“So, before we get down to brass tacks, so to speak, I hear there was another break in the case last night?”
Steve leaned forward in the chair and put his elbows on his knees. “Yeah. They found the guns. They’re in ballistics right now; I’ll know more when we’re done here,” he finished pointedly, prompting the psychiatrist’s wry smile.
Murchison cleared his throat as he crossed his legs and balanced his notebook against his knee. “I get your message,” he said with a quiet chuckle, and met the younger man’s stare evenly. “How are you doing, Steve?”
The cop knew this wasn’t just a casual question; it was a genuine inquiry. He took a couple of seconds before answering, knowing how important it was to make sure he was completely understood. He nodded slowly, with no hint of amusement or irritation showing in either his body language or his features. “Good. Really, I’m good.”
Steve took a deep breath before answering and sat back, increasing the distance between them. “There were, yeah. Just after it happened… up to a few days ago, actually.”
An ironic snort preceded the cop’s reply. “Yeah, very. Definitely disturbing but I’ve been able to, ah, to get them under control. Like I said, I haven’t had one for the past several days.”
“And the reason for that…?”
Steve smiled warmly, relaxing slightly. “Mike. We, ah, we had a good long talk a few days ago, and he helped me get things into some sort of perspective. Plus, he made me take a sleeping pill so I could get a good night’s sleep for a change.”
Murchison smiled as well. “He’s a doctor now, is he?” he asked with a laugh.
“Best doctor I know,” Steve replied with a laugh of his own. “But before you get all worked up, I stopped taking the pills a couple of nights ago and I’ve been able to get through the night without a problem… I guess I just needed to talk it out, know I wasn’t alone.”
“You didn’t talk to Mike when the nightmares started?” When Steve shook his head, the psychiatrist continued. “Why not?”
“He’s still not quite a hundred percent yet and I didn’t want to worry him…” Steve stopped, looking away.
Murchison waited a few seconds before asking, “How’s he doing?”
Steve looked back and smiled slightly. “Good. Very good, actually. He wants to move back home.” He grinned. “I told him I would allow him to do that only after he talked to you.” They both chuckled.
“How are you both doing?” Murchison asked gently.
“What? What do you mean?”
“I mean, has the shooting changed your relationship in any way? Pulled you apart? Pushed you together?”
Leaning forward and resting his chin on his steepled hands, Steve thought about it for awhile, the psychiatrist waiting patiently. “The age difference has never meant much to me before. Mike’s always been just, you know, older than me. But after he got shot, I started to realize that, chances are, somewhere down the road, I am going to lose him, one way or another… And that kinda scares me,” he said quietly, his voice cracking slightly.
Steve’s gaze dropped to the floor. After a long pause, he began softly, “Because I never realized how much a part of my life he’s become, how much I rely on him, how important his opinion is to me…”
“How much you love him,” the psychiatrist proposed quietly, and was startled to see the tears that instantly formed in the younger mans eyes.
Steve sat back sharply, blinking quickly, clearing his throat. “Yeah…ah, I guess, ah, yeah…”
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Murchison said softly, “and I’d venture to say the feeling is mutual.” The younger man’s reflective smile was what he wanted to see. “Steve, how have you been coping since the first shooting? I know you and Jack were among the first to get to the garage; that couldn’t have been easy.”
Steve’s stare had turned inward and he sat silently, unmoving. He’d never talked about what he had gone through emotionally that day; he couldn’t with Mike, and he hadn’t wanted to with anyone else. When he started, his voice was so low Murchison could barely hear him.
“I thought he was dead… I couldn’t find a pulse, I couldn’t see him breathe… I froze… I didn’t know what to do …” He took a deep steadying breath. “Thank god Bob Chapman was there.” He glanced up at the psychiatrist. “I found out later that he was a corpsman in Vietnam.” He chuckled dryly. “I seem to be surrounded by them all of a sudden.” When Murchison frowned in confusion, Steve added with a dismissive wave of his left hand, “Not important, private joke.”
“Okay,” Murchison said with a smile, then turned serious once more. “How long did you think he was dead?”
Steve shrugged, his gaze turning inward once more. “I’m not sure, a couple of hours. We were in the waiting room, I know that. It’s, ah, it’s all a blur, thank god. I just know it felt as if my world had ended…”
“And then you found out that not only was he alive, but he was going to be fine.”
“Yeah,” Steve said slowly, nodding, but still looking into the middle distance, unfocused. “Yeah.” A smile slowly surfaced. “I couldn’t believe it at first. I don’t think I really believed it until I saw him.”
“How did you feel then?”
Steve looked at the psychiatrist with a frown. He almost snapped ‘How do think I felt?’ until he realized what Murchison was really asking. “I was too relieved at first to feel anything except gratitude. But when I realized that he was going to be all right, that’s when the anger started to set in. I was just like everyone else – I wanted to get the cowards who’d ambushed them …”
“Do you still feel that way?”
Steve thought about it for a few seconds then nodded. “Yeah, the anger is still there; it’s been tempered somewhat, but it’s still there. I don’t think I’d be human if it wasn’t.”
Murchison nodded, making a quick entry into his notebook. He’d done it before but this was the first time Steve had noticed and the cop frowned briefly. “Do you remember what was going through your mind when you were in the Annenberg house with Jack?”
“Do you mean was I thinking of Annenberg as Mike’s shooter or as a hostage?” Steve asked sharply.
“You tell me.”
Steve leaned back, once more increasing the distance between them. Expressionless, he stared at the psychiatrist for several long moments. “As a hostage,” he said finally, almost sadly. He looked down. “I knew we still had to prove Annenberg’s involvement and that until we did that, he would continue to be presumed innocent. I’ve never wanted to nail someone so badly in my life… but Mike had always taught me that only a conviction makes a criminal a criminal; until then, they’re still just a suspect, no matter how you feel about them.”
