He Ain’t Heavy
The first time Danny Taylor met Martin Fitzgerald, his reaction was immediate. He disliked him.
The Deputy Director's son. Two years working white collar in Seattle and then he got the FBI assignment. No wonder he was smiling.
He, Danny Taylor, had come from a poor family, paid his own way in life, worked his way up and got everything he had through his own merits. Now, in swanned Martin Fitzgerald to work with him, who just happened to be the son of FBI Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald. And they claimed it wasn't nepotism. Did they think he was born yesterday?
Jack had reassured him that this wasn't the case at all, that Martin had gotten the job on his own merits and that, once he got to know Martin, he would like him, but Danny was far from convinced. What really surprised – and, he had to admit, annoyed – him was that Vivian and Samantha were most friendly and seemed to get on so well with Martin. Danny had scowled. They were four; a good team. Why did they need five?
These thoughts were occupying Danny's mind as he returned to the bull-ring early Thursday afternoon the following week, after lunch. No-one else was there except Vivian, who was making notes in a file. She greeted him.
"She's gone for lunch with Martin," Vivian answered. Getting no reply from Danny, she ventured,
"So – what do you think of Fitzgerald junior?"
Danny pulled a face. "Do I have to answer that?"
Vivian smiled crookedly. "No. But I'd be interested to know, nonetheless."
Danny opened the filing cabinet. "As far as I'm concerned, Master Fitzgerald can hop on the nearest plane back to Seattle. Comes in here as though he owns the place, pretending that Daddy has nothing to do with his assignment and sucking up to all and sundry. And what happens? He goes after Maggie Cartwright's boyfriend, gets cracked on the head and I have to hold his hand going to hospital."
Vivian continued to note in the file. "Do I detect a hint of resentment?"
"What really gets me is the way that, without being exactly popular, he's looked up to as some sort of leader. He's got no idea how to talk to people. You were at the meeting last night – you heard the way he went on in that dry, sarcastic way of his?"
Vivian shook her head. "I can't help feeling it's nervousness. His father's just the same – that's why so many people can't stand him."
Danny grimaced. He shut the filing cabinet with a slam. "No way. I think it's just natural to him. I'm surprised he's got any friends."
Vivian gave him a look which seemed to say, you might come to change your mind about that. Then, however, Danny didn't have any reason to think different.
It was on a Friday, a few weeks later, that Danny had just returned to the bull-pen after lunch.
Jack was in his office, interviewing a police officer; Vivian was showing some photographs to a missing boy's mother; Samantha was taking a telephone call and Martin was at his desk, taking some notes from something on up his computer screen.
Danny sat back down at his desk. On it, new since he had gone to lunch, was a brown cardboard file.
He frowned a moment as he tried to figure what this might be; then, he remembered. He'd asked for it to be sent up as it concerned an old case which Jack had decided was to be reopened.
Danny opened the file and began to thumb through it.
Unfortunately, it was the worst thing he could have done.
The file contained intense details and graphic photographs of a married couple in their forties who had been burnt to death in a car crash.
Danny's parents had been killed in a car crash when he had been eleven. The car had caught fire. He had been spared from knowing all the details at the time – but this, he now realised, with slow, mounting horror, is what probably must have happened to them…
Panic began to fill Danny like black water. He felt himself go weak, then light-headed. Have – to – get – out –
Not really aware of what he was doing, he pushed back his chair. Images and multiple images of what he had seen flashed and multiplied in his mind. Crash…crash…mangling…bodies…skin burning…bodies mangled…Panic continued to fill him. He walked blindly down the corridor and pushed through the door of the men's bathroom. Everything started to go black. He fell to his knees and hit his head against the sink. For the first time in years, he fainted.
All multi-colours flashed in his head, on and off, on and off, voices, snatches of, sounds, where was he, last week, what was he doing, colours, sounds, cries, voices, sounds, where was he, last week, voices –
Something felt cold against his face. Slowly, he opened his eyes. Where was he….? Everything was disoriented and upside-down….
