The Rose Room
Written by Maggie the Cat

The Rose Room of the Belvedere Hotel could not be termed as resplendent by the most charitable and color-blind soul, and the fritzy fuschia and gold on the tables did little to shift the decor from cheesy to upscale.

Still, what else could be expected for a one-night gap between proposal and wedding?

The festivities had hit a mellower groove later in the evening, after the excitement of the Lewis' late arrival and the Pembletons' early one had dissipated. The remaining celebrants had gone about becoming steadily drunker on the wine (which, Megan Russert reminded them before she took Caroline home, she had paid for) and took full advantage of the room's night-long booking.

After all, not many of them had loved ones at home to rush back to.

"I don't know," Tim Bayliss said yet again, oblivious to Judy's eye-rolling. "Maybe I should go to the hospital. I mean, it's Frank's first baby, and what with Mary going into labour early, he's bound to be worried. Maybe I should go keep him company...."

"Look, Bayliss," Kellerman leaned none too steadily across the table, "I'm sure the doctors can handle it without you, okay? And if Frank wanted you to go, he woulda said so. Now shut up!"

Tim scratched irritatedly at his neck, sparing a glare for Mike. He wasn't used to wearing chains and this one was starting to chafe his skin. "I just wanna be there for Frank," he mumbled, playing with his wineglass. Actually, he wasn't sure if this was his wineglass.

"Is this your glass?" he asked Mike, who looked at him like he was nuts.

"No," Mike said. "I don't like wine. It's pussy."

Judy spluttered into her wineglass and excused herself, rushing off to the washroom to try and hack up the wine which had gone straight down her windpipe.

Tim blinked at Mike, who was doing his best to look innocent and failing desperately. Instead he was wearing that sneaky, smug look that high-school kids got from saying dirty words in class and getting away with it. Tim remembered that look well--he'd worn it himself, doing a presentation on Holland's water-containment system.

"It's--" he repeated, bemused. "That's real classy, Kellerman."

"Whatever." Mike tossed a few tiny grape jellybeans (part of the wedding take-home candy) into his mouth and grinned.

Baiting Tim was just so easy.


"Is Megan still here?"

Kay Howard looked up from her still-unfinished dessert of a vaguely frozen tiramasu, wiping a stray fluff of whipped cream from the corner of her mouth. "Huh? No, John--Russert left to take her daughter home. Where you been?"

Munch slid into a chair across from her, shooting furtive glances toward the door as if he expected Megan to burst back in any second. "In the bathroom, trying to give myself the rakish and undependable air of non-marriageable material."

"Why? Afraid it's catching?" Kay buried a smile in her water glass, taking in Munch's undone cuffs and bow tie--endearing, albeit pathetic, attempts at roughing up his look.

He leaned forward earnestly, long fingers twitching with the need to explain to her. "Do you think she's ovulating?"


Catching her sleeve, Munch looked around again before leaning in even closer. "Megan! Do you think she's at a nesting stage in her womanhood? You know, before age and time strip her of her child-bearing years and ability to attract a mate, before osteoperosis and hot flashes set in."

Trying to figure out where this was going, Kay held his thin, cold hands. "You wanna know if Russert's pre-menopausal?"

"No, Kay!" Munch spasmed in his seat as if an electric current had been run through him. "I think she was hitting on me!"

It was only Munch's extreme, slightly tipsy agitation that kept Kay from barking with laughter. "Ahhhh-hah...and that's why you wanna find out if she's getting on and getting desperate? Jeez, Munchkin...."

"This isn't funny, Kay!" He plucked one of the dark pink napkins from the table and started pleating it nervously between his fingers. "When we were dancing just now, all she kept rabbiting on about was how she's been afraid of weddings, how Caroline needs a father, how she stopped looking for relationships after that mess with Felton. Now what other reason would Megan Russert have for spilling her guts to me during a perfectly innocuous dance--at a fellow detective's wedding, no less!"

"I don't know...maybe because she's your partner, huh?" Kay patted Munch's arm, still trying to curb her guffaws.

"No!" Munch looked up, eyes wild behind his glasses. He shook the pink napkin at Kay, hard dry breadcrumbs flying everywhere. "Stanley /Bolander/ is my partner! Russert is just...a substitution! A side dish! She's a green salad when I wanted mashed potatoes!!"

"Okay, okay, John--ow--I think I got a crumb in my eye...."

Despondent, Munch raised his wineglass. "Well, it's not mud, but it'll do."


"Hey, Tim--"

Bayliss' head jerked up and he looked around with a glazed, startled expression that reminded Mike irresistably of Bambi caught in headlights.

Choking back an amused guffaw, Mike stood quietly next to Tim and cleared his throat, waiting for relative silence to settle again before getting on to his subject.

