|Primary Characters:||Mike Giardello, Bayliss, Stivers, Munch|
|Warning:||m/m kissing, some strong language|
|Description:||Giardello has pressured his son too much. Mike almost makes a big mistake. He’s shaken, and Bayliss tries to help, but things go wrong.|
“In my office. Now.”
That was Mike’s dad in a nutshell. Never a friendly word. If Mike was lucky, there wouldn’t be any words at all, or at least not words said in that hard tone of voice that Mike had learned to dread from an early age. He couldn’t understand what it was his father, the mighty Giardello, wanted from him. Hadn’t he always tried his very best to please him? From as early on as he could remember. His sisters seemed to manage alright.
He’d better hurry. It wouldn’t do to keep the big man waiting. Mike got up, stretched and fought down an impulse to salute his dad. This wasn’t the army.
“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”
Gee was pointing to a report lying on his desk. Mike had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. That wasn’t his fault. Headquarters had sent him those guys to work with, and how was he supposed to know FBI had a hidden agenda? They didn’t take him into their confidence. He was just a lowly agent, not one of the AD’s. But naturally, his father would hold him responsible, regardless.
“With all due respect, sir, it was out of my hands. Orders from above.”
He could see his excuse wasn’t impressing his dad much.
“Then why didn’t you inform me earlier? If I’d known, there might have been something I could have done to salvage the situation.”
Yes. Good question. Why hadn’t he informed his dad? No, more his boss than his dad. One reason was that Mansfield and Quinlan hadn’t left his side the entire time. Obviously, they knew he might slip information to the Baltimore P D. Or Homicide to be exact. They would know all about his complicated relationship to his father.
It was all there in his file, he was willing to bet. FBI knew everything about their employees. It wouldn’t have surprised Mike at all, if they’d known the name of the girl he’d lost his virginity to, when he was 16. He shook his head to clear it of this irrelevant flight of fancy.
Gee caught the slight movement and interpreted it in his own way.
“I see. You couldn’t be bothered.”
“No, sir. That’s not what I -“
“Then what are you telling me, Giardello?”
Great. This was absurd. He might be allowed to refer to his dad as ‘dad’ Or ‘Gee’ behind his back, in fact he suspected his dad secretly preferred it that way, but face to face across his father’s desk, it would be ‘Giardello’ and ‘sir’. As if they didn’t know each other, or hadn’t known each other until Mike had been given the unenviable job of providing liaison between FBI and Baltimore P D. Homicide to be precise.
In the months he’d been assigned this job, his father hadn’t looked upon him with approval even once. It seemed to Mike that his dad loved him best, whenever he pleaded ignorance, begged his father for advice, and slavishly followed that advice to the letter. Then maybe, his dad’s face would be moved by a big grin. In his more rebellious moments, Mike would dare to think to himself that his dad got off on power. Control. But the thought alone implied disrespect.
“My hands were tied. They followed me around until they left for DC.”
Why couldn’t his dad see his point of view even once? But this was how things had to be. Mike had long since given up hope of ever changing his dad, or even changing himself enough to please the great man. And sure enough, his dad made a small sound of contempt.
“Oh. I understand.”
His voice was thick with sarcasm. Obviously, Gee felt Mike should have sneaked into the washroom and used his cell phone to snitch on his own people. What was this anyway? The mafia? If you trained at the FBI academy and spent years as a field agent, then weren’t you supposed to be loyal to your own people?
Not your family. That was another concept that was alien to Gee. Family was everything. And Mike agreed. Off the job. He had always believed his dad supscribed to that idea too. Until he was put in this position where he had to tear himself in two to please everyone, and most of the time ended up pleasing no one. Especially not himself.
“Would that be all, sir?”
“No. That would not be all, Giardello. In a hurry? Is there anyplace more important you have to be? Do tell me what is that makes you unable to stay for a few more minutes when your superior needs to discuss something with you.”
“No, sir. I don’t need to be anywhere else.”
His dad was leaning back in his chair, obviously relishing this moment. Mike felt his knees weaken and he would have appreciated the offer of having a seat, but he knew it was useless expecting his dad to notice or even care.
“Listen carefully, Giardello. Next week we have an important meeting scheduled here in Baltimore.”
Yes. He knew all about that. Visitors from New York and DC, not to mention the west coast. A meeting for high police officials, discussing ways of combating the new organized crime rackets flooding in from Eastern Europe and Asia. But what did that have to do with Homicide? The Bureau, he knew, would be involved, but he hadn’t received any orders, so he had assumed he would be covering his usual job.
“I’m attending the meeting. So is Barnfather and a few others. You, Ballard and Falsone will accompany me. Munch will be in charge in our absence. Any questions?”
“Yes. What are we going to do? Ballard and Falsone and I?”
“You will be expected to carry important messages back to the station, assist me at the discussions and provide liaisons with security. Back them up if necessary. Not that we’re expecting any attacks. But it won’t do to come unprepared. I need a few of my own covering my back. Do you think you’re up to it? If not, I can get Lewis to do it.”
The implication was clear. Lewis of all people would be more reliable. Mike couldn’t believe he was hearing this. Everyone knew, without being able to prove it, that Lewis had been implicated in the Luther Mahoney shooting. He’d been mixed up in various schemes on both sides of the law, while he was suspended, and now his dad seriously suggested that he placed more trust in Lewis than in his own son.
“Or Sheppard and Bayliss.”
“No, sir. That won’t be necessary. I can handle it.”
“Great. Well, what are you waiting for? Dismissed.”
Mike turned on his heel and left his dad’s office. He couldn’t face the other officers right now, and in his hurry to get outside, he almost ran into Stivers. Her face betrayed concern and suddenly Mike wanted to confide in her. There was something about Stivers that inspired confidence. Confidence and something else, more physical.