Gradually, out of the darkness, he began to make out the cream-coloured tiles of the floor and the long horizontal pipes running under the sinks. He felt sick, dizzy and was vaguely aware of a bump on his head. He tried to lift himself up.
"Don't try to sit up. Just lie still."
He was lying on his side, on the floor of the men's bathroom. Someone was behind him, supporting him, their knees against his back.
"Danny? Danny, it's okay. You're at work."
Yes…yes…of course. Came in here…had to get out. That article…those pictures…No…You'll go again. Don't think about it…don't think about it.
Had to get out…came in here. Safe…
And it was only now that he recognised the voice.
Martin knelt beside him in concern. His hand was on Danny's face, across his ear. Danny tried to turn his face to look at him but his head hurt.
A sudden wave of nausea hit him and his stomach churned. He tried to push himself up. Martin lifted him and held him steady. Danny barfed over the floor. He felt Martin's hand on his back. He retched hard and was sick a second time, then a third. His nose bled. Martin rubbed his back gently. "Hold this," he commanded, proffering a handkerchief. Danny complied, his fingers feeling weak.
Martin continued to hold him steady. As he gradually came round, Danny was aware of a strong arm supporting the front of his body and of someone's legs behind his back. He was grateful to have something – someone – to lean on and he felt reassured. He just wanted to stay where he was, till he felt better…
"You'll be all right now."
That same, steady, reassuring voice. He'd never heard its like before. Martin…
"Keep your head forward."
Yes – that was right. Let the colour come back. Martin picked a lock of hair away from his damp forehead and smoothed it back.
"Okay?" he asked, after some minutes. "Feel better?"
"I wondered where you were," Martin continued. "When you didn't come back, I came to look for you. Can you get up?"
Very slowly and cautiously, with Martin's help, Danny eased himself up from the floor. He continued to lean against Martin. He felt a little woolly-headed but, after, opening and closing his eyes a few times, he felt better.
After a few more minutes, Martin said,
"Think you can sit up now?"
A stage at a time; he didn't feel under pressure. Danny nodded. "Think so."
Slowly, again, he eased himself into a sitting position. Martin supported his back as he tentatively sat upright. Danny moved his legs so he was more comfortable; he was getting pins-and-needles.
That steady, reassuring voice again. It supported him as much as his colleague's physical presence. Danny breathed deeply. "Yeh."
"I'm going to sit you up against the wall. Okay?"
Danny nodded. Martin held him tight and eased him gently over the floor. Putting him up against the wall, he disentangled himself and put a hand on the back of Danny's neck, waiting till he was settled. Martin rose, took a towel and soaked it under the cold tap. He knelt back down and held the towel against Danny's head. The water felt icy-cold but it helped revive him and he felt less dizzy. Martin wiped Danny's face and neck then held the towel against the bump on his head again.
"Do you want a drink of water?"
"Please," Danny croaked. It was just what he needed.
Martin went out. He returned a few minutes later with two cups. "There's the water" – he gave the smaller cup to Danny – "and I've also made you a cup of tea - with a lot of sugar. Give you some energy."
"Thanks," Danny whispered. He sipped the cold water gratefully. It felt marvellously reviving. Martin stood up and took a wadge of paper towels from the dispenser. He knelt back down again.
"It's pretty manic out there at the moment," Martin said, as he mopped up the floor. "They've just had a lead on the Kajura case."
"You shouldn't have to do that," Danny protested weakly.
Martin looked up at him. "No problem. Viv's specially concerned. It's the one where the mother's a midwife at the hospital and her son's just about to sit his high school exam." He disposed of the soiled towels then took some fresh ones. He soaked them in cold water and wiped the floor again. "I'll make sure we tell the janitor." He washed and lathered his hands in the sink and scrubbed his nails then dried them carefully.
"Do they know about me?" Danny asked.
"I'll tell Jack and ask if I can take you home."
