Keys

Chapter 16

Mike eyes were alight with a passion Steve hadn’t seen in awhile. He opened the file and handed it to his partner. “If you have some time, I’d like to go over it with you.”

Steve’s smirk with laced with affection. “If I have some time,” he croaked sarcastically as Mike chuckled. “I tell you what,” he began as he stood up, “you haven’t eaten right?”

Mike shook his head.

“Why don’t I put some soup on for us and brew a fresh pot of coffee – ‘cause for some reason I think it’s gonna be a long night – and then I’ll let you take me through it.”

Mike nodded with a smile. “Sounds good.” He sat back with the file in his lap.

With a final grin, Steve retreated to the kitchen.

Twenty minutes later, with two bowls of soup on a serving tray, Steve returned to the living room. “Dinner’s ready…” he began loudly, then let his voice trailed off when he saw his partner.

The file was still in his lap, but Mike’s head had fallen back against the couch and his eyes were closed; he was sound asleep. Steve quietly put the tray on the coffee table then quickly mounted the stairs to the second floor, where he retrieved a blanket and two pillows.

Getting his groggy companion into a supine position on the couch was remarkably easy. Steve took Mike’s bowl of soup back to the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee and returned to the living room. Taking turns sipping both his soup and his coffee, Steve spread the file out before him on the coffee table and set to work.

# # # # #

Mike floated up to consciousness slowly; his brain, trying to focus his thoughts, clashing with his body, that just wanted to remain dormant. When he finally got his eyes open, he realized he was still dressed and lying on the couch in Steve’s living room.

It took several seconds for the memory of the previous day’s activities to resurface. He squinted at a figure across the room then smiled when he recognized Steve poring over the file. The only light on in the room seemed to be the lamp over Steve’s shoulder; Mike had no idea what time it was but it was obviously after dark.

He began to sit up slowly when a sharp pain on the left side of his chest brought him up short. He gasped involuntarily. Steve’s head came up quickly. Frowning, he asked, “Are you okay?”

Covering, Mike nodded and smiled. “Yeah, I just tried to get up too fast.” Attempting to keep his discomfort from showing on his face, Mike smiled as he pushed himself to a sitting position. “What time is it?”

Steve glanced at his watch. “A little after four.”

“You’ve been at that all night?” Mike had noticed the notepad that Steve had laid out in front of him, and the loose pieces of paper, with both of their handwriting, on the table and the floor.

“Yeah. Believe it or not, I can follow your notes.” He looked at his partner with an impressed smile. “I really think you’re onto something.”

Mike’s eyes lit up. “You think so? That’s great.”

“There’s just a couple of things I need you to elaborate on, but I really think I know where you’re going with this.” Steve put the file down. “Look, you haven’t eaten in quite awhile. Why don’t I reheat that soup for you, and while you’re eating I can ask you these questions I have written down?” he suggested, gesturing at the notepad on the table.

Mike nodded. “Sounds good to me.”

“Great.” Steve stood up and crossed to the kitchen.

As soon as Steve left the room, Mike’s smile disappeared, replaced by a grimace as he wrapped his right arm across his chest and caught his breath. He started to cough, pain wracking his entire body. He tried not to cry out.

“Are you okay in there?” Steve called from the kitchen.

“Damn it,” Mike muttered under his breath, trying to breathe in quiet gasps. “Yeah, I’m okay,” he called back, surprising even himself in keeping the hurt out of his voice, “just the ‘waking up coughs’.” He even managed an audible chuckle.

He leaned his head back against the couch and willed himself to breathe normally, and slowly the pain in his chest subsided. By the time Steve returned with the reheated soup and a steaming cup of coffee, he seemed fine.

Steve put the tray on the table in front of Mike and retreated to the armchair. He picked up the file and his notebook. “Wow, I am really impressed,” he said in all seriousness. “What made you go there?” he asked as he gestured at a page in the file.

Mike was sipping the soup slowly and cautiously, because it was hot but also because he didn’t want to move quickly and give himself away. “Well, when I was going through the interviews, I realized that because there were so many people, there was a good chance that no-one’s had the time yet to co-ordinate their stories, let alone corroborate them.”

