This story originally appeared in the print zine Media Rare, published in 1985. Reprinted with the author's permission. I apologize in advance for any creative beta-work performed by my OCR software. I tried to catch the errors, but...
The Streets of San Francisco:
by Wendy Rockburn
The following action takes place between Act IV and the Epilogue of the 'Trail of the Serpent' episode of 'The Streets of San Francisco'. Late one Saturday night, five members of a street gang called 'The Cobras' are interrupted in their attempt to rob a small corner grocery store. The resulting gunplay leaves a San Francisco police officer dead and the wounded gang leader in custody.
During a block to block search immediately following, Lieutenant Mike Stone, separated from his partner, is lured into an abandoned building and taken hostage -- to be used as a pawn in a desperate, deadly war of nerves.
Unaware his partner has been shot in an aborted escape attempt, Inspector Steve Keller and his colleagues comb the city through the night. Finally, having discovered the gang's location and minutes before the 9 a.m. deadline for the hostage exchange, Steve is involved in a brief shootout that frees Mike, but results in his taking the life of a gang member.
Two rapid gunshots echoed and died, and in the ensuing silence the only sound San Francisco Police Captain Roy Devitt could hear was the pounding of his own heart. He was crouched over the prone form of Chick Kramer, one knee in the small of the scruffy youth's back as he snapped handcuffs around the thin wrists. He rose, glancing briefly at the similarly subdued Jerry Silver, then turned anxiously toward the next room, origin of the shooting.
At the same moment, a slightly-built young man with dark, hollow eyes stepped through the open doorway. Assistant Inspector Stephen Keller, drained and numb, ignored his superior's questioning gaze as he moved deeper into the room. He stared down at the two youths, his features registering no emotion.
But Devitt didn't notice. Instead his eyes were riveted on the gray suit coat and fedora in his colleague's hands, and the tragic implications they represented.
A scuffing noise from behind caught his attention, and he spun back toward the door. Tension and fear drained away at the welcome sight of Lieutenant Michael Stone, the subject of their tense and thorough manhunt. But relief turned quickly to concern at Mike's ashen face, hunched posture and the hand pressed to his left side. The familiar black topcoat hung loosely across his shoulders and a dirty, bloodstained shirt showed underneath.
The captain stepped forward. "Mike," he said, voice tinged with worry.
The lieutenant managed a weak smile and nod. "Roy." He inhaled carefully. "You fellas sure know how to cut it fine," he said with attempted lightness. But his eyes were fixed on Steve, who had pulled Jerry Silver to his feet and was reaching for Chick Kramer. The frightened Silver offered no resistance, but Kramer pulled defiantly from the cop's grasp as he gained his balance. Eyes coldly threatening, Steve shoved the youth roughly, and Kramer slammed face first into the wall.
"Steve..."Mike cautioned gently. Devitt's eyes snapped from one partner to the other, wondering just what had occurred a few minutes before. Footsteps echoed in the stairwell and two uniformed officers, guns drawn, appeared in the doorway. Devitt motioned them toward the two juveniles while keeping a protective eye on Mike, who was leaning heavily on the table in the center of the room and favoring his left leg.
Steve stepped aside as the officers approached. Eyes down, his fingers brushed the brim of the gray fedora. Devitt took this in, then looked to Mike, who shook his head slightly and nodded toward the second room. After a moment, Devitt returned the nod, his expression softening. Those who knew him were well aware of Steve Keller's reluctance to use the .38 Police Special they all carried, and the sensitivity he would not deny when forced into a situation which allowed him no alternative.
Mike swayed suddenly, gripping the table to keep from going down. Steve's head came up quickly. Devitt, a step closer, caught Mike's arm in support.
"Come on," he said, starting for the door, "we're gonna call an ambulance."
Mike held his ground, pulling out of Devitt's grasp and shaking his head. "No, Roy...I don't want to wait that long," he said through clenched teeth, aware he was bleeding again. The towel pressed against the wound was soaked through, and only the concealing topcoat prevented the others from realizing how seriously injured he really was. He turned questioning eyes on his partner.
"I'll take him, Roy," Steve said, avoiding their concerned looks.
Mike cut off Devitt's protest with a shake of his head and a quick, "Thanks, buddy boy," to Steve. "Don't think I could make it on my own."
