The following Riptide 9/11 tribute was written by the incredibly talented Sheri Young:
COMING TO TERMS
I found Nick seated in the corner of the benchseat, one knee up, with a forearm resting atop. He was leaning back, almost in a casual manner, but his eyes were riveted to the small television set, unable to leave the horrors displayed on its screen, just as we all were. I knew that's where I'd find him. I knew we'd all end up here.
"Hi, Nick." Was that my voice?
The Italian looked up and seemed to be grateful for the momentary distraction. He shifted in his seat, bringing the leg down and crossing the ankle over his other knee. "Hey, Boz. How're ya doin?" Nick snorted at the ridiculousness of the question.
"Pretty much like everybody else, I imagine. Want some coffee? I can start a pot." Nick looked like he hadn't slept in days. Then again, had any of us? "I'm surprised Cody's not here. Did you call him?"
Nick rubbed at weary blue eyes. "Hmm? Oh, no, I didn't. I just..." He shrugged. "I know we don't have to start on the Crowell case until next Thursday, but.... I don't know, I just ended up here. How's Gloria? How's little Allen doing?"
He'd found a way to bring a smile to my face. "Allen Ryder Bozinsky is doing just fine, thank you very much." I picked up the newspaper that had been left on the end of the benchseat and tossed it onto the coffee table. I knew neither one of us was interested in coffee. It would have just been something to keep me temporarily occupied. I eased onto the seat.
"He's too young to understand about planes becoming bombs and... and hate. Thank God for small favors. Gloria is... a lot of things. Numb... angry.... grief stricken. Like we all are. Ashley?"
Nick shrugged. "We cried... we talked... we cried some more. She went into work today, although I'm not sure why. I mean... nobody's flying anything for at least a few days yet. We're still grounded. I suppose she'll just be pushing papers around and trying to reschedule charters." He shook his head. "Like anybody gives a damn. Codi was asking some difficult questions."
I turned to look over my shoulder in the direction of the unexpected voice. Okay, there was nothing unexpected about it at all. "Hi, Cody."
The blond captain of the Riptide nodded. "Boz." He patted my shoulder then leaned forward and shook hands with Nick. "I'm glad you guys are here. I figured you would be, but ya never know for sure. What kind of questions is she asking, Nick?"
Nick exhaled loudly. "Things like 'Da? Why did all those people die?' and 'will that happen to us?' You know... the easy stuff."
I winced. Nick's daughter was a couple years older than my boy, and at that moment, I was grateful for the difference. "What on earth did you tell her?"
"I said that there are good people in the world, and there are sick bastards in the world." Nick grinned at Cody's quiet chuckle. "Okay, I didn't use that exact terminology. I told her that she was safe because she's surrounded by people that love her. God... I wish it was that easy. Those people in New York, D.C. and Pennsylvania all have people who love them, too."
Cody rested a comforting hand on Nick's shoulder. "I understand, buddy. We have to keep it as simple as we can, though. Our kids can't live in terror." His voice got quiet, somber. "Neither can we."
"Terror, my ass!" Nick sat bolt upright. "Terror's not what I'm feeling, Cody. I am seriously, one hundred percent, no doubt about it pissed. GOD! What I'd give for the chance to kick some..."
"Hey, hey, hey..." And just as he had since the beginning of this glorious friendship back in the jungles of hell called Vietnam, Cody found a way to soothe his volatile friend's ruffled feathers. "I know that, Nick. Believe me, I'd love to be your door gunner. But... it's like Bush said. We've got to do whatever we can to keep things safe right here at home. I gotta tell ya, buddy. Selfishly? I'm praying like hell that you DON'T get called up."
I cleared my throat. Damn lump. "You really wanna go, Nick? Aren't you afraid?"
His head snapped up. "Any man who says he wants to walk into war or that he's not afraid is full of shit. But... if called, I'll go without hesitation. And I'd take care of business." His eyes were like steel. "Or by God, I'd die tryin'."
"We've got families now. YOU've got a family." Cody held up both hands to stop the protest. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm WELL aware that all those men and women who will be going over there have families, too, but... you're mine!"
His eyes locked onto Nick's, then mine, with an intensity I don't remember seeing before. "We ARE family. Always have been, always will be. I mean... here we are!"
Nick sighed, lowering his gaze. "I know what you're saying, Cody. I do. It's just... Jesus, I feel so helpless. Like you said, Code, we'll be going over. It's just a question of when." He toyed with an almost unseeable string on his jeans, but I had a feeling it was an excuse to keep his all too readable eyes shielded. "And I think we all know I will get the call. The question's not only when... it's also where. Don't know whether it's to remain stateside or... or someplace else."
"I know." I had to strain to hear Cody's response.
My own heart feeling like it was about to sink into my stomach, I hoped a shift in focus would help us all. "How are the twins taking things, Cody? I know they're several months older than Allen, but they're still awfully young."
