Steve finished doing up the buttons on Mike’s pajama top. “Ready?”
Mike nodded, then tensed. With Steve holding his right forearm for leverage and the other hand bracing his back, Mike twisted and leaned back against the pillows, then swung his legs up onto the bed. With teeth still clenched against the pain, he shifted gingerly into a more comfortable position, then relaxed and let his held breath out in a heavy sigh.
“Good?” Steve asked.
Mike nodded. “Yeah. Thanks.”
“No problem. So, can I get you anything? Hungry?”
“No, I’m fine. I just want to relax.”
“Yeah, I bet.”
It had been a busy morning. Mike had been released shortly after 9 a.m. Steve arrived at the hospital about a half hour before that and received instructions as to Mike’s out-patient care, paperwork had been issued and signed, Mike had been transferred to a wheelchair and off they had gone.
Steve had brought the LTD, realizing it would be easier for Mike to get into and out of than his Porsche; the police car had almost come in handy for another reason. Steve was driving so slowly so as not to jostle his injured passenger going over potholes and cablecar tracks that people behind were getting impatient. The honking was becoming so irritating that Steve contemplated putting the gumball on the roof to let everyone know that the slow-moving vehicle was actually a police car.
But now they were finally in the Union Street apartment and Mike was getting settled in for what was to be at least another several days of complete bed rest.
Steve had adjusted the sheets and blankets and made sure the glass of water with the bendable straw was within easy reach of the bed then walked to the door.
“Hey,” Mike’s voice stopped him, “with all the kerfuffle this morning, I forgot to ask – did you find Jack yesterday?”
Steve hesitated ever so slightly before turning back to his partner. “Ah, yeah, he was at Bryant Street.”
When Steve didn’t continue, Mike waited a beat then, “And…?”
“Well, he’s, ah, he’s not taking it very well. He’s very angry… and confused, I guess. He and Charlie were very, well … you know …”
Mike nodded sadly. “Yeah. Look, be there for him, when you can. You can help him. I think you two have a lot in common.”
Steve turned to leave then looked back. He had decided he was not going to talk to anyone about Jack until first discussing things with Rudy Olsen. After several silent seconds, he smiled slightly. “There’s one thing we don’t have in common anymore – I still have you.” He turned and left the room before Mike could see the tears that had welled up in his eyes.
# # # # #
Mike came to slowly, the ache in his chest waking him from a deep restful sleep. It took only a few seconds for him to remember he was no longer in a hospital room but rather Steve’s bedroom, and he smiled slightly. He turned to look at the clock/radio on the nightstand: 3:10.
He closed his eyes in frustration. He knew he wasn’t scheduled for another Percodan pill till 4 p.m. and from the discomfort in his chest already, he realized the next fifty minutes were going to be a living hell. The exertion of the day was starting to exact a price; but he knew if he could get through the next hour, from then on it should be easier going.
His eyes fell on a small bronze bell sitting beside the water glass. There seemed to be a piece of paper under it. He moved the bell and picked up the paper, recognizing Steve’s writing immediately.
A neighbor lent me this; ring it if you need me. I’m downstairs.
Mike smiled then looked to the open door. Picking up the bell, he rang it hesitantly. Within seconds, he heard footsteps on the stairs and Steve appeared in the doorway, grinning. “Ah ha, it works.”
Mike smiled, trying not to laugh. “It’s a great idea. Thanks.”
Steve moved closer to the bed. “You had a good sleep. How are you feeling?’
Mike grimaced. “Not so good. The pain is getting worse.”
“Yeah, they told us that might happen,” Steve said sympathetically as he sat on the side of the bed and put a hand on Mike’s forehead. “But you know what else they said, that I can’t give you another pill until 4.”
“I know,” Mike nodded, gritting his teeth and breathing in short bursts, trying to fight the growing discomfort.
“Try to relax… I’m not going anywhere … we’ll get through this together … just try to breath normally … close your eyes … relax … breath …” Steve dropped his voice to a whisper and, as he stroked Mike’s forehead, he began his soothing litany and was rewarded when he saw the tension decrease as the older man seemed to gain some control over the pain.
