Fells Point Fromage VII: Much Ado About Not Much At All

Everyone here but me belongs to NBC, Tom Fontana, Dick Wolf, 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.

Brian Cassidy hated night shift, especially the first week, when his internal clock was halfway between here and there and he was either too wired or near somnolent at all the wrong times. Munch's seeming indifference to the time shift made his own inability to adjust that much more irritating.

Right now, though, near the end of shift, when it was almost time to sleep, Cassidy was hyperkinetic. It's the only time I'm ever a morning person, he grumbled to himself.

"I'm bored." Brian looked around the near-deserted office, the silence such a sharp contrast to the usual typewriter-driven cacophony.

"You're bored? You're surrounded by how much paperwork, Cassidy, and you're bored?" Mike Kellerman didn't even look up from the file folder spread out on his desk, papers creeping over onto Meldrick Lewis'. "Want to write up this case for me?"

"I have enough of my own, thanks much," Cassidy sat up and pulled his chair up to his desk, careful not to upset the piles of folders that populated his personal workspace. "Munch keeps coming up with ways to con me into writing up his cases."

"So how can you be bored?"

"I'm bored of all of this, too," Cassidy waved his hand around the office. "I haven't taken any vacation since I got here last summer. I need a mental health day. Make myself normal."

"That would be a lifetime for you, Cheez Whiz," Lewis strolled by, dropping a new bottle of white-out on Kellerman's desk. Cassidy shot a rubber band at Lewis' back, hitting square between the shoulder blades.

"I'm taking this weekend off," Kellerman said, ignoring the bottle of corrective fluid. To acknowledge the white-out was tantamount to agreeing to type up the report, and Mike wasn't about to let Meldrick get out of it that easily. "It's supposed to be warm and I'm going to take the boat out if it is. You have an off-day, right? You're welcome to come along."

"Yeah?" Cassidy was intrigued.

"You ever been on a boat, Cassidy?" Lewis asked as he sat down. The MacLean file was still on his desk, unopened and, apparently, unlooked-at by Kellerman.

"Of course I have," Brian shot back.

"The Staten Island Ferry doesn't count," Frank Pembleton called over. "Nor does the ferry to the Statue of Liberty."

"I haven't been to the Statue of Liberty since I was five," Cassidy paused. "Does the water taxi count?"

Without getting up, Tim Bayliss rolled his chair over to Munch's currently unoccupied desk and started rooting through the top drawer. Finding a pencil with a point, he looked up. "Only if it was empty and in the middle of a storm." Bayliss put the pencil between his teeth, grabbed hold of his chair arms, and daddy-longlegged his way back to his own desk, face flushed from the effort. Pembleton stared at Bayliss from across the room and shook his head with resignation.

"I've been on your boat when it's been docked and there have been high waves," Cassidy offered. Kellerman pursed his lips to keep from laughing. "How can you grow up in a city that's a bunch of islands held together by bridges and have never been on a boat?"

"The Bronx isn't an island," Pembleton corrected absently, attention focused on the ballistics report in front of him.

"What?" Lewis asked, not hearing. He had been trying to surreptitiously slide the MacLean file closer and closer to Kellerman's spread of papers.

"The. Bronx. Is. Not. An. Island," Pembleton enunciated slowly. "Richmond County, New York County, Queens County, and Kings County are all islands, or parts of an island. The Bronx is attached to the rest of the contiguous forty-eight states."

"What about Brooklyn?" Kellerman asked.

"Kings County is Brooklyn," Pembleton explained. "The parts of the city have different names if you're talking about them as boroughs of New York City or counties of New York State."

Kellerman looked at Frank with new understanding and then turned to Cassidy. "New Yorkers would be egotistical enough to need two names for everything."

"It's not a New Yorker thing," Cassidy protested. "It's an upstate thing. The county names are just something we learn in school. No one from New York City actually uses them. The rest of the state needs them to pretend that the city isn't carrying them on their back." He glanced over at Pembleton, who gave a faint smile.

"So what's the Bronx's county name?" Bayliss asked.

"The Bronx," Munch said as he sat down at his desk with a fresh copy of the Baltimore Sun, "Capital T, capital B. Named after the Dutch family that originally held most of the land. The Bronks. Everything else had the pleasure of being named by the English."

"The English ain't got a sense of where a name belongs," Lewis decided, staring at the white-out bottle on Kellerman's desk, dismayed that Mike was ignoring the gauntlet so clearly thrown down in front of him. "Richmond County... who woulda put that in New York City?"

