Man Bites Dog: a case story


Almost everyone here but me belongs to NBC, Tom Fontana, and those folks. I'm not looking to buy, heck; I'm not even serious about renting. I'm just squatting. Don't sue; I'm poorer than I look.

Thanks as always to Valeria for the beta.


June 1996

<slam>

<crash>

Mike Kellerman finally looked up after the third time a drawer in the desk next to him was yanked open and then slammed shut.

"Can I help you?" he asked the portly man rifling through the abandoned desk.

"I'm looking for artifacts," the man sighed in either anger or exasperation. "Any evidence at all that I exist in the eyes of the Baltimore City Police Department."

"Russert's box is in Gee's -- Lieutenant Giardello's -- office, if you think she had anything of yours," Kellerman offered. Russert had cleared out her stuff -- actually, someone had cleared out her things for her -- last week and the desk was now empty except for a few pennies and a paper clip. Kellerman knew this for certain as he had gone through it looking for a pencil earlier in the day.

The fat man pushed himself upright and looked first confused and then angry with Kellerman. "I don't even want to know what Megan Russert's things were doing at my desk. I just want to know where my things are."

Kellerman was about to say something when he heard Lewis' voice in the hallway and then at the door of the squadroom.

"Big Man!" Lewis called out as he half-ran towards the two men. "'Bout time you showed your ever-cheerful mug 'round these parts. Hey, Mikey -- you ever meet the Big Man?" Lewis tossed Kellerman the M.E.'s report he had been sent to retrieve and threw his arm around the new arrival's shoulders like a long-lost war buddy.

Kellerman shook his head no. He had heard of Stanley Bolander, mostly through Munch's half-buzzed monologues at the Waterfront, but never met the man. He held out his hand to shake. "Mike Kellerman. Pleased to meet you."

Bolander was looking around and took a moment before he returned the grip. "You're the new boy?"

"Definitely Munch's partner," Kellerman muttered loud enough to be heard. "Yeah," he added at full volume. "Been here almost a year."

Bolander nodded. "Too much light in your eyes." Looking around again, he turned to Lewis. "Where is everyone?"

"Bayliss and Munch are either out workin' a case or over at the hospital, Gee's gettin' his chain yanked upstairs by Barnfather and Gaffney, and Kay's.... Hey, Sarge! Guess who's here?"

Howard walked over to the men and extended her hand. "Stan," she said by way of greeting. "Ready to climb back into the saddle, huh?"

Bolander clasped her hands warmly. "Sarge?"

"Kay here wanted to retire with her perfect clearance record intact," Lewis explained, his eyes flitting briefly to the name "Chilton" written in blue under her name. "She's the boss, now."

"Yeah, and the next time you guys listen to me, it'll be the first time, huh?" Howard shot back with not a little embarrassment. Trying to assert herself over guys who hadn't been cops as long as she had was one thing, but being Bolander's superior officer... "You ready to jump back in the saddle?"

"I guess I'll find out," Bolander nodded.

"Well, your timing could not have been better," Lewis shook his head. "Munch hasn't been the same since you left and he and Bayliss just ain't workin' out."

"Munch and Bayliss?" Bolander repeated. "Where's Pembleton?"

"Oh, Big Man, you got a lot of catchin' up to do," Lewis shook his head sadly as he made his way over to his desk.

Kay sighed and nodded in agreement. "When Naomi gets back, she'll get your box out of storage."

***

John Munch debated whether to have lunch at the Waterfront, but decided against it after spending a harrowing half hour at the side of Frank Pembleton's hospital bed. Munch couldn't decide which was more frightening to him -- Pembleton's seemingly bottomless righteous rage silenced, or how Tim Bayliss seemed to crumble a little more with each rasp-rasp the ventilator made.

Watching Timmy watch Pembleton reminded him too much of how he had sat vigil over Bolander. The only even mildly lighthearted thing Munch could think about during the entire visit was that Frank (if he woke up) was likely to be just as grateful as Bolander had been. Which, of course, was not at all. But an indignant Pembleton was a healthy Pembleton, and for that they all would pray. At least until the first few weeks after Frank got back to work.

Bayliss wanted to stay for his entire lunch hour, but Munch needed to eat and the two agreed to meet up back at the squad room. It was up the stairs to the second floor that Munch now trundled, oblivious to the other passing bodies on the stairs.

Snapping back to the present, Munch saw Kellerman and Lewis, the antithesis of every other partnership in Homicide, at the top of the stairs.

"I said let's go, Munch," Bolander called from the bottom of the stairs.

"Stanley?" Munch turned. "You're back?"

"No, it's just an apparition. My corporeal self is off in Maui. Obviously I'm back. And I'm waiting for you to get out of your stupor so we can go solve our case." Bolander waved his hand to indicate that his partner should get a move on and then he turned and went through the door.

"It's good to see you, too, Big Man," Munch called after Bolander as he ran down the stairs, Bayliss all but forgotten. "But tell your corporeal half that its ghost self needs to lose five pounds."

"That's some way to greet your long-lost partner," Kellerman frowned as he watched Munch run.

"Nah, that's just part of their dynamic, you know? Sorta like how Frank's always bustin' Timmy's chops. Or how he did," Lewis frowned for an instant. "And how he will. Anyways, the Big Man's not one for mushy stuff. Munch knows that."

"I don't care if he knows that. You treat me like that after we don't see each other for a year, I'm gonna pop you one," Kellerman shook his head. "Hey, you want to stop for ice cream on the way back?"

"We're goin' to the morgue, Mikey," Lewis frowned.

"What? Since when did a dead body ever make you lose your appetite?"

"Nah, man. It's the specifics, not the general. But by the time Scheiner gets done tellin' us about that report, we're gonna be colder than the stiffs."

"Fine. Coffee and donuts."

"You payin'?"

"Would it matter if I said no?" Kellerman frowned.

***

"I'm sorry, Ma'am," Bolander said as patiently as he could. He realized belatedly that during his suspension he had forgotten all about dealing with the intellectually challenged. "But dead dogs are not the responsibility of the homicide department." He idly wondered if they were in back in the Dominican Republic, where the Gastandos had originally come from and where Bolander half-wished they had returned to.

"'Homo' meaning, of course, man," Munch added. "Hence the term 'homicide'. You need animal control."

"No, no!" the woman wailed yet again. "My babies are dead," she gestured towards the three German shepherds lying on the ground in the backyard.

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Gastando." Bolander backed away as the woman started to cry again.

The detectives made their escape only after the woman's husband came outside to lead her away.

"Since when are there Dominicans living in Baltimore?" Bolander wondered as the two men walked back to the Cavalier.

"Maryland being the colonial beachhead of Catholicism that it was, it's hardly surprising," Munch mused aloud as he walked over to the driver's side. "The Spaniards would have loved to get this far north."

When Bolander did not open the door on his side, Munch leaned over and tried to look at his partner. "Well, Stanley? What are you waiting for?"

"For divine illumination to tell me why I came back to work with you, Munch." Bolander grumbled as he opened the car door.

"Because I'm lovable, witty, charming," Munch began, noticing Stan's doleful stare, "and because you'd have to work with either Bayliss or Higby. And while everyone in the unit is overjoyed at your return, Stanley, Higby's constant presence in your considerable shadow would significantly affect your social calendar.

"Higby's a pompous ass in a cheap suit," Bolander shook his head. And Bayliss was a callow youth he strongly suspected was unsuited to homicide work in general.

The short ride back to headquarters was in silence.

"You owe me big time," Bolander wagged his finger at Lewis as he passed by on his way to his desk. "Higby?" Stan elaborated as Lewis gave him a questioning look.

