Written by Maggie the Cat
"So what've we got here, Dr. Kalyani?"
Detective Tim Bayliss skirted the edges of the ditch, trying to work his way down closer to the body without losing balance and toppling over. The drizzling rain was making it difficult to maneuver on the muddy, grassy ground, especially with the slope down into the ditch.
"Multiple stab wounds to the chest and neck area.
I'd say she's no more than eleven, twelve years old." The Medical Examiner straightened up, rubbing the back of her neck ruefully. "God, I hate these ones..."
Bayliss stared down at the body, a sick lurching in his stomach.
A young black girl, dressed in jeans, purple sweater, blue jacket. Blood spattering her torso, her face, her full, bee-stung lips, even her tilted almond eyelids. Schoolbag torn open and books scattered around her body.
He shook himself slightly, flicking raindrops from his glasses. "Time of death?" Bayliss asked. His voice sounded...hollow. Dry. Not like him at all. Or maybe--too /much/ like him, lately.
"She's been dead for at least fifteen hours," Dr.
Kalyani said. "She must have been murdered around five or six yesterday evening."
"That's a little late to be coming home from school, isn't it?"
Bayliss looked up to the rim of the ditch at the gaunt, black-coated figure hovering there. "Munch, are you gonna actually come /down/ here and look at the body, or just hurl comments from the peanut gallery?"
Brief, affronted silence. "These are new shoes, Tim," came the response. "They've still got that smooth factory bottom on them. No purchase on wet ground at all. I try and negotiate this particular slough of despond, and it'll turn into a Slip-and-Slide."
Sighing gustily, Bayliss planted his right foot against the side of the ditch and held his hand up for Munch as the M.E. shook her head, hiding a smile.
"Detective?" A police officer came up, holding an evidence bag. "Found her wallet, over in the trees over there."
Taking the bag, Bayliss peered at the pink leather change purse in it. He gingerly took the purse out and opened it, looking for a label inside--it was, of course, empty of any money. The only thing that lingered was the smell of it, a fragrance incongruous with the creaky old leather. It smelled like some sort of strawberry lotion. It smelled like a twelve year-old girl would.
"Here we go," he crowed quietly, almost to himself, tugging at the sewn-in label so he could read it in the dim morning light. "'Melaine Phipps'."
Dropping the purse back into the evidence bag, Bayliss loped past his partner, heading back to the Cavalier that was parked on the nearby service road.
"C'mon, Munch," he called. "We got a name!"
John Munch stood over the girl's body, blinking, water dripping from his nose and chin, feeling numbness spread through his fingertips. Hadn't Tim noticed?
"She looks just like her," he said softly. "Just like...."
Tim /had/ to have noticed. If /he/ had, Tim must have.
"Munch! You coming, or should I go talk to the family by myself?"
"Yeah," Munch muttered, then raised his voice. "I'm coming, Bayliss."
"What's wrong with you?"
"There's nothing wrong with me. Did I say there was something wrong with me?"
"That's the whole point, Munch. If there /was/ nothing wrong, you'd be talking my ear off, complaining about everything that's wrong with you."
"Y'know, you're a real smartass, Bayliss."
"I aim to please."
"Yeah, well--don't bother, okay? I have enough on my mind without you nagging me about some kind of non-existent gloom that you percieve hanging around my shoulders. Just because I dress in black and have a visage of somber quietude doesn't mean I'm depressed--it means I look like a Homicide detective."
"'You /look/ like'...? Munch, do you remember how Kellerman used to dress? Those, uh, with the colored shirts and the--"
"Yeah, yeah, the striped ties and everything. I remember, Bayliss. He /was/ my partner, y'know."
"And Kay. She used to wear all those men's shirts and ties. And then /Megan/ used to wear all these silky, fancy things with skirts and heels."
"Really, Tim. This is all fascinating. Tell me--did Doctor Cox wear a matching bra and panty set? Maybe in a saucy leopard print, or a more befitting black?"
"No, no--my point is, there's no /one/ way a Homicide detective's supposed to dress. We're not undertakers--no offence--and we're not uniforms.
