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Ron Harris walked into the office, took off his caramel colored suit jacket and announced, "Good morning!" to Nick and Wojo.

Nick, standing at the coffee pot, returned the greeting, but Wojo just grunted and rubbed the bottom of one of his top teeth.

"What's the matter, Woj?" Harris asked as he slid the pin to the left of his name on the roster.

"Going to the dentist in a few minutes. I came in early to get some of this paperwork done. Got two cavities to be filled. He said it's too many jujubees, M&Ms, and coca-cola," Wojo replied glumly.

Nick pondered this for a moment. "Sounds like a balanced diet to me," he remarked.

"Wojo, it'll be fine. They'll numb you real good. You won't feel a thing," Harris assured him.

"It's not just the fillings that I'm dreading. It's the music."

"Music?" Yemana asked.

"Yeah the music they play in the dentist's office. They must be big into Fleetwood Mac. It's all they play: while you wait, while you get drilled, while you're spitting out the pink stuff into that little sink! It's maddening! I can't stand that music, those dippy, trippy hippies."

"'Dippy trippy hippies.' I never knew you were such a poet," Harris teased.

Wojo scowled and got up from his desk. "I gotta head out now." He crossed the office and was just exiting as Fish shuffled in. "Wojo," he greeted the younger man.

"Can't talk now, Fish. I got tooth problems."

Fish pondered this. “Just tooth problems…that takes me back about 30 years.”

Barney arrived next, greeting his team. Not too long after he'd settled in, a call came in that rang to Nick's desk. "Hey Barn? We've got a domestic disturbance at an apartment on Hudson," Nick reported.

"Uh...you and Harris." After the two detectives left, Barney walked over to Fish's desk. "Where are Wojo and Chano this morning?"

"Wojo said something about tooth problems before he left."

"Oh yeah. Dentist appointment. I forgot about that."

"From the look on his face, I'm sure Wojo wishes he'd forgotten about it too," Fish replied in his usual, deadpan way.

"Yeah, but where's Chano?"

Barney didn't have to wait long before Chano finally arrived, accompanied by very attractive young woman in a nicely tailored, turquoise dress. Chano was holding the girl's hand.

Fish stated, "It appears that Chano is having a better morning than Wojo." Then, after considering the pretty girl clinging to the Puerto Rican detective, added, "He appears to be having a better morning than all of us."

"Now just have a seat and take some deep breaths, okay?" Chano told her. She nodded and did what he asked.

"What's going on here?" Barney asked.

"Barney, this is Margaret Stevenson," Chano told him.

Barney introduced himself to the girl and shook her hand. Chano told him, "I was on my way in when I found Ms. Stevenson standing to the side of the road, shaken up after being threatened by a mugger."

"Ms. Stevenson, are you all right? Were you injured in any way?"

The girl shook her head. "No, he was coming from the opposite direction toward me, and blocked my path. He yelled at me to give him my purse."

"And you did?"

"Yes. Well, he threatened to stab me, so it seemed like a good idea."

Barney nodded. "Yes, I think you did the right thing. Detective Amenguale will take your information and statement. Can we get you some coffee?”

“Oh yes, please. Something to calm my nerves.”

“Milk and sugar?”

“That’s perfect.”

After Barney walked off to get the coffee, she turned back to Chano and smiled. “I’m so glad you were there when it happened. I…don’t do well in situations like that.”

He smiled back reassuringly. “Most of us don’t. Okay, fresh sheet of paper…full name?”

“Margaret Ramona Stevenson…but um…I go by ‘Stevie.’”

“Oh? A nickname. Very nice.”

“Yeah, well…I hate my first name. Margaret…so harsh and cold, I think. Like a nun.”

Chano shrugged. “As a good Catholic boy, I can attest to that. I’ve known several Sister Margarets in my time.”

Stevie giggled, then sighed. “I was supposed to go away today. On a trip, that is. To Spain.”

“Spain, eh? Very nice. Quite the adventure! Your first trip out of the country?”

“Oh no – I’ve been to England and France. But those were through school, and I was with a group. This was going to be the first trip I took by myself. Everything was in my purse: my wallet, passport, tickets…my plane leaves in four hours. Detective, do you think you’ll be able to get everything back soon?”

“I can’t say for sure, Ms. Stevenson. We have to finish filing your report, then I’ll have you look through our book of prior offenders, and we’ll put out an APB if you recognize him. Depending on how quickly we can track down the man who mugged you and recover your property…that will determine when you’ll be able to leave and begin your travels.”

The girl looked down at her hands. “Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be,” she murmured.

Chano frowned at this, but continued with the report.

“Here you are, Ms. Stevenson,” Barney told her, handing her the cup of coffee.

“Thank you.” The girl took one sip, froze, and promptly spit it back into the cup. Seeing the surprised look on Barney’s face, she smiled and lied sheepishly, “Too hot.”