"We ask ourselves that every day, Meldrick," Cassidy grinned. "If New Jersey would only take Staten Island, instead of trying for the Statue of Liberty..."

"Think about it, Brian," Munch leaned forward. "Which would you prefer: the symbol of our great nation's history of welcoming anyone who could survive the boat ride, or one of the country's biggest landfills populated by two million New York City cops and their relatives?"

"Speaking of boat rides, Cassidy," Kellerman put down his pen and closed the folder he was working on, careful not to let it touch the white-out bottle, "You never explained why you've never been on one. A real one."

"We have bridges and subways," Cassidy shrugged. "Who needs a boat?"

"But just to go out on the water?" Kay Howard ambled over.

"We're not water people," Cassidy shook his head. "We have other things to do. Out on Long Island, people have boats, but nobody in the city."

"No wonder y'all are so weird," Kay shook her head and turned to head back to her desk, stopping in mid-spin when she saw Lewis holding a confession form. "So you finally gonna type up the MacLean confession, Meldrick?"

Lewis tried to hide the defeat in his eyes, "Uhhh... yeah, I guess so." Meldrick shot a glance over at Kellerman. "Unless Mikey here feels like payin' me back for last night."

Kellerman blushed brightly for a second, but recovered quickly. "Sorry, partner, but I'm taking off this weekend," Mike checked his watch. "And there's no way I finish that before the shift is over. Another time, *dear*." Kellerman grinned as he placed the white-out bottle firmly on Lewis' desk, next to his coffee cup.

A crash from the squadroom door distracted everyone away from questioning Kellerman about favors given and received. Detective Willard Higby stood cursing next to the remains of a shattered coffee cup, brown stains growing on his light slacks. "What the fuck are all of you staring at?" Higby growled.

The detectives turned away, pleased at this unofficial sign that the shift was over as much as they were by Higby's unfortunate accident. Gathering their things, Giardello's shift began to clear out of the office.

"Everyone knows you aren't supposed to wear light colors in wintertime," Bayliss chirped at Higby as he walked by.

*****

Kellerman was examining his truck's left flank when Cassidy walked outside.

"You let Lewis drive?" Brian asked jovially.

Mike shook his head in dismay. "Nearsighted gas jockey," he replied, fingering the not-too-noticeable scratch by the gas tank cover. "It was cold and I didn't feel like using the self-serve side."

"Nail polish," Cassidy suggested. "My sisters' cars all look as good as new, even though they can't parallel park to save their lives."

"You wanna go to the drugstore to match shades for me?" Kellerman smirked.

Brian shrugged. "It's black. Get the Wet'n'Wild kind. It's cheaper."

Mike narrowed his eyes. "How come you know so much about nail polish?"

"Four sisters," Cassidy grinned. "I learned all about nail polish, PMS, what scents of body lotion turn men on, and how to get shiny hair without buildup."

"Uh-huh," Kellerman sounded suspicious. "This means you're gonna bring back issues of Mademoiselle to read out on the boat?"

"You were serious about the offer?" Cassidy asked. "In that case, no. I can bring some Victoria's Secret catalogs if you like..." he smiled.

"Got those," Kellerman smiled back. "Bring beer instead. Come over around four tomorrow, we can get far enough out before it gets too late."

Cassidy nodded and headed off to his own car. The geriatric Subaru burped and farted for a few moments before Cassidy felt confident enough to shift out of park.

*****

"Are we actually going to catch anything?" Cassidy asked, nodding towards the two fishing poles resting against the deck's railing. "Don't fish sleep, too?"

Kellerman took a swig of beer and made that gesture with his head that Cassidy could never figure out if it was a 'yes' or a 'no'. "There are night fish, sort of like night people. It depends on whether the water is still warm enough for them."

In the near-dark, Kellerman probably couldn't see Cassidy's raised eyebrow.

It had been a pleasant evening, one that had followed Baltimore's new record high temperature for the date. The two men sat on the deck needing nothing warmer than sweaters, talking about nothing in particular and listening to the Washington Capitals take on the Edmonton Oilers down in Landover.

Cassidy had proven to have a stomach not only for sailing ("You feelin' alright, Brian?" "No problems so far. I'll let you know if I get seasick." "You better. You puke on my boat, you swim home." "Your compassion overwhelms me." "That's what friends are for."), but also for Kellerman's cooking. The bottles of McSorley's Ale Cassidy had brought along -- "Irish beer for Irish guys, right?" -- had no doubt helped on both accounts.

