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Am I

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while we tell of yuletide treasure









 

 


Am I

 

Fandom: Homicide Life on the Street

 

Written for: Giuliana in the New Year Resolutions 2009 Challenge

by Philipa Moss

Prayer echoed round the room boomingly. Up in the choir loft, the organist,
nodding off, accidentally rested his elbow on a key and a piping note cried out before
being abruptly cut off.

"If we're going to sit through this entire thing," Tim whispered, "you can at least
tell me what we're going here."

"We are walking in the footsteps of Maria Santini," Frank whispered back. "Now
shut up."

"See, Frank, that's where you're wrong. Because what we're doing is sitting in a
pew in a church---in a Catholic church---and, quite frankly, the incense is getting to be
too much for me."

"Shhh."

"I don't see Maria Santini. I actually don't see much of anything. Am I
bloodshot?" Tim looked earnestly at Frank, eyes wide, white, and perfectly dry.

Frank glanced at him briefly out of the corner of his eye. "No."

Tim rummaged in his coat pocket. "Oh God. I think I left my eye drops back in
the squad room."

"Don't say that."

"Well I'm not happy about it either."

"No. Don't say 'Oh God' like that in here."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Okay." Tim settled back in the pew.

For a while they sat side-by-side in silence and listened to the priest, who was
making his closing remarks. "Éas I'm sure you know," he was saying. "Now I know that
all of you will do what you can to aid the police as they investigate Stephen's murder. His
time with us was all too short, but the gifts he left behind him were manifold. There will
be a small gathering in our parish center following the funeral on Saturday. All are
welcome to attend. Now please bow your heads. And let us pray."

Tim bowed his head.

"What are you doing?" hissed Frank in his ear.

Tim resolutely kept his head down and his eyes shut. "I'm not allowed to pray?"

"Not right now."

"Then what are we doing here? I know we're not looking for Maria Santini. She
didn't do it. She was in Philly."

Frank was silent. He kept his eyes fixed on the priest.

"Admit it, Frank. You want to start going to church again."

"I don't go to church anymore."

"And yet here we are."

The organist began to play the recessional and everyone stood.

"Ouch," said Tim.

"What is it now?"

"My back. I knew the angle of the pew would cause a problem."

Frank replied, at last, in his regular tone and volume. He rounded on Tim once the
priest was safely down the aisle and said, "I didn't bring you here to listen about your
back. This isn't Lourdes. We've got a stone whodunit. So I'm retracing the steps of the
last person to see the victim alive, and you are with me because, for some," Frank
lowered his voice, "ungodly reason, you offered to come."

"I thought you said a drink at the bar."

"What?"

Tim edged out of the pew and started down the aisle. Frank followed him. "When
I asked you where you were going and you said Saint Vincent DePaul, Munch started
shouting into the phone and I couldn't hear you real well so I thought you said, 'A drink
at the bar.'"

"Hmm," said Frank. "Why would I want to get a drink with you?"

"I was a little surprised," Tim said, "but you have to admit, it makes more sense
than dragging me to mass with you."

"I did not---" a large woman cutting off his exit momentarily interrupted Frank.

Tim headed out of the church in front of him. He smiled when he saw the priest
shaking hands with the members of the congregation who filed past him. Tim noted that
Frank was still wedged between the heavyset Irish woman and an old African-American
couple, and decided to leave him there for the moment. He walked toward the priest, his
hand outstretched.

"That was a great sermon, Father," said Tim.

"Thank you, Detective Bayliss," said the priest. "I was surprised to see you and
Detective Pembleton here. Was there anyone in particular you needed to talk to?"

Tim smiled briefly. "Frank was looking for a guy," he said.

"Maybe I can help," said the priest. "Do I know him?"

"I would think so," said Tim. "Don't sweat it, though. Frank'll track Him down
again when he's ready."

"Ah." The priest glanced over Tim's shoulder. Tim followed his gaze and found
Frank a few feet off, talking earnestly with a shriveled old man in a snap cap.

