"Homicide, Cassidy." Brian listened for a moment, scratched something down in his notebook, and then hung up. Looking around, he couldn't see Munch, but he could hear him in the coffee room.
"Do they really expect us to believe that?" Munch was standing in front of the little table, where Lewis and Kellerman were sitting looking amused.
At least Kellerman was; Meldrick, sitting closer to the squadroom, had his back against the wall and Cassidy could only see him in profile.
Munch was obviously in full harangue - pacing back and forth between the vending machine and the table, waving a memo in one hand. "I bet Fugitive has a full supply of toilet paper. This is blackmail!"
Cassidy stopped walking when he made eye contact with Kellerman. Mike rolled his eyes as Munch said something else that Cassidy couldn't hear. Mike gestured towards Lewis, who didn't seem to notice. Brian nodded, and went back to his desk for a rubber band.
"So what you're sayin' is that if the murder rate goes down, we gonna get rewarded with Charmin?" Lewis let the amusement creep into his voice. "Barnfather's holdin' back on us because there are more dumb mooks killin' each other this quarter than last?"
"Don't you see it?" Munch was excited, although Kellerman couldn't tell whether it was because of the topic or because Lewis hadn't told him to shut up already. It was rare that Munch was allowed to get so far into a monologue these days. He saw Cassidy returning and slowly started to lean towards the wall and out of range.
"Narcotics is on easy street because Luther Mahoney's little auto accident left the corner boys disorganized," Munch continued. "And you don't see them coming to steal our precious and dwindling supply.
"But since we have to clean up their little messes, not to mention the usual assortment of unhappy spouses and careless knife-wielders, our numbers are up, both red and black. And Barnfather is taking it out on our asses!"
"Literally," Kellerman commented drily.
"And you don't think that this little problem don't have nothin' to do with the fact that Narcotics and Fugitive have plenty of women detectives, while alls we got is the Sarge?" Lewis was definitely enjoying this.
"Vice is loaded with female officers," Munch shot back. "And they were the ones we caught sneaking out a roll."
"Maybe the ladies of Vice used up all of their allotment," Kellerman suggested. Where the hell was Cassidy?
"I dunno, Munch, maybe you should investigate. You know, sneak into all of the squadrooms and sniff around. The nose," and here Lewis leaned forward and tapped the side of his with an index finger, "knows.. HEY!!" Lewis covered his nose with both hands and spun towards the squadroom.
Cassidy nearly made a clean getaway until he tripped over an approaching Brodie and had to perform a nifty pirouette to avoid being impaled on the miniature flag on a nearby desk.
"What you do that for." Lewis began, knowing the reason and not caring. He was standing over Cassidy, who was still draped backwards over the desk and looking very much like a sacrifice. Brodie had since fled towards the relative safety of his lair, not wanting to be accused of being any more underfoot than he usually was.
Munch came out of the coffee room to see the commotion and Brian looked expectantly up at his partner. "A call came in."
Munch held out his hand for Cassidy to help himself up. "You can exact punishment later, Meldrick, if you so desire." Munch explained to Lewis. "But just remember that this, like certain other important shootings, was not the work of a lone gunman."
With Cassidy upright, Munch went to get his coat. Lewis went back to the coffee room, where Kellerman was wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes.
"You!" was all Meldrick said to his partner.
"I don't know why I defend you," Munch mused at Cassidy once they were getting into the Cavalier. "In the wild, mothers zebras often let their young stray from the pack, knowing that the strong will learn not to do it again after getting chased by a lion for a while."
Cassidy stopped feeling for the ignition slot and turned, looking surprised and sad. "You'd let me get eaten by a lion?"
"Don't worry, Lewis prefers steak to pork chops."
Cassidy started the car. "And why does this make me feel better?"
"Because we taste like pork. If we tasted like filet mignon, I'd be feeding you beer and rubbing your belly like they do for Kobe beef."
"You do feed me beer, at the Waterfront." Cassidy gave Munch a sidelong glance and took one hand off the wheel and put it over his stomach. "Keep your paws on your side of the vehicle."
Munch rolled his eyes. "So where are we going, Hop-along?" Cassidy was okay with that nickname. It was a sign of approval to have a nickname, even better that it had nothing to do with either sex or cheese.
"A domestic. Mrs. Fish did in Mr. Fish on Herring Court." He waited for Munch's reaction.