"Didja go and get the nail polish yet," Cassidy asked.

"No," Kellerman gave Cassidy a funny look. "I'm *not* going to the drugstore to buy nail polish."

"What's the problem with that?" Cassidy asked. "Didn't you ever have to make Health and Beauty Aids runs for your wife when you were married?"

Mike shook his head. "That was different. Running to the store for Midol or hairspray is one thing. Spending time in the makeup aisle is another. Especially when you're not wearing a wedding band." Kellerman waggled now-naked fingers on his left hand. "I don't wanna be confused with one of those closet transvestites."

"There could be worse things," Cassidy said between slugs of beer. "Besides, there's something to be said for women's clothes. A good pair of stockings makes your legs feel so nice..." He stretched out his own, resisting the temptation to slide a bare foot up Kellerman's nearby leg.

"What?" Kellerman nearly choked on his beer. "You cross-dress?"

"Not voluntarily, no," Cassidy smiled. "My sisters used to use me as a mannequin when I was little. And when I was no-so-little, at least until our dad got wind of it. I look good in wool and silk, but rayon tends to emphasize my bones too much and cashmere makes me look like a Q-tip."

"And the stockings..." Mike wasn't sure whether to edge his chair closer or further away.

"Swim team. Coach made us practice in stockings for the week before a really big meet," Cassidy shrugged. "Poor Father Douglas thought he was being so ultra-modern with the coaching techniques. He didn't realize half of us were getting off on them."

"You got off on putting on hose?"

"Some of us shaved our legs for city championships," Brian smiled, enjoying Mike's curiosity, "so when you put on the stockings, it feels just like a woman's legs... And when the hair does grow in again, it's all soft and fine. There was definitely a lot more incidental contact in the pool in those weeks." Cassidy gave Kellerman a tooth-baring grin that Mike wasn't sure how to interpret.

*****

"You're up, Lewis."

"What do you mean I'm up? Mikey and I picked up the Linden case on Wednesday," Meldrick called back at Kay.

"That's Kellerman's case, Meldrick," Kay pointed out. "This can be yours. Mikey'll help ya out once he gets back."

"Put that in writin', Sarge," Lewis grumbled as he reached for his hat and notebook. "Boy's been shirkin' his partnerly duties for weeks now."

"No he hasn't," Brodie piped up. "He's just getting smarter about letting you trick him into doing your work." Lewis' glare sent the cameraman scurrying back to his lair.

"Just take the case, willya?" Kay sighed. "And I know who does what 'round here. Brodie's right 'bout you and Kellerman."

Defeated, Lewis stalked out of the squadroom, nearly decapitating Bayliss as he yanked his coat of the rack without slowing down.

"What's up with Meldrick?" Tim asked no one in particular.

"Withholding of conjugal privileges by Kellerman," Munch reported, not looking up from his crossword. Bayliss stared at him until Munch looked up to elaborate. "Meldrick has the bureaucratic version of blue balls."

"Ah, Lewis is just upset that he's been called for pilin' work on Mikey," Kay shook her head. "Can't figure that out. He wants us to see how brilliant he is when it comes to avoidin' work, but doesn't want us sayin' anything 'bout it."

Bayliss nodded with comprehension. "Speaking of avoiding work, has anyone seen Frank?"

As if on cue, Pembleton strode into the office. "Come on, Bayliss, I've been looking over the Kruse case for an hour and I think I've got something. Get your things and let's go." Bayliss dutifully reached for his notebook and followed behind the rapidly retreating Pembleton.

"And then there's the puppy dog and master dynamic of *that* partnership," Munch observed after Bayliss had left the room. "Tim didn't even ask where they were going. He trails along and cocks his ear like the RCA dog waiting for His Master's Voice."

"Detective Bayliss will realize that before they get to the car, and then they'll argue," Brodie said, turning around to see if Lewis was still gone. "They like to argue in the car. One of them is claustrophobic, I guess, but I don't know who."

"And who are you, Doctor Freud?" Munch retorted. It was one thing for a detective to pass comment on a fellow member of the unit, but Brodie...

"I see stuff," Brodie shrugged. "You all try so hard to ignore me that I'm invisible half of the time. You and Detective Cassidy have your own patterns, too."

"Such as?" Munch was scornful.

"You both like to think you've outsmarted the other, but you don't," Brodie replied bashfully, trying to dig his toe into the linoleum floor. "Detective Cassidy thinks..."