But he couldn’t show weakness like this. She wouldn’t respect him, and anyway, how did he know she’d understand? Maybe Stivers too, felt he should be able to take the heat? What kind of a man was he? This latest run-in with his dad had almost reduced him to tears. He wasn’t a kid anymore. No wonder he was such a failure.
Where to now? He considered just getting out, to get as far away from the station and the reminders of his inadequacy as possible. But he knew he needed to be easily accessible in case any new case came in. In the end, he settled for the washroom. Later, he might sneak into Archives. There was always some old case he might need to review. Maybe he should tell the switchboard he’d be working from home for a couple of days. Anything, as long as he didn’t have to face his colleagues for a while.
In the washroom, he bumped into Bayliss. Maybe his face betrayed his emotional state. Anyway, he could see a look of concern fly over Bayliss’ friendly features. Again, Mike was tempted to throw away all caution and confide in his colleague. He knew Bayliss wouldn’t laugh. But right now, Mike just wanted to be alone.
“Hey, man. Anything wrong?”
Mike struggled to get his face under control.
“No. Nothing’s wrong. I just have a bit of a headache.”
He wondered fleetingly what Bayliss’ religion would have to say about the telling of fibs. Most likely, Buddhism would frown upon the practice, just as Mike’s own catholic church did. What difference did it make? His soul was already burdened with many sins, and it had been years since his last confession. In fact, it had been more than a year since he’d even set foot in a church, other than when working a case.
Bayliss didn’t believe him, but was too tactful to call his bluff.
“I’m sorry. That’s what you get for putting your life on the line on this job. Stress. Get some fresh air.”
“Thanks. I might.”
There was nothing else to say, so Bayliss took his cue and left. Mike splashed his face with cold water and stared into his own face in the mirror. He was too deep in thought to really see himself.
Bayliss – What was the truth behind the rumors about him? Mike knew the uniforms, and on occasion Lewis, would gossip about Bayliss’ sexual orientation. Personally, he didn’t care either way, but he found the rumors hard to put credit in. Bayliss was a gentle soul, and the shooting incident might have left him a bit changed, but Mike didn’t see Bayliss as a typical gay. For all he knew, that might still be the case, but who cared anyway?
His dad might, Mike knew that. Perhaps not when it came to the men under his command. But growing up, Mike had been forced to feign a macho attitude he didn’t have. He had always had a sneaky suspicion his dad watched him with disapproval, half-expecting his weakling of a son to turn out to be gay.
That had made him go after women he didn’t really want, just to prove himself to his father. And as a consequence, he’d ended up disappointing Gee all over again. Apparently, chasing women wasn’t good enough either.
Another man might have realized the impossibility of trying to please such a demanding father, and given up the effort early on. Not Mike. His father’s forceful personality had been too firmly imprinted on him from an early age. He simply couldn’t stop trying to live up to his father’s expectations. Hence all these emotionally draining situations.
At the end of the week, Mike had finally shaken some of the residual effects of the run-in with his dad. He decided to go away for the weekend, to recharge his batteries for the coming week. Working so closely with his dad, always strained Mike to the limit.
In a way it was good that he wasn’t living with anyone right now. Though it wasn’t fair, he knew he might easily have lost his temper and snapped at his girlfriend. Or maybe a lover might have had a soothing influence. It would depend on the woman. In the past, he’d frequently dated white women, but he knew they wouldn’t pass muster under his father’s critical eyes. Now, he was under too much pressure to even go out looking.
Maybe he’d get a promotion, or even a demotion. Or he’d ask for a transfer. Working with his dad couldn’t go on forever. Mike knew it was the truth. There was only so much he could take. He was beginning to fear he’d reach a point where he couldn’t handle the pressure any longer, and he’d really snap. All he could hope for was that it wouldn’t happen on the job, with lives depending on his ability to keep his cool.
On Monday morning, Mike’s orders were to meet his dad outside the building where the meeting would take place. The meeting was to open at 9, but Gee had specifically told Mike to show up at 7.30. When he arrived, his dad was restlessly pacing around the parking lot, but Falsone and Ballard were nowhere to be seen.
Mike suspected they’d overslept, and one of them was sneaking back to his or her own place, so they’d arrive separately. All that fooling around and hiding their true intentions would drive Mike up the wall, but apparently the two love-birds thrived on the secrecy.
Gee’s eyes were filled with disapproval and the day hadn’t even begun. Now Mike suspected his dad would take out his frustrations over Ballard and Falsone on his son. Great. But he knew from experience that trying to point out the injustice of such a course would be met with even more disapproval. Gee’s son wouldn’t cringe and whine like a whipped dog. He’d take what was coming to him like a man. It obviously never occurred to the great man that his son had already proven his courage under fire time and time again as a fed.
“You didn’t see Falsone and Ballard on your way here?”
“Hm. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were still defying my direct orders and sleeping together.”
Mike wouldn’t either, but what was the point of discussing it with his dad? Ten minutes later, Ballard showed up, looking very professional and inscrutable. Mike felt a whiff of shampoo and some exotic perfume. Whatever she and Falsone had been up to, she’d left him bright and early and returned home to straighten out her appearance.
Only minutes before 8.30, when Gee had decided they’d go inside, Falsone showed up, looking a little worse for wear. Maybe Mike had been wrong about where the two lovers had met. They could have been over at Ballard’s place, which would have left Falsone at a disadvantage.
Falsone’s next words belied the other men’s suspicions.
“Sorry, sir. I had to drop my kid off at his grandmother’s place.”
“Apology accepted. Shall we?”
