Fells Point Fromage III: Zoo Life


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.

"Munch?"
"Yes, Hop-Along?"

"Who's Natty Bo?"

"A good friend to cheap drunks everywhere. An even better friend to bar owners." Cassidy looked confused still. "What, not Who. It's a local beer."

"Oh." Cassidy looked crestfallen.

"Why does the existence of the malt product that is National Bohemian put a damper on your otherwise too-cheerful day? It can't be any worse than the Brooklyn Brown you keep insisting we order."

"It's nothing. Just a little confusion." Cassidy shook his head, not taking his eyes off the road.

"One of the things that I admire about you, my young apprentice, is that you spend half of your waking hours in a state of confusion and it never seems to get you down. You are the living embodiment of the phrase "Ignorance is Bliss." Why is this different? Tell Pappa Munch."

Cassidy was silent for a moment and Munch knew his partner could talk and negotiate traffic at the same time. Looking over at him, Munch could see Brian had his best sheepish look on. This was going to take major tooth-pulling to get the story out, but he suspected it would be worth it.

"Out with it already, Brian. Your Irish-Catholic need for confession has the story bubbling to the surface. The words are visible somewhere between your collarbone and your epiglottis. We're nearly back at the station. Either you tell me in the car or you tell me in the squadroom. And Bayliss has got ears like a hawk and the tongue of a magpie."

Cassidy either ignored or didn't get the ornithological references. "I don't want you telling anyone."

"Brian, Brian, Brian. Partner-Partner confidentiality is already automatically invoked. It's even better than what shrinks get away with. That the conversation takes place in a Cavalier with no heat and only two working windows is the equivalent of putting a dead-bolt lock on my mouth. Sanctity of the highest order, the utmost level of secrecy, the cone of silence has descended around us and not even the tiny cockroaches Lewis found in the tupperware sugarbowl could get through. Out with it."

Cassidy looked warily at him. "At the Waterfront last night, you remember that really hot blonde, the one in the red blouse?"

Munch nodded. "How could I forget her? She nearly cost us a full bottle of Johnny Walker Black. Bayliss was watching her instead of watching the glass. If I ever doubted the usefulness of counter gutters before..."

"Well, a little after she told Bayliss to buzz off, she cornered me outside of the bathroom. Told me she wanted to go back to her place and have some fun with me and Natty Bo. She was fingering my cuffs..."

"So she's got a thing for cops and cheap beer? Kellerman gets most of his dates this way."

"I told her that I wasn't into doing things with another guy, but that he could watch if she really wanted."

Munch tried not to laugh. He really did. He knew Cassidy was feeling stupid already about the incident and didn't need Munch to make it any worse. There were plenty of other things Cassidy did that he could find amusement in. This should be a time of support, of comfort after an awkward moment that Cassidy, a new immigrant to Charm City, could be excused for creating.

"Stop cackling, John."

*****

"What do you mean the Box is reserved for Lewis and Kellerman?" Frank Pembleton repeated incredulously. "I didn't know we needed reservations."

Kay Howard was already regretting telling Pembleton that he couldn't use the Box. Bayliss was backing away, which wasn't a good sign.

"You got a housewife, right?" Kay tried again. "She ain't likely to be wreakin' havoc in the coffee room. They're supposed to be bringin' in a biker who used his day pass from the loony bin to chop up his mother with a pick-axe, for cryin' out loud. You want him sittin' in the middle of the squadroom?"

"Lewis and Kellerman, when they come in, if they have their suspect, can take him over to Narcotics and use their rubber room if you feel threatened," Frank was not placated.

"What, your interrogation skills don't work outside the Box, Frank?" Kay was starting to get pissed. Pembleton normally didn't challenge her authority, but when he did, he was worse than the rest of them put together. "You need an echo or else you ain't gonna get a confession, huh?"

"C'mon Frank," Bayliss was back into the picture. "Kay's right. We can handle Sophie Gratton in the coffee room if we have to. She'll confess right after we show her the ballistics report. She's not going to do anything. Look at her." Bayliss waved towards a middle aged woman in a frumpy dress who was standing near the mailslots. The handcuffs looked ludicrous on so ineffectual a figure.

"That's not the point," Pembleton wheeled on Bayliss.

"You're right," Howard smiled. "The point is that I'm the sargeant." She let her words sink in. Pembleton would bluster around, but he wouldn't commit outright insubordination. At least not with her.

