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three-part disharmony

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"--and the next thing I knew, the young man in the blue turned on the young man in the red and stabbed him. He stabbed that young man five times, yes Lord." Mrs. Beauwright paused and peered at Bayliss. "You oughtta be putting some witch hazel on that, you know. It'll pull out the bruise and take the pain right away."

"Uh, yeah," Bayliss mumbled distractedly. Pembleton said, "Thank you for your help, ma'am," flashed a smile, and headed back to the car at a brisk pace with Tim loping to catch up.

"Well, that was helpful," Bayliss said as he tucked his notebook away. "Not often we get such forthcoming witnesses in these cases. These drug-related cases, huh, Frank."

"Don't jump on the serendipity train just yet," Pembleton said. "Call me a doomsayer, but Mrs. Beauwright's testimony about various young men decked out in red and blue might not pull so much weight when it's time to get a warrant."

"Hmmmm." Bayliss eased himself into the passenger seat and tapped his pen thoughtfully against his mouth as Pembleton threw the department Cavalier into violent reverse and jerked it back into forward momentum in quick succession. "I guess you're right, but -- I mean, in the end it all comes down to us doing the work, doesn't it? No matter what the witness has to say."

"Isn't that what we get paid for?"

"Yeah, but you know what I mean. Take that, um, that shooting up in Coppin Heights last week. Remember the two college kids we talked to?"

Pembleton nodded. "The ones who watch too many crime shows."

"Exactly! They gave us the textbook rundown on how to identify a suspect -- height, ethnicity, hair and eye colour, clothes, identifying marks -- and in the end it didn't even matter, because they weren't even talking about the right suspect."

"Look, Tim – you can't take anything that any witness says as gospel. Because if they're not lying, then they're stupid, and if they're not stupid, then they just don't know any better."

Bayliss jabbed his pen into the pocket with his notebook. "That's what I'm saying, Frank."

"Then say it," Pembleton said, "and don't dance around the point."

Three red lights came and went and rain was just starting to patter down on the roof of the car when Bayliss said, "You're a little tense." There was a distinctly smug note to his voice, one that meant I am your partner and I know you well enough to read your moods, and despite knee-jerk irritation Frank had to admit (to himself at least) that it was a fair enough assessment.

"It's been a … tense … week," he said at last, and thankfully, all Tim did was nod.

"Between Felton getting murdered and this new rotation policy, yeah," he agreed. "This might be our last job as murder police for three whole months, Frank." Bayliss slouched down in his seat. "Three months can seem like forever."

Pembeton turned into the police parking lot. "Can also seem like no time at all." He parked the car with an emphatic sort of finality. Tim opened his mouth and shut it again, and they got out and walked up the motorpool rampway silently. There had been a certain censorious tension growing between them for a while now, since ... well, since even before that one cold night when Bayliss had told Pembleton about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his uncle. Perhaps it was since Pembleton had come back to work after the stroke, brain pockmarked and limping. Sometimes Tim thought that he'd told Frank about his uncle as a way of leveling the field again -- you were vulnerable in front of me, now I'm vulnerable in front of you, hallelujah amen -- but things had still never been quite the same. The heavy silence that hung between them in these unguarded moments? That was an unwelcome new partner, and neither of them knew what the hell to do about it.

Frank peeled off to the washroom as soon as they got into the squadroom and Howard cocked her head as Bayliss swirled past her desk. "Been in the wars, Tim?"

"Tim's always in the wars, Kay," Munch intoned. "Caused either by external forces beyond his control or ever-present inner turmoil--"

"Inner turmoil." Howard sounded less than convinced, which of course was the cue for Munch to stretch his fingers and launch into elaboration.

"Sure, Kay. The constant struggle within a man's soul to find that one true eternal love, that one moment of truth and clarity, that one perfect poppy-seed bagel."

"I don't like poppy-seed bagels," Bayliss said. "They get stuck in my fillings."

