|Rollie sat in the hospital waiting room, his eyes glued to the door
that Angie had disappeared through an eternity ago. “It’s all my fault.
It’s all my fault,” he whispered.
They’d both known that it was dangerous to go into that house, but she’d done it anyway, she’d done it for him because she didn’t want him going in alone. Right from the start, he should have known that this case of Mira and Frank’s was too risky to get involved with. But they came to him for help, and, as always, he didn’t want to turn them down. And now, Angie was paying the price. The image of her getting hit by that bullet kept replaying in his mind over and over again. The blood, the pain in her eyes, the horrible gaping wound in her thigh. It was all his fault.
Rollie looked up to see a doctor coming toward him. He leapt to his feet. “How is she?”
“We finally managed to get the bleeding under control. She’s been taken into surgery.” There was a look in the doctor’s eyes that terrified the Aussie.
“What is it? What aren’t you telling me? She’s not. . . .”
“No, she won’t die, Mister. . . .”
“Barring unforeseen complications, Ms. Ramirez’s life is not in jeopardy. Unfortunately, the injury to her leg was severe. We’ll attempt to repair the damage, but I’m afraid there is a chance that she’ll lose the leg or that there will be permanent impairment.”
“Oh, God,” Rollie whispered, his voice hoarse with anguish.
“I wish I could give you better news. We’ll know more once she gets out of surgery.”
“How long. . . .” Rollie cleared his throat. “How long will she be in surgery?”
“It’s hard to say. It’ll be a while. You should go home and get some rest. We’ll give you a call when she gets out.”
Rollie watched the doctor leave, numb with the news that the man had just given him. Hardly realizing what he was doing, the Aussie got on the elevator and pushed the button for the top floor. He then took the stairs up to the roof. A cold wind buffeted him as he stood looking out over the city lights.
“It’s my fault. Angie could lose her leg, and it’s all my doing. I’ve brought nothing but bad things into her life. She would have been better off if she’d never known me, if I’d never been born.” The last word was spoken in a choked voice. Sobs shook him as Rollie sank to the ground. “I wish I’d never been born.”
A strange hush fell over everything, a stillness so complete that it seemed to press upon Rollie with a physical weight. The Aussie lifted his head, feeling the strangeness. He could no longer hear the sounds of traffic below. The wind that had been blowing only seconds ago was gone. He could hear nothing, nothing at all.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a voice. “Hello, Rollie.”
The Aussie turned to see a woman standing only a few feet away. She was incredibly beautiful, her entire body appearing to glow with a soft, warm light. She was smiling at him, her face full of love and gentleness.
“Who . . . who are you?” the Aussie asked in a hushed voice.
“Someone who’s come to bring you comfort, Rollie.”
“How do you know my name.”
“I know a great deal about you, Roland Tyler. I know that you are a fine, noble, caring man. There are a lot of . . . people who are very, very proud of you. They want you to know how important you are to them, how important you are to a lot of people.”
“I’m not important. All I seem to do is bring pain and suffering to the people I love.” Rollie’s voice was rough with self-hatred.
Sorrow filled the woman’s eyes. She came up to the Aussie and knelt beside him. Her hand pressed against his cheek. “Oh, Rollie, that isn’t true. You’ve brought joy to people. There are so many who owe you more than you could ever know.”
“Not Angie. Angie would be better off without me. A lot of people would.”
“Would they?” The woman stood. “Is this what you really want, Rollie? Do you really want it to be as if you were never born? If so, then just say the words.”
Rollie rose to stand before her. He stared at the woman. He didn’t know who she was or why she was here, but there was something about her that made him want to trust her. So, all he had to do was say the words and it would be so? He didn’t really believe that, but, if there was some chance that it was true, then he would do it. If it worked, then people he loved would no longer be hurt because of him. That was worth anything. “All right. I wish I’d never been born,” he said firmly.
Total blackness fell, engulfing him. Terror gripped Rollie. ‘What’s happening?!’ his mind screamed. A cry rose to his throat just as the darkness broke. The Aussie looked wildly about. Nothing had changed. The moon still hung in the sky. The city lights still twinkled below, and the sounds had even returned. But something was wrong. It took him a moment to realize what it was. He wasn’t cold. Neither was he hot. He couldn’t seem to feel the temperature at all.
“What’s going on?” he asked the woman.
“Your wish has been granted. As far as this world is concerned, you do not exist. You never did.”
“That’s ridiculous. If I’d never been born, then I wouldn’t be standing here very much alive.”
“Are you alive? Or are you just the specter of a memory, a dream that never was?”
