My family has always had a family dinner on Friday nights, for as long as I can remember. First it was just me, my parents, my brothers, and my uncle and aunt. Now it's expanded to include me, my parents, my brothers and their families (an assorted two wives and five kids amongst them), my niece's fiancée, my aunt, my cousin, and now Max, who had nearly been a member of the family since first grade anyway. Needless to say, it was a good thing my parents went and got that larger house in the 'burbs, because otherwise we'd have to sit on the children to fit into the dining room. And I've noticed my sisters-in-law get very shrill about that practice.
“Ryan! You managed to come!” There were, of course, occasions where work would interfere with the dinners. It was always made me feel guilty, but my eldest brother was away about the same amount of time – I'm a cop, he's a firefighter, government employees don't get a ton of free time. “And you even brought little Maxie!” At this, my mother seized my best friend by the ear and yanked him into the house, where she proceeded to harangue him at great lengths for now having a criminal record on his otherwise spotless record (after all, it's not like we were caught for all the stupid shit we pulled in high school).
He hung his head and looked properly contrite, so she finished off relatively quickly, pecking him on the cheek and patting down his spiky hair. “Now go, get some food, you're all skin and bones!”
I traded an incredulous look with my brother Patrick, who had wandered into the entry way to observe Max's lecture with a smirk. Max might be many things, but he was not now, nor ever, going to be 'all skin and bones'. Until he was rotting in his grave, in which case it was more like all maggots and bones, but... I shook my head to bring myself out of imagining rotting corpses and back to the here-and-now, where my dear sweet mother was hauling my best friend, who had about a foot and a hundred pounds of pure muscle on her, into the kitchen, where she was likely going to shove all manners of half-cooked foods down his throat before dinner was ready. I supposed it was my duty as a friend to rescue him. Or torture him. I always got confused on that point.
“Hey Mom, I thought I'd take Max into the backyard to play with the kids,” I spoke up, using my sweet little boy voice, to great effect. She loosed Max with a sigh, and gave me a pointed look. “You be sure not to run him too ragged, Ryan.”
Again, incredulous look between me and Pat. The only sport I had played in high school was chess (and it was so a sport, we got letterman jackets for it), where Max had been the soccer and hockey star (he didn't play football because he said it was “incredibly stupid”). The chances of me running him into the ground were about equal to the chances of me ever getting married, or promoted under my current captain. That is to say, an entire universe to one.
We escaped to the backyard as Pat got pulled into the kitchen by his wife – he's a stockbroker, and they've only got one kid, who's now nineteen years old, so we consider him to be the wimp of the family (I, of course, with no kids or wife and being only thirty, am the baby of the family). In the backyard was nearly everyone else – my dad and niece were sitting on the porch, watching my oldest nephew and my soon to be nephew-in-law (or however that worked) try and organize the other three nephews and my parents' three dogs into something resembling a game; they weren't doing too good a job.
“We have arrived!” I hollered out when no one noticed us come out the back door. Of course, this brilliant plan led to us being mobbed by about a thousand pounds worth of various kids and dogs and getting the air royally knocked out of us, but I still held it was a good idea, if only because it was mine. After wriggling out from under the impromptu dog-pile, we managed to get a good game of Ultimate Frisbee going until dinner was on the table. By that time, my niece, Terri, had joined the game (being a firefighter's daughter and a tomboy from the age of two, she had no qualms about tackling her brothers and cousin), and both my brothers had joined Dad on the porch, being too old and mature for such frivolous activities (or so I assumed; they didn't actually say or imply anything like that).
Being a good Catholic family (meaning my parents went to church every Sunday and the rest of us went for Christmas and Easter when we remembered), we of course had to say grace before digging in. It was quick and irritated, although not quite as quick as it could've been since my eldest brother Will was giving it and had to keep breaking off to hiss at his three sons to stop kicking each other or throwing things (Terri and her mom, Marcia, were no help at all, as they just pretended they didn't notice what was going on and smirked behind their hands when they couldn't help it). But then, finally, eating-time. Dinner was some manner of roasted farm animal with a side of something that was, at one point, probably a vegetable, and mashed potatoes. Hey, we're Irish, we gotta have potatoes! Max, of course, sprinkled everything with a heavy helping of pepper and Tabasco sauce, put out there entirely for his use. Like I said, he was part of the family. We knew him.
I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache. Not from drinking, I didn't drink (the single most shocking thing about me, being that I was both Irish and a cop), can't stand the taste, but from seasonal allergies. Which I unfortunately had in spades, especially this time of the year. I had been banned from interrogations for every winter under the theory that a sneezing, watery-eyed cop wasn't going to intimidate anyone but germaphobes, and would cause most to laugh themselves unconscious.
I didn't have long to ponder the consequences of coughing mucus up all over an ax murderer, as I quickly noticed that Max was sitting on the edge of my bed, bouncing up and down lightly. I blinked. “Uh, Max? You have your own room, y'know.”
He blinked at me. “I know. And it still smells like gym socks, I hope you know.” He had gotten Will's old room to live in, and Will is the only person in the history of our school who played more sports, and harder, than Max had.
“So what do you think you're doing on my bed?”
An eyeroll from me. I swear, I roll my eyes anymore and they will quite literally fall out of my damn head. “No shit. Why are you sitting on my bed?”
