Amanda Cohen hung up her coat, straightened her skirt, and stepped into the rented ballroom hosting the precinct holiday party. Immediately, her teeth clenched so hard her jaw ached. She hated these things.
Most of the budget went towards renting the room, so it looked like this year’s party would be the same boring affair it always was: the same five tired Christmas carols on repeat, a Christmas tree that made the one on Charlie Brown look healthy, a battered plastic menorah for the Jewish contingent that no one would dare light, a stack of tacky prank gifts, and questionable eggnog and bad punch that Sergeant Cross liberally spiked—thank God—with the best rum he could find. And there was the crowd—all three shifts of the 96th, everybody who wasn’t actually working.
She’d tried. She had really tried. Her determination to work on the date of the precinct holiday party was legend among the higher-ups, so much that this year, someone had conveniently lost her copy of the planning memo and Pietrzyk had beat her to volunteering. He wouldn’t take bribes, and regs didn’t let captains trade shifts. So here she was. Never mind that holidays were for family, not for forced social interactions with coworkers. At least being in charge of the night shift meant that she didn’t have to make the speeches—that was a perk of the slightly-higher-ranked dayshift captains. And since nobody looked at a Japanese woman and thought “Jew,” despite David’s antics, she wasn’t the one being nagged to light Hanukkah candles in a menorah that would melt if anybody brought a lit match within a foot of it.
Small benefits, perhaps, but if not for them, she would make the party memorable for all the wrong reasons.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like her co-workers. Quite the opposite, in fact. But she was the Captain; she had to keep a proper distance from her subordinates. And, in addition, she liked to keep work away from life. She’d learned her lesson a long time ago about mistaking one for the other.
“Lighten up, Mandy,” David said in her ear, “this is supposed to be a party.”
And there was the other reason she preferred to avoid parties: her darling husband. “Don’t call me ‘Mandy’—”
“In front of the troops, I know.” He gave her that irrepressible grin. “I’ll go get some punch. Or would you prefer I just tell the sergeant to give you straight rum?”
“Straight, please,” she replied, not taking the bait, “and tell him it’s for me.”
“Will do. Captain Mandy,” he added in an impish whisper, and headed for the punch bowl, his cane—the blue-and-white one he’d made especially for this one party a year, to show “the proper Hanukkah spirit to the heathens,” he said—tapping smartly against the tile. His limp was barely noticeable, even to her, who knew what she was looking for. Half the nightshift made a beeline for him, undoubtedly to tell him, in case she had somehow forgotten to, that there was fresh meat this year, in the form of Knight and Schanke. Nothing made her husband happier than a new audience.
Nothing made the rest of the precinct happier than watching him hook a new audience.
Maybe I should just be glad he doesn’t do any pranks when he’s being Mr. Captain Cohen. The pranks plain old Mr. Cohen pulled on family and friends were bad enough. He’d been a legend in his old precinct, and that stunt he’d pulled with her mother two days before their wedding.... Ten years, and her mother was still angry over that one.
She’d overheard her subordinates—and a few of her superiors—wondering how she always maintained her somber mien. If they lived with David Cohen, they’d understand just how much practice she’d had in keeping a straight face.
David brought her the rum, and then was swept away in a knot of nightshift cops trying to get him to Schanke and Knight. She sipped at it, slipping through the crowd behind them, hoping for a nice, out-of-the-way corner where she could watch without being immediately noticed. As out-of-the-way as the Captain was allowed, anyway.
This was not possible with David homing in on Knight and Schanke, of course. Schanke was being particularly noticeable tonight, in a shirt of a holiday print that looked like it had been designed by a three-year-old. Knight was more sedately—and more classily—dressed, as usual.
She was surprised Knight was even here, actually; she distinctly remembered Schanke whining that Knight never participated in social activities with the rest of the detectives, not even so much as going out for drinks. But then Dr. Lambert appeared, practically on Knight’s arm, and she understood. The good doctor must have talked him into it.
