If there was a sound more satisfying than that of a solved case file dropping into his desk cabinet with an echoing thud, then it had never graced the ears of Danny Castellano. He had long learned to associate the resonance of reverberating metal with competence. To his squad, it was the telltale signal for "another case solved by Castellano." To them, it was a noise that was unabashedly loud and, if at all possible, quite smug. Danny, however, found it to be more invigorating than the strongest cup of coffee…which was helpful, being that it was 6:30 in the morning and he had already been at his desk for an hour.
He had fifteen minutes until the morning briefing with the rest of his department, which was just enough time to enjoy his oatmeal in the break room and rehearse a cool enough response to the captain when he eventually followed up on the Cordello case. Times like these made him wish he had the ability to come up with a decent pun. The last time he announced a closed case with a pun it went so terribly that it almost negated the victory entirely. The humble approach wouldn't be believable nor the least bit genuine. This had been a major case and he considered the resulting arrest and confession one of the crowned jewels of his career. He had no desire to downplay his hard work, especially not today when the Daniels case was ripe for the picking.
Though Danny was never one to callously celebrate a homicide, it was hard to overlook the fact that this could be a potentially career-making case. With Captain Shulman so close to retirement, solving this would guarantee the promotion that fueled him during the arduous stake-outs and tedious paperwork. Danny predicted that just about every detective on the force would want the assignment, but nobody, as far as he was concerned, needed it like he did – not Grandy, not Prentice, and especially not Lang. With that thought he stirred the small container of mixed berries into his oatmeal with a renewed purpose.
He felt a sudden clap on his shoulder. He turned his head to find a perky, smirking blonde.
"Heard you wrapped up the Cordello case last night," Gwen Grandy said as she brushed past him towards the coffee station.
"That I did, "Danny replied proudly, "and I have to say, I don't know how I'm going to top the masterful performance I gave during the interrogation…but you know I will somehow." He sealed the assertion with a wink as he shoved a spoonful of oatmeal in his mouth.
Gwen shook her head with a sigh. "You really need to be more careful, Castellano. Taking in a perp with weak evidence like that? You're lucky he was stupid and didn't think to hold out for a lawyer!"
"Hey, luck has nothing to do with anything. Sitting around and waiting for the perfect piece of evidence is not what led me to an arrest and confession within a day's time. Nothing is more effective than seasoned, vetted intuition."
"Evidence," Gwen countered plainly. "Evidence is far more effective."
Danny rolled his eyes and stood to his feet, bowl in hand. "I'll take your obvious jealousy as your way of saying congratulations. I'm sure your unsolicited advice will be of great help to me during the Daniels investigation."
Gwen tossed her head back and let out a lilting laugh as she stirred sweetener into her coffee. "Wow, you really think you're getting the Daniels case? That's funny."
Danny gave a confident half smile. "How can the captain not give it to me? I've got more solved cases under my belt than anyone here –"
"Again, a lot of that is luck," Gwen interjected with an exasperated tone and a raise of her eyebrows.
"And I'm at the top of my game!" he continued. "Putting me on it would be the smartest move and Shulman's no dummy."
Gwen shrugged before bringing the steaming Styrofoam cup to her lips. "Rumor has it that the captain thinks Lang's the guy for the job."
The mere mention of Charlie Lang's name triggered an anxious twitch. "Goddamn, Lang?! He's really gonna go with that smug, cocky asshole?"
With another laugh, Gwen teased, "Pot calling the kettle much?"
"I resent that, Gwen."
"Hey, I've never had a problem with it," she conceded before taking a cautious sip of her coffee. "But I'd imagine that he wouldn't want to put a guy on the case who just made an arrest because – oh, what was your brilliant reasoning again? Ah, right – 'He was seen on a security camera a few blocks away; and besides, any guy with a tattoo on his face is automatically guilty!'" Seemingly satisfied by her exaggerated impression of her colleague, she stopped and took another sip of her coffee.
Danny was too focused on the possibility of missing his big opportunity that he didn't even address Gwen's teasing. "Shit. I've gotta talk to the captain."
