The light knock on the door brought Captain Olsen’s head up from his study of the file on his desk. His frown turned quickly into a smile; Steve Keller was standing in the doorway. “Got a minute?” the inspector asked.
“Of course,” Olsen said as he sat back and indicated a chair in front of his desk. “Take a seat.”
Steve returned the smile as he slumped into the chair, crossed his legs and smoothed down his tie.
Olsen’s eyes dropped to the file. “Just give me a second,” he said slowly as he found his spot, made a notation, then closed the manila folder. As he put it aside, he looked up at his junior officer. “What can I do for you?”
Steve sighed loudly. “Ah, I’m not really sure, Rudy. I, ah –“
“How’s Mike doing?” Olsen interrupted. “I really must get over there and see him.”
“Mike’s doing great… I think,” said Steve with a slight frown.
“What do you mean ‘you think’?” Olsen matched the frown.
“Well, he’s been pretty well unresponsive since we got home yesterday. He’s been sleeping almost constantly and he wouldn’t eat anything last night or this morning. I just –“
“Yesterday?” Olsen interrupted again, his frown deepening. “He was at the funeral?”
Steve looked surprised. “Yeah, we both were.”
“Well, I didn’t see either of you. You weren’t in the church; I saw the empty chairs. What, were you outside?”
Steve nodded. “Mike wouldn’t go in, so we stood outside the entire time. We even went to Holy Cross for the internment, you know, for Charlie. Ah, we didn’t see you there.”
“No,” Olsen glanced down at his desk, “I went to the National for the Collins internment.” He paused and looked up at Steve. “Why didn’t you and Mike come into the church?”
“Well, that’s one of the things I want to talk to you about.”
Olsen sat back and folded his arms.
“Rudy, I’m not sure I know what’s going on with him, but I have a feeling it goes back to that little incident we had in the hospital. I’m thinking he still feels he’s responsible for Charlie dying that day.”
“The keys,” said Olsen, nodding slowly.
Steve leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees. “Yeah, those damn keys.”
Olsen sighed. “I was afraid of that. Survivor’s guilt. I’ve seen it before, especially during the war. Look, Steve, do you think it might be a good idea to have Lenny make a visit – “
Steve sat back quickly and almost laughed. “Ah, no, that’s not a good idea, not right now.”
Olsen smiled in spite of himself. “Okay, then how about you talk to Lenny, see if there’s anything you could do, or say, that might help Mike get through this. I’m positive Lenny’s had to deal with something like this before; he may have some ideas.”
“That I can do – but putting Lenny in a room with Mike right now, not gonna happen,” Steve said with a chuckle. “Anyway, I just wanted to keep you in the loop about Mike. Physically, he’s doing great. I still can’t believe it.” He shook his head in awe. “He’s having a bit of a set-back today because of yesterday, but I made him promise me this morning that he wasn’t to get out of bed in the next two days, except to go to the bathroom.” Steve chucked again. “I told him if I caught him out of bed, I would handcuff his good arm to the bedpost tomorrow morning. I actually got a laugh out of him.”
Olsen laughed and smiled. “You said Mike was ‘one of the things’; what’s the other?”
Steve looked down at the carpet and then up into his superior’s concerned stare. “Jack Elliott.”
“Ah,” said Olsen slowly, his smile disappearing. “What do you want to know?”
Steve told Olsen about the encounter in the Galaxy in the parking garage, and Elliott’s demeanor at the cemetery. “I don’t know how to respond to him, Rudy, and I was hoping you might shed some light on the situation. Mike’s asked me to keep an eye on him, but he’s so angry with Mike, and in turn me, that I can’t even get him to talk to me…civilly.”
Olsen stayed silent for several seconds then leaned forward, putting his forearms on the desk. “Close the door,” he said quietly.
With a concerned look, Steve got up and shut the office door then returned to the chair.
“Steve, I know you’ve heard over the years that Charlie and Jack were the ‘Mike and Steve’ of Robbery, and in many ways they were. But there’s a big difference.
“You and Mike, you have a special bond, everyone knows that – every once in awhile a partnership forms that just seems …pre-destined. I know you always hear that you two are like father and son, but I never bought into that – I know of too many fathers and sons who don’t get along.”
Steve nodded knowingly, even as he couldn’t contain a self-conscious but pleased smile.
“No, you two have something deeper than that, like two sides of the same coin.” Olsen took a beat, as if searching for the right words. “Charlie and Jack were…different. They were close, very close; there’s no denying that. But Jack…well, Jack has a…flaw, a potentially fatal flaw…when it comes to his career.”
Steve’s frown deepened.
Olsen took a deep breath before continuing. “What I’m about to tell you can’t leave this room, Steve; you have to promise me that.”
Steve sat back. “Rudy,” he said carefully, “I don’t know if I can promise that – I don’t keep anything from Mike, you know that.”
Olsen nodded. “You’re right, and it’s not fair to ask you to do that. If you feel you have to tell Mike, then go ahead, but only if you feel he needs to know, you understand?”
At the young man’s nod, Olsen continued. “Jack has a gambling problem. And I’m not talking a Saturday night poker game with the boys and occasionally going to the track to put down a few bets or calling a bookie. I’m talking binge weekends in Vegas and markers totaling about fifty grand.”
Steve leaned back in the chair. “Jesus…” he muttered under his breath.
