Fells Point Fromage I: Location, Location, Location
Written by Saffron Bailey

Everyone here but me belongs to NBC, Tom Fontana, Dick Wolf, and those folks. I'm not looking to buy, heck, I'm not even serious about renting. I'm just squatting. Don't sue, I'm poorer than I look.

"She's not your type, Cassidy."

"Who?" Cassidy gave Munch his best clueless expression, hoping his partner wouldn't make a scene loud enough to be heard across the office, where the object of his admiration was carrying on an animated conversation with Frank Pembleton.

"The Esteemed Sergeant Howard. You know, the woman you're undressing with your eyes. Unless, of course, you've decided that Pembleton is the beauty as well as the brains of the Bayliss-Pembleton partnership." Munch leaned in without taking his feet off of his desk. "Don't give me that orphaned lamb look. I'm murder police. I pick out liars for a living. I can tell when you're faking it. You've mastered looking lost, but you haven't gotten looking innocent down just yet. You should be lucky you get to ask questions instead of answer them in the Box."

"I *wasn't* looking." Munch tilted his head so that the glasses slid lower and Cassidy could see the disbelief in his eyes. Cassidy looked down for a moment to duck the gaze and then picked his head up. "Besides, why isn't Howard my type?"

"For starters, she's your superior officer." Munch shook the section of the Sun he was holding and made a great show of returning to reading it.

Cassidy smiled. Munch always seemed to win in the battles of wits that they had engaged in since the younger detective had transferred down from New York. But, despite falling into nearly every one of Munch's verbal traps, Cassidy had picked up on a topic that was guaranteed to spoil the thrill of victory for his partner -- Kay Howard. *I may be easy to read, but I'm not the only one, partner.*

"That didn't stop Beau Felton," Cassidy ventured slowly. Munch had gotten weirdly silent the one time Cassidy asked a question about Stanley Bolander, and Cassidy had been warned by Howard about asking Lewis about life before Kellerman. But Felton, who along with several of Cassidy's former co-workers in the NYPD had run crazy in a Midtown hotel the year before, was an acceptable member of the Homicide Alumni to bring up in conversation.

"Felton was the lucky beneficiary of a lonely widow's call to arms," Munch shot back, a little sharper than perhaps was necessary. "Not that he was Russert's type, either. Kay is much more emotionally self-sufficient than Megan Russert."

Aha, Cassidy thought, the game begins anew. "But Kay isn't against hooking up with someone from work, right? Lewis said that she dated Danvers for a while."

"So Meldrick is your source for scurrilous tales of the murder police?" Munch asked. "I would have thought that it would have been Bayliss..."

"Past pattern, then, though, right?" Cassidy wasn't letting Munch change the topic and thus get off so easily.

"The careful never dip their quill in the company ink, my young friend. The truly wise, however," and here Munch paused for dramatic effect, "having done it once, don't dip a second time."

"But the SA's office doesn't really count as company ink, though, does it? Different building and all..."

"Forget it, Cassidy. Sergeant Howard is a complex woman looking for more in a mate than doe eyes and an earnest expression. You can't even tell foreplay from a good Gouda. Even Brodie can do that."

"Frottage! Frottage! Jesus, will you ever lay off?" Cassidy yelped, drawing amused looks from all within earshot. He was never going to live that one down. His second week with the Baltimore City police, it had been a slow night shift and the squad had been helping an ungrateful Munch do the Sun's crossword puzzle. An eight-letter word for a composition using charcoal to record textural impressions had led to a rather X-rated vocabulary lesson (not to mention a quick reminder in how to count to twenty on his fingers and toes) after Cassidy had suggested "fromage" as the answer.

Most kids in New York City take Spanish in high school, he had protested, not French. But his excuse had been drowned out by the laughter of the entire squad, including Liutenant Giardello's deep bass guffaws. Even Naomi had broken down and laughed until there were tears in her eyes. Almost three months later, Kellerman was still asking him if he was "feeling cheesy" and Cassidy was at everyone's mercy any time dairy products were mentioned in any context.

"Frottage. I'm not going to forget that, even without your Baby Bel reminders." Cassidy continued. Munch had bought a net bag of the tiny cheese wheels the day after the incident and Cassidy would find one on his desk every so often, just in case he had forgotten his baptism by fire into the Homicide unit. "I remember 'necrophilia' as well, so you'd better not be getting Scheiner to help you out with any more teaching aids. And I got really good at 'compulsive onanism'...."

"So good that you don't do it in public anymore, Cassidy?" Kellerman asked from next to him. He and Lewis were back from the donut run and Kellerman was dropping his coat and gloves off at his desk before joining his partner in the coffee room. Kellerman's desk was on the other side of the support column from Cassidy's and the two had become friendly, especially after Cassidy proved willing to use his sniper-like rubber band shooting skills on Meldrick Lewis.

Cassidy knew Munch disapproved of him clowning around with the fun-loving duo while at work -- Munch had said that while it was fine when off-duty, too much exposure while on the job would counteract his own keen detective teachings -- but figured it was okay so long as he didn't accidently get Munch involved in any projectile warfare and he continued to listen attentively to his partner's never-ending stream of bizarre news stories.

"I've cut down on my exhibitionism, if that's what you're asking," Cassidy grinned. That had been another vocabulary word, one that he had known and still gotten ridiculed for by answering too quickly. "If I get the urge, though, your bottom drawer is only a few inches away, Mike. If your paper clip and notebook supply seems a little sticky one of these days, you'll know why."

Tim Bayliss walked by with his mouth full, tongue flicking out to the side of his mouth to catch a little of the filling that had oozed out of the Boston Creme donut he was inhaling. Kellerman looked at Bayliss and called out to Lewis, who was still with the donuts in the coffee room. "Hey, Meldrick, change mine to a chocolate one, okay?"

