Steve woke slowly, noticing sunlight once more peaking through the curtains. He laid still for several long seconds, marveling that he had indeed slept, then was startled when he realized the pillow under his head was on the couch and not in Mike’s lap.
He tossed the blanket off and sat up, rubbing his hands over his face and through his hair, and was again rewarded with the welcoming aroma of fresh-brewed coffee. He got up quietly and crossed to the kitchen entrance.
Mike, still in his pajamas and robe, was standing at the counter, pouring a mug of coffee. There were several bowls and a loaf of bread on the counter, and the table was set for two.
Steve cleared his throat softly, and Mike spun around. “Hey, you’re up. How did you sleep?” he asked with a grin.
The younger man smiled quizzically. “I think you could answer that better than me.”
“You’re right. Well, you didn’t wake me up, that’s for sure. And you didn’t move when I slipped out from under you about an hour ago, so that’s good news, I guess.”
Steve moved further into the room. “How do you feel?”
Mike turned back to the counter. “I’m a little stiff but I’m okay,” he said quietly, then louder, “Coffee?”
“Take a seat,” Mike instructed as he poured another mug. “I’m cooking this morning, so just relax. I might need you once or twice to pick up the heavy fry pan, but other than that, just relax.”
Steve sat at the table. “Before you ask, I didn’t have a nightmare last night. At least not one that I can remember. Thank you for that.”
“Don’t thank me, thank the Valium,” Mike said with a chuckle. “So, you have your pick this morning: I have the ingredients for French toast, or pancakes, or bacon and eggs. Your choice?” He turned with upraised eyebrows.
Steve smiled, shaking his head and gesturing at the counter. “When did you get all –“
With an upraised hand, Mike cut him off. “You have to ask? I mean really, when are you going to learn –“
“I know, I know, you have friends in the department…”
Laughing quietly, Mike picked up his mug and saluted. “He’s learning, he’s learning. So, what’s your pleasure?”
Steve thought about it for several seconds. “Pancakes. I’ve heard Jeannie bragging about your pancakes, but I don’t remember you ever making them for me before.”
“Then pancakes it is. It’ll be a few minutes, why don’t you use the time to wash up.”
Steve climbed the stairs to the bathroom. He stared at himself in the mirror. Other than the unkempt hair and morning stubble, he had to admit that the full night’s sleep had done him a world of good. He acknowledged to himself that the chances were very good that he had not seen the end of the nightmares, but this was a very positive start.
As he was leaving the bathroom a few minutes later, he heard the phone ring. “Can you get that?” he heard Mike yell, “I’m kinda busy flipping pancakes.
Steve walked into the bedroom and lifted the receiver. “Good morning, temporary Stone residence,” he said with a chuckle.
Mike was putting a plate of pancakes on the table when Steve walked into the kitchen again. “Who was that?”
“Ah, Rudy,” Steve said distractedly as he sat. “He got a call from Captain Stewart over in Oakland. Seems there’s a possible break in the Annenberg investigation, but he didn’t want to say anything over the phone.”
Mike turned from the counter, another plate of pancakes in hand, smiling.
“They want me over in Oakland this morning, to bring me up to speed.”
“Then eat up and go,” Mike said encouragingly as he crossed to the table and sat.
“Rudy suggested I bring you with me, if you want,” Steve ventured cautiously.
Mike’s eyes dropped to the table as he picked up the syrup. “Naw, I think I’d better stay here. You go.”
Steve watched as the older man poured syrup on his pancakes, avoiding his stare. “Mike, it’s Oakland. There won’t be anyone there except the OPD guys and maybe one or two of our guys from Homicide.”
Mike’s put the syrup down and froze; he knew what Steve was implying. He raised his eyes slowly then nodded in acquiescence. “Okay, sure, why not.”
Steve nodded back. “Good.” He looked at his plate. “These look great,” he said enthusiastically, reaching for the glass of orange juice.
Mike smiled appreciatively but Steve couldn’t miss the haunted look that had suddenly appeared in his eyes.
# # # # #
“Mike Stone, how the hell are you?” Captain Stewart held out his hand as the San Francisco detectives walked into the Oakland Homicide squadroom.
“Paul, it’s been years,” Mike smiled warmly as they shook hands. “You’re a captain now, hunh?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Stewart muttered uneasily, “I’m not sure if I like it though; I prefer the streets.”
“Me too,” said Mike with a grin.
Stewart sobered. “I heard you were hit in that ambush. How are you doing?”
“Good, good,” Mike answered. He nodded towards Steve. “He’s been taking very good care of me.”
Steve smiled self-consciously as Stewart looked at him with renewed admiration. “That’s what partners are for, right?” the captain said soberly, as everyone’s thoughts returned to the reason they were all there.
“Fellas,” Stewart said louder, signaling the subject change, “we’re gonna move this to Robbery. There’re too many eyes on us right now because of this Annenberg thing, and we don’t want this to get out until we’re ready.” He looked from one partner to the other. “So let’s wander over to Robbery, shall we? I’ll explain more there.”
# # # # #
Oakland’s Robbery Division was bustling; almost every desk’s second chair was filled and the decibel level in the room was deafening.
“What’s going on?” Mike asked, surprised at the amount of activity for a Monday morning.
