“What can I get ya, Dick?”
Danny’s partner chuckled as he walked away, leaving him to deal with tall, dark and handsome all on his own.
“I’m looking for someone.”
“Aw, a pretty thing like you? In a place like this? Yeah, I think you’ll be fine.” The barman said, eyes roaming Danny’s face, as he could feel it warming.
“No, that’s not what i-”
His laugh caught Danny off guard, but seeing a smile, for the first time since landing back in New York was a balm to his heart. The fact that the man had an arresting smile and warm, rich laugh had nothing to do with Danny’s currently racing heart, at least, Danny hoped it didn’t.
24 hours earlier, Harlem:
It was your average rainy winter day in New York. The rain had formed puddles on the street, which were reflecting the dim light of the lanterns. Danny slammed the car door shut and waited for Ward to get out. "Fucking weather," the older man muttered.
Danny slipped in his long coat and shrugged, "It's just water, Ward. It's not so bad."
His partner scoffed and waved at one of the uniformed officers. The man obeyed and hurried towards them. Danny didn't recognize him, although that was not really a surprise. They were a bit outside of their usual territory, but they were needed here so Central had no other choice. The police were running low on forces these days. Danny liked to believe that this was the reason he got the job so fast, although he knew that this wasn't the case.
Ward lit his cigar and looked at the officer, "What do we have here?"
"Uhm... " the young man stumbled. Ginger hair was visible under his hat. He looked 12 and the freckles didn't help much. Danny really hoped that Ward wouldn't make fun of him due to his age.
"When did the NYPD start hiring kids?"
So much for that.
Ginger-head rubbed his neck and continued to stumble, "I... I'm an adult."
"The case Officer...?" Danny interrupted as he tried to prevent Ward from jabbing at the kid again.
"Officer Miller," he gleamed with pride before he remembered the actual question, " A young lady found shot in the head over there."
"Thanks." Danny smiled and Ward nodded as he tapped his cigar over a puddle.
Miller led them down the busy street. Bystanders where stopping, trying to get a good look at the crime. In the house on the opposite side of the street, Danny could make out silhouettes. Underneath there was a strip club, all flashy neon signs and girls.
"We don't know who she is," Miller stated.
Ward looked around the shady neighborhood, "Whore?" Ward spoke out Danny's first thought.
Danny nodded towards the strip club, "Dancer?"
"We asked around they aren't missing any girls." Miller pointed them towards a small alleyway, just bright enough for some trash cans.
Ward walked ahead, taking off his hat as they approached the body.
The girl seemed to be young, maybe ninteen? Her long blonde hair flowed down over her shoulders. The bullet had entered her head through the side. Dark blood ran down the pale skin before it mixed with the rain water and vanished in the drain.
"She looks like a whore," Ward remarked.
Danny took a look at the short purple dress. It was glistering in the neon light from the street. It looked almost as if it was shining in all the colors of the rainbow.
"I don't know... looks like it could be a bit expensive for that." Danny kneeled down and looked up at his partner.
"There are expensive whores." Ward seemed really annoyed and Danny couldn't really blame him. He had a hell of a reputation at the department. And now he was assigned to a boring case with the Newbie child. On top of it, the rumor around the station was that he was assigned to this case because of drug problems.
"I know... I know.” Danny lifted the open purse from the ground. No identification. A lipstick, a small mirror, cigarettes and a lighter. The mirror looked expensive. Little silver flower ornaments framed the reflecting surface. Danny handed it to Ward and focused on the lipstick. It matched the one the girl was wearing. There was a French name written on it. Most likely a label and not her name though.
"Whoever she is..." Ward started looking at the mirror, “she seems to have had money."
“And?" Danny got up from the ground and turned around to look at the coroner's car arriving.
"Someone must be missing her. And if no one does, she's a noble whore and there aren't so many around.”
Danny nodded and looked around, but there wasn't much to see around her. The alley was just a cul-de-sac. There was no sign of the weapon or...
"She has no money with her," Danny stated.
Ward looked around to confirm the statement and nodded, "On the other hand there are no signs of a struggle. No marks on her wrist... in this part of the city, girls get raped when they are robbed."
The boy obeyed with non-surprising enthusiasm as he hurried towards the two detectives.
Ward seemed to enjoy the power he had over him, judging by the glistering in his eyes, "You said that you talked to the girls at the club?"
The boy blushed, “Yeah."