Those two needed to be more careful if they wanted to keep that blossoming affair a secret. The pool was already up to several hundred dollars and involved half the precincts in the city. Dr. Lambert worked on a lot of crime scenes, and Knight wasn’t exactly unknown.
Geherty was introducing David to Schanke. “The Captain’s husband?” Schanke blurted. As always, when he was smacked with something that didn’t quite meet his expectations, Schanke’s voice went up, about half an octave and twenty decibels. He undoubtedly hadn’t expected a Caucasian. No one ever did, even in a city as large and diverse as Toronto.
It occurred to her that if she just kept a picture of her husband in her office, to go with the pictures of Allie and Mark and her parents, David would never be able to pull this off, and she wouldn’t have to suffer through it at every departmental picnic and party. A shrink would have a field day with exploring her subconscious reasons for that little oversight.
“Straight from Kyoto,” David replied, deadpan.
“Um.” Schanke fumbled for words that weren’t too rude, and apparently grabbed at the first topic to pop into his head. “So how’d you two meet?”
Amanda looked into her glass, knowing what was about to happen. I’m going to need more rum.
“Met at the altar,” David said. Her husband’s greatest talent was keeping a straight face, no matter how ridiculous the story he was telling. It had served him well when he was a cop. It made her life much more difficult now. “Arranged marriage. Our families are very traditional.”
She could see the gears grinding in Schanke’s head. If she hadn’t seen him at work, if she didn’t know that the man wasn’t a complete idiot—
Well, it never hurt a cop to be underestimated. But still.
“But— People still do that? I mean, marry people they never met?”
“Very traditional,” David said, almost mournfully. He leaned in, conspiratorially. “She was in love with somebody else. But her parents wouldn’t let her marry outside....” He shrugged eloquently.
Schanke’s eyes nearly bugged out. “But you— I mean— You’re not—”
Oh, David had him on the hook good now. “What do you mean?” he asked, feigning offense. “I don’t look Japanese enough for Amanda? Is that what you’re saying?”
Schanke actually started stammering. Considering how hard he worked to kiss her ass—she’d only had to buy her own coffee a handful of times since his transfer—the thought that he’d actually offended her husband would probably give him nightmares. Or a heart attack. She hadn’t seen anybody but Knight do that kind of number on him. “No— I mean— It’s just— I didn’t—”
Unfortunately for David’s fun, he’d hooked Schanke near Petersen, who couldn’t keep a straight face for love, money, or free doughnuts. Petersen had been the unfortunate catch two years ago, and his guffaw clued Schanke in. “Okay, what’s the joke?”
To her surprise, it was Knight who answered. “Outside the faith, Schank.”
“Assuming Mr. Cohen’s story is true—” and the merry twinkle in Knight’s eyes meant he knew not a word of it was “—her parents wouldn’t let her marry outside the faith. The Captain is also Jewish.”
Schanke blinked. And blinked again. “Really? But—”
“There’s actually a very old Jewish community in Kobe,” Knight said, and Amanda nearly dropped her drink. Knight gave her a conspiratorial smile. “Many of them came here after World War II. There were several converts through the generations, I’m sure.”
“My grandparents,” she said, impressed. David had been telling that story since before she came to Metro, and no one, not even the self-proclaimed history buffs, had ever known that. “I was the only kid at Temple who spoke Hebrew with a Japanese accent.”
“And now?” Schanke asked.
“I’m rusty,” she replied, “on both.”
“Quite understandable, Captain,” Knight said, in perfect Japanese, to a constellation of stares and a shocked silence.
“And on that note,” Dr. Lambert said brightly, breaking the silence, “I’m going to go warn Myra about the punch.” She leaned in closer to Nick, and Amanda heard distinctly, “Remember—you’re practicing your mingling.”
David, Schanke, and Petersen were wandering off towards the refreshments, leaving her standing there with Knight. She shook her head. She didn’t have to wonder why Knight needed to practice mingling; there were times when his social skills were more than a bit questionable, and his stand-offish approach was not always the best one, with criminals or fellow cops.