Inside, they learned that only one of the officers would be allowed to accompany Giardello to the conference table, and to Mike’s astonishment, his father picked him. Ballard and Falsone were told to wait in the hallway outside. Mike could guess how that went down, but he was in no position to point that out to his father. He sat down in the chair provided for him and shut up. That seemed to be about the only thing he could do. At least for the time being, that didn’t appear to draw any attention from Giardello.
The conference dragged on until lunchtime and there was no sign of any break, not even for coffee or a smoke. Of course, most of the cops in the room smoked incessantly, until Mike felt his lungs couldn’t take any more. At one point, a secretary tiptoed around the room, serving coffee.
It was getting on for 5 and there still hadn’t been one single break, except for a few minutes now and then, for visits to the washroom. Mike didn’t mind. During his time at the FBI he’d frequently worked on into the evening or even the night, with very few breaks for snacks. But sitting right next to his father was unnerving.
Whenever the focus of the discussion drifted away from anything Giardello found worth while, he’d fix his son with a disconcerting glare, as if he was seeing right through Mike’s skin into his mind. And whatever the great man saw, he didn’t approve of, it didn’t take a genius to guess that. Mike was bracing himself for an outburst, which didn’t come, not until he was so tired and numb he’d dropped his protective shielding and was left wide open.
Suddenly, the lack of fresh air, nerves and his hunger made Mike risk asking his father when the conference was going to end. From what Mike could tell, the last two hours had been spent arguing over formalities, not solving the communication problems between police departments.
“Look, dad, is this going to be much longer? It’s late. I’m getting a bit hungry and -“
An icy stare from Giardello made Mike falter.
“Then I suggest you go and have a pizza, while I do the job. When I was your age a man could go for a day without food, but I suppose the younger generation doesn’t have our stamina. Go on, I wouldn’t dream of keeping you. Dio mio, what a son I raised. What are you waiting for, Michele? Go.”
Mike winced. Why did he still let his father do this to him? But he knew he’d already given in. Like he always did.
“No, that’s ok. I’ll just go to the vending machine down the hall. Won’t be a minute.”
But Giardello had only begun his lecture. He had spent the last hour and a half getting rapidly disillusioned with his fellow police officers. Had they always had this tendency towards petty politics or was this a recent development? Maybe he’d been away from the streets for too long. Lost touch with the true reason he’d had for becoming a police officer in the first place.
And now his weak, pathetic excuse for a son was whining about his tummy. What was the matter with the boy anyway? It was clear that leaving his upbringing to his mother had been a mistake. But how could a young cop earn a living, enough to support a family and raise his son at the same time?
The discussion was still going on at the other end of the table, but many had taken to talking among themselves, just like Giardello and his son. No one was listening or paying much attention to anyone else’s business.
Giardello’s Sicilian temper was just finding a target. As he watched his son, he was painfully reminded of another pet peeve of his. Why hadn’t Michele gotten married by now? At his age, Giardello himself had been the father of three children. And why did his son keep dating white women? Not Italian either, just white.
Maybe he didn’t want to meet the right woman. This was something that had been nagging at the back of Giardello’s mind since his son had returned to Baltimore. What if – No. Not his son. He’d kill him if – While struggling with his anger, Giardello couldn’t help letting the words spill out. Why shouldn’t he let his son know what was on his mind?
At first, Mike just blinked in consternation. Though his father kept his voice low, to avoid being overheard, this was totally unexpected. He could only lamely try to avert most of his father’s anger by pointing out that whatever issues his father had with him might be better dealt with later, in private.
Giardello went on as if he hadn’t heard his son’s feeble protests. For once the boy could damn well listen.
Mike fidgeted uneasily. This simply couldn’t be happening. It was like junior high all over again. He never would have guessed his father would behave like this in public. Not anymore. Sure, he’d had his share of embarrassing moments while still in school, but now he was grown up. An FBI agent. Strictly speaking, his father didn’t have the authority to speak to him like this. Especially not in this place. This meeting had nothing to do with the Bureau.
“Dad – Come on. Let’s do this in private.”
Finally, Mike had to acknowledge defeat. This was useless. So he pushed back his chair, as quietly as he could, and decided to go outside for a moment, letting his father cool down a bit before once again trying to reason with him.
If he’d thought the comparative privacy in the corridor would soothe his frayed nerves, he was mistaken. The tension seemed to get worse, not better. Embarrassed, he looked around for Ballard and Falsone. They were nowhere in sight.
At the moment, that was a relief. Whatever they were up to, Mike couldn’t face them right now. He began walking back and forth. After a while he stopped in front of the vending machine. He almost bought a cup of coffee, until he realized that it would only make him more wired. In the end, he settled for a chocolate bar, which he left virtually untouched. There was a cold hard knot at the pit of his stomach and the chocolate settled like a rock inside him.
Suddenly, he knew he had to get some time to himself. In private. Not just walking back and forth in the corridor like this. While looking around for his colleagues, he made his way to the men’s room.
He splashed some water on his face and stared into his own eyes looking back at him from the mirror. All these years and he still was Gee’s little boy. But that was all wrong. What he’d achieved was as good as anything his dad had managed in the same number of years.
Stretching his back to remove some of the tension making his back hurt, Mike walked over to the urinal. While he emptied his bladder, he heard another man walk in. The guy picked the spot right next to him, making Mike feel slightly uneasy. Casting a discreet sideways glance, he determined that the other guy was a stranger. Too late he realized that his neighbor had been looking at him steadily all the time. When he caught Mike’s gaze, he shot him a smile filled with innuendo.
Not that too. Not on top of his dad’s lecture. Mike couldn’t stop himself from taking a step in the opposite direction, while he hurriedly zipped himself up again. Again he felt that suggestive stare rake him all over. He had to remind himself that he was a police officer. The weight of his gun in his shoulder holster felt reassuring.
As he walked out, he heard the guy talking to him, a hint of disdain in his voice.
