Keys

Chapter 34

It was almost 9:30 when a weary Steve Keller put the key in the lock of his front door. Entering the apartment, he was pleasantly surprised to see his partner sitting in the armchair, watching “Police Story” on his small TV.

“Wow, you had a long day,” Mike said sympathetically as he got up to turn the volume down.

Stretching slightly as he threw his keys on the table, Steve groaned and sighed at the same time. “It sure was. I need a beer.” He shrugged off his jacket and tossed it on the couch as he crossed to the kitchen. Mike followed.

“Did you have dinner?”

Steve was reaching into the fridge. “Sort of, I guess. We were really busy all day.”

Mike gestured at the fridge. “There’s a small all-dressed pizza in there for you. You just need to heat it up. You want it?”

Steve looked back into the fridge and noticed the box. “Seriously? Yeah, that would be great.”

“Good.” Mike turned the oven on. “You go back into the living room and sit down and relax. I can do this.”

Mike took the pizza box out of the fridge and set it on the counter, opting to give the younger man a couple of minutes alone. He could tell the moment Steve stepped through the door that something significant had transpired during the day, and he also knew his best course of action was patience. He took his time taking cutlery and a plate out of the drawer and cupboard.

After putting the pizza in the still warming oven, Mike strolled back into the living room and sat in the armchair. Steve’s head was tilted back and his eyes closed, the beer in his hand. With a shake of his head, Steve opened his eyes and looked over at his partner. “Did you eat?”

Mike smiled broadly. “Yeah. As a matter of fact, Drew and I shared a large pizza just covered in anchovies,” he chuckled.

Steve sat up straighter. “Oh my god, I forgot. He came?”

Mike nodded, still smiling. “He sure did. He got here around noon and left just about an hour ago.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope. It was a very good day.” Mike’s smile was soft and contented.

“What did you guys do? Just talk?”

“Yeah,” Mike nodded with a small shrug. “Yeah, I guess that’s what we did, although we did go for a walk at one point.” At Steve’s frown, he continued quickly. “I’ve got to start getting my strength and stamina back if I want to get back to work, so we just went for a walk. And I took my time on the hills, so don’t worry about me, I’m fine… It felt good to be outside again for longer than just walking back and forth to the car.”

Steve smiled, chuckled and relaxed, taking a sip of his beer.

“Drew Benedict is a pretty interesting guy. We talked a lot about his background, his service, his ‘career’ as a CI… what he’s gonna do now…”

“What is he gonna do?”

“Well, right now he’s heading back east; he’s got a sister in the midwest and a brother on the east coast. OPD are gonna help him out. Some of the guys over there have connections that they’re gonna use for him… They’re gonna take good care of him. He told me not to worry about him…”

“But you’re gonna worry anyway, right?”

Mike looked at him sheepishly. “Probably.” He sighed. “I did talk to him about going back into medicine. He’s got the gift and he shouldn’t squander it. I think he might give it a try.”

“That would be amazing.”

“Yeah, it would, wouldn’t it?” Mike asked wistfully. “It was the most remarkable day – thank you.”

“What for?” asked Steve with a puzzled but happy smile.

“For arranging it all.” Mike took a second to compose himself, looking down and taking a deep breath. “These past few weeks have been …” he hesitated, “…I know how hard it’s been for you, and I’m sorry –“

Steve sat forward quickly, alarmed. “Mike, you don’t have to apologize. None of this is your fault, for god’s sake –“

Mike put up his hands and Steve stopped. The older man mentally kicked himself; he didn’t want to put any more burdens on his partner right now.

Steve watched as Mike sighed self-consciously and shrugged apologetically. “Sorry. It’s been that kind of a day.”

“I hear ya,” Steve agreed as he sat back and took a swig of beer. In the silence that followed, he ventured carefully, “You know, you’re gonna have to see Lenny before they’ll allow you to go back to work.” He looked up from the floor and met the steel blue gaze evenly. “I’ll have to as well, I know that. But I know what my issues are; do you know yours?”

The question was painfully direct, but Steve knew the subject needed be broached. If he was to get his partner back, that road would have to be traveled, and the sooner the journey was started, the sooner it would end.

It was several long seconds before the blue-eyed stare dropped to the floor and Mike began to nod slowly. When he finally spoke, there was no anger in his voice. “I’m, ah… I’m very aware of what my ‘issues’ are, believe me. But really, there’s only one… I have no problem going back to Bryant Street, going into the building or the garage. I don’t remember the shooting… I got hit with the second bullet and I only vaguely remember hearing the first one. Both the garage and the building hold no demons for me, none.

“It might be, and probably is, a bigger issue for the other guys, especially the ones who never lost consciousness. But I have no memory of anything that happened in that garage.”

Steve thought back to those horrific moments he and Elliott had had to endure in the parking structure, and he realized with surprise that in his visits to the Hall since then, he had always parked outside. He hadn’t stepped foot in the garage either.

Mike didn’t seem to notice his companion’s sudden inward focus. He was too busy marshalling his own thoughts. “When the time is right, I’ll talk to Lenny, but not a moment before.” He looked at Steve kindly, trying to keep the sting out of his words. “And that’s going to be between him and me, Steve.”

The younger man smiled. “I understand,” he nodded sympathetically. Then with a chuckle, he continued, “I’d rather not have you in the room when I talk to him either.”

Mike laughed in agreement. From the kitchen, they heard a ‘ting’ from the stove clock. “I think the pizza is finally ready. No, no, you stay here,” he said quickly as Steve started to stand, waving the younger man back down, “I can get this.”

