“Dear god, how long have they been at it this morning? When the hell are they going for lunch?” Inspector Jack Elliott was perched on the corner of Steve Keller’s desk, the user of which, on the phone, was trying to wave him quiet.
“Yes…okay, thanks…yeah, will do…thanks.” Steve hung up. “They’ve just wrapped up and are getting ready to leave the room. And before you ask, nobody knows yet.”
“Somebody has to know. With that many of them, they’re going to need a reservation.”
Steve chuckled. “Well, maybe after last year, they’re wise to us and they’re not going to let anybody know.”
“What are you two talking about?” asked Assistant Inspector Ryan Taylor from a nearby desk.
Elliott grinned. “Oh yeah, you weren’t here then.” He glanced at Steve, who nodded. “So you know that once a year, all the captains and lieutenants from all the departments get together for a day and just talk about… well, we’re not really sure what they talk about, but they take an entire day to do it. They’ve been doing it for years.
“Anyway, last year Steve and I decided that we’d join them for lunch, which they always do en masse, and sorta try to …” His voice trailed off.
“Basically, to annoy the hell out of them,” finished Steve with a laugh. “To be more specific, Mike and Charlie.”
Elliott nodded in agreement. He and his partner Charlie Bidwell were Robbery Divisions equivalent of Mike and Steve, Bidwell being two years younger than Mike, Elliot a year older than Steve.
“Well, we found out where they were going for lunch, which wasn’t hard actually – Mike just told me – and we went there ahead of them and got a table out of sight around a corner. And during their lunch, we kept sending drinks and appetizers over to their table. There were so many of them that they didn’t notice, until it came time to leave and there was way too much uneaten food on the table and the bill was sky-high.”
“Oh my god,” laughed Taylor, “did they find out it was you?”
Elliott cleared his throat. “Well, not at first. Charlie was furious when he got into the office the next morning; he knew something fishy had gone on but he couldn’t figure it out.”
“Same with Mike; seems the Chief had heard about it and wanted to get to the bottom of it or else someone was going to have to pay for the extras on the bill, and you know how tight with a buck Mike can be sometimes…”
“Charlie too.” Elliott looked at Steve with a commiserating smirk. “Must be that generation.”
“So how did they find out?”
Both Steve and Elliott did a slow take in the direction of Norm Haseejian, who had been pretending not to listen from his desk a few yards away. He looked up. “Hey, don’t blame me – you guys didn’t say it was a secret and all I did was mention that you two had taken off just before their lunch break was coming up. They’re detectives; they figured it out!”
Taylor laughed again. “So what did they do?”
Steve and Elliott looked at each other and grinned. “Well…” Steve began but was cut off by his ringing phone. “Inspector Keller,” he said into the receiver then listened for several seconds. “Okay, thanks.” He hung up and stood in the same movement.
“They’re on their way. Let’s get down to the garage,” he said to Elliott, snagging his jacket from the back of his chair and slipping it on.
Elliott stood up. “We’ll finish our tale of woe later, kid,” he said to Taylor, “we have some partners to torment.” And with a laugh, he and Steve were across the room and out the door.
# # # # #
“Hold the door!” came the commanding voice.
Charlie Bidwell put a hand out and the elevator doors reopened. The car was already full but Mike Stone stepped on anyway, pushing the others further in and the car doors closed once more, almost catching the back of his jacket. Realizing the hat is his hand was in danger of getting crushed, he snaked his arm up and put the hat on his head askew.
“Mike,” whined a voice from the back, “the car is only supposed to hold ten – you’re making it eleven.” Everybody laughed.
“We’re only going three floors. Are you really worried that it’s going to fall? That’s what I love about you, Roy – always up for adventure.” Mike grinned at Devitt over the tops of everyone’s heads and the others chuckled.
The elevator doors opened and Mike backed out, then fell into step beside Charlie and two others, Captain Derek Collins from Vice and Lieutenant Alan Donner from Missing Persons.
“So who’s driving?” called Lieutenant John Yu from the back of the pack.
“I’ll drive,” said Bidwell, “I can take five in my car.”
“We’ll take mine too,” chimed in Captain Bob Jeffries. “I just had it cleaned.” There was knowing chuckle from the group; Jeffries worked Vice and their cars were notorious for being motorized petri dishes for human detritus.
“I’ll wait for the next group,” said Devitt but stayed with this bunch as they walked between the rows of cars toward their vehicles.
“Does anybody know where we’re going?” asked Ron Callahan, a lieutenant from Robbery, with amusement.
“Don’t ask me,” replied Captain Dan Hollister, Vice, from the back of the group. “I thought Charlie was picking the restaurant this year.”
Mike glanced over his shoulder, grinning. “Charlie? You’ve got to be kidding me! Have you seen what he eats for lunch? That bacterial culture-y thing that looks like curdled milk …”
“It’s called yogurt, funny man,” Bidwell retorted is his best ‘hurt feelings’ voice. “My wife has me on a diet. I don’t like the stuff anymore than you do,” he tried to explain over the laughter of his colleagues.
“A diet?” Mike turned sharply towards Bidwell, quickly looking his somewhat portly colleague up and down. “Well, you could stand to lose –“
“Oh, hush up,” Bidwell said quickly, giving Mike a playful shove. Grinning and chuckling, Mike quickly caught his balance, then leaned back towards Bidwell to give him the elbow. Bidwell had reached into his jacket pocket for his car keys, and Mike’s well-positioned nudge knocked the keys from his hand and they tumbled to the asphalt.
Feeling guilty, Mike quickly stooped to grab the keys. Suddenly, without warning, a deep, ear-splitting roar filled the air around them, its volume magnified by the concrete walls of the parking garage. As though punched, someone nearby exhaled quickly with an “umph”. As Mike’s fingers closed around the keys, he instinctively looked up in the direction of the din.
He didn’t hear the bullet that tore through his chest.