Steve's smile was brief and humorless, and Mike eyed him worriedly. He nodded an I'll be okay to Devitt as Steve took his arm, starting slowly across the room and out the door.
Each time Mike put weight on his left leg it felt as if red hot pokers were being driven into his side, and it took all of the big man's rapidly waning strength not to give in to the pain and exhaustion. But he knew Steve needed him right now, in a way neither of them really understood, so Mike clamped his hand over the wound and concentrated on remaining on his feet.
Negotiation of the steep staircase was slow and painful. By the time they reached the bottom, Mike's face was streaked with sweat and his breath was coming in ragged gasps, but he shook off Steve's offer of a rest.
They moved slowly through the damp, dark warehouse, finally emerging into the bright morning sunlight. A black-and-white sedan was angled into the curb. Their own unmarked Galaxie was across the street where it had been hastily abandoned, gang member Willard Loo and a uniformed officer in the back seat.
Steve stopped at the warehouse door and released Mike's arm. "Wait here, I'll get the car," he said quietly, turning and crossing the street at a jog.
Mike leaned against the doorframe and closed his eyes, fighting off waves of dizziness and pain. His knees began to buckle and he grabbed the frame with his free hand for support, grasping desperately at the wispy tendrils of consciousness.
Another cruiser squealed to a stop beside the first. The doors flew open and two uniformed cops bailed out quickly.
Mike opened his eyes at their approach and smiled in recognition. "How ya doin', Fred?" he asked hoarsely.
Sergeant Linville, who had headed the investigation at the Barberio's store the night before, chuckled and shook back a weary grin of relief. "I shoulda known we couldn't get rid of you so easily, Lieutenant," he laughed, briefly touching Mike's arm before entering the warehouse.
Steve swung the Galaxie into a tight U-turn and slammed to a stop at the curb. He climbed out and circled back towards Mike, while the other officer dragged a reluctant Loo from the back seat and propelled him in the direction of a black-and-white.
Mike pushed away from the door and allowed himself to be led to the car. Steve helped him in, easing him back against the seat and closing the door, then rounded the car quickly and slid behind the wheel. He reached for the siren switch but was stopped by Mike's voice, low but firm. "No, no, no, don't bother with that thing...wouldn't want to wake up the neighborhood, would we?"
Steve gave him a quick look, but Mike cut off the protest he knew would be coming. "I'm all right, really," he assured with a confidence he didn't feel. "Just don't stop for breakfast." He was rewarded with a brief smile as Steve nodded, then nosed the car into the thickening Sunday morning traffic.
The hat fell forward over his eyes as Mike leaned back against the seat. He released the pressure on his side momentarily, felt the flow of warm blood, and idly wondered how much more he could afford to lose. Opening his eyes slightly, he looked over at the young man beside him. Steve was staring at the road, white-knuckled hands on the steering wheel, his unshaven, red-eyed face mirroring the ordeal of the last twelve hours. It had been a long, painful, frightening night for them both.
But other than what he had already told Steve in that room in the warehouse, as they looked down on Richard Sung's lifeless body, Mike had nothing more to say. The answers would have to come from within, if answers to such questions could be found. It was all part of being a cop -- accepting the power, the responsibility, the split-second decisions, the consequences of their actions.
The car bounced roughly over a cable car track and Mike winced, catching his breath. Steve glanced over, concern creasing his forehead. The car picked up speed, sliding easily through the traffic.
And the silence lengthened. Mike closed his eyes and slouched in the seat, fighting for consciousness. Steve was waging his own battle: worry, confusion, guilt and anger over what they had been put through were all contending for his full attention.
The traffic light ahead turned yellow. Steve brought the sedan to a smooth stop, then looked across the front seat. He reached out and laid his hand on Mike's leg, then watched the head come up slowly. Under the brim of the gray fedora, the blue eyes opened and turned in his direction. And from somewhere beyond the pain and exhaustion, Mike Stone found a grin and brought it to the surface.
Steve was unable to resist mirroring the look. For the first time since parting company almost twelve long hours before, they looked deep into each other's eyes and received the reassurances they both needed.
The light turned green. Steve gave Mike's leg a quick squeeze before removing his hand. The car eased through the intersection. Mike leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes, but the smile lingered. At peace, realizing he had done all he could for the moment, he gave in to the demands of his body and welcomed the black, painless void that quickly engulfed him.
