Keys

Chapter 40

Steve glanced at his watch then at his phone. He frowned as he returned to his paperwork. Haseejian got up from his desk nearby and sidled over.

“You keep looking at your phone. What’s going on? Hot date tonight?” he asked with a grin as he sat on the corner of the desk.

Steve leaned back and smiled. “Nothing that exciting, I’m afraid. No, Mike finally agreed to come in to see Lenny, the first step in his getting back to work.”

“Hey, that’s great. He’s doing that good, hunh?”

“Yep. If he gets the go ahead from Lenny, he just has to go for a physical and he’ll be back behind that desk before you know it,” he said with a nod towards the still empty office.

“Terrific. But why do you keep looking at the phone?”

“’Cause he’s going to call me when he’s finished and I’m gonna take him home.”

“But I saw Lenny walking down the hall about a half hour ago,” Haseejian said with a frown, jerking his thumb towards the corridor.

“Are you sure?” Steve asked, sitting up straighter.

“Yeah, I know what he looks like,” Haseejian groused as Steve got to his feet and pulled his jacket from the back of the chair.

# # # # #

Steve banged on the door impatiently. He heard the “Come –“ yelled from inside and had the door open before the “ – in!” was uttered.

Lenny Murchison was sitting at his desk, eating a sandwich and making notes. “Steve,” he smiled, surprised, “what brings you –“

“Where’s Mike?”

“He’s gone.”

“What do you mean he’s gone? When?”

“Well, we finished about an hour ago.” Murchison smiled. “We had a great talk, he’s come a long –“

But his words fell on deaf ears; Steve was already back out into the corridor, letting the door close itself behind him.

# # # # #

Steve took the steps up to his apartment two at a time. He heard Mrs. Neidermaier’s door open as he put his key into the lock but he was in no mood to talk to her. He entered the apartment quickly and slammed the door.

“Mike!” he called and was rewarded with silence.

Quickly climbing the stairs to the second floor, he threw open the bedroom door. The bed was neatly made and the room was spotless. He slid the closet door open and saw only his own clothes there. The top drawer of the dresser was empty, and Mike’s toiletries were gone from the bathroom vanity.

Steve wandered back into the bedroom and sat on the side of the bed. He dropped his head and sighed loudly. “Damn…”

# # # # #

The Porsche pulled to the curb and the engine was turned off. The driver sat behind the wheel for a few long seconds, staring up at the house, once again not quite certain that he was making a good choice in coming here so quickly.

He’d been debating with himself all the way over if he had done the right thing. Trying to help a friend sometimes meant going out on a limb that could break off at any time; intentions can be misunderstood, trusts broken.

With a heavy heart, Steve got out of the car and slowly climbed the steep concrete steps. The curtains were closed. He hesitated on the stoop for several seconds before he knocked.

There was no reaction, no noise from within. He tried again. Still nothing. He was just about to leave when the knob was turned and the latch released, the door not opened but left slightly ajar.

Startled, Steve hesitated then pushed the door open. The living room was dark as he entered the house and he stood just inside the threshold for several seconds before slowly closing the door behind him. He crossed soundlessly towards the kitchen and stopped in the doorway.

Sunlight from the window illuminated the small kitchen. Mike was leaning against the counter, his arms folded, his head down. He didn’t look up when Steve appeared in the entrance. An uncomfortable silence filled the room.

Finally, Mike began to speak, slowly and quietly. “When I made sergeant, I called my parents. My mother answered the phone. She was so excited for me, so happy. ‘Congratulations, Mikey’ – she always called me Mikey – ‘I am so proud of you.’ She called out to my father, I could hear her. ‘Petar, Mikey’s a sergeant now!’, she yelled.” Mike paused and snorted derisively. “You know what my father said?” he asked rhetorically, a bitter edge to his voice. “’It’s about time’, he said … ‘It’s about time’ …”

Mike shifted his weight, keeping his head down, and Steve could hear his deep unsteady breaths. “No matter what I did, I felt I couldn’t please him … I could never be Alex … ”

In the silence that followed, Steve crossed slowly to his partner and leaned against the counter beside him, crossing his arms. He took a deep breath then said softly. “Your father sounds like a real jerk.”

Mike’s head snapped up, anger in his eyes, but he stopped short when he saw the wry smile on his partner’s open face. Mike chuckled and shook his head, dropping his eyes to the floor once more.

