Keys

Chapter 12

“What’s going on between you and Jack?” Mike asked again when there was no immediate response.

Steve blinked quickly and seemed to shake his head slightly before answering, “Ah, nothing. Why?”

Mike eyed him skeptically. “You were very vague the other day when I asked you if you saw him. You just said he was taking it hard.”

“That’s right,” Steve said carefully.

“So what was yesterday all about?”

To his credit, Steve’s expression didn’t change, but his mind was yelling, ‘You sonofabitch, you saw it!’ “What do you mean?”

“When he looked at you – I saw you take a step back. What was that all about?”

“Oh, that,” Steve tried to sound casual, “it was just a shock when he looked into the crowd and straight at me. I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Uh-hunh,” grunted Mike, sounding unconvinced but deciding to stop the interrogation for the time being. Steve obviously didn’t want to talk about it; he would wait for a more advantageous time.

Steve smiled as he pointed toward the door. “Can I go?” he asked with a chuckle.

Mike nodded slowly, brow furrowed. “Yeah,” he said lightly, with a slight smile. “But could you make it a ginger ale instead of coffee?”

“Sure.” Steve turned and headed down the stairs, his heart pounding, shaking his head.

# # # # #

The pizza box and two glasses, one with ginger ale, the other with beer, were sitting on top of the tray table on the bed; Mike’s plate lay in his lap, Steve held his in one hand.

Steve had managed to scarf down three pieces; Mike only two. But Steve was happy to see his partner finally eat.

Steve had brought Mike up to date on the status of the investigation, as little as there was to tell. The only physical evidence they had were the bullets. There had been twenty-three shots fired; thirteen had hit their targets. They were all forty-four calibre and ballistics had shown they had come from four different guns.

Because of the composition of the lands and grooves, the identification of the guns had been narrowed down to two: a short-barreled Smith & Wesson M29 and/or a short-barreled Ruger Blackhawk. Four guns, two shooters; one shooting high as evidenced by the head shots and one shooting at waist level.

The task force had gone over every case that the eleven officers had been involved with for the past ten years; when that yielded nothing they decided to go back even further.

Everyone in the building at the time had been interviewed; the cordon that had been thrown up around 850 Bryant in the immediate aftermath of the shooting had resulted in thirty-five interviews with people on the streets immediately adjacent. But again, nothing had stood out.

CI’s and snitches had been approached, but there was no word on the street, not even a false claim of responsibility. The frustration level among the task force was very high, and tempers were starting to flare. It was over a week since the carnage and they had gotten nowhere.

“So what are they gonna try next?” Mike asked as he shifted position slightly, and grimaced.

Steve put down his glass and frowned. “Why are you wincing?” he asked. “That’s about the tenth time you’ve done it since we started eating. Is your chest bothering you?”

Trying to downplay it, Mike shook his head. “No, my chest feels fine. It’s my back.”

“What do you mean? Are you stiff from lying down all the time?”

“No, it’s the wound. It’s bothering me a bit.”

Steve started slightly. He’d almost forgotten that there was an exit wound in his partner’s back. He stood up, picked up the tray table and put it on the floor. “Roll onto your right side,” he instructed as he removed some of the pillows Mike was lying against.

Reluctantly, Mike gingerly shifted onto his side. Steve crossed behind him and knelt on the bed. As he pulled the pajama top up, he froze. “Jesus, Mike…”

“What?”

The gauze bandage that was covering the wound was discoloured with blood and a yellowish discharge. Steve tried to keep his voice neutral. “I’m gonna have to change the bandage. They gave me some stuff when we left the hospital. Let me see what we have.” He was trying to recall if he had the phone number of a doctor who would make housecalls; he remembered that Peters had given him his number and he thought he had it in his wallet. Hopefully, though, he wouldn’t need it.

The paper bag of hospital supplies was on the floor beside the bed; Steve picked it up and rifled through it, finding what he needed. He took out some alcoholic wipes and a polyurethane bandage. He exited to the bathroom and washed his hands; with a towel over his shoulder, he returned and got back onto the bed.

“This might hurt a bit; are you ready for it?” he asked.

Surprisingly, he heard Mike chuckle. “It can’t be any worse that what I’ve been through already this past week.”

“Let’s hope,” Steve said lightly as he gently lifted a corner of the surgical tape and eased the gauze off the wound. He tried to keep the concern out of his voice. “It looks a little infected but not too bad.” He dropped the gauze into the garbage can. “I have to clean it; sorry, but it’s gonna hurt.”

“Do I have your permission to chew on a pillow?” Mike asked with a smile.