From the corner of his eye, Steve saw his partner go limp and slump against the door, head connecting solidly with the window.
He fumbled for Mike's left wrist. His own heartbeat pounded in his ears as the seconds dragged. Then he felt the weak, thready pulse and allowed himself a moment's relief.
Swinging the car to the curb, he slid across the seat, pulled open the black topcoat and froze. "My god..." The lower left half of Mike's shirt was soaked with fresh blood, and more was seeping through the saturated towel beneath.
"Mike..." he whispered, as for one brief moment his professional mask shattered. Then he was in motion. Groping under the passenger seat, he came up with the flashing red light and thumbed it on, slapping it onto the outside of the roof over his head. He snapped on the siren and shifted into drive, attention divided between the road and the wounded man beside him.
The sedan shot forward, startled motorists scrambling to get out of the way. Steve drove with one hand, expertly weaving the tan Galaxie through the partially crowded streets. With the other he pressed the towel against Mike's side. And the only emotion he was aware of was anger, at Mike for concealing the seriousness of his condition, and at himself for being too wrapped up in his own problems to notice.
Within minutes the unmarked police car squealed to a stop outside the Emergency Entrance of Franklin Hospital. Responding to the siren, a nurse and two orderlies hurried through the sliding glass doors and rolled a gurney alongside the car. The nurse approached the driver's side. Steve was already kneeling on the seat, gathering Mike into his arms, slipping a hand between his partner's head and the window as he pulled the limp body away from the door.
"He's been shot," Steve called over his shoulder. The nurse nodded quickly to her colleagues and the right front door was thrown open. Steve released his hold as one orderly slid his arms under Mike's shoulders and the other reached for his legs.
Gently but swiftly they lifted the injured man and laid him on the stretcher. Then they were on the move, hustling back to where the nurse now stood in the open doorway.
Steve slid across the front seat, past the discarded topcoat, and out the door, pausing to retrieve the hat that had tumbled to the pavement. He caught up with the gurney just inside the doors and followed it down the corridor. The small procession disappeared into an emergency room, and Stephen Keller was left standing in the corridor, a lonely, disheveled figure in a wrinkled beige raincoat, a forgotten gray fedora held idly in one hand.
He sat on the far end of the vinyl couch, elbows on knees, eyes on the fedora he spun in his hands. He glanced at the wall clock, an action repeated countless times since he'd entered the half-filled waiting room over two hours before.
Roy Devitt stopped in the doorway and scanned the room, eyes finally settling on the solitary figure in the opposite corner. He picked his way across the floor and dropped onto the couch with a tired sigh.
Steve acknowledged the older man's presence with a nod. His eyes returned to the brim of the hat he had yet to put down, and the dried blood on his hands.
"How is he?"
Steve shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know. He's still in surgery," was the quiet reply.
Devitt studied him for a beat. "Are you okay?"
Steve looked up and nodded. "Yeah." But his smile failed to erase the lines of worry and exhaustion.
Devitt patted his arm and winked reassuringly. "Good." He stood and walked to the window, stretching his back muscles to ease the weariness.
Both men turned in the direction of the voice. A tall, bespectacled, silver-haired man in a long white coat was striding purposefully toward them. "Doctor Reynolds," Steve nodded in recognition, getting to his feet and quickly introducing Mike's GP to his Captain.
Amenities complete, Reynolds turned his full attention to Steve. "Mike's in Recovery. I just spoke with the surgeon, Doctor Anderson, and he said everything went fine. The bullet entered here," he said, demonstrating on Steve, touching his left side just above the belt, "and exited here," a couple of inches forward.
Steve's jaw muscles tightened. "You mean he was shot from behind?"
Reynolds nodded reluctantly. "It tore the muscle up pretty good and took a chunk of him with it, but it missed more than it hit, believe me. He lost a lot of blood; they gave him a transfusion before taking him into surgery. He's very weak, but I don't expect any complications. It'll be very painful for a while, and he's going to have quite a scar, but, all things considered, he's in good condition. We'll keep a close eye on him for the next few days, but you can probably take him home in, oh, a week, maybe less." He had studied the anxious young man as he spoke. Now he allowed himself a slight smile. "So, is that what you wanted to hear?"
