Keys

Chapter 39

“Lenny,” Mike nodded noncommittally as he closed the door and walked deeper into the room, the fedora in his left hand.

The psychiatrist was standing in front of one of the large leather armchairs, and he held out his right hand as the cop approached. “It’s wonderful to see you up and about,” he said earnestly as they shook hands.

“It’s wonderful to be up and about,” Mike agreed as he sat in the second armchair, putting his hat brim down on the floor beside the chair

As Murchison sat, he picked up a notebook and pen from the side table then leaned back and crossed his legs, more or less the same approach he had assumed with Steve.

“How are you, Mike, really?” His sincerity was honest, but once again the deceptive innocence of the question was not lost on the older man.

Mike, who had both feet on the floor, elbows on the chair arms and hands resting loosely on his thighs, hesitated briefly before answering. “Good. Very good, actually. I’m almost a hundred percent. My stamina is still a bit of a problem and I can’t raise my left arm above shoulder height yet, but it’s getting better every day.”

“Are you going for therapy?”

“No, ah, they gave me some exercises to do on my own and I’m doing those. They seem to be working, but there was a lot of damage done to the muscles in my chest and that takes time.” He paused and smiled slightly. “And I’m not as young as I used to be – I don’t bounce back as fast.”

Lenny returned the wry smile with a nod. “Tell me about it.” He made a small notation in his notebook. “Well, knowing the condition you were in a couple a weeks ago, I’d say you’re doing great.” He looked at the detective steadily. “I’m really glad to see that, I mean it”

Mike smiled and nodded. “Thank you. I appreciate that.”

Murchison stared at the detective as he continued. “So, physically, you’re doing amazingly well and that’s terrific. But you know that’s not why you’re here, right?”

Mike said nothing as he evenly met the psychiatrist’s eyes. He knew full well he was eventually going to have to be completely honest, but he was stubborn enough to make Murchison work for it.

Unfortunately, in his still slightly debilitated state, he had met his match. And as the psychiatrist continued to stare at him with studied patience, Mike dropped his eyes and sighed. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, looking down at the carpet. “What do you want to know?” His voice was almost inaudible.

Aware that they were entering into a dialogue that could get very tense very fast, Murchison lingered before asking, “This is the first time you’ve been injured this severely on the job, am I right?”

Mike nodded.

“So do you think it’s going to affect the way you do your job?”

He saw Mike’s eyebrows go up. “To be honest,” Mike said slowly after several seconds, “I have no idea. It’s not like this was a shoot-out; we were ambushed in the garage.” He paused. “I really won’t know till I get back out on the street.” He glanced up at the psychiatrist.

Murchison’s eyes dropped to his notebook as he made a notation, a small smile playing across his lips, which Mike took as a good sign.

“I heard about yesterday, about you working with the DA’s office to put the screws to Annenberg.” Again Mike nodded. “Is that the first time you’ve been back in the building?”

“Unh-hunh.”

“Was that a deliberate choice, or just coincidence?” he asked, choosing the last word carefully.

Mike sat back, dropping his hands into his lap, and smiled suspiciously. “Are you asking if I’m … hesitant … to come back here because of what happened?” When Murchison began to open his mouth, Mike cut him off. “I’m not, just for the record,” he said, glancing at the notebook. “Like I told Steve, this building and the garage hold no demons for me. I don’t remember anything about the shooting. I barely heard the first shot and I was hit by the second. I have no memory of anything after that, not even getting hit.”

“Then why haven’t you had any contact with any of the others?” Murchison watched the blue eyes widen slightly.

Stalling, trying to figure out what angle was being taken, Mike countered, “What do you mean?”

“I mean,” Murchison continued almost casually, “it’s been over four weeks since the shooting and I know you have yet to make contact with any of the others, including Roy. All the rest have been in touch with each other – but not you. Would you like to tell me why?”

Mike had stared at Murchison as he spoke and now he swallowed hard, letting his gaze drop to the floor. He had known this subject was going to be broached at some point during this session; he just didn’t think it would be so soon. Clearing his throat self-consciously, he glanced up and said quietly, “I don’t know if there is a reason, really. I think the opportunity just never came up.” He knew the psychiatrist wasn’t going to buy this, but it was worth a shot, he thought.

Murchison smiled knowingly. “You don’t expect me to believe that, do you?”

The detective shrugged, looking away. “I can’t think of any other reason.”

“Really?” The psychiatrist sounded unconvinced, his tone almost sarcastic. He took a deep breath and stared at the other man unflinchingly. “Does the term ‘survivor’s guilt’ mean anything to you?”

