An overnight bag in his hand, Steve Keller jogged through the sliding doors of the Emergency entrance of Franklin Hospital and up the counter. “Hi,” he said in a rush, “could you tell me what room Lieutenant Michael Stone is in, please?”
“Oh, Lieutenant Stone,” the middle-aged nurse smiled at him. “Dr. Peters told me you’d be coming…Inspector Keller?” Steve nodded quickly. “Yes, the Lieutenant is upstairs, Room 515. I’ll have Dr. Peters meet you there.” She reached for the phone on the counter.
“Thanks.” Steve headed for the elevators. As he started down the hall on the fifth floor, he could see Peters waiting for him near an open door. The doctor held out his hand as Steve approached.
“Steve, good to see you, but I wish it was under better circumstances,” he said quietly as they shook hands. “We’ve got him on oxygen, fluids and some pretty powerful antibiotics, so now it’s just wait and see. He’s feeling pretty good right now, but I have a feeling he’s going to get worse before he gets better, so be prepared for that, okay? I told him you were coming.” He took a step back so Steve could enter the room. “He’s pretty tired of seeing me, so I’ll leave you two alone,” he chuckled then moved off down the corridor.
Steve stepped into the room and stopped. With the bed slightly raised, Mike was lying back against several pillows, eyes closed. An oxygen mask covered the lower half of his face, and an IV line was taped to his right forearm. As Steve slowly approached the bed, Mike’s eyes fluttered open and he smiled.
“See, I told you I didn’t want to come here – every time I do they make me stay,” he chuckled, his voice muffled but audible under the mask.
Steve smiled back, shaking his head, not quite successful in keeping the worry from his eyes. He held up the overnight bag. “I brought your pajamas and some other stuff.”
“Thanks. I hope I’m not here that long,” Mike said with smile but Steve could tell he was worried as well.
Steve dropped the bag on the floor and pulled a chair closer to the bed. “How are you feeling?”
Looking away and closing his eyes momentarily, Mike took a tentative deep breath. “Not so good,” he said reluctantly, “it really hurts to breathe.”
“I bet it does,” Steve said sympathetically, putting a hand on Mike’s arm and squeezing. They stared at each other in silence for a few seconds. “At least you’re here, where they can help you. Peters won’t be happy until he sees you walk out of here, I can tell you that.”
“He’s been great,” Mike agreed. “Oh, ah, what happened at the office? Did you make your little presentation?” he asked, trying to change the subject.
“Yeah, it went very well. Everyone thinks you’re really on to something – I have guys out right now trying to track down yearbooks, teachers, you know – all the stuff you wanted. There’s a lot of work to do but we’ll get it done.”
Mike nodded, smiling. “It might turn out to be a red herring, but you never know, right?” He frowned as he stared closer at his young partner. “You haven’t slept, have you?”
With a self-conscious smile, Steve shook his head.
“You know what’s the best thing you could do for me right now? Go home, get some sleep, and then go into the office tomorrow morning and get back to work.” When Steve opened his mouth to protest, Mike cut him off. “Steve, I don’t want you sitting here for the next couple of days watching me sleep. It won’t do either of us any good.” Mike paused, closing his eyes as he attempted to control the discomfort in his chest.
Steve waited, concern furrowing his brow. Mike eventually opened his eyes and looked at him again. “Please. The best thing you can do for me is catch those guys.”
Steve thought it over for a long beat then nodded. “Alright, but I’m gonna stay for awhile now. Maybe we can have something to eat together, is that okay?”
“Hospital food?” Mike asked in dismay. “Are you serious?”
Steve chuckled. “I think Peters’ll allow me to bring something in for you; he’s pretty good about that kinda stuff. Want me to ask him?”
“Yeah, I’d like that,” Mike said quietly, his voice laced with affection.
Patting Mike’s arm comfortingly, Steve got up and headed back out into the corridor. Mike put his head back on the pillows and closed his eyes, smiling fondly.
# # # # #
A slightly more rested Steve Keller was taking the elevator up from the parking garage in the Bryant Street building. He’d gotten home from the hospital the previous evening at a decent hour, and crashed almost immediately. He had thought of sleeping in his own bed, but changed his mind – until Mike was healthy and back in his own home, that bed was his, so Steve hunkered down on his couch instead.
He had decided that the only person he was going to tell about Mike being re-admitted to Franklin was Olsen; everyone else needed to concentrate on the investigation without this worrisome distraction.
He turned the corner into the corridor for Olsen’s office. Up ahead, he saw a door open, and Olsen and Elliott stepped into the hallway and headed away from him. Suddenly unable to control his pent-up emotions, Steve sprinted down the corridor to behind Elliott, spun him around by the shoulder, grabbed his jacket lapels and slammed him against the wall.
“Was that you knocking on my door looking for Mike?!” he hissed into Elliott’s face before Olsen could even get a restraining hand on him.
Elliott shook his head furiously. “No, no, I wasn’t … it’s not what you think,” he got out quickly, as Olsen grabbed Steve’s arm to pull him away.
“Steve!” the captain growled loudly into his ear. “Let go of him. Now!”