"You fell for that?" Meldrick asked in astonishment. "You're off your game, Big Man. I told Munch you wouldn't buy that fable. Gee don't want Higby's behind anywhere near this shift."

"Maybe I should find Bayliss," Bolander mused out loud. Despite his brief absence on the wild goose (German shepherd) chase, Stan was pleased to note that Naomi had restored his desk to something resembling its old glory. All that was needed was the old photo Mitch had taken during a fishing trip.

"Nah, you don't want that," Kellerman shook his head. "Timmy's a little preoccupied right now. He kind of wanders around in a daze half the time....well, more of a daze than he's usually in. And he's discovered philosophy," and here Kellerman gave a moue of distaste, "it's like the Tao of Tim."

"Bayliss is gonna scare away customers if he keeps it up," Lewis agreed. "Bartenders should be good listeners, not spoutin' stuff like Yoda."

"Hey, Yoda was a smart guy," Kellerman retorted. "'Do, not try. There is no try.'"

"If Yoda's so damned smart, how come he don't speak in normal sentences, huh?" Lewis asked.

"Yoda's speech is patterned, in part, after classical Latin," Munch sat down. "The verb at the end, the relative clauses re-arranged at stylistic whim... It's Cicero, Meldrick. Pliny. Julius Caesar himself."

"Well, someone should tell the mooks down on the East side to beware the ides of June," Kay ambled by, armed with a smirk that the detectives had quickly learned to be wary of, especially when it came with a side order of a toss of her hair and a pink message slip. "I got a double shooting. Lewis - you're up, right?"

"C'mon, Sarge, give it to Munch and Big Man here. Their last case wasn't one. Stanley needs to get some action in."

"They'll get the next one," Kay shrugged. "You and Kellerman take this one. I'm sure you'll find it worth your while."

The two detectives got up reluctantly.

"I think there's something hinky about this case, Mikey," Lewis mused as he walked towards the garage.

"Yeah," Kellerman agreed. "Sarge had that look."

"What look?"

"That look like she's holding out information on us," Kellerman elaborated. "Like when she didn't tell us that the victim in the Francis case was a teacher at a clown college."

"She gave us a look before she sent us out on that one?"

"Yeah. She smirked both sides of her mouth. Normally, she only uses one."

"And you notice this?" Lewis quickened his stride slightly so that he would arrive first at the car, thus avoiding having his partner force him to toss over the keys. Kellerman didn't fight too hard if Lewis got to the car first, he had figured out.

"I'm a detective. I have keen powers of observation," Kellerman nodded as he suddenly stopped at the driver's side of a Cavalier. "Where are you going, Meldrick? The car is right here." He held up a key by the numbered keychain, having made sure to grab a lower number than the one he saw Lewis take.

"You got keys?" Lewis asked, trying to mask his disappointment. "So did I." He made great show of looking in the window. "I think the AC is busted in this one. Let's take mine."

"How can you tell, Meldrick?" Kellerman asked as he opened the driver-side door. "A burger and fries at Jimmy's says it works."

"You're on, Mikey, 'cuz the odds are in my favor," Lewis got in.

Kellerman keyed the ignition and let the engine warm up a moment before switching on the air, which promptly blasted first warm, then slightly cooler air. "I'll take my burger medium-rare."

"How come you got all the luck, huh Mikey?" Lewis frowned as Kellerman pulled out of the garage. "There are maybe six Cavaliers in this garage with working air and you gotta bet on one of them."

They drove in silence.

"The windows were up, Meldrick," Kellerman finally spoke as he waited at a light.

"Huh?"

"The windows were rolled up on the car. That means the AC was working. If it wasn't, the previous guys to use it would have left the windows down." Kellerman tapped his sunglasses. "Keen powers of observation, Meldrick."

"Keen powers of observation my ass, Kellerman. Underneath that Wonder Bread exterior of yours is the heart of a con artist."

***

Tim Bayliss was drying a tray of glasses when Munch walked into the Waterfront.

"Timmy! How goes it?" Munch asked as he stepped behind the bar. "Did you have any trouble with the Horton case? I'm sorry I disappeared on you after lunch. Stan's coming back and all..."

"No, no. It's all right. I'd probably do the same thing if that was Frank coming back," Bayliss' eyes dimmed for a moment.

"And I'm willing to bet that when that does happen, Frank will be just as thrilled to see you as Stan was to see me," Munch replied quickly, mentally slapping himself for letting Bayliss get so quickly on to a subject that would upset him. "Did you find the gun?"

"Yeah," Bayliss brightened. "In the trash compactor. Mrs. Horton didn't realize that gunmetal doesn't crumple like milk cartons do. Ballistics will get back to me tomorrow and I should have it up in black by lunchtime."

"Good for you. Maybe then you can help out Lewis and Kellerman with their case."

"Why? Is it going to red ball on them?"

"Oh, I doubt that, but I don't know if Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum can stop laughing long enough to actually solve the case," Munch shook his head as he wiped down the bar and refilled a patron's beer glass.

"What's so funny about it?"

"Our esteemed sergeant told them that it was a double shooting. She neglected to tell them that it was actually a double nail-gunning." Munch adjusted his glasses. "It was an accident at a construction site, apparently, and all Lewis and Kellerman have to do is find the poor shmoe who didn't realize two of his co-workers were leaning against the other side of whatever he was testing the gun on."

"Nail gun, huh?" Bayliss was thoughtful. "You'd have to be using pretty long nails to get two guys through plywood. Especially to get them bad enough to kill them."

"I'm afraid carpentry is not my forte, so I'll take your word for it," Munch shrugged. "I don't know if it was plywood, though. It could have been plasterboard or something else."

"Three inch nails?" Bayliss mused. "If it was plywood, or even plasterboard, that's probably too short... "

"Speaking of getting nailed, Timmy," Munch cut in. "Take a look at that blonde over there."

"Are you allowed to do that in public?" Bayliss asked after a moment of staring.

"It's not technically exposing oneself," Munch reasoned.

"But should we be allowing it in the bar?"

"Do you see any of our patrons running for the door? In fact, I think a few of them are going to be looking for refills in a minute."

"But what if there is an undercover ATF agent here? They do that, you know. Hide out in bars and look for violations."

"Then we explain that our union's eye care coverage is very poor and neither of us can afford to update our prescriptions," Munch decided.

"Does that get us out of it? 'Ignorance of the law is no excuse.'"

"Probably not, but it does excuse us for sitting down nearby and getting a closer look," Munch grinned as he tossed the towel over his shoulder and moved from behind the bar.

***

Bolander found Munch lurking outside the door as he left Giardello's office. Gee had missed greeting Stan yesterday and wanted to catch up with (and no doubt feel out) his returned detective.

"Your dark shadow cast a pall upon Gee's desk. What do you want?" Bolander asked his partner.

"Remember that triple caninicide from yesterday?" Munch asked. "Well, it seems we have a return engagement."

"What, someone got the cat as well?"

"No, someone got the home owner. Eduardo Gastando was found strangled this morning."

"Oh, for the love of Pete," Bolander frowned. "Well, let's go. But this time, you get to deal with the wife."

As was the scene the day before, Bolander and Munch were greeted by a hysterical woman being watched by a handful of bored-looking uniforms and a gaggle of curious neighbors.

Munch groaned inwardly and outwardly as he was led to the grieving widow. He didn't begrudge the woman her anguish; he just wished she'd quiet down to the decibel level of the typical 747.

Bolander walked over to the nearest uniform. "Officer Gregson, do we have a witness amongst this flock of geese?" He gestured towards the spectators gathered behind the police tape.

