“Come in,” Rudy Olsen yelled after hearing the knock.
Steve Keller opened the door and charged into the room. “Hey, Rudy, have you heard about –“ He stopped short when he saw that his superior officer wasn’t alone. “Oh, ah, sorry, I ah …”
“Steve, I’m glad you’re here. Come in and close the door.”
As Steve turned back to the door to close it, he momentarily shut his eyes in frustration. Taking the other chair, he nodded at Olsen’s guest. “Jack,” he said evenly, “good to see you.”
“Steve,” Elliott acknowledged coolly, looking down and straightening his tie.
“Ah, Steve, Jack here is coming on board with the task force, and I’m hoping that you can get him up to speed with what’s been going on. I’d really like it if you could ‘take him under your wing’, so to speak, and he can work with you on, ah, whatever it is you’re working on,” Olsen finished vaguely.
Steve knew exactly what Olsen meant. He wanted the two inspectors to work together so Steve could keep an eye on Elliott, and he had enough faith in Steve to know that he could put his personal biases aside and do whatever was necessary to keep the grieving Robbery inspector in line.
Glancing briefly at Elliott, Steve nodded. “Of course, great, sure. We can use all the help we can get.” Steve was also well aware of Olsen’s other concern – the possibility, remote as it may be, that the shooting was in some way connected to Elliott’s continuing gambling problems. For the past few days, Steve had been surreptitiously working on the ‘Elliott angle’, as he and Olsen had come to call it. He had uncovered nothing so far, but Elliott’s involvement, whether directly or indirectly, had yet to be ruled out.
“That’s great,” said Olsen, as he reached for a file on his desk. There was another knock on his door and he looked up in irritation. “Come in!”
The door opened and Sergeant Polanski poked his head in. “Rudy, the Chief is asking for you, like right now.” He noticed the other two men in the room. “Oh, hi, Steve, Jack. Hey, Steve, how’s Mike? He must be doing a lot better if you’re spending more time in here,” he said with a warm smile.
Olsen was out from behind his desk in a flash and across the room, grabbing Polanski by the arm and steering him out the door. “I better see what the Chief wants,” he said by way of explanation, propelling Polanski into the corridor and shutting the door behind them both.
Steve looked at Elliott and smiled slightly, clearing his throat. Elliott smiled back but there was no warmth in the look. “How is Mike?” he asked perfunctorily.
“Good, good,” Steve nodded. “He’s still got a ways to go but he’s doing really well. Thanks for asking.”
“That’s good.” Elliott’s voice almost dripped with sarcasm.
Steve took a deep breath, trying to keep his growing anger in check. “Look, Jack, it’s obvious you still think Mike has something to do with Charlie’s death –“
“Something to do with it? He’s got everything to do with it.”
“Oh, what the hell are you talking about? They were both critically injured; both of them could have died. Mike survived because of where he was shot and the fact that he’s in good shape, he’s healthy. Charlie could have survived too, but he had too many other problems –“
“I know you know!” Steve shouted at Elliott, not about to let the other man get the upper hand. “I talked to Rudy, I talked to Maureen Bidwell. They both told me you knew but you wouldn’t accept it. There is nothing Mike, or me, can do about that!” Steve paused and took a deep steadying breath, trying to control his temper.
Staring Elliott straight in the eyes, he began again, quiet and deadly serious. “There is nothing that Mike could have done that would’ve changed what happened. You’re going to have to accept that and move on. Because I’ll be damned if you’re going to get anywhere near him with this crap you’re spouting right now. Do you understand me?”
The silence lengthened between them as neither moved. Then Elliott got up quickly and, without a word, left the room, slamming the door behind him.
Steve sighed loudly and slumped in the chair, running his hands through his hair. A few seconds later, he heard the door open. “Jesus, what the hell happened in here?” grumbled Olsen as he closed the door and crossed behind his desk. “Jack just flew past me in the hallway looking fit to kill. What the hell did you say to him?”
