TOO LONG AGO, TOO LATE

 

by Gina Martin

 

Epilogue to A LONG TIME AGO

 


 

December 1978

 

The intercom buzzer sounded twice before Steve McGarrett bothered to respond. With a curt, crisp bark he asked what Lani wanted -- especially since he had asked not to be disturbed. Up to his neck with paperwork; he was nearly late for a coordination meeting with city and county leaders about the upcoming December seventh activities. Duke was out on a forgery case and Danno was in court most of the day testifying against that neo-Nazi-nut Stoner. [A DISTANT THUNDER] Steve had planned on squeezing in an appearance at the courthouse, but it didn't look like it was going to happen today. Too bad. He really wanted to see that nut case go down heavy for kidnapping Danno and threatening a political candidate.

 

He stabbed the intercom button. "Yes, Lani?"

 

"Uh, Steve, uh sorry to disturb you, but Sandy Toshimoto is on line two with an emergency."

 

Sandy, his attorney? Horrible recollections of his last, disastrous attempt at undercover work came to mind. Steve desperately needed an attorney after being booked by a nasty, vindictive Federal agent. Chills tickling his spine, Steve momentarily worried about repercussions of that nightmare. [SMALL POTATOES]

 

Picking up the phone he clicked over to line two. "Yes, Sandy?"

 

"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you, Steve."

 

The large, plump oriental attorney was as amiable and soft-spoken as he was talented and clever. Considered one of the best and most honest legal minds in the city, Sandy also boasted of a great golf handicap and an unparalleled gift for barbecuing perfect steaks. With the mild-mannered pronouncement of bad news, Steve's blood turned cold. If Sandy thought it was bad, it was probably devastating.

 

"What's wrong, Sandy?"

 

"Remember you asked me to handle the Melissa Cole case?"

 

"Oh. Cole. Yes."

 

Embarrassment flooded him. Here he was so focused on his recent misfortune he had forgotten about Sandy's most recent case for him. Danno's ex-girlfriend Melissa Cole had conspired to kill her boyfriend by engineering a gunfight between the boyfriend and Danno. It had nearly worked -- nearly gotten Danno killed in the process.

 

The terrible incident, motivated because the boyfriend had killed Cole's little girl, had engendered some sympathy from McGarrett. It had nearly broken Williams' heart, and Steve acted with compassion by lending his first rate attorney for her defense.

 

Still not quite forgiving Cole for the dangerous deception, he at least hoped, for Danno's sake, she could get a decent break. Steve found it hard to work up much compassion for the vindictive woman. Most of that was his resentment at her blind vengeance that nearly cost Danno's life. Part of it was, he admitted to himself, a trace of resentfulness of her abrupt return into Danno's life. Williams had quickly fallen under her spell, nearly to his destruction. Never something he would mention to his bruised friend, Steve had always mistrusted Melissa's sudden return -- or perhaps the complete way she distracted and overwhelmed Williams.

 

"What happened, Sandy?"

 

"I was just called over here to the HPD lock-up, Steve. Somehow Melissa Cole managed to hang herself in her cell. She's dead. I'm very sorry."

 

The unexpected tragedy hit him like a chunk of molten lava in the solar plexus. Melissa Cole: mother of a murdered child, girlfriend to a murderer, suicide victim After his uncharitable thoughts the horrible news was distressing. For Danno it would be crushing.

 

"Thank you, Sandy," he finally managed to stutter.

 

"I'm very sorry, Steve."

 

"Yes, I know. I appreciate your help, Sandy."

 

"I regret it turned out this way, Steve. She was just so filled with pain -- I wish I'd have seen it coming."

 

The lawyer wouldn't be the only one feeling contrition. Steve felt his own measure of that regret. Certainly Danno would. Although none of it was justified, they would carry the burden of sorrow over this for a long time.

 

"Danny is in court, I understand, otherwise I would have told him myself."

 

"No -- no -- that's fine, Sandy, I appreciate all you've done. I'll let Danno know. He'll understand."

 

"Please tell him how sorry I am. And if there is anything more I can do -- helping with arrangements or whatever -- please notify me."

 

"I will. Thanks again, Sandy. I'll be in touch."

 

McGarrett replaced the phone and held onto the desk for several moments. The pitiful incident was slowly sinking in. How was he going to break the news to Danno?

 

*****

 

A short knock on the door preceded Five-0's second in command as he swept into the room. "I think testifying against Stoner was worse than being his hostage." Dan loosened his tie as he strolled over toward the lanai to join McGarrett.

