Saving Face

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.

Prologue
********

"What do you want from me?"

"It's very simple, partner. You finish the job. Take down the little fair-haired boy. Him alone. No outs, no accomplices, no witnesses, no nothing. Take him down. And then I'll forget what I heard."

"Until the next time, right?"

"Do this correctly and there won't be a next time. I'm not looking for you to dirty your shiny little badge... I don't need that. Not from you."

"And if I don't?"

"Then you'll be feeling it in the family department, if you understand. And the bosses down at the pier will be getting an interesting letter."

"What happens if it gets taken out of my hands? I'm just a runt from Auto Theft. What if they catch on?"

"You're persistent, and they like that. Besides, we're partners, you and I. I'd never let anything bad happen to you, all right?"

*****

June 1999

"Buy you out? Buy you out? What the hell you talking about? First Bayliss, now you? I got cooties or something?" Meldrick Lewis was waving his arms and pacing.

"Bayliss could be back. I can't be." John Munch asked. "We'll get the place appraised, I'll pay you a sixth of the value, write a check to Bayliss for the other sixth, and I can go. It's money for you, Meldrick. This place has to be worth more than what we paid for it. Loans or no loans."

"It's not the money. Bayliss has been gone for weeks, Billie Lou quit right after the two of you... and now you're gonna up and go. Gharty don't come in here no more... you don't have to run away from your own bar."

"It's more than that, Meldrick." Munch took off his glasses and ran his hands over his face. The two of them had been at this for an hour and Lewis wasn't backing down. Meldrick, standing near the tables, was giving him a wide-eyed look that those who knew Lewis recognized as one of concern, not surprise.

Munch put his glasses back on and sat down heavily on a bar stool. "How am I supposed to take care of a bar in Baltimore if I'm going to be working in New York?" he asked quietly.

"New York? What you gonna be doing in New York?" Lewis was now surprised.

"Be a detective. I put in for a spot in the NYPD and I got the job." Munch slid back, sitting more fully on the bar stool.

"You're serious? Wow." Lewis breathed, momentarily distracted from the matter of The Waterfront. "Is it in Homicide?"

"Sex crimes." Munch replied, glad for the change in topic, glad for a chance to tell his secret, and even more glad to tell it to someone who would care. "It's not glamorous, but it was all they had open. Well, there was a spot in Arson, but..." Both men's minds quickly flashed to Mike Kellerman. "I'm not cut out for that sort of work." He put on his best sardonic grin. "With my suave good looks and sparkling personality, I'm a people person."

Meldrick was still stunned. Munch was as much a part of Homicide as the Board and the coffee room television that only got two channels. He had been the only one not rotated out during that surreal summer between Luther Mahoney's death and the arrival of Georgia Rae. Munch was the only member of the unit who had been there when Meldrick had arrived so many years ago and was still around today. "You're really going to leave Baltimore over this?" His tone was soft.

"L'Affaire Billie Stu was the last straw, not the only one." Munch said. He had never had to explain to anyone why he was making this move, so he spoke slowly, thoughtfully as he worked into words what had been going on in his head. Giardello had accepted his letter of resignation with only a raised eyebrow and a quiet "Are you sure?", his mother had just said that whatever made him happy was fine with her, and Bernard, being a younger brother, had lamented the loss of his most reliable source of business referrals. Explaining to another person would be the real test of the soundness of Munch's decision.

"I've spent my life here," Munch continued. "I want to be worldly beyond Dundalk and Pikesville. There has to be more to adventure than walking down Kirk Avenue after dark, more to romance than dinner in Little Italy and a water taxi home. My life here has gotten stale." Munch felt his carefully constructed mask of indifference and sarcasm slip and didn't want Lewis seeing what lay underneath. So he picked up his head, stuck out his chin, and made his voice as strident as he could. "Besides, after four decades of being chased around by the lovely ladies of Baltimore, I think I'm ready to try something new."

Meldrick was still standing there, one hand on his forehead. The shock had turned back into concern, but that quickly changed into determination. He walked towards Munch and the bar. "A'ight. I can get that, even if I don't get it. You need to wander around a little. That's fine, that's good. See the Big Apple, roam around, sow your wild oats. But that means you can't sell your part of the bar." Munch looked at him, waiting for what was sure to be a sparkling example of Lewis' occasionally less-than-lucid logic.

"You see," Lewis continued, checking to see that he had Munch's full attention, but sounding triumphant regardless. "I read my pirate books when I's a kid. You gonna wander all over the world, then you need a home base," Meldrick slapped his hand on the bar counter, "some place that your can always find. You can't sell the bar. You'll get lost." He gave a half-smile.

Munch was quiet for a moment. He knew Meldrick was saying more than just the words that were coming out of his mouth. But it wasn't the nature of their relationship, forged through more than a decade of the daily grind of working murder police together and occasionally highlighted by redballs, night shifts, and bar duty, to express anything more than casual friendship. "Getting lost was sort of what I had in mind, Meldrick.

"There's nothing holding me back anymore. The occasional bouts of office camaraderie have become more and more occasional over the past few years. I used to not mind coming to work. Now I can't stand it. How can I go into the squadroom and know that Stuart Gharty, the man who stole my wife almost the moment she became my wife, is sitting just behind me?

"I don't want to see Ballard's apologetic smirks. I don't want to see the looks of pity I've been getting from Sheppard. I'm just plain tired of Falsone. And I can't wait to hear Gaffney's erudite commentary on the situation... Bayliss can enjoy being the subject of station gossip, but I don't. If I'm going to be talked about behind my back, I'd rather it be for my dark good looks and brilliant detective skills."

"But that's work. And you don't work there no more. This is our baby, our pride and joy." Meldrick pointed at the photo behind the bar, the one of Lewis, Munch, and Bayliss posed in period costume. "You gonna give your baby up so you don't have to see Falsone? I can take care of that -- cut off his bar tab. Cheapskate'll never be in here again.

"At least wait until Bayliss comes back," Meldrick asked, waving his hands when Munch shook his head in doubt. "He'll come back -- he only left us money for three months of temporary help. Timmy's not gonna leave us hangin'. He's not the type..."

"I don't know if I know what type Bayliss is anymore. The Ryland case..." Munch thought about the conversation the two had had on his wedding night. Bayliss had gone without a word -- he was technically on a leave of absence -- but he had cleaned out his desk at work and on the bar counter at The Waterfront had left a check for enough money to pay an additional bartender for a while. No one had heard from him in the weeks since. "I'm not sure Timmy's coming back. At least, not the Timmy we know and abuse."

"Yeah, well, maybe he'll get that Zen stuff out of his system. Meditation and eating rabbit food don't go well with being murder police."

The door to The Waterfront swung open and in came Lila, one of the waitresses, who smiled hello and headed off to the kitchen to dump off her belongings in the office. Munch looked at his watch. It was almost time for the bar to start preparations for opening. Any conversation time the two had left was rapidly drawing to a close.

"Meldrick, listen. I'm not starting in New York until July. I'll take my shifts here like a good boy and I'll even find my own replacement. If we don't hear from Bayliss by the time I have to leave, I won't have you buy me out. But once I walk out of here at the end of the month, I'm not coming back through those doors. Ever. If you want me to handle suppliers or labor shortages or decide whether we should keep the meatloaf special, I'll do it. But from New York."

Lewis smiled. Munch may not realize it yet, but Lewis had won.

*****

August 1999

The Special Victims squadroom was smaller and cleaner than the Homicide room John Munch had left in Baltimore. No salt air, granted, but there were no ghosts. No Stan Bolander giving him a doleful look. No Frank Pembleton striding purposefully towards the Box. No Junior Bunk painting the floors a horrifying crimson.

In almost two months on the job, Munch had made the transition from Baltimore City Homicide to New York Special Victims Unit fairly smoothly. His boss was a good guy in the way that management types usually weren't, and his co-workers, for the most part, were competent, interesting professionals. His partner, Brian Cassidy, was a delight.

Not since Mike Kellerman -- the non-self-destructing version -- had Munch had a partner who provided him with so much ammunition for the battles of wits upon which Munch thrived. Cassidy, like Kellerman, wasn't stupid and certainly wasn't a bad detective, but the young man was constantly, unintentionally, providing Munch with straight lines. Unlike Kellerman, however, Cassidy would listen to Munch's words of wisdom and actually seem appreciative for them.

Life in New York was most definitely a change in pace from good old Balto. Munch had a small apartment on the Lower East Side, where the remnants of one of the city's largest Jewish enclaves still defined the neighborhood's character. Moments that Munch had thought had gone away forever with his childhood were brought back daily. The speech patterns of the old women kvetching about landlords, ailments, and the price of kosher chickens brought back thoughts of holiday dinners with his own family, where aunts and uncles had held the same endless conversations. After forty years, Munch rediscovered pickled herring in sour cream and the simple pleasure of hot pastrami on rye with a good dill pickle.

Munch's place was close enough, however, to the trendier parts of lower Manhattan that he could escape the time warp and test out the notion that this city really didn't sleep. Lennie Briscoe had shown him around to a few of the local places of importance -- the cheapest supermarket, the quietest bar, the best take-out Chinese. He was paying Lennie back in spades by routinely losing to him at billiards, but it wasn't a bad way to spend an evening. All in all, Baltimore was becoming a distant memory very quickly.

*****

"Are you happy now? It's done. Like you said. He's fishfood."

"And a good thing, too. Yes, I'm happy now. I thought I had heard something a while back, but I must have been mistaken. You're a very good boy and, as far as your bosses know, a very good cop. Helping crack such an important case... "

"It wasn't really settled. And not just because of what I did. The whole thing stinks and that stink is gonna come up and bite me in the ass when I least expect it."

"I told you, we're partners in this, buddies, good buddies. I'd never let them bite your ass. That's not what partners are for, right?"

"Considering all of this, I'm not sure those words coming out of your mouth are all that comforting."

"Well, it's all the comfort you're gonna get about this. Smile, the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train."

"Not yet it isn't."

***** >P> August 1999

"Munch, phone for you. You know a Detective Lewis in Baltimore?" Cassidy waved the receiver as Munch crossed the room from where he and Elliot Stabler had been contemplating some autopsy photos. "Face it, John, you've got a thing for dead people," Cassidy had once too-cheerfully responded to Munch's complaint about being consulted on so many cases involving death.

"Meldrick, what brings your voice from out of my dark and dismal past?" Munch asked after he took the phone from Cassidy. "Cocktail onions running low? Is the Seagrams distributer threatening to recall all of our booze?" Lewis had previously sent some photocopied invoices to Munch in New York, but the two had not spoken since the latter had left town.

"Good to speak to you, too, Munchkin. Nah, The Waterfront's running like a charm since you up and gone. Now that we've got all these professionals running the place, it's never been better. Don't miss you at all," Meldrick laughed into the phone. "I'm callin' for some po-lice business."

"See, I told you you'd miss my keen detective skills. What words of wisdom can I impart to you, my once-upon-a-time colleague?" Munch missed very little about Baltimore, but bantering with friends was one of them. And he was happy if The Waterfront was doing well -- Lewis had taken on a lot as sole active proprietor of the establishment and a small part of Munch felt guilty about that. Not guilty enough to offer to come down on his weekend off, though.

"You know of a Detective Nicole Rosati up there? She's supposed to be Homicide."

"Rosati? Yeah, she stops by every once in a while and I have to clean up the drool left by my poor, besotted partner... Stop that, Brian. If you're going to eavesdrop, do it nonviolently." Cassidy had thrown a paper clip at him. "A smart cookie, in all senses of the words. Can argue about Russian literature, the fate of the Orioles, and whether a woman can wear fishnets and still be taken seriously. Why? You working on a case with her?"

"I will be." Lewis sounded amused. "She's your replacement down here."

"What? Rosati's moving back to Balto? She never said anything... Don't look so crestfallen, Cassidy, they'll be other untouchable women for you to moon over."

"Untouchable? She married?" Meldrick asked. He had really called to find out if Munch knew whether his future co-worker had a brain or not, but if he was going to get gossip...

"Was. She's a widow who has yet to wade back into the dating pool. Poor Brian here gets shot down every time he asks her out, and for once, it isn't him... I said no violence, Cassidy. Go and bother Stabler." Munch dodged another paper clip.

"A looker, huh? Like Sheppard?" Meldrick was disappointed.

"Yes and no. Briscoe says she used to be some sort of Fed. She's been here for.. three years? Almost four years, Cassidy reports. Too smart to be a cop, really, but not interested in knowing it. A real terror in the interview room. Frank would have been jealous. It's true what they say about never pissing off Sicilians with guns."

"So Gee will love her, then?" Meldrick asked.

"They'll be comparing risotto recipes in no time," Munch assured. "When is she starting, do you know, since Rosati herself has decided to keep us in the dark?"

"September. They wanted her to start earlier, but she's gonna be in court up by you. Gee's not too happy 'bout that. We got bodies dropping so fast, he's gonna have to work cases soon. He's been walking around with that grin of his for weeks. Even Gaffney's staying away from him."

"Aha, the Beatific Smile of Doom. How quickly I forget. Listen, speaking of bosses on the warpath, my captain's going two-fisted with the Twizzlers, so I better go and see what the emperor has in mind for the afternoon's entertainment. It was good talking to you.." Munch nodded as Cragen made a motion to wrap up the conversation, red licorice accentuating the gesture.

"A'ight. Yeah, same here. Bye."

Munch was following up on Lewis' call mostly for curiosity, but in part because he felt a little hurt. He considered Nicole Rosati a good acquaintance, perhaps even a new friend, and was surprised that she would do something like this without saying anything to him or Briscoe, who in turn would have told him. Rosati had accompanied Briscoe and Munch on a few of their nights out --she lived in Little Italy and was close enough to both of their apartments -- and seemed to enjoy herself. Munch knew he was attracted to the younger woman, intellectually as well as physically. If Rosati was the anti-Sheppard, she was also the anti-Billie Lou. Three years and counting in mourning versus jumping ship on the wedding night? Nicole could look like a female version of Gaffney and she'd still be beautiful to Munch.

*****

"Hey, Munchkin, you gonna start getting catatonic on me, too? You must've caught whatever Cassidy's got." Munch, at his typewriter, had been lost in thought, so he was a little surprised to see the subject of yesterday's gossip standing over him. Nicole Rosati, the only person outside of the state of Maryland who could call him by that nickname and live to tell about it, was grinning at Munch's discomfort.

"Who are you fantasizing about? Madam Ermatrude?" Rosati asked with a laugh. Madam Ermatrude, the Bowery's premier purveyor, was grossly obese and, judging from her wardrobe, quite colorblind. "You, Madam Erma, and a waterbed. Hmm..."

"Please, Rosati, I haven't eaten yet. You'll spoil my appetite for the next week if you keep producing those mental pictures."

"Detective Rosati, what a pleasure that you've stopped by. Come for coffee?" Captain Cragen sauntered up to them.

"If I wanted coffee, I'd head downstairs to Arson and swap them a Krispy Kreme. Your brew is even worse than what we concoct upstairs in Homicide. And that's an achievement." Rosati was holding a couple of file folders and now waved them. "I'm here to make Stabler's day. Our ever-vigilant research department pulled up some interesting cases that match the MO of his slasher. Unfortunately, they don't research where Stabler works, so they got dropped off on my desk. As if we're the only ones who play with dead people... So where is the lucky boy?" She looked around.

"Stabler and Benson," Cragen emphasized the second name, knowing why Rosati didn't use it, but obligated to defend his own, "are on their way back from interviewing witnesses. They should be here any moment. You want to drop them off or wait?"

"I'll wait. I need to go over one of the old cases with them. Besides, Panderval is pre-menstrual and I'm supposed to be too smart to try and kill him in the middle of the Homicide squadroom. Munch can entertain me -- I'll watch him work." Rosati grinned at Cragen.

"Just because Captain Buonoveno lets you guys roam around the building instead of working doesn't mean you can distract others who have more demanding bosses," Cragen wagged a piece of licorice at her, taking the edge off of his words, and then turned to Munch. "I want to see you working while she talks at you, John."

"Aye, Aye, Captain." Munch saluted as Cragen went back to his office. "So, Nicole, what's new on the fourth floor?"

Rosati sat down on the corner of Munch's desk. "The mice got into my desk again and found my toothpaste. Sucked out half the damned tube. It was new, too. I don't know why they like my desk. Felipe's the one who keeps jelly beans in the top drawer."

"You should always brush after eating sweets. They stop to visit Panderval's stock of sugar, and then they have to visit your Colgate. Makes perfect sense to me." Munch was trying to figure out a way to broach the topic most on his mind. He pecked at the typewriter hard, so that Cragen would hear the clacking. Cragen wasn't mad that he was being distracted by Rosati, but Munch didn't want to make him regret his leniency.

"Did you have a mouse problem in Homicide in Baltimore?" Rosati asked suddenly. Problem solved, Munch thought.

"We had a very large one named Brodie for a while, but he followed the Pied Piper to Los Angeles and it's been quiet ever since. The captain there is a rat, but that's different. You've got a quicker wit than he does, heck, Cassidy's got a quicker wit than he does. Let fly on him a few times and he'll restrict himself to talking about you behind your back."

If Rosati was surprised that Munch knew, she didn't look it. Instead, she smiled. "I've met Gaffney. Prince of a man." She paused. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, Lennie either. I know how you feel about your old place of employment and didn't want to cause a scene if I wasn't going to get the job. Lennie, I just didn't want to tell him I'm leaving..." She trailed off.

"So, now that we don't have to dance around the topic, why on earth are you giving up the bright lights and big city for salt air and semi-southern fried hospitality?"

Rosati brushed the hair out of her eyes and smirked. "It's home. I haven't been in Baltimore for longer than a week in more than a dozen years. Ive gone back for weddings, funerals, and some graduations. I wanted to go back right after Joe died, but I couldn't.

"I love New York, I really do. But for all that I love about it, I'm never going to forget that the only reason I am here is because my husband wanted to come home to die." Rosati paused, and when she resumed speaking, her voice was low and soft.

"Everything I know about this city, I learned from and for Joe. We spent some time here after we got married, you know, did the bohemian thing for a while. Joe showed me around to all of his favorite spots, all of his childhood memories. And then, when we came back to stay, it was all about death. And I had to discover on my own where the best all-night pharmacy was, and which restaurants we could go to and which ones we had to order in from because Joe couldn't make it up the stairs, and which church had the nicest priest who could comfort me in my grief.

"It's been three years since Joe died. I'm never going to move on with my life if my life is here. I could go back to doing what I used to do, move back to Venice or Paris or find some new spot. But I like being a cop. It's comforting in a way, sort of like how Baltimore is comforting in a way. Am I making any sense?" She gave Munch a questioning smile.

"Personally, I'd pick Venice or Paris or some new spot, but yes, I understand." Munch figured he understood quite well. Before the scene got uncomfortable for either of them, and before Nicole could regret opening her soul up to him so completely, Munch tried to steer the topic to safer ground. "You know, Cassidy's gonna miss you terribly."

Rosati laughed. "He'll find someone new soon enough. Just make sure he doesn't pick a suspect."

Munch smiled. "You're not starting until September? Why not earlier? You're not going to be in court for that long."

"McCoy's got my rear for at least one, and I have to go to Baltimore to find a place to live that isn't on the same block as a member of my immediate family, and, most importantly, I don't care how much money I'm getting in relocation-- they can't pay me enough to move out of Little Italy before San Gennaro." Rosati broke into a broad grin.

With a clatter, Stabler and Benson were moving towards their desks. Rosati got off of Munch's desk, picked up the files, and put a hand on Munch's shoulder. Leaning in, she spoke quietly. "Tell Briscoe that I'm taking you both out to dinner. Any place but Le Cirque or Lutece -- I won't miss you guys that much." She smiled, stood back up and, in her normal speaking voice, continued. "I'll let you know when Homicide is throwing my surprise farewell party so you guys can crash it. Panderval still hasn't figured out that he shouldn't put this sort of information on his desk calendar." With that, she headed over to Benson and Stabler, plopped the files down on Stabler's desk, and, doing her best to ignore Benson, went to work. Munch finished typing his report, paying almost no attention to what his fingers were pecking out.