“Like I said, impressive.” Steve moved to sit beside Mike on the couch. “Okay, so, I see where you’re going with this, but what about that?” He pointed to a notation that Mike had made in the margin of one of the reports.

And for the next hour, Mike led his partner along the path he had taken through the files to reach the conclusion he had come to, a direction that the investigation certainly needed to go.

“Shit,” said Steve when they had finished, “I think this is it.” He sat in silence for several seconds, his partner watching him closely.

Suddenly Steve glanced at his watch, shut the file and stood up. He turned to Mike. “I’m gonna head into the office – I want to present this to the task force as soon as possible. You,” he said quickly, pointing a finger, “are not coming with me. Don’t even ask. You probably don’t even remember, do you?”

Mike’s petulant sneer turned into a look of confusion. “Remember what?”

Steve sighed smugly. “Thought so. You have an appointment with Dr. Peters this afternoon – a check-up. Remember?”

Mike sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Oh, shoot, yeah, I forgot.”

Even though Peters was an Emergency Room doctor, he had asked to be the ‘consulting physician’ for Mike. The carnage of the Bryant Street shooting had rattled a lot of people in The City, and Peters wanted to do whatever he could to remain supportive to a police department that was still reeling from the shock. And as he was aware of the extent of Mike’s injuries, he’d requested that the lieutenant come back to the Emergency Room at Franklin for his follow-up.

“It’s at two o’clock. I’ll get back here around 1:30 to pick you up.”

“You don’t have to; I can take a cab.”

“You’re not –“

“Look, I took a cab all the way to Oakland and back yesterday. I can take a cab to Franklin,” Mike insisted.

Steve thought for a second. It would be good if he didn’t have to leave the office after presenting these findings. “All right, but I want you to get upstairs and into bed. I’ll call you at 1 so you can get yourself ready, and I’ll make sure the cab is here by 1:30. Does that work for you?”

Mike smiled and nodded. “That works for me.”

# # # # #

Steve was standing at the far side of the table; members of the task force were spread around the room, everyone silent and attentive. Behind him, taped to the wall, were enlargements of various photos and notes, some highlighted, others circled.

“So, to condense all this down, and I’ll go into more detail later, one of the old - sorry, pardon me - elderly ladies mentioned that she’d seen three teen-age boys near the corner of Bryant and 6th, just after the shooting. One of them was carrying a basketball.

“No one else mentioned these boys, and they weren’t interviewed.” Steve picked up a piece of paper. “There were two…elderly…” he smiled, “sorry, if I call them old, Mike’ll skin me alive, ladies but only one claimed to have seen them. Mike tracked her down; shes in Highland Hospital in Oakland. She’d taken a fall visiting her daughter a few days ago and broken her hip.

“So, yesterday, Mike went on a ‘field trip’ and visited her. She remembered the three boys and insisted that they were there, that she hadn’t imagined them or seen them somewhere else and thought she saw them at Bryant.”

With a small affectionate smile that only those nearest to him could see, Steve went on. “Mike not only got her to remember the three boys, two black, one white, but also what they were wearing. One of them had on what seemed to be a school t-shirt; and she remembered the colours – blue and white. And they not only were carrying a basketball, but all three were wearing backpacks, that, to this lady at least, seemed to be very full.”

Steve looked around the room. “Any questions so far?”

No questions, but a lot of impressed smiles and nods.

“So,” he continued, “the ball in now in our court. Mike has laid out a path for us to follow, if we care to – he wanted to do it, of course, but I forbade it.” There were chuckles throughout the room.

“I know it’s summer, and the schools are empty, but we need to find out which high schools in the area, primarily here and Oakland for starters, use blue and white as their school colours. We’ll spread further afield if necessary.

“Then we need to get our hands on yearbooks, so we can take them to, ah, Mrs. Vandonigan – that’s the lady in the hospital – and see if she recognizes anyone. Talk to teachers and principals and see if they know of any threesomes – two black, one white – who hang around together and shoot hoops. You guys know the routine… I have lots more details we need to go over, but that’s the gist of it, so, let’s get to work,” Steve finished with a shrug.