Murchison nodded noncommittally. “How do you feel about Jack now?”
Knowing that this question was coming, Steve was ready for it. “Jack had a lot of personal demons that he couldn’t control. And nothing anyone could have said, me or anybody else except maybe Charlie, would have changed his mind. I know that now.” He paused. “When it happened, I honestly thought if I had said something different, or moved a little faster, I could have stopped him. But I know now that his mind was made up the moment he entered that house. And nothing I could have said or done was going to change it.”
Murchison made another notation, smiling slightly. Then he deliberately slid the pen clip into the fold of his notebook and snapped it shut. Only then did he look up to meet the cop’s intent stare. He smiled. “We’re done.”
The psychiatrist nodded. “That’s it. I’m satisfied. You can go back to work anytime you want.”
Steve visibly relaxed and a relieved smile warmed his features.
Murchison chuckled. “I told you it wouldn’t take long. You guys never seem to believe me.” He stood up and Steve quickly followed.
“Thanks, Lenny,” said Steve, holding out his right hand.
As they shook hands, Murchison asked with a chuckle, “When do you think I can expect your partner?”
“Well, if he’s as anxious to move back home as I think he is, you might get a call later today.”
“Then I’ll look forward to it.”
Steve turned towards the door but then hesitated and turned back. “Lenny, I’m not sure if I should tell you this, but … Look, I think I know what Mike’s going to talk to you about but this is not about that … although I think it might have some bearing on it. It’s something he told me years ago, and I’m not even sure if he’s aware of the impact it had on him.” He hesitated, weighing his next words. “What I’m trying to say is, I think there’s something you should know about his past that might help you help him right now.”
Frowning, Murchison gestured at the chairs and Steve slowly crossed to sit once more, the psychiatrist following suit.
# # # # #
Haseejian hurried up to Steve when the inspector walked into Homicide and crossed to his desk. “Where have you been? I’ve been trying to track you down,” he said in a rush. “They’ve got some news on those .44’s. Rudy wants to see us in his office right away.”
Before he could utter a word, Steve’s elbow was grabbed and he was propelled back towards the door he had just entered. Within seconds, it seemed, he and Haseejian were entering Olsen’s office just as the captain was finishing up a phone call. He waved them in. O’Brien, Karlson and Healey were already there.
“Yes, yes… That’s great, Paul, yeah … Okay, we’ll let you know what we decide and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can … All right … All right …. Goodbye.” Olsen hung up and turned to the newcomers, who had found places to perch in the now crowded office.
“Steve, glad Norm finally found you. I don’t want to belabour this so I’ll let Dan get right to it. We’ve all heard it already, well, except for Norm, so Dan’ll fill you in from the beginning.”
Healey, who was sitting on a corner of Olsen’s desk, faced his colleagues but directed his attention at Steve. “Well, as you know from the phone call you got from Norm last night, we found the guns. Believe it or not, one of the street bums found them over a week ago; they’d been dumped in an abandoned flophouse about two blocks from where the car was ticketed.
“He had no idea that they were part of our city-wide search – you know street people, they don’t read many newspapers or watch the news,” he said with a sardonic chuckle that everyone shared, “but he thought he might be able to sell them for booze money. He said he was looking for the ‘right buyer’. Anyway, he saw our guys doing their street sweep and he’s pretty friendly with the local beat cops and he walks up to one of them, calm as a cucumber, and asks if this bag of guns might be what they’re looking for!”
Healey shrugged and shook his head. “So anyway, and this is what you’re waiting for, I know,” he said to Steve, “they did a ballistics test on them and they are a positive match. We now have all four guns used in the ambush.”
Steve let out a held breath and smiled slightly, dropping his head.
“However,” Healey continued, and Steve’s head snapped up, “both guns were wiped clean, spotlessly clean, and the serial numbers had been filed off.”
“What? But the serial numbers were on the other two… “
Healey nodded. “We know. What we figure is, Annenberg gave the other two guns to Johnson several days before the ambush, and filed the numbers off his own two then. He was a cunning little bastard.”
“So we have no way of tying those guns to Annenberg?” Steve asked with a tinge of desperation and anger in his voice.
“I didn’t say that,” said Healey with a knowing tilt of his head. “Those guys in the lab are pretty savvy and they used that new technique using sandpaper and some kind of reagent, god knows what it is but you can ask them if you want, and it took a few hours, but they got the serial number off one of them. Seems that that Annenberg shithead wasn’t as clever as he thought he was.
“And,” Healey continued, “the number matches one of the ones we got from the gun shops.”
“Bingo!” said Haseejian with gusto as Steve smiled happily.
“But,” injected O’Brien with a solemnity that quickly took the wind out of their sails, “that still doesn’t put the guns into Annenberg’s hands. Any lawyer worth his salt can say, ‘Yes, you have proved he bought the guns but you haven’t proved he was the shooter’. So we get conspirator, but not murderer.”
Healey nodded. “He’s right.”
Watching Steve deflate was too much for the veteran officer and he quickly relented. “The guys in the lab weren’t through.” Steve looked up and met his colleague’s eyes, and Healey smiled slightly. “Do you remember when we filled you in with details on the ambush a few weeks ago? We told you that four guns were used, and that thirteen of the twenty-three shots fired hit their targets?”
Steve nodded solemnly, then glanced around the room in confusion as everyone looked at him in anticipation. Suddenly he straightened up slightly and a smile began to light his face. “Twenty-three shots,” he echoed.
Healey nodded, trying to suppress his grin. “That twenty-fourth bullet was still in the chamber. There was a perfect right-hand thumbprint on the casing. And it’s a match.”