+++++

September 1999

Nicole Rosati wiped the sweat off of her forehead with the back of her hand. Boxes littered the living room floor of her apartment. From one Little Italy to another, she thought, and the clutter remains the same.

All that was left, really, were the boxes of personal effects and the suitcases full of clothes. The ironing board was going to get a lot of work in the next few days. While her boss in New York allowed for jeans on days when a detective wasn't up for a call, she doubted the same policy held true in Baltimore.

Munch had been hesitant to talk, quite understandably. He hadn't been in the squadroom when Junior Bunk had started shooting, but he had seen one of his friends shot later that night. It was still a traumatic experience and Rosati hadn't wanted to push. Munch was a little more forthcoming about her new co-workers, more or less. He spoke highly of some, indifferently about others, and didn't want to talk about one in particular. Police gossip works both ways, and it didn't take a Ph.D to figure out that Stuart Gharty was a big part of the reason Munch had left Baltimore.

Briscoe had told Rosati about The Waterfront, and with nothing other than more ironing to do, she decided to give it a shot. She was not a whiz when it came to pressing clothes, but it wasn't going to take three days to clean up a couple of pants suits. Besides, she knew one of her sisters was going to take care of it anyway.

*****

Lewis had bar duty. Lewis always seemed to have bar duty. With Munch in New York and Bayliss invisible, there was no one else left. Meldrick's cooking skills were admittedly limited, so he used the extra cash his two co-owners had left behind to hire another cook, preferring to handle the bartending himself.

It was a few hours after shift change at the precinct house and the crowd was thinning out some. Meldrick was refilling peanut bowls when Rosati walked in. She bellied up to the bar, hopping on one of the empty stools. "Scotch and soda, please, don't go crazy with the ice," she asked when Lewis tipped his head in her direction. She looked around as Lewis reached for glass, bottle, and soda tap. She thanked him when he set the drink down and pulled a ten out of her wallet, setting it on the counter.

She was the only woman seated at the bar, so Lewis hung around, sneaking a peak while he went about his duties. Nicole noticed him hovering and felt obligated to speak. "So, is this a fair sampling of Baltimore's Finest?" she asked, waving her left arm towards the back of the bar.

"I suppose. A little strung out, but fun to be around. That's us." Meldrick smiled. "You one of those ladies who's got a thing for men in uniform?"

"Nah, I don't fish from the company pool." He's a cop, Rosati thought, so he's probably Meldrick Lewis, unless Munch didn't know about a new hire.

"You police? How come I never seen you before?" Lewis looked closely at Rosati, trying to see if he could place a face he might have seen in the precinct house or at a crime scene. She was pretty enough, he decided, that he would have at least noticed her around.

"Because I don't start until Monday." Nicole extended her hand. "Detective Nicole Rosati, Homicide."

Lewis laughed out loud, introducing himself as he shook Rosati's hand. They talked for a while, Lewis periodically excusing himself to take care of the dwindling patrons, about growing up in Baltimore and working in the dead body business and the enigma that is John Munch. They ended the night with Lewis flat-out refusing Rosati's money ("your first night on the town's on us. When the job is gettin' you down and you need to unwind, then I'll run you a tab") and giving her his card in case she needed help with anything before Monday morning.

Later on, while cleaning up by himself, Lewis reflected back on his phone conversation with Munch the other month. Munch was right, he thought. She would be an interesting addition to the unit, if perhaps not causing quite the stir that Sheppard had caused the year before. Falsone's gonna be pissed that they got another lady cop taller than he is, Lewis laughed to himself.

*****

The first day of work is a lot like the first day of school, Rosati decided. She found her way to the Homicide squadroom and into Liutenant Giardello's office with relative ease. She had known that Gee was black -- the woman who worked the register at the corner salumaria had gushed about him when she had found out that Rosati was police -- but, as they chatted in his lair, she was still pleasantly surprised that his Sicilian was as good as it was.

Introductions were interesting in that it was time for Rosati to put faces to some of the names that Munch had talked, or not talked, about. Meeting Stu Gharty was awkward, at least for Rosati, although everyone in the unit knew that she knew Munch from New York.

Giardello surprised her by partnering her with Lewis, saying that, as the senior member of the unit, Meldrick should work with the newest. Rene Sheppard, Lewis' current partner, would work with Mike Giardello. Falsone had tried to start a conversation by pointing out that both Rosati and Mike Gee were former federal agents, but it went nowhere after it was discovered that Rosati was ex-CIA, not FBI. "You're a spook?" Lewis had asked. "Ex spook. I gave up the ghost four years ago," was Nicole's standard comeback line.

The detectives spent the next hour trying to find out as much as they could about Rosati without appearing nosy and Rosati was happy when the phone started to bleat. "Well, partner, it's time to introduce you to the less lively citizens of Baltimore," Lewis said as he reached for his hat. Rosati grabbed her jacket and made for the door, but stopped the squadroom cold with one single, emphatic statement.

"Uh-uh. I'm driving."

The room burst into laughter. Lewis look like a puppy that had just been popped on the nose.

"What? What's wrong with my driving? You're gonna take the word of a disgruntled former member of the Baltimore murder police without any evidence? What kinda detective work is that?"

"Rear end of an M.E.'s meat wagon ring a bell, Meldrick?" Rosati smiled.

"Great. I get partnered with the only person who actually listens when John Munch talks," Lewis tossed the keys to Rosati. "Rene, I miss you already."

"I didn't let you drive, either, Meldrick." Sheppard called after Lewis as he followed Rosati out to the garage.

*****

Rosati and Lewis' first case together looked like it was going to be a dunker. Nicole made a point of getting on the M.E.'s good side -- Lewis seemed amazed afterwards that Scheiner was so responsive to "sweet talk from a pretty girl" --and one of the witnesses had been kind enough to provide a name and address for the shooter. Lewis was positively giddy at the thought of a name on the board going to black without stopping at red first, all before lunch. His clearance rate was not exactly at its high point right then.

Rosati pulled the Cavalier into a spot across the street from the suspect's home and the two detectives went calling. Rosati took the front, Lewis the rear of the house ("I'm a back door man," he had leered at her with a smile), but both ended up chasing Toby Webster down the alley when he decided to hop the fence into his neighbor's yard and take off.

Lewis had the head start, but it was Rosati who ended the chase with a flying tackle. She sat on Webster's lower back catching her breath as Lewis applied the cuffs and Mirandized the suspect. As they headed back to the Cavalier, listening to Webster threaten brutality charges for the scrapes on his hands, knees, and face, Lewis wondered aloud where Rosati had learned the football moves.

"I thought you said you only had sisters. Your parents let you girls pretend you were the Colts back line?"

"Hah! Not quite, although my sisters can dish it out pretty well. My best friend growing up was a guy, so I was a bit of a tomboy. He had older brothers, though..."

"It shows. Believe you me, it shows."

The rest of the day went smoothly. Webster was hauled into the interview room and Lewis and Rosati got to work on their tag-team interrogation skills. Gee came out of his office at the end of the shift and, in Sicilian, praised Rosati for fine work with both her suspect the criminal and the suspect her partner. Nicole laughed along with him, and then tried to irritate Lewis by not translating. Over the next few weeks, the two detectives established a rapport both on the street -- Lewis mentioned something about it being nice to have a partner who could be trusted in scraps -- and in the interview room, where their styles contrasted well. Gee seemed pleased, although Rosati wasn't sure if it was because she was fitting in or because he thought she was somehow straightening Lewis out. The former was possible, the latter, Rosati knew, was not. Meldrick was Meldrick.

As individuals, Lewis and Rosati quickly became close, but that friendship extended itself only as far as their badges went. They saw each other away from work only if Rosati showed up at The Waterfront, and Nicole had surprised Ballard one day at lunch by reporting that she didn't even know where Lewis lived.

Ballard herself, as well as Falsone, alternately annoyed and amused Nicole, who couldn't figure out if they had actually gotten together or were still just thinking about it. She had struck up a good acquaintanceship with Sheppard, especially after a rather memorable afternoon in the coffee room where they had sent Lewis and Falsone fleeing by reading aloud an article from Cosmo on men and sex toys, and the two would shoot hoops together on the roof on slow days. Everyone else on the squad's desks were too far away, or their eating preferences too different, for Rosati to get to know well right away.

*****

October 1999

"Howard. Fugitive."

"Kay? It's Megan Russert."

"Megan? Where are you calling from? Are you in Baltimore?"

"In DC, actually. Listen, can you meet me for lunch today? I have something I need to talk to you about. I can be up in Baltimore in an hour or so."

"Uh.. Okay. Jimmy's at one?

"Great. Thanks. See you then."

Howard hung up the phone and shook her head. Megan Russert calling her? Russert hadn't been spotted in Baltimore in the two years since Beau Felton had been found dead... Beau. There's only one reason Russert would be calling me, Howard thought. It's something about Felton. His kids, maybe? Had Beth finally done something truly loony and gotten the kids taken away? Had something happened to any of them? Howard had never forgiven Beth for not showing up at Beau's funeral -- even if she didn't want to go, the kids should have been able to say goodbye to their father -- but she didn't wish the woman any harm. Suddenly, lunch looked a long time away.

*****

Megan Russert looked much like she had when she returned from Paris for Felton's funeral, Kay decided. Her hair was still brown and cut fashionably short and she dressed very... Parisian.

In her more objective moments, Kay couldn't decide whether she disliked Russert because Megan had been fooling around with Kay's married partner, or whether it was flat-out jealousy that Russert could dress like one of those Fashion Plates stencils Kay had gotten as a kid, fool around with a married cop, dye her hair blonde, and still be taken seriously.

Russert saw Howard, who looked the same as ever, smiled, and made her way to the back booth where Kay was sitting. They made small talk for a few moments before Howard got down to business.

"Megan, you didn't fly all the way from France to tell me about Caroline's budding piano career, huh? What's going on?"

"Cantwell. I found him." Russert reached into her shoulder bag and started pulling out folders, allowing Howard a moment to register the words.

"Where?"

"He's running his auto ring between a place in Port Covington and a nice, quiet dock in Marseilles."

"How'd you find out?" Howard was amazed, first by Russert's news and then by the surveillance photos in one of the folders. Felton's killer was alive and well and living in France.

"Antoine, my husband, works on US-France extraditions. He found out about the auto ring from a friend in the police and remembered the name from when Beau was killed. The French government is trying to build a case, but they'll be more than happy to turn him over to the you guys to be tried for murder."

"So all we gotta do is bring him in, then?" Howard was smiling. This was going to be easy. Felton's ghost could rest. But Russert wasn't smiling.

"It's going to be harder than it looks. The French do many things well, but raids aren't one of them. And on this end, we still have to worry about the leak within the department, the one that got Beau killed in the first place."

"IID never found out who it was, but they stopped looking after we found out Cantwell killed Beau," Howard shook her head. "So if we run this through the department, we run the chance of the same thing happening that happened two years ago --Cantwell clearing out again."

"We can involve the department, we have to," Russert pointed out, "but we just have to be very careful. The leak was probably in Auto or IID, right?"

"Nobody in Homicide knew about Beau working undercover, that's for sure," Kay sounded bitter, but Russert knew that was a flash of self-flagellation. Howard had never forgiven herself for severing her ties with Felton after he seemingly left the force. Megan knew that Kay still was angry about never getting to say goodbye. "But now, with rotation, everyone who was working on that case is in Homicide. They're not safe anymore, either."

"Do you trust Giardello?" Russert asked. It was not a question about Gee being the leak, or being able to keep a secret, but whether Howard had forgiven him for shutting her out so completely from the investigation. "I never figured Gee would be polishing the glass ceiling," Kay had told Russert one day during that investigation, when all of the boys were out being detectives and she and Megan were making funeral arrangements.

"To help out? I guess, if he sees the evidence. No matter what he thinks of me," Howard snorted, "that's still a cop's name in red on the board."

The waitress came by then, and the two ordered lunch. They put away the folders and made small talk until the meals came. It wasn't as awkward as Kay might have imagined. There was exactly one thing that could assure civility between the two women, and Beau Felton was there in spirit, if not in substance.

"So how do you want to handle it?" Russert asked, putting down the remains of her sandwich.

"I'll go talk to Gee. See if he'll lend me a few detectives that aren't Falsone or Gharty." Howard shrugged. "If he won't, there's a few people in Fugitive."

"We're staying in DC for the next three weeks," Russert said, pulling out a pen and notepad. "Here's the hotel and the phone number. Vassy is the name. Give me a call when you talk to Gee, or tell him to call me if he's being a pain in the ass about it."

Howard nodded. Checking her watch, she realized it was time to head back and reached for her wallet. Megan waved her hands away. "Mine. When we get Cantwell, you can pay for the celebratory drinks."

*****

"What are you doing here? We ain't got no escaped criminal masterminds up here, and it's not like you have any friends you should be visiting 'round these parts." Meldrick Lewis was smiling, though, and held out his hand for Howard to shake.

"No masterminds at all around here, Meldrick, and that's including the detectives," Howard shook Lewis' offered hand and returned the smile. She knew that Lewis understood why she didn't visit.

"Not true, not true. We got ourselves a Ph.D now, Sarge. Nicole Rosati, meet the living legend herself, Kay Howard." Lewis took a step back and Howard saw the woman sitting behind him. "The Sarge here retired gracefully from Homicide with a perfect, one hundred percent black, clearance rate."

Rosati stood up and offered her hand to shake, which Howard did. "Put out to pasture is more like it, Meldrick," Kay said with a smirk. "What's a doctor doing in Homicide, huh?"

"No "Doctor", please. It's not like I can do something useful like deliver babies or save lives," Rosati smiled wryly. She wasn't embarrassed by her degree, which was in chemistry, except when Lewis would brandish the information as a sword either against the other detectives or over her own head to bully her into doing something.

The trio exchanged small talk for a moment or two, until a thump from the general direction of Giardello's office brought Howard up short.

"Listen, I gotta go talk to Gee. But Nicole, if Lewis here starts giving you trouble, come down to Fugitive and I'll give you all his dirty secrets."

"Don't you worry 'bout that, Kay." Meldrick shook his head. "Rosati here is a friend of Munch's from New York. She knows everyone's dirty laundry, mine and yours."

"Really?" Howard looked surprised. "You know John?"

"Yeah, we hung out for the few months between when he arrived and I left." Rosati registered the change in Howard's expression. "Don't worry. Munch is much more of a gentleman than he lets on. I didn't ask for tales out of school and he didn't tell me any. Well, not too many. Meldrick is just upset because Munch warned me about his driving." Nicole wasn't going to say anything about how several of his stories had been about Howard and that she more than suspected Munch carried a torch for the redhead.

Kay looked relieved and laughed. "Okay, then, since I got nothing else to offer you than a promise to pull rank on this mook if he starts being a pain, I'm gonna go find Gee before he finds me." And with that, she headed off to the Shift Commander's office, stopping for a moment when she realized that it had moved.

*****

"It's been a while, Kay." Gee was calm and spoke quietly, all the more reason to read between the lines.

Howard nodded agreement, her grimace a silent agreement that there were two distinct conversations going on right now.

"What can I help you with?" Are we going to make peace, or continue the silent warfare?

"Cantwell. He's back in town," Kay paused, waiting for Gee's reaction. He nodded for her to continue. "I don't know how to handle this. The leak that got Beau killed and told Cantwell to clear out before we got him could still be around."

Giardello leaned forward, resting his elbows on his desk. "And you want Homicide's help? Is there no one you trust in Fugitive?"

"There are a few, but I can't be sure. I mean, Fugitive was as much screwed up by rotation as Homicide. There are two guys from Auto on my shift... I don't know if Rivers and Sivachi even knew about Cantwell there... But the Fugitive department all knows about the case now, or at least something about the case... if they know about the leak, then..." Howard trailed off, but then regained her strength of tone. "Nobody in IID has the balls to avenge the death of one of their own. It's us, or no one."

Gee nodded. So you come in peace, Kay, he thought. Whether or not you forgive me, whether or not I feel I need to be forgiven, you have come bearing an olive branch. I accept it, and hope you won't try and break it over my head later. "We'll need to keep it small, low key. Barnfather and Gaffney can't know."

Howard ventured carefully, "And Falsone and Gharty. I know they're you're soldiers now, Gee, and I know the importance of keeping the unit without secrets, especially after Mahoney..." Kay paused. This was the moment. Your old warriors, Gee, or your new ones. Loyalty or expediency. Do you trust me now that you're surrounded by half-wits and show-offs? Now that you've lost my trust?

Gee leaned back and put a hand to his chin, and Howard gave him the silence to think things through. Gharty was generally a weak man and, after an initial boost of gusto, was more than happy to let Ballard pull the load. Falsone was a very good homicide detective, Gee knew, but he had made his career by trying to destroy the reputations of fellow officers. Two men from Gee's shift, his own famiglia, and more if Kellerman hadn't been determined to protect Lewis and Stivers. Felton, a flawed man, was not nearly the detective Falsone is, but Gee never once could imagine Beau turning on a fellow officer, no matter how guilty.

"But both of them were involved from the beginning. It's possible that one of them is the leak," Gee finished Howard's thought. Loyalty.

Kay nodded. Good, maybe the bastard does feel remorse. "So who should we use?"

"Falsone and Gharty are out, Ballard and Stivers should not be asked to investigate something that may involve their partners, so that leaves either Lewis and Rosati or Sheppard and Mike," Gee thought aloud. "Was Sheppard on your shift in Fugitive?"

"Yeah, she's okay. Lewis's the only one who knew Beau, though... What do you think of Rosati?"

"I think she's as close to a detective as good as you are as I'm going to be getting for a while."

Howard looked up sharply.

"You were the best detective I've ever had on this shift, Kay. Pembleton was a better interrogator, but outside of the box, you were the better detective." Giardello waved away the reply that was on Kay's face. "I never forgot that, not even after you became a sargeant and your skills were put towards guiding the lesser lights.

"What I did forget, for one awful period of time, was how strong a person you are. In one year, I watched Pembleton humbled by a stroke and Kellerman and Bayliss crushed under their own demons. When we thought Beau had killed himself, Lewis reminded me of how fragile he, too, could be. And in all that, I forgot how strong you are. And I treated you the way I did not because you are a woman, but because I was worried that, you, my greatest soldier, would fall as well. For that, I apologize."

Howard sat silent, her hands in her lap. "Apology accepted." she finally said quietly. For now, she added to herself. I want to get Beau's killer more than I want to hate you. Everyone else had to prove their weakness, but I had mine given to me? If Frank hadn't stroked out, you'd have ridden him until he did. Hell, you gave him Beau's murder even after he stroked out. I got to file forms."

Gee nodded and asked to see the files Howard had brought. He knew Howard was not so easily won over, but he couldn't worry about that now.

After looking over the photos and documents, Giardello walked over to the door, opened it, leaned out, hollered in his best 'you're in trouble' voice for Rosati and Lewis, and smiled at Howard, who returned the grin, recognizing the tone and remembering just how much fun Gee got out of scaring his detectives.

+++++++

"We didn't do it, Gee," Lewis said as he followed a concerned-looking Rosati into the Liutenant's office.

"But you will." Gee was grinning like a cheshire cat. Rosati had been around long enough to know that this was usually not a good sign. What had Munch called it? The Beatific Smile of Doom...

"Sargeant Howard and I have a mission for you two. One that involves your best detective skills and your best efforts at discretion. Failure at either will not be tolerated," Gee intoned.

"Anything for you two, you know that," Lewis replied. He figured that he and Nicole weren't in trouble, but he wanted to make sure. "What do you need?"

Howard stood up and turned towards Rosati. "In early '96, my partner, Beau Felton, quit the force after getting off suspension. Or so we thought. He was really working undercover on busting an auto theft ring led by someone named Jerry Cantwell. Felton turned up dead two years ago. Someone ratted him out, and Cantwell killed him. Blew his brains out and then blew his head off to make it look like a shotgun suicide."

"Falsone had been working the Cantwell case from Auto Theft," Gee picked up the story, "and Gharty, who was in Internal Investigations, was brought in after the Customs Department found out that there was a leak in the department. Whoever leaked the info that Felton was a cop also told Cantwell that we were closing in on him for Beau's murder."