“Leaving so soon, baby?”
Mike refused to dignify that with a reply. He couldn’t let something like this get to him. Where were Falsone and Ballard anyway? You’d think they’d be doing something to pull their weight on the job.
Again, he took to pacing back and forth in the corridor, not yet up to facing his father. What good would he do in there anyway? Chances were, the quarrel would still be going on.
In Mike’s mind, the conversation with his dad kept rewinding and playing over and over again, just like thousands like it over the years. Was it the same for every son in the whole world? He knew his sisters viewed their father completely differently. To them, he was a strict, but fair father, and he knew Gee’s love for his daughters was endless. So what had he done to deserve this harsh treatment?
After a while, he sank down on a bench, hardly aware of what he was doing. Returning to Baltimore might have been a mistake, but at the time, he’d felt he was reconnecting with his roots, and he’d been convinced that his troubled relationship with his dad had been a teenage thing. Surely things would be different between them after all these years? But he’d been wrong about that. Still, Baltimore was his home just as much as it was his dad’s.
As if from far away, he heard something. Something alarming. Struggling to clear his head, reminding himself that he was working, Mike shook his head. Brooding could be done on his own time. Gunshots fired. Inside the building.
For about two seconds, Mike was completely paralyzed. Where would he go? To find his colleagues and back them up if necessary? Back inside the conference room and find his dad? Whatever he did, he knew the great man would find fault with his choice.
In the end, Mike’s training and experience kicked in. He ran to find Ballard and Falsone. Once he’d found them, they could cover the meeting together.
It didn’t take him long to locate the guns being fired. And there he also found his colleagues, huddled together, taking cover as best they could. Ballard was returning fire, and now he saw Falsone’s gun peeking out of the flimsy shelter of a door. The man or men firing at the police officers seemed to be round the corner, just out of sight. Their target could only be the conference room. To Mike’s knowledge, there was no other important event taking place in the building.
Swearing under his breath, he realized that not only was he unable to reach his colleagues to back them up, but he also couldn’t get to his father and the other delegates. Not without crossing the line of fire. All he could do, was provide cover fire to take the heat off Falsone and Ballard. They should never have parted company. And since he had been ordered to accompany his father, he should have stayed by his side. Now their forces were divided.
Before firing the first round of shots, Mike remembered to identify himself.
The only reply was a renewed barrage of bullets, this time in his direction. Yes. At least two suspects. And Mike’s suspicion was confirmed. The other man was continuing his attack on Ballard and Falsone.
At this point, Mike realized he needed to call in backup. Naturally, the sounds of guns being fired would have alerted their uniformed colleagues. The silence from inside the conference room bothered Mike, but since he had no way of ascertaining the status of the officers inside the room, he just focused on what his next move would be.
He was spared the decision of calling in. The sound of sirens became more and more pervasive. Now Mike could focus on laying down more coverfire, to divide the shooters’ attention. All the while, he was cursing himself for his inattentiveness. What if Ballard or Falsone had been injured because he was moping about like a teenager? He’d let his colleagues down, and he had opened himself up to more criticism from his dad. Would he ever learn?
A yell of pain indicating the one of the shooters had been hit, interrupted Mike’s self-recrimination. One down, one more to go. He thought either Ballard or Falsone had been the one to score this time. Resuming fire, he knew that from his angle there wasn’t much likelihood of hitting any of the shooters himself. Still, whatever kept them busy might be of help.
t seemed the shooters had had enough. Mike saw one of them get up, and keeping his head low, he ran for the staircase. Again, there was a yell and the changed gait of the runner indicated he’d been hit. Mike aimed and fired, but missed, or at least he thought so. But the guy tripped on the stairs and fell, disappearing from Mike’s line of sight.
Now he could hear the sound of heavy footfalls coming from more than one direction. He turned to identify himself, and faced two armed uniformed colleagues.
“Federal agent. One of the shooters was hit and fell down the stairs. The other one seems to be hit too. There hasn’t been any shots fired from their location for some time.”
Mike had already put away his gun, and now he cautiously eased out his ID. One of the uniforms gave it a cursory glance before moving on.
“Two more officers over there. Ballard? Falsone? Are you ok?”
“Mike? Yes. Nothing wrong here. You?”
The smalltalk could wait. Now there was a crime scene to secure. But despite the relatively successful conclusion to the situation, Mike couldn’t help thinking he’d handled himself badly.
When he was finally done with all the questions, and reports, he felt shaken. What he needed most of all was a drink. But first he wanted to see Ballard and Falsone and once again reassure himself that no harm had come to his colleagues because of his unforgivable weakness. Part of him wanted to explain and apologize but realized that he would never be able to put his thoughts into words.
Falsone appeared to be in high spirits. It was hard to remember that Mike too had reacted to a close brush with death the same way when he was a couple of years younger and much less seasoned. The younger cop high fived Mike and that more than anything convinced Mike that at least on Falsone’s part there were no hard feelings. He wished he could feel as good about himself.
“Hey, man. Two lowlifes off the street. Way to go.”
“Thanks. Want to go for a drink?”
A furtive look crept into Falsone’s eyes, and Mike guessed he was going to see Ballard in private somewhere. Oh, well, no skin off his back, but heaven help them if his dad found out.
“Some other time, ok? I got some stuff I need to take care of.”
“Sure. Is Ballard around?”
“Yeah, she’s in the locker room. Tell her I had to go.”
Mike hesitated outside the locker room. It was an unspoken rule never to walk in unannounced when one of the female officers was in there. Perhaps he’d catch her some other time. Like the following day. But there she was, her hair still wet. Mike wondered why it was he didn’t find her more attractive than he did.