 

Steve stopped him in the doorway and gestured to the sofa. "Have a seat, Danno."

 

"Gladly." The younger man flopped down, then noted his friend's stiff tension. "Something wrong?"

 

Slowly, Steve nodded. "Yeah, Danno. Something . . .." He sat down and placed a firm hand on his colleague's shoulder. "Bad news, I'm afraid. It's about Melissa. I'm so sorry. She committed suicide, Danno. She's dead."

 

For long, silent moments Dan was numb, not reacting at all. McGarrett waited, staying close, ready to help, but soon became aware there would be no explosion of emotion from his friend. A tragic end to a tragic story. What more could be said or felt? In a way he was relieved. This non-reaction showed Dan's raw pain over Melissa's duplicity had subsided. Perhaps now, as dreadful as this new development was, Williams could put this pitiable episode behind him.

 

Steve had to break the frozen silence. "Is there anything I can do?"

 

Williams slowly shook his head. "No -- no -- thanks. I -- I need to make arrangements."

 

"I can --"

 

"No, Steve, thanks."

 

"Sandy Toshimoto offered --"

 

More firmly, Dan refused. "No, really, Steve, I need to do this."

 

Reluctantly McGarrett accepted the insistence, countering that he would like to assist.

 

"Let me do this for her, Steve. Alone. Please."

 

Uncertain he should let his friend handle the grim responsibility solitarily, Steve knew this was not the time to push too hard or intrude on a very private pain. He nodded his acceptance. "Whatever you want, Danno. You know I'm here to help in any way I can. Just give me the word. I'll do whatever I can."

 

Williams slowly came to his feet, McGarrett escorting him, never releasing the grip on his shoulder until they stopped at the door. Reaching for the knob, Dan stopped to face his friend.

 

"This has all been so confusing, Steve. The reunion, then the betrayal, the violence. Now her death." He sighed, cringing, as if the buried release was hurtful deep inside. "I -- I'm at a loss."

 

McGarrett patted his shoulder in silent support. "What can I do to help?"

 

"I'm going to make some calls to the mainland. Will you take care of things with HPD?"

 

"Sure."

 

Dan nodded, then trudged out to his office. McGarrett closed the door and leaned against the wood, staring up at the ceiling. He had learned at an early age that life was never fair and rarely just. It just hurt so much to see it happen to Danno when he deserved so much better.

 

He wanted to go after his friend and do something -- say something -- to ease the pain. But he didn't budge. If their roles were reversed, he would have shut himself away from everyone and suffered silently -- alone. WHEN their roles had been reversed. In the past, Steve made sure his tragedies were endured in solitary confinement. As much as Dan and others tried to help him, he refused their sympathy and solicitude. Knowing how much it hurt to go through these horrors alone, Steve struggled to think of a reason to intrude on his friend when his friend wanted nothing more than to push the world away.

 

*****

 

Dan's backtracking research got as far as Melissa's last known address on the mainland. Further than that he could not push. An inner wall blocked his motivational thoughts and all he could manage was holding onto the phone, prepared to make a call to LAPD and never reaching the point of picking up the instrument.

 

Too much tragedy had coursed through his life recently: Chin's death. Jin Wu kidnapping, torturing and brainwashing him. Held hostage and nearly killed by Nazis! Then Melissa. He'd hit the wall and could not move forward another inch. Frequently cops went through this kind of burn out in their high-stress lives. Five-0, typically, went to the extreme even in job-related stress. Where else could a cop go through so much in six months and expect to testify at a trial the next day as if all was right and normal with the world? Well, his world just stopped spinning, and he no longer had the energy or heart -- or maybe the courage to push it anymore.

 

"Danno?" Dan looked up at McGarrett; too weary and nonplussed to even speak. As if reading the inner plight from Williams' expression, McGarrett leaned over and gently pried his friend's hand from the phone. "Why don't you let me drive you home, Danno? Then I'll come back here and finish up."

 

Dan stared at the phone. "I couldn't locate the cemetery. Melissa should be buried on the mainland . . .."

 

McGarrett came around and crouched next to the chair. "I'll follow it up. It won't take long."

 

Williams' face twitched, inner wretchedness struggling for release. "I'm empty, Steve." The whisper could barely be heard. "I can't feel anymore. It's too much. Not for Melissa. Maybe not for myself."

 

McGarrett stood and put his hands on Dan's shoulders. "Let's go home, Danno."

