Keys

Chapter 29

After the last out, Steve got up and crossed to the radio. The instant he snapped it off, Mike woke with a start, briefly disoriented. His right hand went to the left side of his chest and he took a short sharp breath then shook himself awake. He looked up at Steve a little sheepishly. “I fell asleep.”

Steve chuckled. “You think? Are you okay?”

Mike nodded, sitting up, his right hand still bracing his chest. “Yeah, that always happens when I wake up suddenly. You think I’d be used to it by now.” He snickered dryly. “So, did we win?”

“’Fraid not, five to four.”

“Ah, damn it. They swept the last series. What’s happened since then?” he asked rhetorically. “Well, I better haul myself upstairs and go to bed,” he grinned and got slowly to his feet.

“Not so fast.”

“What?”

Steve sat in the armchair and folded his arms. “There’s the little matter of the newspaper.”

“Ah, yeah, sorry, I almost forgot.” Mike sat back down on the couch, leaning forward with elbows on knees in gleeful anticipation. “Figured it out, did ya?”

Steve’s grin was smug. “I think I did,” he announced with a verbal flourish.

“All right, impress me.” Mike clapped his hands once.

“One of the guys slipped it to you at the funeral, when you were alone in the car.”

Mike’s grin got wider and he sat back, nodding his head appreciatively. “No,” he said as his nod turned into a shake. “Good try, but no.” He stood up and started for the stairs.

Steve leaned forward sharply. “Wait, you’re not going to tell me?”

Mike turned back at the first step. “No,” he said simply and began to climb.

“Wait a minute, you said you’d tell me after the ballgame.”

Mike stopped again. “No, if you remember correctly, you said you’d tell me at the end of the game, but at no time did I say that I’d tell you.”

Steve thought about it for a second. “Oh yeah, you’re right. But you are going to tell me, right?”

Mike looked at him kindly. “No. Not right now, anyway.” He started up the stairs once more. “This is becoming too much fun.” And with a laugh, he disappeared into the bedroom.

Sitting back in the chair, Steve pounded the right arm with his fist in bemused frustration. “Damn.”

# # # # #

When Steve opened his eyes the next morning, he could see sunlight peeking in around the living room curtains. He picked up his watch from the coffee table. 9:42.

He tossed the blanket off and sat up, running his hands over his face then through his tousled hair. He froze. Was that coffee he smelled? He got to his feet and crossed to the kitchen doorway.

Reading the morning paper in the light from the window, Mike, still in his pajamas under his dressing gown and glasses on, was sitting at the kitchen table, coffee cup in hand. He looked over his glasses towards the entrance.

“Good morning, sleepyhead. Grab yourself a cup.” He nodded over his shoulder towards the percolator.

With a relieved smile, Steve snapped on the overhead light, walked to the counter and filled a mug. As he sat across from Mike at the table, the older man put the paper down and took off his glasses.

“How do you feel this morning?” Steve asked, sipping his coffee.

“Really good,” Mike said with a grin. “You?”

Steve put his cup on the table and sat. “Good, good.”

“You must be getting tired of sleeping on your couch,” Mike said kindly. “Look, I think it’s –“

Steve put a hand up. “Stop right there. You are not going home, not yet.” Mike opened his mouth to protest but Steve plowed on. “If I have to call Dr. Peters, I will. You haven’t been out of the hospital a week yet, so no, you are not going home. End of discussion.”

Mike had closed his mouth and waited for the younger man to finish talking. Now he said nothing, knowing he was not going to win the debate. With a scowl, he put on his glasses and picked up the paper. Steve chuckled as he got up and went to the counter to put some bread in the toaster.

# # # # #

Steve finished stacking the dirty dishes on the counter next to the sink. “I’m gonna get changed and out go to buy the stuff for dinner. You need anything?”

“No, nothing, thanks.” Mike hesitated briefly then seemed to make up his mind. “Steve, could you sit for a second?” he asked solemnly. The younger man eyed him uneasily but did so. Mike took a deep breath and met his eyes evenly. “Something was bothering you when you got home from the meeting yesterday, but I didn’t want to ask you about it then. I’m asking now.”

Steve sat back, almost relieved that it was only that, although he was reluctant to tell Mike about it. And he was also once more astonished that he could be read so easily by this most uncommon man.

He sighed and looked away momentarily. “It was a meeting with Rudy, Gerry and another lawyer, and my PBA rep. Basically, I was told that they haven’t found anything yet to incriminate Annenberg, but there’s a huge task force still working on it. And that Annenberg’s mouthpiece is, you know, talking trash, threatening to charge me with manslaughter or conspiracy.”

