Outside the Island Yacht Club the night wasn’t quite warm, but it was getting there; another summer was around the corner. The telltale signs—longer days and anxious school children—said as much. For Captain Joe Stonetree, it was the retirement party invitations that piled up on his desk at the 27th precinct that signaled the impending arrival of summer.
Joe hated the more upscale celebrations—rented halls, suit and ties, speeches, and miserable hors d’oeuvres. Give him backyard barbecues and spur of the moment get togethers at dive bars any day. Instead, he found himself seated at one of several tables laid out in the ballroom with friends and colleagues of the retiring Commander Jim Turner. Everyone was in their Sunday finest, listening courteously to the latest person at the podium exalting the virtues of Jim’s 44 years of service. It was all well deserved but at the first chance he got Joe rose from his seat, disposable pastry plate in hand and made his way towards the exit in the back.
Applause erupted from the gathered crowd behind him as he pushed his way through the glass double doors onto the auditorium’s veranda. The sound muffled at the doors’ closure. Joe loosened his necktie and took in a welcomed breath of fresh air. Up above, the crescent moon in the sky was no match to the glittering lights of the Toronto skyline. Both it and the skyline reflected on the waters of Lake Ontario.
Once upon a time Joe had worked nights. He’d adjusted as well as he could but every morning that he crawled into bed just as his wife prepared to rise, he told himself it would be the last year. Seven years ago was the first time he’d made good on that promise to himself.
The retiring Jim Turner was a lifelong day guy. He’d always wondered how he had managed that. If the number of police brass in attendance tonight was any indication, then Joe had his answer. He didn’t begrudge the man. Joe genuinely liked him and the ability to stay on the good side of the higher ups was a talent many of them couldn’t always master. That Jim did it without compromising his duty to his fellow officers was admirable.
The once muffled revelry broke through loud and clear with a round of laughter behind him. When Joe turned it was to the sight of another man exiting the party.
“There’s too much hot air in that room,” the man said in greeting.
Joe grunted in agreement before turning back towards the view. He remembered the man, Captain Joe Reese of the 96th Precinct. Years ago, the American expat was the last police Captain of a former detective of his. Nick Knight, a detective of considerable audacity and a truckload of demons, was their common link. Joe Stonetree was his first Captain in Toronto, and Joe Reese was his last.
He hated the symmetry of that.
He hadn’t seen Joe Reese in years. Not since those dark days. It was some of the darkest in Metro’s history and Joe Reese had stood in the middle of the storm.
The anniversary back in February had passed unnoticed by most…ten years. Time was a welcomed balm on the division’s wounds, but for Joe Stonetree he always took a quiet moment to reflect. Sometimes a day late or a day early but the ceremony was always the same. He’d sit in his office, the blinds drawn in deference to Nick Knight’s skin allergy and sit in silence. To remember was the least anyone could do. As the years went by those who knew all the players involved slowly scattered and so did their memories. Joe doubted there were many who still consciously remembered that cold February night.
Did Joe Reese or did he file it away and throw away the key?
“Who’s up now?” Joe asked his new companion.
Out on the lake the last of the ferries from the islands crossed in front of them swamped with tourists and city residents.
“Well it is an election year,” he surmised with a sigh.
Out of his periphery, he watched as Joe Reese switched the punch he carried from his right to his left and extended a hand. “Don’t know if you remember. We met at--”
“Don Schanke’s funeral,” he responded, turning slightly to look at the man full on and shook his hand.
“Long time ago.”
“And then the memorial services,” Joe added.
Now it was Joe Reese’s turn for self-reflection. The hand he’d shaken earlier tightened on the balcony’s handrail before he released it to smooth out his tie.
“Yeah, them too.”
Joe watched as the other man stared out into the cityscape. A long silence crept up between them. “You know I always feel like these things are a damn waste of my time,” he began. “If Jim and I hadn’t served ten years together, I wouldn’t even be here. To hell with appearances I say.”
Reese appeared grateful for the change in subject.
“They’re kind of a necessary evil in my book. Show up, shake some hands and stay on the brass’ good side. I spent a number of years at Castle Frank. Jim was my Major. He gave me a recommendation when I busted up to Captain. He’s a good man.”
“And now he’s retiring.”
“So how about you?” Reese asked. “How much longer before your academy photo is up on that screen?”
“Depends on who you ask. My wife says she can smell it. Any minute I’m supposed to announce that I’m tired and turn in my retirement papers. I say I still have at least five more years in me. Besides, I don’t know what I’d do with my retirement. This is all I know.”
“My wife wants us to buy an RV and head south. Take the scenic route and she’s got some cousins in St. Louis. That might be fun, but we have to get the last kid through college first. Then we’ll see.”
Joe nods kindly at Reese. Behind them, inside the banquet hall another round of applause spilled into the night air at what can only be Councilman Travis’ concluding remarks about Jim Turner. The door he’d used earlier opened and a small group of guests with young children in tow exit from inside. They chose not to linger on the veranda and instead made their way to the garden down below.
It was a nice evening. If he didn’t have to be here, Joe would consider calling up his wife and seeing if she’d be interested in a good old fashioned date. For all its simplicity, she loved the pies over at The Lakeview. They hadn’t been in years. Time just got away from them. He let a lot of things get away from them.