Chano suppressed a giggle.

*******************
Not long after, the phone rang at Fish’s desk. “12th Precinct. Detective Fish. I see…okay, yes, be right there. Barney?”

“Yeah, Fish?”

“There’s a disturbance at a restaurant on Lafayette. Disgruntled customer causing a ruckus. That’s what happens when your eggs aren’t made to order, I guess.”

“Nick and Harris are still out.” Barney looked over at Chano, who seemed to be engaged in quite the meaningful conversation with Ms. Stevenson. “Take a uniform with you and check it out.”

As Fish made his way out the door, Chano sat back in his seat and exclaimed, “So you mean to tell me you have three college degrees?”

“Well, um. Yes. I have an associate’s degree in architecture, and a bachelor’s in art history. And then I have a Master’s degree in historic preservation.”

“But—but—you’re so young! How did you get all that done?”

She smiled shyly. “I…skipped the last two years of high school and started college at 16.”

“That’s amazing. You’re very ambitious!”
Stevie looked down at her hands again. “I always had an idea of what I wanted to do. And if you know what you want, why waste time, right?”

“Oh, sure. But it’s not a race.”

She looked at him strangely. “Usually not.”

Just then, Harris and Nick returned with a buxom, irate, middle-aged woman with disheveled brown hair and dressed in what had probably once been a prim printed shift and heels.

“What’s going on?” Barney asked.

“Barn, this is Mrs. Marion Ordan,” Nick explained. “Mrs. Ordan hired an artist to paint her picture—”

“My portrait!” the woman interjected.

“Yes. Right. Anyway, the artist, Mr. Daniels, brought the finished portrait over to Mrs. Ordan’s apartment this morning, and…”

“And it was a travesty! Three hundred dollars he charges me, makes me pose and pose for weeks and weeks, and it was a failure!” Mrs. Ordan shouted.

“Mrs. Ordan, please.” Barney asked, “Why were we called in?”

Harris replied, “Well, when Mrs. Ordan saw the finished product, she was so upset, she destroyed Mr. Daniels’ tools and hit him over the head with the painting. The landlord heard the disturbance and called us.”

“Hopefully I knocked some real talent into him!” Mrs. Ordan snapped.

“That’s it, please!” Barney cried. To Nick and Harris, he asked, “I assume the artist plans to press charges?”

“Yeah, he’s at the hospital getting treated. He’ll be coming down soon.”

“I won’t go to prison because of him! I’ll sue him—for false advertising and defamation of character!” the woman insisted.

“Okay, okay, that will be up to a judge to decide in court. But for now, Mrs. Ordan, we’re going to have to detain you on charges of assault and destruction of property, until you can make bail. If you’ll head over to that desk over there with Detective Harris, we’ll get your info.”

On the other side of the room, Chano had finished typing up Ms. Stevenson’s statement. “We have a mug book that you can look through. Just give me a moment and I’ll get it...oh, it’s not on the shelf.”

“Wojo took it downstairs this morning. Had to be updated. Last night was jumpin’ apparently,” Nick called to him.

“Lucky us. Ms. Stevenson, if you’ll excuse me for a moment.”

“Sure. Thanks.”

As Chano walked away, Harris approached with Mrs. Ordan. Stevie smiled politely and tried to be non-intrusive as the other woman was questioned.

“Full name?” Harris asked.

“Marion Raquel Ordan.”

“Date of birth?”

Mrs. Ordan looked around nervously. “Do—do you have to have that?”

“Morbid curiosity!” Harris exclaimed sarcastically. “Please Mrs. Ordan. It’s required for the form.”

“Fine! June 8th, 1925.”

“Oh, birthday coming up!”

“Yes. That was the reason for having the portrait done. I’ve been dreading this birthday. The big 5-0. I thought…well, why not celebrate myself while I still have some semblance of my looks?”

“Oh, absolutely! A party is so passé.”

After Harris finished his report, Mrs. Ordan turned and looked at Stevie. “You don’t honestly think it’s fair, do you?”

Stevie frowned. “I beg your pardon?”

“If I paid for the portrait, shouldn’t it be my vision, not his? He wouldn’t even have a job if it wasn’t for me.”

“Well, um, Mrs. Ordan, is it? Traditionally the patron-artist relationship is a business transaction. The patron specifies what he or she desires, and the artist works to achieve that in order to provide a quality product.”

“There it is! Yes! That’s what I’ve been saying!”

“But I think the issue is that your vision and his are very different, and that’s the dilemma with art. It’s largely subjective, because it’s an expression of a person’s unique perspective of the world and everything in it. Mr. …Daniels…simply doesn’t see you the way you see yourself. Or, um…perhaps…he doesn’t see you the way you wanted him to see you.”

The older woman narrowed her eyes. “What are you saying?”