"I was thinking about Carrie--"

"What /about/ Carrie?" Tim was already up at arms, and Kellerman hurried to calm him down.

"I was thinking, maybe we /both/ kinda made asses of ourselves over her. I mean, you did it way longer and with greater depth than I did, but still--"

"At least /I/ wasn't doing all sorts of erogenous forehead-pressing in front of God and everybody," Tim said lazily, giving Mike a hooded, condescending glance.

"Yeah, no--well, whatever, okay? My point is, Carrie's not gonna be here for much longer anyway, but w've gotta come to work and see each other every day in that squadroom, right? So the best thing for us to do--"

"Is not talk about it anymore. Especially--" Tim zipped up his pants with a rather over-emphatic gesture, "--/not/ in the john. Okay?"

"How else was I gonna get you to listen to me?"

Mike faced the wall with a sigh as Tim, refusing to answer the question, banged his way out of the washroom.


"So are ya coming back in, or what?"

Carrie sniffled some more and dabbed at her eyes with a lace-edged handkerchief, the kind that she'd always carried ever since she was a teenager and was first allowed to have a purse. At least they weren't soaked with drugstore perfume anymore, Kay noticed, as a whiff of far more expensive fragrance wafted by her, followed by the fluttering of the handkerchief itself.

"If /they're/ still grunting and snorting over me, I'm not going anywhere near them!" Carrie declared somewhat hysterically, flapping her hankie at the door. "Why, Kay? Why do men always make fools of themselves over me?"

"Yeah, poor thing--it's /such/ a tough life." Kay regretted the words once they were out, but with Carrie doing the overdramatic "Scarlett-and-her-beaus" act, she couldn't help but be irritated.

"Oh, you don't understand. You never do. Only thing /you/ understand is standing over dead cut-up, shot-up bodies and--and the sales rack in the men's department!" Carrie flailed her hankie in her sister's direction, gesturing at the pants and tie that Kay wore. "/Look/ at you! Would Mom be proud to see you like this?"

Unmoved by the jibes about her clothes, Kay felt a familiar annoyance rise in her throat at Carrie's next choice of wounds to prod. She took a quick step towards her weeping sister, vicing her elbow and giving her a little shake to snap her out of it. "Just leave Mom outta it, huh? She wouldn't be too proud to see you prancing around in there like a hooker on methedrine."

God. Another hurtful thing she would rather not have said. Carrie was just so damn /good/ at pushing all the right buttons...and now here she was, looking bedraggled and pathetic and hurt, the way Carrie always did after you hit her back.

"Look," Kay said more kindly, dragging her hair into a knot to keep it off her face, "come on back inside. Mike and Tim are okay now, and you can sit with Munch and me if you want...."


Good God, she hadn't even /bothered/ to get to know anyone else's names. "Yeah, Munch--tall skinny guy in the tuxedo? The one who thought this whole wedding thing was a joke?" She nodded along with the glow of realization on Carrie's face. "Yeah, yeah--him. He's really not as brain-damaged as he seems once you get t'know him."

"Okay," Carrie said in her small, chastised voice, giving her eyes one final dab before tucking away her handkerchief. "I don't mean to be bad, Kay. I just want to have some fun with these guys...I just wanna let them have a good time. They seem so lonely and all, like little boys..."

Carrie ended her mini-monologue with a self-sacrificing sniff that would do Florence Nightingale proud. To hear her tell it, she was the brave WAC dancing with the soldiers who might catch a bullet the next day in the trenches; a bright, colorful spot in otherwise humdrum lives, and dammit, what a hard and thankless job it was!

But as Kay headed back to the door of the Rose Room and Carrie lagged behind, she knew with familiar certainty that her sister was relentlessly checking to make sure her makeup wasn't running.


"I would've thought I'd had my fill of these things," Munch mused, topping off the wine in Gee's glass before pouring his own. "Weddings? I've seen enough ill-starred nuptuals to go into the consulting business. I've eaten more wedding cake, jumped more brooms, smashed more glasses, taken off more garters than any one man should be expected to. And what's my success rate? Where am I today in the marital view of things? Nowhere. Nada. No bride in sight, blushing or otherwise--and let me tell you, Gee, with the vocabularies some of my ex-wives have, /I/ was usually the one blushing."

Giardello sipped at the wine, rolling it around his mouth before swallowing. "I've always preferred red wine," he said, half to the glass, half to himself. "It's less bitter. It has more of a deep taste, an earthy, robust, /living/ taste to it. White wine is too dry and salty." He took another testing sip of the white wine in his glass. "Like tears."

"And here Meldrick is, taking a giant blindfolded leap into the miry muck of wedded bliss without so much as a token courtship apart from a clam dinner! I don't know whether I admire the guy or pity him. I mean, this kind of last-minute thinking isn't exactly desirable in a business partner, if you know what I mean. Still, I of all people know that a few misses in your personal life don't equal a botched work life. I've got a lot of black under my name on the board. It speaks for itself, Gee, but that's just where work is concerned, isn't it. It doesn't reflect on the number of cold cases, open cases, and unsolved mysteries that have left an indelible mark on my heart!"