Steve kept an eye on the clock as he continued to talk, and though the minutes seemed to crawl by, eventually the numbers clicked over to read 3:55. ‘Close enough,’ he thought as he reached for the pill bottle on the nightstand, snapped the cap and took out a pill. He was keeping his eyes on the occupant of the bed and noted that Mike, even though awake, had kept his eyes closed.
“Mike?” The blue eyes opened and turned in his direction. With a pill in one hand and the glass of water in the other, Steve nodded at his partner, who, with a grimace, lifted his head.
After swallowing the pill, Mike let his had drop back onto the pillow and closed his eyes. A little more than five minutes later, his eyes opened again and he smiled.
Steve chuckled. “There he is… my partner, the drug addict.”
“Very funny.” Mike took a deeper breath and sighed happily. “Oh, that feels better.” He looked at Steve again. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” He stood up. “You going to be able to stay awake so we can have some dinner?”
“I think I can do that. What are we gonna have?”
“What do you want?”
“’Chez Keller’, is it?”
Steve laughed. “To be honest, there’s really nothing in the house to eat – but I do have a phone and there are lots of good restaurants around here that deliver. They never told me that anything is off limits, except alcohol, of course. Do you think you’re up to eating a steak?”
Mike grinned. “Real meat? Seriously?”
“Not only real meat, but we can even have pie for dessert.”
“Oh, please don’t tease me. You mean I don’t have to have jello?”
Steve laughed again. It felt good to be able to banter with his best friend once more. “Okay, okay, you got it. I’ll find a good restaurant and see if they’ll deliver. And if they don’t, I’ll go pick it up.” He headed for the door. “Enjoy your high,” he chuckled as he left.
Mike sank deeper into the pillows, closed his eyes and smiled.
# # # # #
Steve put the coffee mug on the table in front of Dan Healey. “You know, just because he’s out of the hospital, it doesn’t mean he’s running around and going back to work. He’s going to be in bed for a good part of the upcoming week, and then he’s going to be house-bound for another week after that, at least.”
Healey watched as Steve handed another mug to Ryan Taylor. He shrugged in acknowledgement. “Point taken. Gotcha.”
“So he’s really upstairs?” asked Haseejian as he dug into a paper bag for a donut.
Steve stopped in his delivery of coffee and stared at the Armenian detective in bemused disbelief. “No, Norm, I took him to his house and left him there. Of course he’s upstairs!” Steve finished with a laugh, and the others joined him.
“Okay, okay,” Haseejian grumbled, “I just asked.” He chuckled as he bit into the donut.
Lee Lessing pulled the top off one of the cardboard file boxes that were stacked near the front door and set it on the floor. “Shall we get started?” He and Bill Tanner took out the file folders and handed stacks of them to the group of detectives scattered around Steve’s living room.
Healey passed around legal-length pads of paper and pencils from a paper bag at his feet. “So remember,” he instructed, “we’re looking for anyone with motive and opportunity. Don’t overlook anything.”
The room fell silent as everyone got to work. Over the course of the next hour, notes were taken, observations remarked upon, consultations made. Steve glanced up and noticed that Haseejian was not in the room. He vaguely remembered seeing him going upstairs to the bathroom about ten minutes earlier, but he hadn’t returned.
Steve put down the file he was working on, crossed the room and silently mounted the stairs. The door to the bathroom was wide open; the door to his bedroom was slightly ajar. He remembered closing it the last time he was in there.
He pushed the bedroom door open quietly, hoping it wouldn’t creak. Haseejian was sitting in the chair next to the bed, back to the door, staring at a sleeping Mike.
Steve crossed to behind Haseejian and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “I was wondering where you went to.”
Haseejian didn’t look up. “Sorry,” he said quietly, “I just had to see him for myself.”
“You don’t have to explain.”
They shared a few moments of silence, both of them staring at the injured man in the bed.
“You know,” Haseejian said eventually, “the office just wouldn’t be the same without him there.”
Haseejian finally looked up at Steve. “We got lucky, you know that.”
Steve nodded. “I know. We really did.” Steve glanced at the clock/radio on the nightstand. “He should be waking up in about an hour or so. If you guys are still here, I’ll see if he’s up to visitors. Does that work for you?”