"Morning, team," greeted a weary-looking Captain Marc Shulman as he made his way to the podium at the front of the debriefing room. The wrinkles in his grey suit pants and jacket indicated that he had been in his clothes for a while, one of the many signs of a long night. He faced his subordinates once he arrived at the front, the dark circles under his eyes magnified by his thin-rimmed glasses. The fluorescent lighting and his bald scalp created a distracting glare. Marc maintained a grip on his coffee thermos and a thin file.
"I hope everyone's well rested and caffeinated like hell because today's gonna be a long one. First of all, let's all recognize Detective Castellano on closing the Cordello case in an impressive amount of time."
Despite a rather mixed crowd reaction of unenthusiastic applause and a few genuinely supportive cheers, Danny smirked and shrugged his shoulders. "What can I say? When you're good at what you do…"
"And when your perps forget to call their lawyers," a voice added from the back of the room.
"Can it, Prentice!"
"Either way," Marc interjected, raising his voice and regaining control of the room, "We got the confession we needed with minimal mess. Good work, Castellano."
Danny tipped his head appreciatively in lieu of a thank you. Marc continued.
"Prentice, where are we with the Jasmine Club shooter?"
The younger gentleman sat up and ran his fingers through his curly hair. "Yeah, captain, we've tracked down the bouncer we think is a primary witness. We're hitting him up first thing."
"Don't waste any time," the captain commanded with an authoritative point of his finger. "He's been ducking us and I suspect he's a flight risk. Don't let him out of your sight until he gives us the info we need."
"No problemo, sir."
"Good." Marc set the file on top of the podium and flipped it open with his newly free hand, still holding on to his beverage with the other. "Alright, so as you all know, Josh Daniels' body was found in a parking garage on 26th Avenue. He was recovered fairly fresh with three lateral stab wounds." He pulled a few large photographs from the folder and held them up for everyone to see. The unnaturally handsome face staring back at the group from the glossy print looked like he had never encountered a problem in his entire existence: a perfectly chiseled jaw line, deep blue eyes, immaculately styled blonde hair, and capped white teeth flashing through a wide grin. He was waving from a podium adorning a mayoral election sign. The scene in the second photo, however, was far grimmer: a dark corner of a garage and a smattering of blood seeping into the concrete, all of which was illuminated only by the bright flash of the camera. A line of police tape could be seen in the bottom left corner. Aside from the blood, the scene was relatively bare. Danny had certainly seen much worse.
"Damn, what a shame," said an almost apathetic sounding, Jersey accent-heavy voice to Danny's left. He turned to find Shauna Dicanio looking at the victim's picture with seemingly bored eyes, though her mouth was strewn to the side. "He was a hottie."
"So would it have been less of a shame had he been ugly?" Gwen piped up for behind, looking fairly amused.
"I would never say anything like that," Shauna denied, though Danny was sure he could hear her add "out loud" under her breath.
"Alright, ladies," the captain warned with a raise of his hand. "Everyone, just keep your ears to the ground on this one. The place where he was found has been a relatively quiet area for some time now. Just stay vigilant. Press conference in an hour. You know the drill." The understanding that there was to be no independent talking with the press was a long-established one, yet Captain Shulman still felt the need to remind them any time there was a high profile case. He checked his watch and emitted a tiny grunt before grabbing hold of his thermos.
"Okay, this meeting's going to be a short one," he informed them, much to Danny's delight. He was eager to talk to him alone. "Everyone, make sure you're still collecting donations for the Alzheimer's run. For those of you who have reports that are due, I want them on my desk before the close of the day. That goes double for you, Prentice."
"Awww, c'mon," Peter groaned in protest.
"No excuses," Marc commanded as he collected himself and prepared to depart from his squad. "Alright, get out of here. Lang, come see me in my office in five minutes."
"You've got it, captain," Charlie Lang complied. Danny didn't have to face him to know that he was donning his typically superior expression. It was apparent that the rumor of him being assigned the Daniels case had made it to him. He already sounded victorious, which made Danny's jaw clench. He refused to let the captain see Lang without seeing him first. Danny quickly stood up and followed him out of the debriefing room.
"Oh hey, little buddy," Charlie called out. The jest in his tone would usually be enough to pull Danny into a verbal sparring match, but he had more pressing matters to attend to.
"Not now, Lang," he replied swiftly, continuing his path to Marc's office. He could hear the beginning of a response from the man he considered a nemesis, but drowned out the sound with a tap of his knuckle on the captain's office door frame.
