We Cover the Waterfront
Written by Maggie the Cat
Out of olives.
Meldrick pasted his best grin on his face and shoved
the bottle, empty but for lashings of murky brine,
back under the bar. He slapped around frantically for
a bit and came up with small, see-through cocktail
onions, two of which he fished out of the vinegar and
hurriedly dropped into the martini glass sitting on
"There y'go, miss," he said, pushing the stemmed glass
on the square napkin across the bar at her, since she
didn't seem about to take it herself. "That's one of
our special, ex-clusive Waterfront Martinis, right
there. Now, I don't make these for just
anybody...just women of class, breeding, beauty--" he
leaned an elbow on the bar, smiling ingratiatingly,
"--such as y'self."
The dark-haired woman picked up her glass, leaving the
napkin, and moved to a table in the corner. Meldrick
sighed, using the damp paper square to wipe
half-heartedly at the counter. Sometimes it seemed
like he just couldn't win...at women, at life, at
The door jingled its opening and the vaguely chilled
night air blew in, bringing a loud, excited Mikey and
an apple-cheeked, bundled-up Tim with it.
"Hey, Meldrick," Tim said breathlessly, trying to
simultaneously unwind what seemed to be six feet of
scarf from around his neck *and* take off his coat.
"'Bout time you got here, Bayliss," Meldrick
grumbled, reaching over to pull the tail ends of the
scarf from Tim's cold-stupid fingers and hanging it on
a nail behind the counter. He wasn't really upset; it
was just habit for the three of them to bitch and
whine when the next person on-shift arrived, even if
business had been pretty slow and there was nothing to
Mike plonked himself on one of the barstools, bringing
that familiar salt-and-leather smell with him as he
grinned at Meldrick, grinned all over that narrow
Irish face of his. "Wanna *work* for my money there,
Meldrick, arms folded, tilted his head back at a slant
and regarded Mike from half-closed eyes. "You only
drink the cheap stuff anyway, Mikey. Jim Beam ain't
exactly eighteen-year-old Scotch when it comes to the
price range, y'know? It don't demand as much effort
from your friendly local barkeep."
Having finally gotten his overthings off and hung up,
Bayliss came around the back of the bar, looking
pinkened and alert. "Eighteen-year-old Scotch? We
Still eyeballing Mike, Lewis nodded before turning to
address Tim. "What kinda bar you think we're running
here? Of *course* we got it! It's expensive stuff,
stuff that we can't expect our regular clientele like
the murder poh-leece or the flotsam and jetsam to be
able to appreciate!"
"What's it called?" Tim quietly filled up a glass
with Jim Beam for Mike while Meldrick looked
personally offended. There was a brief pause as
Meldrick racked his brain to come up with the name of
the liquor and keep from looking totally irrational.
"Glenliddich." Meldrick was pleased with himself.
"You mean Glenfiddich," Mike interjected before
throwing back the bourbon, with a nod of thanks for
"No, Kellerman, I mean Glenliddich. Who's the
bartender here, me or you?"
Mike held up his hands and shook his head, seeming
half-drunk already. "All right, okay, don't get your
lemons in a twist. So can I have some?"
"Some of this wonder whiskey you're going on and on
"Meldrick," Tim interrupted, "I'm just gonna nip into
the back and have something to eat. I'm
starving--Frank and I have been working *forever* on
the paperwork for the Robey case, and we only just--"
"Yeah, go on, go ahead." Meldrick waved his hand as
Tim darted into the kitchen. "You're too damn skinny
anyway, Bayliss! What you need is some good home
"What, you mean like Barbara made for you?"
Mike got a good long glare before Meldrick answered.
"No, and don't bring up Barbara! I'm talking about my
grandmom's cooking. She could make the best honey
biscuits you ever tasted in your *life.*" Meldrick
smiled slightly to himself as he tipped the bottle
over Mike's glass, filling it about halfway with
Scotch and pouring a glass for himself as well. He
caught Mike's pointed look and shrugged defensively.
"What? I'm off as soon as Bayliss finishes eating."
"Yeah?" Mike scratched the side of his neck,
nonchalantly, and said, "Wanna come back to the boat
Meldrick picked up his drink, thoughts of his
grandmoms and her prize-winning cornbread stuffing
dissolving into the amber whirlpool of liquor as he
swirled the glass around. He squinted at Mike, who
was making a show of cracking his knuckles and
shifting on his stool. Riding with Mike day in and
day out in that stuffy little Cavalier had taught
Meldrick that when Mike said something chancy,
something he wasn't sure how his partner would respond
to, it was always followed by knuckle-cracking and
twisting around in his seat like his butt was on fire.
"Why would I wanna do *that*, Kellerman?" he jibed,
trying to gauge the depth of the invitation. "What
exactly is there to do on your floating mansion that I
would give up the bright lights and sights of Bawlmer
A smile lit Mike's face, relentlessly forcing those
dimples to show themselves. How many times, Meldrick
mused, had lil' Mikey gotten his way by flashing those
Probably about as many times as Meldrick Lewis has
sweet-talked and smooth-talked people into getting
"So you'll come," Mike crowed, breaking into his
partner's musings. "Great! We'll grab a case of
beer, order a pizza, watch TV--"
"Quality time," Meldrick said, amused and a little
disoriented by how pleased Mike was.