Steve slowly released a deeply held breath and ran a hand through his hair. He smiled. "That's what I wanted to hear, yeah."
"I thought so."
"Listen, uh..." Steve hesitated but met Reynolds's gaze levelly. "Can I see him?"
"Well -- ." the doctor stalled, dropping his eyes as he weighed the situation. Visitors to the Recovery Room were against hospital policy, but most physicians and nurses allowed for the exception. Reynolds had been briefed on the events of the night, and he was acutely aware of the relationship between the two men who, at first glance, seemed so unalike. "Okay -- but only for a minute."
"That's all I need," Steve said with a smile.
Reynolds glanced at his watch. "He should be coming out of the anesthetic shortly. I'll send someone around to get you when he's awake, all right?"
The doctor nodded to Devitt, turned on his heel, and was gone.
Steve felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to face his superior. Roy Devitt's grin of relief shone through his red-eyed, haggard face, and Steve knew that, in effect, he was looking at himself. Wearily he sank back onto the couch, but this time he knew the waiting would be easier.
Detective Lieutenant Michael Stone looked uncharacteristically frail and vulnerable lying between the raised metal rails of the hospital bed. Lines of pain and fatigue were deeply etched into his pale, unshaven face. A blue-and-white nasal gastric tube encircled his head; and an IV apparatus dripped fluid into his left arm. He was awake, but his voice was heavy and slurred as he responded to Reynolds's questions and comments.
At the foot of the bed, still holding the fedora, oblivious to the activity in the room around him, stood Stephen Keller. The strain of the last twenty-four hours was beginning to take its toll, but he knew he could not leave until he had seen for himself that his partner was alive and out of danger.
He felt a hand on his forearm. The nurse, a middle-aged black woman with kind eyes, was beside him, and he realized with a start that he had been addressed. Reynolds, preparing his patient for a sedative injection, glanced in the cop's direction and gave an encouraging nod.
The light touch on Steve's arm turned into a gentle squeeze. "Don't be afraid to touch him, honey," said the nurse with quiet understanding. "I think he could use it right about now."
He stepped closer to the bed, hesitating briefly before slipping his hand into Mike's and clasping his thumb. The older man's eyes fluttered open and pleasure creased his features.
"Hi. How're you doin'?" Steve asked softly, his smile warm and genuine.
Mike tried to nod. "Okay," he said weakly. "Sorry 'bout the game."
"The what?...Oh...oh, yeah." Steve grinned at the unexpected reminder of the two fifty-yard line tickets he had surprised Mike with...was it only yesterday? He gave Mike's hand a comforting squeeze. "Don't worry about it. The 49'ers'll play the Rams again." He felt the weak grip tighten slightly in response.
Mike squinted, fighting to maintain focus. "You look like hell...go home...sleep."
"Yeah, I will." He paused. "Mike, I -- " But the sedative had taken effect, and as Mike's eyes closed and his grip relaxed, Steve knew any more he wanted to say would have to wait. He slipped his hand from Mike's and reached out to brush a stray lock of hair from his friend's forehead, unembarrassed by the affectionate gesture in the presence of strangers.
An orderly entered the cubicle as the nurse parted the curtains.
The wheels of the gurney were unlocked, and Steve stepped back as it was pushed past and out the door.
Reynolds joined him. "Have you called Jeannie yet?"
"Uh, no, not yet. She's in Tucson. I think I'll wait till tomorrow, let Mike talk to her."
Reynolds nodded. "That man must have a guardian angel," he said slowly, with a hint of amused awe. At the questioning look he continued. "He thinks he was shot just after two o'clock; that's over seven hours before you got him here." He paused, adding cautiously, "We're damn lucky he didn't bleed to death."
"Yeah." Steve suppressed a shudder, his eyes returning to the door. "That's one night I don't want to live over again," he said quietly, almost to himself. And for a few moments it all came back -- the fear, anger, and helplessness. But mostly, he felt shame when he realized the ease with which they had brought him down to their gutter level -- training and intellect replaced by defiance and animal cunning.
The mood swing wasn't lost on the doctor. "You know, he's right," Reynolds said finally, watching Steve pull his thoughts back to the present. "You do look like hell." Hazel eyes sparkled amid the otherwise stern features. "Get your tail home and get some sleep. One of you two in here is bad enough."