“Lenny didn’t rat you out, just so you know. He’s got too much integrity for that. I kinda had it figured out before I asked him anyway. … And then I figured I better get the hell out of there before I found you and threw you through a wall.” He sensed Steve stiffen uncomfortably where he stood. Sighing heavily, he continued contritely, “But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized this has been something I should have dealt with a long, long time ago.”

He looked up. “Thank you,” he said simply. “I guess you do know me better than I know myself sometimes.” His smile was warm and affectionate and self-conscious.

With a quiet chuckle, Steve uncrossed his arms, slapping Mike on the back and running his hand up to grab the back of his partner’s neck. His relief was palpable.

Mike laughed and relaxed, and they stood shoulder to shoulder in silence for several long seconds.

“So,” said Steve finally, “you moved home.”

“Yeah, well, you said I could after I talked to Lenny, so …”

“My apartment’s not going to be the same without you,” Steve said half-jokingly.

Mike looked at him sideways. “You’ll get over it. Besides, you get to sleep in your own bed again – that can’t be a bad thing.”

Steve shrugged. “I guess.” He took a step towards the refrigerator and opened it. “You have nothing to eat.” Closing the door, he turned on his heel. “And I’m sure that car of yours needs to get out and stretch it’s tires. Why don’t we go for a grocery run and I’ll help you carry all those heavy bags up the stairs?”

Mike had been watching his young friend fondly. With a warm smile, he nodded. “Why not? You have to stay for supper too.”

“Love to. As a matter of fact, your first night home, I want to make sure everything’s going to be okay. We’ll swing by my place and I can pick up some things – I’m spending the night in Jeannie’s room.”

“You don’t have –“ Mike began to protest, but his partner’s raised eyebrows and no-nonsense stare shut him up quickly. “I’d love to have you as a houseguest tonight,” he finished with a snicker.

Steve laughed and started to cross to the door. “Where are your car keys?” he called over his shoulder.

# # # # #

Dressed in a jacket and tie, Steve was behind the wheel of his Porsche, his partner, casual in khakis, a checked shirt, windbreaker and fedora, in the passenger seat. They were headed to Bryant Street where Steve was going to work and Mike was going to talk to Olsen about his impending return.

Steve turned the car from Bryant onto 7th and pulled into the outside parking lot. He slowed down to look for an open space.

“Aren’t you going to park in the garage? I have to go to the top floor and I’d like to use the elevator.”

Steve glanced nervously across the front seat. “You can take the elevator from the lobby.”

“I’d rather take it from the garage.” Mike stared at the younger man.

Steve swallowed. He knew Mike was on to him, so with a sigh he stepped on the accelerator and steered the car towards the garage entrance.

As the Porsche went down the ramp to the lower level, Mike sensed Steve tense up even more. “Park near where our cars are – there’s bound to be an open spot.”

Clearing his throat, Steve maneuvered the sports car deeper into the garage. He swung into the first empty space he found, turned the car off, and just sat there.

Mike looked over at him. “You haven’t been down here since the shooting, have you?”

Staring through the windshield, Steve shook his head.

“I thought so.” Mike opened the side door. “Come on.” He got out, but when Steve didn’t follow, he leaned back in. “Are you coming?”

With a quick sigh, Steve got out, slamming the door and pocketing his keys. He knew that to get from the car to the elevator, they would have to walk right past the spot where the shooting occurred.

Falling into step beside his partner, Mike looked at him sideways, then asked gently, “What do you remember the most from that day?”

They were getting closer. Steve took a deep breath and slowed down, “The fear.” He stopped and turned to face the older man. “I never told you this, but I thought you were dead.”

Mike’s expression didn’t change, but he caught his breath, his heart skipping a beat.

“When I first got to you, I couldn’t find a pulse or a breath. It wasn’t until I was in the waiting room, more than an hour later that I found out you were still alive.” Steve’s gaze had drifted to the area of the garage floor where he and Elliott had found their fallen colleagues. Bloodstains on the concrete were still visible.

Both men stood silently, reverentially; so much had happened in the weeks since, some of it good, some of it bad. Steve felt Mike move closer to him and a hand slide across this back, come to rest atop his shoulder and squeeze.

“We made it, Buddy Boy, the two of us. Just like you said we would.”


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