"Yeah." Those eyelashes went into overdrive as
Bayliss came back from the kitchen, wolfing down the
last few bites of what seemed to be a turkey sandwich
with tons of mayonnaise.
Mike stood up, snugging his jacket around him, and
held up his glass to Meldrick. Suddenly remembering
the Glenliddich he was still holding, Meldrick grinned
and clinked glasses with Mikey before they drained
Tim sighed as he swabbed down the counter for the
umpteenth time. Business wasn't just slow tonight, it
was...dead. He smiled a bit to himself as he
rearranged the glasses, wondering when this shift was
going to end, when he'd get to go home and collapse
thankfully into his waiting, rumpled-up bed....
Ahhhh--the welcome sound of a familiar, much-welcomed
voice. "Kay," Tim grinned, setting down a napkin
before her on the bar. "What'll it be, Sarge?"
Kay Howard settled herself on the stool, hooking her
heels into the rungs while she considered.
"Mmmm...gin and tonic."
"You betcha. Olive?"
Kay was delighted. "You remembered! Yeah, sure, why
not. Live it up, huh?"
He was just setting the glass down and popping a
couple of olives into it when Judy slid up to the bar,
sliding her glass along it with an annoyed shove.
"Olives!" she spat. "Lewis pretended there weren't
any left! I had to have *onions* in my martini!"
"Onions?" Kay made a face as she stirred her drink.
"Jeez, Judy...he must've just not seen them. Here,
have another--on the house, okay?"
The diminutive brunette accepted her drink and went
back to her table, seeming mollified.
"Are you guys hiding ingredients on each other still?"
Kay inquired, fishing out an olive with her straw and
popping it into her mouth.
"No...I think Meldrick just wasn't looking very hard.
There was a new bottle of olives right behind this
empty one." Tim held up a bottle, sloshing the liquid
around before setting it down on the bar. "And we
never hid stuff on each other! That was just Munch,
and he was only hiding the tip jar because he thought
Kellerman was stealing from it."
"Why would he think that?" Kay knew Munch was big on
conspiracy theories, but Kellerman dipping into the
quarter jar? That was a little...*trivial* compared
to his usual blown-up paranoias.
Tim shrugged, blinking sleepily at her. "Dunno. I
think Mike was making a joke about it, and
Meldrick--well, you know Meldrick--"
"Yeah, he was kinda going along with it, and the two
of them made a really big deal of the whole thing and
I think they managed to convince Munch that Mike
*actually* presented some kind of danger to the tip
Kay stretched, rotating her arms to try and ease the
desk-weary ache in her shoulders. She shook her head
and drained the rest of her drink, an indulgent smile
lifting one corner of her mouth. "Sounds like Munch,
"Yeah." Tim leaned his elbows on the bar and propped
his chin up in his hands, regarding Kay with drowsy
intent. "Hey, Sarge?"
He paused, bottom lip twitching unsurely, then took a
breath and continued doggedly. "You and Munch...."
"What about me and Munch, Bayliss?" Kay's voice was
still jovial, but her dark eyes were looking
unsettlingly falconish. Tim swallowed at the reminder
that off-hours, tumbling red hair and milky freckled
skin aside, Kay was a woman who was *not* to be
"Uh...you don't get along with Meldrick, do you?" The
words tumbled out quickly and Tim saw the sergeant
"Munch gets along with Meldrick fine. And *I* get
along with Meldrick fine--it's *Meldrick* who doesn't
get along with *me!*" She pushed a heavy mass of hair
from her face as if it were responsible for Lewis not
respecting her rank--which, in a way, Tim supposed, it
"Well...Meldrick'll come around, Kay. He just needs
time to adjust to new things."
"I'm his *superior*, huh? He doesn't have the luxury
of waiting till he *feels like* respecting me."
"Yeaaaaah...." Tim suddenly didn't want to talk about
this anymore. "How'bout I get you another?"
Kay reached for the peanut bowl, nodding. Tim turned
to get a glass and felt his elbow bump something slick
and solid, then registered what it was (olive jar!) a
nanosecond before it hit the floor and promptly
"Christ!" Kay stood up on her stool and peered over
the bar at the pool of murky brine that was slowly
spreading over the floor. "You okay? Did the glass
"No, no--it only broke into a couple of pieces, it's
thick glass. I'd better go get a mop--" Tim's shoes
slipped in the cold spill and he nearly went skidding
onto his behind, just barely managing to catch the
edge of the bar and keep himself from hitting the
"Ooooh--my back!!" he meeped, sounding lost from
somewhere behind the counter.
Kay grabbed his arm and helped haul him up; Tim clung
to the bar and smiled sheepishly at her as he caught
"Hush Puppies," he murmured. "They're really goddamn
Kay bit back a smile, wondering how many pairs of
those soft-soled brown shoes Bayliss *had*, and sat
back on her stool. "Be careful," she admonished
gently as he slowly stood straight and cautiously made
his way around the puddle, disappearing into the back,
presumably to fetch a mop.
