Keys

Chapter 18

Doctor Peters stood in the doorway, listening to his patient struggle to breathe. Closing his eyes in despair, he mentally shook himself and tried to put on a more positive face, moving closer to the bed. “Hey, Mike, how are you doing?” He knew it had been a long, difficult night for the injured detective.

Mike eyes shifted to meet the doctor’s. He coughed carefully, wincing and catching his breath. “Not so good,” he said quietly, pain registering on his face.

“We’re going to increase your pain meds, see if it’ll help. It’ll probably put you to sleep, but that might be a good thing.” He smiled encouragingly.

Mike nodded. “Listen, doc, I need you to do me a favour. I’m not going to ask this lightly.”

“All right,” Peters said warily.

“It’s really important right now that Steve concentrates on what he’s doing … the investigation. He doesn’t need to be distracted, by anything. Including me.”

Peters shifted uncomfortably, realizing where the conversation was going.

“I want you to promise me,” Mike continued slowly and carefully, fighting the pain in his chest, “that no matter how bad I get, you won’t tell him. At least not until his job is done.” Mike stared into Peters eyes. “I need you to promise me, please.”

The doctor looked away, took a deep breath, and then looked back, meeting Mike’s eyes evenly. “It’s against my better judgment, but… I will respect your wishes, Mike, as much as I disagree with them.” As Mike continued to stare, Peters sighed again and raised his right hand. “I promise.”

Mike smiled, and visible relaxed. “Thank you. That means more than you can know.”

# # # # #

“Captain Stewart, this is Inspector Keller, SFPD. I hear you have someone over there we should listen to.” Steve was on the phone in Mike’s office.

“Good to talk to you, Inspector. Well, we think we might have something here for you. One of our guys has a CI, someone he trusts completely, who got in touch with him this morning, told him about this vibe on the street about some kids who claim they off’ed some cops as some sort of gang initiation.

“Now, everybody knows about what’s going on over there; hell, the whole world knows and we’ve been giving your boys assistance with the investigation. But this kinda came out of the blue. The CI thought at first it was just braggadocio; you know, some kids staking a claim when no one else has, but then we heard it from another source and we began to give it some credence.”

“Does he know who these kids supposedly are?” Steve asked, furiously making notes.

“No, not at all, but he does know they’re local.”

“Local? You mean, Oakland local?”

“Yeah. Does that change things for you?”

“Sure does. Listen, off the top of your head, do you know any Oakland high schools that use blue and white as their colours?”

“Hmm,” Stewart thought audibly, “the only one I can think of right now is Oakland High.”

“Oakland High,” Steve muttered, writing it down. “Listen, Captain, we have some theories we would like to share with your guys. I’d like to go over there with some members of our task force and talk to your guys one-on-one. Is that okay with you?”

“By all means.”

“Great. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”

# # # # #

“Okay, so remember, guys, we’re gonna be on their turf, so they have the lead on this. Even though the crime occurred in our town, if it turns out the shooters are from over here, different county, different jurisdiction.”

The three other men in the car nodded. Steve looked across the front seat at Inspector Taylor, who was driving, then glanced at his watch again. The movement wasn’t lost on Jack Elliott, who was in the back seat alongside Simon Panetta.

Elliott leaned forward slightly. “Anything wrong? You seem to be checking your watch a lot.”

Steve started slightly, embarrassed at being caught out. He hadn’t had time to call the hospital that morning and, though he hadn’t heard from Peters, he couldn’t shake the feeling that all was not right. He cleared his throat. “No, I’m, ah, just anxious to get there and see if this CI’s story holds water. It could just be the break we need.”

Unconvinced, but nodding understandingly, Elliott sat back. “Here’s hoping.”

# # # # #

Eight San Francisco police officers entered the Homicide bullpen of the Oakland Police Department. A grey-haired veteran plainsclothesman detached himself from a group of detectives and approached the newcomers. “I’m Captain Stewart. Which one of you guys is Keller?”

Steve stepped forward, holding out his hand. “That would be me. Captain.” They shook hands then Steve gestured behind himself at the others. “Lieutenant John Yu, Sergeants Norm Haseejian and Dan Healey, Inspectors Jack Elliott, Simon Panetta, Bill Tanner and Ryan Taylor.” As Steve introduced each one, they acknowledged their presence.

“Welcome, guys,” said Stewart earnestly. With a chuckle, he added, “My guys’ll introduce themselves as necessary. Too many new names to process.”

“Fair enough.”

“Listen, guys,” Stewart said gently, “before we get started here, we just want to let you know how devastated we all were by what you guys went through… and are still going through, no doubt. And we’re assuming all of you were impacted in some way by what happened.”

“Some of us more then others,” Haseejian said with a nod towards Yu.

As Stewart and the other Oakland cops looked in his direction, Yu shrugged. “I got hit,” he said simply, trying to downplay it.


“Shit, seriously?” said Stewart with awe in his voice.

Yu shrugged modestly. “I was at the back of the group. I got hit in the left arm. I was released the same day… I was the luckiest one,” he finished quietly.

Stewart nodded sympathetically, then turned to the others. When no-one said anything immediately, Steve jumped in. “Simon’s partner was hit in the right shoulder; he’s recovering at home right now. My partner was hit in the chest. Jack’s partner Charlie, he didn’t make it.”

Stewart took at step towards Elliott and held out his hand. “I’m really sorry, Jack. I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

Elliott shook the captain’s hand warmly, appreciating the empathy. “Thanks. Charlie was an amazing partner, and friend.”

Stewart nodded encouragingly, then turned to Steve. “Your partner’s Mike Stone, right?” At Steve’s nod, he continued. “I’ve met him a couple of times over the years. He’s a great guy. How’s he doing?”