Steve sighed again and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “I guess I didn’t keep my cool, Rudy. Sorry. But I’ll be damned if I let that bastard keep blaming Mike for what happened to Charlie.”
Olsen sank wearily into his chair. “’That bastard’, hunh? Well, so much for trying to get you two to work together right now.” They both snorted mirthlessly. “Do you think he might, ah…?” Olsen gestured vaguely towards the door.
Steve shook his head. “I don’t think so… but he knows where Mike is now, thanks to Polanski.”
“Yeah,” said Olsen with a heavy sigh, shaking his head. “I just tore a strip off of that numbskull.” He chuckled, and Steve joined him.
“Oh god, Rudy, what are we gonna do?” Steve asked wearily.
“Well, I think you should go back to work with the task force, and let me deal with Jack. I’ll let him cool down and then I’ll have another talk with him and we’ll go from there. How does that sound?”
Steve nodded in agreement as he got to his feet. “Sounds good to me.”
Olsen smiled suddenly. “Hey, how is Mike doing anyway?”
Steve chuckled. “Really well, and as of yesterday afternoon, wallowing like a pig in shit.”
“What?!” exclaimed Olsen with a laugh.
“I brought the files of the scene interviews home for him to go through – he was going stir crazy, which is a sure sign he’s getting better – and he’s gone, he’s off, he’s doing the Mike Stone-thing. He barely notices I’m there anymore,” he finished with an affectionate chuckle.
Olsen laughed again. “Well, tell him I said hi.”
# # # # #
The cherry-red ’68 Mustang turned the corner onto Union and parked. The young, dark-haired driver got out and glanced up and down the street, looking for someone or something. Seemingly satisfied, he climbed the stairs to the second level of the blue clapboard building and knocked impatiently on the door.
# # # # #
Steve shut the front door behind him and tossed his keys onto the side table. He glanced at his watch. 5:10. He was home a little earlier tonight.
Halfway up the stairs, he called out, “Found anything yet?” He stepped into the bedroom and froze. The bed was empty. He’d noticed the bathroom door was open, so he knew Mike wasn’t in there. “Mike?”
The blue pajamas were neatly folded up at the foot of the bed, which was still covered with files, notes and the tray table. Steve glanced at the closet, which was slightly open; Mike’s pants, shirt and jacket were gone.
Frowning, he glanced at the bedside table, hoping for a note, but there was nothing there. He checked the papers on the tray table; there was no note there either. He went back downstairs into the kitchen, but other than a dirty coffee cup on the sideboard, nothing was amiss.
He left the apartment and went across to the one next door and knocked. After a few moments, a tiny old lady came to the door, drying her hands on her apron.
“Oh, Steven,” she smiled happily as she opened the door, “are you getting good use out of my bell?”
“Ah, yes, Mrs. Neidermaier, my partner’s still using it. It’s coming in very handy, thanks again.”
“Oh, that’s good.”
“Um, actually, I was wondering if you could tell me, did you see my partner leave my apartment today?”
“Yes, Mike? Remember I told you he was injured in the line of duty a couple of weeks ago –?“
“Oh yes dear, I remember. He was very lucky, wasn’t he?”
“Yes, ma’am. But, do you remember seeing him leave my place sometime this afternoon.”
Mrs. Neidermaier seemed to think about it for a few seconds. “No, I’m afraid not, Steven, but you see, I was out a great deal today, doing some shopping.”
Steve nodded. “That’s okay, Mrs. -“
“But I did see that young man at your door this afternoon.”
“Oh, yes, he was pounding on your front door just before the taxi came to take me shopping. He was making such a racket. I actually came out here and asked him to stop.”
“What did he look like?” Steve asked with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
“Oh, well, he was young like you are, Steven, and he dressed like you do too, with a nice jacket and tie. But he wasn’t at all like you. He was very rude. He ignored me and just went right on pounding on your door. He was a very unpleasant young man.”