"Don't they have zoning laws to prevent things like that from happening?" Munch finally asked. "Do they have a backyard pool for when the little guppies come to visit?"
Cassidy couldn't immediately come up with a fish joke, so he just groaned and then worked on finding the right street. Munch was patient up to a point when it came to Cassidy learning his way about town, but only up to a point. Cassidy would rather drive than let Munch do it, as his partner could talk and steer at the same time. Sometimes, he needed a mental vacation from his partner and driving was a legitimate way to go about it.
They arrived at the scene with no wrong turns and found the everpresent Sally Rogers, who told them that Mrs. Eleanor Fish, age eighty-three, and put rat poison in Mr. Fish's Sanka after an argument. Munch and Cassidy pulled on latex gloves and went to go see Mr. Fish.
"Well, he's certainly gone to the great aquarium in the sky," Munch commented as they stood over the body. Mr. George Fish, aged eighty-six, didn't look his age, even in death. "He looks younger than Scheiner," Munch said as Cassidy turned Mr. Fish's head from side to side.
"He is younger than Scheiner," Cassidy replied.
"Is not," interrupted the cantankerous M.E. as he pushed past two uniforms standing nearby. Cassidy had finished his quick exam and nearly knocked over Dr. Scheiner as he got up off his haunches, the latter doing little to get out of the way.
"You done?" the M.E. asked, not waiting for the affirmative answer before motioning for the attendants to bag the body.
Munch and Cassidy went to the living room, where Eleanor Fish was sitting, looking distraught. The uniforms faded into the background as the two detectives approached.
Mrs. Fish was small, frail, and if there hadn't been a body in the kitchen, you'd have sworn she'd never even kill a fly. She looked up at the detectives with such a pitiful expression that made both men uncomfortable.
Cassidy sat down next to Mrs. Fish on the couch and took her hand in his. Mrs. Fish patted both of their hands with her free hand, as if it was Cassidy that needed the comforting. "I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe he'd do such a thing."
"What thing, Mrs. Fish?" Cassidy's voice was gentle, lacking the cocky or hurt tones that colored his squadroom banter.
"I couldn't find my purse for two days. I needed it to go shopping, to go to the pharmacy, and to go to my bridge game. I looked all over, but I couldn't find it. Finally, I did find it, but the checkbook was gone. I asked George where the checkbook was, but he wouldn't answer. He couldn't even look at me." Mrs. Fish's voice broke a little and Cassidy squeezed her hand softly.
"I kept trying all day to ask him, but he wouldn't listen to me. I couldn't believe that he would do something so awful as to steal our money."
"What makes you think that Mr. Fish took the checkbook, Mrs. Fish?" Cassidy asked.
"I wrote out the bills on Monday. The electricity bill was so high... We keep the doors and windows locked tight at night. George's hearing wasn't too good without his hearing aids, but I can hear every creak in the floorboards. I would have heard someone come in. And then my purse went missing... George went out to buy the paper every day. He could have passed the bank and cashed a check. He must have."
Mrs. Fish started to cry softly, and Cassidy had no choice but to hand her off to a young female officer. Munch had hung back by the entrance to the dining room and now the two of them went through the house looking for clues.
Munch wouldn't admit it to anyone, but the real reason he kept Cassidy around was that underneath the poor attempts at coolness and in spite of the young detective's almost innate ability to embarrass himself -- the kid made Bayliss look suave, Munch had been horrified to realize --Brian Cassidy was a good detective.
As much as Munch enjoyed having someone to trip up with verbal swordplay, that wasn't enough for a working relationship. He could get that with Brodie. Although he doubted anyone would believe him if he told them, Munch knew Cassidy was thorough at a crime scene, handled witnesses well, and was effective in the Box, even if he stumbled upon confessions a lot more often than he'd care to admit. Cassidy wasn't a great detective, but he was already a good one and he was still young. Let Pembleton think that he had the only prodigy in the unit...
Lewis watched Kellerman head out the door and waited a few moments in case Mike had forgotten something. Meldrick had guilted his partner into running down to get the autopsy reports on their case, claiming injury from the pre-meditated attack by the "Irish mafia" in the unit.
Kellerman had first protested innocence, batting his baby blues at an unreceptive Lewis, then changed tactics mid-defense after Meldrick wouldn't stop giving him that disbelieving stare he occasionally used in the Box.