“I once had this long conversation with Don Schanke,” Joe began, his voice quiet. “Well, conversation might not be the word.” A soft chuckle starts at the memory. “He talked and talked and I really just wanted to go home and get some sleep. Anyways, he said after retirement we’d cross paths at picnics and see how much older, fatter, and balder we’d gotten.”
“Or gray,” Reese added as he pointed to the graying on his head with a self-deprecating smile.
“Or gray,” Joe repeated amiably. “I hadn’t thought about that conversation in a while; how it won’t apply to him or any of the other people that have been lost over the years. It’s just the memory of how they were then, stuck in time, unlike the rest of us. I wonder how many of us have actually taken advantage of the time we got. Time that they’ll never have.”
“When I retire, I want a picnic,” Reese threw out, apparently still not liking the direction of the conversation but almost resigned towards its inevitability. “I guarantee people would have a lot more fun then they would here.”
Recalling the plate of meager finger sandwiches, vegetables, and cheese he’d left behind at his seat inside, Joe couldn’t help but agree. “At least the food would be better.”
A silence stretched between the two men. It wasn’t awkward, merely loaded with the ghosts of the past. Ghosts that were rarely spoken of out loud. From down below, the laughter of the children filled the air and a few more people spilled out from the reception. Joe Reese sipped on the last of his punch and the ice crinkled in his cup.
“How were the rotations for you this year?”
“Damn, outdated practice,” Stonetree cursed. “My best homicide detective got shipped out to the fugitive squad. Comes back and says ‘Captain, I think I’ve found my calling’. Naturally I think she’s gonna turn purple going on about how much she’s missed homicide. Instead, she gave me copies of her transfer papers.”
“Every year it’s homicide I have the most trouble with. Those from vice resent every minute they’re there, cooped up, and the rest of them think it’s going to be just like the TV shows.”
“Like toilet training a bunch of rookies,” Joe remarked as he watched Reese make his way to a nearby wastebasket to throw his empty cup.
“Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“Did you hear Dr. Haratunian is retiring next year?” Reese asked.
“Yeah, I heard something about that. You know if they’re gonna hire internally or look elsewhere?”
“No idea but he’s been head ME for years. He’s going to be tough to replace.”
“I always thought Natalie Lambert would have made a good candidate some day,” Joe remarked. “She was one bright lady.”
“More than a damn shame is what the whole thing was.” With a deep-rooted sigh Joe Reese turned to him with a look of acceptance.
“My wife, Denise, she wanted me to transfer out. Pleaded with me. ‘Too much death in that squad room’ is how she put it. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it for a second, but I couldn’t do it. Not to those men and women. They’d lost more in that year then I ever had. Their Captain, a colleague, the stress of those bombings. Then to loose Tracy the way we did. And to not really know what happened to Nick and Natalie. Who was I to request a transfer?”
Joe watched as the sadness flickered across Joe Reese’s face. Stress can age a man in more ways than time can and usually far less kindly. Joe Reese had aged during that time 10 years ago.
“That night and the days after, they still haunt me,” Reese confessed, “But I gotta say, all that damn unfounded speculation about Nick hurting Natalie made my blood pressure rise.”
Bile rose up in Joe’s throat just thinking about it. “It was an indignity to the memory of a good man,” Joe seethed. “Nick thought the world of Natalie and anyone who didn’t think that was dead wrong. It was no secret that women liked him, and maybe Nick had a lady friend tucked away somewhere but whatever those two had was something good.”
Joe hadn’t planned on getting as worked up as he had. A good cleansing deep breath was what he needed before he turned back to face the lake and the harbor before it.
“You have the right idea with a picnic, Joe. It would be better than this. All you need is a couple of picnic tables, maybe a pick up ball game, and then some smores and weenies for an evening roast. People would have a damn good time there. Hell, if he’d still been around, I’m sure even Knight would have shown up.”
It was then that Joe knew the sorrow in his temperament had cleared itself and he grinned. He remembered Nick Knight at a precinct picnic. He remembered Don Schanke with his family and Natalie Lambert goofing on the two of them. It was an evening much like tonight’s and everyone was all smiles. Those were the memories he chose to hang on to.
“Nick at a picnic?” Reese laughed at the image. “Are you sure we’re talking about the same man?”
“You’d be surprised what that man would do if a little encouragement came from the right place, or people. It’s all about the people.”
“You paired them up didn’t you, Knight and Schanke?”
“Yeah, it was only supposed to be temporary, but as different as they were, Knight and Schanke were a good pairing. They did some good work together.”
Inside the auditorium they can see all those gathered starting to shuffle out of their seats. Party’s over and it’s time to head home.
“My wife’s is going to want my hide for abandoning her in there,” Reese commented as he offered his hand to Joe. “It was good talking to you, Joe.”
“When your last kid gets through college…” He offered as he took the other man’s hand.
“Or when you finally get too tired.”
“Let’s see who goes into the bosom of retirement first.”
Both men share a laugh before Joe Reese ambled back inside in search of his wife. For his part, Joe Stonetree wondered if his wife was still up. It’s almost midnight and perhaps a midnight ride might not be as welcomed as he’d like given the late hour.
Perhaps if Joe showed up with the pie of the day from Lakeview, he’ll be forgiven for showing up so late. He's not a night guy anymore.