"White wine has always been second best for me," Giardello rubbed his eyes with one massive hand, trying to ease the dull ache that was coiled neatly inside his skull. "I miss the way things used to be, Munch. I miss the days when I never had to settle for white wine. I miss the days when it was red wine or nothing."

"Still, I can't help but admit that the idea's infectious. But that's kind of self-evident, or why would I have taken the plunge into the murky depths on so many occasions myself? Why? I'll tell you why. Because the moment a woman starts to relate to you, on levels that you hardly even know /exist/, then the relationship has taken a different turn. Suddenly you're soulmates, you're made for each other, you can't live without each other. All the sappy poetry and love songs make sense, and more than that, they're an /epiphany/. And you can't imagine having to let this person go, this person who's found her way into you and become a part of you, and before you know it--BANG! You've proposed--"

"My wife /never/ drank white wine. She said it was too..." Gee held up one hand, trying to remember, disturbed that he couldn't. "Too...too much like gall. That's what she called it. Gall."

"--and then it's out and you can't take it back. Marriage." Munch finally halted in his diatribe and sat back, taking a drink from his still-full glass.

They sat like that in silence for a few more minutes before Gee rose, smoothly and suddenly, like a leviathon breaking the waves. "I'm going home. Goodnight, Munch."

"Goodnight, Gee," the detective replied, embroiled in his own thoughts.

Giardello paused for a moment, then drained his glass.


"Look, you guys..."

"Come on, Judy," Kellerman wheedled, batting his eyelashes, taking the secretary's hand and stroking her knuckles. "We won't hold it against you, honest."

"Yeah, we really want your opinion." Bayliss took her other hand, pressing his fingertips into her palm and putting on his most winning smile.

With an exasperated sigh, Judy finally nodded. "Okay. Go ahead. Lay it out."

"Okay, me first," Mike said excitedly. He started listing on his fingers, punctuating each point with a glare at Bayliss. "I'm in better shape, I'm younger, I'm waaaay more fun and waaay less wordy, I'm a better singer--"

"Hey!" Tim's already badly-concealed annoyance burst through. "You've /never/ heard me sing!"

"Do you mind?" Kellerman looked loftily righteous. "Wait till your turn. Now where was I?" He turned his relentlessly blue eyes on Judy, with judicious use of his dimple to further make the complete picture utterly irresistible. "Oh, yeah--I don't waste paperclips, and I'm a killer fisherman." He sat back, pleased. "Your turn, /Timmy/."

"Thank you, /Mikey/." Tim scowled horrendously at Kellerman before displaying his teeth in Judy's direction. "I'm taller, I'm smarter, I'm a /really/ /good/ singer--"

"Yeah, right."

"--shut up--I can grow a beard if I want to, I'm a Class A marksman, and /I/ don't waste rubberbands."

Judy pretended to consider, highly amused. She wouldn't be surprised if they stuck out their tongues at each other next.

"Wellllll...." she said, scrunching up her face thoughtfully, "those are both good cases. So I guess I'm gonna have to go with...a tie!"

"A tie," Tim repeated, unimpressed.

"No way! You gotta choose one of us," Mike chimed in.

"Hmm. If you insist."


Kay elbowed Munch in the shoulder before pulling up a chair to straddle. "What's goin' on there?" she asked, nodding towards the (now mercifully clear of "Lazy Boy") stage.

Looking up blearily from his umpteenth glass of wine, Munch blinked myopically with those ridiculously tiny eyes for a few times before catching what Kay was referring to.

"Who, Milli and Vanilli up there?" he gestured vaguely at Tim and Mike, who were, at the moment, crooning "You've Lost That Loving Feeling" at the obviously drunk and delighted Judy, accompanied by the elevator version of the song blaring tinnily from a small, cheap radio. "Some kind of singing contest between them. Hey, Sarge--if you help me trap a cat in a bag and beat it with a wine bottle, I think we'd win the contest."

"No kidding." Kay winced as Mikey attempted one of the more high-pitched passages, and Tim, similarly liquored up, joined him in the cacophany.

"So," Munch said after a particularly awkward moment, "where's the fair footwear-making flower of Florence?"

"Carrie?" Kay tugged her hair loose, searching out a clean glass and filling it with water and a few chips of ice. "I managed to coax her back inside, but she discovered a run in her panty hose and just couldn't face the humiliation."

"Oh." Munch put his hands on either side of his wineglass' stem and twirled it quickly back and forth. He opened his mouth, seemingly about to say something more, but then settled for another, "Oh."

Kay left it at that.