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A Twist to "In the Midst of Strangers"

In this WHI, City Councilman Rhinelander is alive and well, but an unfortunate victim to an attempted kidnapping and robbery. The mayor and his aide, Joe Skowlownowski, call on Stone and Keller to find the perpetrators.

Leaving the mayor's office with marching orders to find Rhinelander's attackers, the detectives wove their way through City Hall's maze of corridors to the Councilman's office to ask further questions.

"I can't believe he called me 'what's-his-name'," Keller said with a tone of exasperation after the conversation with Skowlownowski.

Mike was humored by his partner's come-uppance and playfully thumped Steve in the back of his head. "Don't over think it, Buddy boy. Just do what he said."

On the second floor at the far end of the building in a nearly vacant hallway, they found the office of Jules Rhinelander. The slim, middle aged city councilman was neatly attired in a gray suit and a red tie. With papers in his hand, he looked as though he had some place to be.

"Councilman Rhinelander, I'm Lieutenant Stone and this is my partner, Inspector Keller. We were wondering if you had a few moments to discuss the attack yesterday." Mike looked around at the sparsely furnished office.

Jules Rhinelander smiled and extended his hand to the senior detective. "Yes, Lieutenant, of course; although I filed a report with the responding officer, so I'm not sure what more I could add."

Steve responded, "Councilman, the Mayor and his aide believe that the attack may not be random. They're concerned you may have made some enemies."

"If you mean with regard to the housing project, yes, that's true. I can honestly say I haven't bowled anyone over or made friends with any of my proposals. But yesterday's attack had nothing to do with that." Rhinelander checked his watch and gave a slight frown. "Gentlemen, I need to leave for an appointment. Would you mind walking with me?"

"Our pleasure, Councilman," Mike assured the official, who was busy placing his documents in his briefcase and grabbing his coat.

"Sir, do you believe your life is in danger?" Steve continued as they left the office and began to walk down the corridor to the front of the building. There was not a soul to be seen through the lengthy hallway. There was something about the environment that raised the hair on the back of the younger detective's neck.

"I've had several threats, but I believe that's all it is. Just threats."

It was an uncanny coincidence that a man wearing a black ski mask and dark clothes appeared in front of them a short distance away. He did not count on Rhinelander to be in the company of two other men, let alone two police officers. No matter, the gunman had a job to do.

Keller and Stone reacted quickly. Steve pushed the Councilman directly into the wall where the official lost his balance and fell over. In the meantime, Mike drew his weapon. "Police, drop it!" he ordered.

The assailant's gun discharged. Steve felt a sharp pain in his shoulder as he toppled backward onto the fallen Councilman. Mike returned fire and thought he winged the fleeing shooter.

Mike's first reaction was to pursue the gunman, but he quickly changed his mind as he glanced over to the two men on the floor. He did a double take as he saw a large blood stain spread across his partner's grey coat.

Stone had to act quickly. While Rhinelander appeared uninjured, he could not afford to leave Steve or the Councilman alone. The best thing would be to backtrack to the safety of Rhinelander's office until help could arrive. But to do that, he would need to move Steve.

"Can you walk if I help you?" Mike asked as he knelt beside his suffering partner.

Steve could only nod. Mike continued, "We need to stop the bleeding, but I want to get you out of the hallway first."

"I'm sorry, Mike," Steve choked painfully.

"Sorry nothing, you pushed Rhinelander out of the way. That bullet was meant for him." Mike kept talking to Steve while he lifted him up to a standing position and wrapped the younger man's arm around his shoulder for support.

Rhinelander's heart sank with guilt, although that certainly was not Stone's intent. It's just that the Councilman had been so sure that the vented anger was all talk.

Mike jarred the official back to reality. "Councilman, let's get back to your office, and I'll call for back-up from there."

Rhinelander grabbed Steve on the other side to give him more support. With an arm around his partner's waist and the other holding his gun, Mike led the way as they carefully backtracked down the hallway to the councilman's office.

Inside, Mike lowered his partner on the floor. He gingerly helped him out of his suit coat, being careful not to cause the young man further pain. Next, he pulled Steve's tie down and over his partner's head. "You need to lay back, Buddy boy. Let me look at that."

Steve gave no resistance, which was a sign to Mike just how injured his partner was. He saw there was significant bleeding from the bullet wound located just under his front right shoulder bone.

"We need to apply pressure to your shoulder. You should be flat on the floor." He pulled out his always present clean handkerchief. He was tempted to use the cloth to wipe the beads of sweat from his partner's forehead, but instead applied firm and steady pressure the wound. The pain made Steve try to move out from under the weight of his partner's hand, but Mike pressed harder. "Stay still," Mike whispered.

Once settled, he called over to Rhinelander. "Councilman, take over here. I'll call for an ambulance and back-up."

The Councilman agreed and rushed to the younger detective's side. Mike noticed that Steve's eyelids were drooping shut and he was no longer reacting to the pain of the bullet. The worried detective walked over to Rhinelander's desk and grabbed the phone. His fingers felt like lead as he made them trace around the rotary dial and call the number to his own office. "It's the quickest way to get the ambulance and the men I need on site," Mike thought to himself.

Seconds later, Lee Lessing picked up the phone at the Bureau of Inspectors.

"Lee, we've got a situation at City Hall. Someone tried to kill Councilman Rhinelander. We need to put the building in immediate lockdown and also call for an ambulance. We have an officer down," Mike said formally. Quietly he added, "It's Steve."

Mike listened to the words coming from Lessing on the other end. There had indeed been a report of a gunshot heard and police were on their way. Lee could now confirm that fact that there was a shooting to the responding police officers. Lessing would also call for an ambulance. It was a relief to Mike.

Steve had a fighting chance of getting the medical attention he needed as long as no other obstacle stood in the way. That obstacle, of course, could very well still be in the building, ski mask and all.