Part of it might have been the knowledge of her attachment to Falsone. But there was something else, something flirtatious, something that led Mike to believe Ballard wasn’t all that reliable. A bit here-today-gone-tomorrow that he would have appreciated far more while he was still at college. At this time in his life he was looking for someone with a bit more substance.
“Mike. Thanks for the backup earlier. Good work.”
“Thanks. You and Falsone came through.”
“Yeah, well -“
For some reason, Ballard didn’t appear to want to take credit for the successful conclusion to the shooting. Mike wondered why. Had they been late to respond as well? If so, he could guess why.
But it didn’t do anything to relieve his own feelings of guilt. Maybe he ought to ask for a transfer. His relationship with his father was affecting his work and that was totally unacceptable. If he hadn’t ended up putting the lives of his colleagues at risk, that day would come, he was sure of it.
“So. How about a drink?”
Wanting to test his theory about how Ballard and Falsone had planned the evening made him ask, though he didn’t particularly want to go out with Ballard.
“Sorry. I’m beat. Tonight I’d better get some rest. Raincheck, ok?”
“No problem. See you tomorrow.”
But Mike had no intention of going home, to stare at the walls, lying awake, going over his mistakes again and again in his mind. No. A couple of drinks and some talk with a colleague, if he was able to find one, was seemed far more appealing. He made up his mind to go over to the Waterfront bar. There was sure to be some colleagues around and the drinks were good, not to mention the fact that they came at an unofficial discount for friends of the owners.
By the door he ran into Tim Bayliss. As always, whenever Bayliss caught sight of one of his friends, his face was lit up by a goofy grin. Like a puppy. What a ridiculous thought. Mike shook his head at the image.
“Heard you were involved in that shooting today. Great work.”
Mike considered asking Bayliss along for a drink, since he was unable to find anyone else interested. As far as he knew, Bayliss was a good listener and so made a nice drinking buddy. If he still used alcohol these days. It was a bit difficult to keep up with Bayliss’ religious views.
Before he had time to ask, Bayliss came up with a suggestion of his own.
“How about dinner at my place? I have this new vegetarian recipe I want to try out. If you’re willing to take a chance -“
“Sure. Why not? I’ll try anything once. Just kidding. Actually, I don’t have a problem with veggie food and this might be a good time to cut down on cholesterol. Ok.”
“Great. Shall we?”
Like he’d just said, why not? Anything was better than being alone. And besides, Bayliss was a good guy.
Dinner was surprisingly decent. To Mike the word vegetarian always conjured up mountains of lettuce, interspersed with pieces of carrots. But what Bayliss cooked for him was something he’d never even have guessed was vegetarian. In fact, it was delicious. He suspected Bayliss had especially picked something Italian for his sake. Either way, he was glad he’d accepted the invitation. No matter what the other guys said about Bayliss he was ok.
To Mike’s surprise, the conversation drifted to dating. He hadn’t thought Bayliss wished to discuss this particular topic. But he saw no problem with the subject, and was happy to share stories about the women he’d been out with. Not that he was particularly eager to listen to confidences about dating men, but he was prepared to do his share of listening all the same.
“So, Tim, are you dating anyone in particular these days?”
“No. Not really. I asked Sheppard out, but she turned me down. Said she just wanted to be friends. But lately she’s taken that back too. I don’t blame her though. She’s been under a lot of pressure. Socializing can’t be on top of her list right now.”
Mike’s expression must have conveyed astonishment, because Bayliss shot him a crooked smile.
“What? You thought I was only dating men? No. In fact, I’d say I fall for more women than men. Unfortunately, not that many women return my feelings. Even those who do, seem to tire of me. But I guess it’s my own fault. Commitment kind of scares me. And women want commitment.”
“I don’t mind commitment anymore. Actually, I’m ready for a bit of commitment. But – I guess I’m not having any luck either. And dad’s attitude isn’t helping.”
“What’s Gee got to do with your life? You’re the one who’s going to have to live with the woman, not him. Don’t let him bother you. His bark is worse than his bite.”
“Maybe to you guys. You have no idea what he’s like in private.”
Suddenly, Mike wanted to tell Bayliss everything, how his dad was never happy with anything he did, how nothing and no one he went out with ever was good enough, and how his sisters seemed to get all of his father’s affection. But he held himself in check. It wasn’t a good idea to spew forth all these confidences to one of his father’s men. How would they be able to work together after one of those heart-to-hearts?
“That’s something I can relate to. Believe me. My dad and I – Well, let’s just say we’re not close and never have been. Sometimes I think he doesn’t care about me at all. Makes you wonder about parenthood, doesn’t it?”
“It sure does. I guess my dad really wanted a son, but the one he got was a disappointment. It isn’t fair to the girls though. I get the feeling he’s only this tolerant with them, because he doesn’t expect as much from them as he used to from me.”
“I had no idea. Gee’s a great boss. We all think the world of him. But I guess working with someone doesn’t really tell you what he’s like in private.”
It was no use. Mike knew he had to tell someone about his slip today, or he’d go crazy. And Bayliss was a good guy. He wouldn’t spread the story around.
“Today – That shooting. I almost lost it. Dad had been going on about – Anyway, I was upset and had to leave the conference room or I’d answer back or something like that. And I was wandering around the corridors, not really concentrating on the job. Tim – I might have left Ballard and Falsone hanging. It was just luck that I got there in time.”
Bayliss reacted to the pain in Mike’s voice. It was far too familiar, whatever the cause. And he couldn’t bear to sense this suffering in any living creature. Not if there was anything he could do to stop it. He reached out, and pulled Mike into his arms. There was no resistance.
It had been so long since someone had just held him. His lovers had fulfilled him in different ways, but not since his mother had died had anyone hugged him like this. It really was comforting. For the moment, Mike didn’t question the wisdom of the situation.