Danny wasn't sure he wanted Martin to do that. He didn't want anyone, least of all his boss, to know that he had found something so distressing that it had made him faint. Looked real bad…
At the thought of it, suddenly he went cold. The shock of fainting was starting to hit him and he was shivering. "Hey." Concerned, Martin knelt beside Danny, took off his coat and wrapped it round him. He put his arm round Danny and pulled him close. "Easy."
Danny took a few deep breaths. Gradually, he began to feel warmer. Finally, he said,
" 'M all right now."
Suddenly, the door swung open and another agent wandered in. He looked down to see Martin on the floor with his arms around Danny.
"Uhh – sorry - I'll - uh – come back later," he stuttered and quickly went out again.
"You know who that was!" Martin exclaimed.
"The guy who came in when we were here together before. When we had to share a sink? Heaven knows what he thinks of us now!"
The boys laughed.
"Our reputations really are shot!"
Martin smiled. "Can you get up?"
Danny nodded. With Martin's support and leaning against the wall, Danny managed to stand up. They made their way out of the bathroom together and when they got into the corridor, Martin sat Danny down on a chair.
"I'll go and see Jack now." He handed Danny the cup of tea and stood over him. "You be okay?" Danny nodded again. "Thanks," he whispered. He watched his colleague stroll down the corridor, through the glass door towards the bull-pen. He sipped the tea. It was warm, sweet and comforting and he was grateful for it as he was still feeling a bit cold. Again, it was just what he needed. He pulled Martin's jacket closer round him.
Martin soon reappeared. He was carrying Danny's rucksack and his coat. "Okay. Home time."
Danny stared. "What did you say to him?"
"The truth," Martin answered. Seeing Danny's apprehensive face, Martin added gently,
"Fainting's nothing to be ashamed of. And I know why you did. The file on your desk."
Danny started to look frightened.
"It's all right. I didn't tell Jack that."
His blue eyes met Danny's brown ones, and Danny was warmed by their steady reassurance. Yet, after all that had just happened, he realised that he shouldn't be surprised. He couldn't have asked for anyone to have taken care of him better. Martin's calmness, Martin's physical and emotional support, Martin's friendship…And he had thought Martin didn't like him.
There was something else about it, too, that he couldn't quite put his finger on. Martin seemed to know exactly what he was feeling…
Martin drove Danny back to his apartment. He accompanied him up in the elevator and, once inside, sat him down on the sofa. Danny was glad to be home. He felt much more at ease and relaxed, if still a little woozy.
"Tea?" Martin asked.
"Yes, please." (How did Martin know - ?)
Martin disappeared into the kitchen. He returned with two mugs of hot tea. He gave one to Danny then sat at the end of the sofa.
"When you've finished that, I'd suggest you go to bed for a few hours. You lose a lot of nervous energy, fainting."
Yes – that was right, too. How did he - ? Rather puzzled, Danny started to drink the tea. It was strong white, with just the right amounts of milk and sugar to make him feel stronger. As before.
They talked together for some minutes, on various topics; for the first time, relaxed, not forced. Then, Martin looked at his watch and commented,
"I'd better be heading back. Will you be all right?"
Danny nodded. "Guess so."
Martin went to rise. Suddenly, Danny was struck by a thought.
"Stop one minute."
Martin sat down again.
"It puzzles me to know how you knew exactly what to do to help me, all the time today."
Martin hesitated. "I was a Boy Scout," he said awkwardly. He went to rise again.
"No – that doesn't satisfy me!" said Danny. "You knew exactly what to do, say and when to say it. You even knew what I was feeling. How come?"
Martin looked uncomfortable. It was as if he were trying to weigh something up. Finally, he said,
"Promise you won't tell?"
Danny looked concerned. "Yes, 'course I won't. What is it, man?"
Martin took a deep breath.
