Keys

Chapter 41

The sky was overcast and the breeze chilly. Wearing his beige raincoat over his jacket and tie, Steve stared down at the flat bronze marker buried in the soil. He squatted and ran his fingers over the raised letters: John Edward “Jack” Elliott.

Keeping his fingers on the plaque, he looked up. In his black topcoat, the fedora in his right hand, Mike was several yards away, standing in front of a plain grey headstone. His head was down and his eyes closed; Steve knew he was praying.

Steve stood slowly, gave the marker one last long look and noiselessly crossed closer to his partner. He waited patiently until Mike raised his head then moved to stand beside him. Mike put his hat on then reached out and touched the top of the headstone.

“The flowers look nice, don’t they?” he asked softly, and peripherally he saw Steve nod. “Maureen must come out here a lot.”

“Yeah.”

Mike took a deep breath then pulled himself out of his reverie and turned to his partner. “I’m ready to go,” he said with a sad smile, and Steve smiled back, nodding. They crossed to the car in silence, and it wasn’t until they were back on the road towards downtown that Mike finally spoke again. “Thanks,” he said quietly.

Steve smiled. “You’re welcome.”

Mike cleared his throat and looked out the side window. “There’s not much traffic for a Monday morning.”

“Well, we’re a little past rush hour.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Mike agreed absentmindedly, and Steve looked across the front seat.

It had been six weeks since the shooting, and it was Mike’s first day back on the job. He had passed the physical but was restricted to desk duty for the next four weeks, a stipulation he chafed at but ultimately agreed to.

Steve thought back to earlier that morning, when he had pulled the tan LTD up to the curb in front of the De Haro house. When he saw the front door open and Mike, dressed in his dark blue suit, maroon vest, black topcoat and fedora, step out onto the stoop, spontaneous bittersweet tears had sprung to his eyes. By the time Mike got into the car, he had recovered his composure.

Now, on their way to Bryant Street, he glanced over at his unusually subdued partner. “How are you doing?” he asked gently.

Mike looked at him for a beat then nodded slowly. “Okay, okay.”

“Remember what I said; stay as long as you want or think you can, and then I’ll take you home. But don’t push it. It’s just your first day.”

Mike nodded again, looking out the side window. He seemed far away.

Steve pulled into the parking lot at the Hall of Justice and made his way to the underground garage ramp. As the car descended to the lower level, Steve felt Mike stiffen. He pulled into an empty space at the end of a row, shut the engine off and turned to the older man. “You ready?”

Mike looked at him with a slightly apprehensive smile. “I think so,” he said with an edgy chuckle.

Steve smiled encouragingly. “Don’t forget you’re among friends here, right?”

“Right,” Mike agreed, trying to sound positive as he reached for the handle. But before he could grab it, the door was yanked open and a voice boomed, “Well, it’s about time you got here!”

Startled, Mike turned in his seat as fast and as far as he could but all he could see was a charcoal grey suit and a hand leaning on a cane. Then Captain Roy Devitt leaned into view, his face alight with an infectious grin. “Are you keeping banker’s hours now or what?”

Steve heard Mike laugh as he got out of the car. “Roy, what the hell are you doing here?” Unable to help himself, Mike pulled Devitt into a quick hug then stood back to look at the cane. “How long do you have to use that for?”

Devitt held the cane up and they both looked at it as he brandished it like a sword. “From what I hear, I’ll be able to ‘86 this before they allow you back on the street.”

“That long, hunh?” Mike commented facetiously then laughed. “When did you get back?”

“Last week,” Devitt replied, nodding at Steve as he rounded the car to join them. “I’m tied to a desk too, probably for longer than you’ll be. How are you doing?”

Mike grinned, glancing at Steve. “I’m doing great. Thanks to him.”

Devitt looked at Steve with a knowing smile. “That’s what I heard. I, ah, I also heard you’ve had a hell of a few weeks too, hunh?” he finished soberly. “And I don’t just mean looking after him,” he added with a tilt of his head towards Mike.