Steve smiled. “He’s doing, ah, he’s doing great,” he said, his smile briefly disappearing.

Haseejian, standing slightly behind his colleague, turned sharply in his direction, concern furrowing his brow. Elliott, who also noticed Steve’s hesitation, thought nothing of it until he noticed Haseejian’s reaction.

“Listen,” Steve continued, “we’d really like to get going on this…”

“Sure, sure,” said Stewart quickly, and began to usher the visiting detectives toward another room.

Elliott held back, putting a hand on Haseejian’s forearm to get his attention. When the Armenian detective looked him, Elliott nodded over his shoulder and the two detached themselves from the group.

“Is everything okay with Mike?” Elliott asked.

“What do you mean?” Haseejian whispered.

“Well, I saw you react when Steve hesitated about how Mike was doing. He’s never done that before. And on the way over here in the car, he seemed preoccupied and he kept looking at his watch. Is there something going on that we don’t know about?”

Haseejian looked at him closely. “I have no idea.”

“Well, you’re closer to him than anyone else I know other than Mike. Why don’t you ask him straight out?”

Haseejian nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, maybe I will. Thanks for the heads-up, kid.”

The two detectives caught up with the others.

# # # # #

Captain Stewart was standing at the far end of a large office, addressing both his own detectives and the SFPD invitees. “Speed is of the essence right now, guys – the sooner we can put names to faces, the less chance we have of someone getting word of this and we lose our edge.” He nodded towards the guests. “I’m gonna pair each one of you up with one of our ‘Frisco friends,” he grinned, as his own team chuckled and the San Francisco detectives smiled sardonically, “and then we’ll get to work.”

When he had finished the briefing, he turned to Steve and shrugged. “Sorry, I just couldn’t resist,” he said with a chuckle.

“It’s a good thing Mike isn’t here,” Steve returned with a smile, “or he’d have your head on a platter. I’ve seen him demote people for less.”

Stewart laughed. “Come on, I’ve got a detective for you to meet.” He led Steve down a corridor and into another office where a middle-aged blond body builder was sitting at a table, a stack of files in front of him.

The blond stood as Steve and Stewart entered the room, extending a hand. “Inspector Keller, I’m Sergeant Petrovich. I think I might have something very interesting for you.”

Steve shook his hand, warming up instantly to the slightly older man. “Petrovich. Serbian?” Steve asked tentatively.

The Oakland detective’s eyes lit up. “Yeah! How did you know that?”

Steve chuckled. “My partner’s Serbian. He’s very proud of his heritage – and I’ve heard all about it over the years.”

“Yeah? What’s his name?”

“Well, it’s Stone now, but I think, when his dad emigrated years ago, the family name was Stonzic. It was anglicized at Ellis Island, if I remember correctly.”

Petrovich’s smile turned serious. “Your partner was shot in that ambush a couple of weeks ago, right?”

Steve nodded.

“How’s he doing?”

Steve hesitated, not wanting to lie but not willing to tell the truth. “He’s, ah, he’s still got some issues, but he’s doing okay. We’re hoping to get him back to work soon.”

“That’s great,” said Petrovich with touching sincerity. “Anyway,” he continued, changing the subject, “you’re here to talk about my CI, right?”

Steve nodded, taking a seat at the table. “We’ve had nothing to work on, no leads, no physical evidence, nothing. It’s been incredibly frustrating.”

“I bet. Well, to be perfectly honest, when, ah, let’s call him John, got ahold of me this morning, I didn’t believe him. It just seemed too far-fetched. But it sounded intriguing enough to pursue it even to an illogical conclusion.” He took a deep breath. “But, unfortunately, one of my colleagues came to me with a similar story, from one of his CI’s. From one guy, maybe you ignore it; from two, you gotta look into it.”

Steve put the file he had been holding on the table between them.

“This is what we have right now. It’s just a theory at the moment, but I think it’s one we need to pursue, and from what you’ve just told me, I really think it’s the only way we should go until we hit a dead end.”

For the next hour, Steve and Petrovich went over everything in the file, everything that Mike had alerted them to, everything that both the San Francisco and Oakland detectives had managed to compile in the few short hours since the investigation had turned in this direction.

Petrovich sat back in his chair, an appreciative smile on his face. “And you said your partner figured this out? The partner that was shot in the chest?”

Steve nodded with a smile and raised eyebrows. “Did I mention his nickname is Iron Mike?”

“Well earned, from the looks of it.”

“Yeah, well, he hates it,” Steve smiled affectionately, then sobered slightly remembering the struggle his partner was still enduring.

There was a knock on the door and Stewart entered. “Just to get you two up to date, we’ve gotten in touch with the principal of Oakland High, and he’s on his way into the school, along with the vice principal and the office secretary. We figured if anyone there knows what’s going on with the kids, those three will be the ones to know. We’ve already gotten our hands on the last three Oakland High yearbooks and Baker and, ah, Hah-see-gian,” he said carefully, sounding it out, “are going over to see that old lady,” Steve winced, “and see if she recognizes anyone.” Stewart grinned. “So, good start?”

Steve smiled appreciatively. After two disappointing weeks, it was satisfying to see something starting to happen. He glanced at his watch. It wasn’t even noon and already they had covered more ground than he could have imagined.

# # # # #

Doctor Peters stood quietly over his patient, frustration and despair warring for his full attention. Sadly, he took a deep breath, and turned to leave the room. With a heavy step, he approached the nurse’s station.

“Karen, please call down to ICU. Tell them I need to move a patient down there stat.” He looked down at the phone then back at the room he had just left. “Damn it,” he swore under his breath.


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