“The Roma are in town,” Stewart explained with a sigh. “I know you guys have had to deal with this before as well. It’s our time right now, would you believe it? But, all this activity is a good cover for us.” He turned to his San Francisco colleagues. “Mike, why don’t you wait here for a minute, there’s someone I want to introduce you to. I’m just going to hook Steve up with Jerry Coleman.”
Steve followed Stewart out of Robbery and down the corridor. Stewart opened a door and Steve did a double take as he walked into the room; Jerry Coleman was sitting at a table with Drew Benedict and another black man he didn’t recognize.
Coleman, grinning from ear to ear, leaned back in his chair. “Steve, you remember ‘Beenie’, I’m sure,” and the detective and the C.I. exchanged smiles of acknowledgement. “And this gentleman,” he gestured at the other man, “is the elusive but exceedingly important to us, J.C. Washington.”
# # # # #
Mike was standing in the middle of the Robbery squadroom, watching and listening to the commotion around him with no small amount of longing. In truth, he wanted to get back to work with every fibre of his being; in reality, he knew he had to get a lot better physically before he could even start to address the emotional issues he knew were lurking.
He watched Captain Stewart crossing the room with another man in tow. The tall well-toned blond extended his hand as they got closer. “Mike Stone?” he asked, “I’m George Petrovich. Kako cte (How are you)?”
Mike’s eyes lit up. “Vi govorite srpski (You speak Serbian)?”
“Da. Tecno. Vi (Yes. Fluently. You)?”
“Nisam ga govorio godinama (I haven’t spoken it for years). Ja sam malo van forme (I’m a little out of practice).”
Stewart laughed. “’Luis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…’” Both Mike and Petrovich turned to him with big smiles. “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.” Stewart walked away, shaking his head and grinning.
Petrovich gestured over his shoulder. “Why don’t we move into an office, where it’s a little quieter?”
“Sounds good,” agreed Mike, suddenly very pleased that he had decided to accompany Steve to the other side of the Bay Bridge. He fell into step behind the Oakland detective.
Abruptly there was shout, a scream, then other shouts. One of the Roma, a very large man with long black hair and untrimmed beard, his hands cuffed behind his back, stood abruptly and made a run for the door. Two detectives lunged for the man but they were too late. He bulled his way forward with surprising swiftness and before anyone could get out of his path, he barreled straight into Mike, slamming him hard against the wall.
Petrovich grabbed at the man before he could get any further and dragged him to the floor. Almost instantly, three other officers were on top of the felon and had him pinned. Petrovich pulled himself up and glanced over at Mike.
The San Francisco detective was sitting on the floor with his back against a file cabinet, his arms wrapped around his chest, gasping for breath, eyes closed and face contorted in pain.
# # # # #
“Hey, man,” said Beenie with a wide grin as he stood and shook Steve’s hand, “good to see you.”
Beenie turned to Coleman. “Ah, I’m jus’ the messenger, so to speak, in all this – an’ I don’ wanna know any more about what’s happenin’ than I already do. So I’m gonna take myself outside and let you three do yo’ thing all by yo’selves,” he said with a smile as he circled the table and backed out the door.
Steve and Coleman exchanged looks, Steve confused, Coleman bemused. The Oakland detective turned to Washington. “J.C., this is Inspector Steve Keller, San Francisco Homicide. His partner was shot during that ambush last month. He’s our San Fran counterpart in all this, and I’m sure he’s very interested in what you have to say.”
Washington eyed Steve warily, eyes dark and unreadable. He leaned forward slowly and laid his forearms on the table.
“I hear you were in the room when the cop killed that Annenberg psycho and then killed himself, is that true?”
After Beenie’s street patois, Steve was a little taken aback by Washington’s clipped and precise way of speaking. He nodded. “Yes, I was.”
“And from what I hear on the street, they’re trying to make it sound like that kid was all innocent and you and that other cop ‘assassinated’ him out of a misplaced, almost criminal, sense of justice, am I right?”
Again Steve nodded.
Washington sat back with a beaming smile. “Then I just might be your knight in shining armour.”
# # # # #
Self-satisfied, Beenie casually strolled down the corridor towards the Homicide office, but his attention was diverted by a commotion nearby. He followed the racket to the still chaotic Robbery squadroom.
Captain Stewart and a couple of other cops were on their knees near the entrance, and over their heads, Beenie could see an older man leaning against a file cabinet, his face etched in agony. Beenie pushed his way forward and knelt. “What’s going on here?”
Stewart glanced over his shoulder. “It’s okay, Beenie, we got this.”
“Is he okay?” Beenie insisted, and something about his demeanor made Stewart give him a second look.
“This is Steve’s partner,” Stewart said quickly in explanation, “the one who was shot. He just got slammed into the wall.”
Beenie crawled closer to Mike and gently put his hands on Mike’s arms, slowly pulling them away from his chest. Behind him, he heard Stewart say quietly, “His name is Mike.”
“Mike,” Beenie said gently, “my name is Drew. I think I can help you. But I need to take a look at you, okay?”
“Beenie…” Stewart warned, keeping his voice low.
Beenie turned to his head slightly to look at Stewart peripherally. “Captain, I can help this man. I was a Marine hospital corpsman in Vietnam for three years.”