“Just that...uh…sometimes there’s this…romantic notion of the relationship between the artist and his subject. That the model is supposed to inspire the artist. But most of these relationships aren’t like Botticelli and Simonetta Vespucci. They are just, like I said, business transactions.” Stevie winced slightly as she said this, knowing that it wasn’t what the woman had wanted to hear.

Mrs. Ordan scoffed and looked Stevie over. “Well, it’s easy for you to be so callous, isn’t it?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Young and beautiful – and every man in this room watching you!”

Stevie furrowed her brow and looked around. Barney, Harris, and Nick quickly looked away and tried to look like they were busy with other things.

Mrs. Ordan continued, “You have no idea what it’s like to be lonely and widowed, living alone, feeling like you’re invisible and unattractive! You have everything going for you: gorgeous face, gorgeous body…”

“Mrs. Ordan, I’m sorry if I offended you, but you asked me for my opinion, and I was just saying that…”

“You wait—you give it thirty years and see how easy it is then to feel good about yourself!”

Chano had returned with the mug book by now. “What’s going on here?” he demanded.

“Detective, it’s all right,” Stevie told him. To Mrs. Ordan, she said, “Just because someone looks healthy, doesn’t mean that they are—or that they don’t have problems and worries!”

“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about…”

“Mrs. Ordan.” Stevie cut her off. “I don’t think I want to have this conversation anymore.”

Harris spoke up. “Mrs. Ordan, please come with me.”

As the woman was led away to the cage, Chano leaned down and asked, “Are you all right? Did that woman bother you?”

“No, I’m all right. Is that the book?”

“Yes. Take your time.”

“Thank you, Detective.”

“You can call me ‘Chano’.” He smiled at her.

She smiled back. “Chano. You can call me ‘Stevie’.”

*********************

The door opened to the squad room and in came a towering, thick-set man bordering on obesity, who was handcuffed but was barely being restrained by Officer Kogan and Fish.

“I didn’t do nothing wrong! It’s that gyp of a buffet!” The man shouted.

“Just take it easy, will ya?” Fish chided.

“I was NOT satisfied! I demand satisfaction!” The large man cried.

“And I demand that you cool it!”

“Okay, okay, what do we have here?” Barney asked.

“Barn, this is Neil Cribkey. He was having breakfast at The Sunny Side—a new all-you-can-eat buffet. Well…evidently Mr. Cribkey’s version of “all you can eat” is different from most people’s. He nearly depleted all of the food in the restaurant during his visit.”

"The buffet said 'All you can eat.' Well, that's not what I got!" Cribkey protested.

Fish continued. "According to the wait staff, in the span of an hour, Mr. Cribkey consumed a pound of bacon, eight pancakes, three omelettes, 15 sausage links, a bin of waffles..."

"And two bins of fruit! I try to eat healthy too!" Mr. Cribkey argued.

"Right," Fish agreed wryly. "Anyway, when the restaurant wasn't able to keep up with the demand, they asked Mr. Cribkey to leave, which then led to the altercation."

"And what exactly was involved in this...altercation?" Barney asked.

"I merely voiced my right to be satisfied!"

"The wait staff stated that Mr. Cribkey was belligerent, threatening, and destructive."

"Destructive?" Barney asked with raised eyebrows.

"Captain, I merely knocked over a couple of tables and chairs, and they broke a bit. How was I to know they were made of such...flimsy material?" Cribkey asked.

"They were made of oak, Barn," Fish clarified.

Barney resisted the urge to shake his head and instead asked, "Is someone coming down to press charges?"

"Yeah, the owner is on his way down now."

"Mr. Cribkey, if you'll just take a seat, and Detective Fish will gather your information."

"Fine." Cribkey sat down in a huff. The chair creaked a bit.

"Please, Mr. Cribkey. Easy on the chair," Fish pleaded. "I'm quite sentimental about it. We've been entertaining suspects in it for several decades."

****************************

The door opened and in walked a pale, slight man with straw-colored hair, dressed in all black, who was holding the back of his head.

“Can I help you?” Harris asked.

“Kendrick Daniels. I’m here to press charges against…her!” he pointed sharply to Mrs. Ordan.

“Your work is shoddy, Daniels!” she retorted, clutching the bars.

“Shoddy? How dare you? I created the product you asked for precisely to your request. I took time away from my most important projects to work on this!”

“Oh, because you’re such a saint, aren’t you?”

“I have a lump on the back of my head! I’ve suffered for my art.” Mr. Daniels complained.

Mrs. Ordan rolled her eyes. “Oh please. It was cloth stretched over canvas, you peach.”

Barney ignored this and asked the artist, “Mr. Daniels, I assume you would like to press charges?”

“Absolutely! And I’m suing for damages to my materials! Hundreds of dollars’ worth of brushes, paints and paper—gone.”

“Very well. Mr. Daniels, please accompany Detective Yemana over to that desk and he’ll take your info.”