"Two people aren't a mafia, Meldrick," Kellerman feigned sounding bored, like he was stating the obvious, "They aren't even a conspiracy."
"Bayliss could be in it, and that makes three. You admittin' to your part in the crime?" Lewis had asked, putting his hand to his nose.
"You have no evidence other than a statement given by the associate of the perp. I'm confessing to nothing," Kellerman had given Lewis his best eat-me grin and then picked up the open file on his desk. Meldrick was left to shake his head and plot revenge.
With Kellerman now presumably out of the building, Lewis went to work. He hit Judy up for a new bottle of clear glue, spending a moment getting a lesson on how to make the adhesive come out of the little rubber nipple. And then he went to work.
The box of rat poison, the coffee cup, and the spoon were taken from the kitchen in baggies. After going through the house with the help of the uniforms, Munch found the troublesome checkbook on the floor behind the kitchen table, partially hidden by a chair.
Picking it up and waggling it in Cassidy's direction, Munch opened the checkbook to find that there was a discrepancy between the last line of the register and the number of the first unused check. "Maybe Mrs. Fish was on to something," Munch mused aloud.
"Guys, we found a neighbor." one of the uniforms reported from the kitchen entrance. Cassidy and Munch headed outside.
A middle-aged woman stood in the front yard. She was dressed in a nurse's outfit and was carrying a backpack. She was almost pretty, but the exhaustion on her face drained much of her good looks and she was wrapped up too tightly against the cold to make a guess about the rest of her.
"Did you ever notice," Munch asked Cassidy as they went through the front door, "that in porn films, the nurses are never wearing real nurse's shoes? Nobody looks good in those things. Square, fat, they flatter no human legs."
"I don't think that's the point of them, John. Nurses aren't supposed to turn you on. They're supposed to help you get better." Cassidy didn't seem fazed.
"A healthy sex drive is the first sign of wellness, my boy. Just wait until you're older. It's a better indicator than any thermometer." Munch trailed off as they got into earshot.
"You're a neighbor of the Fishes, Miss.." Munch prompted.
"Jenkins. Serena Jenkins. I don't live here, but I take care of Mr. Espadon next door."
Munch coughed, but Cassidy could have sworn Munch was really swallowing a laugh. He'd ask later, as Munch regained his composure almost immediately.
"Is Mr. Espadon related to the Fishes?" Munch had a gleam in his eye that Cassidy knew to be concerned about.
"How well did you know the Fishes?" Cassidy asked, not wanting his partner to start off on one of his strange tangents. Serena Jenkins would end up too confused to be of much help if that happened.
"We said hello and talked about the weather and things like that. In the spring, when it was nice enough to sit outside, I'd help Mr. Fish bring the lawn chairs out. Nothing deep, just neighborly things like that."
"Does Mr. Espadon get along well with the Fishes?"
"Mr. Espadon and Mr. Fish didn't get along too well. Mr. Espadon always complained that Mr. Fish would mow the lawn too early in the morning. Said Mr. Fish didn't care about the noise because he took his hearing aids out so it wouldn't bother him. Mrs. Fish was very nice, though, and Mr. Espadon gets along well with her."
Munch nodded. "Were the Fishes, more specifically, is Mrs. Fish, of sound mind?"
"Considering their ages?" Serena Jenkins asked rhetorically, "yes. Mrs. Fish was a little forgetful and you'd end up having the same conversation with her a few times, say about the weather or a television program, but it wasn't anything that shouldn't be considered normal signs of aging."
"Did the Fishes fight much, do you know?" Cassidy spoke up.
Serena Jenkins shook her head and smiled. "They'd have little arguments every once in a while. Mrs. Fish would tell Mr. Fish to do something and then forget that she had. She'd tell him again, sometimes the same thing, sometimes the opposite thing, and Mr. Fish would get upset and yell at her that she was crazy and was trying to drive him crazy, too."
"Would you say these were violent arguments? Did Mr. Fish ever strike his wife?" Cassidy asked.
"No, they weren't, at least not the ones that I heard. Mr. Fish never seemed to be really angry at his wife. Frustrated, sure, but angry enough to hurt her physically? No."
"Did Mrs. Fish ever strike her husband?" Munch wondered.
"Eleanor?" Nurse Jenkins looked shocked and amused. "I doubt it. She was very old-fashioned and believed in the sanctity of house and home, a true homemaker and housewife. She still wore a hat and gloves every time she went out. I don't think she'd ever do anything like that."
