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Don't Swallow the Cap

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"This will never work."

Raymond stares at his squad standing before him, and at the detritus of police work arrayed on his desk. There are surveillance photographs, witness interviews, victim statements.

Out of the corner of one eye, he can just see a framed photographic print hanging on the wall: Cheddar, in the nine most popular outfits and poses from his Instagram account in the past year. One of them—the one at center—involves an American flag and a tiny NYPD uniform, so Raymond deemed the print workplace-appropriate.

"Cheddar is perfectly behaved at all times." He closes the file with a snap. "This"—he spits out the next words—"pet therapist will see right through our ruse."

"He's not really a pet therapist!" Jeffords says, hands by his head.

"No one's really a pet therapist," Diaz tells him. She folds her arms. "That's not a thing."

"Oh, Rosa, I beg to differ. When Jason was still alive, a pet therapist really helped him get the most out of his humping."

Disgust ripples through the room in the form of a collective groan. "Gross, Charles." At least three people say it in unison.

"Cheddar does not need any assistance with humping."

Peralta gasps as if he may fall into a swoon. His face oscillates wildly between horror and glee. "You just said 'humping'!"

"I have to go." Santiago bolts from his office.

"Sir, come on." Jeffords rubs his forehead and goes back to pleading his case. "It would only take an hour. You make an appointment, the guy comes over for a therapy session with you and Cheddar, cases the house, and comes back a few days later to break in."

"And it's gotta be you, sir," Diaz says. Raymond is about to ask why when she answers the question: "You've got the best stuff."

"A valid point, Detective." He does, indeed, have the best stuff.

 

45 MINUTES LATER
"But Raymond, this will never work. Cheddar is perfectly behaved at all times."

"Yes." Raymond makes a valiant attempt to keep the vindication from his face as Kevin repeats what Raymond himself had said not one hour earlier. "I said as much."

"This pet therapist will see right through our ruse."

"Yes, I said that as well."

Diaz chimes in. "And I said pet therapy isn't a thing, so it doesn't matter. Plus you have the best stuff."

"An argument I was unable to counter," Raymond says.

Kevin glances around the foyer, considering. "Mmm, yes. A valid point."

"Kev!!" Peralta appears out of nowhere and bounds up the stairs, straight through the door, and directly into Kevin. Kevin tries to escape, but he's no match for Peralta's long, oddly rubbery arms. "It's so great to see you!!"

"Peralta." Kevin finally manages to extract himself.

"'Peralta'?! Come on, we can't be back on a last-name basis! I sent you like five copies of Leaving Las Vegas!"

"One would have been sufficient," Kevin says—although Raymond knows for a fact Kevin hasn't watched a single copy.

"What would you like to do tonight?"

"Jake sent another Nicolas Cage film. We could…. watch it?"

"Oh, Kevin. You do make me laugh."

"You'll have to excuse me. Raymond, do what you must." And with that vicious comment, Kevin is gone. Raymond looks after him, concerned.

"That was weird," Diaz says.

"Yeah," Peralta says. "Everything okay, Captain?"

"Of course," he says, mentally going over the past few days and weeks to find something to indicate the source of Kevin's upset. But all he can find is the occasional baffling non-sequitur about popular culture and repeated jokes about watching Nicolas Cage movies. "Everything is fine."

 

THE NEXT MORNING
"Running late this morning, sir?"

Raymond looks at his watch, and then at Diaz. "Not at all. There are twelve minutes left before I need to clock in."

"Yeah, but usually we start calling hospitals if you're not here with at least fifteen minutes to spare."

"Really?" Raymond finds himself unexpectedly touched by his squad's attention to his routine and well-being.

"Nah, not really."

"I see." He pauses. "Well, no need to be alarmed. I took Kevin to stay with friends until this ruse is complete, and the pet therapist is behind bars where he belongs."

"Good call, sir. Things still weird?"

"Weird?"

"Your suitcase seems heavier than normal," Raymond said, hefting it into the trunk. "Are you taking your research?"

"No," Kevin said, his chin held at an oddly defensive angle. "I'm taking my DVDs."

