The door slammed shut, leaving the four men still in the conference room riveted to their spots. After several silent seconds, Steve turned his head slowly. Mike was still staring at the door but Steve could see that his entire body had started to shake. Alarmed, he grabbed Mike’s chair and pulled it closer and, with a hand on the older man’s arm, gently guided his partner down onto the chair.
O’Brien and Cavallero turned quickly, concerned, as Mike leaned forward and dropped his head into his hands. But all three worried looks disappeared when they heard what sounded suspiciously like suppressed chuckles coming from the chair.
Mike sat back, a weary grin lighting his face, and sighed happily, coughing slightly through another chuckle. “Oh my god, that was fun.”
O’Brien was the first to laugh, shaking his head in awe as he moved closer to the seated detective. “Mike, that was unbelievable. When Steve told me this morning that you were going to handle this, I have to admit I had my doubts. Not about your abilities as a cop,” he added quickly, “I just wasn’t sure you were up to it physically.” He chuckled as he glanced at Steve and Cavellero. “Boy, was I wrong. You would have made one hell of a lawyer.” He finished with an affectionate pat on Mike’s shoulder.
“I’ll say,” said Cavellero, his voice imbued with respect and warm approval. “That was one amazing display. Lieutenant, anytime you want to come work for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, just let me know,” he joked.
Mike laughed. “Ah, no thanks, I’m kinda happy here.” He looked at his partner. “I couldn’t have done this without Steve,” he explained to the others. “He’d make an excellent teacher.”
Steve grinned and chuckled. “A teacher’s only as good as his student.” He looked up at the two ADA’s. “We were at it most of last night till about…what?” He glanced at Mike. “Two in morning? He had a lot to catch up on.”
Mike chuckled, shaking his head. “Yeah, it was kind of an ‘old dog, new trick’ kinda thing. If you repeat it often enough, eventually they catch on.”
Everyone laughed. Mike sat back in the chair and closed his eyes. Steve glanced at O’Brien. “Look, ah, I better get you home,” he said as he patted Mike’s leg. “This is the longest you’ve been out of the house for quite a while and I think you need to rest.”
Mike opened his eyes. “Yes, I guess you’re right,” he admitted reluctantly. “One step at a time, right?” he asked rhetorically, getting to his feet.
“Mike, it’s been a pleasure,” Cavellero reiterated, holding out his hand. “I sincerely hope I get to work with you again, the both of you,” he said, shaking Mike’s hand and then Steve’s.
“But hopefully on something that doesn’t hit so close to home,” Mike added wistfully, and Steve could see his eyes travel to the photographs of their fallen comrades that were still visible on the table.
Steve picked up Mike’s fedora from a nearby chair, crossed to the door and opened it. “Gerry,” he said, subtly trying to get his partner’s attention, “we’ll talk to you soon. Keep us in the loop, alright; let us know any decisions made because of today.”
Mike slowly pulled himself away from the photos and with another quick glance and a nod at the two ADA’s, followed his partner into the corridor. Steve saw Mike’s eyes dart around nervously as he handed him the fedora. He knew the older man was hoping they wouldn’t run into any of ‘the Eight’, as the ambush survivors were now being referred to by some of their colleagues.
“I’m parked at the side,” Steve said quietly. “You wanna take the stairs?”
“Sure,” said Mike, as he followed his partner to the nearest stairwell and they started down.
Steve suddenly realized this was the same stairwell he and Elliott had used on their way down to the garage. It was the first time he had been in it since that day.
They descended in silence, but when they got to the ground floor, Mike caught Steve’s nervous glance at the stairs continuing down to the garage. They stepped into the bustling main foyer and, keeping his head down and his fedora in his hand, Mike was relieved to get to the short corridor that led to the side exit without being recognized. ‘We’ve both got lingering issues,’ Mike thought to himself as they stepped though the metal door out into the bright afternoon sunshine.
# # # # #
His fedora in his hand, Mike trudged up the stairs to the second floor, pulling his tie off as he went. Steve watched his progress then called after him, “I’m just going to go back out for awhile. You have a rest and I’ll see you in a little bit.”
More tired that he cared to admit, Mike just waved a hand wearily as he disappeared into the bedroom. Steve closed and locked the front door, taking off his own tie and stuffing it into a jacket pocket as he returned to the Porsche.
An hour later, laden with grocery bags, Steve made his way back up the stairs to his apartment door. He was just inserting the key into the lock when he heard a door open nearby and Mrs. Neidermaier stuck her head out.