Cody snorted. "They haven't really paid that much attention to it. I think... well... it's more like a... I guess a video or a movie or something. C.J. will glance at it for a few moments because of the sirens and all the activity, but he doesn't... you know. He doesn't grasp it. Nicky Jake is more interested in looking for bugs in the yard. When they see Gina crying... " He leaned against the main salon doorway and rubbed at his chin. "...OR me... they probably think we're just watching a sad movie. We've tried to make a point of keeping the news stuff to a minimum so they're not over exposed to it, and take my word for it, that's not an easy thing to do. As soon as they go down for a nap or call it a day? We seem to be drawn to Fox News."
He wasn't unique. As devastating as it was, as much as it made me sick to my stomach, I couldn't seem to stop watching it, myself. "Want some coffee, Cody?" I can't believe it. I said it again.
"No, thanks, Boz." He strolled over to the benchseat, sitting on the opposite side of Nick from where I was. "I'm not even sure why I'm here. God knows, nobody's going to call with a new case right now. Everything else seems so... so..."
"Unimportant?" I offered.
Nick planted both feet on the floor, and leaned forward, both elbows resting on his lap. "It does and it doesn't."
I raised a brow. "What do you mean?"
"I mean worrying about things like... like... are they going to put a new traffic light on Grosvenor or... who's going to play in the Super Bowl. That stuff suddenly doesn't mean jack squat. But, God! The flag flying over the Post Office? I drove by that this morning, and I'm dead serious, it damn near brought tears to my eyes. Let me ask you this. When the news first came out... what's the first thing you wanted to do?"
"That's a no-brainer," Cody responded with a quiet snort. "It's easy. Get every one of my loved ones together in one room, lock the door and throw away the key."
Nick snapped his fingers. "Bingo! There ya go. That's the stuff that seems more important than ever. Now do you see what I mean?"
I nodded. He was exactly right. And the irony wasn't lost on me. I had a feeling it wasn't lost on Cody, either. The one who'd spent so much of his life being a loner was the one who stated it so simply. "That's why we're all here," I said.
Cody pondered before answering. "You're right, Boz. The three of us have gone to hell and back a number of times. I'd go to war with you guys any time. I just... never thought..." He closed his eyes. I think he was still fighting to come to terms with it. "Not on our own shores. Not like this."
Nick gave Cody a moment before he spoke. "I needed to be here. You know... with you guys. Hearing your voices on the phone wasn't going to cut it. I know we see each other every day, just like we have for years and years..."
"And years," I managed to work up a grin. I could see this wasn't easy for him. For any of us.
Nick's voice was low. Numb. "Yeah... and years. When you called last night, Code? And said not to bother today? I just... had to. It's kinda nice that you two felt the same way."
Allen reached over and rubbed his shoulder. "Absolutely. I'm learning a lot these days. About... myself? My country? About evil. About not taking things for granted." He stretched his arm across the table and took hold of my hand. "About the importance of family."
Nick looked up, and I couldn't help but notice his eyes were moist. "I find myself wondering if those people... in the Towers... the Pentagon... and on the planes. If they'd remembered to tell their loved ones how important they were to them on that morning. You know? I mean... You're just going to work, right? It's just another day." He shook his head. Yep, he was still struggling with it, too.
"That's one of the lessons I was talking about, Nick." Cody gave that shoulder a squeeze. "We can't assume anything anymore. I think... I think that's why we're all sitting here today. Because... we don't want to leave anything unsaid."
Nick nodded. "Probably so."
"That doesn't mean I think old Binny boy is sitting on his rock figuring out how to take out the Riptide," Cody hastened to add.
My heart jumped. "Did they confirm that it was him after all? I hadn't heard that announced definitively." I'd had my strong suspicions, though. All fingers seemed to be pointed in his evil direction.
"No, not officially," Nick informed. His tone told me he was convinced Bin Laden was behind the abominable terrorist attacks.
Cody rose, arching his back before shuffling toward the coffee maker, although I had a feeling he wasn't any more interested in it now than he was when I'd asked earlier. "As I was saying, I just think the days are gone where we could just... rest on our laurels, I guess. If you care about somebody, by God you'd better say it."
"Innocent people," I found myself saying. "It could have been any one of us. When I saw those... those normal everyday people running down the streets, I thought to myself 'what if it'd been you, Cody... or-or-or you, Nick. What if it'd been me'. And I remembered that just the day before I'd snapped at you for kicking Roboz when he wouldn't get out of your way, Nick. What if those had been our last words to each other?" Nick blew it off with a wave of his hand, but I couldn't dismiss it quite so simply. How could I have lived with that?