Steve nodded. “Yeah, well, it’s almost over. Once I get him back on the street,” he put a hand on Mike’s shoulder, “everything will be back to normal.”

“No lawsuit, no charges?” Devitt asked.

Steve shook his head. “We haven’t heard a word from the ‘other camp’ in a couple of weeks. And Gerry thinks we won’t.”

“That’s great,” Devitt grinned, slapping Steve on the upper arm. “I am really happy to hear that.” Leaning on his cane, he turned in the direction of the elevator and the partners fell into step beside him.

“Listen, ah, before we go upstairs,” Mike began tentatively and stopped, the others doing the same and turning to him. “Roy, I want to apologize for not coming to see you in the hospital. I, uh, well, I just … I really haven’t –“

“You don’t have to apologize, Mike,” Devitt cut him off gently. “We’ve all had to deal with what happened in our own way. Don’t worry about it, believe me.” He turned and continued slowly down the lane of cars. “As a matter of fact,” he continued with a lightness in his tone and a bemused smile. But when he didn’t finish the sentence, Mike looked at him with a furrowed brow.

They turned into the area leading to the elevator. It was Steve who noticed them first, and he cut a quick, uneasy glance toward his partner. Mike stopped abruptly, his face unreadable, staring at the small group of men who had suddenly appeared in front of them.

Smiling broadly, Devitt looked at Mike then, with a quiet chuckle, continued forward and joined the others. “You didn’t think we’d let you just slip back to work unnoticed, did you?”

Steve looked at Mike, who still hadn’t moved. He knew this was the last thing that Mike wanted and, as well as he knew him, he wasn’t sure how the older man was going to handle it. But to his pleasant surprise, the senior detective, after dropping his head momentarily with an embarrassed chuckle, began to smile.

With matching grins of their own, the other seven ambush survivors crossed the few short steps to their colleague and Steve stepped back to give them room. As he moved away, he noticed four others leaning against cars several yards away: the partners. Shaking his head, slipping his hands into his pockets, Steve crossed to the four, turning to lean against a black-and-white. “Simon,” he greeted the man beside him, nodding in the direction of the senior officers, “John looks great. He’s back to work too?”

Panetta looked at his partner with affection. “He came back last week. Best day of my life,” he said with a smile.

Steve nodded slowly, his eyes on the group before him, his own partner surrounded by the others, the recipient of handshakes, backslaps and gentle hugs. “I hear ya,” he agreed quietly, and Panetta looked at him, a bond shared.

“Bob’s not coming back,” Panetta informed Steve, who had noticed the Vice captain was still in civvies. “He’s decided to pull the pin. But all the others are back. Mike’s the last. How’s he doing?”

“Really good. I have to chain him to a desk for the next four weeks –“

“Good luck with that,” Panetta interjected with a laugh.

“—but he’ll be back on the streets before we know it,” Steve finished, chuckling. He could hear Mike’s laugh overtop of the others and it was music to his ears.

“Simon!” John Burkhardt called, and Panetta propelled himself away from the car.

“My master’s voice,” he whispered sotto voce to Steve, laughing, as he crossed to his partner.

Mike had broken away from the others and come over. He was beaming, and Steve hadn’t seen him as relaxed in ages. As the younger man started to push himself to a standing position, Mike gave him the halt sign then came to lean beside him, folding his arms, laughing quietly to himself. He shook his head and looked at his partner. “I don’t know what I was nervous about,” he said quietly, guiltily.

Steve smiled warmly and slapped the older man’s back affectionately. “Told ya.”

They stood silently for several seconds, watching the others, partners having fallen in beside each other, move away towards the elevator. As Dan Hollister crossed through the open doors, he leaned back out and shouted toward Mike, “Don’t forget – one o’clock!”

“I’ll be there!” Mike shouted back with a laugh.

“What’s all that about?”