"Uh, captain?" Danny called out as tentatively. "You got a minute?"
"Castellano," the bald man greeted half-heartedly as he finally set down his oversized thermos of coffee on top of his desk. "I know you heard me tell Charlie that I had a phone call to make. Can this wait?"
Danny entered the office anyway. "With all due respect, Captain Shulman, I don't think it can. I promise I'll be quick." He quickly shut the door, then turned back towards the desk. "I wanted to talk to you about the Daniels case."
"Of course you do."
"I want it, sir. I'll be honest; I want it pretty damn badly."
Captain Shulman eased into his plush chair with an audible sigh. He removed his glasses and began cleaning off the lenses with the hem of his jacket. "Danny, you're a great cop, but I'm not sure putting you on this case is the best idea. Not with the heightened amount of scrutiny we'll be under."
"But captain, I'm one of the best," Danny pressed as he edged closer to the desk. "I closed the Cordello case in an impressive amount of time, rember? I know I can do it again."
After a careful look over his glasses, Marc secured them on his face and scooted close enough to be able to prop his elbows on the surface of his desk. "Danny, I remember when you first joined the force. You were eager, by the book, and incredibly thorough. I still see some of that in you, actually, especially the eagerness."
"Thank you, sir."
"But you've become complacent with age, Castellano," Marc continued, his voice betraying a hint of exhaustion. "I've seen you make some really snap judgments lately. Don't think I don't know about you taking in Cordello's killer with that shit excuse for evidence."
"But you said it yourself, captain," Danny defended desperately. "I took in his killer. Like, I got the guy. That's the important part, right? And I can assure you that I'm not at all complacent!" It was his first time being accused of such a thing and the word already began to leave a tinny taste in his mouth. Complacent felt like one of the harder-hitting insults he'd ever endured, and he wasn't sure if that was due to its meaning or the source, a man he truly admired. "I went on my instinct, which you've always praised."
The slight nod from his superior eased some of the tension in Danny's chest. "You're right, I've always said that your instinct was killer. But that not enough, Danny, and you know that. And none of that 'flying by the seat of your pants' bullshit is going to work this time. This was a beloved guy that was more than likely going to be the next Mayor. All eyes are going to be on us and we can't afford for you to go off of some random gut feeling you have and take some guy in because he gave you lip or you just 'had a bad feeling.' No, we've got to be extra careful with this one. I was actually thinking of putting L-"
"No!" Danny interjected with an outburst and a raise of his hand. "Please, sir, I implore you. Do not say Lang's name. Just…no."
"Why not? Lang's an excellent detective."
"I won't dispute that, but…" He could physically feel the pride in his chest ache at the thought of him pleading in any way. There weren't a great many things he felt like he was truly above, but begging had always been one of them. However, he had reached a certain level of desperation – either desperate to prove himself or desperate to prevent Charlie from nabbing the assignment, he wasn't sure which was greater – that made it a little easier to humble himself.
"Captain, nobody out there wants this case as much as I do. I can guarantee that. I'll be careful. I'll be thorough. I'll go over all of the evidence with a fine tooth comb, sleep at my desk, and live and breathe this assignment. I'll do whatever it takes to not only earn it, but also crack this thing efficiently –"
"And professionally?" Captain Shulman inserted with raised eyebrows. Danny took that as a favorable sign.
"Absolutely!" he confirmed hopefully. "I will be a hundred percent professional. Just give me a chance. Please."
Danny watched his superior lean back in his chair and consider him silently. It was certainly unnerving, but he maintained his confident stance in hopes that he could still present himself as the best option. The office was so silent as he waited for an answer that he eventually realized that he had been holding his breath. Though his head was beginning to feel a little light from the sudden stop in oxygen flow, he refused to allow their direct eye contact to falter.
Finally, Marc spoke. "Okay."
Danny let out his breath in a rush of relief. "Seriously?"
Marc nodded. "Yup, the case is yours." Marc grabbed the file on top of his desk and held it out for the taking. "I believe you when you want it badly."
Beaming, Danny quickly accepted the file and shook Marc's hand firmly. "Thank you, sir. I'll make you proud, I promise."
