The tension in the room was so thick it could almost be seen. The two men were sitting on either side of the table; they hadn’t made eye contact in a very long time. Neither was moving.
Finally the younger one exhaled loudly. “Anytime tonight….” he hissed quietly.
The older man refused to meet his eyes. “If I had two hands, we’d be playing Hearts and I’d have your ass in a sling.”
“Yeah, well, we’re playing chess. Would you make a move before I petrify over here.”
Mike glanced up, eyes dark and threatening, and then reached for his bishop. He was just about to pick it up when Steve said quietly, “Do you really want to do that?”
Mike froze, and when he looked up again, his opponent met his glare with a grin and bouncing eyebrows. “It’s a good thing for you I can’t move very fast right now.”
Steve chuckled. As he glanced at the clock on the stove, he stood up. “I’ll get us another cup of coffee while you reconsider that move. Besides, she should be calling any minute now.”
Mike looked at the clock as well. “Jeez, you’re right.”
“You up for this?” Steve asked as he poured fresh coffee into their cups and got the milk from the fridge.
“Don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
They were in the Stone kitchen. Steve had driven Mike home about two hours earlier. The trip from Steve’s bedroom to the Potrero house had been a long and painful one for the senior detective, the many stairs taxing what little strength he had. After a quick nap, and to keep him awake and sharp, Steve had suggested a chess game, and the gambit had worked.
Steve had just put their cups on the table when the kitchen wall phone rang. With his partner’s help, Mike stood and crossed to the phone, picking it up on the second ring.
As Mike listened, Steve brought a chair over so he could sit.
“Yes, I will,” Mike said, then, “Sweetheart, how are you? Where are you?... Belgium! Wow, that’s great.”
Steve hovered as the conversation continued, father and daughter catching up with each others lives. From what he could hear, Jeannie and her girlfriends were having a great time backpacking through Europe and all was well.
“Yes…yes, we did have a shooting here. You read it in the international papers, hunh?” Mike looked at Steve. “Yeah, yeah, some of the guys got hit and we lost three, sweetheart… Yeah. You remember Charlie Bidwell? Your Mom and I used to visit Charlie and his wife Maureen?... Yeah, yeah, Charlie was killed…yes…yes, thank you.”
Steve was watching his partner closely, but Mike seemed to be holding it together very well. “No, Steve and I are fine, really. We’re working on the case. As a matter of fact, Steve is here with me right now, we’ve taken a break to have some dinner. Here, you wanna talk to him?” Mike looked at Steve and mouthed, ‘Take the phone.’ Into the receiver he said, “Here he is, sweetheart.”
As Steve took the receiver, Mike slumped in the chair and wrapped his right arm around his chest, closing his eyes. “Jeannie!” Steve said brightly into the receiver, keeping a worried eye on his partner but keeping the worry out of his tone.
The excited young voice on the other end of the line was a joyful respite from the horrifying events of the past week, and as he exchanged news and banter with her his stare never left her father, who was doing his best to rally himself.
After several minutes, Mike felt he had regained enough strength and looked up at Steve and nodded. Steve nodded back then said into the receiver, “Jeannie, look, I gotta go – Mike and I have to get back to the office. Yeah, I’ll talk to you in a week or so. You take care and have fun, you hear… Okay, here’s your Dad.” He handed the receiver to Mike.
“Okay, sweetheart, you heard Steve, we have to go… Yeah. So where are you off to next?… Germany? That should be interesting. Good for you… Yeah, honey, do me a favour? You have to try some of that famous Belgian chocolate and tell me if it’s better than our own Ghirardelli, okay?” Mike chuckled, then winced. Steve caught his arm. Mike nodded that he was okay.
“Okay, sweetheart, I have to go… Yeah, same time next week… Unh hunh, I’ll be waiting by the phone, as always….Okay…okay….I love you too, sweetheart. You take care… Bye bye.” With a tired sigh, Mike handed the receiver to Steve, slumping in the chair once again.