We're allowed a bit of originality and personality in the way we present ourselves. In fact--"
"Uh-oh. Here it comes. The requisite Bayliss 'Here's-a-wisdom-about-policing-learned-from-the-almighty-Frank-Pembleton'.
I assure you, Tim, I've probably heard them all.
I'm surprised they're not done in colored yarns, framed and hung up in the men's room for our edification while we take a leak. 'A fedora and suspenders /always/ get a confession.' Yeah, that's Frank's legacy, all right."
"Will you shut up for a minute about Frank? What I'm trying to say is, people don't talk to uniforms.
They might respect them as signs of authority, but they don't get close to them, tell them secrets, crawl through the dirt with them. If we wore uniforms, we'd never get so much as a blood type out of our suspects in the Box. Because you see, Munch--they wouldn't /trust/ us. They'd take one look at the service bars, the brass buttons, the epaulets, and they'd clam up tighter than Fort Knox."
"Great, Bayliss, uh-huh. You should teach night classes on how to dress for the job. Say, do you still have those mucho stylish oversize aviator sunglasses?"
"...Shut up, Munch."
Green screen door. Peeling brown paint on the door behind it. A tiny, odd little peephole set off-center, closer to the doorknob. The smell of wet earth, wet wood; fainter still, the smell of hot dogs.
A small, neatly-dressed black woman opening the door, curious, reserved in the presence of the tall official-looking white men. Smell of hot dogs stronger, and two grammar school-age kids peeping from behind her navy-blue slacks before running back in to their lunch.
Badges. Identification. Baltimore Homicide.
And the woman's tilted almond eyes rolling up as she pitches bonelessly forward.
Wiping one hand over his mouth, Bayliss walked over to his partner, who was talking with a young girl.
The girl looked edgy and was obviously not wanting to say anything; finally, Munch thanked her and came over to Bayliss with a sigh.
"Nada," he said, tucking his notebook away as they strolled to the car. "According to everyone I've talked to, Melaine was a well-liked girl. Her teachers say she was smart, the kids say she was cheerful and kind; she didn't do drugs, she didn't run with a bad crowd, she did her homework...I'm starting to think little Melaine Phipps may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Bayliss leaned back slightly, looking consideringly at Munch. "You mean, she might have been killed by some psycho who was passing through Druid Hill Park?"
"Maybe." Munch didn't look too thrilled with the theory himself. "Well, we've still got her best friend to talk to--one Tracy Dunhill. She's on a science field trip to the aquarium at the moment, but the principal says the bus is due in two and a half."
"Two and a half hours? That'll give us time to go see if the autopsy turned anything up."
"I was thinking it would give us time to have lunch...." Munch took note of Bayliss' flat stare and sighed again. "Fine. I hate eating before I go to the morgue anyway."
"Hey hey, Timothy! I never been so glad to see your hangdog face...."
"Whuh?" Bayliss flopped down on one of the all-but-empty Waterfront's bar stools, propping his chin up on one hand and blinking confusedly at the bartender.
Meldrick Lewis slung the bar rag off his shoulder, giving the counter surface one more compulsive sweep before dropping the damp cloth onto a corner of it.
"Well, c'mon, Timmy--get behind the bar and tie your apron on. I got places to go and a gorgeous woman to go with."
"Oh." Bayliss registered what Lewis was saying. "Oh, no--John's working tonight. I'm just here for a drink."
Pausing, coat on, hat in hand, Lewis squinted at Bayliss. "A drink?" he repeated incredulously. "What, the club soda at home not good enough?" Not waiting for a reply, he came over and leaned in. "Lemme tell you something, Bayliss," he said confidentially.
"Don't frequent your own bar. It don't /look/ good."
Bayliss stared tiredly at his co-proprietor.
"I-just-wanted-a-drink," he recited. "In my own bar.
Off-duty, after a long day interviewing nervous kids and a couple hours at the morgue. Before I go home and drop into bed. Is that okay, Meldrick? Is that permissible?"
Snorting mightily, Lewis rounded the bar, passing behind Bayliss on his way out. "Suit yourself. But don't blame /me/ if customers stop coming to this dive."