"Brodie!" Giardello's booming voice sent a shockwave through the scruffy videographer. "Where is the tape for the Callendar case? Danvers didn't get it from you, despite asking for it for two weeks straight, so now he's called Barnfather, who is calling me. And since you don't have a phone, unless I see that tape on my desk in ten minutes, I will resort to a more personal -- and painful -- form of communication. Capice?"

Brodie mumbled something that sounded like "Yes, sir" as he ran for his collection of video tapes. Once he was gone, Gee broke into a wide grin.

"I feel so much better," he sighed happily. "I should make people scurry on a daily basis. It would do wonders for my blood pressure." Laughing deeply, he headed back into his office to await the trembling Brodie.

*****

Cassidy was almost dozing when the fishing rod in his hand jerked to life. "Uh, Mike?" he called.

Kellerman appeared above him, on the top of the stairs leading to the wheelhouse. "Got a fish?"

"It's either a fish or Jimmy Hoffa's had enough and wants to come up for air." Cassidy fumbled with the reel. "What do I do now?"

"Hold on, pull, and reel the thing in," Kellerman replied, heading back to the wheelhouse.

"Wait a second, that's it, that's all you're going to say?" Cassidy yelped as an especially strong tug on the line pulled him forward. "What if it's the Creature from the Black Lagoon?"

Kellerman cocked an ear towards the radio above him. "Then we're fucked. Coast Guard says that a boat is stuck in the entry to the docks, we're going to have to stay out here until they get it out of there."

"How long is that going to take?" Cassidy asked.

"Few hours, I guess," Kellerman shrugged. "It's the middle of the night, so they're not going to be in any hurry. Boat's leaking a little bit of gas and they want to clean that up before anything messy happens. It's all right. I haven't been able to see the sun rise over the water in a while."

"I like sunsets better," Cassidy said between tugs on the rod, "the pollution in New Jersey makes them really pretty when you're in New York."

"You're sick, Brian."

"Nature works in mysterious ways, that's all," Cassidy shrugged. "Now help me with the fish."

Kellerman reeled in Cassidy's fish with ease. Looking it over, Brian threw it back.

"What'd you do that for?" Kellerman asked.

"It's a big fish," Cassidy explained. "I live alone, you live alone. We'd be eating that fish for a month. We're on night shift and personally, I can't stomach dinner foods when I get home from work at seven in the morning."

Kellerman shook his head. There was never a wrong time for fish with him.

The two men listened to the Coast Guard's achingly slow progress towards moving the stalled boat and cleaning up the leaking fluids until sunrise, which even Cassidy had to admit was pretty special to see.

After that, though, the energy seeped out like the gas leaking out of the stuck boat by the docks. Both men tried to stifle yawns until Kellerman finally suggested they pack it in.

Cassidy emerged from Kellerman's minuscule bathroom clad in a spare pair of sweatpants. Kellerman was unfolding the bed and looked up as Cassidy put his clothes on a stool nearby.

"Nice tattoo."

Cassidy looked at his right shoulder and smirked. "Mom thought it was a gang thing and was in church for a week praying for guidance. Dad blamed my sisters."

"Your sisters? They put you up to this?"

"Nah, but Dad felt that if they hadn't spent my teenage years treating me like a life-size Barbie doll, I wouldn't have done something so drastic to assert my masculinity." Cassidy shook his head and laughed at the memory. Looking around, he didn't spot another bed. "Uh, Mike, you missing something?"

"You spent high school rubbing up against guys with shaved legs and pantyhose and you're scared of sharing a bed with a co-worker?" Kellerman asked. "We've slept next to each other before."

"But that was sitting up in a Cavalier during a stakeout," Cassidy pointed out.

"This is where having brothers would have helped. You wouldn't be so nervous after a couple of camping trips with three of you crammed into a two-person tent," Mike shrugged. "Just keep your hands on your side of the bed, that's all. Lewis is a world-class blanket hog..."

"You've slept with Lewis?"

Kellerman raised his eyebrows at Cassidy. "Meldrick has crashed a few times when he's had too much to drink after watching a game. Snores like a fucking buzz saw."

"Heh," Cassidy smiled weakly. He could picture Lewis as a snorer, probably the kind to deny it, too. Cassidy debated telling Mike that he tended to sprawl out while sleeping, but decided that Kellerman would find out soon enough anyways.

"Door side or wall side?" Kellerman asked. "I'm usually closer to the door, but I don't care."

"Wall side, then," Cassidy responded as he climbed onto the bed. Kellerman shut the blinds around the cabin before following suit.....

*****

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