“Good job,” Steve said after he hung up the phone.
Mike smiled wearily. “Whew, that took more out of me than I thought it would. It’s a lot of work trying to sound normal.”
Steve chuckled. “Just sit here. I’m gonna clean up and then I’ll get you out to the car and we’ll go home. You’re gonna need your strength for tomorrow.”
# # # # #
Mike was sitting on the side of the bed, in navy blue pants and a white t-shirt. His left arm was no longer strapped across his chest; he was holding it down, stiffly, at his side. With a wince, he got slowly to his feet.
Steve reached behind him with the dark blue shirt and Mike slid his right arm though the armhole. Steve moved to Mike’s left side and lowered the shirt to below Mike’s hand. He slipped the hand into the armhole, lifted the shirt up and settled it over his shoulders. Standing in front of his partner, Steve flipped up the shirt collar and began doing up the buttons.
Both men were silent, sombre. Steve was already dressed in his dark blue uniform, his tie loosened and top button undone. Their service hats and “Ike” jackets were lying at the foot of the bed.
Finished doing up the buttons on Mike’s shirt, and leaving the top one undone, he tucked the shirt into Mike’s pants and did up the belt. He then took a pre-knotted black tie from around his own neck and reached up to slip it over Mike’s head, settling it around the collar and then turning the collar down. He left the tie loose as well.
With a small smile, he said quietly, “You’ve been lying down so much lately, I’d almost forgotten how tall you are.”
He was rewarded with a tiny returned smile that unfortunately didn’t reach his partners eyes.
“Do you want your watch on?” Steve asked quietly.
Mike shook his head slightly. “No point. I can’t lift my arm to look at it anyway.”
Steve nodded, then took a step back and looked at his companion. “I think we’re ready.”
“You head on down; I just want to make a quick stop.”
Steve picked up their hats and jackets and headed out of the room and down the stairs. Mike walked slowly into the bathroom, turned on the light and shut the door. He stood in front of the sink, put his right hand on the vanity top and leaned forward, letting his head drop. After several seconds, he raised his head and stared at his reflection in the mirror.
He took a deep breath and straightened up. He held his right hand out; it was shaking slightly. He made a fist, and closed his eyes. He took another deep breath, opened his eyes, opened the door and snapped off the light.
Steve was waiting at the front door, their hats and jackets in his hands, as Mike made his way slowly and stiffly down the stairs. “Norm’s here,” Steve let him know.
Mike nodded. Steve opened the front door and they exited. As Steve turned to lock the door, he said quietly, “It might help if you kept your left hand in your pocket.”
“Yeah, good idea,” Mike agreed, grimacing as his lifted his left hand slightly to slide it into his pants pocket, keeping his elbow close to his side.
Haseejian, also in his dress blues, pushed away from where he was leaning against the front fender of the tan LTD and stood straight. He watched his superior officer’s slow progress down the stairs, relieved to see the older man on his feet and mobile.
Steve was staying close, in case his assistance was needed. When the partners reached the sidewalk, Haseejian snapped to attention and saluted. “Good morning, sir.”
Steve almost laughed, until he saw the look in the sergeant’s eyes. This was not the joking, jovial Haseejian he knew so well; the man standing in front of them now was a concerned and heavyhearted police sergeant trying his best to hold it together on what was probably going to be the hardest day of their professional lives.
Mike’s eyes softened as he raised his right hand and returned the salute. “Good morning, Sergeant. And thank you.”
“Yes, sir.” Haseejian opened the front passenger door. Mike turned to sit heavily, then swung his legs into the car, all the while holding his breath. At his nod, Haseejian shut the door.
Steve reached out and grabbed Haseejian’s forearm, catching his attention. He smiled and nodded, and Haseejian smiled back.
Steve got into the back, putting the hats and jackets on the seat beside him, while Haseejian got behind the wheel. As he turned the car on and shifted into drive, he glanced across the front seat. The lieutenant had put his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. But Haseejian knew that the pain he was feeling right now wasn’t physical.