"So when you went to pick up Cantwell, he was gone," Rosati finished. Howard nodded.

"Do you know who the leak was?" Rosati asked.

"No. And that's our problem now. Cantwell's back in town and we want to bring him in, but without letting him know we're coming."

Rosati nodded. "Are Meldrick and I looking for the leak, bringing in Cantwell, or both?"

"Our first priority is to bring in Cantwell," Gee said. "I'd like to also find the leak, since that will best establish motive and opportunity. Our case against Cantwell is not very strong as it is."

Gee sighed heavily. "The delicate part of this mission is that we must keep things to ourselves." He made eye contact first with Lewis and then with Rosati to make sure they knew exactly what he was saying. "Pembleton was the primary on Felton's murder, but the case was handed over to Fugitive. Howard brought the files and you can pull the rest from Frank's folder. It was a cold case before he resigned, so it should still be there."

Rosati and Lewis nodded. Meldrick spoke first. "Hey, Sarge, where'd you get this info? You been working this all along?"

Kay grinned, her first genuine smile of the day. "Megan Russert."

"Russert? Didn't realize she was still on the planet. How'd she get the info? She doin' that spook stuff again?" Lewis elbowed Rosati. If Meldrick wasn't getting on Nicole for her education, he was calling her "Casper" in honor of her former career. He meant it affectionately, which was why Rosati hadn't taken him out to a dark alley and shot him weeks ago, but it was still annoying.

"She's working for the government again, but didn't say for who," Howard shrugged. "Her husband does extraditions between France and the US and one of his pals ran across Cantwell in Marseilles. He's delivering stuff to France now and they ain't too thrilled about it."

"'Don't suppose they would be, cutting into the sales of those Le Cars," Meldrick offered. "She's goin' to be working with us, too?"

"I think Megan will probably stick to providing information," Gee said. "I'd like to get someone a little better at going around unseen to be doing surveillance."

"Speaking of surveillance and speaking of France, I think I might be able to help us out a little," Rosati smiled. "I worked out of Paris my first two years with the Agency and still have some friends there. Can I make a long-distance call from here?"

Gee waved her to the phone. Rosati dialed a long series of numbers and then waited. "Salut, Pascal! C'est Nicole Rosati.... ca va bien, et toi?.. Pas de New York, Baltimore... Bien, bien. Ecoutez, Pascal. Je dois parler avec Etienne Birbeau...bien sur il est tres important .... Merci..." The rest of the conversation was fairly quick and done in rapid-fire French and the only word anyone understood was "Cantwell".

"Well," Lewis asked as soon as she hung up.

"Doing things on US soil is a pain in the ass in terms of stepping on toes. The FBI always wants in. Anyway, I'll find out tomorrow if we can use some of the Agency's toys. A little eavesdropping won't get us into trouble if we don't try to enter any of what we find as evidence, right?" She smiled.

"Aren't you retired?" Gee asked.

"The CIA is worse than the mafia," Rosati smirked. "You never really get away. I was assigned to the domestic affairs division, which is where they put agents who want downtime. Downtime can be fifty years, mind you, but it gives them a leg up in case they need to drag you back kicking and screaming."

"We've had problems with federal agencies taking both control and juristiction before," Gee frowned. "But I'm not sure we have any choice here. If you can assure us that we'll get Cantwell in the end..."

"I can, if that's what you want. Federal investigations mean federal charges, which may mean harsher penalties, but that'll be your decision. It's not going to be an official case, but we can always try and tie it into one of the existing ones. Your call." Rosati shrugged. Federal agencies tended not to get along, and any move that snubbed the Fibbies was okay by her.

"All right then," Gee agreed.

"So if it's still just us four, who've you got in mind for spyin' on Cantwell, or are me and Casper volunteering?" Lewis pointed to himself and Rosati.

"You two will be doing most of the work, but I can't have you two off current cases completely. We're short-staffed enough until Barnfather sees fit to replace Bayliss. I'll think of someone."

"I have an idea, Gee," Howard ventured. "But I think we need to talk about it."

Gee nodded and Rosati and Lewis took the hint and headed for the door.

****

"Case Closed Investigations, Kellerman speaking."

"Mike? It's Kay Howard."

There was a pause. "Hi. How are you?" Kellerman sounded wary, Howard thought. He has every right to be.

"Fine, great, hangin' out with bounty hunters and bail bondsmen, fun stuff like that. How's the PI thing treatin' ya?"

"It's like being a detective except there's no lieutenant, no union, and I have to pay for my own photocopies." Kellerman almost sounded like he had before the Arson thing, Kay thought. Almost. She hadn't been around to see Kellerman during his last year in Homicide, but Gee had told her of Mike's rapid descent. "But you're not calling to see how I am. What can I do for you?"

"I'd.. We'd.. I'd like to hire you. Help clear up an old case, sort of. Are you free for a drink or something? It'd be easier to explain this stuff in person, huh?"

"Okay," Kellerman said slowly. "Pick your time and place. I can close up whenever."

"Howabout seven at Finneny's. You know where that is?"

"Remember who you're talking to. I know every bar in Fells Point by smell." The laugh was bitter. "I'll see you there."

***

Kay had seen Mike only once or twice since she had left Homicide. She had been busy keeping away from her old unit and Mike had been busy trying to make himself invisible. The last time was after Junior Bunk shot up the squadroom. Howard had raced to the second floor in fear and had come across a shaken Lewis and a haunted Kellerman.

"So what's a sargeant from Fugitive need with a mall cop?" Kellerman asked by way of greeting, smiling and putting out his hand.

He looked better now, Kay decided, at least he doesn't look like his own ghost anymore. Still much thinner than she remembered him being during their time in Homicide, Mike had lost some of the deadness in his eyes.

She accepted the handshake and motioned for him to sit down. Kay had picked a booth in the back corner of the pub. The place was too far away from the precinct to be a cop bar, but not close enough to the nicer parts of the area to be trendy. It was mostly empty, so the barkeep came over to them and took their orders, returning with the drinks almost immediately.

Kay took a sip of the beer and looked across the booth at Kellerman. "How good are you at sneaking around and taking pictures in the dark?"

Kellerman smiled ruefully. "Too good. The Straub case got me an upgrade in clientele, but for the most part it means taking photos of richer men who cheat on their richer wives." He put down his beer. "Why?"

"An old case has come up and I need a hand." Kay didn't want to say too much, but then mentally smacked herself. He's certainly not the leak and its not like he's speaking to any cops that he'd tell this to, she chided herself.

"You want me to help on a police investigation?" Kellerman looked frankly shocked.

"Yeah, in an informal way. You'd get paid and all that."

"Is this a Fugitive thing or a Homicide thing?" Mike was back to looking wary.

"Sort of both. You remember Beau Felton's murder?"

Kellerman nodded. "The auto ring."

"The guy who ran it is back in Bawlmer. We need to scope him out, right? But whoever told him we were on to him the first time is probably still around.."

"So you want me to make Kodak moments so that you can catch him with his pants down." Kellerman took a sip of beer. "Someone with no ties to the police."

"Yeah. Will you? I can pay you now and then get it back from petty cash after the arrest."

"Does Gee know about this?" Kellerman asked. "I'm not sure he'd want me anywhere near a police matter."

"Gee's the one who suggested I talk to you." Kay smiled at Kellerman's surprise.

"You two talking again?"

"Beau Felton's brought stranger people together," Kay shrugged, thinking back to her lunch with Megan Russert. "It's only temporary. Didn't realize you had noticed about Gee."

"I was out of it, but not that out of it. He say he was calling in a debt or something when he was talking about me?"

"No. You owe him for somethin'?" Kay had heard the station gossip about why Kellerman had quit the force. Something about him being lucky he wasn't in Jessup.

"Yeah, sort of. And no, sort of." Kellerman smirked. "So, when and where?"

Kay gave Mike the details and they talked about strategy for a little bit. Kay had saved the most troubling news for last.

"Mike, there's one more thing."

"Uh-oh. What?"

"Gee's got two detectives working on the case." Kay began.

"And one of them is Lewis, right?" Mike finished, making a face that Kay couldn't read. "So who's the other one? Sheppard?"

"No, the new detective, Rosati. Gee likes her a lot. He thinks she can straighten Lewis out." Kay snorted.

"What, she keeps him cuffed in the Cavalier while they work cases?" Kellerman smiled. He better than anyone knew Lewis' work habits. "Ms. Rosati has her work cut out for her."

"I think she can hold her own." Kay smiled. "'Sides, Lewis seems to like her."

"He always does at first." The words slipped out before Kellerman could stop them. So much for not appearing bitter, Mikey.

Kay shrugged, acknowledging the history between Lewis and Kellerman. She had seen it that night of the shootout and had expressed concern that the two former partners wouldn't be able to work together. But Gee had smiled that smile he gave when he had something up his sleeve and told her that they would indeed get along. The 'or else' was left unspoken.

"Does Lewis know?" Mike asked. Kay shook her head no.

"Gee wants you to pick up some notes and files tomorrow, 'kay?" Howard said. "Rosati took some of the case files to New York with her, but she'll be back Saturday. There's some other stuff that you can have before then."

Mike nodded. "Should I come by after the shift is over, or does it matter?"

"After. All our runnin' around bein' secretive's gonna be for nothing if you and Falsone start throwing punches." Kay grinned. Kellerman knew she hated Falsone.

"Actually, Falsone and I are on better terms now than when we were working together," Mike said. "I wouldn't exactly call us buddies, but there are other people in the squadroom I'm more likely to pop than him."

"Well, don't duke it out with Lewis, either." Kay warned.

Mike was going to say that that wasn't who he was thinking of, but thought better of it and took a sip of beer instead.

The two talked of other matters until they finished their beers. They had never been close while working together, so there wasn't much to catch up on. Kellerman insisted on paying the tab and they parted ways outside the bar.

*****

Kellerman waited until an hour after shift change to head into the building. The day was still light out, so he kept his sunglasses on until he hit the top of the stairs and made the turn into the Homicide squadroom. The room was empty, except for one lone detective, sitting with his feet up on his desk, reading a paperback book.

"You clear out the squadroom with your winning personality, Meldrick?" Kellerman didn't approach Lewis, instead standing halfway between the door and Gee's office.

"Nope. Right-to-Know meeting over in Vice. How's it goin', Mike." The words themselves were friendly, but the delivery was casual. Lewis had tried once, during the Straub trial, and if Mike wanted to be like that, let him. Kellerman shrugged to indicate that nothing new was happening.

"Not that I mind you droppin' by, but, what are you doin' here?" Meldrick asked, putting the book on the desk face down.

"Same thing you are, I think. Got recruited by Howard to play James Bond for her and Gee." He waited to see Lewis' reaction. It was one of surprise.

"You the guy they got to spy on Cantwell? I thought they'd be goin' for a professional."

"I am a professional, Meldrick. I use a real camera, real film, I even develop my own pictures."

"'Spose you are, then. Gee," and Meldrick nodded towards the Shift Commander's office, "is in there with some folks from the Commissioner's office. Howard's pickin' up some crook in Pittsburgh." He paused. "You might as well sit down. They haven't even started the shouting yet."

Kellerman walked to the desk across from Lewis and sat down. The nameplate said "Det. Nicole Rosati" and there was a rubber banana on top of a stack of papers, but one look at the deep scratch on the right corner of the desk assured Mike that the desk had once been his. He fingered the scratch gently, as if it would evoke happy memories. Instead, all it brought was a fresh wash of pain.

"So what's she like," Kellerman asked, waving the banana for a moment and then putting it back down.

"She's cool," Meldrick said, trying to play it casual, but Kellerman could see through it. "She's in New York on court duty."

Howard was right. Lewis was hooked. "So she pretty?" Kellerman wanted to see how bad Meldrick had it.

"I guess. She's... interestin'."

"Interesting? That's what fat women with warts on their noses put in personal ads."

"Interesting 'cause you don't get bored lookin' at her. You'll see her soon enough."

Gee's door opened and two men in suits walked out, followed by Gee himself. The suits stalked out of the squadroom and Lewis and Kellerman could hear the Liutenant muttering unpleasant suggestions in Sicilian. Gee looked around, saw the two men, and waved them towards him. They found an unused conference room across the hall from Vice to use, not wanting to take up space after the other unit came back from their meeting.

Kellerman wasn't sure how to act. Was this a favor to him, a sign that he had been, if not forgiven, then at least taken out of the noose? Or was this a favor expected of him, in return for not tightening the noose? A confession, typed over a year ago, sat somewhere in Giardello's possession. It was an IOU, but which one was the debtor was unclear.

"Lieutenant," Mike nodded his head towards Gee as he entered the room. Lewis followed him in and sat down without saying a word.

"Mike. I'm glad you decided to come." Gee wasn't tipping his hand.

"I wasn't busy," Kellerman shrugged.

"Surely your investigations firm is doing well in light of last year's publicity." The Straub case. So this was going to be a punishment.

"A break from cheating wives and missing diamonds, then." Mike didn't smile.

"Of course, the public doesn't know that in the end, you returned to your roots and followed the truth, not the money." Gee went on. "Once an angel of justice, always an angel of justice."

Mike didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say.

"I need you to be an angel of justice once more, Mike. We need to get Cantwell this time. For Beau, for Howard, for this unit."

Kellerman nodded. "That's what I'm here for." That, and a chance to set my therapy back six months by putting myself back into the environment that sent me over the edge in the first place. It's all right, Mike thought, the shrink's got a few more car payments left on the Jaguar and can use the extra work.

"Good. Then let's get to work."

Agreeing to save the larger discussion for when Rosati and Howard were present, the three men talked of getting the photos of Cantwell, figuring out his schedule and business habits, and, most importantly, the division of labor between Kellerman and Lewis and Rosati. Rosati had gotten permission for some small-scale surveillance ("they're so thrilled I'm activating myself after four years that they'd let me stalk the mayor if I felt like it"), but no extra manpower. Gee told Kellerman that he was probably going to be the guy playing with the Agency's toys and Lewis couldn't keep himself from cracking wise about that.

After an hour, business was wrapped up and Kellerman and Lewis got up to leave. Gee cleared his throat and the two men stopped.

"You two were picked because you are trusted. I need to know that the two of you can work together without letting past... differences get between you. I am not asking for you to become best friends again, but I will not allow you two to submarine this case because of unresolved issues. I expect absolutely professional behavior from both of you. Kellerman, Lewis, do you understand me?"

"Yes, Lieutenant."

"Yeah, Gee."

Lewis and Kellerman headed towards the door.

"Kellerman, stay a moment. Please." Gee waved at the chair that Mike had just gotten out of. Lewis muttered a "later" and closed the door behind him. Kellerman sat down.

"What's up?"

"How are you doing, Mike? We never got the chance to speak when you stopped by last year." Gee sat down across from Kellerman.

"You weren't exactly happy to see me, Gee."

"It wasn't the best of circumstances, no. But now, how are you doing?"

"I'm fine." Was Gee genuinely concerned, or was this just a check to see that he didn't fuck up taking surveillance photos or break any of the spy toys.

"Are you? When you left the force, you were anything but..."

"Quite frankly, Gee, I hadn't been fine for over a year by that point. No one seemed to care too much." Least of all you, Lieutenant. If this was a sanity check, Kellerman was pissed. "Are you worried I'm going to screw this up? I won't. I got what needed to be taken care of, taken care of. I blow this, it's just 'cause I don't get to use real detective skills chasing cheating spouses and I'm rusty, not because I'm drunk or depressed or suicidal."

"Mike, listen to me. I'm not worried that you're going to blow the case." Gee sighed and leaned back in the chair.

"Bayliss went on leave months ago, and he went away very much on the edge. A year before that, you left, and I wasn't sure if you'd even be alive the next morning. I saw you ask for Lewis' gun. I also know it wasn't the first time." Mike was stunned, but said nothing. Gee continued.

"The year before that, we thought Felton had killed himself. Before that, it was Crosetti... Barnfather, the Commissioner, they think I'm bad for the department because I'm too close to my men. But how close can I be when my men, my famiglia, are in so much pain and are suffering so greatly, but I don't do anything?"

"So I'm your penance? Say five Hail Mary's or rescue one lost cop soul?" Mike wasn't sure whether to be angry or not. This sounded too much like a conversation he needed to have with Lewis. Mike didn't want to confuse the two. "I'm okay, Gee. I'm not the kid you plucked out of Arson with a wave of your magic T-400 detective unit transfer form, but I'm not the guy who shot Luther Mahoney, either. I've made my peace with who I am and what I've done."

Gee nodded. "So why are you doing this?"

"Because Howard asked me to. Because you asked me to. Because I still miss being a cop and I'm not gonna pass up a chance to pretend I'm still one." Because once upon a time, back before I fell headfirst into Hell, the idea that my bosses had picked me and Meldrick to go on some special mission for them would have made me the happiest kid in Baltimore. And I still want a chance to be that happy. Even if Meldrick hates me. Even if I'm the last resort."

Gee nodded. They had each said their pieces. Kellerman got up to leave and Gee looked up at him, still seated. "Play nicely with Lewis."

"Tell him that, too." Mike half-grinned, although he was being completely serious, and left Gee alone in the conference room.

*****

"Munchkin!" >{? Munch spun around in his seat. He knew who that was before he turned. "Rosati, what brings you back here and what did you bring me?"

"I'm in court tomorrow on the Plesac retrial and McCoy wants to prep me today," Nicole smiled and put down the shopping bag she was carrying. "And I brought you a present from my partner."

Munch reached in to the bag and pulled out a large envelope. Inside were invoices from the Waterfront and printouts of the ledger. "Great, Meldrick is using you as a carrier pigeon." Underneath the envelope, under the latest edition of Baltimore magazine, there was a box. Opening up the lid, Munch found two large styrofoam take-out dinner containers and two large takeout soup cups. "Lewis bought us a seafood lunch?" Munch asked as he sniffed the containers.

"Crab, crab cakes and bisque. Meldrick misses you, I think." Rosati felt the cups. "I think we can microwave the soup, but I don't want to ruin the crab. I'm not due at the ADA's until five. Can we go somewhere and talk?"

Munch raised his eyebrows and looked at Rosati over his glasses. "You having trouble down there?"

"Not like you're thinking. I caught a case that I need to pick your brain about.... Hey, Stabler!" Rosati called as the detective walked through the doors with his partner. "Let's just say it has a department connection."

"Does it involve any of my former partners?" Munch asked.

"Sort of."

That was enough for Munch to pick up the box of food, stop by the coffee machine for napkins and plastic forks, and lead Rosati to the interrogation room.

Once they were settled and partially fed, Munch changed the topic from gossip and chit-chat to whatever had brought Nicole by to visit.

"Do you remember Beau Felton?" Nicole put down her soup cup, wiped off her hands, and reached down for her knapsack, pulling out some file folders.

"Beau? Of course I remember him. You might, too. He and my partner, the not very late and only occasionally lamented Stanley Bolander, got suspended for running around the Plaza in just holsters and party hats a few years ago. Why?"

"His murder case has been re-opened," Rosati gave Munch one of the files she was holding. "Kay Howard got information from someone named Megan Russert. She and Gee are organizing a covert mission to get the guy. Lewis and I are playing Mr. Steed and Mrs. Peel."

"Cantwell. Russert gave Kay information? Kay is working with Giardello?" Munch was laughing. "These are two signs of the Apocalypse right here. Next you'll be telling me Pembleton's come back to help them out on the case."

"Not Pembleton, Mike Kellerman." Munch dropped his fork.

"Kellerman? Mikey Blue-and-Bloodshot Eyes himself? And he's working with you and Lewis? Make that three signs of the Apocalypse. Russert, Kay, and Gee in one room is enough, but Lewis and Kellerman back at each other's throats? You're gonna be back up here and straight to a rubber room in Bellevue in no time."

"Yeah, I'm a little worried about that. Giardello told me before I left, but I don't think Meldrick knows. Or he didn't know."

Rosati recounted all that had happened in the last few days and then showed Munch the new information Russert had brought Howard.