“Of course I’m alive,” Rollie said, but a tiny doubt had crept into his voice. With a touch of fear, he lifted his fingers to the pulse point at his neck--and found nothing. He had no pulse.
“W-what’s happened to me? Am . . . am I dead?”
“No, you were never alive, not in this reality,” the woman said gently.
“B-but how? Who are you? What are you?”
“Someone who was sent to show you the truth about your life.”
“Come, let me show you.” The woman held out her hand.
“Where are we going?”
“To look at a world without you in it.”
Rollie hesitantly took the woman’s hand. Suddenly, they were no longer on the roof. They were now standing in front of a prison.
“What are we doing here?” the Aussie asked.
“There’s someone I want you to see.” With those words, they were abruptly inside the prison, standing in one of the cell blocks. They walked down the aisle, their feet making no sound. The people they passed appeared not to see them.
The woman came to a stop. Rollie looked at her, then followed the direction of her gaze. They were standing in front of one of the cells. A short man with graying hair was inside. Rollie stared at the man’s back, feeling a sense of recognition. Just then the inmate turned around.
“Dad!” the Aussie gasped.
It was, indeed, Dingo Tyler, but a Dingo that Rollie had never seen before. There was a darkness in this man’s eyes, a cynical bitterness that Rollie had never seen in the eyes of the father he knew. This Dingo Tyler looked old, old and tired of life.
“What happened to him?”
“He lost his way. After his wife died, he had no one left to hold on to.”
“Mum still died?” Rollie asked, a catch in his throat.
“Yes, Rollie. You not being born didn’t change that. She still died alone, only, in this reality, when death came, she welcomed it. There was no joy in her life. Her husband left her alone for weeks at a time. She had no children to lavish her love and attention on. She died a sad, lonely woman.”
Tears had come to Rollie’s eyes at hearing his mother being talked about like that. “And Dad?”
“After her death, he left Australia and never returned. He kept getting deeper and deeper into criminal activities, until, finally, he ended up here. He didn’t have you, the thought of you, to keep him from going in the wrong direction. You were his moral compass, Rollie. Without you, he became forever lost.”
Rollie knelt before the bars. “Dad. I’m here, Dad,” he murmured.
“He can’t see you, Rollie. You don’t exist to him.” The woman laid a hand on his arm. “Come. It is time to move on.”
“To where?” The Aussie stood.
“To a very sad place,” the woman told him.
The prison disappeared and was replaced by a ghetto.
Rollie looked around. “What are we doing here?”
“You’ll see in just a moment,” the woman replied.
With a sense of foreboding, Rollie waited. After a few seconds, he spied someone coming down the street. Even from a distance, he recognized the man immediately. A smile of joy on his face, Rollie rushed forward.
“Leo! Leo, you’re ali. . . .” The words died on his lips as he got a better look at his friend. Leo McCarthy’s eyes were dull and watery. There was an unhealthy parlor to his skin. He looked ten years older than he had when Rollie had last seen him alive. As the Aussie watched, he noticed the unsteadiness of the man’s gait, the worn, dirty look of his clothes. A half-empty liquor bottle was clutched in his trembling hand.
“My God! What happened to him?”
“The Leo McCarthy you knew ceased to exist a long time ago. He became this.”
“But why, how?”
“It started when a case he was working on went terribly wrong. A terrorist had planted a bomb somewhere in the city. Leo caught the man, but couldn’t get him to tell them where the bomb was. A hundred and sixty-two people died when the bomb blew up the Hayes Building.”
“Wayne Harmon? But we found the bomb. We tricked Harmon into revealing where it was.”
“No, Rollie, you weren’t there to set up the elaborate ruse that succeeded in getting Wayne Harmon to talk. Leo didn’t have you to help him. The next day, Harmon’s sister planted and detonated the second bomb in the courthouse. Eighty-five more people died. Leo blamed himself for the deaths. He began to drink more heavily. He was finally thrown off the force. Things just kept going downhill from there. He’s been living here in this place for almost two years now.”
“Why doesn’t he get help?” Rollie felt a terrible pain in his heart at seeing his old friend like this.
“He doesn’t want help. He wants to suffer. He’s riddled with guilt over the deaths of those people he failed to save. His suffering will be over soon, though.”
“What do you mean?” A twinge of fear touched the Aussie.
“He’s dying. He is drinking himself to death. He doesn’t have more than a few months left.”
“Oh, Leo. I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do.”
“You were never born, Rollie. You can’t help him.” The woman looked at him pointedly. “It’s time to go to our next stop.”