Munch raised his eyebrows. "Hence the inner turmoil." Howard snorted good-naturedly and went back to her paperwork as Munch followed Bayliss to his desk and perched on a corner of it. "Speaking of which, Kay's just found out where she's being reassigned -- Vice."

"Yeah?" Bayliss looked over at Kay, who was muttering to herself and twisting her red hair up into buns that instantly sprang loose again. "How's she taking it?"

"How would you take it if you were getting rotated out of a perfect clearance rate to chase down smokehounds and pimps?" He heaved a sigh and stood up, leaning in confidentially to add, "Seriously, though, you should put a cold soda can on that for a while. It'll take down the swelling and make you look less, shall we say, felonious."

"Thanks," Bayliss said somewhat belatedly as Munch hopped away. "Everybody's so ... helpful."

Pembleton banged out of the washrooms and veered into the breakroom, pausing only to catch Bayliss' attention and motion him over. Tim levered himself up with only the slightest aggrieved mutter from his achy back and followed his partner into the breakroom, where Frank handed him a cup of coffee and they stood leaning against the counter.

"I was thinking," Pembleton said. He stopped there and his mouth tightened, and he looked into his cup.

Bayliss frowned, worried his lip with his teeth. "I know," he muttered, halfway relieved that Frank had broached the situation, halfway resentful. "It's all kind of ... hinky."

Frank looked up intently. "Hinky like you don't wanna be partners hinky?" he demanded. "Not that it'll matter when we get rotated out to being meter maids--"

"How can you even ask that?" Bayliss dropped his cup onto the counter, aghast, and splayed his fingers in the general direction of his face. "After what I went through for you?!?"

"Oh, come on -- Bayliss, you don't think I'm responsible for you going a couple rounds with an ornery police informant and ending up with a black eye?"

"I was defending you!" Tim leaned forward to emphasize his righteousness in the matter and Frank leaned in to meet him, exaggeratedly attentive. "I mean, you heard what that brain-dead moron called you, Frank--"

"And you think I've never been called that? Worse than that, and by better people than some useless snitch like Mudge?" Pembleton drew upright with a sharp indrawn breath, putting his cup down as well and gathering himself. "Look, Tim," he said more calmly as Bayliss ran his hand in agitated circles over the back of his head, "you can't be jumping into people's fists like that. I sure as hell can't afford to get into fights with garden-variety bigots. It's only rarely worth it anyway, and right now with Mary six months pregnant? With Livvy and a new baby on the way?" Frank drew in another breath, this one more gusty and ending up on a sigh. His voice was more subdued when he said, "I just got her back, Tim."

Tim blinked. Frank's olive branches came a little prickly sometimes, but wasn't being partners being able to compensate for that kind of thing? "Yeah," he said slowly. "Yeah, Frank." Bayliss reached out and clasped his partner's shoulder, feeling grateful and suddenly more buoyant. "I get it, okay."

Pembleton nodded, rocking a little on his heels. Lewis ambled into the breakroom, eyed them, and said, "I hate to break up whatever love-fest is going on in here, but Gee's out there calling for you two to visit the principal's office." He appropriated Tim's coffee and idly commented, "a good cold beefsteak'll take the shine right outta that shiner, Timmy," as Pembleton and Bayliss turned to leave.

"I took Mudge down pretty quick, though, you gotta admit," Bayliss said comfortably as they headed to Giardello's office. "He only got in the one lucky punch."

Pembleton said in a level tone, "He'd'a never got that far if I had decided to take him down." He didn't even break his stride. Giardello saw them approaching and got up to stand in his doorway, enormous hands folded together almost demurely.

"My wandering detectives," he announced. "I have good news for you; it looks as though you two will be attending the same summer camp for the next three months."

"Matching meter maids," Frank muttered under his breath. Tim smiled as Gee stepped aside, gesturing for them to take seats, and hoped that their unwelcome partner wouldn't let the door hit it on the way out.