Mike chuckled, looking down. “We’re, ah, we’re all going out to lunch. The whole bunch of us. The, ah, the lunch we never got to have on … on, ah, that day.” He finished softly, hesitantly. Steve looked over at him and waited, knowing there was more to come. Mike opened his mouth as if to say something, seemed to think better of it, and bit his lower lip, continuing to look down.

“Steve,” he said eventually, “I don’t know how to begin to thank you for what you’ve done for me these past six weeks. I know how hard it’s been, just looking after me, let alone all the crap you had to deal with with Jack and the Annenbergs.” He finally looked up and met the younger man’s eyes. “I rely on you more than you could ever know, and you’re the best friend and the best partner a guy could ever have.”

They smiled at each other, Mike’s eyes bright with unshed tears. Steve took a sideways step and playfully nudged the older man, who laughed as he caught his balance. “I’m just glad you’re back,” Steve said with attempted levity, but he couldn’t keep the emotion out of his voice. Embarrassed, he reached out and slid his arm around Mike’s shoulders, pulling him closer in a quick embrace.

They both laughed uncomfortably, Steve running his hand through his hair. Mike let his head fall back and he took a deep breath. With a happy sigh, he turned once more to his young partner and raised his eyebrows. “Shall we go to work?”

“Yeah,” Steve smiled back and they pushed away from the car, falling into step as they crossed to the elevators.

EPILOG – THREE MONTHS LATER

They crossed through the bustling Homicide bureau and into Mike’s office. Steve shrugged off his jacket and tossed it over the back of the chair; Mike hung his jacket and fedora on the coat rack. Both of them sat heavily, Mike running his hands over his face and Steve working the kinks out of his neck.

Haseejian poked his head in the door. “Where have you guys been all day?”

Steve tilted his head back and looked at him upside down. “It took awhile to find that cab driver we had to interview, and then we got a flat.”

Haseejian chuckled at Mike’s scowl but decided not to comment. He stepped into the room and brought his right hand out from behind his back. “This came for you,” he said to Mike as he dropped a small padded envelope on the desk.

Mike looked from the envelope to the sergeant. “What is it?”

“I have no idea,” Haseejian replied with a bewildered shrug and, chuckling, left the room.

As Mike picked up the envelope and looked at it, Steve got up. “I’m gonna make a call and get us some lunch or early dinner or whatever the hell time it is. What do you want?”

“A sandwich’ll do,” Mike answered distractedly as he studied the envelope then reached into his top drawer for a letter opener.

A few minutes later, having placed their lunch order, Steve wandered back into Mike’s office. The empty envelope lay on a corner of the desk. Mike was holding a one-page letter in his hand; in front of him on the desk was what looked like a dark blue jewelry case.

His expression unreadable, Mike looked up as Steve entered. The younger man stopped, hesitated a split second then asked, “What’s going on?”

Without a word, Mike handed him the letter. Steve sat as he began to read aloud. “Dear Mike, Please forgive the secrecy, but in my new life, I must maintain my anonymity. Much has happened since I left Oakland, all of it good. As you can see from the picture, I am in training to become one of these new-fangled ‘paramedics’. I will graduate in six months. I now have a new name and a new life.”

Steve glanced up, confused. Smiling slightly, Mike slid a small coloured photo across his desk. There, in an unidentifiable blue uniform, was a proudly smiling Drew Benedict. With an awe-filled chuckle, Steve returned to the letter.

“I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for me. Words are inadequate. So, for me, for all the people you have helped and influenced over the years and in the years to come, for those you love and those who love you – please accept the enclosed as a small token of my appreciation and my affection. No one deserves this more than you. Forever in your debt, Drew Benedict.”

Lowering the letter, Steve looked questioningly at his partner. His expression still unreadable, Mike picked up the blue case and handed it to the younger man. Steve looked down at the small velvet-covered box in his hand, and slowly opened it. He caught his breath, looked up at Mike, and smiled.

It was a Purple Heart.


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