 

"No. I need to be doing something, Steve. Keep busy -- "

 

"You need to rest." The voice was strangely mixed with equal parts compassion and firm resolution. "It's been a tough few months. You can't expect to keep pushing yourself when there's nothing left to give, bruddah." His tone dropped to a low, sensitive, soothing resonance. "Let it go."

 

"I can't even cry for her, Steve. There's nothing left inside me for her. Maybe for anyone, even me."

 

"Danno --" Upset and frustrated at the depressed resignation, the name came out a sharp command. Taking a breath, McGarrett stared over in a calm tone. "Let me take over. Just till you get back on track. Please. Let me do this for you."

 

The request seemed to break through the numb trance. Dan blinked, staring at his friend. "A few months ago I thought I had life all figured out, Steve. Life in paradise was -- paradise. No surprises -- I'd seen it all. How could I be so stupid?"

 

"Don't -- "

 

"You thought it too, Steve." Dan took a shuddered breath, flinching at the disturbance building in his friend's bold blue eyes. "That was so long ago. Like forever. Too long ago. We were blind. Or arrogant. Or both. Then it all started to unravel after we lost Chin. I don't want to know how much misery a person can handle. Melissa reached her limit. And I thought it was all over, so I didn't understand there was no place for her to go after she couldn't kill Crawford. Too late. I was too late."

 

"You're being too hard on yourself, Danno." Bodily he lifted Williams to his feet and guided him out of the office. His voice was short and sharp. "There was nothing you could do. And I'm not going to let you sit around and wallow in self-pity."

 

They reached the door to the corridor and Dan stopped short. The accusation brought him out of his stuporous mope like a splash of cold water on his face.

 

Satisfied with the shock treatment, McGarrett waited before opening the door. Perhaps a little more blunt honesty would help readjust his friend. Always a little rough on Danno when he was down, Steve's harsh treatment usually helped.

 

"If you want to stay and help, fine. If you just want to stay and take it easy and sort things out, that's fine, too. I'm not letting you sit here -- or anywhere else -- and feel sorry for yourself like this, Danno. Melissa lied to you. I don't know what she was like in high school, but it must have been a lot different. She came here to kill her ex-boyfriend for killing their daughter. When she ran into you her focus shifted and she thought you could do the dirty work for her. Whatever she used to be to you, Danno, it was over a long time ago. Too long ago to put you in a tailspin now."

 

Startled, Williams blinked with surprise.

 

McGarrett always found it so easy to read the riot act to his friends and foes alike. Momentarily it seemed he went too far. Williams paled with shock. Steve wished he'd bitten his tongue rather than blast his friend with the jolting truth. Maybe the harsh truth was too much right now and what Danno needed more was some understanding and sensitivity. Steve had been about as commiserating as a bull in a china shop.

 

"Look, Danno," he sighed bitterly, "that didn't come out the way I wanted it to."

 

A smirk played at Dan's lips. "Really, Steve? And it sounded like one of those compassionate moments you're so famous for."

 

If it had been any one else Steve would have been angered at the flip retort. From the friend he had just verbally trounced, he knew it was meant honestly and without acid. With a grudging smile he placed his hand on the back of Dan's neck.

 

"I'm taking you out for a decent meal, Officer Williams. Then we can come back here and I'll make some phone calls while you nap on my couch." Dan opened his mouth but never got out a word. "Then you're going home to get a decent night's sleep. And tomorrow you're going to be focused and ready to put Stoner away for a long time." He almost smiled. "Any arguments?"

 

Dan grinned. "I wouldn't dare."

 

"You got that right, bruddah. Now let's go. How about Hy's Steak House? We haven't been there in a while."

 

"What, me argue?"

 

McGarrett couldn't hide his sly grin. "That's more like it."

 

*****

 

The afternoon was sunny and warm, exacerbated by the heat coming off the tarmac and the nearby jet engines. At the United cargo terminal of Honolulu Airport, trucks of freight constantly rumbled past as two sober, suited Hawaii Five-0 officers paid a solemn, silent tribute to the gun-metal gray casket clattering up the loading ramp of the jet.

 

Dan and Steve watched the casket disappear into the hold, and the doors closed behind the last piece of freight. Melissa Cole's miserable sojourn was nearly over. Soon her earthly remains would rest next to her daughter in a cemetery on the mainland.

 

Roy Crawford, the linchpin in the tragic affair, would be buried on Oahu since he seemed to have no traceable next of kin. The day after Melissa's suicide, Crawford had been killed in a jail knife fight. Even criminals had standards and hierarchies, and child killers were not well liked anywhere on either side of the bars.