"'Dive', Meldrick?" Munch stepped inside the door, nearly bumping into his fellow detective. "Did I hear you refer to our baby, our cash cow, our beautiful historic landmark as a 'dive'?"
Pausing, Lewis slanted his head up, staring heavy-lidded down his nose at Munch. "Nope," he said insolently before stepping out into the night.
Munch tilted his head sharply, almost birdlike, and Bayliss bit back a smile. He'd come to know that particular gesture--it meant, "I was simply pointing out an obvious fact that you, my plebian friend, were unaware of. Have I offended?"
"Meldrick's got a hot date," he supplied.
"Which is more than /I've/ had in a long time," Munch said, punctuating the quip with a glasses-topping look as he took his place behind the bar. "What'll it be, Timmy?"
Instead of answering right away, Bayliss watched his partner fuss around, folding the bar rag, wiping the beer taps, restacking napkins and ashtrays. They each had their own way of arranging the bar
accoutrements--Munch in some sort of personal order that seemed paradoxically chaotic but tidy, Lewis in genial halfway-organization, and himself...neat.
Clean. Steady and centered and grounded.
"Why do you call me that?" he finally asked, so quietly that Munch had to pause and work the sounds into a coherent sentence in his mind before answering.
"Call you what?"
"Timmy. You and Meldrick, you both call me that."
Filling a chilled glass with club soda and popping in a twist of lemon, Munch smiled at Bayliss' question.
"You're our good-luck mascot, Tim. The Chinese have mandarin trees and statues of Buddha, and, since we're a Siddhartha-bhodi-tree-enlightenment-god short, a card-carrying member of his faith will have to do."
"It's not that, is it." The glass of softly bubbling soda sat between them, untouched. "It's because you--you and Meldrick--you still see me as the kid cop. The rookie. Right? Is that why you skipped out on so many cases, now that we're partners? Because you didn't want to get saddled with little Timmy Bayliss? Is that why you took up permanent residence in the coffee room?" Somewhere in the back of his mind, the calm, logical, rational part, Bayliss was aware that he was edging towards hysteria--either that, or a volley of tears. But the words kept tumbling out, faster and faster, sliding across the polished wood to collide against the thin black figure behind the bar.
"I know we never had to work together before Frank left. I know you miss Bolander--" Bayliss saw Munch stiffen, but kept determinedly on, "--and I know you've never thought much of me as a detective. But I'm good, John. I'm a /good/ detective. I do my job, and I care when I'm supposed to and keep quiet when I'm not, and red turns to black under my name on the board. Even without Frank."
He stopped there, catching his breath on Pembleton's name. It still hurt, God damn him. So much.
The soft sound of liquid on liquid, ice tinkling against glass. Munch pushed the glass of soda water, now enhanced with a shot of whiskey, towards Bayliss.
"I call you 'Timmy' because I /like/ you," he said gently. "And the past...well, it's the past. It doesn't matter how badly you started off in Homicide, if it was on the wrong foot, if you didn't solve the Ade--umm, your first case. You're my /friend/, Timmy.
I consider you a friend."
Bayliss stared bleary-eyed at the polished wood of the bar, unwilling to look up and meet Munch's scrutiny. He just wanted to forget he'd said anything, forget that Munch had offered sympathy and friendship. Now that he had said what was on his mind, it sounded stupid, childish...embarassing.
"Thanks," he said somewhat brusquely, pulling the coaster with the glass closer, removing the straw, and gulping at the drink. "You wanna go talk to Tracy Dunhill again tomorrow?"
"We spent almost an hour with that little girl, Tim.
If she knew /anything/ about who raped and murdered her best friend, she would've told us by now."
"I know." Bayliss swirled the ice in the bottom of his glass moodily. "I guess I just don't want this to be a stone-cold whodunit. I want to catch that bastard and put him away forever."
Resting his elbows on the bar, Munch leaned over, nose-to-nose with his partner. "You can't avenge them all," he said, glasses making his eyes inscrutable.
Bayliss smiled wearily, feeling his body reacting to the now-unfamiliar heat of alcohol. "I know that, John," he replied, and his voice was barely above a whisper. "But I have to try."