Mike’s head came up sharply. “It’s not that,” he said emphatically. “I don’t have anything to be guilty about.” His tone was a little too sharp, his delivery a little too quick.

“You don’t?” Murchison let the question hang in the air. “You don’t feel even the slightest bit of guilt about being the only one of the four of you at the front of the group that wasn’t killed, the only one who not only gets to walk away but actually return to the job?” He paused. “You can’t possibly tell me that thought hasn’t crossed your mind at least once or twice in the past four weeks.”

Mike withered slightly under the stare, and sagged in the chair. He brought his left hand up to his face and rubbed the back of his index finger against his lips, a habit the pyschiatrist knew was a sign of stress. “I suppose it has crossed my mind,” he admitted reluctantly.

Murchison made a note, uncrossed his legs and sat forward. He knew the next few minutes were crucial and he wanted to make sure he said the right things in the right way.

“So do you think that, maybe, in some small way, you might be feeling a little of that guilt, and that’s what’s making you reluctant to face the others? That you’ve been thinking ‘Why me?’ … Can you admit to yourself that there just might be a little bit of that going on here?”

The psychiatrist waited as Mike sat stock still, staring into space, fighting an inner battle. Then he nodded almost imperceptibly. “Yes, I think you might be right,” he said softly, and Murchison closed his eyes briefly in relief. They were making progress.

Then to his surprise, Mike continued, slowly and softly, almost to himself. “It was all about those keys. Charlie’s keys … I felt that if I had let Charlie pick them up, he’d still be alive. Not me.” His voice trailed away, the self-recrimination he had put himself through over that simple act, having knocked the keys out of Charlie’s hand in the first place, still painfully evident.

When Mike didn’t continue, Murchison ventured gently. “You can’t possibly know if that would have been true, don’t you? Charlie had a lot of physical issues that most of us were unaware of; there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have survived even if he had been hit like you were.”

Still staring into the middle distance, Mike nodded slowly and smiled appreciatively. “I wish that helped.”

Murchison sat back and took a deep breath. “Mike, I don’t think this is the first time you’ve had to face something like this, am I right?”

As anticipated, Mike’s head snapped up and the blue eyes bored into the younger man’s face. With an almost menacing undertone, he growled, “What do you mean?”

The psychiatrist took a deep breath; this was the moment he had been dreading but one he knew he couldn’t avoid. “You had an older brother, didn’t you?”

Mike froze, his eyes widening slightly, catching his breath. The unexpectedness of the question caught him by surprise. It was several seconds before he could trust his voice enough to answer. “Yes, I did,” he said sharply. “What does that have to do -?”

“He died during World War Two, didn’t he?” Murchison cut him off, keeping his tone neutral, determined not to allow the detective to derail this line of questioning.

Mike took a deep breath, trying to get control of his sudden tenuous grasp of his emotions. Murchison was staring at him in such a way that he knew he had to answer, that this subject wasn’t just going to go away because he wished it so.

“Yes,” he said quietly, looking away, not trusting himself not to give in to the long-suppressed grief that was threatening to wash over him.

“Where did it happen?”

Mike leaned forward and, with elbows on knees and hands lightly clasped, dropped his head to stare at the floor. “He was in Europe. The Battle of The Bulge. In the Ardennes. The 1st Infantry Division. They came under heavy fire. He was killed on January 16th, 1945.” It was the first time he had talked about his brother in years, but the feelings were still fresh and raw.

“You were in the Pacific, right?” Murchison asked softly, kindly.

The older man nodded. “The Pacific. I was in the Marines; Alex was Army. … He enlisted before I did. He was two years older than me so he always did everything first. … My Dad was so proud of him the day he signed up. ‘My son is a soldier.’” Mike glanced up. “My Dad was Yugoslavian, my mother was Czech. They always hated the Nazis because of what the were doing to their homelands.”

Mike almost smiled, remembering. “I guess I was a little jealous of all the attention Alex was getting, so after he left I went down to the recruiting office and joined the Marines. He was sent to Europe and I ended up in the Pacific. Iwo Jima.”

“That must have been a pretty tough fight as well,” the psychiatrist added encouragingly, gratified the conversation was going better than he had anticipated. Mike nodded, his gaze far away. “You got through it unscathed?”

“Not a scratch. I was one of the lucky ones,” he smiled slightly then froze, the smile dying as quickly as it came. Those were the same words he had used to describe this recent ordeal.

The detective’s internal battle was not lost on the pyschiatrist. Waiting a few seconds, he asked softly, “When did you find out about your brother?”

