It was a beautiful Thanksgiving morning: not too windy, not too cold, no snow yet, so the streets were pretty clean. It was just the sort of morning in which Leo would feel safe going out into the city. Or might have felt safe, if there weren't going to be three million extra people out on the sidewalks. As it was, he stood in front of the mirror, trying to psych himself up for the trip outdoors into the pre-dawn streets.
I am not going to die today, he thought.
"I am not going to die today," he said, like saying it aloud was going to help any more this day than it had for the past three-hundred.
"I am not going to die today, and if I am, I am sure as hell not going to be killed by a flying elephant."
Two days earlier...
There'd been something off with the radiators all day, and so the briefing room was more uncomfortably warm than usual once they were all packed into it. Casey shifted uncomfortably, easing forward in the seat to try to keep her shirt from sticking to her back. Sergeant Brown seemed unruffled as always as he dispensed information from the board at the front of the room. He even had a cup of coffee in hand.
"Okay, people," he said with a grimace. "We've got a credible threat to the Macy's parade. As we are all aware, the force is already stretched thin with the increased numbers for the new route. The commissioner has asked me to pass on just how grateful he would be for cooperation from all precincts in this matter." The news that their participation was not quite as optional as they'd originally hoped drew a groan out of everyone in the room.
"We will continue to assume that their focus will be on the balloons themselves, and not on the parade as a whole," he continued, "and we'll be placing priority accordingly. We'll still have extra eyes on the whole route, and we've been instructed to watch as many of the participating groups as we can, as quietly as we can." He gestured to the map behind him. "We'll be inserting undercover and plain-clothed officers into the parade route where we can, to keep an ear to the ground for anything out of the ordinary. Our detectives will be focusing on the parade participants. So if any of you have secret parade-marching expertise that you'd like to contribute...?" he paused to look around the room, but didn't seem surprised at the lack of volunteers.
As the awkward wait dragged out, Cole finally broke the silence with a question. "And there was no indication as to what action the..."
"Society for Helium Liberation, Education and Protection," Sergeant Brown supplied.
"SHLEP?" Walsh whispered, and Casey had to hold in a chuckle to keep from drawing Sarge's attention.
"... right. No indication as to what action they plan to take, just that it will be disruptive to the parade?"
"Correct. But there was no suggestion either in the tip or in the information they've been able to find about this group that they would target the non-inflatable portions of the parade."
Delahoy cleared his throat, and attracted the attention of most of the room. "So their goal is what? To set the helium free? To end decades of cruel helium oppression? To make sure that the children of the world never have to go without chipmunk voices at parties?"
"Their website indicates that they're working for conservation of an endangered element, and they consider the parade balloons to be a waste. We're unaware of whether they've had any prior interaction with the parade planners regarding the balloons."
Alvarez suddenly perked up at the potential for networking. "Are they aware of the parade's efforts to recapture the helium after the parade? I'd be happy to liaise with parade management to put together a press conference."
Brown just ignored him. "So that's no volunteers for parade duty, then? I'd be happy to assign you. We'll be focusing our efforts on the final quarter of the parade, for peak exposure, so if you'd look at the bottom of page 2--"
Walsh raised a hand, pointing to his list. "Can we get people in with one of the marching bands, or just the floats and the balloons?"
Delahoy snorted out a laugh and caught Sergeant Brown's attention again. "These band kids practice for months, you can't just blend in on two days notice, sir."
"Like you're the marching band expert," Walsh retorted.
Delahoy's looked over, and his sprawled posture seemed calculated to irritate. "It so happens I was in the marching band. I played the tuba," he said. "My dad thought it was important that I participate."
"You were a band geek?" Banks asked. "I always figured you for a track star, or maybe a running back."
Delahoy rolled his eyes. "Pfft, football. The band bus, that's where all the action with the cheerleaders was on away games."
"And Schraeger must have been a cheerleader, right? So you two can blend," Walsh suggested with a wink.
Casey turned to scowl at him before turning back to the Sergeant. "With respect, sir, being an undercover hooker and an undercover pep squad member are not the same thing."
"Why can't it be a political statement against lip synching?" Delahoy whined as he scanned through the parade listing. "I'd be all over a protection detail for Katharine McPhee."
"I'm sure if you stick around long enough, we'll be able to meet all your needs for frivolous protesting, Delahoy. Today, however, you will be following the balloons, and I will be sitting on my happy ass right here in the office, drinking coffee, and answering the phone so that I can blow smoke at the commissioner about what a phenomenal job my detectives are doing. Track these guys down. Dress warm. Make us proud."
Sergeant Brown had barely settled into his chair when there was a knock on the door frame; he held in a groan at the sight of Alvarez waiting to talk to him.
"As you know, sir, the eyes of the nation, even the world, are on New York today, and you can count on Eddie Alvarez to put his best foot forward. Perhaps the local commentators would appreciate the scoop on the story. Eddie Alvarez is prepared to be of service, and to answer any questions they might have."
"What part of 'sensitive information' do you not understand, Alvarez? " he said with a sigh. "No. The last thing we need is a riot of panicked tourists on top of the threat to the parade. Find another angle or go home."
