Keys

Chapter 26

Steve woke early on his second morning sleeping on the cot in the hospital room. He glanced over at the bed, pleased to see Mike was still asleep then silently slipped on his shirt, pants and shoes and left the room.

He was surprised to see Norm Haseejian sitting on a chair outside the door, arms folded, head down, gently snoring. He shook the sleeping detective’s shoulder and, with a snort, Haseejian’s head came up quickly.

“Norm, what are you doing here?” Steve asked, keeping his voice low.

Haseejian looked around as if he was trying to get his bearings. “Oh, ah,” he cleared his throat, “we wanted to make sure you guys weren’t disturbed.”

“Disturbed? By what?”

Haseejian looked around again, this time with more chagrin than confusion.

“Norm, what’s going on?”

“Look,” Haseejian grabbed Steve’s sleeve and tugged him closer, whispering, “some things have happened in the past 24 hours we haven’t told you about.” He sighed. “Do you have time to talk?”

Steve pulled away slightly, brow furrowed in concern. “Mike’s still asleep. I was just on my way to the cafeteria to get some coffee. Let’s go.”

# # # # #

The two men were on either side of the small table, hands around their warm mugs.

“They took the place apart, Steve. Everything – the house, outbuildings, cars, the yard itself. Nothing. No M29’s. There were other guns, of course, but they were all checked out; the family has all the paperwork. But no sign whatsoever of the .44’s and no indication that there were ever any .44’s in the house.”

“But there’s still the I.D.’s from the gunshop staff, right?”

“The Annenberg’s mouthpiece’ll fight it, you know that. Now that they can’t do a line-up, he’ll say that identifying the kid from a high school yearbook photo ain’t kosher and won’t hold up in court. And he’ll get away with it, you know that too.”

“So, what do we do now?”

“Well, you,” Haseejian said pointedly, “aren’t doing anything. Hell, even SFPD can’t do much; this is still very much Oakland’s ballgame.” He leaned back and glanced around the still almost empty cafeteria.

Steve had the nagging suspicion his colleague wasn’t coming completely clean. He continued to stare then leaned forward even more. “What is it, Norm?”

“What? What do you mean?”

“Come on, I know you’re holding something back. Now what is it?”

“Well, you’re gonna find out anyway at some point,” he sighed and leaned over the table. “The Annenberg’s are coming out with all guns blazing, so to speak. They’ve issued a statement that not only did Jack Elliott deliberately assassinate their ‘innocent’ son…but that you condoned and assisted him in doing so.”

Steve froze, not sure he had heard correctly. He sat back slightly and shook his head. “What?”

“Nobody believes that,” Norm continued quickly. “Gerry says it’s the only weapon in their arsenal right now, so they have to use it.” A quick sigh. “Unfortunately, the papers are running with it today, even though they know it’s not true, it is news and they have to run with it.”

“I can’t let Mike see that,” Steve said quietly, almost to himself. “Not now. He doesn’t need anything else on his mind right now.”

Haseejian put a hand on Steve’s forearm. “Look, you let us handle everything out here. A lot of our guys are still over in Oakland helping them out, and Gerry and their ADA, what’s his name? Cavallero. They’re working on the legal stuff. There’s no need for you to get involved, believe me. I probably shouldn’t have even told you…”

“I’m glad you did. I’d rather hear it from a friend.” Steve smiled sadly at his colleague, then dropped his head into his hand and ran his fingers through his hair. “This just gets worse and worse, doesn’t it?”

“Look,’ Haseejian said forcefully, “you take care of yourself and Mike – get him home and healthy. Everyone wants you both back at work, the place ain’t the same withoutcha,” he smiled wryly.

Steve nodded, touched, then cleared his throat and looked down at the table. “Norm, I’ve been almost afraid to ask anybody but… what’s happening with Jack? I mean, funeral arrangements and all that.”