As Nick inserted a fresh page in his typewriter, Daniels remarked, “God, the way we artists suffer for our craft! No one understands it.”

Nick nodded sagely. “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Oh? Do you paint?”

“No. It’s horses for me.”

“Ah! You’re an equestrian!”

Nick held up his betting slips. “To my very core!”

Daniels scowled.

*****************************

“Chano,” Stevie said, pointing to a photo in the mug book, “This is him. This is the guy who mugged me.”

“You’re sure?”

“Positive.”

“Okay, we’ll put out an APB for him.” After Chano completed the call, he said, “Stevie…you don’t have to wait here. You can go home and I’ll call you if there are any developments in your case.”

“Well, actually…would it be all right if I stayed?”

“You want to stay?”

“Just because if my purse is found and everything is still intact, I might still be able to catch my flight. Right?”

“Well, yes. But if we catch the mugger and you’re not here to positively identify him and press charges, he goes free.”

“That’s okay. Getting my things back and getting to Spain is the most important thing. Besides, he can’t hurt me if I’m not here, right?”

Chano nodded somberly. “Yeah…yeah, that’s right. Well, it’s getting onto lunch time; we usually order from Grossman’s. Would you like something?”

“That sounds great! What do they have?”

“I think we have a menu around here…uh…hmm…not seeing one.”

“The uniforms downstairs probably have a copy,” Fish advised them. By now he’d finished booking Cribkey and had placed him in the cage with Mrs. Ordan, who looked none too pleased by her new cellmate.

“Ah, yes! You’re right. I’ll be right back.” Chano walked to the door, paused, and turned back to look at her. She raised her eyebrows in encouragement. He smiled and left the room.

Fish tapped Stevie on the shoulder. “Word of advice, dear?”

“Um…sure, Sir.”

“Go easy on that one. Looks like he’s got it bad.”

A pale shade of pink blossomed on her face. “I’m not sure what you…”

“Can I get you a cup of coffee, dear?”

“No!” Stevie reacted rather viscerally, then realized it and softened her tone. “Actually, if you have tea, that would be all right.”

Fish gestured to the small table behind Wojo’s desk. “Everything you should need is there. Tea bags, honey, sugar…”

“That’s perfect. Thank you.”

*******************

Wojo returned from the dentist in a sour mood, feeling along the tops of his teeth where they had been drilled and filled. All of his brooding thoughts disappeared, however, when he saw a gorgeous woman standing behind his desk, dunking a tea bag into a cup. She had plush, sweetheart lips, eyes almost as blue as the form-fitting dress she wore, and golden-brown hair that cascaded in waves nearly down to her waist. And that figure…he forgot he had teeth at all and quickly made his way over to her.

“Hi!” he said, a goofy smile on his face.

She returned the smile cautiously. “Hello.”

“What, uh…what brings you in?”

“I got mugged this morning leaving my friend’s boutique about a half a block up from here.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Detective Stan Wojciehowicz, but I go by ‘Wojo.’” He held out his hand.

She took it. “Margaret Stevenson. But I go by ‘Stevie.’”

“Like Stevie Nicks?”

“Yeah! I love Fleetwood Mac.”

“Boy, me too!” Wojo claimed. Harris just rolled his eyes, recalling Wojo’s rant earlier that day.

“So what can I do to help you?” Wojo asked Stevie.

“Oh, well, actually…”

Just then, Chano returned to the room—and when he saw that Wojo was back and chatting with Stevie, he quickly approached them. “Uh, Wojo? I’m assisting Ms. Stevenson with her case. I’ve got it covered.”

“Well, sure, but you could use some backup, can’t ya?”

“No, we’re fine. She identified the mugger, and we’ve got the word out. Stevie? I got a menu from Grossman’s you can look at.” Chano started to lead her away.

“There’s tons of good stuff on the menu over there, Stevie! How about I suggest a couple of things?” Wojo asked.

“Oh, well, I guess…”

“Wojo, I got it!” Chano warned him.

Wojo pressed on. “Or, how about I take you out for lunch? If we’ve put out the APB for the mugger, we might as well—”

“Ay, es lo mismo cada vez! Siempre con esa dulce charla. Retrocede, ella es mía!” Chano ranted.

“Okay, Chano, okay! Geez, you don’t have to go all Puerto-Rican on me!” Wojo relented. Stevie smiled and accompanied Chano back to his desk.

“Here’s the menu. The ham and swiss is good,” Chano muttered to her.

“Hmm, yes. But I’ll probably get a salad.” She studied the menu closely. After a few moments, she said, “I didn’t realize I was yours.”

“Huh?”

“What you said to Detective Wojciehowicz—you said, ‘Back off, she’s mine’.”

Chano’s eyes widened. “You speak Spanish?”

“Solo lo suficiente para ser peligrosa,” she replied with a wicked smile.

“I’m going to have to keep an eye on you.”

