AN: I just wanted to apologize to my readers for keeping you all waiting a ridiculously long period of time to be able to read the next update. It probably seemed like I had abandoned this story and I'm sorry I left it in limbo for months. It wasn't my intention but I've had a lot going on in my real life that my muse decided to work on other things or nothing at all. I hope that at least some of you will return to read this last installment :-D I do understand if it just has been too long a wait to try to follow and remember where you left off. Thank you all so much for reading all or parts of my story. If I don't get a chance to say this later, I hope all my readers and fellow writers have a Merry Christmas filled with many blessings and a Joyous New Year...
Jodm, without your encouragement and wisdom, I may not have had the courage to explore the Streets of SF so thank you.
Upon reaching the Hartman residence, Steve rang the door bell then rapped his knuckles on the door. Next, he called out for Jeff but no one answered and no footfalls could be heard from within. He decided to check the garage. Walking around the side of the house, he lifted the garage door and found it was unlocked. Sliding it up all the way, he saw Hartman senior leaning over a metal drum behind his car with a lit match between his thumb and fore finger.
"Hartman, that's not going to help Troy," Steve said slowly. He was confident that he had just walked in on the Inspector as he tried to destroy whatever evidence he'd found in his house that would link his son to the attack on Jeannie.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Keller, but you're trespassing and I'm within my legal rights to have you removed by any means necessary," Hartman warned in a level voice. The match burned out before he had a chance to drop it in the drum. "Damnit!"
"That may be so under normal circumstances but I'm not here on a social call. We need to talk about your son, Troy. Why don't we go down to the station and get this whole mess cleared up." Steve cautiously walked toward Hartman.
"There's nothing to talk about. You just stay the hell away from my son, you got that?" Hartman seethed, his temper getting the better of him.
"I can't do that. He's wanted for a suspected home invasion and attempted rape," Steve continued, watching Hartman light up another match. "Don't do this, Hartman. Getting rid of the evidence will only make things worse."
Jeff looked down at the contents of the drum. Inside was Troy's Halloween mask and a couple of photographs of a girl he'd found taped to the inside door of his son's wardrobe. Stone's daughter. Obscene words were scrawled all over the pictures. Words that disgusted him as a father of the culprit who wrote them. He had asked himself, why? It was obvious Troy needed the type of help he couldn't give but it was far more easier to remain in denial than it was to readily accept his son had a serious problem. He let the match burn out again. With a heavy sigh and a nod, he turned to face Keller.
"You know, Troy's star quarter back. He's the type of son any father would be proud to have. He's the only reminder I have left of Carolyn." Hartman shrugged his shoulders. "I raised him, taught him values, principles, what it took to be a man. Maybe I wasn't the perfect father. I was married to the job. Maybe that's where I failed him. But you wouldn't understand that now would you, Keller? You're a single guy, a ladies man's what I hear back at the station. You wouldn't have a clue what it's like to be a father. To raise a boy all on your own. To raise a champion." Jeff calmly took several steps toward Steve. "You know nothing."
Steve backed up a step, maintaining a safe distance between himself and Hartman.
"What? You think I'm gonna attack one of my own?" Hartman let out a hysterical laugh. He raised his hands in a mock gesture of surrender and continued to walk toward his colleague.
"After you," Steve stepped aside to allow Hartman to pass. "No offense but I'd feel a lot better if you walked ahead of me. Nice and slow."
"Did they teach you that in the academy?" Hartman snidely remarked.
Steve kept his eye on Hartman as he walked on by but he was still unprepared for what came next. The older Inspector wheeled around and pushed him up against the hood of the car. He grabbed Keller's tie and twisted it up, tightening it and choking his victim with it. "Now you listen to me, rookie. You stay the hell away from my son or I'm going to make your life a living hell! I'm not going to be answering anymore of your damn questions until you read me my rights. Without a warrant, you have no right to search my property and anything you saw here can not be admitted in a court of law. You know that and I know that."
Steve struggled to push Hartman off him but he couldn't get enough air into his lungs. Black spots danced in front of his eyes and difficult as it was to do, he knew he had to pretend he was buying into the crooked cop's threats if he wanted a fighting chance.
Hartman felt Steve relinquish his struggles and thought he saw fear in the younger man's eyes. Slowly he released his grip on Keller's tie and allowed him to straighten up.