Without taking his unblinking stare from Elliott, Steve slowly opened his fists and released Elliot’s jacket. Olsen took Steve’s by the elbow. “Both of you, in my office, move!” he ordered.
In tense silence, the three men covered the short distance back to Olsen’s office and went in, Olsen at the rear, allowing the two inspectors to cross to the chairs and sit. With deliberate formality, Olsen closed the door then rounded his desk to sit heavily and face his young charges.
He pointed at Steve. “You, keep quiet.” His finger went towards Elliott. “You, explain to him what you just told me.”
Elliott, who had been staring at the floor, cleared his throat and looked up at Steve. “Yes, that was me at your place, but I wasn’t there to do … God, I’m not really sure what you thought I was going to do. Look, the other day, when we were here, and you tore strips off me because I blamed Mike for Charlie…” Elliott paused and took a deep breath.
“What you said, well, I really heard what you were saying for the first time. I left here and sat in my car for over an hour, thinking about what you said.” He looked down and smiled slightly, shaking his head. “I like Mike. I’ve always liked him. He’s been more than fair with me over the years and I know how close he and Charlie were. And I realized I was being unfair to him. What he did didn’t kill Charlie…”
Elliott looked back up at Steve, whose uncompromising stare was beginning to soften. “I knew Mike was staying at your place. I didn’t know if you’d told him how I felt, but all I knew was that I had to talk to him, to apologize, to let him know I was glad he was going to be okay.”
“Then how come my neighbour said you were so rude to her? It sounded like you were very angry.”
Elliott snorted with a small laugh. “I was rude to her? I was pounding on the door because I had used your bell and knocked but no one was answering. I knew Mike was there and I thought maybe something had happened to him.”
Steve and Olsen exchanged slight smiles. “Ah, Mike was in Oakland.”
“Oakland? What the hell was he doing there?”
Steve shrugged. “Long story.”
After a slight pause, Elliott continued. “Well, when I started to pound on your door, all of a sudden this old lady opens her door and starts yelling at me – in language that would make a sailor blush.”
Olsen wide-eyed stare travelled from Elliott to Steve, who dropped his head into a hand and tried to stifle a laugh. “I’d forgotten about that,” he said almost to himself, then looked up at Olsen. “When I first moved in, good old Mrs. Neidermaier really didn’t take to me. She made a point of letting me know when I was leaving too early in the morning or coming home too late at night, and in fairly colourful language. She finally got used to me – and I her – and now we get along great, but in the beginning…” He shook his head and chuckled.
Elliott smiled. “Anyway, she was such a pain that I finally just left.” He stared at Steve evenly. “Look, Steve, I’m sorry if I upset you. I was mad and I wanted to blame someone for what happened to Charlie, and Mike was just an easy target because he wasn’t around to defend himself. I was wrong, and I hope you’ll accept my apology.”
Steve at him blankly for several long seconds, trying to weigh Elliott’s words, his sincerity. He glanced briefly at Olsen before leaning toward Elliott slightly. “Mike came up with a pretty intriguing lead for us and I’m taking point on it. We could use your help.”
It took Elliott several seconds to realize his apology had been accepted. He smiled broadly and nodded. “I would love that,” he said almost breathlessly, glancing happily at Olsen, who smiled back.
Steve nodded kindly. “Why don’t you head over to the task force office? I’ll be there shortly and I’ll fill you in. I just need to talk to Rudy for a couple of minutes, okay?”
“Sure, sure.” Elliott got to his feet and, looking happier than he had in days, and with a grateful nod to Olsen, left the room.
Olsen sank back in his office chair and smiled at the young homicide inspector. “Well, that went better than I thought,” he chuckled.
“Yeah, well, ‘there but for the grace’, right?” Steve shrugged. “Ah, Rudy, I just wanted to let you know, Mike’s back in the hospital.”
“What?” Olsen leaned forward, brow furrowed in alarm. “What happened?”
“He has pneumonia. They caught it when he went in for that check-up yesterday. They admitted him. I saw him last night; he’s tired and in pain but he’s in the best place he could be right now. And he made me promise I would continue with the task force, so, let’s keep this to ourselves for now, okay? He doesn’t want anybody to fuss, you know him.”
Olsen nodded in agreement. “Well, okay, but you’ll keep me up to date if there are any changes.”
“Of course, of course.” Steve got up. “Look, I’ve got to get to work. Mike’s orders,” he chuckled. He gestured vaguely towards the other chair. “Thanks for, ah, this… It’s nice to have the air cleared.”
Olsen nodded again. “That’s what I’m here for,” he chuckled.
# # # # #
The task force office was bustling and loud, so Steve decided to retreat to Mike’s office to make some phone calls. He had just sat down at the desk and opened his notebook when Inspector Simon Panetta, John Burkhardt’s partner in Missing Persons and task force member, strode quickly to the office door and leaned in.
“Steve, thought you’d like to know – we just fielded a call from an Oakland detective. Seems they’ve got a CI over there who came in this morning with a story about some kids gunning down some cops to get into a gang.”