Steve grinned, but behind the relieved expression, Reynolds could sense an inner turmoil that would take more than a good night's sleep to cure. "Yeah, you're right. It's been a long night."
As Reynolds turned to go, Steve caught his arm. "Thank you."
The doctor smiled. "You're welcome. And don't worry -- we'll take good care of him. "
Steve returned the smile. "I know." His gaze dropped to the fedora. "See you tomorrow."
Devitt was leaning-against the opposite wall, stifling a yawn, as Steve came out through the doors of the Recovery Room.. They held each other's gaze across the width of the corridor for a beat before Steve smiled.
That was all Devitt needed to see. His own features relaxed into a grin as he crossed the distance between them and placed a fatherly hand on Steve's shoulder. "Listen, you look like hell. Come on, I'll drive you home."
Steve's outburst of laughter caught them both by surprise. Devitt stepped back, confused and a little annoyed.
"What's so funny?"
"I'm sorry," Steve chuckled, "it's nothing, it's just...if one more person tells me I look like hell...."
It was the Captain's turn to laugh, and they gratefully shared the respite from the tension.
"Come on," Devitt tried again, "I'd better get you home before we both go crazy."
They walked to the elevators in silence. As Devitt pushed the 'down' button, he glanced over his shoulder. Steve had stopped a few feet away and was half-turned, staring back down the corridor. Devitt studied him a beat. "What is it?"
Steve shrugged slowly and shook his head. "I don't know." He turned to face the elevators, avoiding Devitt's eyes. "It just feels funny leaving him here," he said quietly.
A soft chime signaled the arrival of an elevator.
Steve threw the older man a sheepish, sidelong glance. Devitt smiled in understanding and nodded slowly. "I know." He indicated the opening elevator doors. "Come on."
"What are you doing here?" Devitt asked as he crossed the squad room the next afternoon, coffee cup in hand. "I thought you were gonna take a couple a days off?"
Steve nodded as he shrugged off his raincoat and hung it on the metal stand in Mike's office. "Yeah, I was," he said quietly, "but I got a call from IA this morning. They want to see me at one."
Devitt trailed him back to his desk. "You're kiddin'? Why those.... They could've waited a couple of days."
"Yeah, well, you know what they say. It's -- "
"I know," Devitt finished for him, "it's procedure."
"Right." Steve sat heavily and pulled a notebook from his inside jacket pocket. Devitt hooked a leg over the edge of the desk, balancing the cup on his knee.
"Did you get a chance to call the hospital this morning?"
"Uh, no, I stopped in on the way here." He tried to sound casual, but Devitt could hear the worry in his voice. "I couldn't see him; he was still under sedation. But they said he's okay. He had a good night."
"Well, they don't call him 'Iron Mike' for nothing, you know."
"Yeah." Steve smiled slightly, knowing how much his partner disliked the nickname. But the smile faded quickly.
"Did you get any sleep?" Devitt asked.
"Some, yeah. The phone rang, and Steve reached for it with a tired sigh. "Homicide, Inspector Keller."
Devitt watched closely as Steve listened, eyes down. An investigation by Internal Affairs of all police-related shootings was routine, but no matter how many times in a career a cop faced his peers, it was never easy.
"Yes, sir, I'll be right up." Steve replaced the receiver and stood, pocketing his notebook.
"Steve." Devitt rose to face him. "You don't have anything to worry about. It was a clean shoot. And you'll have my statement, and Mike's, to back you up."
"I know. Thanks, Roy," he said, but there was no conviction in his voice.
They started for the door.
"It's a wonder those jokers haven't called me yet," Devitt groused, trying to keep it light. "I swear, they call me in today, and I'll tell them exactly what I think of them and their lousy timing."
Steve smiled at the thought. "There's probably a message on your desk right now."
"Probably. You know, it might be safer for my career if I sneak out a back door and take the rest of the day off."
It was shortly before nine when Steve Keller knocked lightly on the wooden door, then pushed it open without waiting for a response. The raucous cheering and animated play-by-play of a hotly-contested football game assaulted his ears from the wall-mounted television set as he entered the room.
An IV tube disappearing under the left sleeve of his blue pajama top, Mike Stone lay propped up by pillows on the partially-raised bed. He glanced toward the door and a delighted grin lit his face. "Hey, buddy boy." He reached for the TV remote control on the nightstand and thumbed the 'off' button as a smiling Steve crossed the room. "Are you a sight for sore eyes. Come on, sit down." He indicated a nearby chair.
