straight.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Britton. How are you today?"
Mrs. Britton looked at me, then gave a little laugh. "You don't have to be so formal with me. I'm not the Queen of England, you know. You can call me Emily, if I can call you Tim."
I felt a sense of relief. Based on her dress and demeanor, I had assumed Mrs. Britton was the aristocratic type. She turned out to be very down-to-earth.
Emily led me to a large dining
room, decked out as if for a Sunday dinner. In the center of
the table was a steaming Yankee Pot Roast. Radiating outwards
were silver platters of green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy,
and buttered rolls. A stocky, pale-faced woman
dressed in one of those old-fashioned maid's uniforms poured two tall glasses of iced tea.
"That's Josephine" she said with a smile. "Comes three times a week to help out."
Josephine nodded respectfully, but said nothing.
"Speaks mostly French," Emily added.
The last time I saw food that
good was on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. Too bad I
was way too nervous to enjoy any of it. Emily was very understanding.
We went to the living room, and settled in on a large, floral-print
antique couch. On the walls were tons of
pictures. Family portraits from the turn-of-the-century. Emily with her late husband. Members of a senior citizens group. Tara holding a newborn Lal. Emily was the first to speak.
"Tim, I realize that this
is a very difficult time for you. It must seem as if everything's
dropped on your head at once. I just want you to know that it's
not my intention to cause you any pain. I'm not out to get money
out of you or to be a burden onto you. I'm just trying
to do right. However, if you think this is a mistake--if you feel in your heart that this isn't right, we can stop now. I promise I won't hold anything against you."
I was stunned. All the time, I read about these paternity nightmare stories--endless lawsuits and families waging holy war. In contrast, here this woman was giving me the chance to walk away. I told Emily I had no intention of leaving.
I could tell that a great weight had been lifted from Emily's mind. She was close to tears.
"Now that's been settled, I have something for you." Emily excused herself from the room for a few minutes. When she returned, she was accompanied by the girl from the photograph. Emily told her my name, and that I was a special visitor. She looked at me for a moment, then stuck out her hand.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Bayliss. My name is Lal Britton."
Despite all the talking, all the nights spent thinking what might happen, nothing had really prepared me for this moment. It may sound cliched, but Lal was more beautiful than any photograph. She was wearing a green checkered dress with white shoes. Her hair was in 2 long braids After what must have been the world's longest handshake, Emily seated herself at the opposite end of the sofa, while Lal climbed into the space between us.
Emily turned to Lal. "Sweetheart,
you're probably wondering why I've asked you to come
down here. It's for a very important reason. Do you remember what happened at school last year?"
Lal thought for a moment. "You mean with Kelly Peters? She was very mean to me. She said I was an orphan. She kept saying that I didn't have a father."
"You came home and you looked at me and what did you say?"
"I said, 'Grandma, do I have a father?' You said yes, but you didn't know where he was. That made me sad."
"Well," Emily replied, "Things are different now. I've been looking for your father, and I've found him."
Lal looked at me, then let out a little "Oh." Her reaction was a great contrast to the one I had towards her. While I had all these different levels of feelings, she simply appeared to be satisfied that someone had answered her question.
I hadn't expected Lal to say much but she turned out to be an eager talker. She told me she was born March 15, 1991 and that she would be entering second grade at Roland Park Elementary in the fall. She also told me that her favorite color is green and that her favorite food is chocolate cake with fudge frosting. I told her that I was a police officer, that my favorite food is grilled cheese sandwiches, and that I liked to watch Mighty Mouse. She didn't know who that was.
When it was time for me to go, she seemed a bit disappointed. She was under the impression that this was a one-time deal! I let her know that it definitely wasn't. I promised to come back anytime she wanted.
"Come back Saturday," she said. "Then you can show me Mighty Mouse."
July 21, 1998
So much has happened in the past few weeks, it's hard to begin. Most importantly, Lal and I are getting along great. I stop by to see her every day after work, and on my days off, I take her wherever she wants to go. I'll admit, I'm still getting used to being called Dad, but Lal acts as if she's known me her entire life.
I have to say that these past
few months, Frank has been very understanding. Not many people
would be willing to cover up for someone the way he's been doing
for me. When I went to take the paternity test, Frank told Gee
I had car trouble. When Lewis started
speculating as to why I had taken so much time off from the bar, Frank told him that it was my back. When my mom asked Frank why I hadn't returned her calls, he told her I was working a redball. Despite all this, I knew I couldn't keep things secret any longer.