“I thought you were already.”

From behind the newspaper he was reading, Fish smiled secretly.

Barney had also observed this scene, but unlike Fish, he wasn’t smiling. “Uh, Chano?” he called. “Can we speak for a moment?”

“Sure. I’ll be back,” he told Stevie.

Once Chano was in Barney’s office and had shut the door behind him, he asked, “Problem, Barn?”

With a nervous chuckle, Barney replied, “I was about to ask you the same thing. You seem a bit…charged right now.”

“Well, it was Wojo being Wojo. On the prowl, as usual.”

“Right. Is that all?”

“Yes…well, Barney, you called me in here!”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. So, uh…fortunately, it appears Ms. Stevenson has been able to positively identify her attacker from the mug book.”

“Yes! For once! I tell you, Barney, when we drag that pendejo in here, I’m gonna…”

“You’re gonna book him, file the report, and if Ms. Stevenson positively identifies him, charges will be pressed and he’ll be incarcerated,” Barney finished for him. “You follow policy and procedure and act respectfully and professionally, regardless of your feelings for the suspect.” Then he added, somewhat pointedly, “Or the victim.”

Chano frowned at his superior. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying you’re getting too personally involved with this case. And frankly, I’m a little surprised by it. I’ve seen this from Wojo, and from Harris—even from Nick. But not from you.”

“Well, I’m sorry you feel that way, Barney, but the fact is, I care deeply about my work and the people I protect! Have you thought of what might have happened to Stevie if I hadn’t been passing by?”

“Stevie?” Barney asked incredulously. “Based on my brief window of observation, I would say that Ms. Stevenson is an intelligent, perfectly capable young woman who would have found her way to reporting the crime on her own.”

Chano didn’t have a reply to this. Sighing, Barney walked around to the front of his desk and leaned against it. “How do you know she’s not dating a guy? How do you know she’s not dating a couple of guys?”

“I don’t.”

Barney looked at Chano closely for a moment. “There’s more to it than just being attracted to her, isn’t there?”

“Barn?”

“The bank robbery. Last month.” Chano scoffed at this, but Barney persisted. “Chano, something like that doesn’t just leave you! And today was the perfect remedy, wasn’t it? You happened to be walking by and there’s a damsel in distress—the perp has conveniently left the scene already, so there’s no confrontation, no need to draw your weapon at all—you’re there to aid her, to comfort her—and the fact that she appears to be just as attracted to you as you are to her—it’s ideal, isn’t it? You get to feel like the hero Luger was trying to make you out to be when you shot those robbers. Except it’s real this time.”

Chano looked away, shaking his head. “I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I just want it to go away, you know? The guilt. I guess I keep thinking that if I can be a hero to someone just once, I can live with what happened.”

Barney nodded. “So what can I do?”

After thinking for a moment, Chano replied, “Stevie was supposed to fly to Spain today. She keeps hoping that we’ll catch the perp and get her belongings in time, but we both know…well, I want to arrange it so she can fly tomorrow instead, with no penalties. Can you make that happen?”

“I’ll work on it.”

**********************************

Lunch was ordered from Grossman’s. Everyone got their usual. Harris asked the people in the cage too. “Well, Mr. Cribkey? What will it be?”

“Let’s see…there’s the chicken salad, and the BLT, and the Italian cold-cut, the tuna…”

“Yes, I know, there’s so much to choose from.”

“Choose from? No, that’s my order!”

Harris rolled his eyes. “Mr. Cribkey, unlike The Sunny Side, the 12th Precinct is not all-you-can-eat. Pick one!”

“But—but—how can I possibly choose? What if it doesn’t fill me up?”

“Well, that’s what life is all about, isn’t it? Taking chances!” Harris held up his hands theatrically, then turned to Mrs. Ordan. “And you?”

She shifted her eyes to where Stevie was sitting. “What’s she getting?”

“Uh…” Harris glanced down at the list he was keeping. “Garden salad with grilled chicken.”

“I’ll have the same…but without the chicken, or the dressing.”

“Yes…of course. Wise decision!” Harris agreed in a smarmy voice.

Lunch was delivered, and since Wojo was closest to the door at the time, he distributed it. When he got to Stevie, he actually knelt down and handed it to her. “Here you go!” he said with a smile.

“Thank you, Detective.”

Chano cleared his throat sharply. “Barney is waiting for his food, you know.”

“I’m going! I’m going! Just bein’ polite!” Wojo grumbled.

“You don’t have to get so upset, you know,” Stevie told Chano as they started eating.

“You think I’m upset? I’m not upset. This is what Wojo does. And besides…someone like you? You’re probably dating a guy. Probably a couple of guys.” In channeling Barney’s words from earlier, Chano tried his best not to let his emotions show as he spoke.

“No.”

He was taken aback. “No? Why?”