Steve approached the bed but remained standing. "How do you feel?"
"Pretty good. The painkillers are wonderful, but I wouldn't want to try to walk a straight line right now." He grinned. "I think I could get used to this."
Steve nodded. He continued to smile but his eyes grew strangely serious as the silence lengthened. They took the next few moments to study each other, and Steve was pleased with what he saw. Traces of the ordeal were still visible on Mike's ashen face, but his eyes were once again their clear, bright blue. And he knew, for Mike at least, the worst was over.
Uncomfortable under the penetrating stare, the older man cleared his throat and shifted uneasily. "Oh, uh, thanks for the pajamas," he said with a grin.
Steve smiled. "You're welcome. I just couldn't picture you in one of those gowns, you know."
"You're right," Mike chuckled softly, "it wouldn't fit the image."
Before stopping at the hospital that morning, Steve had dropped by Mike's house, filling an overnight bag with personal items he knew his partner would be needing. Unwilling to admit it even to himself, he nonetheless knew this simple act would say more than he could put into words.
"Have you talked to Jeannie yet?" he asked, hooking a chair leg with his foot and pulling it closer to the bed before he sat.
"Uh, no," Mike said slowly. "I don't want to get her all upset over nothing, and it is her exam time. Besides, she's not expecting to hear from me, so if all of a sudden I call her up for no reason, she'll get suspicious." He shrugged. "I figure if she phones the house and there's no answer, she'll think we're workin' late, and if she calls the office, I've told the fellas to cover for me."
Steve grinned and shook his head. "You've worked out all the angles, huh?"
"I hope so. Although with Jeannie, you never know," Mike laughed, then winced and caught his breath. He bent his knees and grabbed his left side with one hand; the other wrapped white knuckles around the lowered metal bar alongside the bed. After several seconds he relaxed, exhaling slowly and opening his eyes. "I gotta remember I can't do that for awhile," he said quietly.
Steve nodded, but neither of them was smiling now, unpleasantly reminded of what they had been through. And both knew that the last forty-eight hours had changed not only their lives, but their relationship.
With Mike it was his confidence, and once again coming face-to-face with his own mortality. It had been fifteen years since he'd been seriously injured in the line of duty, taking a bullet in the back trying to stop a liquor store hold-up. He had grown secure, almost cocky, in the years since, at times unwittingly pushing his luck, finding that 'fine line' and going one step beyond. And his luck had held...until two nights ago.
The changes for Steve were more pronounced. In those twelve furious, frightening hours, he had seen things in himself he didn't understand, things he wasn't sure he liked. The ferocity of his reaction to Mike's disappearance had surprised even him. And during those tense hours in the hospital waiting room, he had begun to examine not only himself, but also a relationship which, until now, he'd given only cursory reflection.
It had been two and a half years since a nervous junior grade Vice officer had been summoned to the office of a Homicide lieutenant. And in that time Mike Stone and Steve Keller had developed a working partnership and personal friendship that went beyond merely the brotherhood of their profession. They were men of different generations and different backgrounds, yet seeing the world through the same eyes; one wise beyond his years, one retaining a child-like enthusiasm and sense of wonder -- both bright, sensitive, caring. Two individuals whom fate had brought together, then stood back to watch as they spun a magical web that enveloped many who touched their lives. The closeness had crept upon them gradually, till neither was fully aware of the depth of their affection for, and dependence on, each other.
Then came Saturday night, and the Cobras, and for Steve Keller, his warm, comfortably familiar world had been shattered. It wasn't until he had stood by Mike's bed, and touched and talked to his partner, that he began to accept the reality of what had happened and what could have happened -- and the emotional stake he never knew he had.
Now, facing the one person who could understand what he was going through, Steve found himself uncharacteristically hesitant. He stood and crossed to the window, resting his fingertips on the sill, staring at the city lights.
Mike watched, waiting a few moments before speaking. "I talked to Roy. He told me you had a long session with Internal Affairs this afternoon."
"Yeah." Steve kept his back to the room.
"Marty Baker came to see me a couple of hours ago. I told him everything I could remember. He doesn't think there's any problem. Like Roy said, it was a clean shoot." Mike was talking quietly, cautiously. He knew Steve was deeply disturbed about something; he had thought it was the killing of Richard Sung, but now he wasn't sure.