Haseejian grinned as he stood up. “That’d be great.” He took one more look at the bed before he left the room.
# # # # #
Steve was refilling everyone’s mugs with the coffee pot when he heard it. He froze and cocked his head, then noticed the others doing the same.
“Um, was that a bell?” asked Lessing with a frown.
Steve straightened up and cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah, I gave Mike a little bell so he could get my attention, seeing as he can’t yell. I guess he’s awake.” He started to bring the coffee pot back into the kitchen.
“Well, either that or an angel just got its wings.” Haseejian smiled and everyone except Taylor laughed.
“What?” the young inspector asked.
Haseejian looked at him in disbelief. “A bell ringing?... An angel getting its wings? …. George Bailey? … Clarence? …‘It’s A Wonderful Life? …”
Taylor just kept shaking his head.
With a bewildered shrug, Haseejian turned to the others, who were trying not to laugh. “What the hell are they teaching kids these days?”
Steve was already up the stairs and entering the bedroom. Mike was wide awake. “You look rested,” Steve said as he crossed to the bed.
Mike nodded. “I feel pretty good. Is that voices I hear down there?”
Steve glanced back at the door. “Yeah. The guys knew I wanted to be a part of the investigation so Norm arranged to bring over a box of our old case files. Everyone’s down there – we’re going through them looking for something, anything –“
“Ask them up,” Mike interrupted him.
“Do you think they’d like to come up?”
“Are you kidding? Now that they know you’re awake, I’m gonna have a hard time keeping them down there.”
Mike grinned. “I’d really like to see them. Ask them up.”
“You got it.” Steve went to the top of the stairs. “Hey, guys, you wanna come up and say hi to Mike?”
Mike chuckled at the sudden increase in the volume of voices from the lower floor and then what sounded like a small herd of elephants ascending the staircase.
Steve re-entered the room and crossed to the far side of the bed to make more room. The five homicide detectives stood near the doorway in a huddle, grinning, all eyes on the occupant of the bed.
Mike glanced at Steve and chuckled. “You guys look like a bunch of kids in the principal’s office. You can come a little closer, you know. I still don’t bite.”
Healey was the first one to the bed, and he shook Mike’s hand vigorously. “Jesus, Mike, it’s so great to see you. You really had us worried there.”
“It’s good to see you too, Dan.” Healey backed away so Tanner could step forward. He too shook Mike’s hand.
“Wow, you look great, all things considered. I thought you were gonna look a lot worse. Glad I was wrong.”
“So am I,” said Mike with a grin.
Lessing was next. “Mike – and no offense, Norm,” he said with a quick glance over his shoulder and a sly grin, “we really need you back in the office.” Everyone laughed as Healey elbowed Haseejian, who was glaring good-naturedly at his colleagues.
As a laughing Lessing backed away, there was a hesitation as Taylor seemed reluctant to step forward. With a push from Haseejian, he was propelled closer to the bed. He took Mike’s hand and shook it. “It’s good to see you looking so well, sir,” he said stiffly.
Mike smiled warmly, knowing the rookie detective was still a little in awe of his superior officer. “Mike, Ryan, I’ve told you – it’s Mike.”
“Yes, sir… I mean, yes, Mike,” he fumbled.
Mike glanced over his shoulder at Steve. “He only calls me ‘sir’ when he’s mad at me,” he explained to the young assistant inspector.
“Surprisingly, that’s more often than you’d think,” Steve added dryly. Everyone laughed, even Ryan eventually.
Healey put a friendly hand on Taylor’s shoulder as the young man stepped back. Haseejian approached the bed and his face turned serious. He shook Mike’s hand and studied his face. “I’m glad you’re going to be okay, boss,” he said, “this city wouldn’t be the same without you.”
Mike squeezed Haseejian’s hand. He knew what the Armenian detective had done for Steve in the hospital those first hours after the shooting, when things were still in chaos and no one knew what the final outcome was going to be. Mike’s eyes shifted slightly in Steve’s direction, a move that only Haseejian caught. “Thank you, Norm,” he said quietly.
And both men knew exactly what he meant.