As the grim-faced doctor crossed the room, Steve got unsteadily to his feet. He felt Haseejian’s supportive hand on his elbow as the sergeant rose with him.
Approaching the ashen-faced young man, Doctor Williams suddenly seemed to realize that his stern expression was projecting the wrong attitude; he threw his hands up in a placating gesture and his features softened. Closing in on Steve, he said quickly, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. Steve, is it?”
The now-confused police inspector nodded.
Williams, who was not much older than Steve, smiled encouragingly. “I’m here to give you some good news. The lieutenant is going to be just fine.”
Steve’s face went blank. “What?” he asked quietly, not sure he had heard correctly. He felt Norm’s hand tighten on his elbow.
Williams nodded, now starting to grin. “As a matter of fact, he’s going to be walking out of here with you in about three or four days.”
As a babble of relieved voices could be heard around him, Steve stared deep into the doctor’s eyes. “But he was –“
“Shot in the chest, yes,” Williams finished. “But sometimes things can look a lot worse than they really are. The bullet entered just below his left collarbone and exited his lower left rib cage above his liver. The only organ it damaged was his lung, which partially collapsed. But, luckily, the pleural cavity filled with air and not blood.
“We didn’t even have to operate on him. We’ve put in a chest tube to re-inflate his lung, and now we just give him some time to recover.”
Steve, who had held his breath while Williams spoke, released it in one big gasp. He felt Haseejian’s arm around his shoulders and he was shaken. “Oh my god, really?” was all he could get out.
“Really,” said Williams with a grin. “Look, we’re moving him into ICU, where we’re going to keep him for the next 24 hours or so while the tube is in, and as soon as we get him settled, you can join him. And,” he continued quickly before Steve could interrupt, “yes, you can stay with him all night, if you want.”
Steve took the doctor’s hand and shook it warmly. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
“You’re welcome.” He glanced around the room and his expression turned serious. “I’m sorry, I have to go. There’s still a lot to do. It’s a tough day…”
“Of course,” said Steve, as Haseejian’s shook the doctor’s hand and nodded his thanks.
Williams turned and headed back across the room. Steve felt hands on his shoulders and slapping his back as he sunk gratefully down onto the chair. A hand dropped onto his leg and squeezed and he looked up into Elliott’s tear-filled eyes.
Steve put a hand on the back on Elliott’s neck, a gesture he was used to receiving from Mike, and gently shook him. “Charlie’ll be okay,” he whispered encouragingly. All Elliott could do was nod.
Steve turned to the smiling Armenian sitting once more beside him. “He’s alive, Norm,” he grinned, shaking his head in disbelief. Haseejian nodded, and watched as Steve rubbed the tears from his eyes and cheeks. “Sorry.”
“Hey,” Haseejian said quietly as he put a hand on the back of Steve’s head and held him gently, “don’t ever apologize for loving someone.”
# # # # #
Feeling a strange mixture of dread and anticipation, Steve followed the nurse to the ICU cubicle. Even before he got to the door, through the glass wall he could see the figure on the bed, and his heart began to pound once again.
With the fedora still in his hand, he stepped through the doorway and stopped, taking it all in. Mike was lying on his back, his head on a thin pillow, a sheet pulled up to his waist, an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. An IV apparatus was attached to his right arm. His left arm was stretched out perpendicular to his body and resting on a towel on top of a bed-high rolling table. Held in place by two sutures and surgical tape, a clear plastic chest tube protruded from between his ribs about two inches below his left armpit and hung over the edge of the bed.
Two cardiac monitor electrodes and cables were visible on his upper chest, another on his left side; other cables disappeared under the sheet. A still-developing dark red and purple bruise covered his entire left side, and just below his collarbone, a small gauze bandage was taped over the entry wound.
“Inspector Keller?” came a soft voice suddenly beside him. Steve turned to see a middle-aged physician in a white coat. “I’m Doctor Peters. I’ll be one of the people looking after your partner for the next 48 hours or so.” He looked at the bed and its occupant, and Steve followed his gaze. “Before I tell you everything that’s going on here, I just want to reassure you, he looks a lot worse than he is.”
“He looks pretty bad,” Steve said quietly.
“Well, in this case, looks are deceiving,” Peters explained as he crossed to the bed, Steve following. “What did Dr. Williams tell you?”
Steve was staring at his partner’s face, at the ugly scrape on his left temple and cheekbone, then at his chest, taking comfort in its steady rise and fall. “Um, he said the bullet just went through his left lung, and didn’t hit anything else; and that his lung partly collapsed and they had to put the chest tube in.”
“That’s pretty well it,” Peters confirmed. “We’re going to keep him under for the next 24 hours to allow his lung to re-inflate, which it’s already doing. Then we’ll remove the tube, and keep him doped up and comfortable for another day – that chest tube hurts like a sonofabitch,” he said with a smile. “After that, we’ll move him to a room upstairs and keep an eye on him for another 24 hours, and then, believe it or not, you’ll be able to take him home.”
Steve exhaled heavily. “Less than two hours ago I thought he was dead,” he said quietly, continuing to stare at Mike.
“Well, your partner’s one incredibly lucky man.” He glanced down at the hat in Steve’s hand. “That’s his, I’m assuming?” At Steve’s nod, Peters gestured towards the IV stand on the far side of the bed. “Why don’t you put it up there so he can see it when he wakes up? And then make yourself comfortable.”
“I don’t want to be in anybody’s way.”
“Don’t worry about that. You won’t be. And I have a feeling both of you need the company right now.” He studied Steve for a moment before he continued. “What happened today, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Steve looked at him, suddenly realizing that he had been so focused on Mike that he was actually unaware of what had taken place. “I’m not really sure. I was so…” he gestured vaguely towards the bed.
Peters put a hand on his forearm. “It’s okay. Your attention was elsewhere, that’s understandable. Not a problem.” He cocked his head, listening. “I’m being paged. Look, don’t worry about your partner – he’s doing great and he’s in good hands. You just make yourself at home. I’ll be in and out all night. And Steve, physically at least, the worst is over.”
Peters quickly left the cubicle and Steve was alone with Mike. He crossed slowly to the other side of the bed and did as the doctor suggested, putting the fedora on top of the IV stand. He pulled the overstuffed chair in the corner closer to the side of the bed and took off his jacket, draping it over the back.
He sat on the edge of the chair and leaned forward. He picked up Mike’s hand in both of his, anchored his elbows on the bed and rested his chin on his hands; and staring at his sedated, wounded partner, sat unmoving for a long time.