"Witness? No, sir," Gregson replied. "But a few of them seem to have information about the victim's actions since yesterday."

"All right then, why don't you and Officer Devorski take down names and addresses and let these people know that we'll be speaking to them."

The uniform nodded and headed off. From the sounds of it, Munch had gotten the widow inside at least, so Bolander headed over to the body.

"Doctor Lausanne, what do we have here?"

The Medical Examiner stood up. "Dead about six hours, give or take a few minutes. Strangulation, probably with string or twine. I'll have the exact material after the autopsy. Probably from behind, but I can tell you for certain once we roll the body."

"Did Mr. Gastando put up a fight?"

"No obvious signs of one, but we'll scrape the fingernails."

Bolander was mostly through the area around the body when Munch joined him.

"Mr. Gastando kissed his wife goodbye at six this morning, same as he always does," Munch skimmed over his notes. "Mrs. Gastando didn't notice anything was wrong until she looked out the window a few hours later and saw the car in the driveway.

"Lausanne said the body was about six hours dead, so that fits," Bolander nodded. "You can bag 'im," he called to the ME.

"I guess we can start with the neighbors now," Munch sighed, running his fingers through his hair. It was shaping up to be one of those sultry summer days that reminded you that even though Philadelphia and New York were only train stops away, this was still a Southern city.

"Let's start with the house over there," Bolander pointed. "They have windows that face the driveway."

A young woman answered the door when the detectives rang the bell.

"Miss Taglia?" Munch asked, checking the list of names as he flashed his badge. "I'm Detective Munch, this is Detective Bolander. We're here about Mr. Gastando."

The woman nodded and opened the door for them and they entered into a small living room.

"Can I get you a drink? Ice water? Coffee?" She was dressed casually and for the hot weather, not expecting to be receiving company, Munch decided.

After she returned with two glasses of cold water, she joined them on the couch. "What can I help you with?"

"Did you know Mr. Gastando well?" Bolander asked.

"I knew his first name was Ed, that he lived with his wife and at least one child, and that he was very fond of those dogs." She made a face with the reference to the pets. "My parents would exchange polite conversation with him once in a while - he would blast classical music when he was working outdoors and my father is a violinist - but I didn't do anything more than nod hello. I never spoke to anyone else living in the house."

"How long have the Gastandos lived there?"

"Five years? Seven? It was after I finished college, so it couldn't have been much more than that."

"Are they good neighbors?" Munch asked.

The woman sighed and gave a sad smile. "They mean to be, I think. They're not impolite, just... blissfully, unintentionally inconsiderate. I don't know. Everyone has backyard parties once in a while, but the windows rattle from the merengue that they blare for theirs. If it snows, they don't shovel their walk, and if they do, they dump it onto ours. And those dogs..."

"...The dogs that were found dead yesterday."

"The Hounds of Hell," she frowned. "They were out all day, every day, summer or winter. They'd be let out when Ed left for work at six in the morning and wouldn't be let in until after dark. They'd bark at everything. Passing cars, the neighborhood kids walking to school, other dogs getting walked, even blowing leaves. Anything. If Mrs. Grundhal had her dog outside - she's in the house across the avenue - then the four of them would be barking at each other all day long."

"So there is no shortage of people who'd be likely suspects for their untimely deaths," Munch asked.

"Anyone within a threeblock radius, I imagine."

"What was the scene like after the police left yesterday?" Munch asked.

"A lot of yelling. I didn't catch it from the beginning, but I think Philip Parker - he lives behind the Grundhals - must have said something to Ed about the dogs. Soon, Mrs. Gastando and Kitty Parker were there as well and everyone was screaming. It's happened before."

"What makes you think Mr. Parker started the argument?"

"I don't know that it was him. It could have been Ed, but I think I heard Ed saying something about how Phil had said that he was happy the dogs were dead. Ed threatened to get more dogs that were even louder and meaner.... Phil used to bait the dogs a lot, running up to their fence and waving sticks at them and such. His garage faces the Gastandos' backyard, so he had plenty of opportunity. So when Kitty Parker would yell at Ed about the dogs going crazy every time she went to her garage, he'd yell at her about her husband and Kitty would yell back about the dogs being out all the time and barking at everything anyway... and it would escalate from there."

"And you said that this has happened before?"

"A few times, at least when I've been around. Christine Pulzak up the block has gotten into it with Ed once or twice, too. The Pulzaks' dog is this little yappy thing that flips out when it's walked past the Gastando's dogs, who in turn seemed to enjoy the idea of a little yappy snack."

"You must be very patient, Miss Taglia," Munch mused aloud.

"Me? Hardly. Why do you say that?"

"You live closest to the Gastandos, yet you're the only one who hasn't gotten into a fight with them about the dogs."

"That's more a circumstance than anything else," the woman explained with a shrug. "I don't have a dog, so I don't have to deal with my own pet's reaction to those beasts, and, quite frankly, I'm not such a glutton for punishment to torment or bait animals with bigger teeth and faster legs than I have. I'm also not home an awful lot during the day. When I am, I tend to yell at the kids who come by just to set off the dogs."

Munch nodded.

"Did you hear or see anything this morning, Miss Taglia?" Bolander asked and then took a sip from the sweating water glass.

"No, I didn't have to go in to work this morning, so I wasn't up when Ed left. The first I heard was when the police came."

"Does anyone else live here with you? Someone who may have heard something?"

"My parents live here when they come back from their globetrotting, but they're not due back for another month. My... girlfriend got up after I did."

"Can we have her name and a number to reach her?" Munch asked, trying to hide his disappointment. Miss Taglia was a very pretty young woman.

She nodded and gave them the information.

The interview wrapped up shortly thereafter and Bolander and Munch moved on to the next house.

***

"So let me get this straight, Mr. Damshuk," Kellerman put on his best 'patience is a virtue' face, "You don't know which one of your men was carrying a specially modified nail gun. In fact, you didn't even know you had a jacked-up nail gun."

The burly man seated behind the desk looked at Kellerman, looked at Lewis, who was watching the construction site outside the trailer, and then sighed loudly. "I know the boys occasionally try to make their lives easier by jimmyin' the tools. But that length nail, the kind that killed Tony and Mario, anybody workin' for me shoulda known that you can't drive that in with a nail gun. You gotta do it with a hammer, the old fashioned way."

"Mr. Damshuk," Lewis spoke without turning around, "Do you employ temporary laborers? Guys just to do the grunt work?"

"Day boys? Yeah. We cart up some city goats to clean up demolition sites. Makes the regulars a little happier knowin' they don't have to do grunt work."

"Morale booster," Kellerman nodded. "Always good for the boss to think of things like that. Do you have a list of the temps who were working the day Mr. Santini and Mr. Velio were killed?"

"There weren't any," Damshuk sat up straight. "We finished the clean-up Tuesday. We had a few of them around on Wednesday to do some odd jobs, but they would have been long gone by Friday. Those yeehaws probably finished turnin' their paychecks into Natty Bo long before Tony and Mario were killed."

"Do you know if either Mr. Santini or Mr.Velio had any arguments with the temps?" Kellerman asked.

"Dunno, I had the AC on full blast all week with this heat.... Who'da thunk it have gotten so hot so early in the summer. Anyway, the AC drowns out all but the machinery. You should talk to Petey White, the foreman."

"We'll go do that," Lewis nodded. "Thank you for your time."

Having already questioned the foreman, the detectives knew who they were looking for and found him surveying a clipboard full of numbers.