Olsen crossed to the table as the task force members rose and mingled and the volume in the room increased. “Wow,” Olsen said, sounding genuinely impressed, “Mike did all that yesterday?”

With raised eyebrows, Steve nodded.

Olsen chuckled. “How’s he doing today?”

“Well, he fell asleep about ten minutes after you and Norm left. Woke up about four this morning, still on my couch. He’s okay.” Steve glanced at his watch. “He’s got a follow-up appointment at Franklin this afternoon and I am going to make sure he gets there.” He started collecting the papers on the table. “I’ll move into his office with all this, is that okay?”

“Sure, sure,” Olsen nodded. “Say, why don’t you head up this part of the investigation – I’ll talk to Marutti – and you keep Mike in the loop, make him feel like he’s still a part of this, okay?”

“Sounds good to me. I hated taking this away from him this morning, but he’s just not up to being a real part of this yet.”

# # # # #

Steve dialed the phone on Mike’s desk, then sat back and waited for the call to connect. “Yes, hello, this is Inspector Keller with the San Francisco Police Department. Is there someone in your office who can help me with a little research?... Thank you, yes, I’ll hold…” He glanced out into the bullpen; everyone else seemed to be on phones as well.

“Ah, yes, thank you. What I’m looking for is a list of high school colours from schools in San Francisco and Alameda counties. Yes, I know the schools are on summer holidays right now,” he said civilly, trying to keep the sarcasm out of his voice, “that’s why I am calling the school board instead of the schools themselves…. Yes… Yes…. By tomorrow? Yes, that would be fine. Yes. Could I have your name please? Mrs. Becker. Thank you, Mrs. Becker, I will call you back tomorrow morning if that’s convenient?... No, ma’am, I would prefer to call you at, let’s say, 10 am?... Yes, thank you very much.” He hung up and sighed loudly. “Bureaucracy…” he muttered to himself.

He glanced at his watch; 3:10. Mike should be on his way home by now. He twisted his neck to relieve the stiffness. He’d been at work since 5 am, getting things ready for the presentation, and he was starting to lose steam.

He reached for the phone to make another call when Taylor stuck his head through the doorway. “Steve, call for you on line three.”

“Thanks.” Steve picked up the receiver and punched the button for the third line. “Inspector Keller, Homicide. How can I help you?”

“Steve, hi, this is Doctor Peters. From Franklin?”

There was moment of startled silence. “Ah, yes, Dr. Peters, hi.”

“Ah, Steve, I just wanted to let you know, we have Mike in here for a check-up and, ah, well, I just want you to know that we’re going to admit him.”

Steve froze; his field of vision narrowed and his heart began to pound. He tried to keep the fear out of his voice. “Um, admit him? Why?”

“Well, he has some fluid in his left lung that’s got me a little worried. We’re running some tests on him, but I’d feel a lot safer if we kept him here for a couple of days. There’s a very good chance he has pneumonia, and with the injury to his lung, it could get very bad very fast if we don’t get a handle on it.”

“Yeah, I see, ah, that sounds, ah, that sounds like a good idea…”

“Listen, Steve, he’s okay.” Peters voice was steady and calming. “We’re going to get him into a room and get him on some medication and oxygen. He’s feeling pretty good right now, and we’re going to try to keep it that way. He’s in good hands and you know it, right?”

“Right.”

“So why don’t you put a bag together for him with pajamas and toiletries and get over here and see him when you can, okay? And don’t worry, he’s gonna be fine; we’re just being cautious.”

“Right, yeah. Um, I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“I’ll tell him. See you soon.”

Still holding the phone in his hand, Steve heard the line disconnect. Then suddenly he slammed the receiver down and snagged his jacket from the back of the chair, shrugging it on as he strode quickly through the bullpen and out the door.

“Steve! Is everything alright?” Healey called to his retreating back, but there was no response.


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