“Where to now?” Rollie asked, afraid to see what his guide in this strange journey would show him next.
Not answering him, she took his hand. They now stood in a quiet, suburban neighborhood. Rollie immediately recognized the house they stood before. “We’re here to see Francis,” he said. “Please tell me that he’s alive, that he’s okay.”
“Oh, he’s alive, and he’s all right, physically. Let’s go see.”
They were now standing in the living room. Frank was there with Sarah. They were arguing heatedly, nasty, hurtful words flinging back and forth between them. Their three daughters huddled behind a couch, tears flowing down their faces. Rollie had never seen the couple like this before. They had always seemed so gentle and loving with each other. The Aussie began to pay attention to the topic of the argument.
“You sit all day at that desk feeling sorry for yourself, then you come home and lay more of it on us,” Sarah yelled. “Well, I’m sick of it! You’re not the man I married. You’re some pathetic loser who is so wrapped up in himself that he doesn’t even see his family anymore!”
Furious, Francis, grabbed his coat and stormed out of the house. Rollie ran after him.
“Frank! What happened? What’s going on here?” Rollie cried before it came to him that his friend couldn’t hear him.
“This isn’t the Francis I know. What happened?” the Aussie asked the woman.
“Francis was a new detective when he was partnered with Leo. When the case with Wayne Harmon went bad, it hit him hard, especially after he saw the bodies of some of the victims. He stayed a detective for a while, but finally requested a transfer to a desk job. That’s what he’s been doing ever since. He hates his job, but he can’t get himself to returned to active duty. His frustration and unhappiness is spreading into his personal life, as you saw in the house.”
“Why doesn’t he quit the force, do something else?”
“Being a cop was his dream, Rollie. It’s all he ever wanted to be. He doesn’t know what else to do with his life.” She took his hand again. “It’s time to go.”
They now stood in an office at Midtown-South. Mira Sanchez was in the room, talking to Captain VanDuran.
“That cop is dirty, and I’m going to prove it,” she said, a vicious note in her voice.
“You just love to sling mud on the names of cops, don’t you. That’s the way it is with all you IAD people. You get off on dragging good cops down.” There was anger in the captain’s voice.
“Good cop. Show me a good cop, and I’ll show you one who’s just better at hiding his corruption,” Mira sneered.
Rollie stared at her in shock. This was Mira Sanchez? This cynical, uncaring woman? The Aussie turned to his guide, the unspoken question in his eyes.
“As you can see, Mira stayed with the Internal Affairs Division,” the woman said. “Never having met you and Angie, she had no reason to leave.”
“She left IAD because of us? I didn’t know that. She told us that she was transferred.”
“Your faith in Leo and Francis’s innocence inspired her to stop looking for the bad in people and start searching for the good. You made her want to help people. But, in this reality, that never happened. She stayed with IAD, and her opinion of her fellow cops, her fellow human beings, continued to fall with each case of police corruption she investigated. The last straw was when her ex-husband was killed in a bank robbery attempt.
“Michael was killed at the bank?”
“Yes, along with most of the hostages and the other men he was with when the police stormed the place. Mira was never told that Michael had been undercover. She believes to this day that he went bad.” The woman took his hand, and they were now standing in a dark place. A newspaper sat on a table before them.
“Read what the headline says, Rollie.”
The Aussie looked down at the paper.
“A shootout at the Hamilton Gold Exchange left five people dead and one injured. The fatal confrontation occurred when police attempted to apprehend four men who had taken hostages while attempting to steal a fortune in gold coins. Two of the four hostages had been released earlier in the day, but the remaining two were killed in the final gun battle. Among the dead was. . . .”
“Oh no,” Rollie gasped, looking away from the paper. “Not Colleen.”
“Yes, Rollie, Colleen died that day because you weren’t there to stop those men.”
“That must have destroyed Leo.”
“She and Leo had already broken up by then. Leo broke off his relationship with her only a couple of weeks after the Wayne Harmon incident. But when she died, it pushed him even further into the bottle.” She paused. “Look at the paper again, Rollie.”
The Aussie turned his attention back to the newspaper.
“Actor Jimmy Chu died today on the set of his latest movie, Eye of the Dragon. It is suspected that his death may have some ties to Chinese organized crime.” The headline changed before Rollie’s eyes. “Veteran stage actress Cassandra Delarossa was murdered some time late last night, the apparent victim of a crazed fan.” Again it changed. “A daring attempt to steal one billion dollars in gold being kept at a U.N. storage facility resulted in the death of two guards. Three of the perpetrators are still at large. . . .” Still more headlines appeared, recounting events that Rollie had been a part of, cases that he had worked with the police on. Only, in this reality, they were ending very differently. Then a headline appeared that was far worse than any of the ones that had come before. “At least ten thousand people died in South Africa today when a deadly biological agent was release into the atmosphere. . . .”