"I'm sure you will," Marc replied with a final shake of his hand and a knowing smile of his own. "And I also believe that you'll do whatever is necessary to make sure this case is handled properly and solved efficiently."
Danny prepared to affirm the assertion when he noticed the familiar, withholding expression of his leader. His eyebrows were raised, the left corner of his mouth was upturned just slightly, and his head was tipped downward as he peered at him over his glasses. It was the classic look that preceded undesirable news. Given their past and the nature of the conversation, Danny had a pretty solid idea of the direction they were headed. He immediately began to oppose the unspoken idea.
"Captain, no," he said firmly.
"Danny, you just said you would do anything to get this assignment. Was that a lie?"
"No, of course not! But, c'mon…I don't need the dead weight!"
"It's not called 'dead weight,' it's called a partner. And perhaps you do need one. Maybe having another person there will curb some of your 'shoot now, ask questions later' tendencies."
"I don't need a babysitter to hold me accountable."
"It's not about holding you accountable, Danny. It's about having a little added perspective to help us get this case closed as quickly and painlessly as possible! Look, you said that you'd do whatever it takes. Well, this is it! This is what it takes. I'm willing to take a chance on you, but I've got a whole department to think of, as well. So you're gonna do this with a partner or you're gonna go back to your desk while I assign this to someone else."
Danny placed his hands on his hips and looked to the ground with a smoldering feeling of defeat. He's had very few actual partners throughout his career, the preference to work alone always overshadowing any need for camaraderie. It was much simpler to rely on his gut and street knowledge rather than confer with another person and potentially be led astray. He hated this. Still, it was the only thing standing between him and a victory he was certain would gain him just enough notoriety to get him ahead. He bit back the urge to curse and accepted his fate.
"Alright, I'll do this with a partner," he agreed in a low, almost unintelligible voice. It was enough of an affirmative for Marc.
"Great, I know just who to team you up with," he said as he picked up his phone and glanced at the directory taped to the top of his desk.
"Please don't let it be Lang. I'm sure this seems like an ideal opportunity for us to learn to work together and find some sort of friendship –"
"Danny, I honestly couldn't give a shit if you two are friends," the exhausted older gentleman huffed as he punched a few numbers. "I'm more concerned with getting some murderous asshole off of my streets and pairing you with a person who's gonna keep you grounded long enough to make that happen." There was a beat before Marc spoke directly into the receiver. "Good morning. Please come see me in my office." After only a second he placed he phone back on the stand. "Now, Danny, the second I see you not treating this with the amount of care this requires, I'm taking you off of the case and chaining you to your desk. I mean it."
Nodding, Danny replied, "I hear you, captain."
"I seriously hope you do. I want to believe that you'll be at your best with this one. Just don't let me down."
Danny opened his mouth to respond when a light knock at the door preempted him.
"Come in," Marc called out. The door immediately opened and Danny turned around to face the new visitor. Upon seeing her face, Danny suppressed the groan that threatened to snake to the surface.
She had only been there for less than two weeks and while they hadn't had a proper conversation since she arrived, he had heard enough in passing to know that she was unlike any cop he had ever interacted with. Most were stoic, hardened by years of long hours and difficult work while dealing with some of the most deplorable people society had to offer. This woman, on the other hand, positively beamed sunshine in a way that Danny considered distracting. Her colorful attire of powder blue slacks, a purple, black and blue patterned blouse, and a royal purple collarless leather jacket came across as an affront to the precinct's dress code, even though Danny wasn't sure that the code actually addressed bright colors or daring patterns. The woman's long black hair framed her face, dark brown and radiating with a certain optimism that he found a little nauseating. Danny had long concluded that she was annoying. Quite beautiful, but very annoying.
No, Danny thought. Not the chipper Indian girl. She can't be the person I'm expected to –
"You wanted to see me, Captain Shulman?" the woman's voice chirped. "And I've gotta say, the morning meetings here are seriously exciting. There wasn't a whole lot going on at the precinct I transferred from. I think we actually focused an entire meeting on spell checking our incident reports. Snooze City, am I right?"
Danny wordlessly turned back towards his boss once more with pleading eyes only to find a satisfied, torturous grin on his face. Marc's arms were crossed over his chest resolutely.
"Danny Castellano," he said, "meet your partner, Detective Mindy Lahiri."