"Well, she substituted rat poison for sugar, so she might have been capable of other things." Munch pointed out, and the smile faded from Serena Jenkins' face.
"Even if she had gone after Mr. Fish with a frying pan, Detective, she couldn't have inflicted any damage. She just wasn't strong enough."
The rest of the interview was done in fairly short order as everyone wanted to get in out of the cold. There were no children to notify and someone else was starting the hunt for any other next-of-kin. Cassidy and Munch headed back to the Cavalier, which of course had no heat.
Kay Howard put her hand to the back of her neck and tried to give herself a massage. She had spent the last hour hunched over her desk reading reports and was now paying for it with a crick in her neck that didn't want to be worked out. She stood up and rolled her head a few times and then reached across her desk for her coffee cup.
Caffeine covered up most work-related ills.
"Hey, Sarge, you makin' a new pot?" Lewis asked as he saw Howard headed for the breakroom.
"How come you know we need a new pot, Lewis? You the one who should be making it 'stead of me?" Kay called over her shoulder.
Lewis always did this, she grumbled to herself. Finishes the coffee, the milk, the sugar and never replaces them. Especially in winter, when a milk run meant going outside in the cold.
"But coffee always tastes better when its made by a superior officer," Lewis grinned, having followed her into the room. "Boosts morale."
Howard shook her head at him as she measured the coffee. "You treat the folks at the Waterfront like this?"
"The folks at the Waterfront pay me money to be nice to them," Lewis pointed out. "My fellow murder police jus' give me grief." He rubbed at his nose.
"Brian Cassidy and the Sundance Kellerman ride again, huh?" Kay asked. She had been in the squadroom earlier and had heard the noise. "Bein' your superior officer and all, I can switch you guys around so that they're together and out of your hair." She emphasized her words by closing the watertank part of the coffeemaker with a gentle slam.
"Uh-uh. That means I gotta ride with Munch. I'll take my chances with Sundance." Lewis shook his head in exaggerated revulsion and walked away, which was roughly what Howard had in mind when she made the suggestion.
Cassidy and Munch rode back to the station without discussing the case. Munch first went on about the freezing car, but then got distracted when they passed the Pun Fun Chinese Restaurant. Parking the Cavalier, they headed back inside to the warmth of the station house.
"What were you laughing about when we were interviewing Serena Jenkins?" Cassidy asked Munch as they headed up the stairs.
"She works for a man named Espadon," Munch shook his head in amazement.
"Espadon is "swordfish" in French. Mr. Fish not only lived in Herring Court, but he was next-door neighbors with Mr. Swordfish! Maybe I had it wrong. Maybe there are zoning laws that ensure these little marine communities stay together instead of making sure that they don't..."
"So who lives in Crab Court, then?" Cassidy had had a wonderful time contemplating a map of Baltimore when he first arrived. New York didn't have such strange names for streets, Cassidy had been very proud to tell Munch, and had cited Crab Court as an example of one that could never be found within city limits at home. Munch had shot back that that was because the only crabs in New York worth talking about were not an edible kind. Cassidy had called him jealous.
"The Kings, the Blues..."
"Those are hockey teams," Cassidy retorted. "They live in Los Angeles and St. Louis. One has no defense and the other has no offense."
"But the Blues have a really cute captain," Mike Kellerman piped up from behind them, cheeks flushed bright from the cold. "So my niece tells me."
Munch shot him an 'if you say so' look and Kellerman faked looking offended. "He came to her school assembly a few months ago and ever since then, she's been telling my sister that she wants to marry him."
They went though the squadroom door. Kellerman reached up and put the back of his hand on the back of Cassidy's neck. Brian screamed.
"Jesus, that's cold! What the hell was that?" Cassidy turned to face Kellerman, who was holding up his ungloved hands. "Your hands? That was your hands?"
"Cold blooded animals rapidly acclimate themselves to the temperature of the environment they're in." Munch said as they reached their desks. "Kellerman's a lizard, Cassidy, didn't I tell you?"
"A snake is more like it," Cassidy pouted and then moved away as Kellerman reached out again with his cold-as-death fingers.
"Coffee, partner," Lewis asked as he approached bearing two mugs by the handles.