"Well," Ward tapped at his cigar, "Did you ask them about any unusual activities?"
"None of them noticed anything."
"Did you also ask the inhabitants of the house?" Ward asked.
The boy nodded proudly, “Mostly prostitutes and junkies. But they ain't missing anyone and haven't seen anything."
Ward smiled, “Good work."
The way the kid glowed with pride made Danny smile.
"There's nothing more for us to do here," Ward said as he pushed past the waiting coroners. Danny followed right behind him as they walked towards the car.
"At the precinct we have to go through the missing persons’ reports. Not much glamor, rich kid."
"No problem for me," Danny shrugged, and got into the passenger seat of the car.
The city flew past them. All flashing neon signs and pedestrians in dark coats. Danny could see his own reflection in the window. He looked tired. Dark rings under his eyes, his beard scrubby and his short blond curls were messy.
He needed sleep. But this was his first case at this job and he would not try to let it drag him down. And he was not going to show any weakness in front of his new partner. Ward was hard to read, not that reading people was one of Danny's strengths anyway but Ward was complicated. He seemed harsh and straight forward, he had a sharp face and strict eyes. At the same time, his smile was warm and gentle, he just smiled very rarely. And what bugged Danny the most about that, the smile had never been directed at him. Sure they were only working together for a few days now, still he had expected something as a greeting or a sign of respect. Not that Danny had been shown much respect these past few years.
He knew that it was pathetic, but in a way, he craved appreciation and it was hard for himself to not hate that reflection in the window. On the other hand, his problems seemed so little compared to that of the poor girl in the alley. Killed and left in the dirt as a nameless cold body.
Danny sighed and leaned back against the seat.
"That's pretty tame," Ward said and looked at him.
"My first case had been a family massacre in the suburbs, the parents and the two sons... it was a bloody mess."
That didn't really help to make Danny feel better, "What happened?"
"The father lost his job. He had been wounded in France a week before and leashed out."
"Yeah. Just remember that it can always be worse."
Danny looked down on his shoes, “That’s not how I usually think about the world."
"I don't care, that's just how it is."
The younger man sighed and looked out of the window. Back to the self-loathing.
A few blocks away:
Luke poured the customer a drink and smiled kindly. He was a regular, Liam Sanders. In his late forties, not really attractive, not really ugly. His brown hair wasn't spare or overly grey but it was cut weirdly and his glasses made him look older than he was. Sanders was from midtown; for a while Luke had wondered what a white, fairly well off man was doing in this neighborhood. One night it turned out that he had an affair with a girl in Harlem and was coming here before and after their dates. From what Luke could understand through Liam's drunken rambling a few weeks ago was that things ended bad. He assumed that these days Liam was only here out of habit.
"Hey! What does a man need to do to be served in here?" a guy asked from the other end of the bar.
Luke raised a brow. He had emptied the bottle of beer within less than a few minutes.
"Ask nicely, would be a start. “ He walked over towards him and pointed at the empty bottle, "Another?"
He nodded and Luke felt his eyes on him during every move he made. Not in a creepy way though but in a way that sent jolts through his body.
Luke opened the bottle and handed it to the man, "Never seen you around before."
"I live a few blocks down the road. There's another bar."
"Sam's? Didn't that burn down?"
"Guess, why I'm here. Though I have to admit... I wish I came here earlier. I like the view."
Luke smiled. This night was shaping up to be interesting. Not that Luke had trouble to find guys to spend the night with, but he rarely had people flirting with him at his place of work. Sometimes he had caught guys staring, but that was it. He figured that they were too shy or too afraid to flirt in a place filled with people. He sort of got that, although New York was far better, in terms of acceptance, than Savannah was, it was hard to be oneself.
The thing was, Luke had stopped caring. He had stopped caring about the glances and about discrimination. He was a gay, black man, growing up as the son of a preacher in Georgia. He had spent his whole life caring and New York had marked a new beginning for him.
Luke smiled teasingly, "Glad to hear that."
A smile played on the man's lips, “When do you close?"
Looking around the bar... it wasn't a busy night. Liam, the man at the bar, and a young couple in the back. The two lovers looked as if they were about to leave, with the man smoking his last cigarette. Luke could easily push Liam out, then he could close down and go upstairs with what's-his-name. The perks of having your own bar.
"Half an hour, tops."
The man smiled and raised his bottle in Luke's direction.
This night was going well.