Steve chuckled in spite of himself. “Go right ahead.” He cleaned the wound as gently as he could, but he still felt Mike stiffen with pain under his touch. “Done,” he said eventually, and was pleased to see the older man relax slightly.

The polyurethane bandage was about the size of a man’s palm; Steve took it out of the packaging and peeled the strips off of the adhesive edges. “Brace yourself; this might hurt a bit.”

Mike took as deep a breath as he could and held it. Steve placed the bandage over the wound and pressed the edges down as gently as possible. Satisfied the dressing was in firmly in place, he sat back. “Done. It should start to feel better soon.”

Mike lifted his head slightly. “Feels better already.”

Steve pulled the pajama top down and slid off the bed. Mike slowly rolled onto his back again, his eyes closed, breath held. When his wound made contact with the pillow, he froze for a second, then relaxed, opened his eyes and looked at his partner. “Wow, that feels a lot better. Thanks.”

Steve smiled. “You’re welcome. Sorry about that – I shouldn’t have forgotten about it.”

“Hey, I almost forgot about it too. Sorry about the teeth marks in the pillow,” he chuckled, then let his head fall back and exhaled loudly.

Steve picked up the tray table from the floor. “I’m gonna clear out and let you get some sleep.” He had just reached the door when Mike stopped him.

“Steve, can you do me a favour tomorrow?”

“Sure, name it?”

“I’m getting pretty bored just lying here, and I know I can’t help you guys out, and I also know it’s against regulations – but, you told me earlier about the interviews the guys conducted with the people outside the Hall? If they’re finished with those files, could you sneak them out and bring ‘em here so I can read through them.”

At Steve’s concerned look, he continued, “Look, I’m not saying I’m gonna find something that someone overlooked. It’s just frustrating not being able to do anything –“

“You don’t have to convince me,” Steve cut him off. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Mike smiled gratefully. “Thanks.” He closed his eyes and settled back against the pillows. As Steve turned to leave the room, he heard Mike mutter, “For everything.”

# # # # #

Steve spent the rest of the evening on the phone, trying to track down Jack Elliott. He spoke to Inspector Meuller in Robbery, probably the person closest to Elliott after Charlie, but he hadn’t seen Elliott since the funeral either. And he had no idea where he would be.

Steve even called Maureen Bidwell, apologizing profusely for disturbing her. She was more than gracious, explaining to Steve that the last time she saw Elliott was when he handed her the flag at the cemetery. She asked about Mike, and Steve was pleased to tell her of the amazing progress his partner was making.

After a few more calls to people that he and Elliott knew mutually, Steve gave up. He knew he would have to let Olsen know what was going on. On a whim, not expecting the captain to be in his office at this late hour, he was surprised when Olsen answered the phone.

“Jeez, Rudy, I didn’t think you’d be there; I was going to leave a message,” Steve began, and he heard his superior chuckle.

“No rest for the wicked, right? What can I do for you, Steve?”

Steve filled Olsen in on his attempts to locate Elliott. “Rudy, I think we both know what needs to be done next, right?”

He could hear Olsen sigh on the other end of the phone. “Yeah, I know.”

“Look, do you know anybody at LVPD? Someone you could ask to do this on the Q.T.?”

“Yeah, there’s a couple of guys over there that owe me one. I’ll see if I can get them to contact the casinos and see if they can locate him, get his ass on a plane back here. If I can’t get ahold of them tonight, I’ll try first thing in the morning and I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks, Rudy. I think this is our best option right now.”

“I agree. Hey, how’s Mike doing? Tell him I say ‘Hi’.”

Steve chuckled. “He’s doing great and yes, I will say ‘Hi.’”

“Finally some good news,” the older man sighed, and Steve could picture his tired face.

“Thanks a lot, Rudy. You go home and get some rest; I’ll see you in the morning, okay?”

“See you in the morning,” Olsen replied and hung up.

Steve looked at the receiver before he put it back on the cradle. Thank god for veterans like Mike and Olsen and even Devitt, guys with years of experience and legions of contacts, on both sides of the law, that they could turn to if and when necessary.

He made a trip to the bathroom to get ready for bed. On the way in, he stepped into the bedroom for a few seconds to check on Mike, who was sleeping deeply and peacefully. Grateful, Steve completed his nightly ablutions then returned to the living room couch and settled in for the night.

# # # # #

Steve woke with a start, not sure what had disturbed him. The wind had picked up and the windows were rattling noisily. It was pitch black outside, obviously still the middle of the night.

He sat up and listened; other than the howling wind, he could hear nothing. Still, something bothered him, so he threw off the sheet and stood up. There was some streetlamp spill coming through the front window and he could make out the shadowy images of his living room furniture.