Kellerman had taken off his coat and was sitting down, rubbing his cold hands together. He accepted his mug with both hands, but raised an eyebrow and peered into the cup. "Something wrong with this coffee, Meldrick? Or did you get your jollies by making me go to the morgue in the freezing cold?"
"If there was anything wrong with it, would he tell you?" Cassidy asked, picking up his own mug and walking around Kellerman's desk towards the breakroom. "That would defeat the purpose."
"I'm a forgiving man, Mikey, you know that," Lewis smiled beatifically.
"Yeah, right." Kellerman muttered.
"'Sides, I figure you got your due headin' out without these." Lewis held up Mike's black leather gloves and chortled. The gloves were always either on Kellerman's hands or in his coat pockets, which meant that he hadn't forgotten them.
"You took my gloves?" Kellerman asked as he cradled the coffee mug in both hands to warm up his still-icy fingers. "Bastard. My hands are still numb." He took a sip. "It was just a rubber band. No harm, no foul."
"So, you 'fessing up yet?" Lewis asked.
"No. I told you, the testimony of the partner of a criminal isn't worth anything. Call Danvers, he'll tell you the same thing."
"I'm a criminal?" Cassidy had returned with his coffee and a muffin. "I do your bidding and I'm a criminal?"
"Better than an unminded baby zebra," Munch said from his desk, where he was trying to make his glasses de-fog more quickly. "From whence the muffin?"
"Bayliss let me have it this morning," Cassidy said with his mouth full. He didn't feel like sharing any of it.
Howard walked up to the quartet armed with some files, which she deposited on Lewis' desk. "M.E.'s just called, Cassidy. Scheiner said that your Mr. Fish's hearing aids had no batteries in them and that he'd never do anything like that." She looked a little confused. "What'd you say to Scheiner?"
"Young Cassidy here implied that Mr. Fish was more youthful in appearance than our beloved M.E." Munch answered.
"Me? You said it first." Cassidy cried.
Kellerman, who was still leaning back cradling his coffee mug, laughed and Cassidy stuck out his tongue.
"How old was Mr. Fish?" Howard asked, knowing where this one was heading.
"Eighty-six," Munch said. "But he didn't look a day over seventy-five."
"So what about the hearing aids?" Howard wanted to know.
"Mrs. Fish, a kindly, but forgetful young lass of eighty-three, misplaces her purse and checkbook," Munch begins. "She finds the purse, but not the checkbook. She accuses Mr. Fish of taking the checkbook and emptying out their life savings, but, since his hearing aids weren't working, he doesn't hear her. Assuming his silence to be a confession of guilt, she puts rat poison in his decaf."
"The checkbook was on the floor behind the table in the kitchen," Cassidy added, "and the register isn't up to date by one check, so she may have been right, or she may have just forgotten to write down the last of the bills she paid earlier in the week."
Howard shook her head. "Wonderful. Hey, Lewis," she turned towards Meldrick, who was idly flipping through the reports on his desk, "how'd you get Kellerman to type up a report when you were the primary? Don't look innocent at me, I can tell by the typos."
"'Cause my partner keeps tryin' to get me picked off by the little sniper over there," Lewis tilted his head towards Cassidy, who couldn't see him around the column but was making a face nonetheless. "Here, Mikey, you can see where the Sarge corrected your mistakes."
Kellerman leaned forward slowly, careful not to spill what was left of his coffee. "At least they're typos. You just misspell... What the fuck?" Kellerman stared at his hands and then looked up at Meldrick's desk, spotting the barely used bottle of glue. "You glued my hands to my coffee mug?" He looked at Meldrick with pure disbelief.
Lewis cackled out loud and Howard, Cassidy, and Munch quickly broke out laughing as well. The explosion of mirth brought the recently arrived Pembleton and Bayliss over to see the cause.
"Mikey, Mikey, Mikey," Bayliss said sadly and then went to hand up his coat and scarf.
Pembleton shook his head, smiling but saying nothing, and followed his partner to the coat rack.
"Well, is somebody going to help me?" Kellerman asked as the laughter died down.
"C'mon Kellerman, let's go run you under hot water and unstick you, huh?" Howard said finally, a little out of breath from laughing so hard.
"Little girls room or little boys room?" Munch called before the pair had moved too far away.
"Ladies room," Howard said. "I'm not going into that cesspool. I'm not even sure you guys have soap. Kellerman'll live."
"Then while you're there, can you do us a big favor, Kay, and grab an extra roll of toilet paper..."
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