For the next hour, Munch answered questions that Rosati had deemed too delicate to ask either Lewis or Giardello. They discussed whether Felton could have blown his own cover ("Felton was a great guy for pulling one over on you and blue-collar car jockey wasn't a great stretch. He had pulled it off for a year, there's no reason to think he would have screwed up after so long."), how to handle the various explosive personality clashes waiting to happen, and whether either Falsone or Gharty could have been the leaks. Munch also asked a great many questions about Kay Howard and Rosati smiled inwardly as she answered them as best she could.

They were poring over the case files when the interrogation room door opened.

"Hey, Munch. Nicoletta, mi amor!"

"If it isn't Felipe Panderval, the NYC cop-by-day, latin-lover-by-night Jimmy Smits wishes he was," Munch looked up at Rosati's former partner. "Come to whisk my lunch date away?"

"McCoy just called and he's finished early. I might not have to cancel my date after all." Panderval rubbed his hands together gleefully before stopping to pick up Rosati's fork and stab at some of the now cold leftovers.

"She's inflatable, Felipe, she'll wait," Nicole cracked, ducking away from Panderval's stab with the fork. "I'll stop by after I get out of court tomorrow, okay, John?" Rosati asked as she started collecting her things. Munch nodded. He walked the two Homicide detectives back to the squadroom.

"Give Cassidy a big kiss for me, will you?" Rosati smiled as she followed Panderval out the door.

On the way out the building, the pair ran into Cassidy himself and after exchanging quick pleasantries, Rosati told the detective that Munch had something for him from her.

*****

After leaving Gee, Kellerman headed straight out of the building, hoping not to run into anyone he knew. It was still awkward to be wandering around police headquarters as a civilian.

As he turned the corner towards his car, he saw a person leaning against the front. It was dark, but the figure had a familiar slouch. Lewis.

"Need a lift?" Mike asked as he approached. Lewis stood up.

"Nah, but I was thinkin' we should talk." Meldrick had spent the past year thinking about things, but it wasn't until both Bayliss and Munch left, when Lewis was alone in the squadroom with a room full of people he barely knew, that he really thought about it seriously. Everyone in the unit equated Kellerman with the devil, and Lewis, ever the independent thinker, knew differently.

"Get it out of the way now, before Gee locks us in the Box and lets us fight to the death, huh?" At least Meldrick was taking the initiative on this one. Mike wasn't in the mood to spend the next few weeks dancing around his former partner.

"I think Rosati'll give us both a gunshot to the back of the head first. She got no patience with bickering," Lewis smiled mirthlessly. "I don't want to fight, tho', I just want to clear the air so we can do this thing."

Kellerman nodded. "So where should we have this little discussion? Not the Waterfront."

"You still got that floatin' palace of yours?" Lewis asked.

"What, so if things don't go right, at least I'll get to watch you walk out on me again?" Kellerman's voice wasn't dripping with sarcasm the way Lewis would have expected, but the words still stung.

"No, Mike. That ain't gonna happen. We need to end this thing now. Only way I'm gonna leave before it's over is if you toss me overboard."

"Fine, then. Let's go."

Lewis went off to his car and followed Kellerman to the docks. The two walked silently to the boat. Mike unlocked the door and they went inside, Kellerman heading straight for the galley.

"You want something?" he asked as he opened the fridge.

"You got real food here, or jus' the usual?" Unless Kellerman had really changed, there wasn't going to be much to eat. Boat or not, this was still a bachelor pad.

"Real food. My mom's weekly deposit arrived yesterday." Kellerman turned around and Lewis found a bag of hero rolls flying in his direction. "You can have turkey or roast beef."

"Your momma's cookin' for you?" Lewis was amused. "Thirty-three and still gettin' care packages from home."

"Yeah, but she still won't try enchiladas. Those I have to buy for myself." Mike's voice was light.

Lewis found the foldaway table and the two made sandwiches. They talked about the Cantwell case as they ate. Lewis told a few stories of when Felton had been in Homicide and they marveled at the thought of Kay Howard working with either Russert or Giardello. Left unsaid, at least for the time being, was that that was what one did for a partner.

They finished, cleared up, and with a couple of beers in hand, sat down on opposite ends of the couch. "So, what do you want to talk about?" Kellerman started. As if he didn't know.

"How we left things, Mikey."

"Which time, Meldrick? When you asked for a new partner? When you hid from me while you were suspended? When you let me walk into the Box with Falsone and Pembleton without warning?" Kellerman tried to keep his voice level. No sense in starting off shouting.

Lewis was silent for a long moment. "I ran, Mike. Is that what you want to hear? Fine, I ran away. I was scared, Mike. I knew you were... hurting. I didn't think I could stop you, and I didn't want to be there if... when you ended up like Crosetti. I didn't want to feel that pain again. So I tried to get as far away from you as possible."

"I was sick, Meldrick."

"Don't you think I knew that?" Lewis was agitated. "I knew that since the night you... No, not that night.... I thought you'd be okay after that. I thought that after a few dunkers, a couple of cases where nobody knew you from Elvis, you'd be okay. That's why I never told anyone about you trying to eat your gun."

"Well, Gee knows anyway. Or he knows something."

"He say something to you? Wasn't me who told him."

"He didn't make Lieutenant for being stupid," Kellerman allowed. He didn't really think Lewis would talk about that night on his boat to Gee. "It was probably pretty noticeable if you knew what you were looking for."

"I didn't say a word to Gee, not even when I asked for a new partner."

"So why'd you do that anyway, Meldrick? Now that we're confessing our sins."

"I told you, I was scared. After Mahoney... I knew you were never going to be right. Maybe if we had been able to put his ass away..."

"You mean, if I hadn't shot him down." It wasn't a question.

"Yeah, maybe. But that wasn't on you alone, Mikey. You pulled the trigger, but I put the gun in your hand." Lewis waved away Mike's protest. "I don't know why I needed to beat Luther down. But I did. And I got my gun took for it... Maybe if you and Stivers were with me, that wouldnta happened like that. Stivers, at least. You woulda let me do it... But instead of him ending my life with my gun, he nearly ended your life with yours."

"I nearly ended my life, Meldrick. Not Luther Mahoney, not you, not Pembleton and Falsone, not Gee, not Georgia Rae. Me. I had to face that, Meldrick. I have to live with it."

"Can you?"

"Yeah." Mike smirked. "Sort of. Some days are easier than others. I don't drink myself stupid anymore, if that's what you're asking. I haven't tried to kill myself since the day I got resigned.... I haven't gotten over not being a cop anymore, but that's different. I haven't gotten over not being married to Annie, either."

"So what happened? You see the light after a three-day bender?" Lewis' voice was soft, the way it got when it was raw from talking too long and too loud. The way, Mike thought, it had sounded that night Lewis had spent the better part of an hour trying to pull my gun out of my mouth.

"Sort of. Let's just call it parental intervention."

"They take you to a doctor?" Lewis asked.

"Yeah. Been getting my cranium shrunk for a while." Kellerman shrugged. He was almost used to admitting that he was in therapy. "It's once a month now, just to make sure I don't get any strange ideas."

Lewis nodded again. "Good. So now you're just normal screwed up." It was a test joke, to see if they had actually gotten anywhere.

"Yeah, just normal screwed up." A peace, of sorts.

"I'm sorry, Mike. I'm sorry for letting you down and running away."

Kellerman shrugged. "I had no reason to expect you to carry all that."

"Yeah, you did. We were partners." Partnership meant so much to Kellerman. It did to Lewis as well, but self-preservation had won out, and that had bothered Lewis ever since he had realized it. "Kay's spent years chasin' down the guy who took hers down," Lewis marveled. "I couldn't even keep you up in the first place."

"So where are we?" Lewis asked when Kellerman didn't say anything.

"I don't know, Meldrick. For the time being, I think we're safe to work this case together without your partner executing us Mafia-style. After that, I don't know."

Lewis nodded and stood up. "Then mission accomplished. I should go and visit the bar. Never know when one of my silent partners is gonna return and want to look over the books."

Kellerman stood up as well. He put out his hand as a peace offering, but was surprised when Lewis hugged him instead.

"I'm glad you're okay, Mikey." And then he left.

Kellerman stood in place for a moment, reflecting on all that had just happened. Mike didn't want Lewis to know the specifics. Maybe, if he and Lewis were ever friends again, he could tell Meldrick how he had come home that morning after giving up his badge, drunk out his mind, and found his mother waiting for him. She had heard about the shootings at the station and, since she had known that he wasn't going to call her, had gone to see him.

She had simply tried to put him to bed and had asked him innocent questions. "Where's your badge, Mikey? Where's your gun? Are they in a bar?" And suddenly, out came the whole story. From the Arson investigations clear through to Gee folding up his confession and putting it in his breast pocket.

He had, in his drunken ramble, told her everything. The suicide attempts, the Luther Mahoney shooting, the events with Georgia Rae, Lewis' abandonment of him, and the utter despair from watching friends and co-workers get shot and killed because of something he had done. And then he had collapsed, weeping, into his mother's arms. It was the lowest moment in Mike Kellerman's life, and he was grateful that he only remembered most of it.

The next day, Mike's parents had taken him to a shrink. He had fought, but not that hard. There was nothing left to lose, and his self-respect had been one of the first things to go. He lived with his parents for a few weeks, until the shrink told them that he was no longer a danger to himself.

His mom hadn't quite believed the doctor and when Mike returned to his boat, there were certain objects missing. Knives, scissors, his razor, anything that could be used to do damage. His mother had brought him enough food to feed an army, along with an electric razor, and it had been all Mike could to to keep his mother from taking away the forks and leaving him with plastic ones. That was why the food arrived weekly, even after the knives had been returned and Kellerman could cook for himself.

He walked over to the phone.

"Hey, Mom... No, I'm fine. Had a visitor tonight.."

*****

"Munch! Telephone!" Olivia Benson called out, not sure where Munch was. The detective materialized from Cragan's office.

"Is it work?"

"It's a woman, Munch. Run faster."

"Detective Munch," He answered into the phone.

"I've been gone weeks and Benson's already forgotten to be bitchy to me?" Rosati laughed into the phone. "Boy, I wish my short-term memory was so bad. Listen, grab the leash, hook up your partner, and meet me and Briscoe down on Broadway and Great Jones. We're going for Cuban."

"You paying? I think you owe me something for siccing Cassidy on me. He was bothering me for the rest of the shift to give him what you had left for him," Munch looked around the office for his partner. "Why Cuban?"

"Cassidy bothers you all the time. If you had actually delivered the kiss, then I would pay. We're doing Cuban because I can't find it in Baltimore."

"There aren't any Cubans in Baltimore, why should that surprise you? Give us half an hour." Munch hung up. "Cassidy, how do you feel about dog collars?" he asked his approaching partner.

"Never get the studded ones," Brian replied. "The studs are really uncomfortable to cuddle against."

"And you know this from personal experience?" Munch raised an eyebrow at him.

"Of course. I got a nasty scratch on my forehead when Kelly was feeling feisty," Cassidy rubbed the spot. "Why?"

"Rosati just called and mentioned you and leashes in the same sentence. I was just wondering if you might be her type after all." Munch checked the clock and got up.

"Rosati's into leather?" Cassidy looked either hopeful or confused, Munch couldn't decide. "Maybe I should borrow Kelly's collar."

"We don't have time, we're meeting her in less than half an hour," Munch tapped at his wristwatch and urged Cassidy up. "You'd borrow your girlfriend's toys to play with Rosati?"

Cassidy raised his sunglasses and stared at his partner. "Kelly's my beagle. She's a puppy, John."

"Shame. And here I thought you actually had a wild side," Munch shook his head as the two headed out.

*****

"So where is she?" Kellerman asked Lewis. They were leaning on the front of Kellerman's Explorer, waiting for Rosati. Lewis had come outside directly after shift change, but Rosati had fled to the ladies room to change out of work clothes and into something, as she had put it, a little more appropriate for skulking around. And so they waited.

Kellerman was checking the film in the camera when Lewis spotted what looked to be his partner. "Hey, C'mon, let's go, Casper! We don't got all night here," Lewis yelled across the street after Rosati didn't spot him right away.

She ran up to them. "You were a little vague in your directions..." And then she stopped short. At the sound of a woman's voice, Kellerman had looked up, and it was all he could do not to drop the camera. "Nikki?"

"Hi, Mike." The moment she had been both looking forward to and dreading ever since she had moved back to Baltimore.

"You two know each other?" Lewis' jaw was hanging open.

"In both the Biblical and figurative sense." Rosati grinned sheepishly at her partner. Kellerman hadn't moved at all.

Lewis stood up and waved his hands. "Wait a second here. You two not only know each other, but you slept together, and neither of you said anything?"

"I didn't know she was Nicole Rosati. And I sure as hell didn't know Nikki Scipione, my best friend growing up, was back in town after a dozen years." The last was directed directly at Rosati, who bowed her head.

"I'm sorry, Mike. That's my mistake. I wanted to get in touch with you when I moved back last month, but I couldn't figure out a good way to tell you that I had taken a job in your old unit. Not after what happened..."

"You get all the sordid details of Mike Kellerman, cop killer, from the squadroom?" It was bitterness directed at the Homicide unit, not at Nicole, and Rosati sensed this.

"Lucrezia sent me the newspaper articles when the Arson investigation happened. I read the Sun on the 'net every day... I know it's not an excuse, Mike. I had a lot of shit going on in my life right then, and I know you too well to think you'd have reacted well to me crawling out of the woodwork after reading about you being under investigation for graft."

Kellerman only nodded. She was right.

"I waited until the Arson thing ended, but then came Mahoney... I'm sorry, Mike. I really am." Everybody's apologizing to me these days, Kellerman thought.

Looking at Rosati, Kellerman could only nod again. He was still too shocked to see Nikki standing in front of him. After going alone for so long, it was a lot to have two of the people who had gotten so close to him suddenly back in his life and looking to make amends.

Nicole looked at Kellerman. He didn't look angry, more surprised and hurt. She walked over to give him a hug. He reciprocated, and, for a moment, as they stood there in each other's arms, it was just like old times.

"Hate to break up the reunion, but we gotta get to work," Lewis spoke up. Kellerman and Rosati reluctantly parted and they all got into the Explorer.

***

The night had grown dark and they parked the car off the side of the road leading to the private dock Cantwell was using. There was nothing to do but eat the burgers and fries Lewis had scooped up from the Waterfront and wait.

"Okay, so how long you two known each other?" Lewis asked between fries.

"We met in 1972. First grade. I was six and Nikki was four." Kellerman said. "We sat next to each other."

"Our sisters were in the same communion class at church, but we weren't friends until Mike's brothers got everyone into trouble," Rosati added.

"Why am I not surprised?" Lewis asked. "What did those two knuckleheads do at that early age?"

"You know Drew and Greg?" Nicole asked. "How'd that happen? I thought they were banished from Baltimore."

"They were running from a loan shark in Ohio and thought I'd help them out," Mike explained.

"I'm sure that went over well with Mama K and Papa K," Rosati said. "Anyway, back in '72, the Kellerman boys, all three of them, stole some comic books. Greg was in the same grade as my sister Theresa and he stole a Wonder Woman comic book for Teri because he thought she was cute.

"When those two lovebirds got hauled out of school the next day, I told on Mike, who had brought his booty to class, so we got taken home as well in a general purge of Kellermans and Scipiones from Saint Robert's Elementary. We were inseparable from then on."

"So you was screwed up with women even then, Mikey," Lewis laughed. "Hookin' up with a girl 'cause she told on you?"

"He wanted to get caught," Rosati protested. "I was doing him a favor. Besides, we didn't hook up for another twelve years."

Lewis giggled, but then suddenly put down the french fry he was using as a pointer. "Wait a second. You're that Nikki?"

"What that Nikki?" Rosati was alarmed. "Mike, what did you tell him?"

"Umm... We were partners, Nik, partners tell each other things." Kellerman could tell Nicole was ready to pull out her service weapon and use it. A quick glance at Lewis confirmed that Meldrick sensed this as well.

"Guy partners only talk about sex," Rosati fumed. "So now my partner knows all about my sex life."

"Just the origins of it," Lewis cracked. "There ain't nothing to know now." Kellerman laughed, despite Rosati's wrathful stare.

It had been during an interminable stakeout during Kellerman's first year in Homicide that the two had gotten onto the topic of virginity. They had talked around their own first experiences and then onto whether they had ever taken anyone else's. Nicole had been Mike's first love, although not his first lover, and until she had been recruited by the CIA after graduating Hopkins, he had had full expectations of marrying her and settling down. Kellerman was quite proud of how maturely he had treated Nikki back then and wasn't embarrassed to talk about it. Of course, he didn't expect Meldrick to ever meet Nicole...

"Oh, come on, Nik. It's not like I told him it was a quick spin in a hayloft." Rosati didn't look placated.

"That's not the point and you know it."

"Well, he knows, and there's nothing you can do to me or him that's going to change it. Or at least nothing that won't get you arrested. Besides, you're the one who brought up that we went out."

There was nothing to say to that, so Rosati bit into her hamburger instead.

"Let me make it up to you. Ask me anything you want."

Rosati chewed thoughtfully for a moment and then swallowed. She'd embarrass him later.

"When do I get to find out about how you spent the past twelve years?" Rosati poked Kellerman in the shoulder.

"You've read about the last three in the Sun," Kellerman smirked. "The rest you're gonna have to wait until later. Someone just turned on the lights at the docks."

Kellerman wiped off his hands and took the camera off the dashboard. Everyone got out of the car, ready to work.

Rosati had a night-vision camera to carry, so Lewis, who couldn't even handle a point-and-shoot, took the bag of equipment from the federal toybox. They headed towards the newly lit building and spread out. Kellerman had taken photos during the day and Lewis had gotten building plans from the city board, so they knew where they could set up inside. They took pictures and waited a few hours until Cantwell's lieutenants turned off the lights and headed off. A half hour later, after breaking in to the office and planting some microphones, the trio of snoops made their way back to the Explorer.

*****

Kellerman drove them back to the precinct house. Lewis had his car, but Rosati had gotten a lift to work that morning, so Kellerman offered to drive her home.

They didn't talk on the way except for Nicole giving directions. It was late and they were tired. Finally, Kellerman double parked in front of Rosati's apartment.

"You want to come in?" Nicole asked.

"You're falling asleep and I'm close behind. Another time." Mike shook his head.

They sat in silence for a moment. "It's so weird, isn't it?" Rosati finally said.

"Yeah. Last time we spoke, we were kids pretending we were grown up. Now, we're all grown up and we're running around in the dark like kids."

"You're still a kid at heart, Mike, you always were and you always will be."

Kellerman shook his head. "Not anymore. I had to grow up fast in the last year or so. It was killing me."

Nicole looked into his eyes, really for the first time that night. He was right, there was no more kid there. In fact, his eyes looked too old.

"Don't do that," Kellerman murmured.

"Do what?"

"Read my life in my eyes. I always feel like I'm made of glass and you can see right through me when you do that."

"Sorry."

"It's all right. I'm getting used to other people reading me," He laughed, but it wasn't a happy laugh. "I'm like a magazine. My mom, my shrink, my old bosses... at least you aren't doing it because you don't trust me not to do something stupid again." He shook his head, clearing the thought and breaking eye contact.

Concerned, Nicole put her hand to Mike's face, turning it towards her. "Again? How stupid are we talking here, Mikey?"

He smiled at her, the same smile he used to give her when she had caught him doing something he knew she wasn't going to be happy about. "Very stupid. But don't worry. I'm getting smarter in my old age."

"You do something very stupid again, I go down to Hell to drag you back and do it to you myself. You hear me?" Her voice was gentle despite her words, but Mike knew the force behind them. She then smiled broadly at him. "In the meanwhile, pick a night to come over for dinner. My sisters have been on my ass to find you and bring you to the restaurant."

"Yes, ma'am."

Dimples, Nicole thought. I had almost forgotten about the dimples. "I guess I'll speak to you after the pictures come out. Meldrick's got your phone number memorized, right?"

Mike smirked. "Sort of. I've got the squadroom number, though."