 

When Steve reported the mockery to his friend, Williams displayed almost no reaction to the bitter twist of Fate. The irony was heartbreaking, but Williams had elicited little reaction to the news, merely shaking his head and muttering something unintelligible, then disappearing into his cubicle. McGarrett watched him closely since then, but nothing seemed to break through the mask of indifference shielding Williams from the world, or maybe protecting him from the cruelties of the world.

 

Williams turned away from the jet and walked toward the car, McGarrett a careful step behind, watching his friend with close attention. The last few days had been calm. Too calm. Funeral arrangements, trial testimony, routine work, all came and went without incident. Williams performed flawlessly, easily -- perhaps a bit sadder and quieter, but still at normal efficiency. Never a ruffle of disturbance. McGarrett was unsure if there would be a sudden explosive outburst, or a simmering eruption that vented itself over some inconsequential problem.

 

In the car, McGarrett started the engine and slowly coursed to the freeway. Silence. Williams seemed disinclined to speak and Steve didn't know what to say. Deciding they could not go back to the office just yet, McGarrett took the interchange lane for the H-2. They were well on their way toward Mililani when Williams noticed.

 

"Hey, where are we going?"

 

"Away."

 

"Steve, you don't have to --"

 

"You're right, Danno, I don't have to do anything." The near-smile twitch offered little humor. "I think we should go somewhere away from walls and police work right now."

 

Accepting with a nod, Dan sat back and waited, mostly staring out the window at the pineapple fields whisking past. When they branched off to the left on Highway 930, Williams let out a gruff noise.

 

"Kaena Point."

 

"Do you know of a better place to think?"

 

Dan shook his head. "You know me too well."

 

They drove to the end of the highway, to the western-most tip of Oahu, at the Kauai Channel. Hawaiian tradition had it that the spirits of the dead departed the island here. It was a spot well known to the island boy.

 

Dan's parents' bodies were never recovered when they died during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941Sometimes he would go out to Pearl City and stare down at the harbor. He had told McGarrett that as a youth, he came to this isolated spot He would stare out at the ocean and wonder if the spirits had drifted off from these rocks into the Hawaiian spirit world. In his later years he would come here to find focus and peace during troubled times.

 

"I don't remember my parents very well. Do you remember yours?"

 

Williams sat on a rock, elbows on knees, hands folded, watching the waves. Behind him, McGarrett paced. He stopped to stare out to the west, past the final tip of rocky land.

 

"Yeah. I was a lot older when I lost my father. Later with my mother."

 

Dan nodded. "I don't remember mine as much more than photos. Vague illusions. Like Melissa. Shadows of real people. Not what they really were, but what I thought they were. Not very deep or profound is it? There should have been words to say -- something else than just loading her casket onto a plane."

 

Standing behind his friend, he clapped his hands on Dan's shoulders. Not intending to, the sermonizing automatically spilled out. "You're usually a pretty good judge of character, Danno. And the best kind of friend I've ever known. The problem here is not you. Melissa was wrong to use you. Her life was tragic for the last few years. None of which was your fault. Don't let her ruin drag you down. She's past the pain, now. Don't let her disturb your life." Steve squeezed the shoulders. It was so important to him that his friend understand not to harbor the blame over this tragic incident. "It's time to let Melissa go."

 

Sighing, Dan nodded. "Okay, Steve, point taken." His voice lightened a touch. "And thanks for not saying 'I told you so'. You were right about Melissa. I should have listened to you."

 

"It gives me no pleasure at being right this time."

 

"Any more sage advice?"

 

"Yeah." The tone lightened to let his friend know this was not faultfinding. But, Danno did ask . . .. "You know, Danno, you're always too harsh on yourself, if you don't mind a little personal critique. And you never get enough sleep."

 

Williams laughed. "I think I learned that last trait from you."

 

"Oh, yeah? Well, just to make sure you don't keep up with these bad habits, I'm taking you out to a good meal tonight -- like at a restaurant with waiters instead of paper cartons on top of our desks -- and getting you back to your apartment at a decent time. The Stoner trial will close tomorrow with any luck and I want your testimony to go off without a hitch."

 

"Okay, I hear you, boss."

 

It was all an excuse -- they both knew it. Steve didn't want Danno to be alone. Danno accepted it. Because there was such a thing as too much solitude at a time like this. And such a thing as good friends to offer an alternative to loneliness.

 

PAU