When I told my family the news,
I got all kinds of reactions. On the one hand, my cousin Jim
was all smiles and sly looks. "I never knew you had it in
you, Teej." On the other hand, Mom cried for days. I wanted
her to meet Lal and Emily, but Mom always seemed to have
some excuse. I didn't know whether she was angry at me or afraid. I finally decided to arrange a meeting myself. The weekend of July 4th, Jim helped me put together a barbecue. Nothing fancy, just something for the immediate family. After meeting Emily, and seeing Lal getting along with Jim's kids, she finally came around.
"Well, I've been asking you for a grandchild," she said. "Guess I finally got my wish."
Fortunately, telling my colleagues was less dramatic. Gee grinned, and Ballard gave me a big hug. Lewis told me to kiss my platinum card good-bye, while Gharty just shook his head. Falsone offered to share some tips on parenting, and Frank told me not to listen. Kellerman couldn't believe that he didn't see this coming. As for Munch, he was was... Munch.
"Never a dull moment with you, Timmy," he replied.
August 3, 1998
When I came to work my shift at the Waterfront Saturday, I was greeted by a crowd of detectives and uniforms. The whole place was decked out with bows and a huge banner that read 'It's A Girl!'. Everyone was dancing, laughing, and drinking.
"Here he is, the proud papa himself," Lewis said. Then he slapped a pink party hat on my head.
"It's a baby shower!" Ballard exclaimed.
"Hey, better late than never," Mike chimed in.
"Don't look so startled." Frank added. He handed me a glass of champagne, then led me to the back of the bar. Everyone was gathered round this huge, stork-shaped cake. Everyone stared singing nursery rhymes.
By midnight, the cake was little more than a few scattered crumbs. Frank stood by the jukebox, flipping through the playlist. I sat at the bar. Munch walked back and forth putting bottles away. For some reason, he hadn't said much the whole night.
Frank put on some slow jazz, then slipped onto the stool next to me.
I thought this would be a good time to offer him my thanks. "Hey," he replied. "I know it hasn't been easy for you. Having a kid's a scary prospect. 'Course finding out you've got a seven-year-old's grounds for a real nervous breakdown."
I couldn't help but laugh.
"Don't worry about things here," Frank said. "I'll help Munch close. You go on home."
I grabbed my coat, and headed for the door.
"It really was a great party Frank. Must've took a lot of planning on your part."
Frank looked surprised. "I just did the champagne. Munch was the real mastermind. He's the one who came up with this whole idea."
Munch stopped working, and gave me a little smile.
August 14, 1998
Today when I asked Lal where she wanted to go, she put her arms around me and said:
"Take me to where you work, Daddy."
I found it pretty ironic that she would want to go to the last place I wanted to see that day. She knew I was a police officer, but I never told her that I worked in Homicide. Just how do you explain to a child that you look at dead bodies for a living? I tried talking her out of it, but Lal was adamant. I talked to her grandmother, thinking that she could reason with her. Surprisingly, Emily approved of the whole idea.
During the ride over, Lal stared wide-eyed out the car window. It must have been a shock to her to see the run-down houses, the cramped alleys, the homeless begging to wash your car window. She's starting to realize that everyone isn't as fortunate as her.
When we entered the station, I reminded her to stay by my side. For a Saturday, the squadroom was pretty quiet. Most of the officers were either at lunch or out working cases. My shift had the weekend off, so we pretty much went unnoticed. Lal and I walked hand- in-hand over to my desk.
"What do you do here?" Lal asked. She spotted my Rubik's cube, and started playing with it.
"I'm a detective. When something bad happens, it's my job to find out who did it."
"Like when someone takes all the candy from the dish without asking?"
"Not quite. I look for people who hurt other people. I look for people who kill" I thought to myself, did she know what this meant?
Lal put down the Rubik's cube. She shifted her attention to a familiar object sitting at the rear. We walked over to it together.
"Lal, this is the Board. You see these names? Each name is a case, a person who was killed. The red ones are the cases we are working on. When we find the bad guy, the case is closed. The red name is erased, and written down again in black. We put the names up here so everyone will know how well we are doing our job..."