"You can have the Box until Lewis and Kellerman come in, 'kay?" Howard checked the clock. If they weren't back by now, the two had run into trouble and could be gone for a while.

Pembleton nodded crisply, not looking at her. Bayliss mumbled a "Thanks" and waved to the uniform to bring in Mrs. Gratton. Howard walked towards the newly arrived Munch and Cassidy.

"What've ya got, boys?" Kay called as she approached. "You spent enough time at the morgue."

"Zilch. Nada. Nothing. Bupkus." Cassidy reported, shaking his head. "Not even bupkus. We'll have bupkus if Dyer can pull a usable slug from the body."

"It was a .38," Munch elaborated for Kay, who was now standing next to their desks. "Our best hope is that whoever shot Freddie Tokles did it before with the same gun, so we can fob this one off on someone else."

"Name'll still be on our board in red, John." Howard pointed out.

"But hopefully under someone else's name," Munch shrugged back. "My column's looking a little flushed as it is. I'm going to be getting Gee's eloquent soliloquy on the wonders of a balanced palette if it gets any worse. The long version, complete with quotes from Sicilian love songs and pithy sayings from Neapolitan fishermen. Catching a sea bass is not the same thing as catching a guy popping West Baltimore corner boys."

"I thought it was a pikefish," Cassidy put in. "Not a sea bass." Munch glared.

"Pikes are intelligent fish. They are also carnivorous. Pikes can eat up to one fifth of their body weight in a day, gorging themselves on such delicacies as frogs, small birds, and any mammal passing by." Munch waggled his fingers at Cassidy, indicating bait. "There is nothing romantic about a pike. Sea bass, on the other hand, are good fish to tell a story about. There are whole traditions of Asian folklore that deal with the catching of sea bass. The Japanese believe that through the act of catching this one fish, a man can demonstrate courage and attain wisdom. Sometimes, the fish themselves teach others how to achieve inner tranquility."

Howard was about to say something when she saw a pastel colored blur out of the corner of her eye. "Someone block the door!" Pembleton called from the Box doorway.

"Mrs. Gratton! Stop!" Bayliss did an end run around Naomi and caught up to the fleeing housewife before she got as far as Howard's desk.

Lieutenant Giardello appeared at his office door. "What's going on, Frank?"

Pembleton ran his hand over his head and face. "Mrs. Gratton decided to make a run for it."
Bayliss escorted the attempted fugitive back towards the Box, stopping in front of Gee and Pembleton.

"And how was she able to get by two of my finest detectives?" Gee's voice was calm and there was a smile in the corner of his mouth. Pembleton wasn't sure whether was about to blow up or about to implode with laughter.

"Because Mrs. Gratton," Frank explained, "handcuffed officer Norton to the table while Bayliss was getting the files and I was getting her coffee."

Gee stuck his head into the Box, where he saw an embarrassed-looking Officer Norton unlocking his left wrist from the table cuff. He then looked back at Mrs. Gratton, who looked neither defiant nor repentent. "Officer Norton, what happened?"

Norton was rubbing his wrist and answered looking down, too shamed to face the Lieutenant. "Detectives Bayliss and Pembleton told me to uncuff her, Sir, even though I told them it wasn't a good idea if they were going to leave her alone. But they insisted, so I did. Then they went away. Mrs. Gratton said something real quietly, and when I leaned down to hear what she was saying, she cuffed me and split, Sir."

Gee nodded sympathetically and held the door open for Norton before returning to Bayliss and Pembleton. The scene had now drawn a crowd.

"Do you have anything to say about this, Mrs. Gratton?" Gee asked the woman.

"I want a lawyer."

"But of course," Gee smiled magnanimously. "Unfortunately, because of your little excursion, we are going to have to put the handcuffs back on until then. I'm sure you understand." He turned. "Officer Norton, would you please? And you have my permission to not listen if Detectives Bayliss or Pembleton give you any more instructions on handling suspects." Both Frank and Tim caught the glare.

"You said we could handle her in the coffee room," Pembleton hissed at Howard, who was standing next to him.

"I never said to uncuff her, Frank." Howard smiled back at him. "Just be happy Brodie's not here to film this, hum? Nice tackle, Timmy." She moved around Bayliss and sat down at her desk.