She took a forkful of her salad, taking her time chewing it, so she could put her thoughts into words. “All of my time, energy, and attention I’ve poured into my career, for the most part. I didn’t want to lose my focus. Relationships are messy, and can be painful. But my work isn’t. It’s a straight line for me: I’ve always known what I wanted, and how to get to it. Every day I want to look back and see where I’ve come from and how I got where I am. What I’ve built.” She smiled at Chano. “Do you know what I mean?”

He glanced down at the drawer of his desk, where he kept a photo of him in his uniform on the day he graduated from the academy, surrounded by all of his family. It was the last time everyone—parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents—had all come up from PR and been together. He’d been so proud to show them what he’d accomplished. “Yes, I think I do.”

A few minutes later, the door opened, and in walked a diminutive bald man in gray, rumpled clothes. His eyes were large and frightened. “Can I help you?” Harris asked.

“I’m Burt Higgins. I’m the owner of The Sunny Side Buffet?”

“Ah yes. You’ve come to press charges. Barney!”

Barney emerged from his office and shook hands with Higgins. “Mr. Higgins, I’m Captain Miller. If you’ll take a seat at Sergeant Fish’s desk, he’ll just ask you a few questions.”

“Thank you, Captain.”

“You’re a liar, Higgins! Pure and simple!” Cribkey called from the cage.

Higgins stopped in his tracks, then turned around. “And you’re a brute, Cribkey. The amount of food you ate is inhuman!”

“Your sign stated ‘all you can eat.’ Not all the ‘owner’ deems enough! When I make bail and I’m out of here, I’m suing you for false advertising!”

“He can’t do that, can he?” Higgins asked Fish.

“It appears Mr. Cribkey can do anything he sets his mind—and stomach to,” Fish quipped.

“But—but—the legal fees alone…it would bankrupt me!”

“You press charges, Higgins, and that’s exactly what’s coming!” Cribkey threatened.

“You’re insane! I worked for years to have enough to open that restaurant, and then a glutton like you comes along and spoils it!” Higgins started gesturing wildly, waving his hands about. “You damage my furniture, break my flatware, threaten to hit my wait staff, and then you talk about suing me? I won’t have it, I…”

Higgins was so charged, he wasn’t watching where he was going and backed right into Chano’s desk. His arm swept out and hit a plastic drink cup, nearly sending it to the floor. Like lightning, Stevie stood up, caught the cup before it hit the floor with one hand, while clasping Higgins’ shoulder with the other so that he didn’t fall back and hit his head.

Chano quickly took over, grabbing Higgins’ arm and keeping him upright. “Whoa, are you all right, sir?” he asked.

The poor man had to catch his breath for a moment. “Yeah…yeah, I think so.” He turned to look at Stevie. “Thank you, young lady.”

She smiled at him. “You’re welcome.”

“Mr. Higgins, why don’t you sit over there at Detective Wojciehowicz’s desk?” Fish advised him. “Wojo, can you get the process started?”

“Uh…sure Fish. Where are you going?”

“The men’s room. All that excitement finally got things moving.”

Chano just smiled and shook his head, then turned back to Stevie. “That was really impressive – how fast you moved! You’d make a good cop. You’ve got good reflexes!”

She got that same strange, sad look on her face from before. “Thanks.”

Chano went back to eating his meal when he realized that Stevie wasn’t eating. “Are you all right?”

After staring at her styrofoam pack for a moment, she said, "I think I'm full."

"I'll take it if she doesn't want it!" Mr. Cribkey called from the cell.

"Man, eat your own food!" Chano snapped.

Stevie said, "Chano, it's okay. Give it to him if he wants it."

Chano got up and slipped the food to the man. Looking through it, Cribkey asked, "What, no croutons?"

"Don't push your luck, man!" Chano warned him, then walked back to his desk. Stevie was sitting with her head bent, once again staring at her hands.

"Is something wrong?" He asked.

"No. I just...I wonder...if in the end, I would have been better off if that guy stabbed me."

"What?? Hey hey, don't say that! Why would you say that?" Chano pulled his chair around so he could sit and face her. "Look at me!" He demanded. "Tell me what's wrong."

She looked at him sadly. "You sure you want to hear this?"

"Yes!"

Stevie looked over at the other detectives, and the prisoners, who were clearly listening but trying not to show it. "Have you ever heard of a disease called Huntington's chorea?" She asked him in Spanish. She looked pointedly in his eyes, making it clear that they were to have this conversation in his native language and not hers.

"No. What is it?" He asked in Spanish, respecting her unspoken request.

"It's a degenerative neurological disease. You get tremors, dementia, difficulty thinking and walking and speaking. You lose the ability to do anything for yourself. It’s genetic; you inherit it. My grandmother had it, my father had it, and there's a chance that I'll have it too."

"But tremors...dementia...that's something that old people get later in life."

"No. Huntington's usually starts manifesting in your mid-thirties to fifties. For some people it happens earlier." Stevie leaned back in her seat. "How old do you think I am?"