Steve could see Mike’s temper rising, and he tried to find a way to quell it without lying to the man. “But they also told me there’s not much chance of that, especially if the task force comes up with something – Rudy mentioned something about some ‘irons in the fire’ he couldn’t talk about; he was kinda vague and I didn’t push it.”

Mike look unconvinced. “Well, we knew all that already; what made you so upset?”

Knowing he was caught out, Steve sighed and shook his head in resignation. “Gerry happened to mention that if they couldn’t get criminal charges filed against me, then they’d probably sue me in civil court for ‘wrongful death’.”

Steve stared at his partner with a “There, it’s on the table,” expression. Mike didn’t move at first, then his expression softened and he leaned back. “God damn it,” he said quietly.

Steve chuckled mirthlessly. “So, not only did Jack kill himself in front of me, but I could stand to lose everything,” he said with a heavy sigh, his voice shaking slightly.

“No, you won’t,” Mike said firmly. “I swear to God, if it’s the last thing I ever do, you are not going to pay in any way for what Jack Elliott did.”

Steve smiled warmly, reaching out to lay a hand on Mike’s forearm. “I appreciate that, Mike, I really do, but any pressure you’re going to put on anybody right now had better be over the phone, because I am not letting you out of the house,” he said lightly, hoping to shake off the grim mood.

Mike stared at him sternly, then his features began to lighten and an affectionate smile curled the corners of his mouth. “You’re taking the fun out of this, you know.” They both smiled, but the reprieve didn’t last long.

“We’re gonna get through this, the two of us,” Steve said decisively. “I’m not going to let that little punk Annenberg ruin both our lives.” He got up. “What do you say, if you’re feeling up to it, we go to a matinee this afternoon when I get back? Everybody keeps talking about ‘Jaws’. Want to see it?”

Mike knew that Steve was trying to change topics and he appreciated the effort. “Sure, why not? It’ll be good to get out of the house, even on your short leash,” he grinned then pretended to duck Steve’s playful swat.

# # # # #

In the pitch-dark of his living room, he sat curled up in the armchair, in a t-shirt and pajama bottoms, a blanket over his shoulders and a glass of scotch in his hands. He was trembling, his breaths shallow and shaky.

Since that eventful morning in Oakland, he had not had a full night’s sleep. He had spent every night, since leaving the hospital with Mike, in the same chair, cradling the same glass, reliving the horrifying scene over and over again. Inevitably the tears would start and the trembling more pronounced, as would the struggle to remain unheard.

Mike was dealing with his own demons, Steve knew. His health was his primary worry, but Steve also knew Mike still had to deal with his reluctance to face the reality of his guilt. It was almost a month since the shooting and Mike had yet to step foot in the Bryant Street building or meet with any of the others who had survived the attack; huge bridges that would need to be crossed.

So Steve sat alone, unable and unwilling to reach out to the one person he knew undeniably could provide him the wisdom and guidance he needed. As the sun started to rise, he hid the glass under the chair, laid down on the couch, and waited till exhaustion overtook him.

# # # # #

Mike was descending the steep concrete steps slowly, holding his left arm against his side. He could use his forearm with no problem, but it still hurt like hell to raise his upper arm or pick up anything heavy.

Steve leaned across the front seat of the LTD, opened the passenger door and pushed so that Mike could catch it. Mike sat heavily and pulled the door closed then turned to Steve with a grin.

“So,” the younger man smiled, “where is she now?”

“Portugal. In a city called Porto on the ocean. She says it’s spectacular, she loves it.” Mike took his police notebook out of his pocket and flipped it open, trying to ignore his partner’s baffled stare. “What?” he asked with fake irritation. “I never said it was a bad idea.”

As a laughing Steve pulled away from the curb, Mike filled him in on his daughter’s adventures from the past week. “Okay, so she and her girlfriends went through the northern part of Spain – let’s see, San Sebastian, Pamplona, Burgos, Segovia…”

# # # # #

Steve opened the door to his apartment and entered, leaving it open for Mike, who was taking his time on the steps. Steve tossed his keys on the side table and crossed to the kitchen, pouring himself a glass of water.

Mike entered the apartment and closed the door, carefully sliding off his windbreaker and hanging it up. He glanced into the kitchen as he crossed to the couch and sat.

Steve came into the living room and moved to the TV. He was just about to turn it on when he heard Mike’s voice, firm and even. “Take a seat.”

Steve turned to his partner, startled to see the uncompromising stare. Mike pointed at the armchair. “Sit down.” The younger man crossed uneasily to the chair and sat, desperately trying to figure out what was going on.

Keeping his eyes on Steve, Mike reached over the right arm of the couch. When he straightened up, there was a half-empty bottle of scotch in his hand.

“Do you want to tell me what this is all about?”



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