"The goats fight among themselves," White shrugged when asked. "We don't need to be starting fights with them. Mario was in charge of one of the demo crews, but I didn't hear of any unusual messes."

"Can we get a list of the men who were on Mr. Santini's crew?"

"We didn't split them up all formal-like," White shook his head. "It was just you guys go with him and you guys go with that one and don't steal any of the tools, please." A crash from the back of the site drew the foreman's attention. "You'll have to excuse me," he nodded and then left.

"So I guess we're gonna have to talk to the whole herd o' goats," Lewis frowned as he watched the foreman run towards the commotion.

"Look on the bright side, Meldrick. They'll turn on each other quick enough. We'll probably only have to talk to some of them."

"Spoken like a man who hasn't had to deal with too many of them. How many arson cases you have down in Billytown?"

"Not too many. They tend to start fires by accident, not with intent."

"I think you should handle the interviews, then. Good learnin' experience for you."

"As much as I appreciate your consideration, Meldrick, I don't think Gee and Kay are going to be too thrilled if I'm interviewing suspects and you're chowing down at Jimmy's. Where, by the way, you still owe me lunch."

"Who says Gee and Kay are gonna know?" Lewis smiled.

"They're detectives. Keen powers of observation. That, and I'd be sure to let them know."

"You're a goody-two-shoes, Kellerman. You know that?"

"Someone's gotta be."

***

"You guys need a hand?" Bayliss sat down on the chair next to Bolander's desk. "Gee said I should help you out on the Gastando case."

"You closed Horton already?" Munch looked up on the board and could already see the name in black.

"The wife didn't wipe her prints off the gun, which ballistics matched as the murder weapon. Even I can get that one," Bayliss shrugged.

"It's good to know that the criminal mind has not been involved in any self-improvement while I've been away," Bolander nodded with approval, as if Bayliss had confirmed a long-held theory. "Here, this is the file."

"Munch?" Naomi called from across the room. "ME's office on line two."

"Munch..... Yeah?... Well, that only narrows it down to half of residential Baltimore.... You're kidding.... All right, we'll be over as soon as we can. Thanks...."

"Well?" Bolander asked expectantly as soon as Munch hung up the phone.

"Lausanne says that Gastando was strangled with twine, the kind people wrap their newspapers in for recycling."

"They recycle newspapers over there?" Bayliss looked up from the file.

"Lausanne lives in the area, and he said it was a community project, something the bored housewives had come up with. Anyway, the tox screen also showed traces of chloral hydrate. And that just happened to be the murder weapon of choice for the dogs."

"So whoever knocked off the dogs is our prime suspect for knocking off the owner," Bolander mused.

"It gets better. The chloral hydrate was administered to Gastando via injection. Lausanne wants us down there for a visual demonstration."

"But we're supposed to interview the family this afternoon and we've still got three more neighbors to talk to."

"I can talk to the family," Bayliss suggested. "It'll get me out of the squad room for a while. Lewis and Kellerman are trying to get me to do their grunt work for them."

"So you'd rather do ours?" Munch asked.

"Talking to the family of the victim is helping out fellow detectives. Interviewing half of Billytown is getting dumped on," Bayliss shrugged and looked at his watch. "It's only until I pick up my own case."

"Well, then, Timmy, pack your earplugs. Mrs. Gastando can shatter glass at eighteen paces."

***

Kay Howard hung back by the door when she saw the Lieutenant was on the phone, but she came in and sat down after being ushered into the office with a wave.
"Yes, I'd like to make a reservation for two, please... after eight is preferable..... Giardello.... That would be fine. Thank you."

"Date tonight, Gee?"

"Perhaps," he smiled back. "An old friend is back in town. She seemed most eager to see me."

"I'm sure you'll knock her dead," Kay frowned when she realized how that had come out. "Figuratively speaking, of course."

"Of course. But you are not here to discuss my love life. What is on your mind? Have Lewis and Kellerman succeeded in making Bayliss their running boy? Is Bolander showing signs of rust?"

"No, no... I've got my eye on Mike and Meldrick.... I was just wondering...."

"... If I've heard anything from Felton?"

"Yeah. I know he's supposed to be back by now... and I haven't heard from him.... And we had kind of a fight, last time we spoke..." Kay twisted her hair behind her head in frustration. "Honestly, Gee? I bawled him out and I think he's either mad at me still or he thinks I'm still mad at him. And I'm not and I don't know if he is, you know?"

"Don't worry, my fair Sergeant Howard," Gee smiled. "Felton's actually got another week of unpaid vacation. He seemed to have hurt himself while he was out... misbehaving with Bolander last summer. The union lawyer convinced Barnfather that Felton shouldn't be suspended while he was injured, lest he be unable to seek medical care. So his suspension didn't actually start until two weeks after Bolander's."

"Hurt? Was it bad?"

"A bruise to the ego, I think was the diagnosis. He fell while running away from security while his pants were around his ankles."

"Beau's coordination never was very good, huh?" Kay wasn't sure whether to laugh with or at her missing partner. Speaking of...

"When Beau does get back, is he still going to be my partner? I mean, there's no one else for him to work with..."

"I was thinking of having him work with Bayliss. If Frank.... Until Pembleton returns," Gee forced himself to be positive. "It might be good for both of them. Tim needs to have someone else to focus on and I think he'll be conscientious enough to work with Felton. However, I have not settled that question in my mind. With us being so short-staffed right now, I might not be able to afford to let Beau and Tim go through the feeling-out process that comes with any new partnership. I know how much you'd like to get back on the street, Kay, and I will keep that in consideration, as I will your work with Felton."

Sensing the dismissal in the final words, Kay stood up. "Thanks, Gee." She saw him nod and then turned and left.

Back to her desk, cluttered with papers and case files and other evidence that "Sergeant" was just a higher-paid euphemism for "Secretary."

***

"So how'd your half of the interviews go?" Lewis sat down at a booth at Jimmy's. He and Kellerman had been working through the list of day laborers all morning and it took all of his effort not to let the city goat drawl he had been exposed to all morning seep into his speech.

"Ever have a dream about something you watched on television right before you fell asleep?" Kellerman asked. "Imagine you fell asleep watching 'Beverly Hillbillies' after bad Mexican food."

Lewis nodded. "We may never know who killed Tony Santini and Mario Velio, but I'm gettin' a real good feel for the ins and outs of the Billytown social scene."

The waitress came over. "Two burgers, medium rare, with fries, please. He's paying," Kellerman pointed at Lewis. "And put two Cokes on his tab as well."

Lewis made a face. "While you're soakin' up the riches of my largesse, you find out anything?"

"Santini wasn't a charmer, at least not according to the Billy boys," Kellerman shrugged. "Treated them like crap, made sure they remembered they weren't regularly employed, stuff like that. But one of the guys I talked to said that he was witness to a pretty loud argument between Velio and one of the other crane operators."

"Crane operators," Lewis mused as he pulled out the notebook he hadn't realized until now he was still carrying and opened up the sheets of paper folded inside. "There were three of them including Velio, right? Frank Dunning and Joe Briggs.... But Briggs was out sick that day. Takin' his moms to the doctor or whatever he told Damshuk."

"So Dunning and Velio got into an argument in front of the hired help. We didn't talk to Dunning yet, did we?"

"Nah, he was on his lunch break when it happened, so we had him on the list of not-so-important interviews."

"I think he just earned himself an upgrade," Kellerman nodded. "After we eat, of course."

The waitress arrived momentarily with their plates and the case was put aside so they could eat.

***

"Hi, Mary," Bayliss smiled as he opened the door to Pembleton's hospital room. "I brought you some lunch. Would you like tuna salad or ham and cheese?"