Tonight, though, seemed to be one of his better nights. “If you don’t mind my asking, Captain—” Knight indicated David with a subtle tilt of his head. “How did he lose his legs?”
She stared at him. It was obvious that David had an injury, but with the prostheses hidden beneath pants and socks and shoes, it could be anything. The fact that he was a double amputee was not immediately obvious except to those who knew what they were looking for.
That was twice in one night that Knight had blindsided her. Stonetree had told her that he was a bundle of surprises, but she thought he was talking about that sun allergy and the kind of weirdness that the investigators had found when they searched his place. “Hit and run at a traffic stop,” she replied. She managed not to snap, which, really, was all she could do. Talking about it—
David had recovered. He’d lived when they said he wouldn’t; learned to walk when they said he’d always be in a wheelchair; slid into sudden retirement and minding the house and kids as smoothly as if he’d always planned to be a househusband. He laughed and flashed that never-say-die grin when he told the story, carried the kids out for ice cream on the anniversary, gave his prostheses and canes and wheelchair funny names.
Amanda, though, could never forgive herself for leaving him here to tend to work, for being two provinces away while her husband nearly bled to death in the street. She couldn’t forget the bitter wrangling with her superiors over husband versus job, the panicked flight back, the week-long vigil at his bedside before the doctors finally let him wake up, the look on his face when she had to tell him that his legs were gone, the long months of rehab, of watching him learn to walk again and adjust to sudden life as a civilian.
Knight nodded, and let the subject drop. There was an understanding in his eyes that she appreciated. His partner would have been pestering for details, the way he was currently pestering David.
Then again, Knight probably understood trauma and flashbacks. She’d seen Schanke startle him out of more than one thousand-yard stare. Another superior might have thought him too young to accumulate any trauma worth the name, but she knew better. And it probably wasn’t a coincidence that he was the only person in the room without a drink. Stonetree had never come out and said that Knight had a history with the bottle, but she’d seen enough cops fighting it to recognize someone in recovery when she saw them. As long as it didn’t affect his work, though, she saw no reason to pry.
“So—” Knight hesitated, and then asked, “How did you two really meet?”
She smiled. “I shot him.” He gave her a look. “In my defense, I didn’t know he was a cop at the time."
She nodded. “I was very apologetic about it, until I went to see him in the hospital and he started cussing at me in very bad Hebrew. His parents didn't make him remember his lessons the way mine did. So after he called me—what was it—a ‘half-blind Shinto bitch,’ or at least, that was what he was aiming for, I started cussing back. In much better Hebrew. The way his eyes bugged out, I thought I was going to have to chase them across the floor.”
Knight let out a short bark of laughter. “And then?”
“Before or after my insulted yet matchmakingly determined father found out that David’s parents went to the same synagogue?” Knight snorted. “Barely two weeks later, I come home to what I think is a nice, quiet family Shabbat, and there David and his parents are.”
“All that, and he goes with the arranged marriage story?” Knight actually sounded surprised.
Two points for the Cohens. “Only for the department.” She swirled the last of the rum in her glass. “With civilians, I can’t get him to shut up about how mean I was.”
“Was it bad?”
“Please. He was only in the hospital for observation. Barely needed a Band-Aid.” This time, Knight did laugh, earning them the stares of half the party.
“Hey, Nick!” That was Dr. Lambert, probably concerned, waving him over to a knot of people that seemed mainly made up of other pathologists.
“Excuse me, Captain, I’m being paged,” he said. She accepted it with a nod and a smile, and he headed for his—er—friend.
Note to self: Have a word with Dr. Lambert about the dangers of trying to keep secrets around detectives.
Her husband’s voice rang out over the crowd and the anemic holiday music. “Oh, this thing?” David tapped his cane loudly against his left prosthesis. “Lost it in the war. But it keeps following me home.” There was a scattering of chuckles. “And then it brought home a friend!” Tap tap tap against the right one.
Amanda Cohen tossed back the rest of her rum and went to save her detectives from her husband.
She could put a picture of her husband in her office. But then she’d have no fun at all at these things.