Haseejian leaned back, slumping in the chair, and sighed gloomily. “Well, the department was put in a tough spot, of course, and the brass have decided that they can’t sanction an official funeral. His body has been released to his family. I think they’re going to bury him on Thursday at Holy Cross, near Charlie. I’m not sure about the details, but I can find out for you, if you want.”

Steve nodded, looking at the coffee cup he was turning slowly in his hands.

# # # # #

Steve returned to the hospital room with two cups of coffee in hand, pleased to see Mike awake and alert. The older man pushed himself to a sitting position as Steve crossed to the bed, and smiled warmly. “Good morning. I was wondering where you disappeared to.”

“Just getting us some ‘start-up juice’,” Steve smiled back as he handed over a cup. “You’re looking good and rested.”

Mike nodded as he accepted the cup. “Peters was just in here. They’re letting me out this morning.” He took a sip of coffee, then his brow furrowed. “Why is it that he seems to be the only doctor I see when I’m in here?”

Steve turned away quickly, trying to suppress a smile as he pulled the chair closer and sat down. “I have no idea,” he said, successfully keeping the amusement out of his voice. “You should ask him.”

# # # # #

Thursday morning had dawned grey, cold and rainy. The tan LTD drove through the iron gates of Holy Cross cemetery behind the hearse, two limos and a few other cars, and pulled to a stop alongside the path. A short ways off, through the rain on the car windows, they could see the priest and cemetery attendants waiting amongst a few folding chairs and the casket lowering device.

Steve glanced across the front seat. “You’re staying in the car, right?” It was a statement, not a question.

Mike nodded reluctantly. Steve had been worried that standing out in the cold rain wouldn’t do his partner’s still fragile health any good; Mike had grudgingly agreed.

Steve got out of the car, doing up his black raincoat and turning his collar up. He joined the others at the back of the hearse, whose rear door had been opened. Slipping on a pair of black gloves, he helped slide the coffin out of the hearse.

Mike watched as the eight pallbearers, most of whom he knew as fellow officers, the majority of them partners of those who had been shot in the ambush, slowly carried the shiny mahogany casket to the plot, setting it gently on the lowering device.

Jack Elliott’s parents were huddled, numb and bereft, with their daughter and remaining son, in the first row of chairs. Maureen and Karen Bidwell sat behind the Elliott family. Steve stood with his colleagues, most of them from Homicide and Robbery, all of them bareheaded in the downpour.

The service was mercifully short. The Elliott family stood, each of them taking the time to touch the casket and lay a red rose on its top. A few others, like Maureen Bidwell and her daughter, did the same. Everyone stayed as the casket was lowered into the ground.

People began to drift away. Mike watched as Steve, his head down and hands folded loosely in front, crossed slowly to the open grave and stood stiffly, staring at the casket.

Mike, his heart breaking for his young friend, felt hot tears sting his cheeks, and reached up with a trembling hand to wipe them away.

# # # # #

The drive home from the cemetery was made in silence, each man wrapped in his own thoughts. They climbed the steps slowly, the rain having let up slightly, and shrugged off their wet coats. Steve mounted the stairs to the second floor.

Mike hung up their coats, retrieving something from the pocket of his before he did so. He crossed into the kitchen, and began to fill the percolator with water.

Several minutes later, Steve entered the kitchen, drying his hair with a towel. Arms folded, Mike was leaning against the counter. The percolator was beginning to brew; cups, milk, coffee and spoons stood at the ready.

Steve glanced at his partner as he entered the room and stopped short, puzzled by Mike’s serious, almost angry demeanor. He knew they were both still unsettled by the events of the day, but this seemed to go beyond that.

“What?” he asked, taken aback.

Mike looked at the table and Steve followed his gaze. A newspaper lay there, folded open at a specific article. Steve didn’t have to read it to know what it said: “Second SFPD cop implicated in Annenberg murder”. He looked up to meet Mike’s enraged stare.

“When were you going to tell me?”


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