"Maria Santini's grandfather," said the priest sadly. "Stephen's death was quite a
blow for him. I hope he has someone to look after him." Seeing Tim's curiosity, the
priest laughed ruefully and went on, "He comes to mass nearly every day, but he doesn't
confide in me. The only time we've spoken was when his wife died, and that was only to
confirm the choice of cemetery."

"It must be sad," said Tim, "to be all alone like that."

"He has God, of course," said the priest, "but I can't help but wish that he had a
friend, or some family, to make sure he's alright."

Frank shook hands with Mr. Santini, and joined Tim and the priest, nodding in the
latter's direction. "Father O'Connor."

"Detective Pembleton."

"Tim," said Frank, "we should head back to the squad room. I think I have a
lead."

"And I could have spent tonight at The Waterfront," grumbled Tim, but he smiled
and nodded at the Father O'Connor as they walk off.

"I did not drag you to mass with me," said Frank abruptly, as they reached the car.

"Fine," said Tim, and climbed in.

"I did not make you do anything against your will," said Frank, starting the
engine.

"I know," said Tim.

The pulled out of the parking lot and headed south on Calvert Street.

"I did not bind and gag you, lure you with grilled cheese and false promises, or
otherwise trick you into coming along. You were, in fact, quite eager to join me."

"That was because I thought we were going to the bar," said Tim. "But, no, I
mean, you're right, I could've left when I saw we were taking the car."

"Like a little puppy, you were eager," said Frank. "I've often said as much to
Mary."

"How is Mary?" asked Tim.

Frank ignored him. "In fact, you are so Lassie-like at times that I've often
considered trying that out as a nickname."

Tim shook his head. "It would be too confusing."

"Confusing?"

"Lassie would tell people that Timmy fell down the well."

"And?"

"Well it'd be weird if Tim told people that Timmy fell down the well."

"You're not getting it. We wouldn't be calling you Tim, we'd be calling you
Lassie."

"Plus there aren't many wells left in Baltimore," said Tim.

"True."

They lapsed into silence, and after a while Tim leaned in to turn on the radio.
Someone---probably someone from the other shift---had left the radio tuned in to WJHU
and the announcer, a pot-bellied chain-smoking musicologist (as Frank envisioned him)
was just of saying, "---and grab a tub of ice cream. Now here's one for the rest of you this
Valentine's Day weekend. So cuddle up and enjoy."

The song started.

"It's Valentine's Day?" asked Tim, incredulous.

"Tomorrow," said Frank. "Some detective you are."

Strange, dear, but true, dear,

When I'm close to you, dear,

The stars fill the sky,

So in love with you am I.

"What is this song?" asked Tim. "It's so familiar."

"Cole Porter."

"Who?"

"Cole Porter, you fool. Well-known and well loved Tin Pan Alley composer and
lyricist. A Yale man. Noted for his euphemistic lyrics---"

"We just passed the station," said Tim.

"Noted for his euphemistic lyrics and catchy tunes and---"

"Make a U-turn."

"---sleeping with men while married. All right. Fine."

Frank turned the car around, but instead of pulling up in front of the station, he
parked across the street in front of The Waterfront. "Happy now?" he said, and turned off
the engine, interrupting the song at:

So taunt me and hurt me,

Deceive me, desert me,

I'm yours 'til I---

Tim grinned, said nothing, and leapt out of the car.

Inside, Frank draped his coat over a seat at a corner table. "Sit down," said Frank,
gesturing toward the other seat. "What're you having?"

"Heineken," said Tim, putting his coat down. "I'll be right back. I gotta ask Lewis
something."

Frank headed to the bar to order drinks and Tim walked across the restaurant to
where Lewis and Kellerman were sitting, talking at the top of their lungs.

"Lewis, you're my partner. I'm not going to keep stuff from you!"

"That's great, Mikey, but some stuff I just don't wanna know."

"Hey, Lewis," said Tim, "have you talked to Munch about the pool table yet?"

"I'm getting there, I'm getting there. Thing is, whenever I bring it up, I get a play
by play of how him and Felicia, they used to do it on a pool table. Makes me almost want
to ditch the entire thing, you know?"