"I can't remember what you told me. It's on my report over there, but I'd say...twenty-two?"

She smiled. "Twenty-five. That means that I might only have about ten years left before the disease takes hold of me completely. You said I'm ambitious? Adventurous? It's because I'm trying to squeeze a lifetime's worth of experiences into a decade. It might have to be enough.”

"But...Stevie...you might not have it, right?"

"Maybe. I might not have inherited it. But there's no way to know, no way to test for it. All I can do is wait...and look for signs." She looked down at her hands. "My dad's hands started shaking when he was a few years older than I am now. That was the first sign. He only lived for twelve years after that."

"Is there anything they can give you? Any treatments?"

"Not really. Eating well and staying fit help...critical thinking exercises like puzzles can too. But no treatment, no cure. Your mind and body just...turn to mush."

Chano shook his head. "Stevie...I'm sorry."

"Not your fault." She sighed. "Actually, I feel somewhat...liberated. I've never told anyone any of this. No one knows outside of my family. I don't want people to look at me differently, you know?"

"I get it. And I'm honored--don't get me wrong--but um...what made you decide to tell me?"

"Getting mugged was probably the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. But I got through it, and you were there. And if you helped me through this, maybe it wouldn't be too much harder to tell you about the other thing that scares me the most." Stevie clasped her hands together. Chano took her hands in his, and they smiled at each other.

Watching this from across the room, Harris asked Wojo, "So what do you think they're saying to each other?"

Wojo scoffed and replied, "Probably something kinky." He was still sore about getting shooed away from her.

Mrs. Ordan clasped the bars of the pen and shook her head. "That poor kid."

"Huh?" Cribkey asked.

"I feel like a damn fool now. Worrying about losing my looks, throwing a fit over a stupid painting…”

“What are you talking about?”

Mrs. Ordan leaned into him and whispered what she’d heard in his ear. The portly man’s eyes widened. “So you speak Spanish? Are you sure that’s what the kid said?”

“Yeah. My maiden name was Gonzalez.” Mrs. Ordan turned and sat down on the bench. “I miss my husband. Nothing has ever been enough since he passed.”

Cribkey went and sat down next to her. After a moment, he said, “You know…I was a great football player in my day. Star quarterback in high school. Everything going for me. Talent scouts watching me from the bleachers my senior year. Then, tore up my knee in college, and that was it. No one was interested in Neil Cribkey anymore. I never got over not making it to the NFL. So food just…filled that hole for me. But it’s never been enough. It never will be. God, what was I thinking? Trashing a restaurant because they ran out of croissants and bacon?”

“I know what you mean. I hit a man in the head because he didn’t paint me the way I wanted to be painted. Ridiculous. The thing is, I’m terrified of growing old. But I never thought…that growing old is something that some people would kill to be able to do.” Mrs. Ordan thought for a moment, then got up and called, “Captain Miller?”

Barney approached the cage. “Yes, Mrs. Ordan?”

“I have $400 in my purse over there—and several thousand more in the bank. I’d like to pay for all of Mr. Daniels’ painting supplies as well as the doctor’s bill. And I’d like to offer a heartfelt apology for everything I’ve put him through.”

Barney turned back to the artist. “Mr. Daniels? Would you consider dropping the charges against Mrs. Ordan?”

“Oh, he doesn’t have to…” the lady began.

“No, no. If you’re willing to make it right, there’s no reason for this to keep going.” Daniels looked at Barney. “Captain Miller, I don’t want to prosecute her anymore.”

“All right. Nick, fill out a release slip for Mrs. Ordan. Mrs. Ordan, once we release you, please arrange payment to Mr. Daniels.”

“Uh, Captain Miller?” Cribkey asked.

“Yes, Mr. Cribkey?”

“I want to pay for all of the damage I caused at Mr. Higgins’ restaurant too. And I’d like to apologize to him for all the trouble I caused. And uh…I’d be glad to work at the restaurant to work off my debt if I can’t pay it all.”

Barney turned to Higgins. “Does that sound fair, Mr. Higgins?”

The small, bald man rubbed his forehead. “I suppose. I’ll have to get an estimate for the damages…and he has to be willing to work for as long as it takes to pay it off!”

Cribkey nodded. “As long as it takes. And I’m sorry.”

Higgins considered it for a moment. “All right, Captain. I’ll drop the charges. We can work it out outside of here.”

“And the cage is emptied out all at once! Wojo, release form for Mr. Cribkey?” Barney said.

“On it, Barn.”

While they were waiting for the forms, Cribkey turned to Mrs. Ordan. Shifting uncomfortably, he said, “Listen, um…I know a classy lady like you probably wouldn’t be interested, but…I do like going to museums. When I’m not crashing buffets.” She chuckled at this.

He continued, “Maybe sometime…we could visit one together.”

