Keys

Chapter 22

Steve slammed the receiver down, turned quickly and headed back to Mike’s ICU cubicle. He approached the bed quietly and stared at his partner for several seconds. “I have to go,” he said softly, “but I’ll be back as soon as I can. I expect to find you awake and talking to me when I do.” He bent over the bed and gave Mike a gentle kiss on the forehead, laying a hand lightly on his chest. “I love you,” he whispered then stepped back and left the room.

# # # # #

“How the hell did he get in there?” Steve demanded as he got out of the car opposite the Annenberg house and slammed the door. Stewart, Coleman and Haseejian jogged over to him, all three looking distraught.

The Annenberg house was now surrounded by a cluster of marked and unmarked police cars, uniformed and plainclothes officers, and enough firepower to start a small war. The SWAT unit was ready and standing by, hovering near their vehicle down the block.

Coleman filled Steve in as they fell into step on their way to the mansion. “The maid and cook had just arrived by bus and entered the house. Jack just walked up the front door and knocked, and they let him in. How he got to the kid, we don’t know, but according to Annenberg senior, who we have on the phone, Jack has the boy in his room with a gun to his head.” Coleman grabbed Steve by the arm to stop him. “He asked for you.”

Steve looked from the house to Stewart. “Do I go in with my weapon or leave it here?” He had seen Mike disarm himself in similar situations; it was always a difficult decision.

“So, you’re okay doing this?” Stewart asked, meeting Steve’s eyes evenly. Steve thought about it for a couple of seconds then nodded forcefully. “I’d say keep it on you, but you might want to take it out of your holster and slip it behind your back.”

Steve nodded again. “So, what are my options?”

“Well, why do you think he’s doing this? What is he thinking?”

“It’s got to be about Charlie,” Steve said quietly, eyes down. Raising his gaze to meet Stewart’s, he continued, “Charlie was a lot more to Jack than just a partner; he really became his father. Jack hasn’t been dealing with it very well. If he thinks this kid killed Charlie… “ Steve let the thought linger.

It was Stewart’s turn to nod. “All right, well, just…just do what you think is right, what you need to do. Our ultimate goal is to get both of them out of there alive, but… well…” He finished with a resigned shrug.

Steve looked back at the house, then started towards it, sliding the .38 out of the holster on his left hip and slipping it inside his belt at the small of his back, under his jacket. With a quick look back towards the street, briefly meeting Haseejian’s worried stare, he crossed the threshold into the house.

# # # # #

Steve moved slowly and quietly down the long hallway. As he passed what seemed to be a library, he saw an older man and woman standing in the centre of the room, the man holding a phone. They stared at him in horror then the man pointed to his right, further along the hallway Steve was in.

Continuing, listening for any sound that would alert him to the direction he needed to go, he eventually made out what sounded like a terrified sob. “Jack?!” he called out.

There was another louder sob, almost a gasp, and Steve followed the sound to a door, slightly ajar, on his right. Steve pushed the door open slowly. It was a large bedroom, obviously belonging to a teenaged boy, replete with rock band posters, a large unmade bed, piles of clothes on the floor, and a drum kit in one corner.

In another corner, out of the line of sight of the window, Jack Elliott sat on the floor with his back to the walls, his left arm around the neck of a petrified dark-haired teenager, his Police Special .38 held to the boy’s right temple.

Annenberg, in pajama bottoms and a white t-shirt, stared at Steve in wide-eyed terror, his skin of his face and arms shiny with sweat. His chest was heaving, his breath coming in gasping sobs.

Elliott’s head was back against the wall, face contorted in grief, tears streaming down his cheeks. He looked highly agitated and out of control.

Without taking his eyes from Elliott’s, Steve stepped carefully into the room then slowly lowered himself to sit cross-legged on the carpet. Seated, his hands folded in front of him, he asked calmly, “So what’s going on here, Jack?”

Elliott snorted, shaking his head. “Steve, I want you to meet Walter Annenberg the Third,” he said derisively, pushing the barrel of his gun harder into the teenager’s temple. Annenberg flinched and tried to stifle a whimper. “Walter,” he said loudly into the young man’s ear, “this is Inspector Steve Keller. He’s a cop like me. And you, you little shit, you shot his partner too.”

Annenberg’s eyes widened, as Steve struggled to keep his expression neutral.

“But Steve’s partner, his name is Mike by the way, he survived your little…attack. That is, until today, right Steve?”

Steve was taken aback by the question, and there was a slight hesitation before he answered, “Jack, he’s fine, Mike’s gonna be fine.”