In this split second, he experienced a strong sense of belonging, of empathy. Not knowing exactly how, he sensed that Bayliss too, was in a lot of pain, and that was something Mike could relate to.
They didn’t know how it happened, because it was the furthest thing from their minds, but somehow their lips met. Joining in a kiss that never should have been allowed to happen, it was a while before anyone’s common sense kicked in. Wise or not, the kiss tasted sweetly for about a split second. A split second. That’s not a very long time, but in that moment everything changed.
Mike’s body tensed up and he pulled away from Bayliss, a look of horror spreading across his face.
It didn’t take Bayliss long to realize their mistake. In itself, it wasn’t such a big deal. But they were colleagues. Mike’s dad was his boss. And he could tell this was not what Mike had wanted. Actually, it wasn’t what Bayliss wanted either. His mind was still dwelling painfully on Sheppard’s shapely form. Still, why shouldn’t they be able to deal with the situation as adults? It’s only natural to make mistakes.
“Hey, take it easy, Mike. No harm done. I apologize. We got our wires crossed for a second. Won’t happen again, I swear.”
It was a while before Bayliss’ reasonable words filtered through to Mike. What was wrong with him? Had his dad been right about him all along?
“How did that happen? I wasn’t -“
“I know. Me neither. I really don’t know what got into us. I’m really sorry, Mike.”
“Dad will kill me. He’ll kill us both.”
“Calm down, Mike. Gee won’t kill us. Get a grip. Sure, this was a mistake, but it’s not the end of the world. I guess it was the first time you’ve ever been kissed by a guy?”
“He’ll kill me.”
“No, he won’t. This is not 19 century Sicily. In Baltimore these things don’t happen.”
“Ok. Maybe he won’t kill me, even if he’ll make me wish he had. But he’ll definitely kill you.”
Bayliss wasn’t alarmed over that prospect. What did concern him was the edge of hysteria in Mike’s voice. Inwardly cursing himself, he tried to think of a way to undo the damage before things got out of hand.
“No. Get away from me. I can’t think -“
“If it’s any help, I take full responsibility for what happened. Blame me, if it makes you feel any better.”
But it was pretty clear right from the start, that Mike wasn’t in a state to be approached. With a sigh, Bayliss realized he would have to let his guest go without offering any more comfort one way or another.
Stupid. How could he have been such a fool? Anyone else would have just pushed him away, possibly ignored the incident, but never reached this state of hysteria. Maybe Gee really was being too hard on his son. Mike’s reaction certainly seemed to point in that direction.
“Ok. Again, I’m really sorry. That’s not what I had in mind when I asked you over, but I don’t expect you to believe it.”
“I – This was my fault as much as it was yours. I’m sorry too. What got into me?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t. But I’m terribly sorry.”
“I know. I just can’t – I have to go.”
And Mike turned and ran downstairs, to get away from the confusion. But it was inside him and everywhere, and running didn’t do much good.
Unfortunately, there was another work day ahead of him the next morning, but Mike really didn’t feel up to it, so after some agonizing over how his dad would interpret his absence, he called in sick.
He’d forgotten the case he was working with Stivers and towards lunch, she was beginning to wonder where her partner in crime had vanished to. They hadn’t been working the case very intensely just at the moment, but that particular morning she had stumbled across a lead, that might lead to a major breakthrough. She decided to find Mike and get his opinion.
Since it was about lunchtime, she stopped by a diner to pick up some takeout. They might as well discuss the case over lunch.
After some inquiries, she had found that he was at home, in bed, nursing some kind of ailment. The secretary who had taken his call wasn’t totally clear on what he was suffering from.
Personally, Stivers guessed it was the reaction after the shooting yesterday. There had been a little too much of that kind of thing lately. Sure, they were cops and should be prepared for anything. But somehow this town seemed to have been getting worse even in the past two or three years. Maybe it was time she moved west. To some peaceful place where there weren’t any Luther Mahoneys.
A frown appeared on her face, and as she waited while the doorbell kept ringing in a seemingly empty house, she began to wonder where Mike really was. Or if something was seriously wrong with him. Could he have been taken to hospital for some reason? Or – But she was interrupted before she had time to finish that thought. The sound of the lock clicking told her someone was inside the house, after all. And the door swung open to reveal Mike standing on the threshold, looking anything but happy.
“Mike? What’s up? Are you sick?”
“No. Not exactly. Is anything wrong?”
“Oh. Not really. Remember the Buczynski case?”
“Oh, god. I’m sorry, Terri. Come on in.”
“That’s ok. I just got a lead this morning, and I thought you’d be interested. That is, if you’re up to it?”
“What? Yeah, sure.”
“I brought some lunch, in case you’re hungry.”
Mike sounded anything but enthusiastic and again, Stivers wondered what was the matter with him.
They had lunch and discussed the case, but the thought of Mike’s haunted eyes, wouldn’t leave Stivers alone. She’d always been drawn to this man, ever since they’d first begun working together. But even if she hadn’t found him so attractive, she’d have been concerned about the welfare of a co-worker.
“If I’m out of line, tell me to butt out, but what’s really wrong?”
She really didn’t miss anything. This was exactly what Mike had been worried about. If she could spot the emotional chaos he was experiencing, what would everyone else see if he returned to work?
On the other hand, here was someone else who was willing to listen and offer support. In a way, this painfully reminded him of last night. Deep down, he knew Bayliss wasn’t the villain here. It was still his dad, who was poisoning his mind wherever he went, whatever he did. But he wasn’t big enough to rise above the awkwardness of the incident last night. And he knew that from now on, he and Bayliss couldn’t be friends anymore. Looking at it from the bright side, whatever happened between him and Stivers, nothing bad could come of this.
