THE PATH NOT CHOSEN
Alternative/epilogue to TIME AND MEMORIES
"It was a mistake. Can't you accept that, Steve? You're human. You made a mistake, I made a mistake! Let's get out from under the futility while we still like each other. Before we start hating each other."
The door closed behind Cathy McGarrett, echoing with resounding waves of bitterness and regret. Worn down, exhausted from the stress of love turned to acrimony, Steve leaned his head back against the plush chair, staring with dulled eyes at the newspaper on the desk. Opened to the business section, one article leaped out with surreal boldness while the rest of the page blurred into shades of gray.
The article related the recent, successful merger completed during talks in Hawaii by multi-millionaire Frank Wallis. Cathy had read yesterday's article. The crumpled paper would have been evidence enough, but the escalation of her wrath was the real clue. Her caustic scorn of their marriage was the frustration of her path not chosen.
She could have been Mrs. Frank Wallis, replete with the social status, enormous riches and fame that would have brought. Instead, she had married an ex-Navy officer; an ex-cop turned vice president in her wealthy but modest, inherited businesses. Poor little rich girl. Back in Sixty-two she had settled for love at the altar instead of the arranged merger/marriage planned by her father and Frank Wallis.
Remembering their whirlwind romance -- she a tourist escaping responsibility -- he on Naval Reserve status playing tour guide at Pearl Harbor. A quick elopement had startled everyone on both sides of the country. To appease her family, she cajoled, pleaded and coerced Steve into leaving his position as head of Hawaii Five-0 in Sixty-three. They had moved to her bailiwick in Boston where McGarrett was given a job as vice president in the family firm.
In the intervening eight years of marriage Cathy's parent's had died, Cathy inherited business, property and incredible wealth, and the happy couple drifted apart. At first it was enough that they were working together to build the company, but the achievements were never enough.
Professional success never seemed to be enough for Steve and he tried to persuade her to take time out to start a family. Resisting his desire for children, she gave him more responsibilities at work. Without realizing it, their marriage evolved a business, with no purpose and little emotion left between them. As if the passion had been drained out of them. They didn't even argue with heat, just fatigue at life in general and each other specifically. He knew it had been siphoned out of him.
Again he reread the article about the business venture, the meeting in Hawaii. As he often did these days, especially when the cold Massacheusets weather nipped his senses, he closed his eyes and dreamed of his land of aloha. There were the things he loved -- people, places had surrounded him -- even the scent of the air. Overworked, stressed and ambitious as the head of Five-0, Steve had thrived on the danger, the excitement, even the tension, knowing that he made a difference every single day.
A loud crash startled him and he looked up. Cathy, distraught, sobbing, waved a mangled newspaper in her hand as she raced toward him, slamming the paper on the desk.
"He's dead! His daughter Joan murdered Frank! If I had married Frank he would probably still be alive! I should have never married you!"
Covering her face in her hands she turned and ran from the room. In the last minute she'd exhibited more fervor than he'd seen in three years from her. Smoothing out the Boston paper he read the headlines about a local businessman being murdered in Honolulu. The paper noted the investigators, headed by HPD, assisted by Hawaii Five-0's leader Chin Ho Kelly, and had arrested Joan Wallis Dixon for the murder of her father. Mrs. Dixon's husband, an attorney named Arthur, defended his wife, saying he would have her out of jail in no time.
Scanning through the article Steve automatically studied the clues, but there was very little printed about the investigation. He wondered how Five-0 was being handled in Chin's hands. Taking second place after HPD in an important case? That would have never happened with him at the helm!
The article mentioned no other officers. Turning to an inside page, he spotted a picture of Joan being escorted to a police car by Kono Kalakaua and Brian Tosaki. Sam Nohea -- the second-in-command Steve had handed over his prized organization to -- would have retired years before, Steve realized.
The black, gray and white photo blurred and
Steve felt dizzy. Folding his arms across the picture, he rested his forehead
on his arm, closing his eyes against the ache in his brain. The
path not chosen. If he had not married Cathy he would be there right now
investigating the murder of Frank Wallis. A businessman he'd never met,
supposedly killed by a girl (who he didn't think had the gumption or passion
for murder) he would have never met, married to a
sleazy lawyer he'd never met. Wallis -- widowing Cathy Wallis, whom he would
Two thuds startled him awake. Leaving his head on his arms he waited to let the person entering the room identify themselves. The door quietly closed.
His eyes snapped open. Close on the desk, the Honolulu Star Bulletin lay open to the picture of Cathy Wallis. In the fading tropical light barely visible was the image of Cathy escorting Joan Wallis from jail after the girl had been set free following her boyfriend's arrest.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you. I know it's been a tough few days. Why don't you go home? I can finish things up here."
Blinking back to some kind of mental orientation, McGarrett straightened, staring at his second-in-command with bewilderment. Had it all been a dream? It had seemed so hauntingly, terribly real. The road not taken. Breathing out a trembling sigh, Steve gripped onto the edge of the desk, assuring himself this physical existence was real life.
"Are you okay?" Tie loosened, shirtsleeves rolled up, a now concerned Dan Williams walked around the desk and placed a hand on Steve's shoulder. "This has been rough. Go home."