"You think you can figure out the phone-tap equipment? It's pretty straightforward," Rosati asked. Mike rolled his eyes to indicate it was a stupid question. She had handed the stuff over earlier, kissing his forehead and pronouncing him a deputy agent. "Break anything and I bust you for impersonating a Fed," she had wagged her finger.

"Okay, then I'll speak to you soon." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. "Good night, Mike. I missed you."

"Me, too. 'Night." He squeezed her hand and she turned to get out of the car. Kellerman waited until he saw a light go on in what must have been her apartment before he drove off.

Once home, Nicole went to one of the bookcases and found what she was looking for. A photo album full of pictures of her with her sisters, her parents, but mostly, of, as her family had called them, Mic and Nik.

*****

"Did you know Mike Kellerman called the squadroom last week? Wanted to speak to Lewis or Rosati."

"So?"

"So? Something's going on. First Howard's back hovering around Homicide, now Kellerman wants to speak to Lewis?"

"Or Rosati. It could be just a case he's working on. He did that last year, remember? You're getting paranoid."

"I have a right to be, don't I? But what about Howard? She and Giardello haven't spoken in two years and now she's slipping into his office on a regular basis?"

"Giardello threw a shitfit last year when the bounty hunters came by. Howard's in Fugitive. She's probably running interference."

"I don't know about this."

"Look, if you start getting jumpy, someone's gonna get suspicious. Otherwise, how's anyone going to know?"

"You."

"Why on earth would I talk to them? Your secret is safe with me, so long as you keep your part of the bargain."

"He's gone, you're clear, what else do you want? I told you this would never end."

"Well, that's gonna bother you a hell of a lot more than it's gonna bother me."

*****

Time flies when you're having fun, Nikki thought as she and Lewis pored over Auto's stash of files on Cantwell. They were at Rosati's apartment, files spread out all over her living room.

"We've been at this for three hours. Either we stop now or I'm going to be reciting VIN numbers in my sleep." She was sitting on the floor, so she lay back and stretched her arms over her head.

Lewis rubbed his face with his hands. "A'ight. Wanna go to the Waterfront?"

"And help you serve drinks again?" Rosati smiled. "Thanks, but I can't. Got plans."

"Plans. You never got plans, Casper." Lewis narrowed his eyes at his partner. "These 'plans' wouldn't happen to involve a certain private investigator, now would they?"

"They would. Mike's gonna take me out on that tub of his." She shrugged off Lewis' self-satisfied grin. "He used to barf all the time on my uncle's fishing boat. I can't believe he lives on one now."

Lewis laughed. "So the two of you hookin' back up?"

"Hooking up as in hooking up? No."

Lewis laughed as he put on his hat. "See how long that lasts." Rosati stuck out her tongue at him and pushed him out the door.

Lewis drove to the Waterfront deep in thought. Before getting down to work, Rosati had finally broken down and shown her partner the photo albums. One page in particular had struck him. It had three pictures on it, the first a shot of the duo, ages seven and five, with Mike's arms around an unwilling and unhappy Nikki. The second was from Halloween a few years later and had the two dressed up as bride and groom, with Nikki looking happily at Mike and Mike looking straight at the camera, unfazed. The third was a photo Nikki's sister Lucrezia had taken before a college formal, Rosati couldn't remember whether it had been for her school or his. This one disturbed Lewis, although he'd never admit it. Dressed up in their formalwear, Mike and Nikki were posed for the camera, but they were looking only at each other. Lewis knew that look, the one that had been absent in his own wedding photos.

The whole operation is stretched tight with enough tension, Lewis chastised himself, no need to be adding jealousy to the mix. Howard, Gee, and Russert treated each other with varying degrees of thinly disguised anger and disgust. Then there was the fragile peace he had struck with Kellerman, where sometimes they acted like nothing had ever happened and sometimes they acted like nothing had ever been resolved.

Rosati tapdanced around some and played dumb with the rest of it. So what if she was gonna end up back in Mike Kellerman's arms. Good for her. Four years without sex? Lewis shuddered as he pulled into the parking lot behind the Waterfront.

*****

Lennie Briscoe was already sitting down and looking over the menu when Munch arrived. They both knew what they were going to get -- General Tso's Chicken for Briscoe and Orange Beef for Munch -- so Briscoe was just killing time.

"Sorry I'm late," Munch said as he sat down. They were in at little place on Tenth Street and Fourth Avenue that catered to NYU students, doctors from the nearby medical facility, and single cops with no cooking skills. Tonight, there was a large group from the Physics Club of New York, but science teachers aren't a loud lot and the two detectives didn't feel like trying any place new.

"Got a call from Baltimore," Munch began after they ordered. "Rosati is in love, my former co-worker reports."

Briscoe smiled. "I know we talk about Nicole's lack of love life a lot more than we should, but I didn't realize a change in her nun-like status merited an APB from Baltimore."

"It gets better," Munch dipped a fried noodle into the duck sauce. "It turns out my old partner, you remember Mike Kellerman? Well, it seems Mikey and our Nicole were childhood sweethearts. Proms, backseats, and all. Nearly got married."

"So she went nostalgic? I thought nobody did it in a backseat over the age of seventeen..." Briscoe mused.

"Lewis doesn't think they've progressed to backseats yet, but he said it was a matter of when, not if. I think he's jealous. He said she's had dinner with Kellerman almost every other night for the past few weeks." Munch smiled. "Lewis always gets the good looking partners, but they never want to partner with him, if you know what I mean."

"Poor guy," Briscoe grinned as he moved his tea out of the way for the arriving dishes. "I'd say he should find a pretty wife to make him feel better, but I think the two of us know better."

"So does he."

*****

It had been a pleasant evening on the boat. Mike had surprised her by proving that he had actually learned to cook something more sophisticated than mac and cheese and a surprisingly warm October night had allowed them to drop anchor and sit out on the deck and talk. Apologies for falling out of touch out of the way, they were able to continue the process of catching up. It was a long conversation that had gone on, in bits and pieces, for days. War stories of marriages, anguishes, family mishaps, and life on the beat with Meldrick Lewis.

"I don't know what went on between you two, but he does feel bad for it, at least some part of it." Nicole ventured.

"I know, he told me, but I'm not sure that's enough."

"You want blood?" It wasn't an accusation.

"No. But I'm not sure I can be friends with someone I can't count on."

"You don't trust him?"

"I trust him in an alley to watch my back in a fight. It's the emotional thing. He flinched, and he's gonna flinch again."

"That's why you don't build cities on earthquake lines. You don't have to make him responsible for holding you together. You shouldn't."

"You sound like my shrink."

"Your shrink is a trained professional paid much money to be smart," Nicole tried to lighten the mood. "I'm just a cheap copy who's more interested in solving your problems than my own."

"Yeah, but you're a helluva lot better looking than my shrink." He dimpled at her. "My parents were both very impressed."

"After they got over the shock. I can't believe I agreed to help you freak them out." Mike had taken her over to dinner at his parents' home the previous week. Only knowing that Mike was bringing "a friend", Mr. and Mrs. Kellerman had been happily surprised to see Nicole.

"It was a good freaking out. Their sons don't exactly bring them happy surprises. Besides, your aunts seemed pretty shocked to see me at the restaurant again."

"True enough."

They were silent for a moment.

"Are you happy with the PI stuff? Can you do this until you retire?"

"I don't think I'll ever be able to retire on what I make doing this. I'm not even sure I'll be able to finish paying off my mortgage or my medical bills on what I make doing this. I'm gonna have to get a job as an insurance investigator or something. Maybe Gee will serve as a reference if we can pull Cantwell in."

"Work. Don't talk about work. Oh, god, what time is it?" Rosati looked at her watch. "Mike..."

"I know, you have roll call in a couple of hours." He glanced over at her wrist, his eyes flicking to her hand. "You still have that ring?"

Nicole looked at the ring on her right middle finger. A fat silver band with a single black opal. A college graduation present. "I put it on when you gave it to me and I've never taken it off. Of course, I don't need the little piece that makes the ring smaller anymore..."

"Your husband never minded, or he didn't know it was inscribed?"

"He didn't mind. Joe wasn't a jealous sort. Especially since you were half a world away." She looked at her left hand, where her wedding band sat on her middle finger. "You guys are sort of equal now." She held up both hands.

*****

"Well, I don't think Gharty's the leak." Rosati announced. She, Gee, Russert, Howard, Lewis, and Kellerman were seated around a large table in the back of La Pergola, the restaurant the Scipione clan had owned and operated for twenty years. It was a small place that did well enough to provide some income to the five sisters that had inherited the place. Gee had been surprised to know that one of his favorite local spots was in fact part-owned by one of his subordinates, although Nicole insisted she did nothing more for the place than spot in the kitchen and argue with suppliers.

The dinner dishes had long since been cleared by nieces and nephews, some of whom were old enough to remember Kellerman, and they were left alone to talk shop.

"How do you know?" Russert asked.

"There isn't a single connection I can find between him and Cantwell. And unless Gharty is hiding some secret genius that none of us know about," Rosati looked at Gee, who smiled for a split-second, "he's just not subtle enough to hide it this well. Kay's looked over everything as well, and I don't think he's capable of getting it past both of us."

Kay chortled and nodded. Even if the alternative hadn't been partnering up with Gee or Russert, she thought Rosati was a good person to work with. "Gharty's stuff read like my nephew's school reports," Kay said. "The ones where he copies it all outta the encyclopedia. If Gharty left somethin' out to cover up his trail, it'd be plain as day."

"I'm most of the way through the Auto Theft squad," Russert offered. "There's nothing so far. Only three detectives ever worked on the Cantwell case. One is retired and has been living in Corpus Christi for three years. I got an old Naval Academy friend to check his phone logs and he didn't call anywhere near Baltimore in the weeks before or after Beau was killed.

"The other is in Sex Crimes and I haven't got his files yet. The third is Falsone, and it's starting to look like Customs was being paranoid about him being the leak. He was on the wrong track for a while, looking for someone who might have been Cantwell's boss, and was happy to pick up the little guys as they came along. It was only after Felton was killed that it dawned on him that there was no other boss."

"That's Falsonie for you," Kellerman smirked, "Quick to draw a conclusion and then too damned stubborn to see that there might be more to the story." Lewis shifted uncomfortably.

"So where does this leave us?" Gee asked.

"If the leak was in Customs, there's nothin' we can do about it," Howard spat out. "'Nless you got some connections there, Megan." Russert shook her head no.

"Where are we on establishing when Cantwell himself will be in and ready to capture?" Gee turned towards Kellerman.

"His lieutenants are getting pretty antsy, so it's probably soon," Kellerman reported. "They have a shipment going out on Veterans' Day, so that might be it. Cantwell calls every other day, but he must suspect the phones are tapped, 'cause he's not saying anything useful."

"We gonna bring in QRT for this, Gee?" Lewis asked.

"If we can confirm a time and date, then yes. Otherwise, we'll be scaring Cantwell off and we might never find him again."

The conversation was interrupted by Rosati and Kellerman getting called to help bring over coffee and pastries. While the pair was getting clucked at by Nicole's aunt, Lewis spilled the beans on their joint history.

"Kellerman, you speaks Italian?" Gee had laughed aloud when Mike returned with a tray of cups and saucers. "I understand more than I can speak. My accent's pretty lousy, and I'm really rusty after all these years, but I'm functional," he shrugged. "Nik's family wouldn't let anyone speak English at home, so it was either learn or get into trouble."

"You shoulda tried it out on my sister, Mike," Kay quipped, remembering Lewis' wedding. "She woulda picked you over Bayliss for sure." Kellerman rolled his eyes and then headed back to the kitchen after he heard Lucrezia calling him and Nicole yelling that she could indeed carry the tray herself.

Megan, watching the two childhood friends dance around each other as they ferried food and drink under the watchful eye of aunt and sisters and to the amusement of the kids, smiled. "They have enough electricity between them to pay the power bill."

"Don't I know it," Lewis mumbled low enough for only Howard to hear, and while the tone surprised her, she didn't say anything.

*****

"It's improper for a good Sicilian girl to be saying such words. Especially when other members of the unit, namely the boss, can understand you." Mike Giardello was smiling. Rosati had been cursing a blue streak and even those who didn't speak Italian could guess the gist of what she was saying.

"Damned database keeps logging me out," she hissed at the computer, as if that would do anything. "I've rebooted and everything."

"Try whispering words of love to it. I've always found that to work." Mike Gee had his coat on and was obviously heading out. Sheppard called from the door and he bowed flamboyantly at the computer before departing. Rosati went back to muttering obscenities in Sicilian, a dialect suited for the task.

"You call that thing a toaster?" Falsone asked as he sat down at his desk, right next to the terminal. "I only speak kitchen Italian. If it's got to do with food, I know it."

"I'm glad to see my battle with the computer is the most interesting thing in the office right now," Rosati snarled. "Means the murder rate must be dropping."

Falsone held his hands up in surrender and got up to go sit by Stivers.

After a few more reboots, Rosati was back in business. She felt a little badly about scaring Falsone off like that, but not as badly as she was going to feel for what she had to do next.

"FI NF: Falsone, John Mario" she typed after looking around to make sure Paul was deep in conversation with Terri Stivers.

***

It had been a flash out of the blue that had come to Meldrick last night, when he and Rosati and Howard were out on Kellerman's boat, checking out the docks from a distance, but close enough to pick up the feed from the wireless microphones they had installed. Lewis had been looking over the Auto files again when he suddenly stood up.

"Falsonie's daddy was a car thief."

"It says that there?" Rosati had asked from the other end of the couch, where she had the IID files. Kellerman and Howard were out on the deck with some snooping equipment.

"Nah, nah. I remember him saying somethin' about it once, sorta offhand."

"Do you think there might be a connection between him and Cantwell?" Nicole asked. Lewis shrugged. "Is he still alive? You think we can pull a rap sheet on him?" Rosati put down Gharty's interminable report. The only thing more boring than listening to Gharty was reading his work.

"We can try. Gotta get his first name, 'tho. Junior's personnel file outta have it."

***

And so armed, Rosati was at the computer, silently urging the printer to spew forth the data before Paul worked up the courage to return to his desk.

The last page had just started when she saw Falsone out of the corner of her eye. Control-Alt-Delete she typed, grabbing the printout as the computer began to reboot. If there was something interesting, she could always reprint.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you, Falsonie," Rosati began. Paul waved his hands.

"It's all right. That computer makes everyone crazy." He tried to look at the printout. "Get very far?"

"Half a file, but the relevant stuff's at the top anyways." Rosati folded the sheets and stuffed them into her notebook. "Lewis is waiting for me..." Falsone nodded.

"Meldrick, come on. I got a hot tip on our cold case." Rosati called across the room. Mercifully, Lewis didn't look confused, but instead picked up his hat and coat. "You were on to something," she said as they headed out the door, turning back to wave at Falsone.

*****

Once in the Cavalier, Rosati opened her notebook and took out the printout.

"Whatchya got there?" Lewis was behind the wheel. Rosati had figured out that Meldrick wouldn't pout about her doing most of the driving if she let him steer about once a week.

"John Mario Falsone has six convictions of Grand Theft Auto -- he has a thing for Ferraris, two for illegal gambling, and he's currently in Hagarstown doing five for fraud," she read off. "If he has two for gambling, that means that there are probably a whole lot more that should've been caught but weren't. Wonder if he owes any money..."

Lewis nodded. "So how we goin' to tie him to Cantwell?"

"By comparing their prison records.... and realizing that were in the state pen for six months months together back in '75." Rosati furrowed her brow. "But even if we prove they knew each other, that doesn't tie Paul in."

"You don't think that's just a coincidence, do you?" Lewis took his eyes off the road to look at Rosati and she pointed for him to watch where they were going.

"It could be, but I'm not gonna bet on it," She shrugged. "Paul, Paul, Paul. What did you get yourself into? You were partnered with him for a while, Meldrick, did he seem a little... I don't know... guilty?"

After reading the printout for a while, Rosati looked up. Lewis had never answered the question. "Meldrick, where are we going?"

"Nowhere. I'm just havin' fun actually drivin' a Cavalier again. 'Specially since you don't never let me drive."

"We're in a park. If I'd known you wanted a picnic for Halloween, I'd have gotten you to stop off by the restaurant."

Lewis pulled in to the circle and parked the car. He got out and Rosati, concerned, followed him.

"This is it," he said to her without turning around. "This is where it all went wrong."

"What are you talking about, Meldrick?"

"This is where Luther Mahoney shot down his lieutenant over the fake dope we gave him." He walked across the circle. "This is where an innocent woman became the last victim of Luther Mahoney." He went off again, Rosati trailing behind. "This is where I ditched Kellerman and Stivers." He took her arm and led her towards the clearing in the trees and pointed across the water. "And that's where I beat Mahoney down. That's where I got my gun took. And that's where Kellerman shot him down because of it."

And now, for the first time since Lewis had gotten out of the car, he looked at Rosati. His eyes were wide and wild. "Why are you showing this to me, Meldrick?" She asked softly.

"I don't want you thinkin' Kellerman's some cold blooded killer, that he just shot Mahoney down like a dog."

"I don't. He told me the story. The gun was down, but he still had it. You were still standing there unarmed. That's not an execution. It's not textbook justifiable homicide, but he stood a good chance of beating voluntary manslaughter. A great chance if you helped him out as a witness."

"That's not the point, Nikki. I'm just as guilty as he is," Lewis put his hands in his pockets. "He shot him, but I might as well have. I set up the drug war. I set up the dope switch. I ran off without backup, and I got my gun took. I'm guilty as he is, and no one knows it but him.

"He took all the heat. Pembleton and Falsone put everything on him. They were ready to say that Mike shot Mahoney down in cold blood and then I put my gun in Mahoney's hand to cover up for him. And he just took it."

"Mike's a glutton for punishment. I've known that for almost thirty years. What do you want me to do about this? Bring you up on charges? Offer you absolution?"

"No," Meldrick looked relieved. "I don't have a good track record with partners. They tend to leave stuff out when they talk to me. Like Crosetti and Kellerman not botherin' to tell me that they wanted to off themselves. Like Falsone... whatever Falsone did... I don't want to do that to you. I just wanted you to know the truth."

"Well, now I know," Rosati smiled at him. "But next time you have the urge to confess, though, do me a favor and do it over a beer at the Waterfront. I can't take all these dramatics. Especially in cold weather." She put her arms around Lewis and squeezed and after a moment, he took his hands out of his coat pockets and reciprocated.

"Rosati, line two."

"Homicide, Rosati."

"Nik? Cantwell's coming in day after tomorrow. Flying in to Dulles and staying in DC until Friday. Veterans Day is the following Thursday."

"Great. That gives us about ten days to play plumber and fix the leak."

"Yeah, well hopefully we can do a better job than Lewis did when the pipe burst at the Waterfront the other year. I can tell you all about the tapes later. Come by the boat after work."

"Yeah, okay. I'll see you later. Bye."

"Play plumber?" Ballard looked at Rosati quizzically.

"Uh, yeah. There's something wrong with the pipes at the restaurant my family owns, but the guy can't come for at least a week."

"Lewis said something about you owning a restaurant. I'm sure the food is better than it is at the Waterfront." Ballard rolled her eyes in that gesture that drove Rosati crazy.

"Yeah, but my brother-in-law makes pathetic martinis. If you want anything harder than wine, I'd stick with Meldrick's place.... Speaking of, have you seen my erstwhile partner?"

"Coffee room, reading the funnies." Ballard pointed in that direction. Rosati thanked her and went off to rescue Lewis from what sounded like one of Gharty's whines.

*****

"Mike, they're chopsticks, not kebab cues. You're supposed to use them to hold the food up, not impale it with them."

"If you're not going to let me use a fork, then I'm going to eat any way I can." Rosati tried for the third time to show Kellerman how to hold the chopsticks, but was about ready to give up the fight.

Rosati had gotten out of work and, stopping to pick up some Vietnamese food, driven to the boat. After dinner, which Kellerman finished with a spoon, they went over the data Mike had picked up from the microphones.

"There's nothing about a spy in the Department," Rosati said when they were finished listening to the tapes. Kellerman shook his head. "They are still worried about the police catching on, so they probably aren't getting any inside information."