"Hello, Tim," Mary squeezed her eyes to get the fatigue away. "Tuna, please. Thank you."

"Why don't you go sit outside and eat?" Bayliss suggested as he took out the ham sandwich and one of the cartons of orange juice and then held out the shopping bag for her to take. "It's not too bad if you sit in the shade. You need to get some fresh air. I'll keep Frank company."

Mary was about to decline, but the look in Tim's eyes persuaded her not to. While she was sure that Tim was thinking of her own well being, he also looked like he wanted to tell Frank something. And, well, since Frank was hardly in a position to run away, she might as well give him the opportunity. If.... When Frank woke up, such opportunities would be few and far between.

Bayliss sat down in the seat closest to Frank's head, putting his orange juice on the bedside table and the wrapped sandwich on his lap.

"This is your kind of day outside, Frank," Tim said conversationally as he fought to open the juice carton, belatedly realizing he was attacking the wrong side. "It's hot, but not hot enough that you wouldn't be able to pull off your 'I'm so cool, I don't even sweat' routine. Hide in the shade during the investigation and you wouldn't even dampen your undershirt. You're missing out, Frank."

Bayliss unwrapped his straw and stuck it in the now opened carton. "Me, on the other hand, I've got sweat stains already and it's only two o'clock. It's a good thing we have to keep our jackets on for the dress code."

Setting the carton carefully on the table, Bayliss unwrapped his sandwich. "I want you to notice the porcine presence in this cheese sandwich, Frank," he held half of the sub up near Pembleton's expressionless face. "I will go back to grilled cheese once you are back to sneer at them. But for you, I'll go on a variety-strike until you wake up. No boring food until then. I wouldn't want you to miss out on any of life's little pleasures."

Bayliss ate for a few moments in silence, nearly choking on a bite when he realized that he was hesitant to talk with his mouth full in his partner's presence even though Frank was unconscious.

Washing down more sandwich with juice, Bayliss hunted for a napkin, hoping he hadn't given them all to Mary. He had.

"Oh, before I forget, I wanted to tell you that I spoke Spanish today. On the job. To non-police personnel. I spoke Spanish when I interviewed the family of a victim," Tim informed. He figured Frank didn't need to know that his accent had made his attempt to communicate in the Gastandos' native tongue an embarrassing failure. That was beside the point. "So once again, I prove you wrong and you disappear before you can be called on it. That's a disappointing habit you're picking up here, partner."

Bayliss ate more sandwich and watched the monitors that detailed Pembleton's heart rate, brain function, blood pressure, and a few more things that Tim couldn't figure out. These machines told him everything, it seemed, except when his partner would be back to normal. Everything except whether Frank would ever be the same since, despite Pembleton's most inspired exhortations, Bayliss had long ago decided that his partner was anything but normal.

"You're missing out on a few interesting cases, Frank. Dead dogs and dead owners, nail guns, wives shooting their husbands over poker nights.... You go away, Frank, and all of a sudden we've got no more run-of-the-mill drug shootings. You better wake up soon so that you can be part of this new age in policing."

Bayliss had finished his sandwich and almost all of his juice by the time Mary returned. He was sitting quietly when she came in, his hand near, but not touching, Frank's. She could tell by his eyes that whatever he had to tell Frank had been imparted. Her own peace hard to find, Mary was a little gladdened that Tim could find a little.

***

"...So Josephine Taglia's story, for the most part, is on the money," Munch sighed. "One neighbor even confirmed that Miss Taglia's good friend Grace Reynolds is quite the looker."

"That's what you come up with, Munch? That she's got a nice looking girlfriend?" Bolander groused, taking a sip of his coffee.

"Well, I also have the other neighbors confirming that both the Parkers and Christine Pulzak fought with Gastando, and occasionally with the wife, about the dogs. Also that Phil Parker would bait the late, beloved pooches. And, lest the tree huggers of the world be forgotten, that Phoebe Marsh, the next-door-neighbor to Mrs. Pulzak, got into, and I quote, 'a queen-sized row' with Ed Gastando about the inhumanity of keeping the dogs out in winter."

"Of course it's inhumane," Bolander grumped. "They're dogs. They have fur so they can keep warm."

"Stanley, Stanley, Stanley... Fur is forbidden. We do not think about it. We do not wear it. We do not realize that it was designed to keep most of the animal kingdom protected from the elements. Logical consistency is the mark of many things, Stan, but not of those who begrudge our place at the top of the food chain."

"I'd have thought you'd be right up there with them, Munch. Hugging trees, saving whales, all that hippy stuff," Bolander waved his hands to express his lack of understanding.

"I would, Stan, except I know the truth," Munch turned and moved closer to his partner. "The government backs the radical environmentalist groups. The more radical, the more cash. It's all part of their plan to divide and conquer. To join PETA is to welcome Big Brother with open arms. They're not going to get away with it that easily."

"Where's Munch?" Doctor Scheiner marched into the room without preamble. "I've been in this unit forty-six years and I'm too damned old to be dissecting dogs. I want to take my aggressions out on someone I can outweigh."

Bolander pushed himself away from the counter he was leaning against. "He's right here, Scheiner. I'll even hold him down for you."

"I don't need any help, Bolander. I'm healthy as a horse and I'll probably live longer than you do with that gut of yours." With that, he shuffled off to a side room.

Munch stifled a chuckle. "What do you have for us, good Doctor Lausanne?" he saw the Medical Examiner enter the morgue.

"Detectives Munch and Bolander, may I introduce you to Eduardo Gastando," Lausanne walked over to one table and pulled back the sheet. "On his right shoulder you will notice bruising consistent with the application, with force, of a needle. The attack was overhand," he mimicked the motion, reminding both Bolander and Munch of an older Norman Bates, "and at an angle that would lead me to suspect that Gastando was kneeling or crouching, unless you've got an especially tall suspect on your list."

"Not unless someone's been hiding out as a lamppost, no," Munch shrugged. "So what happens after he's been drugged?"

"From his hands and knees, I'd say he fell to the ground. No evidence of a struggle with the perpetrator. He's probably still on all fours when the twine goes around his neck," Lausanne again made motions with his hands. "Garden variety twine, same green stuff I and probably most people in that neighborhood have under our kitchen sinks. After that, Gastando was probably dead within moments."

"Is this a solo act or are we looking at more than one?" Bolander asked.

"One person could have done it," Lausanne allowed. "And there really isn't anything to suggest a second assailant."

"Male, female, big, small... do we have anything on that?"

"He was drugged first; after that, strength means little."

"Which brings us back to the chloral hydrate. Hasn't that been replaced by more pleasing sedative-hypnotics?" Munch asked. "You don't just go to the drug store and pick up a bottle of Noctec anymore..."


"It's mostly used in-house now," Lausanne agreed. "Some people might have bottles of the stuff lying around from surgeries they had years ago. The stuff lasts forever."

""I don't even want to know why you know about these things, Munch." Bolander shook his head. "So now we need to know who had surgery in the last fifteen years?"

"Cheer up, Stan, there's nothing more invigorating than listening to other people's medical history."

 "I have enough of my own, thank you very much."

***

"We appreciate you coming in like this, Mr. Dunning," Kellerman nodded to the newly arrived man. "It being during the work day and all."

"Hey, I'll help if I can, ya know?" Frank Dunning shrugged his shoulders. What the hell else was he going to do? Damshuk was gonna be watching all of them like hawks until the case was closed - understandable since nobody wanted to be paying a murderer a salary, but it did crimp his style. No more twenty-five minute coffee-breaks, no shooting the shit with the guys while on the clock... He hoped the case was solved quickly before Damshuk started realizing just how productive his business was when there was constant, direct supervision.