"Yeah, that's what he told me."
Mike waited. "Steve," he said finally, gently.
The young detective turned reluctantly from the window.
"Sit down," Mike commanded softly and watched his partner retrace his steps and slump into the chair, head down, exhausted, defeated. "What is it?"
Eyes on the floor, one hand nervously rubbing the knuckles of the other, Steve remained silent. It was several seconds before he spoke. "I blew it, Mike."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean I forgot Rule Number One -- fists in your pockets, feelings out of the way." He rose quickly and returned to the window. "I let my nerves take over," he said quietly, echoing Devitt's words. "I was way off base, Mike. I leaned on people, I threatened. My god, I even went after that kid in the hospital. If Roy hadn't been there -- "
"Roy said you handled yourself fine. He said -- "
"Oh, Mike," Steve cut him off, turning back from the window. "I know what I did. I almost blew it...more than once. They brought me right down to their level, with no effort at all."
He faced the window again, fighting to control his anger and frustration. In the silence that followed, Mike asked softly, "Do you remember back about, oh, six months ago...when Gus Charnovsky was killed?"
Steve turned to eye his partner warily, thrown by the sudden change of subject. "Sure, but -- "
"And do you remember a certain Homicide lieutenant who threw the book away and staged his own, personal, one-man vendetta?"
Comprehension dawned as Steve realized the direction the questions were taking. Mike's uncharacteristic behaviour during that unfortunate incident continued to haunt the older man, and Steve was well aware of the anguish and embarrassment that remained for his partner.
"Yeah, I remember, but that was -- "
"Was no different," Mike finished. "No, I take that back," he corrected himself, "it was different. There wasn't a life at stake when I went after that kid who shot Gus. It was pure revenge, nothing more. But what happened Sunday...well, I owe you my life for that one."
"Mike -- "
"No, I mean it. Neither of us'll ever know for sure if that kid woulda pulled the trigger on me, but he shot at you fast enough. And that other kid, that Kramer -- he was so bent, I really believed he was gonna walk in there at nine o'clock and blow me away." They eyed each other from opposite sides of the room. "And I'll tell you something else," the older man continued. "If it had been the other way around, I'd have probably done the same thing you did."
He paused. "We all make mistakes, Steve. As the saying goes, nobody's perfect. I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life Saturday night -- I walked into that building alone. Well, I'm paying for that mistake right now. So you made a few too, so what? The important thing is to remember those mistakes so you don't repeat 'em. That's how we grow. That's how we become better than what we were."
Mike tried a smile. "I tell you what, I'll make a deal with you. You don't attack any more suspects, and I'll promise not to go into anymore empty buildings without you beside me." He held out his right hand. "Is it a deal?"
Steve slowly returned to the chair and sat, meeting his partner's steel blue eyes evenly. He was once more amazed by this man who seemed to see through to his very soul, knew what he needed to hear, and could put everything into its proper perspective. The others had told him much the same thing, but for Steve the words had to come from the one person whose opinion and approval meant the most. They had become as familiar to each other as well-loved books; today another page had been turned, its corner carefully creased for future reference.
Steve leaned forward, taking Mike's hand in a firm grip. He blinked quickly several times to clear his eyes, his broad smile slow to build. Shaking his head, he said through a chuckle, "It's a deal."
Mike grinned and squeezed Steve's hand tightly before releasing it. "Uh, you know, I vaguely remember saying this just a little while ago, but you still look like hell. Will you do me a favor and go home and get some sleep? You look worse than I do."
Steve laughed, his face brightened by a relaxed and natural smile. He nodded. "I'm gonna do that right now." He stared at his partner for a beat. "You're okay?"
"I'm fine. How about you?"
Steve thought for a moment before answering, then he nodded. "I'm all right." He turned back at the door. "Listen, uh, is there anything I can get you? Something you need?"
Mike shook his head. "No, thanks. I'm happy."
"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Look," Mike said quickly, "I'm gonna be here for about a week. Don't think you have to come to see me every -- "
"I'll see you tomorrow," Steve said firmly.
Mike hesitated, then nodded. The grin that eventually appeared was a blend of self-consciousness and affection. "Get some sleep."