"When I was a boy, I used to faint when I saw or thought about something I really didn't like, or if I was over-tired. There was nothing wrong with me; the doctor said it was just the way my body reacted. But, I hated it. I was ashamed. It was a weakness."
"I fainted in some really odd places. At school. In church. The best one was when I fainted head first down a flight of steps at the opera house. When my father found me, I had my legs in the air, my glasses had gone one way and the contents of my pockets another."
They both laughed shortly – but, Martin's reference to his father made Danny thoughtful. A sign of weakness…Danny could just imagine it.
"Anyway – as I got older, it got better and I hardly ever do now. Good, really, in this job!" joked Martin.
"Yeah…" Danny replied – but, he couldn't stop thinking about what Martin had just told him – and how that had reflected in what he had done today…
Martin put his hands on his knees and stood up. "Well – if you're okay – I'll get back to the office. Now – you sure you're going to be all right?"
"Yes, Mom!" Danny grinned.
"Go to bed and sleep as much as you need to. You'll feel a lot better when you wake up. And call me if you need anything."
"Martin – "
Danny held out his hand. Martin took it and they squeezed hands briefly. Brown eyes met blue and both smiled; then, Martin turned and left.
Danny realised that he had a lot to think about. However, just as Martin had said, he felt he needed to sleep.
He eased himself up slowly from the sofa and walked slowly to his bedroom. He took off his shoes, tie, belt and watch. Without quite understanding why, he spread Martin's jacket over his bed. He clambered into bed and snuggled under the covers. He felt warm, snug and drowsy. Within seconds, he was asleep.
Danny awoke to the sound of a front door slamming. One of his neighbours must be home from work.
He reached out and picked up his alarm clock. It was ten to six! He had been asleep for nearly four hours.
He rolled over so he was lying on his back and rubbed his eyes. Who would have thought he'd needed that much sleep?
Everything that had happened that day started coming back to him, and he was left reflecting again on the wonder of it all.
He was reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan. Of the three who had passed the injured man, the priest, the Levite and the Samaritan, that would have been the order in which one would have expected them to help – but, it had been the complete opposite. Similarly, with what had happened to him today, if he had had to guess the order in which his work colleagues would have helped him, he would have said Vivian, Jack, Samantha, then – a long way last – Martin. Obviously, where he had fainted today would have made it impractical for Viv or Sam to have helped him; but, that apart, he would never, ever have imagined Martin in the role of the Samaritan.
Now, he understood why he had put Martin's jacket across his bed. He wanted to feel a little bit more of his comfort…
Grow up, man! he thought to himself. How old are you? But, he was smiling.
He reached across to his bedside cabinet and picked up his cell 'phone. He went into Contacts and pressed a familiar number. He heard it ringing.
"Hi!" Martin's voice was warm and kind. "How're you feeling?"
"Pretty good, thanks. Just woke up!"
"I said that'd do you good."
"How's tricks?" Danny asked.
"Winding down for the day. They found the Kajura boy. Safe, luckily. His mother was overwhelmed."
"Martin – you know you said to call you if I wanted anything?"
Danny grinned. "A large ham and pepperoni pizza'd be nice."
Martin laughed and shook his head. Danny was definitely feeling better.
"Say. I should be finished up here in about twenty minutes. What say we make it two?"
"Sounds just rock and roll, man!"
"Perhaps when I do, you'll give me my coat back?"
"What?" Then, Danny remembered! The two friends laughed in unison.
"See you later, then, buddy."
"See you, brother."
Their 'phones snapped shut.
Danny lay back in bed and exhaled deeply. He smiled again.
Man, how wrong you can be about people, Danny thought. What you see of them on the outside is rarely what's truly inside.
How many times, as an FBI Agent, had he applied this to the people in his cases – and yet he had never done it to one of his own close colleagues?
It hadn't been a great way to find out! – by fainting and cracking his head – but, he wouldn't forget, in future. Or, what else he'd learned today.
That Martin Fitzgerald was a supportive work colleague – but, he was also a good friend.