“Oh, God,” Rollie whispered, feeling sick. He shoved the paper off the table, no longer able to read it.
“You weren’t there to stop Victor Loubar. His sale of the bio weapon to Willem Brink went as planned, and that was the ultimate result.”
“I can’t take this anymore. Isn’t there anything good that you can show me? What about Lucinda? Or Rick? What about Rick? Is he alive?”
“Yes, Rick Forsythe is alive, but he’s paralyzed from the neck down. He was badly injured in a stunt that went wrong. It happened during the filming of the same movie that you were doing, or would have done, when Wayne Harmon’s terrorist organization set off their bombs.”
“Not the stunt with the car.”
The woman nodded. “The F/X company who did the movie made a serious error with the design of the stunt.”
“Lucinda met Rick two weeks before his accident. She fell head over heals in love with him. After the accident, she tried to help him, but she couldn’t take his anger and bitterness and finally left. She was torn with guilt afterwards, and her performances suffered. Jobs became scarce. She finally quit acting and became a beautician.”
“What about Mangela? Is anything different for him?”
“Yes, Mangela’s life was also changed by never having known you. Because the incident on the mountain never happened, he didn’t find out about Luther Cale’s true nature until much later. He continued to watch after him like a son. Then, one day, Luther betrayed the People, betrayed Mangela, and, in the process, caused the death of two tribesmen. Mangela’s heart was broken. He didn’t have you to bring him comfort, to strengthen his songline. He lost a portion of his faith, his zest for life.”
“Is he . . . is he still alive?”
“Yes, but he is not the same man you knew. He is sadder, harder. He looks at the bad things in life and in people as much as he does the good now. His songline is no longer the strong, bright thing that it was before.”
A fear was building inside Rollie. It had been slowly growing with each thing the woman had shown him and told him. There was someone that she had not told him about yet, the one person who mattered the most. Rollie was afraid. He was terrified of what the woman would show him after his next question. But he had to ask.
“What . . . what about Angie? Is . . . is she okay? She is, isn’t she? Isn’t she?!”
The woman looked at him, a deep sadness in her eyes. She took his hand, and they were suddenly somewhere else. Rollie looked down at what was before him.
“No, oh no, no, no,” he cried brokenly. He sank to his knees and pressed his cheek against the cold, hard gravestone. “Oh, God. Angie, Angie.” Deep, racking sobbed welled up in him as he was consumed by grief.
The woman laid a gentle hand on Rollie’s arm. “After Manny was killed, Angie lost control and attacked Nick Breen. She was fired. Afterwards, she tried to take over for her father, but her heart wasn’t in it. Her joy in F/X was gone. She had no one to comfort her, to help her through her grief and give her the will to continue. She did a few low-budget movies, but finally left the business and sold the equipment. She never went to college. Instead, she got a job as a set designer and builder. It brought her no happiness, but it kept her close to the work her father loved.”
“How . . . how did she die?”
“She was accidentally killed by the bomb that Jarod Kennedy detonated on the set of the movie that you and she would have been working on together if you had been born. She wasn’t supposed to be there, but she’d forgotten something and went back to get it.” The woman stroked his hair. “I’m so sorry, Rollie. But you had to see these things. It was the only way that you would know.”
“That your life has touched so many people and changed their lives for the better. Everyone’s life touches that of other people, but yours has more than most. All the good you’ve done, in your work with the police and in just being who you are has made such a difference, Rollie. You have to know that.”
“But now it’s all gone,” the Aussie whispered.
“No, Rollie, it’s not gone. What I’ve shown you this night is only an alternate reality, the reality that would have existed if you hadn’t been born. The true reality is still out there waiting for you to return.”
“Then I can go back?” Rollie asked, hope flaring brightly within him. “It will be like it was before?”
“Nothing will have changed. All that you know will still be there.”
“Please. Please send me back. I don’t want it to be like this. I want to go back. I want to be alive.”
The woman smiled, joy lighting her face. “Oh, Rollie, I am so happy that you see the truth now.”
The Aussie studied the woman’s face, suddenly realizing that there was something familiar about her. He was certain that he’d never seen her face before. It was more the look in her eyes and the way she smiled at him.
“Who are you? What’s your name?” he asked.