They walked towards the Box. "Don't mind the décor," Kellerman warned as he opened the door for his guest. "It gets real noisy out in the main room and our boss has been on the warpath all week."

"I know that feelin'," Dunning commiserated with a sigh.

"Mister Dunning," Lewis stood up from where he had been sitting reading files. "I'm Detective Lewis, you've already met Detective Kellerman. We just want to ask you a few questions about the case..." Lewis indicated Dunning should sit down in the perp seat, which he did. Lewis sat back down and Kellerman went to his favorite spot on the table in the back of the room.

"How did you get along with Santini and Velio, Mr. Dunning?" Lewis asked.

Dunning shrugged. "Mario was a good guy, nothin' fancy 'bout him.. Always talkin' about his kids, ya know? One's a pretty good pitcher in little league, the other's gonna be a rocket scientist... a good Italian boy. Went to church every Sunday, talked to his momma all the time. That sort."

"And Tony Velio?"

Dunning made a face, then sighed. "Tony was the other kind of Italian. A hot-head. Always hintin' that he was mobbed up, braggin' that he was cheatin' on his wife, crap like that."

"So you got along much better with Santini than Velio?" Lewis asked as he scribbled something down on his notepad.

"I guess. Most people did."

"We've heard that Santini wasn't very... charitable with some of the other guys. Do you think that maybe one of them might have..."

Dunning laughed. "Mario would get on the goats, sure. But he wasn't sayin' anything the rest us weren't thinkin', ya know? Mario never held back if he thought somethin', good or bad. The goats aren't exactly great workers, if you know what I mean. I'm not sayin' the rest of us are model employees, but... Mario was the guy who had to work with them the most, him and Ricky Breakers. The two of them had the most reason to yell."

"You didn't have much to do with the temporary workers?" Kellerman got up and walked around.

"I'm in the crane," Dunning shrugged. "I'm above it all. Literally." He laughed at his own joke.

"No fighting over who drank the last Coke out of the vending machine or stuff like that?"

"Nothin' that woulda looked outta place in any other job site. Includin' this one," Dunning shrugged again.

Kellerman nodded. "What was the site like on the day Santini and Velio were killed?"

"Usual crap. Petey Green, the guy in charge of the riveters, was pitchin' a fit in Damshuk's direction because the supplier sent the wrong size. Who the hell needs fifty thousand double-short, double-gauge rivets?"

"But apart from that, nothing out of the ordinary?"

Dunning thought for a moment and then shook his head.

"A few of the people we interviewed said that you had had a fight with Tony Velio a few days before the incident," Lewis ventured.

Dunning looked stunned for a moment, then pensive. "Oh! Of course. The O's."

"The two of you were fighting over the Orioles?"

"The Ripken brothers, would you believe?" Dunning looked a little embarrassed. "Tony was going on about Billy bein' the worst infielder the O's have ever had."

"And you were arguing that he wasn't?" Kellerman looked amused.

"I was just pointin' out that there've been worse. I'm not an idiot. Billy wasn't Davey Johnson at second, but geez... Some of the guys that have come through that infield..."

"So this wasn't a real serious argument, then?"

"Oh, no, we were goin' at it pretty good. Tony doesn't like to lose, even when he's lost. We were goin' at it all day. Tony even brought his swing arm around at me when we were workin'."

"He swung his crane at you?"

"Yeah, but it's no biggie. I mean, it's not like he was gonna get too close with it. The momentum woulda made him knock into me if he had taken a real swing. I've seen that happen at other sites. It ain't pretty."

"Uh huh..." Kellerman nodded.

***

"Bolander! Munch!"

"Uh-oh," Munch groaned as he stood up and followed Bolander into Gee's office. "It's time for the parable hour."

Bolander snorted. "We have nothing to be worried about, John."

"Just no leads, no suspects, and no murder weapon," he shot back to his partner as he sat down in the chair directly in front of Gee's desk. Bolander always made him sit there when he knew they were going to get chewed out. "And how are you this fine afternoon, Gee?"

"That depends on what you have to tell me, gentlemen," Gee closed the door behind them. "Stanley?"

"Eduardo Gastando was injected with chloral hydrate and then strangled one day after his three dogs were poisoned with the same stuff," Bolander shrugged as he sat down. "We've got a block full of angry neighbors, several of whom have a history of fighting with the deceased over the dogs."

"We had narrowed the suspects down to those who were most vitriolic in their conversations with Señor Gastando," Munch added. "The neighbors across the avenue, Philip and Kitty Parker, and a Mrs. Christine Pulzak, owner of a toy poodle she walks past the Gastando yard twice a day."

"The problem is that while Mrs. Pulzak used to have a bottle of chloral hydrate, she has an alibi. The Parkers are apparently quite healthy and have no access to chloral hydrate," Bolander sighed.

"So you've got nothing?" Gee frowned. "You've eliminated the possibility that the culprit is a more low-key member of the community? Someone who suffered in silence? Or someone who may not have lived there at all? Work-related?"

Bolander nodded. "Gastando owned a tiny cab company. Most of the drivers were family members and things were running smoothly there, smoothly enough at any rate that they weren't going to risk losing their jobs by killing their boss."

"If it had been just the dogs," Bolander sighed, "it could have been anyone. But whoever did this came back for the owner the next day. The Parkers had an argument with the Gastandos after the dogs died. They were the only ones, apart from another neighbor, who knew that the Gastandos were planning on getting more dogs."

"And the other neighbor isn't a suspect?"

"She's one of the only people who wasn't likely to kill either neighbor or dogs," Munch shrugged. "I don't think she did it."

"It doesn't matter what you think," Gee reminded him. "Does she have an alibi?"

"Her girlfriend," Munch shrugged. "A professor."

"Professors don't lie for their girlfriends?" Gee asked.

"This one didn't. Miss Reynolds failed to turn on the alarm and overslept her early class, which was supposed to involve a guest lecturer. If Josephine Taglia was up in enough time to attack Ed Gastando at six in the morning, she didn't wake Miss Reynolds, who tells me that she is a very light sleeper and would have noticed her bedmate rising."

"We've got nothing, Gee," Bolander frowned. "Any angle we come up with is a dead end."

"So you start again with the neighbors," Gee said after a pause. "Go up one block and down the next until you get something that you didn't have before."

"But..."

"But nothing, Munch. You have nothing. I don't want to see you or hear you until you have something. Capice?"

"Yes, Gee," Bolander sighed as he pushed Munch out the door.

***

"Bayliss, line three!" Judy called towards the back of the departing detective.

"Thanks, Judy," he anwered as he picked up the nearest phone. "Homicide. Bayliss... Hi, Mary. How are you... He did? That's great!... Can I come by and see him?... Oh. When will that be done?... All right. Do you or Livvy need anything? I can stop over on the way home... No, I want to... All right. Tomorrow, then. Goodbye."

Bayliss set the phone down and looked around for the first familiar face.

"Kay," he called as he walked over. "That was Mary. Frank just woke up."

"Yeah?" Howard smiled. "Lemme guess, he cursed out the nurse who was takin' his temperature, right?"

"Nah, he just sort of opened his eyes and looked around," Bayliss gave a lopsided smile. "Mary said it was probably the first time Frank ever took stock of a situation before commenting on it."

"That's great, Tim," Kay smiled. "That's really great. Frank'll be back here breakin' your hump in no time, huh?"

