Keys

Chapter 32

Captain Stewart sat back on his haunches, looking at Beenie in an entirely different light. The black man held Mike’s forearms lightly, supportively.

“Do you think you can stand?” he asked and Mike, eyes still squeezed tightly shut, nodded. “Okay, let me give you a hand,” Beenie said as he shifted into a crouch. “Where were you shot?” he asked quietly and Mike gestured towards the left side of his chest. “Good, okay” Beenie acknowledged, putting both hands on Mike’s upper right arm, helping to take the weight as the older man got stiffly and unsteadily to his feet, eyes remaining closed. The others stood as well.

Mike swayed slightly, and Stewart’s hand shot out to stabilize him. After a couple of seconds, he opened his eyes, looking at Beenie for the first time. A strained but grateful smile lit his face, and the CI smiled back.

“Hi, Mike, my name is Drew,” Beenie chuckled, still holding Mike’s arm.

“Hi, Drew, I’m Mike,” came the warm reply.

With a smile of his own, Stewart offered, “Beenie, there’s a couch in my office – it’s just down the hall,” he gestured over his shoulder.

Beenie looked at Mike. “Can you make it?”

“Yeah, not a problem,” Mike nodded carefully, and the medic was pleased to see that the older man’s breathing was returning to normal and he was beginning to relax.

# # # # #

J.C. Washington sat silently, checking out the younger cop across the table. He was not much older than Steve, but their backgrounds and current situations couldn’t be more different.

Acutely aware that body language can be misinterpreted, and resisting the urge to sit back and fold his arms, it was Steve’s turn to lean over the table. “So, what do you have for us? And, more importantly, what do expect to get out of this.”

Washington grinned. “Get out of this?” he repeated. He shook his head and chuckled coldly. “Absolutely nothing, my friend, nothing but satisfaction.” At Steve’s doubtful stare, he continued, “You may not think it, either of you, but I am not a violent man. Yes, I am a drug dealer, I freely admit that; it’s not a revelation to anybody, least of all you,” he nodded at Coleman.

“But I can guarantee you both that I have never taken another life. That’s not the way I operate. I have never murdered anyone or even had anyone murdered on my behalf – and you can take that to the bank.”

Steve looked at Coleman, who nodded. “We’ve never had reason to connect Mr. Washington here to any drug related murders as far back as I can remember.”

Washington smiled smugly. “Anyway, when that Annenberg kid came to me a few weeks’ back with his two lackies, and demanded they become members of my ‘gang’, as they put it, I just wanted to get rid of them.” He swallowed hard and looked down, suddenly uncomfortable. When he spoke again his voice was quieter and he had lost some of his bravado.

“When I told that arrogant little bastard that the only way he could get into ‘my gang’ was to kill a cop, I was not being serious. But the look he got in his eyes – it froze me, man. I have never seen anyone look that cold before. It was like I had just made his dream come true… He scared me, and you can believe me when I tell you that I don’t scare easily.”

Washington leaned forward and met Steve’s penetrating stare. “I didn’t forget that little psycho but I didn’t think I’d ever hear from him again…no one’s going to kill a cop just to get into some gang. That’s what I thought.” He paused. “I know Beenie told you all this, but I also know you have to hear it from me. I know you know that I went into hiding after the shooting…I honestly thought that little psychopath was going to come looking for me and demand to become part of ‘my gang’ because he did what I told him to do.”

He sat back and folded his arms. “After I heard Annenberg was killed, I figured I was safe, and I went back into business.” He cut a furtive, guilty glance towards Coleman. “Then I read in the papers about how his family and that shyster lawyer of theirs were going to charge you with ‘wrongful death’ or ‘conspiracy to murder’ for ‘assassinating’ their innocent boy…and I knew I had to do something.”

Coleman sat forward in his chair and looked at Steve. “Mr. Washington has agreed to not only provide us with a deposition, but he is also willing to appear before a grand jury. At considerable risk to himself, I might add.”