After Mike disappeared into the kitchen, Steve leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes. Even if Mike was reluctant to talk to him about what he was going through, he had come far enough along to acknowledge that there was at least one issue he had to address. That was indeed progress.

A minute later, Mike walked back into the living room with a plate in one hand, cutlery and a paper napkin in the other. “Here,” he said, holding out the plate for Steve to take. “Want another beer?”

“Why not? Thanks.”

Mike handed over the cutlery and took the empty bottle. When he returned a few seconds later, he put a fresh bottle on the end table then sat back down in the armchair.

His eyebrows climbing into his hair, Steve asked through a mouthful of pizza, “You’re having a beer?”

Mike chuckled. “Yeah, I’m living dangerously tonight. Hey, I’m not on antibiotics anymore, I’m allowed. I have to start getting my life back, right?” he joked.

“Good for you.”

Mike sat back with a smile, watching his young partner fondly. “Pizza good?”

Mouth still full, Steve nodded enthusiastically. “Really good. What parlour did you order this from?”

“Pizza Palace.”

“I’ve never used them before.” He chased the pizza with a swig of beer.

“You should start. Good pizza.”

Steve nodded again. “You want any?”

Mike threw up his hands. “No, I’m good, thanks. Besides, yours doesn’t have anchovies on it.”

“Thank god.”

Mike chuckled. In the ensuing silence, his smile slowly disappeared. Finally he asked quietly, “Steve, what happened today?”

The young cop froze momentarily then shook his head. “Nothing, why?”

Mike cocked his head and looked at him with a slight smile and a sigh. “You really think I don’t know when you walk in the door that there’s something you’re trying to keep from me? We’ve been together how long?”

Steve smiled cheekily and took a sip of beer. “I was wondering how long it was going to take you to ask me.”

“Okay, smarty, you do have me figured out. Now answer my question.”

Steve took another bite and Mike waited patiently for him to chew and swallow. “Do you want me to eat or do you want me to talk?” he asked drolly.

“You never had trouble talking with pizza in your mouth before. Give.”

Smiling with feigned insolence, Steve chewed and swallowed slowly. With a triumphant grin, he finished up with a long swig of beer, while Mike, trying not to laugh at the good-natured cheek, sat and watched, remarkably holding his tongue. “Finished?”

Steve put the beer bottle down on the end table and sat back. The teasing smile disappeared. “Actually, there is something I want to talk to you about.”

Mike leaned forward, his expression turning serious as well.

“Gerry asked to see me today. He came into possession of something that could, well, not end the case but could, let’s say, seriously derail it for the foreseeable future.”

Mike’s brow furrowed but he still said nothing, letting his young friend set the pace and tone.

Steve smiled to himself. “Gerry told us that nothing of what we learned could leave his room, but he also told me as I left that he knew I was going to want to talk to you about it.” He met Mike’s stare. “I think he thinks we’re the same person.” They both chuckled.

“So what is it?”

Steve leaned forward himself. “It’s a tape.” For the next several minutes, in great detail, he relayed all the information he could remember: of how Gerry had received the tape, the details of which were still in the dark; the contents of the tape; and the impending decision with regards to the future of the recording and the information it contained.

When he finished talking, both he and his partner sat back. Mike had remained silent throughout. Now he let his breath out in a derisive snort. “That smug bastard,” he spit out angrily. “The apple…right?” He shook his head again, trying to get his anger under control.

Steve nodded in agreement.

“So you all have to come to an agreement on what to do with this information, is that it?”

Steve nodded again.

“Wow.” Mike looked at him evenly. “You took Ethics in university, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“So, what do you think should be done with this?”

Steve took a long deep breath. “Part of me thinks, using it is dirty pool. But the cop and the partner in me says, the bastard made his own bed, it’s about time he was forced to lie in it.” He smiled affectionately. “You?”

“Well,” Mike started slowly, “seeing as it’s probably his son’s bullet that went through my chest, I think any way that bastard can be taken down is fair play.” He paused. “But, my opinion doesn’t count. And you know that. How I feel doesn’t matter; you are the one that will have to live with the decision. So, no matter what you decide, I am behind you one hundred percent. You know that as well, right?”

Steve nodded. “There is no guarantee that if we present this to Greenspan that he’s going to bail on Annenberg, but it is a possibility. If he does, it will hurt Annenberg’s chances, but it won’t eliminate them completely. I’m sure there are other lawyers out there who would jump at the chance to represent a family as wealthy as that.”

“But,” Mike countered, “if Greenspan’s bailing on Annenberg is seen for what it is, a lawyer losing faith in his client, it can’t do anything but help your cause, right?”

“Best case scenario,” Steve agreed.

A silence filled the room as the partners reflected on the dilemna. Finally Mike took a deep breath. “So, what happens tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow? Tomorrow we have another meeting – me, Gerry, Cavallero from over in Oakland, Stewart, a few others. We’re going to make the final decision then.”

“Good.” Mike stood. “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for bed. So,” he said, clapping his hands, “one more decision for you tonight.”

“Oh yeah?” countered Steve with a smile, also getting to his feet. “What’s that?”

“Well, as far as I could tell last night, you didn’t have a nightmare, am I right?”

“You are.”

“So tonight, you get a choice. You take a pill and you can sleep down here all by yourself. Or, you don’t take a pill and you sleep on the floor in my room again. Your choice?”

“Those are my only choices?”

“’Fraid so.”

Steve thought it over. “Those cushions are way more comfortable than they look,” he said with a smile and he slapped his partner lightly on the shoulder as he crossed to the stairs, taking them two at a time to the second floor.


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