"I hope so, Kay, I hope so," Bayliss nodded. "Whoa. Better get over to the morgue. Scheiner's always a doll when you're late."

Heading out, Bayliss did a little dance to avoid bumping into Kellerman, who was turned around talking to his partner.

"I'm telling you, Meldrick, something's fishy about that guy."

"He talks funny, Mikey," Lewis shrugged as he tipped his hat to Naomi. "But his story's straight."

"We'll let the Sarge decide." Kellerman walked over to Howard. "Hey, Sarge!"

Kay looked up. Kellerman was pretty much the only detective in the unit who would ask her opinion on a case without her having to prompt. Sure, he did it as a last resort, but at least he didn't have to be ordered to do so the way Lewis or Pembleton would. Bayliss and Munch would ask questions, but they were no different than the questions they had asked back before her promotion. To them, Kay was a possible source of information, not a font of wisdom blessed by the brass on the fourth floor. "What've ya got?"

"When we were interviewing all the guys at the construction site," Kellerman began, unconsciously assuming that Kay had nothing better to do than remember which case he was working on, "a few of them mentioned that one of the temporary workers had a real fixation with the electric tools. The air wrench, nail gun, stuff like that. So we talked to the guy today, and he's giving us details of what happened on his last day at the site. But those details, they don't match what everyone else said happened on that date, which was Wednesday. The stuff he's talking about sounds like what was going on on the day of the murders, which was a Friday."

"It's a construction site, Mikey," Lewis cut in. "Not much happens there different every day. Just 'cuz they're blowing stuff up don't mean that it's not the same-old, same-old."

"How specific are the things he's tellin' you?" Kay asked, scrabbling mentally for the details of the case. She didn't have much more to do than remember which cases the boys were on, but it had been a few days... "Is it stuff like who was on the site, or whether there's an accident or something more unique?"

"On the Wednesday, one of the victims, Tony Velio, got into an argument with another crane operator over the O's. This guy, Roy Dobbs, remembers the argument, but not from his last day there."

"That's nothing," Kay shrugged. "Nobody remembers stuff like that exactly right."

"But it's not just that he's got it on the wrong day," Kellerman persisted. "He's talking about Velio and Dunning joking around with each other later on. Dunning said that he and Velio didn't start speaking to each other again after the fight until Friday morning, the day Velio was killed."

"Maybe Dunning got the day wrong," Lewis shrugged.

"Or maybe he was around on Friday morning," Kay nodded slowly. "Bring 'im in. See what he knows."

***

"I've always wanted daffodils," Bolander mused as he followed Munch up yet another flower-lined walk. "A simple flower."

"You'd never be able to grow them," Munch called behind him.

"Why not?"

"Remember that narcissus of Margie's that you tried to take care of after she left?"

"Damned thing got watered every day and still keeled over," Bolander remembered with a frown as he rang the doorbell. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Daffodils are a kind of narcissus," Munch shrugged. "Considering your failure with the easier-to-care-for part of the species, you might want to consider a different variety."

"You know, Munch, you are my own personal black cloud," Bolander frowned, then turned back as the door opened. "Hello, Miss."

A girl in her late teens scowled at them. "Can I help you?"

"I'm Detective Bolander and that's Detective Munch. We're here to investigate the death of Eduardo Gastando."

"Oh, yeah," the girl nodded. "Didn't you already talk to my mom?"

"Well, we'd like to ask her a few more questions, plus we never got to talk to you," Bolander smiled. He could hear a dog yipping in the background. W.C. Fields had the right of it - nobody should have to work with children or animals.

"Well, come in," she sighed. "Careful of the dog."

"We've already been introduced to Cuddles," Munch smirked.

"I don't know what I can tell you. I never walked Cuddles around that corner," the girl shrugged. "Not after the first time those dogs went crazy. In the summer, when the windows are open, you can hear them all the way over here."

"So we hear," Munch nodded. "No pun intended."

"Do you know how the dogs died?" Bolander asked.

"Chloral hydrate," the girl nodded. "Mom told me. She said it was the same stuff that the doctors gave her after she had her knee surgery a few years ago."

"Do you still have it in the house?"

"I don't think I've ever seen anything labeled that in the medicine chest," she shook her head.

"It was probably a brand name," Munch prompted. "Noctec is one. Green bottle, purple label..."

"Oh! I remember that. We threw it away years ago, though, when we cleaned out the medicine chest."

"You just tossed it in the trash?"

"Yeah. That was when Phoebe was helping us around the house, when Mom was still hobbling after her other surgery. They gave her Percocet then, so we threw out the other stuff."

Munch and Bolander exchanged a glance. The rest of the interview was quite short. Miss Pulzak was not eager to chat and the detectives had an idea of where to go next.

Bolander turned as they were being escorted out the door. "What day is recycling day here?"

"Today," the girl answered. "I think. If Phoebe has her can out, then that's the day. She never screws that up."

The two men left the house.

"Phoebe Marsh is the tree hugger, right?" Bolander asked Munch once they were back by the Cavalier.

"Miss Marsh is an active member in PETA, the ASPCA, Greenpeace, Amnesty International, and a few other well-intentioned organizations," Munch agreed as he looked over his notes. "So we wait until she puts her recyclables out, or do we come back?"

Bolander checked his watch. "It's four now. We might as well wait."

The two got into the Cavalier and rolled down the windows that worked. Bolander forestalled a Munchian ramble by turning on the radio, not loud enough to draw attention, but loud enough to be uncomfortable to talk over. And then they waited.

***

"Howard, Homicide."

"Howie?"

"Beau! I was wonderin' when you were gonna get around to calling," Kay smiled. "How'vya been?"

"All right, I guess. I'm working in an auto shop to pay the bills, so I'm making due."

"You hear from the kids at all?" Kay wasn't sure whether to ask that question, but she knew how important Beau's children were to him.

"I got a postcard from Zac from the Grand Canyon at Christmastime," Beau sighed. "He wrote me a letter, too. Said he tried to call home once when Beth wasn't around, but nobody answered. I only got the letter because the post office forwarded it... I should have never sold the house."

"C'mon, Beau," Kay frowned. "It was killin' you to live in that house all alone. You said you were hearing ghosts, remember?"

"Yeah, but I never thought I'd miss those ghosts, you know?"

"Well, in a few weeks, you'll be back here and you'll be too busy chasin' dumb mooks to be thinking about that, right?"

"Actually... I'm not sure I'm coming back."

Silence.

"Kay? You still there?"

"I'm there, Beau, but I thought I heard you say that you weren't coming back."

"That's right. I've kinda gotten used to this being-home-at-night thing, you know? No swing shifts, no guns, no dress code..."

"You can't just quit your job because you hate wearing a tie, Felton." Kay was reeling. Sergeant's exam or not, she had always expected to be partnered and back on the street with Felton once he returned from suspension. That thought was sometimes the only thing that kept her afloat after weeks of paperwork, babysitting the boys, and reading the case reports of those who did get to leave the office during the day. She had always assumed that sergeant-secretary was a temporary assignment until Felton paid his penalty.

"But the regular hours... it gives me a better chance at getting custody of the kids, Kay. At least making sure Beth lets me see them." Felton sighed.

The kids. There was no way Kay could put herself up against Zac, Allie, and the baby.

"I'll still be your friend, Howie, even if I'm no longer your partner," Felton said gently, as if reading her thoughts. "You know that, right?"

"Yeah, Beau. I know," Kay sighed. "So if I'm yer friend and all, that means you'll pay for the beer at the Waterfront sometime this week, right?"

"The Waterfront?" Felton laughed. "The three stooges haven't run it into the ground yet? Sure. How does Friday sound?"