"Which means we're either doing our job and the leak doesn't know, or the leak isn't a leak anymore," Rosati sighed. Kellerman agreed. "Both of which should cheer us up, but neither of which helps."

"Lewis tell you about Falsone?" Rosati asked. Kellerman nodded.

"Meldrick said something about there being a tie between Falsone's father and Cantwell. You get anywhere on it?"

"John Falsone and Cantwell did time in the state pen together in '75, both for grand theft auto. They were in the same block, but different cells. I don't know whether car jockeys talk shop in the pen... You learn anything in your stint in Auto?"

Kellerman shrugged. "It was only three months. Was Cantwell just stealing cars back then, or was he already in business for himself?"

"He was selling them to chop shops and used car dealers, it looks like. Nothing fancy, just one at a time.... If you're getting up, mind making tea?"

Kellerman hadn't been getting up, just leaning over, but he did stand up and head for the galley. With Nikki back in his life, Mike's kitchen was acquiring new items, like a teapot and a flour tin. "Your bachelor pad's gettin' domesticated," Lewis had snickered.

"Papa Falsone is strictly small time, you said, right?" Kellerman asked from the galley. Nicole confirmed. "He and Cantwell might have hooked up if Cantwell wanted to get into the middleman business. Sell the cars for Falsone and then take a commission..."

"But we are still back to the same problem. How do we tie Paul Falsone into this?" Rosati got up to stretch and then walked over to the counter that overlooked the galley. "Dad wouldn't sell Junior out, would he?"

"Depends. Did he owe money?" Kellerman reached for his new teakettle with his new potholder ("I'm not boiling water for tea in a six quart stock pot, Mike, and I'm not using my shirttails to pick up the pan.")

"Two gambling convictions. Probably owes something to someone. If he had any luck, he wouldn't have this long a rap sheet." Nicole leaned over the counter and tousled Mike's hair.

"What?"

"Nothing, it was there, that's all." He gave her a crooked look. "Whatever."

"Meldrick can go bother some loan sharks tomorrow, see if anyone was holding IOU's from Falsone Senior a while back. Could Paul have given him the money?"

"You haven't obviously hung out with Falsonie," Kellerman laughed. "Guy's cheaper than a three dollar suit."

"There's cheap and there's cheap, Mike. It's one thing not to buy your partner a sandwich. It's another to let your dad's kneecaps get busted."

"Falsone's may be a cheapskate because he's thrifty, but he's also broke. He's divorced and his ex has custody of their kid," Mike explained. "That happened before Felton was killed. Since then, he's spent money on lawyers trying to get custody of his son."

"Maybe it was Junior who needed the money, then," Rosati wondered. "Is there anything on Cantwell's rap sheet that indicated he ran his own personal savings and loan operation?"

"No, it's all auto theft, dealing in stolen property, and a few assaults. That doesn't mean anything. Wait until we see what Lewis digs up." Kellerman pulled the milk out of the fridge and poured the tea.

They took their tea back to the couch and looked over the files for a while longer. Eventually, Kellerman told Rosati to either go home and crash or borrow a t-shirt to sleep in and he'd unfold the bed because she wasn't being of much use anymore. Rosati opted for the former, although not before giving serious consideration to the latter.

*****

"Howard. Fugitive."

"Kay, it's Megan. I've got something, I think."

"Yeah?" Kay waved away a detective who was coming to bother her about supplies. "Not My Job" she mouthed and pointed towards the shift secretary.

"The guy who was handling the Cantwell case before Falsone, Prescott, was investigated for bribery by IID back in '94," Russert reported. "They couldn't prove anything, but they think it's because he covered his tracks so well. Anyway, they got him transferred to Evidence Control a year later and then he was rotated into Sex Crimes."

"Well, well, well." Kay smiled. "I always knew there was somethin' not right with the guy. So how do we get some evidence?"

"No idea. I don't know anyone in IID." Russert tailed off.

"It's not like they can tell their asses from their elbows anyways," Howard snorted. "I've got a few guys from Auto here. They might know somethin', and I might be able to pull it outta them without setting off fire bells."

"All right. Also see what Al, Lewis, and Kellerman have to say. They might know about rumors of bribery. I had already been... demoted, so I don't have any special insight."

"Yeah, I'll go upstairs later. Thanks for the info," Howard said, ending the call. "Hey Sivachi! C'mere for a second!"

"Yeah, Sarge?" Augie Sivachi waddled over.

"You did Auto before this, right?" Kay asked. "You ever work with Jake Prescott?"

Sivachi made a face like he had smelled something awful. "Jake the Snake? Unfortunately. Guy's greasier than a bacon cheeseburger from Jimmy's. Why?"

"Rotation's coming up soon and he wants outta Sex Crimes," Kay shrugged. "Fugitive's not up for gettin' anyone rotated in, so we can decide if we want him or not."

"We don't want him," Sivachi shuddered. "Speakin' between you and me, here," Sivachi looked around to see who was within earshot. No one was. "As bad as things were in Arson a coupla years ago, they ain't got nothin' on Jake Prescott's stint in Auto. If the Rolands had been into car theft, he'd've been on their payroll, too. Least he ain't got anybody to take money from in Sex Crimes."

"He took money in Auto?" Kay whispered, sounding shocked.

"IID was on him, but as usual, they're too damned stupid to get it right."

"You know who?" Kay asked conspiratorially. "Just 'tween us, of course."

"Wish I did," Sivachi shook his head sadly. "I woulda told IID if I knew. Cops don't rat out, but Prescott...he ain't one of us."

"Thanks," Howard smiled. "And don't worry. We never had this conversation." Sivachi smiled gratefully and padded back to his desk.

*****

"Gharty!" Gee called for the second time.

"Coming, coming," Stu whined to himself. "Just because I don't hop and skip like Laura doesn't mean I'm not on my way."

"Close the door," Gee said as Gharty entered. "And sit down."

Gharty looked concerned. He didn't want a lecture on his work habits slipping. He'd gotten one of those last month.

"Stu, I need to ask you a very delicate question," Giardello intoned. Gharty nodded. Not in trouble this time. "When you were with IID, did you know of any investigations into bribery within the Auto Theft squad? Something akin to what Arson went through?"

"Ahhh.. Nothing that large scale," Gharty finally said. Telling tales out of IID wasn't a good idea, but if it kept Gee off his back for a while... "Let's just say that the Cantwell investigation wasn't the first of its kind."

"Was Jacob Prescott involved?" Gee frowned. "He's one of the candidates to replace Bayliss, and I'd like to know what I'm in for."

"After Kellerman, I can understand that," Gharty smiled chummily, misreading Gee's small smile. "Prescott was always being investigated. He's corrupt by nature, it's just a matter of whether he's acting according to it at any given moment. We thought he was the leak to Cantwell for a while, even."

"But no longer?"

"We had nothing on him there. Prescott had solicited bribes before, nothing we could prove, but always to higher rollers than Jerry Cantwell. Cantwell ran a very bottom-line business. Very little overhead. It was quite well-run, actually. We figured Cantwell would prefer a cheaper, more reliable source than Jake Prescott. But we never came up with any better candidates. Falsone was the most likely suspect after him, but mostly because he took over the case from Prescott. If it was Jake Prescott, and it might have been, he could have still been running information to Cantwell from Evidence Control. Is he still there now?"

"No. He's been in Sex Crimes since the first rotation. He's driving Lieutenant Devlin crazy there, which is why Devlin's trying to foist him on me." Gee frowned again.

"Well, considering what happened with Kellerman, I'd stay away from Prescott if you have any say about it." Gharty suggested. "Did you want anything else, Gee?"

"No, that was it," Gee said and Gharty got up to leave. "How is the Funder case going?"

Gharty cursed to himself. "Slow but sure. The autopsy came back from the ME's yesterday. Ballard and I have our work cut out for us." Gharty had no idea where to start on the Funder case. It was so stone-cold, God himself didn't even know who had done it.

Gee smiled. "Good. I'm glad to see things are going well."

*****

"Let's go, Casper. We got a call." Lewis poked his head into the coffee room. He already had on his coat and motioned to Rosati with his hat.

"Rene, save that article for me?" Nicole asked as she got up. "Thanks."

"That another of those women's magazine things you readin'," Lewis asked once they were in the car. "'How to improve your sex drive'? 'Fifteen toys that will make him scream for more'? I don't know why you read those things. You ain't got a sex drive."

"It was about basketball, thanks much.... What makes you think I don't have any interest in sex?" Rosati asked as she pulled out of the prectinct garage. "Just because I'm not having sex with you?"

"You ain't havin' sex with anyone, Casper," Lewis replied. "You live like a monk."

"What if I told you I stayed over at Kellerman's last night?" Nicole wondered. "In his bed."

"I'd say you were lyin', 'cause I spoke to Mike last night," Meldrick smiled. "And I know what he sounds like when he got a girl waitin' for him."

"Spoilsport," Nicole laughed. "Where are we going?" Lewis read off the address.

"How much did your sources know about loan sharks and car thiefs?" Rosati changed the topic.

"Papa Falsone didn't have any running acounts with the major sharks, but I got someone asking around the smaller fishies," Lewis reported. "What about Prescott? Gee and Howard seemed pretty sure it was him."

"I dunno. It sounds too perfect, you know?" Rosati said as she parked the car. "Guy's crooked. Guy was handling the case, and although there's nothing to tie him to being the leak, it still seems like a fit. But. IID may be a bunch of navel-gazers, but even they are occasionally right about things."

"You always gotta look for the hard way, don't you?" Lewis muttered.

"I just don't want to screw this up, that's all... Dr. Scheiner, how are you this lovely and blustery day?"

"Cold. But not as cold as your new friend here, Rosati." Scheiner waited while Lewis and Rosati poked around at the gunshot victim. Lewis couldn't understand how his partner could derive such joy from talking to the M.E., but she always had a smile on when he was around. ("He's cute," she had told Lewis once. "He's cute? Cute? Good thing you a monk, Casper, your taste in men leaves somethin' to be desired.") Lewis, who was the primary on the case, released the body to Scheiner and the two detectives spent the next hour talking to the three witnesses.

When they got back to the squadroom, there was a message for Rosati to call Kellerman and a message for Lewis to visit someone named St. Martin. Lewis went off, not giving Nicole an explanation. Rosati called Kellerman.

"Mikey, wassup?"

"Confirmation on Cantwell's travel plans. He's coming by Friday afternoon to take a look at the first of the vehicles."

"Great. Hear anything from Kay or Russert about the leak?" Nicole spoke quietly with Ballard and Gharty at their desks reading and the rest of the office not making much noise.

"You got dueling suspects, still." Kellerman reported. "Russert's trying to see if she can get bank records for Prescott around the time of Felton's murder, see if there was a payoff."

"She can do that? Who is she working for, anyways?" Rosati wondered. Back when she was working full-time for the CIA, she couldn't have pulled bank records for a personal mission without serious help from her supervisors. Nicole doubted whomever Russert was employed by had any vested interest in putting Cantwell away.

"You're impressed? Guess it's not CIA, then," Kellerman laughed. "I don't know. Ask her."

"That's impolite. It's also dangerous."

"I don't think Russert's gonna get you whacked for asking."

"It's still impolite. You don't talk about this sort of stuff."

"Whatever. We on for dinner tonight?" Kellerman asked. "Something involving forks and knives?"

"Sure, your choice. I'll get by when I can. Meldrick and I just picked up a case."

*****

"I'm getting nervous."

"So? I told you not to worry."

"There's something going on. Rosati and Lewis have been out of the squadroom too often. Her clearance rate is high and she's bringing Lewis up with her. They can't be doing casework. And they've been going down to Fugitive."

"So maybe they're doing something with Fugitive. It's happened before. Just ask them if you're so terrified. You're a detective, you should know what Lewis looks like when he's lying."

"But they'll know I'm watching them. I have no reason to be watching them if I'm not guilty of something."

"Pretend you have the hots for Rosati, that seems to always work. I don't know. Just stop getting so jumpy."

"How come you're so calm?"

"I wasn't stupid like you were."

*****

"You're gonna barbeque in this weather?"

"Why not? I'll be standing over the grill. You can hide indoors if you want," Kellerman massaged the pinkish marlin steak from below, making it look like it was still quivering flesh. "I don't want to open the windows and the place will smell like fish for a week if I don't."

"Stop that. It's disgusting," Rosati swatted him on the arm. "I'll make a salad."

Kellerman put the fish down on the platter. The galley was cramped quarters for two people to work in simultaneously, but neither of them seemed to mind the proximity. The silence was broken up by Rosati yelping.

"What did you do?" He turned around. Nicole had a hand over her eye.

"Lemon juice," she replied, blinking the juice out of her eye. Kellerman reached over to pry her hand away and look at her eye. It was turning into one of those awkward intimate moments they were both actively seeking to avoid until they knew where they stood with each other. Casual closeness was one thing, but buttoned up against the fridge in the galley was a different matter...

"You'll live. I'll go light the grill," Mike said, putting his hands on her shoulders as he passed by.

While Kellerman was outside, the phone rang. Nicole spoke to Mrs. Kellerman for a few minutes before taking the cordless outside to Mike. No sooner had she gotten back inside and slid the door closed than another ringing sounded. Rosati found the offending equipment in the inside pocket of Mike's leather jacket.

"Case Closed Investigations," Rosati answered into the celular phone, once she figured out how to turn it on.

"What, you answerin' Kellerman's work number, too?" A familiar voice asked.

"Buzz off, Meldrick. Mike's talking to his mom on the other phone."

Meldrick giggled. "Got some news about a Bank of Cantwell."

"There is one?" Rosati asked.

"It seems Mr. Cantwell was not above helpin' out some friends in need, as long as they could pay him back," Lewis fairly chirped. "One Ferrari at a time."

"So Falsone and Cantwell were working together?"

"Sort of. Nothing formal that woulda tripped up the Auto guys," Lewis said. "He'd been doin' odd jobs for Cantwell for the past twenty years. A little stealin', a little scoutin', a little travelin' to other states lookin' for used car dealers, that sorta thing. Not connected tight enough for anyone in Auto to figure it out, except if Junior knew and didn't want to turn in his dad, but those in the know say the two were regular business partners."

"So Cantwell would have lent our boy Gianni some cash if he needed it?" Kellerman walked into the cabin and looked questioningly at Nicole. She pointed at the Cantwell files piled in a box on the floor and Mike nodded.

"Only once. My friend here says that Falsone rang up a fifteen grand debt during one craps game," Lewis chuckled at this, "and needed help payin' it off before they came after him. Cantwell gave him the money. Told him to work it off in cars."

"Did he?"

"He did, but not in cars. Seems Papa Falsone wasn't as spry as he used to be, car jockeying bein' a young man's game and all, and was runnin' behind in the payments. Cantwell was about ready to make him mortgage the house or something when all of a sudden, all's right 'tween them," Lewis finished.

"And let me guess. All of a sudden happened to be about May '97, right?" Nicole asked.

"Knew that Ph.D was good for something," Rosati could hear Lewis smiling into the phone.

"So this goes back to the same problem we've had all along. We have nothing to tie Junior to Cantwell."

"Unless we go to Hagarstown and just ask him."

"Well, talk to Gee in the morning and we'll see." Rosati suggested. The two chatted for another moment and then hung up. Rosati updated Kellerman on the conversation as she went back to the salad.

*****

Detective/Sargeant Kay Howard, Baltimore City Police, turned in her service weapon at the proper checkpoint. It felt weird being without the comforting weight of the Glock, but there were enough corrections officers around for a convention, so it wasn't fear.

She went into a private interview room with two CO's and waited until John Falsone was brought in, cuffed, accompanied by two more hacks. Kay could see how much Paul looked like his father, same build, same beady eyes, same nose, but Mrs. Falsone had obviously contributed something to her son's genetic makeup that prevented John Falsone's heaviness of jaw from dominating his son's visage.

"I want a lawyer."

Kay sighed. "You're not being charged with anything, Mr. Falsone. There's no need for a lawyer."

"What do you want?"

"I want to know if the name Beau Felton means anything to you." The flash in his eyes confirmed it did, no matter what he said next.

"Never heard of him. Who was he?"

"You know he was a was, not an is, Mr. Falsone?" Kay tried to think of the last time she had used 'mister' with a suspect, and failed. But not every suspect was a fellow cop's father and not every suspect held the clues to her partner's murder. "Can we cut the crap before it starts? Felton was Cantwell's lieutenant for a while, right? You either worked with him, worked for him, or you were pissed off 'cause he took your job."

Falsone said nothing, but he didn't look like he was going to deny it.

"You can either play along, or you can get hurt, Mr. Falsone. Cantwell can't get you in here, but I sure as hell can. I got you, and I got your son by the balls back home. Your choice."

Falsone nodded, looking a little surprised when Paul was mentioned.

"Do you know who Felton was?" Kay was casual again, but her heart was screaming. My partner. My friend. A father, three times over. Someone's lover. Someone's son.

"A cop." The words came quietly.

"That's right. A cop. A detective. How did you know?"

"How do you think?" Falsone's bravado was gone now. Kay knew what had happened before the story came out, but not how. And it was the how that hurt the most. After the story was finished, Kay told John Mario Falsone that he was going to be needing that lawyer. And then she walked out of the room, back to pick up her weapon, and barely made it back to her car before breaking down in sobs so strong she couldn't breathe.

It took Kay half an hour to calm down enough to start the car and drive. When she made it back to Baltimore, all she wanted to do was talk to someone who had known Beau. Lewis was neither at the Waterfront nor at home, and Kay really didn't feel like talking to either Giardello or Russert. So she went home and pulled out her address book.

"Munch." He probably thinks it's a call from work, Kay thought for a moment.

"John? It's Kay."

"Kay? What's the matter?"

"I found out how Beau got killed."

"Rosati said that you were getting close. How'd it happen?"

The story came out in a flood, complete with gasps for air and a choked whimper. And when Kay finally wore down, Munch did something that very few people would believe him capable of. He said the right things at the right time. By the end of their conversation, and it became a conversation, Kay was laughing as Munch recounted some of Beau Felton's more bizarre moments, some that Kay had been witness to, some that had gone on in the murkiness that was the rest of the squadroom when the only woman wasn't around.

"Do you remember the time that he gave you that silk scarf, the paisley printed one?" Munch asked.

"Of course I do," Kay chortled. "Only silk scarf I ever owned. It's sittin' in the drawer with my slips and nylons and other stuff I can't wear to work. Why?"

"Beau must have spent hours going through the catalog before he settled on that one. Surveyed Crosetti, Bolander, even me to see if we would have bought it for our wives."

"Would you have?"

"No. None of us would have. That's why Felton picked it. We were all divorced and he figured that there was a reason for it. If it was too nice for our then-wives, it was perfect."

"For his partner?" Kay sounded surprised. Beau Felton's generous side was familiar to her, but Felton had known her well enough to demonstrate that generosity with things she would appreciate, like a lead on a cold case or a spontaneous lunch out at a good seafood joint. The scarf had been an oddity.

"No, for Russert," Munch laughed. "He wanted to get a nice present for Megan, it was some sort of anniversary or something. But he couldn't get it home, for obvious reasons, so he had it delivered to Lewis' place."

"Figures," Kay shook her head. "So how'd I end up with it?"

"Meldrick brings in the package when it comes," Munch recalled, laughter evident in his voice, "and we all ooh and aah over the scarf, like a squadroom full of divorced, single, and unfaithful men should know a Chinese silk scarf from a strip of toilet paper. And then his wife walks in. Felton had forgotten to bring the shoes he wanted to get re-soled with him to work that morning and Beth decided she'd be nice and bring them to him before she went to pick Zack up from her mom's."

"So Beau, genius that he was, tells Beth the scarf was for me?" Kay was snickering. "Thinkin' that Beth would actually believe that I wanted a silk scarf? She knew me better than that."

"Well, Beth didn't look like she bought the story, but then Lewis starts this tall tale about you having a hot date with the Assistant State's Attorney and needing to look like you actually dressed like a real lady..."

"That's Meldrick, shootin' Peter in the ass to save Paul," Kay said. "But I wasn't datin' Danvers then."