He knew she was single, and she was undeniably of a color that would please his dad. Not only that, he also knew that his dad thought very highly of Stivers. So either way, it appeared he couldn’t lose. But he wasn’t in a mood to start hitting on a woman just now. Still, the urge to unburden himself was irresistible.
And he found himself confiding in Stivers. He told her everything from the beginning. All about his dad and the shooting and finally, the humiliating incident at Bayliss’ place. He tried very hard not to place any of the blame on Bayliss. After all, it takes two to tango.
After he’d finished, Stivers went on looking at him, the expression in her eyes unreadable. At last, she began talking.
“What? I can’t believe he’d have the nerve to take advantage of you, when you were in such a vulnerable state. You should report him – Ok, maybe not. But this is so -“
“It wasn’t his fault. I shouldn’t have -“
Seeing that it was no use dwelling on the past, Stivers went on as if she hadn’t heard Mike’s last remark.
“You mustn’t go on blaming yourself for that shooting incident either. Ten to one, Ballard and Falsone were hiding somewhere, making out. They might as easily have let you down. So just forget about that. You did the job. Helped save their asses. That’s all you need to remember.”
It felt great, hearing her friendly voice repeating that he wasn’t to blame. He knew that Stivers was a good officer and her opinion counted for something. The fact that he found her a very attractive woman didn’t hurt either.
Suddenly, he realized how she might have interpreted his action from last night. If his skin had been a little lighter colored he was sure she would have seen him blush. What if she thought –
“Look, I – uh -“
“Terri – I’m not gay.”
“Of course not. Did you think I thought you were?”
“I – I wasn’t sure. Just for the record, ok?”
“Ok. I guess being gay is fine. But I’m just an old-fashioned girl at heart. I like my men to be real men, if you know what I mean.”
What was she talking about? Did this mean what he was hoping it meant?
“Under the circumstances I’d understand if you – What I’m trying to say is – Would you like to have dinner with me some time?”
Great. What a time to ask a girl out. She must think he was panicking and that he wanted to prove himself as a man. Which in a way was true, but he would never have asked just anyone out. In fact, if last night hadn’t happened, he knew he would never have found the courage to ask her, but now that he had, there was a part of him that was rejoicing. If he could only manage to forget about last night, he’d be ok.
“I’d love to. Thought you’d never ask. You must have heard this a lot in the past, but you’re a very attractive guy, Mike Giardello. There’s something irresistible about that combination of black cool and Italian suaveness.”
That was some compliment. Irresistible? He couldn’t help but feel cheered by this development and like last night, he had no idea how it happened, but he found that he was holding Stivers in his arms, kissing her, pulling her even closer. Why couldn’t he have run into her on the way out last night? Then everything might have been different.
He knew he was being a poor friend, but he also knew that from now on, he wouldn’t be able to act natural around Bayliss anymore. That was something he regretted. Once he’d been a better person, but the years of trying to live up to his dad’s demands had hardened that person, and demeaned him. Today he was unable to rise above his fears.
He got in late the next morning, feeling worn out, though he’d slept for ten hours straight. Furtively, he looked around for Stivers, his dad or Bayliss. He didn’t see any of them, but he hadn’t really expected to see his dad walking among the common mortals.
Sitting down at his desk, Mike tried to focus on his paper work, but was having no success. He just shuffled the papers around dejectedly.
Then Stivers walked in, practically arm in arm with Ballard. The two women were discussing something in a particularly spirited way. On catching sight of Mike, Stivers put her hand on Ballard’s shoulder and nodded dismissively.
He could swear she was walking differently today. More sexy, more confident. Apparently, she felt as if she’d made a conquest. Mike wished he was feeling more appreciative of her efforts. But when she got closer, he smiled quite happily and began to relax. Terri really was great. She had this way of exuding calm confidence, making her co-workers feel everything under control.
So far Mike had to admit there had been no disasters. Maybe his dad wouldn’t make an issue out of the shooting after all. The old man could have no way of knowing how late Mike had arrived on the scene.
Around lunchtime, he decided to venture out for a coffee. There he ran into Lewis and Falsone. They weren’t exactly talking, intent as they were on gulping down their coffee and get back to work. In the doorway they met Bayliss. He too had come for a cup of – not coffee obviously but maybe some herbal tea. Mike winced and looked away. He definitely wasn’t ready to face Bayliss right now. Maybe he never would be.
A hiss and a too loud whisper from Lewis made Mike look up again. What was going on? They couldn’t have heard about – But they weren’t after him, that soon became obvious. So how had they become this snarling pack of homophobes all of a sudden? They were whispering, talking to each other too loudly about things that were transparently aimed at Bayliss.
Though Mike didn’t want to see, he could tell that despite Bayliss’ attempts to act unaffected by their taunts, he was hurt. And Mike guessed that Bayliss was wondering if he’d told the others about what had happened between them.
That was something he’d never do. But what he’d done, wasn’t that just as bad? Stivers or these Neanderthals? He wanted to tell Bayliss that he wasn’t the one who had sold him out, but since in a way he had, how could even face his friend again?
This was too much for him, and though he knew he was being a coward, he just brushed past Bayliss in the doorway, refusing to face him or even acknowledge his presence.
Seeing Mike disappear like that didn’t suprise Bayliss at all. He only had himself to blame for the stupid mistake he’d made. But even so, it felt like being abandoned by his last remaining friend.
In a way he was. Since Pembleton had left, no one had really accepted him. Even before ‘coming out’ if that was what he’d done, no one had liked him or understood him. For a short time, before the incident when Sheppard had lost her gun to some lowlife and been beaten to within an inch of her life, she had been nice to him. But not anymore. She had too much on her plate and anyway, Bayliss guessed that despite her words about how acceptable his bisexuality was to her, she didn’t want to deal with that either.