“I am not allowed to say. I wish that I could.” She stood, her hands gently bringing him to his feet as well. “It’s time for you to go back now.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“Someday. But not for many, many years.”
Rollie nodded. “What do I have to do to go back?”
“Just wish it to be so.”
Rollie took a deep breath. “I want to go back. I want things to be the way they were before.”
The darkness returned, but, this time, Rollie was not afraid. Then, through the blackness, he heard a faint, fading echo, three words spoken in a voice full of love and pride--and, all at once, Rollie knew who the woman was.
“Goodbye, my son,” came her gentle words.
“Mum,” Rollie whispered.
The light returned, and the echo of the voice faded away. Rollie stood unmoving on the roof of the hospital. The cold had returned. Shivering, he looked up at the stars.
“Thank you, Mother,” he murmured softly, a touch of sadness in his voice. But the sadness was overrun by his happiness at being back. Then he remembered something. “Angie!”
Rollie quickly descended to the waiting room, hoping that the doctors hadn’t been trying to contact him. Getting off the elevator, he nearly collided with Angie’s doctor.
“Mister Tyler. I was going to be calling you in just a few minutes. I thought you left.”
“I did leave, but I came back. Is she out of surgery? How’s her leg?”
The doctor smiled. “I have good news. The surgery went surprisingly well. Though she will require some extensive physical therapy, we have every reason to believe that Ms. Ramirez will regain full use of her leg.”
“That’s wonderful! The best news I could get. Can I see her?”
“She’s still asleep, but I see no reason why you can’t go in and see her. But don’t stay too long. She needs her rest.”
A few minutes later, Rollie was sitting at Angie’s bedside. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. It was so good to see her alive. When he’d seen the gravestone with her name on it, it had felt as if his whole world had blown up. He’d never felt so much pain in his life. In that moment, he had finally come to realize how much Angie meant to him. Now that he knew, he was going to tell her, no matter what it might bring.
He didn’t know how much time had passed when Angie’s eyelids stirred. Rollie’s grip on her hand tightened. Slowly, she awoke.
“Hi,” the Aussie whispered, tears springing to his eyes.
Angie turned and looked at him. “Hi,” she said back, her voice soft and weak. “Rollie, you look like you just took a tour through hell.”
“I did,” the Aussie told her.
Angie studied his face, seeing a look there she’d never seen before. He looked like someone who’d had his life ripped apart, then put back together again, and had come away from the experience a far wiser man.
“You’re going to be okay, Ange. I spoke to the doctor, and he said that with some physical therapy, you’ll be back to your old self again.” His eyes dropped from hers. “I’m sorry, Angie. This shouldn’t have happened. You shouldn’t have been in there. It’s my fault that you got hurt.”
“Hey, you didn’t force me to go in there. If I remember correctly, you insisted that I stay out. I’m the one who made the decision to go in with you. Did we get the bad guys?”
“Yeah, Mira, Frank, and the others nailed them. Mira and Frank were going to follow us to the hospital, but while we were waiting for the ambulance, one of the cops found more victims down in the basement. It turns out that those two guy killed a lot more women than we thought they had. Mira and Frank had to stay behind and take care of things. They’ll probably be here soon, though.”
“I’m glad we helped stopped them, Rollie. I’m glad we were there, even if I did get shot. Those men won’t be able to hurt anybody else now. It was worth getting shot in the leg for that.”
Rollie smiled, then he grew serious. “There’s something I need to tell you. Blind fool that I am, it’s something that I only just finally realized. I don’t know what it’s going to mean to our future, but I have to tell you.” He took a deep breath. “I love you, Angie. I’ve always loved you, but now I know that I love you more than as a friend. I want . . . I want us to be together.”
Angie just stared at him for the longest time, and Rollie was beginning to think that he’d made a mistake in telling her. Then, to his complete surprise, tears came to her eyes.
“Oh, Rollie. If you only knew how much I’ve longed to hear you say that.” She touched his cheek. “I love you too, for a long, long time.”
A smile of unparalleled joy spread across Rollie’s face. ‘She loves me!’ he silently shouted, so happy that he thought his heart would burst open from being so full. He brought Angie’s hand to his lips and kissed her fingers. They just looked at each other for a long time.
“So, are you just going to keep staring at me with that goofy grin or are you going to kiss me?” Angie asked finally.
Rollie immediately left his chair and pulled her into his arms. Their lips came together in a kiss full of love, tenderness, passion, and joy.
From a place far, far away, yet as close as your own heart, someone watched them. She smiled down at the happy couple, overjoyed that they had finally found each other, that her son had, at last, found his way home.