Steve wasted no time in acting on what he believed was the right thing to do. He made a grab for Hartman, twisted the man's arm behind his back and pressed him up against the wall. "Jeff Hartman, I'm arresting you for obstruction of justice and assaulting a police officer. You have the right to remain silent." Reading him his rights, Steve's throat ached and voice sounded croaky in his own ears but he managed to finish what needed to be said. He reached for his cuffs but Hartman jerked his head back and butted him in the cheek.
Steve lost his restraining hold over Hartman and the two men exchanged blow after blow before Hartman was floored. Rolling under the car, he was on his feet again by the time Steve slid across the hood to the other side. With a gun now in his hand, the detective pulled back the hammer.
"Drop it, Hartman!" Mike Stone's unexpected bellow froze the scene.
Breathing heavily, Hartman made no move to lower his pistol.
"I said drop the gun!" Mike repeated. He had his own revolver drawn and trained on Jeff.
"It's over," Steve rasped. His heart hammered in his chest, both from the adrenaline rushing through his veins and out of fear that Hartman would pull the trigger. At point blank range, he knew he would probably be dead before his body even hit the ground and he wasn't ready to meet his maker.
"Your son needs you now more than ever! Don't you abandon him. Don't you dare!" Mike continued to try to get through to the detective's parental instincts. "As a father speaking to another father, please, don't do this."
"You have Troy?" Hartman finally broke his silence.
Mike nodded. "He's on his way to the station. The boys said he gave himself in. He's pretty scared and he'll need someone to help him find a good lawyer. Can you do that, Jeff? Help your son?"
Hartman's finger trembled on the trigger and for a long space in time, nothing stirred and no one even dared to breathe. Finally the tension was released at the click of the hammer being safely re-positioned followed by Hartman's pistol hitting the concrete floor of the garage.
Several uniformed officers filed into the garage and secured the scene while detectives Bill Tanner and Roy Devitt escorted a silent and defeated Hartman into one of the awaiting cars.
Steve leaned his back against the wall and slid down to the ground. Still coming to terms with how close he was to losing his life, he almost fell violently ill.
Mike crouched down by his protege's side and placed his hand on top of his shoulder. To his surprise, the young man didn't flinch away and he hoped that it was a sign that things will be fine between them again. "Are you alright, Buddy Boy?"
Steve nodded, slowly getting his stomach under control. With Mike's help, he pulled himself up and took several deep breaths.
"I should've been here sooner," Mike apologized.
Keller averted his gaze and started to walk out of the garage. He wanted to stay mad at Mike a little while longer but he found he just didn't have the energy to push the matter. Oh what the hell, the old man did save my life, right? He mused.
"Steve," Mike called out.
The Inspector stopped in his tracks and waited for his mentor to say what he was obviously struggling to say. He looked away to hide a small smirk that started to form on his face.
"Are we okay?"
With his smirk widening by the second, Steve finally faced the lieutenant. "You just can't say it, can you?"
Relieved that they were on speaking terms again, Mike grinned. "Say what?"
"How sorry you are for being a jerk!"
"Me? It takes two to argue, hot shot! Jerk, huh?+ Come here you!" Mike wrapped an arm around Steve's shoulders. "Tell you what, how about I make it up to you?"
"Let me guess, you're driving, right?" Steve suggested with a hint of sarcasm laced through the tone of his voice.
"No, but I'll buy you a chili dog on the way back to the office."
"Oh Mike, no, I really don't think I can eat one right now," Steve groaned, clutching his still churning stomach. "Can't I just take the afternoon off?"
Mike chuckled. "Maybe we should swing by the 're looking a little peaky."
Steve shook his head, rolling his eyes. "No, I'm fine, really."
Mike nodded then reverted back to the question he was most anxious hearing an answer to. "So we're okay then?"
Steve allowed the question to linger for a moment or two longer before giving Mike a friendly slap on the back. "Yeah, we're okay. Just do me a favor will you? Don't take me to the hospital."
Mike opened the car door for Steve and closed it after him, glad beyond words that things were finally back to normal between them. He still couldn't believe how close he came to losing his partner just days after his daughter was attacked. The lieutenant was just glad that he was somehow able to pull Hartman back up before he fell over the edge and committed an act he would later regret for the rest of his life. All that mattered to Mike now was knowing the two most important people in his life were safe and Hartman would get a second chance to be there for his son. Everything else in between seemed trivial in comparison to what he could have lost had things turned out differently.