"Bayliss, is that you?"
I turned around, and it was Kay. Hadn't seen her much since she was transferred to Fugitive.
"How ya doin, huh?"
Then she got all wide-eyed at the sight of my daughter. "Oh my goodness Tim, she looks just like you."
Lal reached out and grabbed Kay's hair. "Look, it's sooo red."
I was kind of embarrassed, but
Kay just laughed. When I told her why we were here, she was kind
enough to help me out. Kay showed Lal the breakroom, then gave
her the lowdown on the infamous 'lunch bandit.' After having
a snack, we all went up to the roof. Of everything she saw, Lal
liked this part of the tour the best. Kay and I took turns pushing
her on the
swings. She kept wanting to go higher and higher.
On the drive home, Lal again spent most of the time staring out the window. Halfway home, she turned to me and said:
"Mommy got killed too. Like the people on the board."
I didn't know what to say. She looked at me for a moment, then went back to looking out the window.
August 24, 1998
I took Lal shopping for some school clothes at a nice little place I found in the Village Square. I thought I did a pretty good job, until Frank saw the bills.
"Seventy dollars for a pair of shoes...one-hundred thirty dollars for a coat...fifty dollars for a skirt! I don't want to tell you how to spend your money, but you won't have any if you keep going like this."
"I was just trying to get Lal something nice. Isn't that what parents do?"
"Yes," Frank replied. "But 'nice' doesn't have to mean breaking the bank. You've got to be careful when it comes to kids and money. It's all right to let them have something special now and then but if you keep on giving them all that expensive stuff, they'll think it's their God-given right. They get spoiled rotten. Take it from me, nothing's worse than a spoiled child."
"You don't mean Livvy and little Frank..."
"No. I was talking about me."
September 4, 1998
Today was Lal's first day of school. I wanted to drop her off, but I'd been working all night on a case. Before leaving the station, I called to wish her a good day. Lal was so excited about the new year. She told me all about the teachers, her friends, all the things she wanted to do this year. Most of all, she said she wasn't intimidated by Kelly Peters anymore.
"Next time someone teases me," she said. "I'll just ignore them because I know now that they're not telling the truth."
When I got home., I headed straight to bed. I was exhausted, but for the first time in a long while, I thought all was right with the world. I fell into a deep sleep.
I opened my eyes, only to find myself in the Box. There was someone in front of me, dressed in prison orange. I couldn't see who it was, so I came closer. When I did, I was shocked. It was was Tara. But this was no happy reunion. Tara looked terribly thin and pale. I told her not to be afraid--all I wanted was for her to tell me the truth about our daughter. She just stared at me. Every question I asked was met with silence. Even when I raised my voice, Tara acted as if I wasn't even there. I got so angry that I grabbed my chair and threw it against the wall. That's when I woke up.
I knew I wasn't going to get any more sleep that day, so I headed back to work. As I approached the station, I passed by St. Stanislaus. I stopped and went inside. The church was empty, except for one person kneeling in the rear pew.
When he noticed me, he made the sign of the cross and stood.
"Bayliss." He was surprised to see me. "I didn't know you were a Catholic."
"I'm not. I just needed to be someplace...quiet."
"Well, this is the place," he said. "Have a seat."
Though Gharty and I aren't exactly pals, I found myself having a conversation with him. We talked about the Orioles, the latest scandal in Washington, Lewis busting up yet another Cavalier. Then, for some reason, I told him about my nightmare.
He gave me a surprised look. "Gee, Bayliss. I thought you of all people would've seen what was going on."
"What do you mean?"
"I had you pegged as one of those 'new age' fellas. Someone always in touch with their feelings."
I rolled my eyes. "Well I guess my special powers aren't working today."
Stu looked me in the eye. "You've got a lot of anger inside you, Bayliss, a lot of resentment. Now don't get me wrong, you have every right--this woman kept a pretty big secret from you all these years. But you can't keep these feelings inside you. It'll eat at your soul. You need to make peace with what happened, or else you'll never be able to move on."
With that, Gharty left.
I sat there for a moment, thinking about what he said.
"Make peace. Now how in the world am I supposed to do that?"