Maybe she was right. Maybe he was too weird, too difficult to be around. He should do everyone a favor and stop expecting affection or even respect from his co-workers. But if he couldn’t even count on their respect, how could he go on working with them?
The effort of acting like their words didn’t mean anything to him, pretending that they didn’t hurt him with their attitude, was wearing him down. Pembleton. Why did you have to leave? I need you, buddy.
For once, Bayliss decided to neglect his duties and sneak off to the gym to work off some of the frustration.
It was a good plan, but in the locker room he ran into Gharty, looking unusually fat and lazy. The look in the man’s eyes seemed to hint that he feared some kind of pass or sexual attack. Like anyone in their right mind would hit on that old man.
For the first time in a very long time, Bayliss’ seemingly unruffled calm wore thin and the tautly stretched nerves underneath were given free reign.
“What’s your problem, Gharty?”
“You are. I can’t believe you’d have the nerve to go after Mike Giardello. Have you no shame? I guess none of us are safe anymore.”
“Safe? From me? Grow up, Gharty. You seriously think I’m after your manly body?”
“Get away from me, you pervert. In the army we knew what to do with creeps like you.”
Mike had told everyone about what had happened. With a sinking feeling, Bayliss realized that he didn’t have any friends left. If that was true, he might as well pack up his stuff and leave. He didn’t belong here anymore. But he was wrong. Help came from a totally unexpected source.
“Yeah? What did you do to those who weren’t like the rest of you? I’d be really interested to know.”
Bayliss didn’t think he’d ever been as pleased to hear Munch’s lazy voice.
“Stay out of this. I should have known a commie like you wouldn’t understand. I wouldn’t be surprised if you turned out to be one of those yourself.”
“Commie? So I’m a commie now. Better and better. And one of what? Oh, you mean all those gang bangs in the 60’s. Know what? It was pretty damned hot. Now you listen to me, Gharty. Get off Bayliss’ case. What are you afraid of? That he’s going to offer you any favors you won’t be able to turn down? When was the last time you got any, Stu, my man?”
“Shut up, Munch. I want this pervert out of here while I’m getting dressed.”
“No, I won’t shut up. Besides, you should be so lucky. A hot young guy like Bayliss. And he has as much right as you to be in here.”
The two men glared angrily at each other for a full minute. Then, to Bayliss’ astonishment, Gharty’s will broke and he looked away. He retreated to the relative safety of the showers, clearly intending to wait for his adversaries to leave.
Relieved, Bayliss turned to Munch to thank him. Not until now did he remember all the times Munch had been on his case about his Bhuddism. And now this. A complete turnaround.
“You’re welcome. Well, you’d better hurry and get changed before sexy boy comes out of hiding again.”
Bayliss smiled at the epithet. Gharty, sexy? Not likely. He’d take Munch any day over Gharty. But he didn’t think it would be the right moment to mention something like that.
“I changed my mind. Now I just want to get out of this place. I need a drink.”
“Good idea. And as it happens, I know just the place for it. Don’t you?”
“The Waterfront? You’re reading my mind. Want to join me? That is if you want to be seen with someone like me.”
“Why not? Like I told Gharty, we should be so lucky, both of us oldies. Though if you’d like to set me up with Sheppard, I wouldn’t say no.”
“I can’t set myself up with her, so I doubt I could do that. Sorry.”
“Oh, well. It was worth a shot. Ok, let’s go, buddy. Drinks this way.”
Bayliss was smiling again. Sheppard might not be interested in him, but at least he had one friend on the job. That just might be enough. Who cared about what those rednecks thought anyway?
But it still hurt to know that Mike had turned right around and sold him out. One small mistake and he was a shunned outcast. And when he’d met Stivers on the way in this morning, the look in her eyes had been downright chilly. It seemed to say, hands off my man. Fine. She should have been the one to pick up the pieces after that shooting. He’d only meant to help Mike, though the evening had gone terribly wrong somehow.
But he forced his mind away from the painful incident. Now he’d just have a few drinks with an old friend.
About an hour later, he was feeling better still. The hard knots that had formed in his neck were dissolving along with the tension in his mind. Carefree small talk and jokes were helping to reestablish the earlier working relationship between him and Munch.
“Was it really true? About the gang bangs? Back in the 60’s.”
Munch treated him to one of his funny looks and that crooked smile which was so typical of him.
“Maybe. Maybe not. I did a lot of stuff back then. Most of it would chill good old Stuey’s blood. Drink up, my friend. There’s another one on its way.”
“Thanks, pal. Can I ask another thing?”
“No, you can’t come home with me tonight, sorry. Maybe some other time.”
Bayliss laughed along with Munch. He could tell that Munch was laughing with him, not at him.
“Actually, I wanted to ask you why you were giving me such a hard time about my religion.”
“Bhuddism. Hm. Maybe because I od:ed on it back in the day, as Lewis puts it. Everyone was meditating, doing yoga or something like that. I just had enough. But I’m sorry I was so hard on you. Your religion is your business, just like mine is my own.”
“No harm done. Have another one yourself.”
“I don’t mind if I do. Listen, Tim. Don’t let those hillbillies get to you. You were always so strong and conscientious. They can’t be allowed to ruin your career for you.”
“No. You’re right. Here’s to careers. And friendships.”
They had a few more drinks, before going their separate ways. By then, Bayliss was feeling a lot better. Munch was right. It was his life, and what those prejudiced morons thought about him didn’t count. If only Sheppard hadn’t –
But it was useless wishing for what couldn’t be. He still had his work, and – a friend. That was a whole lot. Maybe all a man could ask for. And maybe one day he’d meet someone special. For now, he was ok. Mike’s problems were too much for him to handle. Stivers was welcome to have a go. Bayliss really had enough on his plate, sorting out his own life.