“It started about two years ago; that’s when we found out about it… Well, Charlie found out about it. I don’t know how and I never asked him, but Charlie tried to handle it himself at first. He kept Jack’s secret and tried to help him out financially; he even took out a second mortgage on his house. Jack was getting threats; it was pretty ugly.
“From what Charlie told me, Jack promised to straighten up and give up gambling and pay off his debts, and he really did it at first. The department knew nothing about it; Jack got his promotion to inspector, he was doing a great job, their partnership was working out wonderfully.”
Olsen took a beat. “And then about two months ago, Charlie came to me. Jack had fallen off the wagon – he was going back to Vegas and he had racked up another $30,000 in debt. Charlie was at the end of his rope; he didn’t know what to do. Maureen had threatened to expose everything if Charlie gave Jack one more cent; Charlie felt his back was to the wall. He didn’t want to rat on his partner, but he didn’t have a choice.
“He gave Jack an ultimatum – quit gambling cold turkey, and Charlie wouldn’t go to the brass. This was about six weeks ago. I talked to Charlie about it not long after that. Jack was promising once again to straighten up and fly right. The last time I talked to Charlie about it, he said Jack seemed to be keeping his word. Charlie had talked to his bank manager and managed to secure a loan for Jack that he could handle; things seemed to be going good.”
Olsen paused, and his expression turned melancholy. “And then last Monday happened. When Charlie died, Jack not only lost a partner, he lost the one person in his life who truly loved him for all his frailties and all his short-comings, the one person who was helping him get his life back on track.”
Steve was staring at the carpet, trying to process all this troubling information.
“Steve,” Olsen continued as the young man’s head came up, “Jack knew about Charlie’s health. Maureen didn’t lie to Mike. Jack knew. But as with the other aspects of his life, he couldn’t accept it. It seemed to be easier for him to deny it; deny the reality that Charlie wasn’t well and that he was going to retire soon. He couldn’t conceive of Charlie not being his partner anymore. He was scared.”
Olsen leaned forward and put his elbows on the desk. “And now Charlie’s gone. I don’t think it comes as a surprise that Jack would try to find a scapegoat for his anger, and he’s chosen Mike, if only for the innocent reason that Mike bent down to pick up Charlie’s keys. And for some reason, that makes Mike responsible, makes him the bad guy in Jack’s mind.”
Olsen sat back and let the silence lengthen as Steve mulled over what he had just learned. Eventually the younger man looked up. “Rudy, do you think Jack’s capable of…? I mean, I know he hasn’t done anything as of yet to justify taking his service revolver from him…but…”
Olsen nodded gravely. “Believe me, those thoughts have been going through my head as well, but I think we might be jumping to the wrong conclusions here. Look, why don’t you track him down, try to have a talk with him and see where things stand, and we’ll make a decision after that. How does that sound? Besides, he can’t get to Mike right now, can he? Mike’s at your place, right? I don’t think Jack even knows that.”
Steve straightened up in the chair and glanced at his watch. “Speaking of Mike, I should get back there. He better be hungry when I get home or I’m gonna force-feed him.” His tone, though playful, was laced with real concern.
Olsen stood as Steve did. “Give him my best, will ya, and tell him I’ll be around to see him soon.”
“I will.” Steve reached across the desk and shook Olsen’s hand. “Thanks, Rudy. You’ve given me a lot to think over. I’ll call around a little later and see if I can locate Jack, try to talk to him tomorrow.”
# # # # #
Though he felt almost foolish doing so, Steve scanned the street for any unusual cars as he parked the Porsche in front of his apartment and got out. He wished he knew what kind of car Jack owned.
He made a quick phone call before taking the stairs to the second floor. Walking into the bedroom, he was pleasantly surprised to see Mike wide awake and partially sitting up. He grinned and was just about to speak when Mike beat him to it.
“Hi yourself,” Steve chuckled as he crossed to the bed. “How do you feel?”
“Tired,” Mike admitted, “but better than last night. Yesterday took everything out of me.”
“I’m not surprised. It was a hell of a long day.”
Mike nodded. “Thank you…for yesterday.”
“For what?” Steve chuckled, hoping to keep the mood light. “All I did was get you dressed and into the car; it’s not rocket science.”
Mike rolled his eyes and smiled sardonically. It felt like they were whistling past the graveyard, but it was something they both needed to do at the moment.
Steve sat on the edge of the bed. “So, now that you’re back in the land of the semi-conscious, are you the least bit hungry? It’s been over twenty-four hours, you know.”
Mike nodded wryly. “Yeah, I’m quite aware of that. As a matter of fact, I could chew my way through the hide of an elephant right now, I think.”
Steve grinned. “Oh, that’s a good one, I’ll have to remember that. But, try as you might, I’m still ahead of you.” At Mike’s confused stare, he continued, “I phoned for a pizza a few minutes ago. Large, all dressed, anchovies on one half – should be here in a little over half an hour. Think you can wait that long?” he finished with a laugh.
Mike wagged his right forefinger at him and chuckled carefully. “You think you’re so smart…”
Steve slapped him on the leg and stood up. “I’ll go put on a pot of coffee.”
As he got to the door, he heard Mike call his name and he turned. The smile was gone and Mike’s expression was serious and concerned. “What’s going on between you and Jack?”