He made he way to the stairs and started up quietly, still listening, still hearing nothing but the wind. He slowly opened the bedroom door, trying not to make any noise, and paused, then caught his breath in alarm. Laboured, wheezing, rapid breaths were coming from the bed.

Snapping on the light, Steve crossed quickly to the bed then froze in horror. Mike lay back against the pillows, his mouth open, his eyes wide and unfocused. His chest was heaving quickly, his body covered in sweat, his hair wet and matted to his forehead.

“Oh my god, Mike,” Steve exhaled loudly, grabbing the older man’s shoulders, pulling him up slightly. He was startled by the heat radiating from his distressed friend. “Mike! Mike!” Steve shook him, trying unsuccessfully to get a response.

Breathing heavily himself, trying to control his fear, Steve lowered Mike back onto the bed and reached for the phone on the bedside table. Lifting the receiver, he quickly dialed the police hotline number then put the receiver to his ear. “Damn!” He slammed the headset back on the cradle; he’d unplugged the phone days before.

Reluctant to leave the room, but knowing he needed to, Steve ran back down to the living room and picked up the phone there. He checked for a tone before dialing the number again.

“Come on, come on,” he muttered while the line connected and rang.

“San Francisco Emergency Hotline, how can I help -?”

“I need an ambulance sent to –“

“I’m sorry, sir, we have no ambulances available at this time,” the operator cut him off.

There was a beat of stunned silence. “What? What do you mean, there are no ambulances –?“

“I’m sorry, sir, all the ambulances are engaged right now.”

“Wait a minute – what? That can’t be possible.” Steve’s voice dropped to a terrified whisper. “No, this can’t – he’ll die…”

“I’m sorry, sir, but there are no ambulances available at this time. You must get to a hospital on your own, or you could call a taxi, sir –“

Steve slammed the receiver down and sat frozen for several seconds, overwhelmed. Then he was in action. He put on his slippers and grabbed a coat lying nearby, shrugging it on quickly. He strode to the table by the door. “Where are they, where are they…?” he muttered in frustration as his hands flew over the table, lifting and looking under everything, to no avail.

“Are you looking for these?” came a familiar voice from over his shoulder and he spun quickly towards the stairs. Shocked, he took a step backward.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he gasped.

Jack Elliott stood on the first step, a rictus grin on his lips and a manic gleam in his eyes. He was holding up Steve’s car keys.

Steve began to step forward. “I need help with Mike. We have to get him to –“

“Oh, I don’t think so,” Elliott said evenly, cutting him off. He closed his fingers around the keys and suddenly Steve became aware that Elliott’s hand was covered in blood.

With a dread-filled gasp, Steve looked past Elliott up the stairs; the bedroom door was closed. “No, no, no, no,” Steve repeated over and over as he looked slowly back at Elliott, who was casually tossing the keys in his right hand, chuckling quietly to himself.

“Mike!”

# # # # #

Steve shot bolt upright on the couch, bathed in sweat, gasping, dizzy and disoriented. It took several seconds to register where he was, and for the blood pounding in his ears to dissipate enough so his could hear the faint tinkling of a bell.

Getting unsteadily to his feet, holding onto the couch arm for support, he crossed slowly to the stairs. Gaining strength, he mounted the steps as fast as he could, opened the bedroom door and switched on the overhead light.

Squinting in the sudden bright illumination, Mike looked at him with concern and confusion, the bronze bell still in his hand. “Jesus, Steve, are you okay? What was that yelling about?”

Steve stood in the doorway, overwhelmingly relieved, a hand over his mouth. He was still breathing heavily. Slowly, almost sheepishly, he shook his head, “Ah, nothing … bad dream I guess.”

“I guess,” echoed Mike with a slight smile. He pointed at the floor. “You want to come sleep in here?”

Feeling steadier on his feet, Steve crossed to the bed. “Are you okay?” he asked seriously.

Realizing that Steve was truly shaken, Mike nodded. “Yeah, I’m good, I’m fine.” He debated asking Steve what the nightmare was about but decided to wait until the light of day. “How about you?”

Steve smiled warmly, relief softening his features. “I am now.” He turned for the door. “I’ll let you get back to sleep.”

“Thanks. Ah, a little request…?” Steve turned back at the door and met Mike’s eyes with an anticipatory smile. “Next time, please don’t scream out my name at the top of yours lungs – I think you took five years off my life.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Steve chuckled, relaxing more and more by the second. “I’ll see you in the morning,” he said quietly as he turned off the light and closed the door.

He poured himself a small glass of scotch. Trying to stop his hands from shaking, he curled up on the couch in the dark. Sleep would not return easily tonight, if at all.


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