“But he’s back in the hospital, isn’t he? He has pneumonia, right? That’s where you were just now, wasn’t it? Visiting him. Am I right?”

Steve nodded reluctantly, suddenly furious that somehow Elliott had found out.

Elliott shook his head angrily again. “You see, you little shit, you not only killed my partner, you’re killing his as well.”

“Jack, Mike’s not --!” Steve started sharply but was brought up short when Elliott quickly swung the barrel of the .38 towards him.

No one moved for several seconds then Elliott smiled coldly and brought the gun back to Annenberg’s temple. The teenager closed his eyes, trying not to whimper.

“Well,” Elliott began casually, “I hope Mike makes it, I really do, but, you know, that really doesn’t distract us from the fact that this little piece of scum killed Charlie.” He tapped Annenberg’s head with the barrel of the revolver and the boy flinched, sobbing.

“Then let the courts deal with him, Jack. You know we have him dead to rights, we’re getting a warrant –“

“A warrant,” Jack snorted. “Right, yeah, that’ll do it. Do you know how much money this little shit’s family has, Steve?” he asked facetiously. “They could buy and sell us in a heartbeat. Do you really think his parents are going let their little darling here go to prison for something as, oh I don’t know, as petty as killing a cop or two?”

Steve was becoming ever more alarmed as Elliott seemed to be winding himself up; he was getting too worked up to allow this back-and-forth to go on forever. Steve figured it was time to play his trump card. “Jack,” he began slowly, “do you really think this is the way Charlie would want you to play this? Judge, jury…. executioner?”

Elliott snorted again. “Charlie? What do you know about Charlie?” Elliott’s face crumbled and the tears began to flow harder. Steve let the silence lengthen. “Charlie was more to me than just a partner,” Elliott continued quietly. “He was the one person, the only person I could count on in this miserable life.” His stare was down, unfocused.

Steve sat up a little straighter, sensing a possible breakthrough. “He believed in you, didn’t he?” he asked softly, and watched as Elliott nodded slightly, almost absent-mindedly. “He loved you.” Another nod. “Then don’t do this to him, Jack. Don’t destroy his legacy by doing something that you know with all your heart he wouldn’t want you to do.”

Elliott’s head came up quickly. “Legacy?” he snorted. “What the hell are you talking about? I was never Charlie’s ‘legacy’. I was his handicap. I was the one he should have been proud of and all I did was make his life a living hell.” Elliott’s voice had dropped to a whisper and the barrel of the gun lowered slightly.

Steve saw Annenberg’s eyes staring at the gun barrel and he thought he could see the teenager begin to weigh the odds of turning the tables on Elliott. Steve’s shifted slightly, just enough to catch Annenberg’s attention, and the cop’s slightly widened eyes and unswerving stare quickly convinced the young man to abandon any idea of trying to get the upper hand.

Steve shifted his attention back to Elliott. “But that didn’t stop him from loving you, did it?” Elliott didn’t react. “Jack, you know that, right?” There was a reluctant nod. Steve took a calming breath; maybe he was actually making headway here. He was just about to reach out toward Elliott and ask for the gun when Annenberg slammed his elbow into Elliott’s ribs and tried to pull away.

Instantaneously, all of Elliott’s cop instincts kicked in and he wrestled the younger man back under control before Steve could react. An uneasy silence filled the room, Annenberg and Elliott gasping for breath. Steve closed his eyes in frustration; he knew now that any chance for a peaceful resolution had disappeared.

Elliott drilled the gun barrel into the side of Annenberg’s head once again then turned to Steve. The grin that appeared was cold and mirthless; Elliott had given up. “You keep talking about Charlie,” he said flatly, then snorted. “Police interrogation technique 101. Nice try, Steve. But you know, there’s nothing I can do to make Charlie proud of me. He tried, but he couldn’t help me. Nobody can. You know what I did after he died? I’m sure you do, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. I went back to Vegas. Yeah, even after I promised him I would never do that again. Charlie dies, and I go back to Vegas.” He paused, laughing icily. “And I really outdid myself that time. I was there for less than 24 hours, and I came home over thirty thousand dollars in debt.” He stared into Steve’s eyes, his own sadly dead.

Elliott tightened his grip around Annenberg’s neck, making the teenager stiffen in fear, then he lowered his eyes, and the gun, to his lap. Nobody moved.

Elliott lifted his head to look at Steve. “I couldn’t do anything for Charlie when he was alive,” he said wistfully, “but I can do this for him now.” He raised the gun and pulled the trigger.

“Jack no!!!”

The roar of the .38 in the enclosed room was overpowering.


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