Picking up her glass to stir the ice around a bit and
drink some of the water it had melted into, Kay
discovered that Bayliss had popped in a second olive,
which was chilling among the frozen bits. God bless
'im, she thought with amused fondness as she speared
the waiting morsel with her straw.
Munch tinkered with the taps, tunelessly humming some
Lou Reed and thoroughly enjoying the isolation of The
Waterfront in the dark hour before closing. This was
normally when the flotsam and jetsam scraped
themselves off the tables, anted up enough to cover
their bar tabs, and sludged off into the soupy, tarry
Baltimore night, all tanked up and fortified to face
another day slogging through their boring,
meaningless, repetitive jobs. Closing time, last
call, all ashore who's going ashore.
In fact, Munch himself wasn't even supposed to be
here. He'd stopped in to pick up something for dinner
and found Bayliss slumped all over the counter,
whining to high heaven about his back and how tired he
was. In fact, for the few minutes that it took to
wait for a club sandwich and potato salad, Bayliss
kvetched so much that John got totally exasperated and
told him to shut up and go home.
"But who'll close up?" Tim had complained, eyeing
"What am I, invisible here? I'll close up, Tim! I
*am* capable of handling it by *now,* thanks so much
for your confidence in me."
Which was why he was here on his night off.
Which was the slowest night in the whole of
Baltimore's public house history, apparently.
Which meant he had the bar all to himself.
A quick dip into the tip jar for a few quarters, and
Munch did a few spastic dance steps over to the
jukebox. He pursed his mouth and perused the
selections, finally plugging in his quarters and
punching in numbers with birdlike jabs.
Louis Armstrong promptly blared to life with "A Kiss
to Build a Dream On."
John Munch took a twirl around the dance floor,
enjoying the brassy blare of the trumpet and the shiny
black of his Florsheims, a tap-tap-tapping along the
worn, stained old wood. Sure, he lacked a partner of
the fair persuasion, a boutonniere in his lapel, top
hat, tails--but it was *fun.* Something he sorely
needed after a zipping ride on the Sniper Express,
last stop Redball Central. Just a few moments
dervishing to the music, with nothing more to worry
about than tripping over his own flying feet....
"Satchmo would be proud, John."
Skidding quickly to a stop against a table, Munch
caught his breath and leveled his best "one word and
you're *dead*" look at the utterly composed Frank
Pembleton, who stood just inside the door, hat in his
hand, as sanguine and dapper after the remains of a
seventy-hour case as if he'd just showered and shaved.
"Kind of late to be stopping off for a drink, isn't
it, Frank?" Munch straightened his clothes and
skittered quickly behind the bar, feeling heartened by
his role as bartender and proprietor. "Shouldn't you
be heading home to your munificent and fruitful better
Frank dropped his fedora on the counter, straddling a
stool with a fluid, one-handed pull. "Well," he
drawled, "now that the immediate danger to the city
and our lives in particular is gone, Mary is wasting
no time in telling me over and o-ver that although
she's carrying our child, I shouldn't be
so...over-protective." He rolled the word over his
tongue as though it tasted bad and he was longing to
spit it out.
Grinning slightly, Munch finished pulling a pint and
gave the glass of beer to Frank, who sipped it
mournfully as the song died down, leaving the bar in
"It's your first baby, Frank," Munch pointed out.
"Next time around--"
"--it'll be old news, history, been there, done that.
First babies always sent their parents into tailspins
of anxiety--it's what keeps the human race from dying
out or eating their young. If first-time parents
weren't constantly worrying about whether the fetus is
hot, cold, hungry, happy, Libra, ambidextrous, Beatles
fan or Elvis fan, then they'd neglect the poor thing
and it'd die upon delivery. If they didn't worry,
women would just drop litters and hope some of them
Frank opened and closed his mouth a few times, tasting
the beer and chewing over Munch's dialogue. He
harrumphed, obviously not wanting to delve any
deeper--either that, or not wanting any more of
Munch's advice--then said: "Didn't know you were a
Louis Armstrong fan."
Munch displayed another ill-favoured grin. "Yeah,
sure! In fact, he always sort of struck me as being
like a sort of kindly uncle of yours. You two have a
lot in common, y'know."
Finishing off the beer, Frank stood and firmly tugged
his hat down onto his brow. "I don't play the
trumpet," he declared, sweeping his scarf around his
throat, a rather unsettling crimson.
"I was thinking more about the philosophy behind 'What
a Wonderful World,'" Munch commented, dropping the
empty glass behind the counter. "You *do* still think
it's a wonderful world, right, Frank?" He ran the
song in his head, finding the right pitch, and
warbled, "I hear babies cryin', I watch them grow,
they'll learn much more than I'll ever know...."
A genuine, surprised smile warmed Frank's face,
brightening even those tired, deep eyes for a moment.
He tugged his coat closed around him and opened the
He stepped outside into the muggy, chilly night air of
Baltimore, lit up in a pale wash by the silvery full
moon, and took a deep breath of the salt, the
And for a while, Pembleton believed what a wonderful
world it was.