Faced with another evening of stilted conversation at her parents' table, Casey couldn't help but latch on to any opportunity to stay away. But she already owed Walsh months of reports. She was already getting diminishing returns on those, and it was just going to get worse if she kept pushing.
The only other leverage she could even think of trying to use on Walsh was Beaumont. Odds were that she wouldn't be willing to help, with the prospect of a day off and holiday time to share with him, but it was worth a shot. Owing favors to Beaumont would provide Casey some variety at least. She stopped by Walsh's place after her shift, hoping to find Beaumont there, but of course Walsh was waiting instead. He stood in the doorway, blocking her entrance.
"Missed me already?"
Screw it, she thought, and pushed past him out of the cold. "I need a favor. I need us to volunteer for this parade duty."
"You tell me why you'd pass up on a posh dinner in a nice, warm house to go hiking through midtown looking for crackpots, and I'll think about it." The look on Walsh's face said that he was on to her already, but it was too late to back out.
"My parents don't do Thanksgiving. Their caterers do Thanksgiving, and they invite every pretentious pair of empty-nesters in a ten-block radius. It's intolerable."
"So what you're saying is that you want me to volunteer for a shift so that you don't have to be uncomfortable." The look on his face said that he was going to enjoy every second of this, and that it was going to be expensive.
"I'll owe you," she said. "I'll owe you more," she clarified at his raised eyebrow, and leaned back against the wall of the diner. "What's it gonna be this time?"
"Why do you think I want something? Couldn't I just be agreeing to help my partner avoid her loving family on one of the biggest holidays of the year out of the goodness of my heart?"
"Yeah, probably not."
"So? What do I owe you this time?" she repeated. She moved forward to put her hands on the counter, but thought better of it when she looked at the film on the surface, and crossed her arms instead.
"Blah blah partner whatever," Walsh said with a smirk. "I know you're good for it. I'd rather have the voucher."
Banks would have been pacing if there had been more room. As it was, he just hovered anxiously over his desk, nearly twitching, and he was driving Eric crazy. "What if there's a scare? What if something happens and people panic, and everyone lets go at once?"
"Then you let go, too, man. It's not gonna happen. You'll be fine." Eric could probably have tried harder to be comforting, but he didn't bother to look up from his keyboard as he talked. "What's your problem, man? No guns, no chainsaws, just a bunch of happy tourists and a whole lot of bad costumes. I thought you loved the parade. You should be psyched to be part of it."
Banks snorted. "Yeah, I love the Macy's Parade. I love watching it from my couch--"
"Your inflatable couch. You should love balloons!"
"--in my apartment, on TV--"
"You don't even have a TV! How do you have a computer? Aren't you worried you're going to electrocute yourself?"
"--from a nice safe distance."
"From a boring distance. That's missing all the fun."
"You could take my place."
"Couldn't," Eric said, starting to tick off reasons on his fingers. "I haven't been trained. They'd be wasting my valuable marching band expertise, and most importantly, pink really isn't my color."
"Remember that one day when you were really supportive and understanding and weren't trying to get me killed? That was a great day."
Having exhausted his supply of comfort, Eric turned to his preferred choice, winding Banks up. "I don't know what you're worried about. Just a couple million crazed pedestrians--"
"15,000 cubic feet of helium--"
"Shut -- just shut up, okay? You are not being helpful."
"-- and 10 stories worth of impermeable fabric waiting to collapse on you if something blows a hole in it," he finished. "Nothing to worry about."
"I hate you."
Beaumont walked into the squad room Wednesday morning and paused, leaning against Henry's desk so that she could see the map and notes he'd copied down from the board. "So, are we in?"
"I thought... well, I don't want my choices to impose on your holiday, but I always enjoyed watching the parade on TV, growing up. I'd hate to see anything happen to it. You don't have plans?"
"Not anymore," she grumbled, and went to sit down.
Truth be told, Henry had been dreading Thanksgiving for weeks, wondering if he could pull off the first dinner with his in-laws and finally put his worries about his past leaking through behind him. His relief at having a good excuse not to go didn't make calling Amy to break the news any easier, though.
"Honey, I--" Even though Henry couldn't see her face, he could nearly hear the trembling of her lips over the phone as she tried to be brave about it.
"I know how important your job is, sweetie," she said with a sigh. "I'll explain to my parents that you can't make it. It's just... it's just, they were so looking forward to us all being together as a family this holiday season."
Henry didn't even know whether Frank's family was still alive, back home. He'd never been close to them to begin with, so it wasn't like they'd be missing him at the table, but it still seemed wrong, as the only link between Frank's death and his past, that Henry could be around to celebrate the holiday with family when Frank couldn't. Still, Henry walked into the sergeant's office and told him that he and his partner would be honored to be of service to the city on this auspicious day.
Banks looked around at the gathering crowd a little nervously, patted down his costume, and tried to keep an eye on the other balloon handlers without looking creepy. The pre-parade training had been uneventful, if a little scary. It seemed like everyone was just so excited to be there.