September 21, 1998
It was still early morning, but the sun was already bright in the sky. The air had just the right touch of coolness, and the leaves were falling in earnest. This was a day for a football game or a nice long jog. Instead, I was walking through the gates of the Rosewood Cemetery.
Tara was buried in a plot owned
by the Britton family since the early 1800's. Her grave was marked
by a simple headstone, a sharp contrast to the engraved scriptures
and huge marble crosses of her ancestors. Tara would've approved.
She preferred everything straight-
Keeping that in mind, I knelt down by Tara's grave, and told her exactly how I felt.
"You don't know how HURT
I am by what you've done! Why didn't you tell me? Did you think
I'd deny it-- no you knew me better than that! I would've taken
care of you. I would've asked you to marry me! I would've sacrificed
anything--even being a police--to make things
right. But instead of giving me a chance, you treated me like I didn't exist! I just want you to know that your little plan didn't work, and I will NEVER, EVER forgive you for what you did."
I now felt the matter between Tara and I was settled. My focus now is on my daughter and our future. There will be no looking back.
October 9, 1998
Emily is headed to a convention in San Francisco with members of her senior outreach group. She was reluctant about having Lal miss a week of school, so I offered to watch her. I didn't think she'd enjoy being stuck in my little apartment, so I'll be staying with her at the house. I talked to Gee, and he's letting me work fewer hours so I can be there when Lal gets out of school.
While I'm looking forward to
this week, I'm a little anxious. I've never been alone with her
more than half-a-day. I've never had to cook her a meal or comb her hair or pick out her clothes. God, I don't want to mess this up! I even went out and bought a bunch of books on parenting. When I asked Frank's opinion, he snatched them from my hands and tossed them into my desk drawer next to my homicide textbook.
October 10, 1998
The first few days with Lal were pretty easy. Josephine was there so I didn't have to clean or cook. Lal and I spent most of the time playing in her room. She introduced me to all her toys. There's Ashley the rag doll, Elisabeth the baby doll, Flopsy the bunny, Pete the bear, three Barbies, and a host of others that I couldn't keep track of. Then Lal taught me how to play tea party. She led me to this little table and chair set in the corner of her room. She brought me a hat and placed a doll in my lap. If the guys in the squadroom ever learned about this, I'd be finished.
October 16, 1998
Josephine's daughter called me this evening. Her mother twisted her ankle while gardening earlier that day. She won't be able to work for the next two weeks. She told me that her mother was really upset, but I said "no problem."
October 17, 1998
This morning, I got up early and made breakfast--corn flakes, whole wheat toast, sliced fruit, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Instead of digging in, Lal poked at the food with her spoon.
"Don't you like it?"
Lal shrugged. "Grandma always made me pancakes on Saturday--the way that mommy used to."
"I'm sure that's very nice," I replied. "But why don't we try something different today?"
After breakfast, I helped Lal
get dressed. I remembered that she liked green, so I picked out
a green sweater, along with a pair of blue jeans, a t-shirt,
and her "Barbie" gym shoes. Lal was happy with that.
Then it was time to fix her hair. Lal wanted to wear her hair
in French braids--something her mother had always done. Now her
grandmother knew how to do it, and so did Josephine, but I must
have been absent the day they taught that at the police academy.
I tried for over an hour, and all I accomplished was getting
the comb stuck
in her hair.
"You know, we should try something different today. I think your hair looks very nice down."
We spent the rest of the day at the Inner Harbor. Lal needed to do a report about an animal, so I thought she could find something interesting at the National Aquarium. She decided to do her report on seals, after one of the attendants offered us an up-close view of the exterior tank.
After dinner, I helped Lal start her report. Then it was time for bed. She asked me to tell her a story. I reached for a book, but she stopped me.
"No, make up a story."
"I don't think I can."
"Sure you can," Lal insisted. "Mommy always said that the best stories come from inside your head."
"I'm not good at making up stories."
"You have to try, Daddy! Mommy used to..."
I had heard enough.
"Lal, I am not your mother! I can't cook like her, I can't comb hair like her, I can't make up stories like her. It's unfair for you to expect everyone to be the same!"
Lal stared at me, wide-eyed. I felt terrible--I never raised my voice at her before. I apologized immediately.
"Lal, I know how much you love your mother, but she's in heaven now. All these things that you're talking about are in the past. The world is moving forward, and you have to also. That means learning to do some things in different ways. Do you understand?"