Bayliss smiled weakly as Pembleton stalked back to his desk.

*****

"Come, Brian, let me buy you a beer." Munch put his hand on Cassidy's shoulder and the younger detective thought he smelled steak for a moment. "We can introduce you quietly to Mr. Natty Bo so that you can carry on a conversation the next time he gets brought up."

Cassidy was glad Kellerman had evacuated to the coffee room to finish his shift and wasn't around to hear Munch. Lewis was too busy fuming to pay attention, taking out his aggressions on an innocent typewriter.

The two headed over to the Waterfront and Munch drew up a glass of beer for Cassidy, who was a little put out that such an unimpressive beer could cause so much embarrassment. Bayliss came in to start his shift and Munch and Cassidy withdrew to the pool table.

"Do you get billiards training at the Academy in New York?" Munch asked as Cassidy sank the last ball for the third straight game.

"Huh?"

"Every NYPD detective I've ever played against seems to be able to put Minnesota Fats to shame," Munch shook his head.

"At least I play for beer. Briscoe plays for cash and he'll actually make you pay up if you start to complain about it," Cassidy waited for Munch to rack the balls. He knew about Munch's billiards fiasco with Lennie Briscoe.

Cassidy was leaning in to break when Munch spoke up.

"So you'd really let someone watch?" Cassidy pulled away before he made contact with the cueball. He looked up at his partner. "I thought you weren't going to talk about it."

"With anyone else. It's just you, me, and the pool table. And I don't think the balls gossip." Munch replied. "So, would you?"

Cassidy stood up. "No!... I don't know.... Maybe... It depends."

"So I take it you've never done it before an audience before?" Munch looked at Cassidy over his glasses.

"Who do I look like, Peter North?" Cassidy shot back. "Not that I know about. I mean, I may have, but no one told me afterwards." He paused. "Have you?"

"Way back in the '60's, when you were just a twinkle in your parents' eyes, it was a much more relaxed time," Munch said. "I went to my share of toga parties, let's say."

"And you were okay with it?" Cassidy asked. "It didn't affect... anything?"

"Like performance? Brian, we were under the influence of various substances that put our minds at ease with many things, not just sex before witnesses."

"Voyeurism. Don't start with me about that now." Cassidy waved the pool cue at him.

"So you're thinking of accepting the offer if it's ever presented again?" Munch asked.

"If it's with a beer, I got no problem. If it's another person... I don't know. I mean, it can't be that different, can it?"

"As long as you're not getting graded on it, no," Munch allowed. "But there's such a fine line between active and passive audiences..."

Cassidy had leaned down to shoot again, but wheeled around and nearly impaled his partner on his pool cue. "You mean more than two people?"

"Why not? Isn't that every guy's fantasy? Two girls at once?"

"So how come every girl's fantasy isn't two guys at once, huh?" Kay Howard asked. Cassidy turned beet red, both at the thought that Howard had heard part of the conversation and at the very notion of talking sex with his immediate supervisor, whom he did not find unattractive.

"Don't worry, Cassidy, I didn't come back here to proposition you and Munch." Howard laughed. Now if it had been Cassidy and Kellerman... "Lemme play the winner?" She gestured at the table.

"Here, we haven't started yet," Munch handed Kay his pool cue and grinned at his partner. "I think I'll just watch you and Cassidy."

*****

"So what'll it be, gentlemen?" Bayliss asked as Lewis and Kellerman walked into the Waterfront.

"Get my partner a shot of Beam and an ice cube." Lewis replied as he circled around behind the bar and started pulling together martini equipment.

"I take it straight, Meldrick, you know that." Kellerman took off his coat and dropped it on the empty stool next to him.

"I didn't say to put the ice cube in the drink, Mikey," Lewis said from under the counter, where he was reaching for the shaker lid. "That's for the lump on your head."

"What lump? What are you talking about?" Kellerman asked. "Thanks, Bayliss." He accepted the drink and took a small sip.

"The lump I'm gonna give you for settin' me up like you did."

"You deserve it. Calling me a dog and then doing what you did."

"You are a dog, Mikey. No two ways 'bout that."

"Well, then I'm a golden retriever. Blond, cute, and lovable." Kellerman gave Lewis his best dimples. "You, partner, are a Great Dane. The biggest of dogs."

"Uhhh... what are you guys talking about?" Bayliss asked.