"Friday sounds good, Beau. I'll see you there after shift ends, 'kay?"

"Deal."

***

"Mr. Dobbs, thank you for coming in again," Kellerman came out of the coffee room behind Naomi, subtly checking for specks of powdered sugar around his mouth.

"It ain't like I'm doin' anythin' else," Roy Dobbs shrugged.

"We just wanted to ask you a few more questions about the nail gun. Nobody seems to know too much about it."

"The folks at the site don't 'ppreciate the beauty of automated tools," Dobbs sighed and nodded. "They think the buildin' is better if you do it by hand with your own sweat and tears and not take advantage of technology. They ain't been up to the mountains, that's for sure. I'd've killed for an electric anythin' when I was puttin' up my lean-to."

"I know what you mean," Lewis nodded. "If the good lord meant for us to be doin' it all by hand, he'd of given us Phillips and flat-head fingertips, right?"

"Exactly," Dobbs smiled. "Now what can I help you boys with?"

"The nail gun that was used to kill Velio and Santini had three-inch nails in it. That always what they use?" Kellerman asked.

"They don't like to use more than one-and-a-halfs," Dobbs shook his head. "I spent a week tryin' to convince Ricky Breakers that it could take up to three inchers, but he wasn't buyin' it."

"Did you give a demonstration?" Lewis perked up.

"Sure, three of 'em. One with a two-by-four, one with plasterboard, and one with plywood. Did the job on all three."

"Anybody else watch these little show-and-tells?"

"Mario was holdin' the plywood. I nearly nailed his finger to the board on the other side, that's how clean through it went. But Breakers, he don't wanna admit a goat's right about anythin'." Dobbs paused. "You know, I hope you catch the sonovabitch that did this. Mario, he was a hard-ass, but he was all right. He let me use the three-inchers in the nail gun."

The discussion of power tools went on for a few minutes and then Lewis and Kellerman made like they were wrapping up. Dobbs took the cue and stood up.

"Before you go, Mr. Dobbs, one last question," Lewis started. "On the last day you were there, were there any arguments, other than the one you already told us about?"

"Rivets," Dobbs nodded after a moment. "Someone was howlin' up a storm over the wrong size rivets."

"That's funny," Kellerman frowned. "See, everyone told us that the rivets fiasco happened on a Friday. The day of the murder."

Dobbs looked stricken for a moment. "I guess I better come clean," he finally said.

"Always a good idea," Lewis nodded.

"I came by the site on Friday. Ricky Breakers was so close to believin' me about the nail gun. He said he'd give me one last chance to show him. So I loaded up the gun and we played around with the plasterboard scraps in the corner of the site."

"That plasterboard wouldn't be the one that Velio and Santini were leaning against, now would it?"

"Oh, no, no!" Dobbs shook his head violently. "I saw them on my way off the site."

"How many nails did you load onto the belt to show Ricky Breakers?" Lewis asked after a moment.

"A dozen? Maybe more," Dobbs said, still shaking his head.

"And how many of those did you use?"

"Five."

"So there were at least seven three-inch nails left on the belt, right?" Lewis ticked off on his fingers.

Dobbs nodded.

"Does Ricky Breakers wear gloves on the site?"

"Yeah, a lot of them do," Dobbs smirked. "Don't want to dirty their hands or nothin'"

"Thank you for stopping by, Mr. Dobbs," Lewis smiled brightly. "You've been a big help."

Kellerman wasn't sure if Dobbs nodded before he fled in fear.

"How'd you pick up on the extra nails, Meldrick?" Kellerman asked as the two were on their way to find Ricky Breakers.

"I'm a detective," Lewis answered. "I have keen powers of observation."

***

"I don't get it, John," Bolander sighed as he sipped a glass of beer. Very, very light beer. "Why would someone who is so passionate in her love of pets, trees, bugs, dirt, and who knows what else, kill first three dogs and then a person?"

"I told you, Stan, logic is not the strong point of these groups," Munch ran a rag over the bar top. "That's part of the tradeoff for the cash. Don't think too hard."

"You guys finished up the Gastando case?" Bayliss asked as he walked in to the Waterfront and behind the bar. "Was it the guy who used to bait the dogs?"

"No," Bolander frowned. "It was the tree-hugger up the block. She was furious that the dogs were so poorly treated by being left out in the winter and then in the summer heat that she killed the dogs out of mercy and then the owner out of spite."

"Canine euthanasia, so to speak," Munch added. "She likes dogs, so she killed the ones that were not living at the standards she would have wished for them."

"Isn't the outdoors a dog's native habitat?" Bayliss raised an eyebrow.

"It's not worth getting into, Bayliss," Munch frowned. "We're talking about a woman who hoarded a bottle of painkillers for three years just so that she could bring the dogs to their eternal reward a little quicker than they might have otherwise have achieved doggie paradise. She even recycled the syringe and the bottle of Noctec."

Bayliss chortled as he went into the back room.

"Surprising that such a vigilant environmentalist didn't know that cops can go through your recycling once you put it out front, though," Bolander smiled as he took another sip of beer. "I'll give you credit, Munch, you handled her well."

"You're giving me credit, Stan?" Munch put down the bowl of peanuts he was filling. "Okay. Now who are you and what did you do with the real Stanley Bolander? I've been suspicious ever since you got here. You don't criticize my driving, you let me pick where we have lunch.... Did you eat the real Bolander? Is that what the extra poundage is?" Munch leaned forward towards Bolander's stomach. "Don't worry, Big Man, we'll get you out of there."

"Get away from me, Munch," Bolander slapped at his partner. "I do something nice for you and you make me regret it instantly. You don't even let me bask in the glow of my generosity. Instantly."

"That's more like the real Stan," Munch nodded approvingly and topped off Bolander's beer.

"I saw Frank today," Bayliss began as he went behind the bar.

"Did he yell at you?"

"He's not talking yet," Bayliss shook his head. Almost wistfully, Munch decided. "But he did give me an angry eye roll."

"We told you he'd be as good as new in no time," Munch said and nodded.

"Yeah," Bayliss nodded, not quite enthusiastically. He didn't have the heart to say out loud that Frank had so very far to go. That before the angry eye roll, which came when Tim had failed to follow Pembleton's apparently telepathic instructions, had been a split-second of pure non-recognition. When Tim had walked into the room, Frank hadn't known who he was for a moment. It had been just a moment, but to Bayliss, it felt like an eternity. A moment, long enough for Tim to feel his heart plummet, but not long enough for his soul to follow.

"So where are Butch and Sundance?" Bolander asked.

"Oh, I left them in the squadroom," Bayliss shrugged, returning to earth. "They were having a paper ball fight to decide who typed up the confession in the nail-gun case."

"Paper balls?" Bolander wasn't sure what to think of the new detective. Kay said that Kellerman was a good detective, that he had upstaged Pembleton (of all people) in the Box. But he and Lewis... the two of them were like three-year-olds on a permanent sugar high. Although it was good to see Meldrick up again after Crosetti. Kellerman was an up-person and didn't seem like the type to go eat his gun on a partner. Bolander wasn't sure Lewis could deal with another one of those.

"Well, Lewis had moved on to paper clips, but yeah," Bayliss shrugged. "Naomi's going to be in a mood tomorrow."

"Gee'll calm her down," Munch smiled. "He's going to come in to find two more names have turned from red to black since he went home. That always puts him in a good mood."

"To the many changes that come along with going from red to black," Bolander raised his beer.

"Speaking of red and black," Bayliss began as Munch reflexively sighed. "We are running low on pimientos and olives..."

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