Cody returned to the table after staring at the coffee maker as if wondering why he'd gone to it in the first place. He eased back into his recently vacated position on the benchseat. "I've found myself thinking about that, too. Let's face it. We all know just what we mean to each other. But... man! We do have a tendency to bicker over the stupidest stuff sometimes."
"That's because it's normal," Nick countered. He rested his arms on the table, folding his hands in front of him. "It's what normal people do. We ALSO know that no matter how much we bicker or whatever the hell it's about, when it's all said and done, we're still there for each other. It goes without saying."
Cody furrowed his brow as he allowed Nick's works to sink in. "Yeah, but... does it? Should it?"
The lump in my throat was starting to hurt. Maybe a soda would convince it to go away. Forget coffee, it required too much effort. I walked down in the galley, opened the fridge, pulled out three Pepsi's and brought them up into the main salon. "I think Nick's right. It does go without saying. Whether it should?" I set a soda in front of each man, and popped the top to my own. "That's hard to say... now. When things were normal? Maybe not so much."
"Normal." Nick raised his hands and covered his face with them for a moment. He lowered them with a heavy-hearted sigh. "When is it ever going to be normal again?"
Cody shook his head. "It'll never be normal again. At least, not normal as we knew it. I'm not sure, but... I have a hunch we'll all develop some... some NEW type of normal." He opened up his Pepsi and took a sip. "Thanks, buddy."
I nodded. I can't remember if I said "you're welcome" or not. "Guys? Why do I find myself breaking down when I watch the news or even read about it in the paper. I mean, it's not like I suffered any personal loss, because I didn't, thank the good Lord. Yet, I find myself on the brink of tears..." I couldn't continue or I'd be proving my point. I took a swig of soda, hoping that would stop the inevitable.
This time it was Nick who applied a gentle grip to my shoulder, while Cody watched. "Sure you did, Murray. We all did. We lost some of our innocence on the eleventh. Our complacency. We allowed ourselves to believe it could never happen to us. Not in our backyard. We lost our sense of security. We've now seen our freedom threatened, and I think because it COULD have been any one of us who was killed or... or who was left behind ... we have each felt threatened, like, we've lost a piece of ourselves. I can never..." The swallow was hard enough for me to hear. "... LOSE you guys."
I heard his voice break, and felt my own tears stinging my cheeks. Cody was sniffling when he put his hand on top of Nick's. I put my hand on top of his.
"God, please take care of those who lost loved ones," Cody said with his voice breaking.
I'm positive Nick must have lowered his head. I'm not sure because I'd lowered my own.
"And take care of the innocents," I added.
Nick's voice was soft. "Please give us strength and protect our family."
"Amen." I think we all said that.
We remained that way, each quiet, keeping that physical contact as if afraid to let go. When the phone rang, we all jumped. The moment was broken. I wiped at my eyes while Cody answered the phone.
He cleared his throat first, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. "Hello. Riptide Detective Agency...."
I glanced up just in time to see the color drain from Cody's face, and I knew. I couldn't bring myself to look at Nick, but I could sense by the way he abruptly slid out from behind the coffee table and got to his feet that he knew, too.
"Certainly," Cody spoke into the phone, his voice flat. "Yes, he's right here, Colonel. Hold on." He held the receiver out, and Nick grabbed it.
Cody took a step back, but remained standing, his arms crossed. My eyes met his, and I realized they must have been mirroring my own. I stood, too.
"Yes, sir. I can be there in...." Nick checked his watch. "I should be able to be there in no more than twenty... twenty-five minutes, sir."
It always fascinated me how Nick's whole body language changed in the instant he went from being a civilian to all Army. The shoulders squared, the back straighter. Even his voice seemed to change. Was that pride? Sense of duty? I didn't want to let him go. But we knew this would come, and Cody and I both knew our roles.
Nick hung up the phone. When he looked at us, the grief and numbness appeared to vanish, replaced by steely determination. "I have to go."
"I know." Cody gave him a grin. "We'll mind the store. You... you take care of business over there. And watch your six, I MEAN it. We'll take care of everything here."
I squared my own shoulders, as slight as they may be. "We'll make sure Ash and Codigirl are okay. E-mail us when you can. You better believe you'll have tons of e-mail waiting for you!"
Nick actually laughed at that. Maybe the comment wasn't as stupid as it sounded when I'd said it. "Don't criticize my typing, okay? You know how I am."
I'm sure I blushed. "I wouldn't do that."
"I know you wouldn't." He ruffled my hair before placing one hand on my shoulder and one on Cody's. "I'll do proud by you, guys. And I won't let this country down." I felt that hand tighten on my shoulder. "Whatever it takes, my friends."
Cody wrapped an arm around that shoulder and brought his free arm over and draped it around mine.
"Whatever we have to do." we responded together.
With heartfelt aloha to those who sacrificed on September 11, 2001 and after, and to those who continue the struggle to defend our precious freedom. God bless. Sheri Young