"My partner left me out to dry today," Lewis steamed. Kellerman just shook his head. "You did it to yourself, Lewis. You didn't have to stop by Narcotics on the way out to pick up Slaney."

"Is this the psycho biker with the pick-axe?"

Lewis slammed something down. "How'd you know about it?" Kellerman asked.

"We nearly got evicted from the Box in anticipation of his arrival this afternoon," Bayliss explained, leaving out the part about Mrs. Gratton's adventures. He'd avoid the story of them getting outfoxed by a woman in a housecoat if he could.

"So that's why Frank was such a joy," Lewis nodded. "He nearly got tossed outta his own sandbox."

Bayliss nodded. "So what happened with the biker?"

"Peter Slaney pulled a Lizzy Borden on his mother two days ago," Kellerman began. "and we finally got a bead on the guy. He was over at his favorite bar."

"We run into some uniforms on the way over to pick up the mook," Lewis continues, "and Mikey here tells 'em we're off to pick up a crazy biker with an axe."

"According to you, we were going to pick up a crazy biker with an axe, Meldrick." Kellerman pointed out. "I was just following your lead from your pitstop in Narcotics, partner."

"Anyways," Lewis glared at Mike, "they want to come along. We convince 'em that we don't need no backup on this, the guy don't know we're comin'. But they insist. So we send 'em to the Black Dog and tell 'em to wait."

"But you weren't going to the Black Dog," Bayliss prompted.

"Nope. The Lancaster Ale House." Kellerman smirked at the mention of a well-known yuppie hangout. "You see, our biker's not a real biker."
Bayliss looked confused and Kellerman's smirk became a grin.

"He's got a bike, he's a biker," Lewis put in.

"It's a Honda, Meldrick."

"So he was a poseur biker," Bayliss suggested. "Was he at least really psycho?"

"Yes."

"No."

"You get let outta the loony bin with a day pass, you a loon," Lewis objected.

"He was getting treated for claustrophobia, not schizophrenia. He got a job in an office building and needed to be able to use the elevator. That's why he committed himself. And that's why they let him out when he asked."

"He had a job in an office building?" Bayliss was smiling now. Mrs. Gratton was looking less and less like the story of the day.

"Mr. Slaney had just been hired as a tax guy for Lawson and Edelman, accountants to Baltimore's biggest wallets," Kellerman said.

"So, let me get this straight," Bayliss interrupted. "Your psycho biker with a pick-axe is really a tax accountant with a Honda and a fear of closed spaces?" Kellerman nodded.

"Is the pick-axe part at least real?" Bayliss asked.

"Yeah. Found it in the basement, prints all over it." Kellerman leaned over and patted Lewis' hand. "Don't worry Meldrick, the guy'll probably turn out to be nuts. Two out of three's not bad. Maybe Terri'll still talk you."

"I don't get it," Bayliss said as he wiped down the counter. "Meldrick, why are you so upset that the psycho biker with the pickaxe turned out to be less than who he was supposed to be? And what does Narcotics have to do with this?"

"Because before he left, Detective Lewis went and told Narcotics Detective Stivers that he was going to arrest a psycho biker with a pick-axe, thinking it would impress her. And, upon his return, Detective Lewis happened to run into Detective Stivers, who was waiting outside with the officers from the Black Dog, while on his way into the station with Mr. Slaney.
Whereupon Detective Stivers saw Mr. Slaney, all 145 pounds of him, and broke into a hysterical fit of giggles." The police incident report had been provided by Brian Cassidy, who had returned from the billiards table in the rear. Bayliss, Kellerman, and Cassidy started to laugh. Lewis looked indignant.

"Now why do I think that you had something to do with this?"

"I was there when you came to visit Stivers," Cassidy shrugged. "I needed someone from Narcotics to help out with a case Munch and I caught today. I asked Mike about the case when I got back to the squadroom and told him what I had heard you telling Stivers. The rest is all his." Cassidy nodded his head towards Kellerman, who was trying not to break into laughter again.

"You a dog, Mikey. And not a whole dog. You the rear end of a chihuahua." Lewis shook his head, put down his martini glass, and headed back towards the billiards table, where Howard and Munch were still playing.

Cassidy put his hand on Kellerman's shoulder consolingly. "Don't worry, Mike. Women love little dogs."

"Woof, woof." Kellerman threw back the rest of his Beam.

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