"Ah. Good point," said Tim. "That's an image I don't need in my head." He
gestured over his shoulder. "See you guys tomorrow."

Once Tim was back at his table, Kellerman leaned across the table toward Lewis
and muttered, "The dynamic duo. Bayliss and Pembleton go and case a joint on their
night off and still find time for a round of drinks."

Lewis looked hurt. "What do you think we're doing?"

"This is just a stopgap, my friend," said Kellerman. "You and I are back on the
clock in, oh, nine hours."

Lewis settled back in his chair. "Don't get your panties in a wad over Bayliss and
Pembleton, Mikey," he said. "They hate each other."

"They---" Kellerman turned his head violently to the right and stared across at
their table. "What? No they don't!"

"Think about it, Mikey. All the signs are there. That is a marriage that has gone
sour."

"You don't have a clue what you're talking about Mr. Different Girlfriend Every
Night of the Week."

"Not lately," said Lewis wisely. "Mark my words. Still waters run deep."

Kellerman threw a cheese twist at him. "What does that even mean? Pembleton
and Bayliss love each other."

Lewis closed his eyes and intoned seriously, "There is a fine line between love
and hate."

"Exactly my point."

He opened his eyes. "Oh just drink your beer," he said sourly. "We've gotta be
back at work in nine hours."

Over at the other end of the restaurant, Frank was saying, "---and I don't care how
many times he tells me no. I'm going to come at him and come at him and come at him
until he admits that Maria wasn't actually in Philly that night. She was in Baltimore,
killing Stephen Rogers.

"I think that was the song my grandmother used to hum all the time," said Tim.

Frank stopped mid-tirade, but did not change his tone. "What?"

"That Cole Porter song," said Tim. "She used to hum it or sing it when she made
cookies."

"Charming," said Frank, dryly.

"It was," said Tim, resting his chin on one hand. "Imagine those lyrics set to an
orchestra of chocolate chip."

"Very poetic," said Frank. "Now, to get back to the Rogers case---"

"You said Cole Porter was married?" asked Tim.

"Yes."

"To a woman?"

"Obviously."

"Huh."

Frank raised his eyebrows expectantly, as if waiting to see if more than "huh" was
forthcoming. When it appeared that "huh" would be all, he resumed. "So if we can come
up with a very compelling reason, I'm pretty sure Gee will let us get Mr. Santini in the
box. He may look frail, but he's holding something back and it's going to take a lot to get
it out of him. I know the type."

"Did his wife know?" asked Tim.

"His wife is dead."

"What?"

"Mr. Santini's wife is dead."

"No, Cole Porter's wife. Did she know that he was sleeping with men while they
were married?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"No, I'm lying to you. Yes. Really."

"And she was okay with that?"

Frank leaned forward. "Bayliss, what do you care? They're both dead now. The
man was a musical sensation. What does the rest of it matter?"

"I would just think his wife would be hurt, that's all," said Tim. "If he married her
under false pretences."

Frank shrugged. "That kind of thing happened all the time back then. Also, they
had an agreement, it would seem."

"An agreement?"

"She was fine with his sleeping with other men so long as he kept it subtle."

"Kept it subtle."

"Yes."

"What if he didn't want to keep it subtle?"

Frank took a sip of his beer. "Then he married the wrong woman."

"Huh."

Lewis and Kellerman passed by their table on their way out the door.

"Later," said Kellerman.

"Pool table," said Lewis.

"I should probably be going too," said Tim. "Let you get home to Mary."

"Yes," said Frank. "Don't get into too much trouble on your day off. I don't want
to have to spot your for another eleven cents."

"I was good for it, wasn't I?"

Frank grinned.

They shrugged their coats on, and left the restaurant. Frank got in the car and
started it up, to park it along the other police vehicles across the street. Tim leaned in his
window. "Happy Valentine's Day, Frank," he said.

The radio whirred to life.

Day and night, night and day, why is it so

That this longing for you follows wherever I go

In the roaring traffics boom

In the silence of my lonely room

I think of you

"Happy Valentine's Day, Tim," said Frank.

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