Lionel Tribbey: "It's from Penzance, or Iolanthe. One of the ones about duty"
Ainsley Hayes: "They're all about duty."*
Something was wrong.
An old friend wore his police uniform - he does not work a uniformed assignment - as he climbed into a car in the lot. A Denver Police vehicle sat in front of our station. Unusual. I got to my desk shortly before six in the morning and called Dispatch.
There'd been a call - a prowler, maybe a burglary. Random shots, then purposeful ones. Someone had been hit.
The shock of hearing from the calltaker that a coworker had been killed on duty did not wear off for several hours. There were occasional, unpredictable moments of tears. Anger led to grief and then disbelief when I learned that the shooting was accidental, a tragic case of misidentification. I didn't really let go until I'd found my wife's arms, standing in full uniform in our kitchen sobbing on her shoulder.
Policework is a 24/7 proposition. Our shop never closes. I appeared in uniform at six the next morning. Low, gray clouds hung a pall in the air. Snow fell in the early afternoon. Officers went about their business in robotic inanimation, hollow voices relaying routine messages to equally washed out dispatchers. Citizens' needs handled by rote - men and women with black-masked badges and red-rimmed eyes delivering perfunctory, if adequate police service.
The community was respectful, even reverential. Flowers appeared, bags of cookies, pizzas. Money, offered by organized citizen groups or collected ad hoc in small denominations, handed over for the family. To do something, anything, for a man who'd left behind a young wife, two children and hundreds of friends.
Then - the inevitable. The alert tone summoning us to a burglary in progress. Was it starting again?
Eight of us showed up. Guns out, go slow...by the numbers. Careful, calculated. A person detained, the house empty. A misunderstanding. Our luck holds. Cold, melting snow ran down the back of my neck, but that did not cause the shiver I felt. We returned to our cars and departed.
Adrenaline junkies? Hardly. Each of us had accepted this day as a possibility long before our friend fell. An imperfect society summons men and women to its aid. We respond not for riches or fame.
We feel a sense of duty. To you. To each other.
Especially to each other.
*John Larroquette and Emily Proctor, And It's Surely To Their Credit, The West Wing, 2000.