He shrugged. “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
I sat up and shoved him off my bed. “Well, have another good idea and get outta my way so I can get dressed.” I slept in only my boxers, which might've been embarrassing if he hadn't seen me before in far less (again, we've been best friends for twenty-five years, there's not a lot you don't see). I stood, stretched, and shoved him aside as I went over to the closet. Max, however, was not deterred.
“What's that?” he asked, finger jabbing into my shoulder. I flinched protectively by pure instinct – the wound hadn't hurt in about two years now, but I can be paranoid with the best of them. Plus, again, I grew up with two older brothers. People should be glad I don't have a nervous tick. He immediately pulled back his hand, though, and looked sorry, really sorry, not the fake sorry look he constantly gave teachers, parents, and cops when we were kids.
“I got shot two years ago,” I answered him, pulling one of my nice white dress shirts out of the closet.
“By who?” he asked, passing it off with a tone of mild curiosity, even though the look on his face was deadly serious.
“Huh? Oh, Adessi.”
“And who's Adessi?”
“Adessi would be partner, Mother,” I said, getting exasperated with both him and my missing left shoe. I flapped a hand at him to move, and then crouched and checked under my bed. Aha, yes! There it was. As opposed to the rest of my costume as the nicely dressed detective, the shoes were worn in hiking boots. At any level of cop (not including officers, who are bureaucrats, not cops), you do a lot of walking, and nobody wants to walk around for ten straight hours in dress shoes. It's just not done by anyone who's sane.
“Your partner?” Max sounded surprised, and quite curious. Which, I mean, yeah, it's not every day that a cop is shot by his partner. I should've remembered that it was early morning and Max can't function fully until about ten, but I didn't, which is why I was caught completely off-guard by his next question. “Like, partner, as in...” he lifted an eyebrow, seemingly unable to say any more.
I stared at him, my left hiking boot dangling from my hand. “What? No! Partner as in the cop sense, you genius! Jesus.” Don't get me wrong, I'm not a homophobe. And I know that that statement proceeds nearly every homophobic statement there is, but I'm really not. I wasn't annoyed by my best friend thinking I had a gay partner, I was annoyed with my best friend not being too bright right now.
“Oh.” He blushed, he actually blushed. I had never seen him blush before. I rather hoped he hadn't done that too often in jail. I didn't think it would've ended well for him if he had.
“Yes, oh. Now, where the hell are my pants?!”
I finally made it to work, with my pants and both of my shoes, and even shockingly got there on time. It helped that when I went into the bathroom to take a quick shower and shave, Max didn't follow me, and instead went and cooked a quick breakfast for the both of us. (The jerk didn't have to be at work for a full two hours after me.) So I got in on time, dressed and clean, and with a full stomach – generally I can only accomplish two of the four objectives. And still, nearly the second I sat down at my desk and traded “'Sup, dawg”s with Ethan O'Keefe (the other Irish detective I worked with often; his partner was Hispanic and mine was Italian, so there was a lot of Catholic imagery in our area), the captain yelled my name across the room. But I guess it wasn't something I had done, 'cause he also hollered out Ethan. There was a general “Ooooo...” being whispered by the rest of the squad room, as if we were in fifth grade and had been called into the principal's office. I casually flipped them all off behind my back, which led to a few snickers.
Adessi and Rivera were already in the office, and there was slight confusion in Adessi's eyes, likely about the captain's attitude. Adessi had three kids, including a teenager, and he still couldn't keep things off of his face. I wondered how on earth his kids hadn't trampled him into the ground yet.
For now, I had more important things to do. Like not get screeched at by the captain for staring into space and drooling like a moron.
“If any of you crack a joke, I am sending you to Internal Affairs with a glowing review,” was the first thing out of the captain's mouth when he slammed the door shut behind us. Now, he's given us – well, me, really – weird threats in the past, but this one would have definitely taken the cake, if there had been any cake there for the taking. He collapsed into his chair and pulled out the preliminary case file before continuing. “This morning, Owen Wolters found his father, Arden, dead in the man's townhouse on 15th and Xanadu. He was found with chunks of a VHS tape in his mouth and throat, and it looks like that's the cause of death right now.” He stared at us, daring one of the group to make a comment. I was a bit confused. I mean, it was a particularly odd way to die, but – oh. Owen Wolters' father Arden. Arden Wolters. The famous radio show personality.
The others saw me about to lose it, and quickly hauled me out of the office, informing the captain that we would, of course, solve this case quietly and expediently. I burst into laughter hard enough that I had to actually lean against the wall to keep from falling over.
“What?” asked poor confused Adessi, who had only lived in the city for two years, and was probably stuck listening to kids stations when he was driving.
“Arden Wolters,” Rivera explained patiently to him while giving me a disdainful look (she's talented in multi-tasking), “is a radio personality who's notorious for stirring up shit among the thirteen to twenty-five year old set.”
“Meaning,” I said, gasping for air, “that a video,” another gasp, “killed a radio star.” I collapsed into giggles once more as Rivera sighed, Adessi smiled and rolled his eyes, and Ethan just grinned at me indulgently – which, had I not been incapacitated by laughter, would've quite annoyed me. I mean, I was the older one among us two, he shouldn't be indulging me!