"I understand, Daddy."
October 17, 1998
I was sleeping when I heard a
faint bumping noise coming from below. I went to Lal's room,
and she wasn't in bed. My heart began to race. I ran downstairs,
where I traced the noise to the kitchen. There, I found the back
door wide open. I went outside, and found Lal dragging
a garbage bag to the corner.
"It's five a.m., what in the world are you doing?"
"I didn't want to miss the truck," she replied. "I want to get rid of some things we don't need anymore."
Lal opened the bag. I couldn't believe what I saw. Inside were dozens of photographs of Tara. It looked as if Lal had gone through every photo album and picture frame in the house.
"Well, Daddy" she said rather matter-of-factly, "It's like you said, time to go forward. If we're gonna do that, we won't be needing these anymore."
My heart sank. I thought I had
settled things with Tara, but all I really did was shut her out
of my heart. And worst of all, I was teaching Lal to do the same
thing. Gharty was right--all
this resentment was eating at my soul.
I took Lal back inside. I fixed some hot chocolate, then we talked.
"Sweetheart, I don't want you to throw these pictures away. I don't want you to forget your mother."
"Then why don't you talk about her? Every time I talk about her, you get mad."
"Lal, I'm sorry for the way I've been acting. I've been very upset with your mother. A long time ago, she did something that I didn't agree with. It's hard to explain--maybe you'll understand when you're older. But what you should know now is that your mother loved you very much. These pictures are proof of that. You have so many wonderful memories of her--don't ever throw them away, understand?"
We spent the next two hours trying to put every picture back in place. We finished just as Emily walked in the door. When she saw us on the floor in our pajamas, she was amused.
"Well don't you guys look rested."
Lal giggled. "Welcome back Grandma."
"It's so good to be back. Now, did you guys have a good time together?"
Lal looked at me for a second, then gave me a big smile. "We had a lot of fun."
Emily was pleased, and so was I. After putting Lal back to bed, she offered to fix me breakfast.
"No, thank you," I said. "It's been great, but it's time for me to head home."
"That's nonsense," Emily replied. "You're not a babysitter. You're family. You can stay as long as you like."
"Thanks, but I've got some unfinished business to take care of."
It was still dark when I arrived at Rosewood. The security guard said that the cemetery wouldn't be open for another two hours, but after begging and pleading, he let me in for a couple of minutes.
Tara's headstone was partially obscured by dead leaves and the dried remnants of flowers. I knelt down and brushed away as much of it as I could.
"That's better. It's hard to speak with someone when you can't see them."
I told Tara about Emily's trip and that Lal and I had spent the week together. I also told her what had happened between us.
"I won't lie to you Tara, I'm still hurt by what you did. But it was wrong for me to say that I hate you, and it was wrong for me to say that I will never forgive. The future's not written in stone is it?"
I made a solemn vow to Tara. "No matter what happens between you and me, I will not let my personal feelings affect our family. I will be a friend to Emily and I will be a good father to Lal. Most of all, I'll make sure that she never forgets you."
I saw the guard tapping at his watch.
"You know, I'm glad we got the chance to talk again, Tara. Oh, I almost forgot..."
I bent down again, digging a small hole right below her headstone.
"I know it's kind of lonely out here, so I got you a little surprise. Doesn't look like much right now, but wait until spring. I guarantee it'll be worth it. "
November 24, 1998
Tomorrow's Thanksgiving and I'll be spending it at the station. I guess it's a small price to pay for getting Christmas off. Based on past experience, the day should be pretty uneventful. Lewis believes it's because most people eat themselves silly.
"I mean, how you gonna do someone in when you can't even keep your pants zipped? If they run, you can't go after them. All you'll do is fall..."
Hopefully, I can catch up on some paperwork, and be out of there by 8 PM. Emily is planning a special Thanksgiving dinner--my mom and my cousin will be there, and it will give me the chance to meet the rest of the Britton clan.
November 26, 1998
Turkey day began as predicted--not
a single phone call all morning. I thought Frank and I could
get some work done, but he was too busy arguing with Gharty and
Ballard over how to make the best pumpkin pie. Meanwhile, Munch
hogged the phone lines talking to Billie Lou
and Kellerman kept trying to get me to play cards.
"Come on, Tim..."
