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The Card



    I had no idea what I was doing here. Ya know when you're headin somewhere and you just get to thinkin about somethin', and the next thing you know you're at wherever it was you were headin'...and you have no idea how ya got there?

   Only I really hadn't planned on ending up here.

   That's kinda how I found myself standin' in front of this rack of greeting cards at the Stop-N-Shop. I just walked in the door, said `hi' to Bob, the counter guy and headed for the beer. Was gonna pick up some chips and bean dip for the game on the tube tonight for the start of the weekend. I'm clueless (Hutch woulda laughed at that) as to how I ended up looking over the pictures on these cards.

   Father's Day cards.

   Man, I haven't even looked at a Father's Day card since...well, since I was 13. That was the last time I had bought one. But my Pop never got it.

   There's one particular card that's caught my eye. I'd swear it was the same picture as the one on the card I had bought some fifteen-odd years ago. The one that's in a cigar box in the bottom drawer of my dresser.

   The cover has a clipper ship in full sail cutting through the water. The first time I saw it, I knew it was the perfect card for Pop. That May he had taken a Friday afternoon off and me, Nicky and him had gone down to the docks. Some group had sponsored a tall ship event and the Bay had been filled with these absolutely huge wooden vessels. Pop had lead us through the crowds and pointed out the different types of ships and had filled our heads with tales of adventure and bravery on the high seas. And pirates! Oh man, I thought I'd just burst with the stories of battles and treasures! What thirteen year old wouldn't?

   The rest of that week Nicky and I converted our brownstone stoop into a pirate ship, complete with makeshift cannons made of some filched pipe from a deserted tenement and a captain's wheel mounted to the railing. Boy, was Ma hot when she learned that the captain's wheel was made from the removed front wheel of Nicky's bike and her only wooden rolling pin (hey, the handles made great grips when we duct-taped `em onto the bike tire!). Ma was mad enough to use that rolling pin for another purpose, but Pop only laughed and called us his scalawags. Even though the stoop was returned to it's former blandness, I still dreamed of high sea adventure. One night Pop brought me home a copy of "Treasure Island" and he and I poured over it for several nights.

   The card was perfect for Father's Day, especially that year. If only...

   Awh Pop... do you realize how much I miss you still? No matter how many great times we had together I still feel like I was cheated. I can't help but grieve for what we'll never share together.

   You shoulda been there when I graduated from high school - I never thought I would make it, `cause I just didn't care.

   It shoulda been you I called when I got my acceptance letter into the academy. Telling Ma only made her cry. You woulda understood.

   I needed you to hold me the first time I killed a man in the line of duty.

   I needed you to meet my best friend and know that I had someone to watch my back. You woulda known that he was worth giving my own life for.

   I needed you to be around for Hutch. His dad brought him home books to make him smarter, but he never taught him the important stuff, like how to be a pirate. You could have been his Pop too.

   I needed you to pray for me when it looked like I didn't stand a chance.

   I needed you to stand by my side when we put Terry in the ground.

   You should have been there to receive this Father's Day card from me and every one since...

   I realize that I've got tears in my eyes as I stand there in the Stop-N-Shop holding a case a beer and a crushed bag of Tortilla chips staring at a Father's Day card. I look around quickly, hoping no one's noticed me getting ready to bawl in the middle of the store and wipe my eyes.

   I can't explain why I included that card with my other stuff at the check-out. Bob takes my money, but doesn't seem to notice anything's going on. I grab the bag and haul my butt out of the store and into the last of the daylight before I embarrass myself...

   ...And try to figure out what the heck my partner's doing leaning on my car watching the sunset. He's still in his jogging clothes and the sweat's drying in his hair.

   "You jog over here?"

   "Brilliant deduction, Holmes." He gives me that smirky grin of his and snags the beer out of my hand. Blintz opens the passenger side door to get in, but pauses and looks at me with an eyebrow raised. "You coming?"

   I shrug and get in, start her up. "What are you doing here? I only dropped you off 20 minutes ago."

   "Thirty. Felt like a run, headed this way and saw the Tomato."

   I grunt in response. "I thought you had plans for the weekend."

   It's his turn to shrug. "Plans change. You just gonna sit here or what?"

   I put her in gear with a grin and pull out into traffic. The weekend's looking better. Hutch takes a look in the bag and sees the Father's Day card nestled between the chips and the bean dip. He doesn't say anything, doesn't have to, but reaches over and gives my shoulder a quick squeeze.

   Maybe we'll talk about it sometime over the weekend, maybe not. Either way, it's okay - he'll be there.