"DVDs!" Raymond said through his laughter. "I'm going to miss you so much."

Raymond eyes Diaz. "What do you mean, weird?"

 

TWO DAYS LATER
"What's up! Raymond Holt?"

"Yes. Welcome, Doctor. Please, come in." Raymond opens the door and gestures for the pet therapist to enter, although under normal circumstances, this fraudulent 'doctor' and his what's-up greeting and completely unprofessional attire—his Polo shirt has both buttons unbuttoned, for God's sake—would not be welcome in his home.

"Thank you, Ray. Do you mind if I call you Ray?"

"Of course not. Ray is a perfectly acceptable nickname to bestow upon someone you just met in a professional context." By this, Raymond hopes to convey that he does, in fact, mind.

"Uh… yeah. Cool. Well, you can call me Todd."

"Todd," Raymond says, spending what feels like a good five seconds on that 'o' before biting off the 'd.'

"Todd," Todd says, nodding.

"Well. Todd. Let me call Cheddar—"

"Oh, hold up, Ray, I'm not ready for Cheddar just yet. I'd like to take a look around your house first, get a feel for Cheddar's environment, talk through his routine, spend some time getting to know you and your wife."

"My— wife."

"Well, yes." Todd looks confused and earnest at the same time. "A pet's human caretakers are the most important part of its environment, don't you agree?"

Raymond is forced to admit that he agrees.

"I'm sorry," Todd continues, "I thought we discussed the need to have all members of the household present for the initial consultation. Will your wife be home soon?"

Raymond blinks. "I believe so. Let me just call her. 'Her' being my female wife. The woman to whom I am happily wed." He takes out his phone and dials. "Hello. It is I, your male husband, Raymond Holt. It seems I forgot to mention you needed to be here for the consultation with the therapist. Are you on your way— oh, all right, then. Perfect."

He hangs up just as the front door bursts open.

"Hi, honey," Diaz calls out, with a big, terrifying smile. "I'm home."

 

30 MINUTES LATER
"Thanks for the tour. You two have a beautiful home." Todd may as well be drooling as the three of them enter the study and sit down—Raymond and Diaz on the sofa, Todd at the desk. "We'll be ready for Cheddar in a minute, but first, I want to spend a few minutes discussing your relationship."

"Our relationship," Diaz repeats.

"Yes," Raymond tells her. "As a happily married heterosexual couple."

"Right. That relationship. Sure, go ahead."

Todd shifts in his chair, his expression grave as he looks between them. "As we toured the house, I noticed something odd. There are no photographs of the two of you."

Raymond has prepared for this one: "If you love someone, Todd, you remember what they look like."

"Yeah, Todd. I could never forget my husband's"—Diaz looks in Raymond's direction, scanning his face for some unforgettable feature—"eyebrows. They're so. Functional."

"I agree," Raymond says, pleased by this unexpected compliment. "My eyebrows are one of my best features. They do an admirable job of keeping the sweat from my eyes when I play squash."

"Uh… right," Todd says. "Eyebrows. Okay. That was a nice, complimentary exchange. Very healthy. But earlier, Ray, I noticed that you called Rosa by her last name."

Raymond has not prepared for this one. He exchanges a quick glance with Diaz, and then does the first thing that occurs to him, which is shoot to his feet and yell, "Breasts!"

Unfortunately, he does this at the same time Diaz says, "Pet name."

Raymond looks down at her, frowning. She has the far superior explanation, but now he's committed. "I know I told you it was a pet name," he says, with an attempt at looking chagrined, "but the truth is, I've not been able to think of you as 'Rosa' in quite some time."

"Yeah?" Behind them, Todd sits back in his chair with a smug-sounding sigh. Diaz stands up slowly. "What's that have to do with my breasts?"

Raymond gestures. Diaz looks down. "They're just not heavy enough. I like a nice"—he gestures again, as if hefting cantaloupes—"weighty pair of breasts."

"This could go a long way toward explaining Cheddar's behavior," Todd says, sounding pleased with himself. "If you're experiencing, ah, frustrations, that's something any animal would definitely pick up on."

"Shut up, Todd," Diaz says.