"No way--I'm not gonna let you hustle me."
"Now what makes you think I would ever do that a fellow colleague," Mike asked. "I play fair and square."
"Uh, uh. The last 'friendly little' game of cards I played cost me a big fat chunk of change."
"But I heard that YOU were the one trying to hustle Giardello."
"Yes, and I have learned fro my mistakes. Like they say, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
"Geez Bayliss," Mike sulked. "All I'm doing is looking for a way to pass the time. There's not much else we've got going for us right now. When I get out of here, all I've got waiting for me is a TV dinner and a bottle of Jim Beam."
"That's where you're wrong," I replied. "You may have nothing, but when I get out of here, they'll be a family and a nice warm dinner waiting for me."
Mike didn't say another word.
He put the cards in his pocket and went back to his desk. I was
about to head out for lunch, then the phone rang. I picked it
up, and heard the words I'd been dreading all day. A body had
been found in an alley on Monroe Street. I looked for
Frank, but he went out for lunch. I looked for Laura, but she was going over some files with Stu. I looked for Meldrick, John, even Gee, but they were nowhere to be found. That left only one person.
The drive to the crime scene seemed to last an eternity. Kellerman kept going on and on about God knows what.
"You know, I usually spend Thanksgiving with my folks, but my parents decided to visit my Aunt Emmeline this year. Who knows where my brothers are at. Last I heard, they had this telemarketing thing going in California. They wanted to get me in on it, but I said I didn't wanna hear it. Anyway, Aunt Emmeline lives in Idaho, on this big farm. I haven't been there since I was six, but I still remember how big and red it was. And there were cows and horses and little yellow chicks--like Old MacDonald's farm..."
I was trying so hard to zone him out that I nearly drove through the crime scene.
At first, the case seemed simple enough. Jimmy Packard, a small-time dealer, was robbed and shot in the back. The gun was recovered an hour later, and the suspect, one Eddie Cherry, was found in a nearby drughouse shortly after that. We had the evidence, and we had a motive. All we needed was to get this guy to confess. I figured that there'd be nothing to it. I mean, the guy looked like a total chump.
Boy was I wrong.
For the next three hours, Mr.
Cherry strung Mike and I along like a bunch of marionettes. He
went from asking for a glass of water and a cigarette to asking
for a blanket, some slippers, and dinner. The box was beginning
to look like a room at the Hilton. In return, the man
gladly answered every one of our questions--except the one that really mattered.
"Did you kill Jimmy Packard?"
"You know, I could REALLY use a change of clothes. You know where I could get some LEVI'S?
By 7:30 PM., Kellerman concluded that this was going to be one long night.
"If we don't get Cherry to confess by 3 a.m., we're gonna have to let him go. And if we do that, we both know that we'll never see him again."
I couldn't believe it! I stood to miss the first Thanksgiving with my daughter because of some stupid crackhead? No, I knew how to get Mr. Cherry to talk. I charged back into the box and closed the shutters. I was ready to smack the crap out of this guy, but Mike stopped me.
"Look Tim, why don't you get on out of here?"
"You know I can't do that."
"Hey--I know how much this day means to you, and to your kid. Don't worry about me."
This was truly a Thanksgiving to remember. The dinner was the best I'd ever tasted, and all the Brittons greeted my family and I with open arms. There was this sense of love that I hadn't felt in a long time. Yet in the midst of all this, I couldn't help but feel guilty.
It was 3:30 a.m. when I came back to the station, and the night shift had already taken over. I caught Mike, tired and bleary-eyed, just as he was walking to his Explorer. He informed me that Cherry confessed five minutes before the deadline."
"You'll never believe the story behind it. Turned out that Packard had hired Cherry to do some yard work--cleaning trash, raking leaves etc. But instead of paying with money, Packard paid with vials of crack. Last week, Cherry didn't perform to Packard's satisfaction, so he docked his pay--two vials instead of three. Well, Cherry didn't like that, so he got a gun and shot him. Just goes to show--you can't cheat the workers of the world."
I couldn't help but laugh. Mike could find humor in the weirdest of places.
I told Mike that I came back to say thanks, and to apologize for the way I treated him earlier. "I guess I was so wrapped up in having this perfect day that I didn't think about anyone else."
"It's OK, really," Mike replied. "If I had what you have, I'd probably had done the same thing."