Washington smiled. “I want to see that white boy’s reputation burn in hell, Inspector Keller. And if in doing that, I also happen to help you out, then so be it,” he finished with a chuckle.

Steve smiled back then held out his right hand. “Thank you, Mr. Washington, thank you. For me and my partner.”

Washington took Steve’s hand and shook it. Coleman cleared his throat and both men turned in his direction. The Oakland detective smiled. “Not only is he willing to do that, but he has other news for us as well.”

Steve turned to Washington with a curious frown.

“I have a lot of…associates, you could call them. I’ve put word on the street for everyone to be on the lookout for those two .44’s you’re still looking for. Nobody’s got them, as far as I know, but my people are on it now, and I have a lot more people on the street than the OPD does. If those guns are out there, we’ll find them.”

# # # # #

“Wow, I was not expecting that,” Steve said to Coleman as they exited the interrogation room and started down the corridor back to Robbery.

“Well, it’s a start but it’s no guarantee. We still have to get people to believe that a self-confessed drug dealer has more credibility than the heir to a prominent and popular family. Bottom line, we need to find those guns.”

They stepped into the bustle of the Robbery squadroom. Captain Stewart was in a huddle with a couple of others at the far side and he crossed the room towards them quickly, brow furrowed. Both Steve and Coleman smiled at his approach, but when the look wasn’t returned, Steve’s heart started to pound a little faster. He glanced around the room but didn’t see Mike and he began to have a bad feeling.

Stewart took the San Francisco detective by the elbow and pulled him aside. “Listen, Steve, there was a little incident earlier…”

“Where’s Mike?” Steve asked anxiously.

“He’s lying down in my office, he –“

“What happened?”

“One of Roma we were interviewing made a break for it, a really big guy. Mike happened to be in his way and he got pushed very hard into the wall. It shook him up quite a bit.”

“Where’s your office?” Steve demanded, pulling out of Stewart’s grasp and heading back out into the corridor.

“He’s in good hands,” Stewart said quickly, following, “he’s with a former marine corpsman….”

Steve didn’t seem to hear him. Stewart caught up to the agitated inspector and led him to his office. But before he could get the door open, they were both brought up short at the sound of laughter from within. Steve recognized Mike’s maniacal cackle instantly. He and Stewart exchanged perplexed looks.

Stewart opened the door and they both looked in. Beenie, a coffee cup in hand, was sitting on Stewart’s desk, facing the couch, on which sat Mike, both men seemingly convulsed in hysterics. The only discordant note that Steve could see, it seemed, was while Mike was holding his own coffee cup in his right hand and trying not to moan in pain while he laughed, his left arm was encased in a flimsy first-aid-kit sling.

Beenie was the first to notice the pair standing in the doorway. “Hey,” he saluted in greeting, raising his cup, “join us, gentlemen. Sorry but we can’t offer you anything stronger than coffee.”

“And Tylenol,” Mike added with a chuckle.

With one more baffled glance at Stewart, Steve entered the room, crossing to the couch to stand over his partner. “Are you okay?”

Mike looked up guiltily. “I’m fine, really. I just had the wind knocked out of me, so to speak.” He shrugged self-consciously as Steve stared pointedly at the sling. “If you don’t believe me, ask him.” Mike nodded towards Beenie and Steve spun on his heel.

Grinning from ear to ear, Beenie nodded in agreement. “He’s fine. I checked him out. He’s gonna be a little sore for the next day or so, and I told him to keep his arm in a sling for next 24 hours and that’ll help. But he’s fine… really.”

“You were a corpsman?” Steve asked with no small amount of awe.

As Beenie started to nod, still smiling, Mike jumped in. “You bet he was – the battle for Hue for starters. He wasn’t a jarhead, like me – Marine corpsmen are actually Navy, but hey, close enough.” His voice was suffused with pride.