Lining up before dawn definitely wasn't the worst thing he'd had to do for work, but it was still pretty bad. It was cold, but on the bright side, no one was shooting at him. Yet.
Casey followed Walsh into the station to meet up with their slightly damp suspect. Walsh's right foot made an unfortunate squelching sound with every step, and Casey tried not to think about how much she was going to owe him for a trip into the fountain. She trailed him in embarrassed silence, through the break room for a well-deserved cup of coffee, across the squad room to retrieve the case files until they reached the interview room that contained one highly unrepentant protester with a SHLEP sticker on his jacket.
Casey stood just inside the door and let Walsh take the lead in the interrogation. He paced in front of the table for a minute, pausing occasionally to look at the suspect before starting again. Just when Casey was wondering if she'd missed a cue, Walsh finally talked. "How about you help us out, kid. You're old enough to know better, right?"
The kid just stared stoically at the wall.
"You look like you're old enough to know better. College guy, right?" he asked, but he got no response. Walsh sighed. "Okay, how about this: you're wrong. Like, not politically wrong. Scientifically wrong. The way to protest the waste of helium is not to punch a giant hole in the balloon and let it all out. You know that, right? Would you go kill a bald eagle so that you could tack it up to your signboard protesting eagle deaths? No. Because you are not an idiot. This guy," he said, gesturing to the picture of the group's leader in the file, "he is turning you into an idiot."
Walsh slammed the heel of his hand onto the table and finally got a reaction. Instead of asking the kid another question, though, he glanced over at Casey. "Too much bad cop?"
"It's not too much bad cop until they sue," she said, then turned to the kid. "Not that I'm giving you any ideas, sparky."
Walsh shrugged. "I'm just sayin', I'd appreciate the feedback. We're gonna be here for a while. I might as well practice."
Beaumont moved over to the coffee pot and bumped her shoulder against Henry's. "Quiet day, after all that, huh?"
"Yeah, I don't mind though."
"You gonna call Amy? You could still make it in time for football, finish up here tomorrow."
"Are you going to call your mother?" he countered.
She grinned. "Nope. Thought I might try to drag Walsh off somewhere quiet though. I won't be around to rat on you if you want to stay late."
Henry thought he'd go swing by the chess tables on the way home, maybe see about getting a hot dog.
Casey looked out the window, and tried to estimate the time without having to look at a clock. The parade had finished without incident, so either something had gone wrong or it had all been a hoax, but the kid still wasn't talking, about anything. She was just about to pull Walsh into the observation room for a consultation, when the kid broke his silence.
"Do you think I could get something to eat? I skipped breakfast. My stomach's sort of fluttery."
"Hey, me too," Walsh said. "Also, my hands are shaky and my knees are weak. I'm in love, I'm all shook up," he added, deadpan.
"I'll be sure to tell Beaumont," Casey cracked, and Walsh grinned back at her.
"Look, I'll make you a deal, and we'll get you some food. All we really needed to do was hold you until the parade was over. Tell us something, and I'll get you a snack myself while they're processing your release. Hell, I'll order us some pizza."
"Or," Casey countered, "we can hold you for 24 hours, just to be safe, and you can test out the catering services in holding. I'm sure your parents won't mind that you're behind bars while they carve the turkey."
"More leftovers for everyone else," Walsh pointed out.
Leo slipped away from the parade crowd as soon as they were cleared to let go of the balloon, and headed to the subway to put a couple happy miles between himself and the commotion. He hadn't wanted to tempt fate by counting down the days until he turned 43, but now, just weeks away, returning home at the end of every day felt a little more like hope. He'd already lived longer than his father had, after all. There was something to be proud of in that, as dangerous as his job could be. Now that the white-knuckled panic of the parade assignment was over, he could even start to appreciate how cool it was to have been a part of it. Maybe he could find some footage online, and watch it while he ate his dinner, safe in his apartment.
When she couldn't drag her feet at the precinct any longer, Casey started the trip over to her parents' place, hoping to catch the tail end of the meal and then go home to sleep. She was unpleasantly surprised to find everyone still mingling, and caterers still circling with trays of hors d'oeuvres. Then, to add insult to injury, she was presented with the sight of Eddie Alvarez leaning casually against a bookcase in the library. A quick scan of the room turned up Nicole and her mother chatting with some gray-haired lady that Casey didn't recognize, and she only had a minute to wish that she'd invited Davis before her own mother caught her attention. It took her a moment to register what was being said.
"-- and well, Nicole's mother said that her husband was member of your team--"
"--so I thought it would be a lovely gesture to include them in the invitation."
"Right. Lovely," Casey agreed, unable to inject any spirit of Thanksgiving into the response. Her mother's eyebrows twitched towards a frown, and Casey started to plot her escape.
Just then, there was a tap on her shoulder and Davis moved smoothly into the conversation, with just the right amount of deference that it wasn't obvious to Casey's mother that she was being handled, but the wink that Davis sent her way made it clear just how much she was going to owe him when the dinner was over.
She was going to have a hell of a tab to pay off by New Year's.