"Hey, I know you just want to get out of here, so in the spirit of the holiday, please accept this as a token of my appreciation."
I handed Mike a shopping bag. When he saw what was inside, his eyes lit up and a smile spread across his face.
"Whoa, there's a banquet in here!"
"I thought this would go better with your Jim Beam."
Mike grinned. "Tonight, Jim Beam can take a hike."
December 29, 1998
Christmas morning, Lal and Emily
gave me a beautiful homemade quilt. Now I've always thought of
quilts as these frilly little numbers, but this one has a nice
wilderness theme--dark plaids and prints of ducks and moose.
Likewise, Lal loved the green bike I got her, even though she
can't ride it until spring. Emily was also delighted with her
pearl necklace I found at a jewelers over on Falls Road.
As the 28th approached, I became
more and more worried about how Lal would react. Emily had already
told her that she was planning to take her to the cemetery that
day. It would be the first time she'd been there since the funeral.
Emily wasn't sure whether or not to invite
me. After talking it over, I decided not to go. I had been a part of everything else in their lives that year, they needed some time to themselves.
Lal seemed to be all right--until this morning. Lal suddenly decided that she didn't want to go. Emily tried to reason with her, but to no avail. They exchanged words, then Lal locked herself in her bedroom. When Emily called me, Lal had been in there for three hours.
I tried to get her to come out, but she refused. After some pleading, she agreed to let me in. When she opened the bedroom door, I found Lal standing there in her pajamas. She acted as if nothing was going on. She gave me a hug, and invited me to play. I just went along with it all. As we set up for a tea party, I got her to talk.
"I don't want to go out there," Lal begged. "Please don't make me."
"It's all right. You don't have to go," I said.
Lal smiled, and poured me a pretend cup of tea.
"Thank you. I knew you'd understand."
I asked Lal what made her change her mind."
"Well," she replied.
"I've been thinking Daddy--what if mommy isn't really dead?
she just went away for a while--on a long trip?"
"Honey, we both know that this isn't true."
"Well, what if we pretend?"
"Lal, all the pretending in the world won't change what's real. Your mother is dead."
I could see that for the first time, reality was sinking in. Lal pushed the tea set off the table, and ran to her bed sobbing.
"What will I do now? I miss Mommy so much. But I'll never be able to see her again. I'll never be able to talk to her ever again."
"Now wait, that's not entirely true. You can talk to your mother. I've done it. In fact, she and I have had some...interesting conversations."
"But she can't answer you back."
"Not out loud, but you listen carefully, you can feel her in your heart."
"How can you sure?"
"Lal, this is something you have to experience for yourself."
Without another word, Lal changed her clothes and went to her grandmother downstairs. I asked if she wanted me to wait for her, but she shook her head no.
December 30, 1998
I stopped by Emily's this morning, to see how things had gone. I had expected everyone to be a bit down but when I came to the door, Lal had this huge smile on her face. She jumped into my arms and gave me this big hug.
"You were right, Daddy, Mommy was there! I SAW it myself!"
I looked over at Emily. There was a look of complete astonishment on her face.
"Tim, it was the strangest, most wonderful thing I ever saw. Lal and I went to the cemetery, and right in front of her grave, in the snow, was this single, perfect little red rose. It was like a gift from Tara. Like she was saying everything will be OK. "
December 31, 1998
It's a quarter to midnight. The gang's all here, waiting for that ball to drop. Since Falsone ate the last slice of pizza, and Gee drank the last of the punch, I've got nothing but time in my hands. What better opportunity to reflect?
If I could sum up this past year
with one word, I'd have to say it was bittersweet. Sometimes,
I feel as if I'm the luckiest person in the world. I have a beautiful
little girl who loves me and another family that I'm getting
to know. Then there are the times where I
can't help but remember that it took a tragedy for all this to happen.
When I look ahead, I don't see
an easy path. There will be mistakes and regrets, nights when
I'll worry my head off, and questions I can't answer. These are
the stuff of nightmares, but you know, I'm willing to face it.
I know that for every dark time, there's a warm
Thanksgiving, and a bright Christmas. They'll be days spent swinging at the pier, and nights watching Mighty Mouse in front of an old TV. For every heartbreak, I know there's a rose in the snow.
Here's to a Happy New Year.