She smiled gently. “I’d like that. And Mr. Cribkey…just for the record, I like croissants and bacon too.”

He grinned. “Really?”

After all four parties signed the forms, and got ready to depart the station. Mrs. Ordan stopped before she passed Stevie. “I want to apologize to you too,” she told the girl. “I shouldn’t have been so rude.”

Stevie smiled and took the woman’s hand. “You have lovely cheekbones and deep, soulful eyes, Mrs. Ordan. I’m sure any portrait of you would be a work of art.”

“Coming from you…that’s quite the compliment. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.” Stevie turned to Chano after they all left, looked at her watch, and sighed. “My flight left almost an hour ago.”

“Stevie…I’m sorry.”

“I’ll have to get all the stuff in my purse replaced, won’t I?”

“Yes. I can give you a copy of our report to provide the different agencies when you go.”

Just then, the door opened, and a uniformed officer entered with something pink wrapped in plastic. “Sergeant Amenguale?”

“Yeah?”

“I believe this belongs to the young lady. It was found about two blocks from the precinct, in a trash bin.”

Stevie eagerly took the purse from the officer and opened it. “Yes, this is my purse. Driver’s license…passport…tickets. Yes! Oh…I had twenty dollars in here, but it’s gone. I guess that’s to be expected. Oh, I’m so glad I left my credit card and check book back at my apartment!”

“That’s great! No sign of the mugger though, eh?” Chano asked the officer.

“No, sir. I’m sorry.”

“Chano? What about my flight?”

Chano glanced back at Barney, who nodded and said, “We spoke with the airline earlier regarding your situation. You’re booked for the flight tomorrow – same itinerary, just one day later.”

“Oh!” Stevie threw her arms around Chano. “Thank you, Chano! And thank you, Captain Miller!”

Barney nodded. “You’re very welcome, Ms. Stevenson.”

Stevie turned back to Chano, realizing that she was still embracing him, and pulled away. “Sorry. That wasn’t very professional of me.”

“I have no complaints,” he replied with a shrug.

A few minutes later, Chano informed Stevie that she’d simply have to report to the terminal, give the agent her name, and her tickets would be waiting for her. “Now, if you have any trouble, you give them my name and number, okay?” he told her, handing her a copy of his report.

“Sure.”

“And um…I’ve called you a cab. It should be here shortly. I don’t want you walking back to your apartment alone.”

Stevie cocked her head and smirked. “You didn’t have to. You know I could have done that for myself.”

“I know.”

Stevie rocked back on her heels and sighed. “Well! I guess this is it. Um…Chano?” She leaned in to him. “You won’t tell anyone what I told you, will you?” she murmured.

“Of course not. But…I was thinking about it.” Chano looked around the room. All of the other detectives were engaged in their own work and not paying attention. “Stevie…what you’re living with…it’s difficult, I know.” He kept his voice low. “But life always has its risks, in one way or another. The job I have? Every day I go to work knowing that I might not come home. Every time Barney sends me on a case, it might be my last. But I get up and do it every day. Do you know why?”

She shook her head. “Why?”

“Because I keep the hope that I can make a difference every time I come here. Hope…it’s what makes the risk worth it. And I hope…that you have a wonderful time en España.”

Stevie smiled. “Thank you. For everything you’ve done for me. I know it’s just your job, but really. Thank you.” She held out her hand. “Goodbye, Chano.”

“Goodbye, Stevie.”

She turned and walked to the door, saying goodbye to the other detectives as she went.

Just then Fish finally emerged from the bathroom. “Where’d everyone go?”

Wojo grinned. “Both Daniels and Higgins decided not to press charges.”

“Huh. Good. And what about Ms. Stevenson?”

“She left too, Fish.”

Fish glared at Chano. “So you just let her go…like that, huh?”

“Well, I—I, uh,” Chano stammered.

“I thought you Latins were supposed to be good at this stuff.”

“You’re thinking of the Germans,” Nick called from his desk.

Just then, the door opened again; it was Stevie. “Um, Chano?”

“Yeah?” He hoped he didn’t sound too eager.

She crossed her arms nervously. “I’m going to be away for about a week, coming back next Wednesday—well, Thursday now, I guess. And I was wondering…um…maybe when I get back, we could go out to dinner? I mean—only if you want to—you don’t have to if…”

“I’d love to.” He said with a smile.

She smiled back in relief. “Okay. Well, you have my contact info, right?”

Chano held up his report triumphantly. “All right here in the report!”

“Great! Well, maybe I’ll hear from you later.”

“You will.” There was absolute conviction in his voice.

“I hope so.” She bit her lip, said goodbye again, and shut the door behind her.

Wojo sidled up to Chano. “So uh...you gonna call her?”

Chano turned and faced Wojo with a smile. “Yeah, man. I’m gonna call her.”

“Good. Find out if she has a sister for me, huh?”