“When I got home, September of ’45. He’d been killed in January and I didn’t find out about it for eight months.” There was anger and regret in his voice. “He’s buried in Belgium. My parents never got to see him again. By the time I returned, they had sort of accepted the idea that he was gone but then I came home and they had to relive it all over again because of me.” The faintest trace of self-loathing had crept into his tone. “My father never recovered from the shock of losing Alex. It ate away at him every day, until the day he died. How he had lost his first-born, his oldest son …”

Mike was staring into space, his eyes unfocused. And, as Murchison watched, silent tears began streaming down his cheeks. “I know he didn’t mean it, but I always felt he thought the wrong son had come home from the war.”

Closing his eyes in empathy, his own heart breaking, Murchison leaned closer. Allowing time for the older man to deal with what he had just revealed, he asked gently, “You believe he really felt that way?”

Still staring hauntingly into nothingness, Mike nodded slowly. “I do. I felt it my whole life. Even after he died, I couldn’t come to grips with it. … For years I resented Alex, for dying, for what his death did to my relationship with our dad. … After my father died, I began to realize that it wasn’t Alex’s fault; he didn’t want to die. … It took me years to finally come to terms with that…”

The two men sat silently for a long time, the psychiatrist giving Mike the time and space he needed to do whatever it was he needed to do to pull himself back together. He would work it out, make the connections, realize that what he was going through now, as he fought to recover from a horrendous ordeal, was no different from the guilt and anguish he had endured so long ago.

Eventually Mike’s right hand slid into his pants pocket and came back out with a handkerchief. He wiped it across his face, glancing up at the psychiatrist as he did so. “Sorry,” he said contritely.

Murchison leaned forward and slapped him lightly on one knee before leaning back in the armchair. “Don’t apologize, you haven’t done anything wrong.” He put the notebook and pen on the side table.

Waiting several beats, he asked quietly, “What are you feeling right now?”

Mike cleared his throat as he shifted in the chair to put the handkerchief back in his pocket. He sat back and the left hand went once more to his mouth as he looked down, embarrassed. “Like an old fool,” he said almost inaudibly.

Murchison shook his head. “You’re not that, Mike. And I don’t think you ever will be,” he finished lightly, before turning serious again. “We all have things in our lives that affect us in ways we don’t understand. And they can shape who we are and how we react to things, and we don’t even realize it.

“Your inability early on to deal with your brother’s death and your father’s … disappointment … has in many ways made you the man you are today. You care deeply about other people and how they’re treated - a trait of yours I’ve always admired, by the way, and one you don’t always find in law enforcement – and I’m fairly certain that comes from the way you were treated. You don’t want anyone to experience what you did.”

Mike’s eyes had travelled slowly from the floor to the psychiatrist’s face as he had spoken, and transformed from embarrassment to gratitude.

“What you’re feeling, what you’ve been going through as a result of the shooting and your recovery, that’s normal, that’s to be expected. You’re experiencing what almost everyone who survives when others do not goes through. Don’t be embarrassed by it, and don’t let it separate you from the others. They need you. They need to know that you have come out of this a whole man, the old Mike Stone that they know and love. … And, believe it or not, you’ll find that you need them too. Once you face them again, that mountain will have been crossed and you’ll find you’re right back where you were with them before all this happened … except now, you have a bond with them that no one else shares. It will make you all stronger.”

Mike nodded slowly, giving serious weight and consideration to the pyschiatrist’s words. Murchison smiled encouragingly. “Look, I think we’ve had enough for today. I’d like to talk to you again about all this, if you want. I think there’s still some things that should be explored, but, for today, I’m satisfied with the work we’ve done. How about you?”

The relieved and grateful smile was slow to build. “Yeah, I don’t think I could handle anymore right now. Thanks.”

Murchison chuckled. “You’re welcome. Mike, we came a long way today, and, officially, I’m satisfied that you’re capable of going back to work whenever you see fit. I’d still like to see you again, but that won’t prevent me from giving you the green light. How does that sound?”

After a slight pause, Mike smile grew broader. “That sounds great, thank you.” He reached down the side of the chair to pick up his hat, and both men stood. Mike put out his right hand. “Thanks, Lenny. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

“You’re very welcome. And if anytime you just want to drop by and chat about, you know, whatever, my door is always open. You know that, right?” He squeezed Mike’s hand for emphasis.

“Yeah. But I’ll knock first,” Mike said with a grin. When he got to the door, he turned back almost nonchalantly. “By the way, there’s nothing in my file about my brother. How did you find out about him?”


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