Beenie and Mike exchanged a warm look as Steve shook his head slightly. “Well, I hate to break this ‘reunion’ up,” he said with a chuckle, “but I better get you home. And I have a meeting with my PBA rep this afternoon as well.”

Beenie slid quickly off the desk and crossed to the couch. “Excuse me,” he said politely as he pushed Steve aside slightly, took Mike’s coffee cup and set it on the desk, then helped Mike get to his feet by holding his right arm. Steve stood back and shot a bemused smile in Stewart’s direction, whose wide-eyed shrug conveyed his bafflement as well.

# # # # #

Steve glanced across the front seat. “You okay?” he asked. Mike had been unnaturally quiet since they had left the OPD parking lot.

Mike started slightly. “Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking about Drew… Beenie.”

“What about him?”

“I don’t know, just, I guess, about how we seem to judge a book by it’s cover sometimes. You look at him and you think, drug dealer, right? Or bookie. Something to do with the street, the wrong side of the law.”

Steve nodded.

“He was in the Navy for six years, three of them in ‘Nam, and then he comes home, against the war because of what he’s lived through and what he’s seen. He can’t get a job, there’s no GI Bill to help him get ahead, and he falls back on the only thing he knows – hustling, getting by.

“All that training, all that promise – gone to waste. But there’s still that kernel inside him, the one that says to him, you’re a good guy, you’ve got things to contribute. So what does he do – he becomes a CI. A CI, for god’s sake.” Steve knew what Mike meant; it was an extremely dangerous occupation at the best of times, and one never for the faint of heart.

“Well, he’s blown that now,” Mike continued darkly. “He’s not going to be safe in Oakland anymore… I wonder what he’s going to do?”

Steve knew the question was rhetorical. “Well, I think you might get the chance to ask him.” When Mike turned to him questioningly, he smiled. “I gave him my address and phone number, told him to stop by tomorrow sometime during the day. I have to go into the office for some more meetings and I thought he could keep you company.”

With a wide grin, Mike settled back in the seat. “Thanks, buddy boy.” He chuckled. “You know, this turned out to be a pretty good trip all around, don’t you think? You got some good news, and I made two new friends.”

“Yeah, if you don’t count being used as a bowling pin.”

Mike snorted. “Yeah. Oh well – we still have some Percodan left, don’t we?”

They both laughed as Steve eased the car onto the Bay Bridge and towards home.

# # # # #

Gerry O’Brien was still at his desk, working under the light of his desktop lamp. Weary, he tossed the pen to the desk, ran his hands over his face and stretched his back and shoulder muscles.

As he reached for the pen again, there was a soft knock on his office door. He looked up to see a figure silhouetted in the entrance, backlit in the subdued fluorescent light from the hallway.

The visitor moved further into the room, into the spill from the desk lamp. O’Brien scrambled to his feet. “Judge Cooper.” He was a little surprised to see the older man in a golf shirt and slacks instead of the usual robes.

The jurist waved a hand. “Sit down, Gerry, this isn’t an official visit,” he said good-naturedly. As O’Brien began to sit, Cooper tossed a small plastic case onto his desk.

O’Brien looked from the case to the judge. “What is this?”

Cooper’s stare was a strange mixture of warmth and steel. “I’ve never liked Walter Annenberg Junior – I always thought he was a pompous little prick, using his money and family influence to buy his way through life. Turns out I’m not alone.” He gestured towards the case. “We belong to the same club.”

O’Brien picked up the case and opened it. There was a cassette tape inside, unlabeled. He looked back up at Cooper.

“Have a listen to it and make up your own mind. Use it, don’t use it – it’s up to you.” With an intense stare that conveyed everything O’Brien needed to know, the jurist turned and quietly left the room.

The district attorney sat quietly for several seconds, then opened a lower desk drawer and took out a small tape recorder. He inserted the tape, pressed play, and sat back to listen.


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