“Oh, Steven,” she exclaimed excitedly, “was that you and your partner looking so nice in your suits earlier today?”
Trying to balance the heavy grocery bags, and trying to prevent the bottle of wine in his jacket pocket from falling out, Steve straddled the threshold, attempting to impart with his awkward body language that this conversation needed to be a short one. Much to his chagrin, Mrs. Neidermaier took no notice. “Yes, ma’am, it was.”
“So is your wonderful partner well enough to go back to work? Does that mean that he’s going to be leaving here and going back home?” she asked as she crossed to him, drying her hands on her apron. Steve swore he could hear disappointment in her voice.
“He’s getting there,” he nodded. “It won’t be long.” He shifted his weight towards the door and hefted the bag in his left hand, hoping she would take the hint.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” she said sadly, looking down. “I was getting used to having him here.” She looked back up at Steve and smiled sweetly. “But it’s good to know he’s getting better. Please tell him I said ‘hi’.” She turned away, and Steve readjusted the bags he was holding and stepped over the threshold.
“But Steven,” she continued, turning back around and approaching him again, “do you think he would like to come to dinner, with you too of course, before he goes home for good? I’m a very good cook, you know.”
Steve stopped abruptly, and he felt the wine bottle wobble. He clamped his left elbow against the top of the bottle, almost losing his grip on one of the bags. Trying not to curse, or grimace, he smiled unnaturally. “I’ll ask him,” he said quickly, realizing he was rapidly losing his patience. “I’m sorry, Mrs Neidermaier, I have to …” He nodded into his apartment.
“Oh yes, of course,” she said, “I didn’t mean to keep you. Those must be heavy.” She gestured towards the bags. Steve began to move, only to be stopped once again by her “Please tell your partner I hope he has a good night and I will see him and you for dinner. You decide when, Steven, and just let me know.”
“I will, ma’am, I promise. First chance I get,” Steve said with a sweet smile as he backed into his apartment and closed the door with his foot. With a sigh and a chuckle, he crossed to the kitchen and, much to his relief, finally put the heavy bags down on the counter.
He took the steps to the second floor two at a time and quietly opened the bedroom door. Relieved to find Mike, still dressed in his shirt and suit pants, stretched out on the bed, fast asleep, he returned to the kitchen and unpacked the bags.
# # # # #
Sipping from a glass of wine and reading the newspaper in the armchair in the living room, Steve looked up when he heard his partner start down the stairs.
“You had a good sleep. Feeling better?”
Stretching his back muscles and rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, Mike smiled as he crossed to the sofa and dropped onto it heavily. “I did and I am,” he said, staring at his young friend with affection. “I want to thank you again for this morning. I really couldn’t have done that without you.”
“My pleasure, believe me,” Steve grinned back, picking up his glass to salute. “Felt good to be back, sort of, did it?”
Mike nodded, losing his smile. “Yeah, it really did. And, to that end,” he continued slowly, “I gave Lenny a call after you left. I’m going to see him tomorrow morning.”
Steve hesitated slightly then grinned. “Good for you. That’s great. It’ll be good to get you back to work. You do know they’re probably not going to let you out on the street for awhile yet, but it’s a start, right?”
“Oh, I’m well aware of that, but … ah, today….” He hesitated then a warm smile spread across his face as he looked at his partner. “The fire’s back, Steve. I haven’t felt that … kick in a very long time. I thought it might have been gone for good,” he said softly, then hesitated, almost embarrassed, and Steve smiled warmly.
“Well,” the younger man said mischievously, kindly, “I thought you and I might celebrate tonight. I hope you’re hungry. I got us a couple of big steaks, a couple of baked potatoes and a big bottle of wine. Everything’s almost ready. Go wash up, and I’ll put the steaks on, alright?”
Almost too overwhelmed to speak and not trusting his voice, Mike’s love and gratitude shone in his eyes as he nodded, stood and crossed back to the stairs. With a gentle chuckle, Steve dropped the newspaper to the floor as he stood and returned to the kitchen with his wineglass in hand.
# # # # #
Mike glanced at his watch once more as he stepped into the corridor from the elevator and started towards the office. When he got to the door, he took off his hat and raised his right hand to knock. He hesitated, his fist in midair, took a step back and a deep breath then stepped forward to knock again.
“Come in,” yelled the familiar voice from the other side of the door.
Mike turned the knob and pushed the door open.
“Mike, great to see you,” said Dr. Lenny Murchison. “Come on in and take a seat.”