"Lewis may look like murder police, but he has the soul of a prophet," Munch shrugged. "Anyways, Beth seems to buy the story of you asking Beau for fashion advice, although she gives Felton grief for never buying her anything that nice on the spur of the moment. So that's how you got the scarf and Russert ended up with a velvet jewelry box."

They talked for a while longer before Kay accidently yawned into the phone. Munch cracked that now he was no longer homesick since he still had Sargeant Howard yawning at his stories. They agreed to talk soon and Kay even pushed Munch about coming down to visit after the case was wound up.

"John, before you go. Thanks. Thanks for letting me cry and scream at you."

"I should thank you. I'm honored and touched that you'd think of me as someone to lean on."

Howard fell into an exhausted sleep that night. Munch drifted off eventually, not caring that the alarm would be going off way too soon. And in his cell, John Mario Falsone didn't sleep at all.

*****

The squadroom was full of speculation. Gee had marched out of his office with his coat on, barely breaking stride when calling out that he'd be back shortly. Gee rarely left the office, certainly not to leave the building, and he almost always let people know where to find him.

The suggestions ranged from the possible to the ludicrous. It couldn't have been a family problem, since Mike Giardello was among those guessing. It couldn't be a case, since all of the detectives except for Stivers, who was in court, were present and accounted for. No one wanted to say out loud what almost everyone was thinking, that a former member of the unit, be it Bayliss or Pembleton or someone from before most of them were around, could be in trouble.

Rosati and Lewis played stupid like the rest of them, but they knew the reason. Howard had called Lewis before he had left for work in the morning and Lewis had driven straight to Rosati's and the two had driven over to Mike's boat. They knew it had been a call from Kay that had sent Gee running. Kellerman had been charged with calling Russert and god knows what her reaction would be.

The bleating of the phone quelled the rumor mill, exchanging it for a debate as to who exactly was up for the call. Eventually, Falsone lost the battle and headed out alone. The rest of the squad fell back to work.

*****

"Something's up. Giardello just ran out of the office like a bat outta hell."

"It could be anything. Did Rosati and Lewis go with him?"

"No."

"Then what are you concerned about?"

"I just am."

"You're getting on my nerves. I have to go now. We'll talk later."

*****

Gee returned to the office more than an hour later. His coat was draped over his arm, which probably meant that he had stopped somewhere first.

Rosati watched him carefully. She didn't know how he would react, how any of them would. This case was almost like any other case for her, but for no one else involved. Nicole hadn't known Felton, hadn't been there when first the suicide came in and then was changed to murder, and had had very few dealings with Falsone.

Nothing happened for a few hours. Lewis conned Sheppard and Mike Gee into picking up his and Rosati's report as well as their own while she was at the morgue, Gharty and Ballard were in and out working on cases, and Rosati herself went off to Vice to see if one of the detectives there could help her out with a suspect. Stivers got back to a nearly empty squadroom, with only Lewis and the returned Falsone at their desks.

When Rosati got back, she and Lewis were called into Gee's office. Gee had barked at them this morning about how they had handled a case involving a state assemblyman's nephew, and Stivers remarked that they were probably getting their rectums re-arranged once again.

"Gee's not shouting, though," Falsone replied. "He usually can be heard in Delaware when he's pissed about a case."

"Not when he's really teed off," Stivers reminded him. "Then he gets real quiet and sarcastic. That's when you know you're really in trouble. It's a case with a politician. Barnfather's probably on his ass."

"Gaffney was in for an hour this morning," Falsone allowed. "That's enough to put anyone in a foul mood."

The two weren't in for very long and both came out looking like whipped puppies. Stivers and Falsone exchanged a knowing look and then headed in to the coffee room so that Falsone could update Stivers on the case he had caught this morning without disturbing the somber gloom that seemed to envelop Rosati and Lewis.

They had been discussing the case for a while when Gharty walked into the coffee room, cheeks still flushed from the cold.

"There you are. Falsone, Lewis is looking for you. Wants to ask you something about a case you two had worked on together a couple of years ago." Gharty poured himself a cup of coffee. "I'm so cold, this stuff seems like the finest brew in the world," he muttered.

Falsone leaned back and stuck his head into the squadroom. He didn't see Lewis, just Rosati standing at her desk, obviously looking for something. "Where is he?" He asked Gharty.

"Box. He and Rosati moved in there when Ballard and I got back. Something about wanting absolute silence. They get ripped by Gee again?"

Stivers nodded. "Came out of his office looking like they'd just been told there's no Santa Claus."

"Lewis say which case he needed me for?" Falsone got up.

"No," Gharty said as he sniffed the milk to see if it was still good. "Just that it was an old one. The assemblyman's nephew stabbed someone with a letter opener, right? Maybe that'll help."

"Didn't work on any letter openers with Lewis," Falsone shook his head. "Just drug dealers and hangings."

Gharty followed Falsone back into the squadroom and went back to his desk. Stivers collected the files on the coffee room table and went back to her own.

*****

Falsone wasn't nervous as he entered the box. Not really. It was probably something else.

Lewis was sitting with his back to the door and looked over his shoulder when he heard the door open. "Hey, Falsonie. Sit down and gimme a hand here?"

"Sure, Meldrick, what's up?" Falsone walked towards the table. The place was looking very neat if it was being used as a camping ground for two bullwhipped detectives. The combined surface of Lewis and Rosati's desks was usually awash in papers when they were deep into a case. When he was partnered with Lewis, Falsone had always wondered how Kellerman could put up with Meldrick's lack of concern about neatness, but Rosati only seemed to feed that disregard.

Lewis was reading a file and had a yellow notepad. The other side of the desk, presumably where Rosati had been working, was empty. Falsone sat down. "Where did Rosati run off to?"

"Right here, Paul," Nicole came through the door and closed it by kicking her foot behind her. She wasn't carrying anything. That's where Falsone got worried.

"We gotta talk about something, Falsonie," Lewis said. Meldrick put down the file and spun it around for Falsone to see. The Cantwell case. Falsone's heart sank.

"You want a lawyer?" Rosati asked gently. "We can get one of the union hacks down here pretty quick."

Falsone shook his head no. "How did you know?"

"You told me once about your daddy and cars," Lewis said. "We kinda went from there. Cantwell's back in town and we're gonna pick him up on Thursday. It all came together just now, tho'."

Falsone nodded again.

"You want to do the whole story now out loud first, or you just want to write it down?" Rosati asked.

"It was an accident. A fucking accident," Falsone began, angry at himself.

"My father calls me up one day, tells me he's in trouble, money trouble, and to come down to the docks. I go because he sounds scared, and my dad's never scared. I get there and he's there with Cantwell," Falsone shook his head disbelievingly. "I had been working on that case for a month already and there's my dad working for him. Cantwell explains that Dad's deep in debt to him and that if he doesn't start paying off some of it, bad things are going to happen.

"I tell him I'm broke. I mean, I'm a cop, we make nothing. And I've gotta give a good chunk of that nothing to Janine for alimony and child support. He tells me that he can fix that. Pay off Dad's debt, plus a little extra for me once the debt is paid off.

"I tell him my badge isn't for sale. I'm not gonna be dirty for him. The Arson shit is still fresh in everyone's mind and I'd have to have been a bigger idiot than I am to start taking money before Pires and the rest are even sentenced.

"He says that's a shame, 'cause I'm gonna have to come up with the money somehow, then. I tell him I'll find a way. I'm thinking a second job, getting my father some legitimate work for once in his life, sell the car, whatever. I don't like my dad too much, but I'm not gonna let Cantwell hurt him. Even if he deserves it.

"And Dad and I are walking back to the car and I'm telling him what he's gonna have to do and I see Felton walking by us. We had worked together on a case once, back when I had first made detective. And before I even think about it, I say Hi. Felton looks at me like I'm a space alien and asks if he knows me, but I can see in his eyes he's scared. I say that he looks like someone I once knew and he cracks some joke about all Billytown boys looking alike.

"My dad doesn't say anything, he didn't even look interested, so I don't tell him to shut up. If he missed it, there's no point in making him see, right?" The words are tumbling out now, but Falsone looks at Rosati and Lewis for reassurance. They offer none.

"A week later, I get a call from my dad again. He says that everything's been worked out. I ask him what he did to even up the debt and he tells me not to worry about it. I ask him if he got the money gambling and he doesn't say no, and we have another fight about him and the craps and the ponies.

"I don't think about it again until Felton gets killed. And then I worry. Dad was in Hagarstown by now and I go and see him. Dad won't look me in the eye, won't say anything except ask about Daniel."

Falsone took a deep breath, running his fingers through his hair. "That's I was so anxious to prove that Felton had done himself in. I wanted something to have happened so that I could know that I didn't get him killed. And then I found out that he was working undercover. I couldn't believe it. I wanted there to be another leak somewhere, something, anything so that it wasn't my fault that another cop got killed."

"But there wasn't," Rosati stated.

"There wasn't," Falsone agreed. "I got him killed. A freak thing. An accident. Had I not turned in that direction, had I come by five minutes later, had any of a million different things happened differently than they did, Beau Felton is still alive. And I blame myself for it. Not my dad, who's never put anyone else before him before and wasn't going to start with the guy who had taken his place as Cantwell's pet, but me. As far as my father was concerned, Felton was manna from heaven. A chance to save his own ass and get his job back in the bargain."

"If you had known that Felton was working under cover, would you have told someone who could have pulled him out before he got hurt? Or would you have hidden so that no one knew you had blown the case?" Rosati was standing behind Falsone, in a pose that she didn't know was an exact mimic of how Frank Pembleton used to stand.

"I would have said something," Falsone said after a pause. "Certainly after my dad suddenly was square with Cantwell again. I would have offered to help out, pretended I was dirty for Cantwell, I don't know."

"More glory for you or more safety for Felton?" Rosati wondered aloud.

"Both, I guess. I'm ambitious. I know that. It gets people pissed at me and it got me into even further trouble."

"What trouble?" Lewis asked.

"I need to get something," Falsone said. "Not a gun, don't worry. But I need you to know the whole truth. This can't be like the Mahoney shoot, Meldrick. The lies gotta end somewhere."

*****

Rosati went with Falsone back to his home for a safe deposit key and then to a local bank. Falsone came out of the vault with a yellow envelope. As they drove back to the station, Nicole saw Kellerman's car parked nearby. She wondered how long he had been there.

Kellerman had, in fact, arrived with a still-distraught Megan Russert halfway though Falsone's monologue. They went into the squadroom and looked around when they didn't see Falsone, Lewis, or Rosati. Gharty waved to them from the observation room doorway and they headed in that direction. If Ballard was surprised to see Kellerman, whom she hated, or Russert, whom she didn't know, she didn't say anything. Sheppard and Mike Giardello looked up from where they were quietly discussing the secret goings on with Ballard, but only Sheppard said Hello. Stivers, to Kellerman's relief, was not in the room.

Stivers had just returned from the ladies room when she saw Falsone and Rosati go back into the Box. Ballard waved her over and the four detectives continued to try and figure out what was happening. Sheppard recognized Russert and Stivers' eyebrows shot up when Rene told her that Kellerman had escorted her into the observation room, which was probably a little crowded with Gharty, Gee, and Kay Howard already there.

*****

"What's in the envelope, Falsone?" Lewis asked.

"Go get the tape recorder, you'll hear in a minute," he replied.

The tape recorder was brought over from the auxiliary table and Falsone pulled a tape out of the envelope. There were several in there and he checked to make sure that this was the one he wanted.

The tape began with some random bits of conversation, obviously from the squadroom. Bayliss and Pembleton could be heard bitching at each other about how to proceed with a suspect. Lewis laughed as the two partners went at it in vintage form, slowly fading into the background as Ballard's voice could be heard clearly, complaining about there being no skim milk. Someone, sounding like Gharty, mumbled something in response.

The tape recorder was obviously being walked around the room. Kellerman's voice was next, and he and Munch were discussing the Orioles and laughing over how pathetic they were and wondering whether Davey Johnson would do better at second base than the guy they had now. Lewis heard himself yelling to Falsone to come over and sign the report that he had so painstakingly prepared and Falsone getting on him for taking months to do it.

His voice got louder and was quite close to the microphone when Falsone was speaking, so it was being recorded from somewhere on Falsone's person. Lewis hit the stop button.

"Why were you taping everyone?" he asked.

"I wanted to try a tape recorder when interviewing witnesses, but I knew they'd freak," Falsone shrugged. "So I got a little one that could fit in my pocket and I wanted to see how well it worked. I ended up getting something interesting."

Lewis' eyebrows shot up, knowing exactly what Falsone's little obsession had been that year, but didn't stop him from pressing play again.

The chatter from the squadroom continued for another moment, but then Falsone picked up a case and he left. There was then a jump to the middle of a conversation.

***

"What do you want from me?"

"It's very simple, partner. You finish the job. Take down the little fair-haired boy. Him alone. No outs, no accomplices, no witnesses, no nothing. Take him down. And then I'll forget what I heard."

"Until the next time, right?"

"Do this correctly and there won't be a next time. I'm not looking for you to dirty your shiny little badge... I don't need that. Not from you."

"And if I don't?"

"Then you'll be feeling it in the family department, if you understand. And the bosses down at the pier will be getting an interesting letter."

"What happens if it gets taken out of my hands? I'm just a runt from Auto Theft. What if they catch on?"

"You're persistent, and they like that. Besides, we're partners, you and I. I'd never let anything bad happen to you, all right?"

***

Rosati reached over and pressed stop. Both she and Lewis recognized the other voice.

"When is this from?" she asked.

"October of '97," Falsone said. "About three weeks after everyone rotated back into Homicide. Just after Georgia Rae got out of jail."

"What's she talking about?" Rosati was now leaning on the table next to Falsone.

"Kellerman. That was the deal. I put the Luther Mahoney shoot solely on Kellerman's head and she forgot she heard about me and Cantwell as soon as the BCPD forgot about anyone named Mahoney."

Lewis had been frozen since the tape began. He had an inkling of what it was about, but Falsone had just confirmed it. "How did Stivers know about you and Cantwell?" he finally asked.

"She was rotated into Sex Crimes at the same time as Jake Prescott. The two of them were partners on a few cases and Prescott got royally drunk one night and told her that I had gotten Felton killed. You already know how Prescott knew, right?"

They did. Jake Prescott had been the leak to Cantwell. Prescott hadn't known who Felton was until afterwards, so there was no way that he had been responsible for the latter's death, but Prescott had been feeding Cantwell info on stings almost since he had gotten the case from Tony Pilsner. Prescott had confirmed all that and more in hopes of getting a plea bargain from the SA's office.

"Why did Stivers want everything going down on Kellerman?" Rosati asked.

"She figured that Kellerman would take it all and not rat on either her or Lewis. Only cared about herself, though. Terri called him 'Sir Michael'," Falsone shook his head bitterly and looked at Lewis. "She was pretty sure that you wouldn't help out Kellerman. You wouldn't pin anything on him, but you'd let him flail. You two had been uncomfortable since the shoot, Stivers said, and she had won you over and convinced you that it was all Mike's fault."

Falsone shook his head. "And she was right, down to the letter. You said she was clean, but you wouldn't take any of the blame yourself and you wouldn't clear Kellerman. I knew what you had done to start the drug war again, fuck, I helped you do it! But you left Mike alone on the shooting.

"Pembleton didn't want to know about the rest of it. He just wanted to know what happened with Luther Mahoney. All he wanted was someone to blame for Tim being shot. He put it on himself, but not the whole thing. He froze, he told me after we finished with Kellerman, but he wanted to know who was responsible for putting him in that position in the first place. Not why, just who.

"And I let him just focus on the who and the what, because the why would have led him to you, Meldrick, and to Stivers. Had it been Bayliss in there with Frank instead of me, all three of you would have gone down. Tim likes the why and he would have worked it out of you. But I couldn't let Frank think about the why. I made sure I wasn't the balance that he had with Bayliss.

"And it was so fucking easy," Falsone laughed mirthlessly. "Kellerman took it all and asked for more. He was so screwed up! Stivers had convinced you that Mike was the only guilty party, and you convinced Kellerman. Sure, I was harping on him, but all that mattered was you, Meldrick. You convinced him that it was all his fault and it was your opinion that counted."

Lewis was pale as a ghost and didn't say anything. Rosati, who had walked to the observation mirror and turned so that her back rested against it, seeing her partner look like he was about to faint, wondered how Mike was handling the revelations, now walked towards Falsone.

"I read the reports, Falsone. All of them. Stivers was facing conspiracy after the fact and filing a false police report. Maybe a zealous prosecutor tries for obstruction of justice, maybe not. Maybe she loses her badge, but maybe she doesn't.

"Stivers is a smart woman. She could have simply told the ASA that she was threatened by Lewis and Kellerman, that Mike killed one man without warning, what's a small little lady like her supposed to think? She could have walked away with nothing more than a couple of letters in her file and very little chance of making sargeant. Why did she blackmail you?"

Falsone laughed. "Because she fucked up as much as the two of them did. She was planning on letting Luther escape, just to get him out of Baltimore and out of our hair. I could have never proven it, but I had enough circumstantial evidence to make it damned hard for her to play Little Miss Innocent."

"Evidence such as?" Lewis had snapped out of whatever trance he had been in.

"She dispatched the squad car to the front of Mahoney's condo, not to the garage," Falsone said. "She knew Mahoney would never use the front entrance to the building if he had a parking space down below and direct elevator access. She told the uniforms to look for a dark blue Forerunner, which wasn't Mahoney's make or model."

Falsone smiled. "She can play dumb on the first, but not the second. She had his fucking beeper number, she knew his tags, and she sure as hell knew what sort of car those tags were attached to. It's all circumstantial and there's no way to get charges out of them. But she would have been finished as a detective. She just wanted to save face."

*****

As Rosati, and eventually Lewis, worked the rest of the story out of Falsone, the crowd in the observation room stood fixated. Kellerman had reeled backwards as though punched when Falsone had started talking about him, Gee putting his hand on Mike's shoulder to steady him.

Giardello himself was not feeling much better. He had been played by Falsone and then by Stivers, willing to believe that Lewis and Stivers had acted solely to protect Kellerman, the guilty party. He had suspected Lewis' fight with Mahoney had been a straight-ahead beat-down, not a battle to get the cuffs on as the report stated. But Gee had accepted Pembleton's assessment that Kellerman had been the only real problem. He did not know about the drug war started by Lewis as Falsone had left that part out of the report, instead leaving it a vague reference during Kellerman's interrogation. What have I wrought? he asked himself.

Howard, Gharty, and Russert watched the two men with concern. None of the three had been around for the events being described and only Howard had been around when the Mahoney shooting itself happened. Kay went over to Kellerman, who looked awful.

"Y'okay, Mikey?" She whispered, knowing the answer.

"No, not really." His voice was shaky. "I'm supposed to feel vindicated, but I don't. I wasn't honorable. I was a lamb prancing all the way to the slaughter." He shook his head and Howard put her hand on his shoulder.

"You were being honorable, Mike. Terri Stivers just took advantage of that. You did right by your partner, huh? Even if he was too dumb to realize it."

"He does realize it, Kay. Now he does. Look at him," Kellerman pointed at Lewis on the other side of the glass. "I got suckered because I'm too honorable? He got suckered because he was scared. And now everyone knows it. He's in a lot worse shape than I am right now."

Eventually, Falsone was given a pen and paper and started writing down his story. They weren't sure what charges. Rosati and Lewis left him alone, taking the tapes, which had been played and proved Falsone's story that Stivers knew exactly what she was doing.

*****

The shift was nearing an end and Ballard, Mike Gee, Sheppard, and Stivers were back at their desks. Exiting the Box for the first time in hours, Rosati walked over to Stivers and Lewis headed for the observation room.

"Terri?"

"Yeah."

"Don't go anywhere when the shift ends. I need to talk to you."

"About what?" Stivers smiled.

"You know about what. We'll wait until Falsone is finished with his version before we ask you for yours."

"It's his word against mine," Stivers smiled again, not seeming surprised. "Cop killer versus cop? No problem."