Cassidy laughed and Bayliss, who had stopped walking when Kellerman had stared at him, looked confused. "What? What did I do?" Cassidy shrugged at the tall detective and Kellerman turned towards the approaching Meldrick Lewis and accepted his donut and coffee.

"You gettin' fickle on me, Mikey?" Meldrick asked, circling around to his own desk and sitting down to his snack. "You drive me crazy in the donut store to make sure we get enough of those Boston Creme things so that Bayliss and Brodie don't eat all of them and then you ask for a *chocolate* one?"

"At least I didn't carry on about there being no maple-frosted ones," Kellerman shot back. "You scared the kid behind the counter with your speech on the wonders of tree sap."

"They have 'em in Toronto," Lewis replied, trying to look hurt.

"Hate to tell you, Meldrick, but Baltimore isn't Canada." Kellerman mumbled as he washed down his mouthful of donut with his coffee.

"It's not uncommon for internationally franchised restaurants to cater to local tastes," Munch put in as he sauntered up to the group with a glazed donut and a cup full of what everyone knew would be tea. "In Japan, the McDonalds serve raw octopus as well as chicken nuggets. In Finland, you can get loganberry milkshakes. In China, you can get pickled pig's ear with your Pizza Hut..."

"You would, Munch." Lewis shook his head.

"Speaking of pickles," Bayliss began and Lewis and Munch instinctively groaned. "someone needs to order some for The Waterfront. Pickles, maraschino cherries, and chocolate syrup."

"Chocolate syrup? What the hell do we need that for?" Lewis asked. "That nutjob bartender you hired come up with a new drink?"

"Egg creams. I told Frank that we'd put those on the menu." Bayliss looked something between defiant and hurt.

"And anything Detective Pembleton wants, Detective Pembleton gets, right?" Munch asked, although it wasn't really a question.

"Of course. My partner takes excellent care of me," spoke the subject of the conversation. Pembleton was standing behind the seated Cassidy, armed with a grin that challenged anyone to suggest that he wasn't worthy of such consideration. "Or else he ends up working with one of you stiffs, and there goes first his sanity and then his clearance rate."

"If a little chocolate syrup keeps us *stiffs* from having to work with you, Frank, then I guess we can drum up a gallon or two," Meldrick said, looking quite serious. "Besides," he continued, breaking into a grin that Cassidy would know to be threatening, had he been able to see around the support column, "a little chocolate milk might be just the thing our little dairy fetishist needs. Right, Cassidy?"

Cassidy smiled helplessly as the crowd around them giggled. Pembleton clapped a hand down on Cassidy's shoulder. "What's a city boy like you doing with a love of lactose, Brian?" Frank asked, eyes full of mirth. Cassidy spun in his chair to face the unit's master interrogator.

"Exactly where in the New York area are you from?" Frank wondered aloud, as much to himself as to Cassidy. Pembleton had never really talked much to Cassidy, and Brian knew he hadn't been here in Baltimore long enough to talk *with* Frank. Hell, sometimes Bayliss seemed like he hadn't been here long enough to talk with Frank. Right after Cassidy had arrived, Munch had told him that Pembleton was also originally from New York, but when Cassidy had tried to make small talk with Pembleton about it, Frank had done little more than confirm what Munch had told him.

"You don't have that certain Manhattan sense of style and purpose, although not for lack of trying," Pembleton mused aloud, running his hands up and down his suspenders. "But you don't look white bread enough to come from outside the five boroughs." Bayliss mumbled something, but not loud enough to interest anyone in making him repeat it.

Pembleton looked Cassidy up and down slowly, the way he looked over those who were unlucky enough to be seated across from him in the Box. Cassidy wasn't sure whether to brazenly make eye contact, or continue squirming like the perp he felt like he had suddenly become.

"So, no Long Island, no Northern New Jersey, and while you may be young and naive, you don't look dumb enough to want to come down from Connecticut to be a New York City cop. Westchester's a possibility, but they pay cops better than the City does, so you'd have stayed up there. How'm I doing?" Pembleton asked with a smile that flashed his so-white teeth. Cassidy nodded, still not sure whether he was being considered a perp or a party trick.

"Which borough, which borough... You don't look like you'd be caught dead going to New Jersey, so Staten Island is out, although since half of the white population of the NYPD lives there... nah, even if you were on patrol there, you're the type to get a closet-sized apartment in the Village just so you could say that you were living somewhere *trendy*." Cassidy tried to look hurt, but it was probably the truth, and besides, being told that you didn't look like you were from Staten Island was a compliment.

"You're a little sheltered to be coming from Brooklyn, but not sheltered enough to be coming from the white parts of the Bronx, so you're a Queens boy. Not Eastern Queens, you don't dress the part. Not Western Queens... Woodside? Rego Park? Jamaica Estates?"

Cassidy smiled. "Middle Village. Right subway line, wrong stop." Frank didn't seem to care, though, and was positively beaming that he had placed Cassidy so closely.

"Middle Village? What kind of name for a neighborhood is Middle Village?" Munch asked. "That's like saying you come from Mediocreville, or Betweentown, or Ambivalentania."

"You've never been there, John," Cassidy replied. He had never thought of it, but now that he had, it was a pretty good name for the nondescript area where his parents and most of his siblings still lived. "It's halfway between everywhere and everywhere else, but close to nothing."

"Close to nothing is what all of you are going to be if you keep sitting around here picking on poor Cassidy instead of working some cases," Gee intoned gravely. No one, as they scampered to their desks, could recall seeing the large man slip up to the crowd.

As if on cue, the phone bleated....