"I know, I know," Raymond says. "My behavior is abominable." He holds up his hands in surrender. "But as a straight man, this is just how I'm wired to behave. I can't help it. You should have known better than to marry me."

"Wait." Diaz glares at him. "You're saying this is my fault?"

"Oh, no." He shakes his head. "I'm certain this is my fault. Again, I'm a straight man. Most things are my fault."

"Ray, I gotta say, you're very hung up on how straight you are," Todd pipes in.

"Yes." Raymond looks over his shoulder. "Is that not normal?"

Todd considers. "I guess so. Now, Rosa, why don't you tell us how you feel about what Ray just said to you."

"Uh. Pissed off?"

"You sound unsure."

"Nah, I'm definitely pissed off."

"Great, that's good," Todd says. "Honesty is good. Say more."

"I'm real pissed off," she says. Todd nods encouragingly and gestures for more. "It's not like I can help it if my breasts are suddenly not big enough for you. Since when did you even care?" She jabs a finger at his chest. "You've changed."

"No," he says, getting into the rhythm of this faux fight. He's always secretly appreciated good improv. "You've changed! I've always been a breast man, and your breasts used to be so much weightier, and—"

"Stop saying 'breasts.'"

"—and then you got cancer!"

Todd gasps. "Oh, Ray."

"I got cancer," Diaz repeats, her voice low, "and you're over there calling me 'Diaz' and complaining about my breasts? What is wrong with you?"

"Oh, my." Raymond stares at her. Somehow this has completely escaped his control. Diaz seems genuinely outraged.

"I thought I could count on your support," she says, and something in her tone is so reminiscent of Kevin that Raymond has to sit down.

"So my interests might have evolved very slightly," Kevin said. "I would have thought I could count on your support." But Raymond had been laughing too much to respond.

"Oh, my," he says again, stricken. "It wasn't a joke."

"Huh?"

"I failed you," he says. "I am a cad."

"Wow," says Todd. "No wonder Cheddar has been acting out. This is intense."

"Seriously, Todd," Diaz snaps, "shut up. It's bad enough having this confusing argument about feelings without having someone named Todd around to see it."

"Sorry," Todd says, elbows propped on the desk, chin in his hands. "Continue. I think we're really getting somewhere."

"I'm sorry, Rosa," he says, wishing Kevin could hear him. "During your illness, all that time you were confined and we were apart, I was scared for your life. I felt helpless. And then I overcompensated by desperately pretending nothing had changed." He stands, and puts his hands over his heart. "But if you want to have lighter breasts, or occasionally engage in a bit of frivolous chit-chat about popular culture after watching a movie starring Nicolas Cage, then, well, I promise to support you."

To Raymond's astonishment, Diaz starts sniffling. "That's so beautiful." Her chin wobbles. "Thank you. I knew you would do the right thing." Tears shine from her eyes.

"No," Raymond says, her tears triggering his own. "Thank you for helping me understand what a cad I've been. It means so much to me."

Todd is also crying. "I love my job."

"Shut up, Todd!"

 

TWO NIGHTS LATER
"Well," Kevin says, still emotional long after the credits of Leaving Las Vegas have ended. "I can definitively say that was the high point of Cage's career."

"Yes," Raymond says, his arm around Kevin's shoulders. "I understand it was all downhill from here."

Kevin nods. "Very, very far downhill. But that one was… rather moving. Don't you agree?"

"I do agree. It was moving. I am moved." He's about to tell Kevin not to say anything about this to Peralta when he hears a noise coming from downstairs. He bolts upright. "This is it! The apprehension of Todd!"

He rushes downstairs to find Todd already in handcuffs, thanks to Peralta and Santiago. "What's going on here?"

"Ray! Oh, thank god. Tell them you know me! I'm Cheddar's therapist, I'm doing a home visit, I arranged it with your wife—"

"Hah! You mean me?" Diaz steps around the corner, her gun and badge clearly visible.

Todd frowns. "Ray?"

Raymond brandishes his own badge. "You're under arrest for fraud, and breaking and entering." He steps closer. "And one more thing—don't ever call me 'Ray.'"

 

-END-