"Whatever," Rosati smiled back. "You're still free to call a lawyer." Nicole started to walk away and then stopped and turned back to Stivers. "You know, Terri, Mike Kellerman and I grew up together. First loves and all that," Rosati held up her right hand, showing off the silver and opal ring, "He said it was a graduation present, but I knew it was the engagement ring he'd never be able to give me. I plan on making things up to him, bit by bit. Keep it mind." Rosati walked away and Stivers stared after her.

Rosati headed for the observation room. It was deathly quiet still. Gharty excused himself, saying he had to get back home, but it was probably because he was uncomfortable. He had been invited to watch Falsone confess out of respect for his work with Felton. But when the truth about Kellerman and the Mahoney shooting came out, Gharty, who had spewed such venom for the past year, realized that he, too, was guilty of being played by Stivers. Only Terri had wanted to talk about things afterwards. Falsone wouldn't, he didn't dare ask Lewis, and no one else knew.

Kellerman and Lewis were leaning against opposite walls of the little room. Howard was next to Kellerman, seemingly making sure he was upright and stayed that way, and Russert was watching Lewis and Giardello from a distance.

Rosati passed by Lewis, stopping to grasp his forearm and squeeze, a sign, she hoped, of comfort, and walked over to Kellerman. Howard gently moved away, towards the window, and started watching Falsone. Mike barely looked at her, but took her hand as she leaned against the wall next to him.

"Don't beat yourself up, Meldrick," Russsert said. "She's a hell of a manipulator."

"She manipulated me because I'm selfish and only think about me and she knew that," Lewis spat out.

"You didn't hear anything in that room that you haven't already told yourself," Nicole pointed out. "And told me, and told Mike." Rosati squeezed Kellerman's hand. "It would have been worse if this was all news to you. It's not and you've already beaten yourself up over it."

"If that's supposed to make me feel better," Lewis said, head still down, "it don't. It's all well and good that I can tell myself those things, but I never did anything 'bout it. I shoulda talked to Gee, I shoulda done something."

"You did do something, Meldrick. You talked to me, eventually," Mike spoke without looking at Lewis, instead facing the glass and watching Falsone. "And the last time you decided to do something, you got suspended. Better you just thought about it this time." Kellerman turned and looked at Lewis, a smirk on his face. Lewis laughed, sort of.

"I think gettin' kneed in the jewels by Georgia Rae hurt less, though." Lewis ran his hands over his face. "So what do we do now, Gee?"

"QRT is planning the raid on Cantwell, Prescott is in custody, and we have Falsone," Gee shook his head in seeming disbelief. "All we have left to do is talk to Stivers. As for the rest, I think we all need to reflect a bit on what has been seen today. Our original mistakes all stem from acting without thinking. Let's not do that again."

"I'll take Stivers," Rosati said, her voice quiet but steely.

"I want to be there," Gee said. "She lies to me again, she does it to my face. No more playing the joker."

"Falsone's done," Russert said, gesturing towards the window.

"Do you want a hand with Stivers?" Howard asked.

"Nah, I think two pissed-off Sicilians will be more than enough for her," Rosati laughed mirthlessly, patting the Glock on her left hip.

*****

Stivers walked into the interrogation room on her own and without prompting. She took the perp-side seat, but her posture was defiant.

Rosati walked into the room followed by Giardello. She was carrying some folders and the envelope of tapes, which she put on the auxiliary table. Gee was empty handed.

"I need your weapon, Terri," Rosati held out her hand. Stivers laughed, but unhooked the Glock and handed it over.

"So talk to me, Stivers." Gee spoke quietly. "This is your chance to tell me what really happened between you and Falsone. You can even tell me what really happened between you, Kellerman, and Lewis at the Mahoney penthouse."

"There is nothing between me and Falsone, Gee," Stivers looked earnest, and if there wasn't audio evidence, it would be tempting to believe her. "Not with Cantwell, not with Mahoney."

"How come you know we're talking about Cantwell," Gee asked.

"Russert's here. Howard's here. They don't talk to you anymore, Gee," Stivers smiled. "They don't talk to each other except for one thing. I'm a detective, I can figure it out."

"Are you? Jake Prescott calls himself a detective, too," Rosati asked from the back of the room. "He's just an opportunist who happens to have a badge. You? You're even worse."

"How's that?" Stivers was cool.

"Prescott, he was only in it for the money," Rosati shrugged. "Didn't want to dirty himself too much by getting anyone hurt. He was on the take, sure, but he didn't take anyone down. You didn't want the money. You wanted to stay pure, no matter how many people you had to sacrifice to save your image. You did it for looks."

"Not everyone's born beautiful, some of us have to work at it." Stivers looked at Rosati. "I still don't see how you can tie me into Cantwell, and I sure as hell don't know what you are going to unearth about Mahoney. You weren't at the shoot and you weren't here for the investigations. You don't even know anyone involved in either except Lewis and Kellerman, and they aren't exactly the best sources of information."

"True enough, but Falsone is. Guy spent a year investigating the case. He knew what he was submarining to keep you quiet. There's enough blame to go around for everyone." Rosati smiled and reached into the envelope with the tapes. She rewound the one Falsone had played for them before and as it went on, Stivers' look of implacability faded.

"There's more, Terri, just a moment."

***

"Did you know Mike Kellerman called the squadroom last week? Wanted to speak to Lewis or Rosati."

"So?"

"So? Something's going on. First Howard's back hovering around Homicide, now Kellerman wants to speak to Lewis?"

"Or Rosati. It could be just a case he's working on. He did that last year, remember? You're getting paranoid."

"I have a right to be, don't I? But what about Howard? She and Giardello haven't spoken in two years and now she's slipping into his office on a regular basis?"

"Giardello threw a shitfit last year when the bounty hunters came by. Howard's in Fugitive. She's probably running interference."

"I don't know about this."

"Look, if you start getting jumpy, someone's gonna get suspicious. Otherwise, how's anyone going to know?"

"You."

"Why on earth would I talk to them? Your secret is safe with me, so long as you keep your part of the bargain."

"He's gone, you're clear, what else do you want? I told you this would never end."

"Well, that's gonna bother you a hell of a lot more than it's gonna bother me."

***

"That's privileged conversation. Inadmissible in court," Stivers shrugged, trying to regain her slipping composure.

"Not inadmissible in Barnfather's office," Gee said. "We know about Mahoney, we know about Falsone. Do you resign or risk charges?"

"You wouldn't be offering me resignation if you thought you could get me on anything. Same as with Kellerman." Stivers smiled. "I like being a detective."

"Kellerman got that offer because he preferred to go down alone rather than take you and Lewis with him. You are getting this offer because I don't want this unit torn up any more than it has been. Damage control." Gee growled. "This isn't a favor. You stay on, you get rotated into the motor pool or as the on-site detective at the state pen. This isn't IID. I won't slap you on the wrist and send you away with a lollipop."

"I'm sorry, Gee, but you can't touch me. The tapes get thrown out, it's my word against Falsone's. And after they hear about Cantwell and Felton, I'm free and clear."

"Not quite." Rosati walked over to the table, grinning. "You'll get obstruction for not telling on Falsone, and since the Cantwell case is going to be tried locally, that might stay here, but the federal charges will probably supercede."

"What federal charges?" Stivers looked up sharply.

"You don't think Georgia Rae filled up her stable of cops, judges, and magistrates just in the eight months she was in Baltimore, do you?" Rosati actually giggled. "It was mostly Luther's work, and there's a warrant for his arrest on RICO charges. Federal corruption with foreign money isn't looked upon well when it happens close to DC. So at the least, your little Houdini attempt on the day Luther got killed gets you aiding and abetting, federal style. You're gonna have a hard time getting a job with a felony on your resume. You can screw the BCPD, Terri, but never, ever try and fuck the Feds."

Stivers sat for a moment and then pushed back in her chair. Getting up, she unhooked her badge and dropped it on the table. "It's been fun, Gee," he said as she walked out of the room.

*****

Unlike the attempt two years earlier, the raid on Cantwell was a success. Lieutenant Jasper was thoughtful enough to give Kay the arrest warrant, the way Frank Pembleton had done before him, although Jasper made her get into her Kevlar vest first. Cantwell, his lieutenants, and thirty Lexuses were brought downtown on Veterans Day. Danvers said that Prescott and both Falsones would be excellent witnesses and that the case would go down without a hitch.

The crew held a small celebration at the Waterfront a few days later. The rest of the Homicide squad had been told of the events and took the news with a bit of shock, but they were there as well. Russert introduced everyone to her husband and he and Rosati got into a long discussion on the state of France's national soccer team. Kellerman stayed on the fringes for a while, talking to Howard, Lewis, and Sheppard until Laura Ballard came up to him and offered her hand. "Gharty's got a big mouth," she explained when Mike raised his eyebrow at her change in attitude towards him.

During a lull, Gee asked Rosati if the Feds would try Stivers anyway, regardless of their little agreement. Rosati laughed. "I doubt it."

"How'd you know there was a warrant for Luther?" Lewis called from across the table.

"Umm... I'm sure I can find someone who is willing to type one up and back date it," Rosati shrugged, still smiling wryly.

"You don't know anything about the RICO case, do you?" Gee asked. Rosati shook her head no. "Made it up as I went along. Everyone's scared of the Feds, so it was a safe bet."

"This particular angel of justice has a mean streak, Gee." Kellerman observed.

"There are two sorts of angels of justice, Mike," Rosati explained, "The angels of law and the angels of vengeance. When Justice cries out, she sends the angels of law first. From what I've heard, that was your immortal Frank Pembleton. When law fails, she sends out the angels of vengeance. Let's just say I work clean-up crew."

"Not on duty, I hope," Gee put in.

Everyone was settling down to burgers when the front door opened up. "I thought you locked it, Meldrick," Sheppard said.

"Just in time, I see," John Munch said as he took off his scarf. "Not a word, Lewis, not a word."

Munch went over to Howard, who was standing by Kellerman and Rosati. Several handshakes and two hugs later, Munch went off to the kitchen to drop off his overnight bag and grab himself a hamburger. While he was gone, Gharty, who had paled visibly even in the dim bar lights, decided that he had to get home. No one stopped him.

Munch was flipping the burger on the small indoor grill when he heard someone enter the kitchen.

"You can come out now, Munckin, Gharty's gone," Kay commented.

"Have you ever eaten Amtrak food? My stomach is more important than flattened pride right now," Munch explained, waving the spatula.

"I'm glad you came," Kay said, walking over to lean against the counter near the grill, careful not to stand too close. "It's good to have people 'round who actually knew Beau as somethin' other than a name in red, y'know?"

"Every once in a while, Kay, when I sit in the shoebox that masquerades as my apartment, I remember what it's like to be able to be with people who have known you so long, you can finish each other's sentences."

"You're homesick, huh?" Kay grinned. "You should come back. Gee's 'bout ready to boot Gharty to Missing Persons or someplace else. You could come to Fugitive or somethin'."

"While the thought of spending long hours trapped in interminable traffic jams on I-95 alone with you and some handcuffed felon appeals to me much more than you might imagine, I can't. I just got to New York. It'd be quitting."

"And that's nothin' like what you did here, right?" Kay leaned over and picked a pickle out of the nearby container.

"It took me twenty-two years to quit here, Kay. That's longer than a lifetime for most domesticated animals." Munch flopped the burger onto the waiting bun and motioned for Kay to precede him out into the main room. "Besides, absence makes the heart grow fonder, Kay. You wouldn't miss me if I was around." Kay shook her head and went through the doors, so she didn't hear the last part of what Munch said.

"And you don't know how much I like it when you miss me."

*****

December 1999

"Enter!"

Kellerman remembered the first time he had heard that word in that tone. When he had come back to tell Gee that he had changed his mind and would accept the transfer from Arson to Homicide. It was lifetimes ago.

Rosati had broken the subject of Gee serving as an employment reference for Kellerman to the Lieutenant the day after Cantwell had been convicted. He had agreed readily, but wanted to speak to Mike first. So here Kellerman was.

"You're tired of the private investigator's life, Mike?" Gee asked, offering him one of the Christmas cookies that had been given to him by Naomi earlier that day.

"That's part of it," Kellerman admitted as he accepted one. "It's too much like when I did the rotation in Auto Theft -- reuniting people with lost property and confirming their nasty suspicions about their friends and neighbors. Nothing redeeming about it at all. It also doesn't provide a steady paycheck. Feast or famine, and I've got too many bills to pay."

Gee nodded. "You miss redeeming others?"

"Nik says I miss redeeming myself," Kellerman said with a smirk. "I think I miss being a cop and I'm tired of playing pretend." Fire insurance investigator wasn't anything close to being a cop. Kellerman had a bead on a job, a surprise to himself considering the Arson investigations of three years ago.

Giardello went into his desk drawer and pulled out a large yellow envelope bulging with whatever was inside. He opened it and pulled out a piece of yellow notepad paper stapled to a typewritten sheet. Kellerman knew what it was. His confession of shooting Luther Mahoney and Pembleton's official version of it.

"This is bullshit, isn't it?" Gee asked, but it wasn't a question. "Now that I know what really happened, it doesn't even read like a good crime novel. You're a lousy liar, Kellerman."

"So my mother tells me." Kellerman watched as Gee tore the pages up. "It wasn't even good as an IOU anymore," Gee explained.

"You know we're three detectives short now, with Falsone and Stivers gone and Bayliss god-knows-where." Gee mentioned casually. Kellerman's eyes flew open wide. "Lot of ink under everyone's name," he responded, trying to be cool.

"Bayliss is on this leave of absence. Months and months can go by, but if he comes back within five years, he doesn't even lose any of his bargaining units for his pension," Gee said. "Bayliss is running from something, and while I suspect what, I don't know, and after what happened last month, I shouldn't judge.

"It's a strange thing when a person sworn to speak for the dead ends up contributing to their numbers. Did you ever hear the story of Gordon Pratt?" Gee asked. Kellerman shook his head no. "I've overlooked many things on my shift. All in the name of justice."

"Sometimes we all work clean-up crew, Gee," Mike grimaced, thinking back to Rosati's speech the night of the party. "Even when we shouldn't."

"Do you think you could handle being an angel of law again, Mike? Without becoming an angel of vengeance?" Gee leaned forward in his seat. "I can't continue to let you take the fall for Lewis and Stivers. Not when I know that they are just as much at fault. She's gone, but I either have to bring you back or fire Lewis. But I'd rather fire Lewis than risk your mental health again."

"It wasn't the Mahoney shoot that did me in, although that sure as hell didn't help," Mike shook his head. "I'm not that person anymore, Gee. I've stopped seeing myself only through other people's eyes. At least most of the time. The rest of the time, I've got people who care about me to keep an eye on me."

"If you come back, I'm going to have to insist that you continue to see your shrink," Gee expected to wave back protest, but there was none. "We can keep it off the record if you'd like, but I will expect progress reports."

"You think Nikki's gonna let me skip out on a session?" Kellerman smirked.

"That's another issue. It's generally not looked upon well when two members of the same unit are romantically involved. I didn't allow it with Ballard and Falsone and I can't know that you and Rosati are back together. Or else I will have to transfer one of you."

"So you're offering me my job back?" Kellerman asked, just to make sure. Gee handed Mike the envelope. His badge, his gun, his police ID.

"Lewis and Rosati stay as partners. I'll play dumb, but I won't play stupid." Gee said by way of confirmation.

"So who do I work with?"

"Your choice. Gharty or Howard."

"Kay's coming back?" Kellerman was shocked.

"Ballard wanted to rotate out, too much emotion with Falsone, I think. I've asked Howard to return, and I think she's agreed."

*****

"No."

"Why not, Kay?" Gee was surprised.

"I'm still pissed off, that's why not," Howard was angry. "You treat me like shit and expect me to forgive and forget just because you confess to it? You didn't get Cantwell 'cause of your guilt over how you shafted me the first time. You did it 'cause you didn't want a cop's murder, one of your cops, goin' unavenged. As far as I'm concerned, you still gotta whole lot of makin' up to do."

"Well, how am I supposed to do that when you're in Fugitive, Kay?" Gee was not angry, more frustrated.

"I ain't comin' back to play nursemaid and secretary again," Howard continued. "Lieutenant Feirshon is a prick, but he lets me go out on cases. My rank is Detective/Sargeant."

"Homicide will be down three come January. You'll be working so many cases your streak will be put to the test," Gee replied. "Kay, I need you in Homicide. I need a detective who has experience. Lewis is it, and I can't have him being the role model."

Howard laughed in spite of herself. Meldrick as squadroom wiseman.

"Please, Kay. You don't have to like me. You work fine for Artie Feirshon and you hate him. I hope to win back your trust, but until then, I'll settle for my trust in you. You're being wasted in Fugitive."

"I was wasted here."

"I promise that won't happen again. If it does, you leave, don't ever look at me again, and print it up in the department bulletin that Al Giardello let Homicide's best detective go, twice. Please, Kay."

After a long pause, she nodded. "I'll think about it, huh?"

*****

"He gave you back your badge?" Rosati was drop-jawed. Lewis smiled.

"He said it was either that, or he cans Lewis. Meldrick and I are just barely getting used to speaking to each other again, so that would've fucked things up a bit."

"Can you handle it?" Nicole asked, catching his eyes. She smiled. "Never mind."

"I hate when you do that," Kellerman shook his head.

"So do I, man, so do I," Lewis agreed, wrinkling his nose. They weren't disgusting the way Falsone and Ballard had been, and if you didn't know what you were looking for, it was hard to spot. But for Lewis, it was unavoidable, his partner and his ex-partner had it bad. Kellerman and Rosati, who as far as Lewis knew still had not gotten around to doing what it was so obvious they both wanted to do, were so obviously a couple that Lewis figured sex wasn't going to change anything.

*****

"So whattya think, partner?" Kay asked the tombstone. "Do I go back? Bust his chops a bit? Forgive?"

Beau Felton's ghost didn't come out during the day. Beau wasn't a day person, so Kay figured it made sense that his ghost wasn't either. But he had come and visited Kay the night after they arrested Cantwell. She had thought it was the radio, but then the shadow started speaking more clearly.

"You called Munch, Howie? Munch?"

"Beau?" Kay had sat up in bed.

"Who else? Not to many guys creeping through your bedroom late at night these days, huh?"

"Screw you, Felton." Kay was still groggy. "I get your killer and you come back from the dead to talk about my love life."

"I'm only worried about you, Howie."

If Kay had known in which direction to make a face, she would have.

"Thanks, Kay. Thanks for finding Cantwell, and thanks for being my partner and my friend. Tell Munch to take good care of you..."

The voice started to fade away and the last thing Kay heard was Felton's giggling "Munch?"

"'Night, Beau."

*****

February 2000

On the face of it, Paul Falsone had escaped unscathed. He had resigned a week after Cantwell had been arrested. The trial had gone so quickly and so smoothly that he hadn't even been required to testify. His father had confessed to using his son without Paul's knowledge, so no one even knew that it had been the son who had acted thoughtlessly.

Life as a civilian was different, but not necessarily bad. Falsone's policework had been so overshadowed by his need to redeem himself for his guilt that working for an auto insurance company was not even boring. At least not yet. The job had other perqs, though, to make up for what it lacked in excitement. A job with regular hours meant that even joint custody of his son was a possibility. Having a steady girlfriend made that possibility even greater. Laura Ballard had taken her time to think, but in the end, she had accepted him with his guilt.

Falsone had never been a very religious man. Sure, there were certain unavoidable habits that came along with being raised Italian, but Falsone wasn't a very observant Catholic. Had the people who had known him well known where he spent every Sunday morning, they'd have been surprised. But he didn't tell anyone, not even Laura, who was a little suspicious about why he never stayed over on a Saturday night. But going to confession and lighting candles and giving alms was not going to make Falsone feel better, and he knew it.

On the nights when Falsone couldn't get to sleep, when the guilt that still played heavily on his mind wouldn't go away, he wondered if somewhere under the same sky, Terri Stivers was sleeping peacefully. He was sure she was, the woman had a heart of glass underneath the sensitive exterior, and she had probably never missed a moment's bit of beauty rest since Mike Kellerman had given up his gun that blood-soaked night. She had saved face, but the cost was her soul. Falsone figured he had the better of the bargain.

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