The warm grip felt solid, tangible and indisputable. The sincere concern natural and right. This was his world. Not some hazy, nightmarish might-have-been that spectrally spooked him from fatigue-inspired dreams. This was the path chosen. This was his destiny or rightful place or whatever he wanted to label it. Here -- Five-0 -- was his home.
Laughing, a shaky, grateful nervous release, Steve tapped his friend's hand, finally gripping onto the wrist, connecting with substantial reality. "I'm okay, Danno. I'm okay. I'm home."
Times like these, when Danno he tried to step into the uncomfortable shoes of a 'big brother/advisor' he seemed much older than his thirty-two years. The doubtful expression, the veiled blue eyes indicated he was not buying the strange response. "Why don't I drive you home-- to your apartment."
"No!" Not his apartment. Not anywhere but here. "No, I need to -- to -- stay."
Williams tightened his grip, then released his hand. "Cool." It was an easy shrug. "I was about to call out for Uncle Lee's to deliver."
Despite his skill as a good cop, a good kid, Dan Williams was a bad liar. He was staying to shepherd the boss after the turbulent, emotional strafing Steve had been through with Cathy. Torn up at seeing his former fiancée', Steve had tried to solve the whole case alone, bent rules, said and done things he shouldn't have because of the affect Cathy had on him. Reluctantly, Williams had gone along with the uncharacteristic behavior, but had managed to be a persistent presence -- a shadow over the shoulder for the strained friend. Dan, like the solid friend he was, worried, tried to advise, but never interfered with Steve's personal business.
"You want the usual?"
"I don't need a babysitter."
Dan's demeanor slumped with chagrin at the rebuff. Steve's independent nature bristled at the thought of a watchdog, but he was grateful that someone cared enough to stay -- to be a friend. After his rotten, disillusioning reunion with Cathy, after nightmares of what could have been, of that road not taken, Steve didn't need a guard, he needed an ally -- a good friend.
"But if you want to stay and work on that armored car heist I'll swing for dinner."
Dan grinned, infused with sudden energy. "Neat. I'll order the Emperor's special since you're paying." He picked up the phone and dialed a memorized number, sitting on the edge of the desk to wait. Glancing at the photo in the paper, he critically studied his friend. "And plenty of egg rolls."
"No, if I'm paying it's extra chow mein."
"Hey, you didn't say that," Dan insisted with a sly grin. Into the phone he hurriedly ordered, "Two Emperor's specials with extra egg rolls. Deliver them to Steve McGarrett's office at Iolani Palace. And some extra fortune cookies. I think we need a little more good luck around here."
McGarrett shook his head, smiling despite his effort not to.
Staring at the newspaper picture, Steve was nearly transfixed for a long time at the faces in the newsprint. His life could have been so different considering the choices he had made. At any point in his life he could have decided something so drastically different that would have incredibly altered him.
In his nightmare he had dreamed what might have been marrying Cathy. What if he had acted on the natural attraction between him and Nicole Wylie? Or kept in better contact with Nurse Edith Lavallo?
From the corner of his eye he saw Dan staring at him -- felt the concerned eyes on him. In that strange dream world Steve had left Five-0 to Sam, to Chin, and had never met Danno. What would his life be like without Dan Williams? In that bizarre, alternate snippet of phantasm illusion maybe he had seen an answer to that. Trapped in a loveless marriage, living in the cold of the east, friendless and directionless.
It was only a nightmare, but it gave him pause. As commanding -- demanding -- as his nature was, he couldn't imagine he'd ever let anything subdue him into that kind of captivity. Fortunately, he would never have to second guess what would have happened if he had taken that path. His feet were firmly placed on the solid rock of Hawaii and Five-0.
Answering a knock at the door, Dan opened it to admit the delivery boy from Uncle Lee's. McGarrett tossed him a few bills. Dan moved the files aside and set out the food on top of the newspaper. If it was a deliberate attempt to shift McGarrett's attention, Dan didn't show it, but Steve appreciated the symbolism and sentiment. A literal act to show, beyond doubt, they were over the Cathy Wallis affair. Steve didn't argue. He was ready to move on.
Digging through the noodles, he played with the chop sticks, thinking more than eating. Leaning back, he swiveled to look directly at his friend, studying the younger man who was the greatest source of balance in his sometimes extreme life.
Noting the scrutiny, Danno tossed him a fortune cookie. "Hey, if you're not that hungry, go for the dessert first." His tone was teasing, light. Meant to reassure that the worst was behind him and he was ready to move on with the important details of police work and the comforting trivialities of friendship. "But if you don't start eating all this food I'm taking home the leftovers."
Nodding, Steve accepted the challenge and opened the crisp cookie. He was about to read the fortune first, but Dan grabbed onto the little slip of paper. "Hey, it's bad luck to read before you eat."
Playing along, McGarrett ate, then read. His smirk turned into a cough of discomfiture. Who knew fortune cookies could be so accurate. He placed it on the desk.
"I didn't need this to tell me what
good luck I have."
Top of ladder nice place . . . can be
Steve smiled. "I think this time Confucious was wrong."